DarkLordOfOptics
Politics • Science & Tech • Sports
Guns, Optics, 2nd Amendment and resisting the Left in everything they touch.
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LPVO Value Proposition?

I received a really good question on LPVOs via a private message and I think it is worth digging into a little more in a future livecast. Let me know if this is something you want discussed.
The question itself was rather detailed, which I like, and I will leave the details in a private conversation where they were asked. However, the gyst of it is as follows: "With Low Powered Variable Optics of today, at what price point do you get the most for you money?"
The same question can be asked about prismatic scopes (and I am looking at a whole bunch of them right now trying to answer that) and non-focusing sights (I spent part of the last two years trying to answer that, so I am pretty up to speed there).
Naturally, the discussion gets really complicated by the "Made in China" question. Are you willing to buy a Chinese made product or not?
I take a pretty dim view of Chinese Communist Party, as you may imagine, but I am also a realist and a lot of stuff is made in China. Moreover, I have to be honest with you and admit that sporting optics are not exactly something that makes any difference in the great power competition between the US and China. Now, high tech stuff, like 5G technology, high tech military technologies and semiconductor stuff is a different ballgame. On top of that, I also have to differentiate between the Chinese Communist Party and normal Chinese engineers and technicians who just want to live their lives and trust the CCP about as much as you an I do.
Ultimately, I do not pretend to have any sort of an answer on whether we should be buying Made in China optics and that is something you should answer for yourself. I own a good number of Chinese-made products and I make it a point to note where things are made, so you can make a decision for yourself.
I do try to stick to brands that also have some sort of a presence in the US and that are trying to grow their operations here, but as I said, you have to make your own decisions there. I am happy to make recommendation either way, as long as we define the boundary conditions the right way.
Perhaps, I'll do a livecast on where I think the value curve tops out for different types AR optics, i.e. price point beyond which you run into diminishing returns.
With LPVOs, it really depends on what you are looking for. If you are looking for a true do all scope, I think $2k for Vortex Razor Gen3 1-10x24 is where it is at. It is a lot of money, but FFP LPVOs with bright reticle illumination are still expensive.
If you are willing to compromise on a few things here and there, you can save a lot of money. For example, if your typical use is restricted to mid/close range or at least you do not need engage targets beyond 500 yards or so on a regular basis, you can save a lot of money by sticking with several excellent options in the $800-$1200 range (Delta Stryker 1-6x24, Vortex Razor Gen2, Sig Tango6, etc). That is the price range that better Chinese scopes are really pushing into and seem to offer a lot of value.
For example, SwampFox Arrowhead 1-10x24 surprised me with how competent it is for under $600 and there are several new models coming from multiple manufacturer that will likely take a step above that.
Thankfully, there are a lot of options in the $500-$1200 range made in China, Phillipines and Japan, so if you are clear in terms of feature you are looking for, it is not terribly difficult to come up with something.
I plan to continue looking at LPVOs in 2021 and the under $2k segment is what interests me the most.
I am really curious about the Sig Tango 6t that is assembled in the US.
Athlon has a new Ares ETR 1-10x24 coming out that I really should look at.
I am sure SwampFox has something interesting up their sleeve, but like most makers they have a hard time keeping up with demand with their current products.
I am looking at a few very compelling red dots and prismatics from Primary Arms, and I am considering re-visiting some of their LPVOs as well.
Burris is definitely due for a new LPVO since they discontinued the 1-8x24 XTR II. I am sure they have something coming.
Their sister company, Steiner, is doing some really clever things with thermal scopes and I wonder what they have planned for LPVOs.
Crimson Trace is a company to watch. They have some new stuff coming out and they understand how important the AR market is.
Vortex already has one of the most complete LPVO line-ups in the business, so I am not sure what to expect from them in 2021, but time will tell.
Leupold is a little weak at the moment as far as LPVOs go and a lot of their recent designs have been very good. I am very curious to see what they are planning.
Bushnell is also a little weak there, especially in the mid-to-high end where they discontinued just about everything they had. I am sure they are cooking something up.
And the list goes on. I suspect that four years of Kamala Harris in the White House will keep the gun market very lively with shortages of damn near everything. It will be difficult for optics companies to balance out the need to manufacture existing products with the need to develop new ones. 2021 will likely tell us in which direction different companies will lean.

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Shield RMS/RMSc glass lens re-cap

This was recorded a while back. Wind was horrible that day, so I apologize about the sound quality.
The main idea is that I realized that I mostly talk about whichever red dot sights I am in the process of reviewing. When you look at the handguns I am not currently using to test new stuff, they predominantly have Shiled reflex sights on them. The G43x that lives under my pillow (figuratively speaking) has RMSc on it. The tricked out CZ75 Compact you see in the video has RMSc. The 45 Super Lone Wolf build I took to Alaska has RMSw. Gen5 Glock 17 has RMS2. Another tricked out version of the G17 has the original RMS on it. The 9mm 1911 I have been messing with also has an RMSc on it. I am pretty sure there is one or two more somewhere in the safe.
To be fair, I have a few other handguns on hand with other red dot sights I like a good bit. For example, the Alpha Foxtrot AF-9 has Holosun 507 with ACSS reticle that I really like. The 10mm long slide Glock is set up with SwampFox Kraken, ...

00:07:41
SunwayFoto TL3240 tripod wrap up

At this stage, I have spent enough time with this tripod to sort of do a wrap up video. It will continue to see a good amount of use and if anything craps out, I will post an update.
Since this video was made, I updated the clamp to the one that supports both arca and picatinny, so my tripod is essentially in this configuration:
https://sunwayfoto-store.com/products/tl3240cs-q-hunting-tripod-for-shooting-rifle-stand-carbon-fiber?_pos=2&_sid=41bdfb961&_ss=r&ref=Oy5imslq

00:17:50
GRS Sporter Riflestock

A little while back, I decided to explore some of the rifle stock options out there and stumbled onto GRS stocks hailing from Norway. The deign looked interesting, so I decided to build an accurate 22LR rifle around the GRS stock. They make a version inletted for the Anschutz 1712 barreled action. At around the same time, I realized that my brother does not have an accurate 22LR boltgun and that his 50th birthday is coming up in the not too distant future. We were off to the races.

The exact stock I used is this one: https://bit.ly/3Vs4Y8T; the color is called Nordic Wolf.

They do come inletted for a bewildering array of actions in a good range of different color patterns: https://bit.ly/3EHxf4E

They also make several models made out of composite materials all with appropriately Nordic names.

I have not tried any other stocks from GRS, but I am sufficiently impressed with this one that I will go get my hands on them at SHOT. It is very likely I'll use another one for at least on...

00:10:32
1911

Just thought I'd point out that this community has reached another pivotal (for gun people only) number of members: 1911.

I have a 1911 project that I have been putting off. I think this is a sign from above that I should get back to it.

Hi, Ilya. Just curious.
Which scope would you choose for .300 Norma mag with an emphasis on 1000 to 1500 yard range?, between my two scopes:
--Tangent Theta 5-25
--Vortex Gen III 6-36
I was using TT for a year and half and it was great but after I mounted the Vortex 6-36 I really loved it. I dryfire and shoot at max mag only, so the Vortex's 44% magnification increase has been perfect for the way I shoot. Yet, you have said you still think the TT 5-25 is superior, its certainly more expensive, so I don't know which I should go with(I had pulled the 6-36 off the 300 norma mag to put on my 308 for a couple of sniper courses and need to put something back on the 300NM again).
I've never shot in low light so that's one reason I don't know which is best. This is a 25lb long sniper rifle, not for hunting.
Here's the rifle shown when I had the TT on it, I had it cerakoted in Dewalt Yellow and Black to look like a Dewalt tool, just for laughs.

post photo preview
November 30, 2022
Alpha Class Long Range Scope Review, Part 2

Editor's Note: this really excellent comparison is entirely a brainchild of Bill, who goes by @Glassaholic here and on Sniper's Hide.  Bill is a good friend and I am honored that he allowed me to post this here with my comments where appropriate.  Aside from a couple of minor things that Bill identified after he sent me the document, the text is unchanged.  My comments are interspersed through the text as "Editor's Notes"

 

Tangent Theta 5-25x56, ZCO 5-27x56, Schmidt & Bender 3-27x56, Schmidt & Bender 5-25x56, Vortex Razor G3 6-36x56, March G2 5-40x56, March 4.5-28x52 and Burris XTR III 5.5-30x56 Reviewed

PART 1 is here: https://darklordofoptics.locals.com/post/3076448/alpha-class-long-range-scope-review-part-1

 

PART 2

 

OPTICAL QUALITY

I’m going to reiterate what I’ve written in past reviews as a reminder:  One of the most difficult areas to assess with any manufacturer is the quality of glass they use in a given scope model, or rather, how the image looks to the shooters eye when viewing the sight picture through the scope.  Traditionally when it comes to optics one generally “gets what they pay for” and hence the higher end optics tend to have the higher end prices; however, with new design technologies we have seen some scopes punch above their weight class.  It is impossible to take images through the scope to show the quality of the image to the shooters eye, this is because any image capturing device (e.g. camera) also has its own lens system which introduces its own optical aberrations and if the system is better aligned on one scope verses another it may throw off performance; therefore, you will not see any through the scope images because I do not want to skew opinion based on IQ of one image over another.  So, for this evaluation I took meticulous notes based on my naked eye observations under as best controlled conditions I could get outdoors.  Scopes were tested at multiple magnification points: 5x, 10x, 15x, 20x and 25x and a weighted average was obtained for the ratings below.  I would like to note that the March G2 5-40, the Schmidt 5-25 and the Burris XTR III 5.5-30 were all tested on a different day and different atmospherics can change results slightly.  Finally, I have separated out my evaluations on Pop and Edge to Edge sharpness with two separate criteria – close range using a test target and long range (> 500 yards), the reason being is that close range allows me to evaluate how well the scope can resolve a resolution target, contrast targets and color chart with as minimal effects from atmospherics while the long range testing gives more “real world” results – example, at close range edge to edge sharpness may look fairly poor when looking at letters, numbers and lines, at distance this effect may be diminished or appear less intrusive.

Optical Assessment criteria (rating lower numbers are worse and higher numbers are best):

Pop (Combination of Color, Contrast and Clarity) on resolution chart

Pop is the ability for the image to really stand out and come alive.  This is the overall impression your brain receives when first looking through the scope for given magnifications, keep in mind that some scopes have a better “sweet spot” than others, this sweet spot or the Goldilocks zone is where a scope performs best within its magnification range.  A detailed chart is attached

Pop (Combination of Color, Contrast and Clarity) at distance >500y

How well does the overall image look when viewing objects at distance.

Contrast (High)

My high contrast target has very bright white paper with very black lines, the numbers represent the smallest value I was able to discern. 

Contrast (Low)

My low contrast target has a gray background with darker gray lines, the numbers represent the smallest value I was able to discern. 

Chromatic Aberration (CA) Center

A hotly debated topic – CA, which is typically seen at the edges between high and low contrast objects in what is termed as fringing and usually comes in a band of color along the green/yellow and magenta/purple spectrum, some are greatly annoyed by this optical anomaly while others insist they cannot see it, one thing to know is it has little to do with your ability to hit a target, but can affect the clarity of the target (especially in lower light situations).  I tested for both center CA and edge CA.  One other area is CA sensitivity with lateral movement off the center of the scope, you can quickly induce CA in these situations which are often rectified by proper cheekweld/eye placement behind the center of the scope. 

Chromatic Aberration (CA) Periphery/Edge

Many scopes may have really good performance in the center of the image, but quickly fall apart as you move toward the edge of the image.

Color Accuracy

If you’ve ever heard the term “it’s all in the eye of the beholder” that in large part describes the experience of color for each of us.  It seems our eyes have different sensitivity to different parts of the spectrum and while I tend to prefer “warmer” images and am somewhat put off by “cooler” ones, others see colors differently.  For some reason, most Japanese manufactured optics tend to be on the cooler side while many European optics tend to be more neutral to warm.  For this reason I have always gravitated towards European optics; however, I am happy to say that March optics in general (not just this scope) have a color contrast that is much more in alignment with their European counterparts; likewise, the Vortex G3 had a neutral to slightly warm look that I like.  There are quite a few new scopes introduced this year from Japan and I’m hoping the Vortex represents a growing trend of neutral to warm glass.

Resolution (Center)

This is different from my line resolution testing, this is how “sharp” the image appears, I’m looking for details and the scopes ability to resolve those details.

Resolution (Edge)

Same thing as center resolution but now I’m focusing my eye at the extreme edge of the sight picture and determining if there is any image degradation that occurs toward the edges.  A scope can have very sharp center resolution but poor edge sharpness and it will give the user the impression that the overall quality is not very good.

Resolution (Edge)  at distance >500y

I added in this test because I was beginning to notice that some scopes did not perform so well in the close testing but seemed to do better at distance, maybe it’s because I’m not using the edge of the scope as my POA but instead using it to pick up my target within the FOV, I still prefer a scope that has superb edge to edge sharpness, but found that some scopes did not bother me as much as I thought they would at distance.

Resolution (at max. Elevation)

I set all scopes to 15x and dialed the elevation until it stopped at the top of the travel.  This represents using your scope to the very limits of its usable travel.  Obviously, some scopes have greater travel than others so keep that in mind.  I also did not re-adjust parallax as I feel this is yet another area that takes time which could cause you to miss your game or lose time during competition, the idea here being “dial and shoot”, not “dial, fiddle, shoot”.  You may disagree with my reasoning which is why I wanted to clarify my process. 

Eyebox Forgiveness

I have seen varied definitions of eyebox in the community, so to be clear, here is my definition which will help you understand what I am looking for – put simply, eyebox is the ability to be able to quickly obtain a clear sight picture when getting behind a scope.  Yes, there is some relationship with exit pupil and eye relief, but there is more than that going on that allows a scope to have a forgiving eyebox.  One thing to note with all these scopes, as magnification increases so does the finickyness of the eyebox.

Depth of Field (DOF) Forgiveness

DOF forgiveness is the ability to have both near objects as well as far away objects appear “in focus” in your sight picture.  An example would be to set your parallax at 500 yards and you notice that both an object at 200 yards as well as one at 1000 yards look relatively in focus.  Something to keep in mind is that some scopes may have perfect focus but parallax is off and vice versa, if this happens to you try fine tuning your diopter a bit more, if still wonky send it back to the manufacturer and ask them to calibrate.

Parallax Forgiveness

Similar to DOF forgiveness, you set your parallax at 500 yards and notice a target at 200 yards is parallax free, and a target at 1000 yards is also parallax free. 

Focus Forgiveness

How much, or rather how little, do you have to play with the parallax dial in order to get an object in focus as you change magnification.

Mirage (effect)

This is another one of those terms that requires a definition.  Mirage occurs because light bends to move through warmer, less dense air, this “bending” of light is the effect we see when our target appears to dance or wobble in the distance, we know the target is stationary but as the heat waves rise from the ground, the light is bent and gives the perception that the image is distorted.  What I am looking for here is the ability of the scope to tame or limit the effect of mirage, within the community this is often referred to as “cutting through mirage” and some scopes handle this situation better than others.  Keep in mind that my results were based on what I saw on the particular day I was testing; however, different atmospheric conditions can either decrease or increase the effect of mirage by quite a large margin.

Optical quality Test Results (higher numbers are better)

Close Range

ZCO

5-27x56

Vortex G3

6-36x56

Tangent

5-25x56

March

4.5-28x52

March G2

5-40x56*

S&B

3-27x56

S&B

5-25x56*

Burris

5.5-30x56*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Test Criteria

Average of 5x, 10x, 15x, 25x

 

 

Pop

(Color, Contrast,

Clarity)

9.8

9.8

9.6

9.6

7.6

9.4

9.6

8.2

 

 

Contrast Chart

(High)

8.8

8.6

8.8

8.2

7.6

7.8

7.8

6.8

 

 

Contrast Chart

(Low)

8.6

8.6

8.6

7.6

7.2

7.6

7.4

6.8

 

 

CA/Hue (Center)

10

9.4

10

9.4

8

9.2

9.4

6.6

 

 

CA/Hue

(Periphery/Edge)

9

7.8

8.8

8.2

4.8

6.2

9.4

6

 

 

Color Accuracy

9.8

9.8

9.6

9.6

8.4

9.6

9.4

8

 

 

Resolution (Center)

10

10

9.8

9.8

8.8

9.8

9.8

9.4

 

 

Resolution

(Periphery/Edge)

9.2

7.4

9.2

6.6

5.4

5.4

8.6

6.2

 

 

Resolution

(Extreme Elevation)

8.4

8.8

9.6

8.6

6.4

7.8

9.2

5.6

 

 

TOTAL

83.6

80.2

84

77.6

64.2

72.8

80.6

63.6

 

 

At Distance >

500 yards

ZCO

5-27x56

Vortex G3

6-36x56

Tangent

5-25x56

March

4.5-28x52

March G2

5-40x56*

S&B

3-27x56

S&B

5-25x56*

Burris

5.5-30x56*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Test Criteria

Average of 5x, 10x, 15x, 25x

 

 

Pop

(Color, Contrast,

Clarity)

9.6

9.4

9.6

9.6

9

8.6

9.8

7.8

 

 

Edge to Edge

Sharpness

9

9.6

9

8

6.8

8.2

10

7.4

 

 

Eyebox

9.2

8.8

9.2

8.2

7.8

6.4

8.2

8.2

 

 

DOF Forgiveness

9.4

7.4

9.4

8.8

7.2

6.8

7.2

7.8

 

 

Parallax Forgiveness

9.6

7.8

9.6

9.6

6.8

7.8

7.2

6.2

 

 

Focus Forgiveness

9.4

8.2

9.4

8.4

8.2

9

9.4

7.4

 

 

Mirage (effect)

8.8

8.2

8.8

8.4

7.4

6.8

7.6

7.2

 

 

TOTAL

65.0

59.4

65.0

61.0

53.2

53.6

59.4

52.0

 

 

GRAND TOTAL

(Near & Far)

74.3

69.8

74.5

69.3

58.7

63.2

70

57.8

 

 

* Scopes were tested on different days from the rest, this could affect results slightly

 

 

 

Editor’s Note: Testing at comparable magnification is tricky since the way magnification rings are marked is not reliable.  I would also really like to see a low light test and mirage test, but those can be tricky to set up.  The way different scopes render contrast and color makes a significant difference on mirage performance.  These subtle effects really come into their own when the conditions get challenging.

 

 

Field of View (FOV) in mrad

We can look at most manufacturers specs and see that scope X offers XX feet at bottom magnification and XX feet at top magnification at 100 yards.  This is great for knowing the extremes of your scopes magnification range, but what about in between, the results are not always linear.  Some scopes have pretty poor performance at the bottom but end up doing much better than other scopes at the top (NF ATACR scopes are notorious for this).  I should note that the diopter can have an effect on how much (or how little) FOV is seen; therefore, the results for each shooter with different eye correct may yield slightly different values.  My measurements here are from setting up each scope for my eye and then using my spidey senses to determine how much mrad of the reticle can be seen at a given magnification.  Measurements were taken using the magnification indicator listed on the magnification ring and is prone to error due to mfr tolerance as well as my own ability to set perfectly.  As such, take these values as a “general” rule, not as a hard fast rule. 

Mag

March 428

TT 525

ZCO 527

Vortex 636

S&B 327

S&B 525

March 540

Burris 530

5x

NA

33 mrad

33.2

NA

40 mrad

NA

NA

NA

10x

NA

20.5 mrad

18.1

21 mrad

20 mrad

19.5 mrad

NA

20.8 mrad

15x

15 mrad

14 mrad

12

13.5 mrad?

13.5 mrad

13.2 mrad

11.4 mrad

13.8 mrad

20x

11.2 mrad

10.6 mrad

9.1

10.5 mrad

10 mrad

9.7 mrad

8.5 mrad

10.6 mrad

25x

9.2 mrad

8.4 mrad

7.8

8.4 mrad

8 mrad

8 mrad

6.8 mrad

8.4 mrad

* * I completely botched getting numbers for ZCO, not sure how I made that mistake but sold the scope before I figured it out (these numbers are provided by @Huskydriver who graciously spent the time to obtain what his 5-27 shows at each spot.)Twilight Transmission (low light performance)

Editor’s Note: half-field FOV on the TT525P should be 38mrad.  I had a chance to measure it on several Tangent scopes and I am very confident of the number.

I set all scopes to 12x to allow for a larger exit pupil yet still give my eyes a challenge in the failing light.  From about 20 minutes after sunset, I begin testing both scopes side by side as the evening becomes darker and darker.  These results are very subjective and as I have aged I believe my eyes low light acuity has decreased.  You may have very different results depending on your age and how good your eyes are.

Low light at close

range on Evaluation

Target
Mag:  12x

ZCO

5-27x56

Vortex G3

6-36x56

Tangent

5-25x56

March

4.5-28x52

March G2

5-40x56*

S&B

3-27x56

S&B

5-25x56*

Burris

5.5-30x56*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Test Criteria

Rating

 

 

Pop

(Color, Contrast, Clarity)

8

7

8

8

8

8

7

7

 

 

Color Accuracy

8

7

8

8

8

8

7

7

 

 

Contrast Chart (High)

9

9

9

8

9

9

8

9

 

 

Contrast Chart (Low)

7

8

7

6

8

6

8

8

 

 

Perceived Brightness

9

8

9

7

7

8

8

8

 

 

Totals

41

39

41

37

40

39

38

39

 

 

* Scopes were tested on different days from the rest, this could affect results slightly

 

 

 

Resolution Line Chart (LPI)
It’s one thing for me to look through a scope and judge resolution based on a 1-10 ranking, but it’s quite another to look at line charts and determine how many lines I’m able to resolve at a given magnification, my resolution testing above is a good “first impression” but the line chart does not lie and provides a more quantitative result.  For most results you’ll see a range – it is hard to resolve exact values with your eye and I would try to narrow it down as best I could but sometimes eye strain, perfect alignment, etc. would get in the way.

A picture containing graphical user interfaceDescription automatically generated

Line Resolution

(lp/mm) Testing

ZCO

5-27x56

Vortex G3

6-36x56

Tangent

5-25x56

March

4.5-28x52

March G2

5-40x56*

S&B

3-27x56

S&B

5-25x56*

Burris

5.5-30x56*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Test Criteria

Rating (Highest in green, lowest in red)

 

 

(Burris 5.5x/Vortex 6x)

5x

20-22

23-25

20-22

18-20

18-20

15-18

15-17

18-20

 

 

10x

44-45

47-49

47-49

43-45

38-40

38-40

36-40

36-38

 

 

15x

58-60

60-63

60-63

58-60

55-58

48-50

50-52

60-62

 

 

20x

78-80

80-82

80-82

78-80

68-72

70-72

68-72

70

 

 

25x

90-93

88-90

88-90

83-85

75

82-85

70-75

78-82

 

 

* Scopes were tested on different days from the rest, this could affect results slightly

 

 

 

Editor’s Note #1: the accompanying chart indicates that resolution tests, both daylight and low light, were done at ~33 yards.  That presents an interesting conundrum since not all scopes in this group can focus that close.  More specifically, TT525P does not focus closer than 50 yards.  At lower magnifications, it may have enough depth of field for the 33 yards distance, but I know for a fact that on higher magnifications, the angular resolution starts to fall off when the target is closer than 50 yards or so.

 

Editor’s Note #2: this also calls for an interesting question of how to treat higher magnifications.  For example, to get a proper apples-to-apples comparison, it makes sense to do them at the same magnification.  However, what if one of the scopes can go to a higher magnification than others.  For example, the March 5-40x56 in the table above does not appear to resolve as well as some others on 25x.  However, with the March, you can dial up to 40x.  Does it resolve more lines on 40x than lower magnification scopes do on 25x?  Same question for Razor Gen3 on 36x.  Add to this the fast that magnification rings are usually not perfectly marked, so whatever is the 25x setting might be 24x or 26x (for example).  In that case, testing scopes on the same, as marked, magnificationmight introduce some errors.

 

Other factors:

Sight Picture (HD)

o   ZCO 5-27: larger than life sight picture with very thin outer periphery

o   Vortex G3 6-36: very wide HD like sight picture similar to ZCO with thin outer periphery

o   TT 5-25: Large clear image, thick outer periphery

o   March 4.5-28: Large clear image, somewhat thick outer periphery

o   March G2 5-40: Nice image with thin outer periphery, narrow FOV feels closed in

o   S&B 3-27: Excellent sight picture but with thick outer periphery

o   S&B 5-25: Excellent image but thicker outer periphery gives closed in feel

o   Burris XTR III 5.5-30: Decent image, thicker outer periphery

Image/Reticle shift with magnification change

o   ZCO 5-27: None perceived

o   Vortex G3 6-36: None perceived

o   TT 5-25: None perceived

o   March 4.5-28: None perceived

o   March G2 5-40: None perceived

o   S&B 3-27: None perceived

o   S&B 5-25: None perceived

o   Burris XTR III 5.5-30: Slight jump during magnification change

Focus Shift with magnification change (requiring parallax adjustment for best image)

o   ZCO 5-27: Failed to record (memory says it was on par with TT)

o   Vortex G3 6-36: Slight adjustment above 20x

o   TT 5-25: Slight adjustment above 15x

o   March 4.5-28: Slight adjustment throughout magnification range

o   March G2 5-40: None perceived

o   S&B 3-27: Slight adjustment at 20x

o   S&B 5-25: Quite a bit from 5-10x and 15-20x at closer ranges

o   Burris XTR III 5.5-30: Slight adjustments from 10-20x

Tunneling

o   ZCO 5-27: None perceived

o   Vortex G3 6-36: None perceived

o   TT 5-25: None perceived

o   March 4.5-28: None perceived

o   March G2 5-40: None perceived

o   S&B 3-27: None perceived

o   S&B 5-25: Quite a bit from 5-7.5x

o   Burris XTR III 5.5-30: None perceived

Flare/Halation (direct sun on objective at 15x)

o   ZCO 5-27: None when centered, some whiteout when off center

o   Vortex G3 6-36: Very good, slight flare when off center

o   TT 5-25: Good when centered, image can quickly wash out when off center

o   March 4.5-28: Excellent, probably the best of the bunch

o   March G2 5-40: Excellent, no noticeable degradation

o   S&B 3-27: Decent with some flare

o   S&B 5-25: Okay, pretty heavy flare

o   Burris XTR III 5.5-30: Some flare

 

Editor’s Note: Flare is an interesting thing.  The wider the FOV and the larger the exit pupil, the harder it is to control it.  ZCO has fairly generous exit pupil, but FOV is comparatively narrow which is likely done to control flare/halation.  March 4.5-28x52 has very wide FOV, but the exit pupil is significantly constricted for the same purpose.  Different manufacturers make these compromise decisions in different ways.  Personally, I run a sunshade or ARD device to minimize flare whenever I can and prefer to keep wide FOV and large low power exit pupil.  However, that is not always possible, for example, if use of clip-ons is anticipated. 

 

Overall Optical Assessment Results:
TT > ZCO > Schmidt 5-25 > Vortex G3 > March 4.5-28 > Schmidt 3-27 > March 5-40 > Burris XTR III

There were a few surprises for me in my testing so I’ll try to comment on the rankings above.  It is no surprise to me that TT came out on top, I have owned multiple TT’s and multiple Minox ZP5’s (a sister design to TT) and they have consistently outperformed every single scope I have put up against them, that is until this test where I found the ZCO to be practically neck and neck and the fact it is only 0.1 points behind the TT essentially says that on any given day it could equal or possibly outperform the esteemed leader in optical excellence.  The big surprise was how well the 16 year old (design) S&B 5-25 came out, putting the tunneling aside this scope is still a competitor in this highly competitive field, I think of it like father and sons – where the Schmidt might show some wear and tear but can still teach the adolescents a thing or two, the Schmidt is definitely not past its prime and with the 2022 updates S&B has made to the 5-25, it has brought new life into this aging design.  The next surprise was how well the Vortex faired against these big name and high price tag scopes, at around ½ the price of the TT, ZCO and Schmidt, this is the kid coming from the other side of the tracks and steamrolling through the defenders, sure there is room for improvement but Vortex found the magic formula with this optical design which has proved to be the best glass I’ve seen from Japan to date, and that brings us to the other Japanese scope maker whose name has become synonymous with quality – March.  The March 4.5-28x52 is the shortest scope of the bunch and has the smallest objective as well, this would put it at a deficit from the get-go but this scope performs more like the “Little Engine That Could”, puff, puff, puffing it’s way up the ranks and beating out several other scopes.  I would say the biggest disappointment  comes from the Schmidt 3-27, looking at MSRP this is the most expensive scope of the bunch at $5500 and I expected optical performance to match this price tag; however, one must also consider this scope has the highest erector magnification range of any alpha scope out there, and while the Schmidt did not get as high points as many other scopes – no other scope can do what this scope can, and that is offer a very impressive 3x at the bottom end and 27x at the top, if you need a scope to do everything and don’t expect it to compete with the best of the best then I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.  The March 5-40 G2 comes in second to last compared to the rest of the alpha scopes which I consider it to be part of, it is still a decent contender and has some admirable attributes but it just can’t keep up with the other scopes in this class.  Not much of a surprise, the Burris came in last, but given it’s price point (now under $1300 street) this scope shows outstanding price/performance which is why it is almost always at the top of my list for budget FFP scopes

Editor’s Note: I agree that the 5-25x56 Schmidt is a better precision scope than the newer 3-27x56.  However, you have to keep in mind that the 3-27x was designed with a very particular military requirement in mind and that is what necessitated the broad magnification range.  The military customer required 3x on the low end for use with thermal clip-ons

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ERGONOMICS

Overall Ergonomic Assessment Results: 
ZCO 5-27 >= TT 5-25 > Schmidt 3-27 >= March 4.5-28 >= March G2 5-40 > Schmidt 5-25 > Vortex G3 6-36 > Burris XTR III 5.5-30

The overall ergonomic assessment is based on the features of the scope, how intuitive are they to use, how easy are they to manipulate.  Location and function play a factor along with how smooth dials are to turn, etc.  The layout of the ZCO is just superb, from the knurling to the large numbers on the turret, the overall size, the illumination features – I think this is what every scope manufacture ought to aspire to.  Tangent Theta has a feature that is the envy of the industry – toolless turrets that are an absolute pleasure to use, no more lost 1.5mm hex wrenches, or grabbing the 2mm only to realize your scope takes 0.050 – what a mess.  Everything on TT is laid out very well and easy to manipulate.  One of the biggest reasons for the S&B ranking is due to the spectacular DT II+ turret design – whoever came up with this turret should be promoted to chief engineer because they exude quality in every way, yes, we can argue till the cows come home about the illumination tumor, but everything else on this scope helps it earn its position.  The March scopes would rank higher if they had a better illumination module, it is hard to manipulate with gloves on and difficult to keep POA while trying to adjust, outside of that these scopes are designed very well and laid out well, the short design of the 4.5-28 lends itself to better match with clip-on devices should night shooting be your game.  The locking turrets of the G2 5-40 are outstanding, giving TT and Schmidt DT II+ a run for the money, would love to see this design translate into other scopes.  The Schmidt 5-25 is an older design, and it shows, but it works and works well.  The Vortex is nicely laid out and the Zero stop/set feature is a clever design, but the function and feel of the turrets leave a bit to be desired.  The Burris XTR III ergos look nice, but function is poor, good news is it sounds like Burris took notice and with the Gen 2 version called XTR IIIi it sounds like they’ve cleaned some of this up.

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FIT & FINISH

Overall Fit & Finish Assessment Results:
ZCO 5-27 >= TT 5-25 > March 4.5-28 >= March G2 5-40 >= Schmidt 3-27 >= Schmidt 5-25 > Vortex G3 6-36 > Burris XTR III 5.5-30

What I’m looking for here is anodizing quality, how each piece interacts with each other, materials used and function as a working whole.  Once again I think ZCO slightly edges out the competition, the scope I had for this review was one of their Cerakote models and they did an excellent job on mine, previous ZCO’s I’ve had were their normal black finish which is more matte than other scopes sometimes “shiny” anodization.  On par with ZCO is TT, quality reeks from this scope everywhere you look, the precise fit of every single part abounds with the precision that Tangent Theta is known for.  March is a boutique manufacturer that hand assembles each and every scope, if ZCO and Tangent Theta are at the top then March is not far behind and right there with them is Schmidt, known for quality before most of these companies even existed, there is not much not to like about a Schmidt.  The Vortex and Burris are a little harder to place, I’d say Vortex has a slight edge in overall craftmanship but Burris is not far behind, both manufacturers have some area for improvement.

AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT

ZCO
I am not a fan of the 36mm tube, I understand they say it was necessary for uncompromised performance at max elevation, but I’m not convinced.  Anyone who’s read my previous reviews of ZCO will know I am not a fan of the MPCT series reticles, this is very much personal preference, but I would sure like to see a less intrusive tree design.  Every competitor offers some kind of scope caps, whether they be proprietary or Tenebraex but all ZCO offers is bikini caps, not saying I don’t like bikini’s but a little more coverage would be nice.

March

The first item that comes to mind is for March to design non-translating turrets, that is - turrets that do not rise and fall as you spin them up or down, almost every manufacture not named Nightforce does that these days.  I would also like to see a similar locking turret design with larger diameter turret as is on the 5-42x56 HM.  Get a brighter illumination module like so many other new scopes that have excellent low light quality with no bleed but also bright enough to be used when the sun is out, and a different design (illumination) for easier manipulation of settings especially if wearing gloves. 

Tangent Theta

Get a daytime bright illumination module.  Larger and more bold numbering and dashes on the turrets, maybe even reduce the height of the turrets.  Reduce spacing on turrets to 12 mrad per rev and increase the travel to 36 mrad total.  Tangent should invest in better multi-coating to help eliminate flare when the scope is pointed towards the sun, depending on position there can be significant flare and ghosting which shouldn’t be there at this price point, sure you can put on the ARD to help eliminate this, but many will not be using that part for most of their shooting – I would be happy to tell TT to not put an ARD that the majority of users never use in the box and instead use that money to invest in better multi-coating to prevent flare in the first place. 

Editor’s Note: I would not be in such a rush to blame coatings.  See my notes on flare above.  I use ARDs and sunshades all the time.

Schmidt and Bender

Get rid of that illumination tumor – oh wait, someone at Schmidt finally listened and a couple new models in 2022 offer illumination in line with parallax – left-handed shooters rejoice!  The new 6-36x56 could prove to be a superb scope that has the potential to best them all, question is whether or not it actually will, we’ll have to wait and see as Schmidt is not known to be fast to production after models are announced.

Vortex G3

Fix those turrets.  Well, some could argue that they work as designed, that is to say they do work; however, the feel and function seem a bit lacking compared to even the predecessor Gen2 model.  Not sure who it was that thought a dog poo brown anodization color would be a hit, but most buy these scopes for their price/performance, not for their looks.  Larger and more bold numbering and dashes on the turrets – take a queue from ZCO and Nightforce.

Editor’s Note: I went to Vortex a couple of months ago and tried the turrets on several dozen G3 scopes.  They were excellent.  Whatever needed to be fixed is fixed. 

Burris

Get a daytime bright illumination module.  Loosen up the mag ring and parallax, do some more investigation with your knurling and what is comfortable.  When a customer says mag or parallax needs to be loosened – fix it, don’t just say it’s in spec and send it back.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

This is the first time I have ever taken on a review of this magnitude, previously the most was four scopes and I think that is somewhat manageable, but this was brutal and will undoubtedly be my last review with so many scopes as it has taken me months to get all my numbers and thoughts to the screen.

Finally, reiterating what I mention at the very beginning, I am biased (we all are) and I have my own preferences and this review has opinions that are influenced from that, hopefully I’ve done an adequate job throughout the review to share where my personal preference comes into play in order to help you better evaluate a particular feature.  I might rank a feature as a 10 but you would rank the same at a 7.  A couple years ago I tried out a new scoring system but ultimately was not satisfied, I do not like giving numbers to any scope because there are so many factors that could affect outcomes at any given time, so any numbers I do provide are meant to be for that day and against those scopes I could test side by side.  Give me the same scope on another day and it might fair a little better or a little worse due to any number of variables not the least of which is atmospherics which are constantly changing.

So here is my personal opinion on each of these scopes

·        ZCO 5-27x56: May be the best all around scope on the market today.  Does so many things well optically and mechanically.  It is a work of art that could be in a museum someday labeled as “the best scope of the 21st century” – well at least the first ¼ of the 21st century, the only thing holding it back from getting a military contract is that 36mm tube.

·        Tangent Theta 5-25x56:  If ZCO’s museum piece gets best scope then right next to it are a set of turrets from Tangent Theta, I’m not sure these will ever be beat, after 8 years they are still the best turrets in the business, if you need toolless design there is none better, perfect for switch barrel rifles and those seeking refinement that is found in only the very best scopes on the market today.  The glass in the Tangent is best in the business.

·        Vortex Razor HD Gen3 6-36x56 (or G3 for short):  To see a scope that is half the price of the alpha’s in this group perform at a level (optically) that could keep right up with the best, I was not expecting that, if you’re looking to save a few pennies I have nothing but high praise for this scope and feel we’ll be seeing a lot more of it in the field and in competitions.

·        March 4.5-28x52 HM:  The fact that an ultra short can even compete at this level is impressive, if you need a short-bodied scope that has class leading FOV then this scope is a very compelling option.  May be my new favorite for DMR purpose gas gun use and is just as good on a nice bolt rifle, but limited exit pupil performance take it out of my recommendation for true crossover work where low light may be involved.

·        March 5-40x56 Gen2:  Decent optical performance with superb turrets but have a hard time recommending it when the Vortex G3 performs considerably better optically and with a cheaper price tag.  What the 5-40 does have going for it is a relatively light weight design.

·        Schmidt & Bender PMII 5-25x56:  If you can find a good deal on this scope in the classifieds then it is worth picking up as long as the tunneling issue isn’t going to be an “issue” for you.  The Gen2 model that Schmidt is updating for 2022 (why not just call it PMIII?) has some welcome updates to this scope; however, the brand new PMII 6-36x56 could very well take the crown for Schmidt’s best scope to date, but we’ll have to wait and see.

·        Schmidt & Bender PMII 3-27x56: A high price to pay for a massive magnification range, one must ask yourself if you really need 3x at bottom do you really need 27x at top?  I would recommend the ZCO or TT and even the PMII 5-25 if you’re looking for optical excellence, but if having that extra FOV at the bottom is critical, this scope is a great option, just don’t expect it to compete optically with the best of the best.

·        Burris XTR III 5.5-30x56:  It took Burris too long to bring illumination to this model, but alas, it is finally here.  These scopes offer some of the best bang for the buck performance out there and are one of the first I recommend for those on a budget (funny to think that a $1k scope is considered budget these days).  Is it good enough to topple any of the alpha scopes, no, but at 1/3 the cost or less most are not expecting that to begin with.

 

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Editor's Note: I did not want to pollute the whole thing with affiliate links.  Most of these are available from Eurooptics and a few other fine retailers https://bit.ly/3tYC193

Addendum files are here: https://darklordofoptics.locals.com/post/3076505/alpha-class-long-range-scope-review-addendum-file-1  and here: https://darklordofoptics.locals.com/post/3076515/alpha-class-long-range-scope-review-addendum-file-2

 

 

Read full Article
Alpha Class Long Range Scope Review, Part 1

Editor's Note: this really excellent comparison is entirely a brainchild of Bill, who goes by @Glassaholic here and on Sniper's Hide.  I had to split it into two parts due to a character limit imposed by Locals.

 

Tangent Theta 5-25x56, ZCO 5-27x56, Schmidt & Bender 3-27x56, Schmidt & Bender 5-25x56, Vortex Razor G3 6-36x56, March G2 5-40x56, March 4.5-28x52 and Burris XTR III 5.5-30x56 Reviewed

 

PART 1

 

It has been almost a decade since I first began doing reviews for scopes on Snipers Hide and if you would have asked me ten years ago if I’d be doing a review of some of the highest end scopes available on the market I would have “spit out my milk” (the most expensive scope I had at the time was a Zeiss Conquest 4.5-14 with Rapid Z reticle).  Like many of you, the Hide has ruined me when it comes to average grade scopes, what I used to think was “all that was needed” has become something I won’t even consider today, at least not for anything serious.  I used to be an moa guy, or rather an IPHY guy, who thought mils were something that forged steel or related to the metric system or equaled centimeters and well, as an old fashioned American I don’t know no centipeders and never gave it the time of day.  Similar situation with SFP vs. FFP, up until about 20 years or so ago I don’t think I could have told you what a first focal plane reticle was, weren’t all reticles the same?  I could go on and on about the knowledge I’ve picked up from the Hide and diving more into the shooting sports, but you get the point, I was an ignoramus who thought he had enough knowledge to shoot long distance (at that time I thought 300 yards was long distance) and didn’t need anyone else telling me otherwise.  Years ago someone took the time to patiently explain to me what I was missing and one day it finally clicked, I saw the light and realized my way of thinking with moa = inches and mil = centimeters was completely faulty, both are angular measurements and can be used successfully for solutions to hit a target at any distance (within the viable range of a given cartridge and barrel).  Most of us today use mrad (mil) or moa hash reticles which is commonly referred to as the “ruler in front of you”, stop thinking about inches or centimeters – they mean nothing to the angular measurement, but instead input your DOPE into a ballistic solver, use the solution and shoot, watch for bullet impact or splash and notice that your reticle shows POI (Point Of Impact) was .8 mils below and .3 left of where your POA (Point Of Aim), you don’t have to calculate inches or centimeters at all, you just adjust your POA or move your turrets the proper direction and voila, next shot – impact, simple as that (well maybe not if it’s a very windy day).  This review is not going to get into the merits of using moa or mil reticle/turrets (if you’d like to know more, click here >>> https://www.snipershide.com/precision-rifle/stop-the-debate-mils-vs-moa-vs-iphy/) but based on the scopes in my review it is clearly focused on FFP optics, which I do feel, in many ways, are superior to SFP optics especially if using any kind of milling style reticle.

 

HISTORY OF SCHMIDT & BENDER

Schmidt and Bender has been around since 1957 but it wasn’t until the PM II class 5-25x56 riflescope was introduced in 2005 (FFP in 2006) that things really began to take off in the precision rifle community, this scope single handedly changed the landscape of the high end FFP market and for many years was “the” scope for serious long range dynamic competition sports due to the unsurpassed (at the time) optical and mechanical quality of the scope, if there was one flaw it would be the tunneling that occurs from 5-7x which has caused many to regard this scope as a 7-25 design more than a 5-25 design.

The 5-25x56 PM II has received a facelift in 2022 in order to withstand the latest requirements of climate zone C2 (-46 degrees Celsius) or diving depths up to 25 meters. In addition, the low profile turrets are advantageous for mounting an LRF above the objective. A redesigned magnification ring is made out of solid aluminum and can accommodate a Throw Lever. In addition, the diopter adjustment can mount a military grade Polarization Filter via a thread as well as Tenebraex caps without needing any bulky adapters. Another new option is a new ocular design that is supposed to remedy the tunneling effect and make the scope a true 5-25 design.

Schmidt and Bender has been awarded the precision sniper rifle dayscope contract. These scopes will be used by special forces for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

 

HISTORY OF TANGENT THETA

For many years Schmidt & Bender had been known as the “premier” riflescope manufacturer in the first focal plan (FFP) world, but with the prolific uprising of PRS and other dynamic shooting sports other manufacturers began to catch on and realize there was some money to be made from this niche high end market.  Maybe before anyone else recognized this, it was Chris Thomas of Premier Reticles who saw the light and had the brilliant idea of starting a Skunk Works* of sorts in the high end optical scope world - around 2007 he grabbed what some would say were some of the “best of the best” engineers from the sport optics world and founded the renowned Optronika group - for those who may be somewhat new to the game, Optronika was the brainchild behind the Premier Heritage scope line but their glory days were only short lived (as well as Premier Reticles) and soon after Premier went under Optronika became German Sport Optics (GSO) with help from Blaser and Minox, which is why the Minox ZP5 line of scopes also share the optical design of the Premier/TT lineage.  During its heyday, Premier Heritage was regarded as some of the best glass out there, maybe only rivaled by Hensoldt.  Around 2013/2014 ATI of Canada acquired Premier Heritage scopes and soon thereafter Tangent Theta was born, building upon one of the best optical designs in the industry, engineers at ATI went to work and created what many consider to this day to be the best turrets on the market, their distinct clicks and simple toolless zero set/stop feature are still unrivaled (though some are getting close – more on that later).  As an aside, Chris Thomas went to work for Gunwerks shortly after the fall of Premier and was responsible for the Revic scope design which was another innovative product with its built in HUD; some quick internet sleuthing shows that Chris has been President of Premier Technology, a company I have not heard of so would be curious to learn more as whatever he touches tends to turn into something innovative and productive.
*The Skunk Works holds a special place in my heart as my father was hand picked by Kelly Johnson in the early 50’s and worked for them until his retirement in the early 90’s. 

Editor’s Note:  the development of Tangent Theta scopes started out before Armament Technologies invested into Premier.  Eventually, due to a variety of problems, Premier went under and ATI, being the investor in Premier at the time, ended up with all of its assets.  Optronika in Germany merged with Minox and became GSO.  They currently make riflescopes under Minox and Blaser brands.  Tangent Theta optical design is an evolved version of the original Premier/Optronika with very different mechanics.

 

HISTORY OF VORTEX

Ask someone about Vortex scopes 20 years ago and you’d get blank stares, that’s because the company was just beginning.  Daniel Hamilton and his wife Margie started Eagle Optics in the mid 80’s with an emphasis on mail order sales of various sport optics, in fact, in 1998 I bought my first “high end” optic from Eagle Optics (I still have the receipt), it was a Bausch & Lomb Elite 4000 4-16x50 and had excellent glass for the time.  Mr. Hamilton began Vortex in 2002 and in 20 years has become one of the worlds largest sport optics manufacturers.  In 2014 Vortex announced their Gen II series of Razor HD scopes and while the 4.5-27x56 would not compete for best glass, it offered one of the best values in the growing PRS world with some putting it at the same level as the Nightforce ATACR F1 series that many considered to be cream of the crop at the time.  Whether it was marketing genius or generous sponsor program or the fact they made a fantastic scope at a great price (more likely all three together), this scope went on to be one of the most used scopes within the top 100 PRS shooters for a number of years according to Precision Rifle Blogs surveys, only being topped out by Nightforce’s ATACR 7-35x56 in recent years which I’m sure contributed to the design of the latest Gen III Razor, the 6-36x56 introduced in 2022.  Will the 6-36 follow in the footsteps of the 4.5-27 and lead the pack in PRS and NRL sports going forward, only time will tell but without giving too much away in my review, I would not be surprised.

Editor’s Note:  the first Vortex Razor Gen2 scopes were shipped in summer of 2014, about a year before Nightforce introduced the FFP version of the ATACR 5-25x56.  As far as comparative size of different companies in the sporting optics world goes, we can safely assume that Vortex is easily the largest one by revenue and it is not close.  

 

HISTORY OF MARCH

March is another company with beginnings in the 2000’s.  In 2004 Shimizu Fumio and others formed DEON Optical Corporation and in 2007 the first March scope was introduced.  With a primary focus on benchrest and F Class shooting styles, March entered the FFP market in 2011 with the 3-24x42 scope, offering one of the first 8x erector FFP scopes to the market.  When I joined Snipers Hide in 2012 one of my first questions related to lightweight tactical scopes and I got a plethora of answers but the two scopes that stood out were the Premier Reticles LT 3-15x50 and the March 3-24x42.  Having a background in professional photography I knew a little about scope/lens design and new that the higher the magnification range (or zoom range in lens terminology) the more image quality (IQ) is degraded, memories of my first Tamron 28-200 came to mind that was quickly sold for much better quality “professional” grade lenses.  So, you could say I had some hesitancy when some guy named ILya (aka Dark Lord of Optics) gave high praise to the March design and soon I would have my own and was impressed to say the least, but one of my goals was low light capability and ultimately the darkness of the 42mm objective had me looking elsewhere.  Soon thereafter the 3-24x52 was released and I picked that scope up as well and was pleasantly surprised at how well this scope performed, but at the time I was obsessed with the Christmas tree reticle craze and ultimately moved on.  Back in 2018 March was struggling with getting a better foothold into the FFP market and specifically the PRS/NRL style sports, their 3-24x52 and 5-40x56 scopes were decent sellers but not making many waves in these sporting competitions and their reticles were rather uncompelling to this market as well.  Through an interesting set of circumstances, I was put in touch with March leadership where I gave my honest opinion and advise on the current lineup and potential future designs, I also put March in touch with ILya who was the brain behind the excellent FML-TR1 reticle and soon March had input from some PRS competitors to create the FML-PDK reticle.  A short body scope with too much magnification just has too many limitations for dynamic shooting sports, terms like “narrow depth of field (DOF)”, “finicky eyebox and parallax” seemed to come up often when 8x erector scopes were mentioned.  March took the constructive criticism to heart and soon thereafter the 4.5-28x52 was born, a first for March with a 6.22x erector and some other secret sauce to help this scope perform amazingly well for such a short body design.

Editor’s Note: The original team at Deon came out of Light Optics Works.  They started their company in order to produce the best that could be built in Japan.  They are really adept at keeping very high performing optical systems comparatively light and exceedingly durable.  

 

HISTORY OF ZCO

Around 2018 (or just before) a brand new scope company was introduced to us and the official announcement may have come first right here on the Hide, I remember seeing that thread for maybe a week or so before I actually clicked on it, and I’m so glad I did because unbeknownst to me ZCO would become synonymous with “zero compromise” and would soon be discussed in the ranks of TT, Schmidt and Hensoldt.  Many years ago Jeff Huber was a big part of a little company some of you may have heard of called Nightforce and after a bitter departure with Nightforce found himself as the marketing guru for Kahles USA and I assume was responsible for the relationship with Shannon Kay of K&M Shooting Complex that was a big part of the birth of PRS shooting competitions.  I remember this well because it was around 2014 that I was in the market for a higher end scope, but was very particular about reticles and the SKMR series of reticles had just been released with the Gen III version of the venerable Kahles K624i, and I had a long talk with Jeff on the phone which ultimately convinced me to spend the extra money to go this route.  Jeff then left Kahles and we soon found out why when Zero Compromise Optic was introduced – optics that are assembled right here in the USA with parts manufactured in their uber secret facility in Austria.  Combining one of the best ergonomic designs in the market along with stellar Austrian glass, ZCO has taken the competition world by storm.

Editor’s Note: The origins of ZCO are not entirely clear, but the core team both in US and Austria all came out of Kahles.  In some ways, ZCO scopes are what Kahles should have been.  I do not have any insight into whether they were pushed out of Kahles or left because the product direction they wanted wasn't happening at Kahles or if it was a simple management dispute.  Whatever the cause, ZCO has clearly made an impact on precision shooting community.

 

THE SCOPES

Tangent Theta 5-25x56, ZCO 5-27x56, Schmidt & Bender 3-27x56, Schmidt & Bender 5-25x56, Vortex Razor G3 6-36x56, March Gen2 5-40x56, March 4.5-28x52 and Burris XTR III 5.5-30x56

Why only these, how come brand X or model Y aren’t in here, well plain and simple I am limited on funds and I have to purchase most of the scopes for my reviews, so I’m limited to my own personal collection as well as what may interest me at the time so I do apologize if a scope you were really hoping would be included is not in here, maybe a possibility for a future review…  Yes, in some of the images you see the Burris XTR III 5.5-30x56, mostly because it was my rimfire trainer scope prior to this review and I was curious how a $1k class scope would compare to the alpha class which cost a considerable amount more.

A couple years ago I reviewed the March 4.5-28 alongside the Tangent Theta 5-25, not because I thought it would be a “fair” comparison but out of curiosity to see how well the March could hold against what many consider to be one of the best scopes on the market today.  I also had the March with my ZCO 4-20 and am providing those two images below to give you an idea of the size comparison, what is unique with the March is that it is the only “ultra short” scope out of all these reviewed here which does put it at somewhat of a disadvantage (short focal length scopes with high magnification erectors tend to be more finicky with eyebox, DOF and Parallax).

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Keep in mind this evaluation is based on my own personal observations based on what my eyes “see” when looking through the scope.  I pay meticulous attention when setting up my diopters for each scope making sure to fine tune them to my eye.  My eyes are very sensitive to CA while some people cannot or have difficulty seeing CA when looking through the same scope.  Everyone’s eyes are different, and my observations will undoubtedly be different from others. That being said, I try to be as objective as possible but, like all of us, do have my bias’, though I try my best to inform you of my own personal preferences so you can make judgement calls based on your own preference.  It should also be noted that I am not paid by anyone to do these reviews, I do have some relationships with dealers and some manufacturers that help out some, but by no means am beholden to any particular manufacturer and those that I do work with are well aware of this.  Special thanks go out to Mountic Oudtoors @MOUNTIC (https://mounticoutdoors.com/) who is a Hide sponsor and dealer in Tangent Theta, ZCO, March, Manners, Spuhr and more, I’d also like to thank Jason at eurooptic.com with the Schmidt 3-27.

SPECS

The below specs are provided by the manufacturers which provides a good baseline for what these scopes offer.  Vortex is highlighted in yellow as it is new for 2022.  Highlighted in red is a potential drawback and in green is a potential benefit.

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TURRETS

This review does not cover the accuracy of each scope but covers the functionality – since any manufacturer is capable of producing a lemon it’s always a good idea to test your scope to ensure its mechanical accuracy. 

Tangent Theta

I wrote the following in my previous review and will repeat it here - I have never considered myself a turret purest, having had many other scopes by numerous manufacturers over the years I could never quite understand what the “fuss” was all about with regard to turret feel.  My general rule is – can it get me where I want to go quickly?  If the turret can do that and is repeatable then it is a win in my book.  That being said, I have experienced some somewhat lackluster turrets that leave much to be desired, so I assume we all have a threshold we are willing to accept.  All that being said, if turret feel is your game, then Tangent Theta owns it – very distinct, no play whatsoever and a nice clunk between each .1 mrad gives you a sense of confidence anytime you spin the elevation or windage.  Keep in mind these are 15 mrad per rev, and sometimes the spacing can be too tight when mfr’s try to pack so many clicks into one rev, but TT decided to give you something more akin to a Ferrari stick shift to grab onto – it is meaty and with a diameter that allows for refined spacing throughout the 15 mrad of travel for each rev.  Another unique feature is the toolless zero, something else that is unmatched in the industry.  Have you ever found yourself at the range and forgot that tiny little hex wrench?  What usually follows is #@&^%#$.  With the Tangent you simply use your fingers to loosen the top plate of either elevation or windage and then you pull up slightly and spin to wherever zero is, push back down and tighten the top plate, that’s it, no hex wrenches needed.  The Zero stop is always .5 mrad under 0 so this is automatically set wherever you set zero.  Something I wish every manufacturer would introduce and if you don’t have that feature then do what Kahles did and stick a magnetic hex wrench inside the illumination battery cover so you have easy access in the field.  My one and only complaint is that for such a massive turret housing, TT opted to put little tiny numbers, for young eyes this may not be a big deal, but ZCO got this one right with their large numbers and bold lines, something I wish TT and others would offer.  Having had several Tangents now I can say they still reign supreme but that mountain is being climbed by other manufacturers (see below) that some may consider just as good if not better than TT.  Turrets are non-translating which means the turret does not rise or fall when spinning through the different revolutions.

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March FFP Gen II 5-40 turrets

Having reviewed the March 5-42x56 HM a couple years ago I fell in love with those turrets, not just for their locking mechanism but for the superb feel that is one of the closest to Tangent Theta I have felt to date.  March has essentially put the same turrets in the 5-40 scope and labeled it “Gen II”, like the 5-42 turrets before, these turrets excel with extremely positive clicks and nice wide 10 mrad per rev spacing, even if you do not need the locking mechanism, these turrets are a refinement over March’s standard turrets that is hard to describe – it is a very distinct click with excellent audible feedback.  The locking mechanism is unique and sits atop the turret as a lever that you can switch on to lock or switch off to allow it to freely spin, both elevation and windage share this design which is an advantage.  I prefer this (and Schmidt’s DT II+) design over the up/down mechanism of the Vortex and ZCO.  To set the zero stop there is a small hex nut at the top of the turret that you tighten but be careful not to over torque, my only gripe is that if you don’t tighten far enough it is easy to move past the zero desired which may limit its repeatability.  Turrets are translating which means the turret rises and lowers when spinning through the different revolutions.

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Editor's Note: I have spent a TON of time with March's new turrets and with S&B's DTII+ turrets.  These are easily my favourite locking turrets on the market at the moment.  I thought they would lock up after a few months in unhospitable environments out here, but they gave me zero issues.

 

Schmidt PM II 5-25 DT turrets

These represent some of the traditional turrets that Schmidt has offered for a while, they are somewhat muted and close together, but no noticeable play between clicks.  Setting your zero is done through traditional hex screws on the periphery of the turret.  Turrets are non-translating which means the turret does not rise or fall when spinning through the different revolutions.

Editor's Note: These have been around for a very long time and they work well.  Their durability has stood the test of time, but if I were buying a S&B scope, it would have the DT II+ turrets.

 

Schmidt PM II 3-27 DT II+ turrets

These turrets are completely different from the traditional design Schmidt has offered in the past, they are somewhat lower profiled and a bit larger in diameter, but the main difference is in how they function.  These turrets have a very solid and distinct click value with minimal play between clicks – Schmidt engineers did their homework on this one.  Turrets are non-translating which means the turret does not rise or fall when spinning through the different revolutions.  The added benefit of the DT II+ system is you have a lever for both elevation and windage that allows 3 settings: Locked, Unlocked with MTC and Unlocked without MTC (for those who may not know, MTC stands for More Tactile Clicks which means every full mrad value the click is stiffer than the rest providing a “more tactile” response).  When in the locked position there is no play or movement in the turret.  It should be noted that I had issue with previous generation MTC turrets, the full mil stronger click was so strong it would cause me to inadvertently overtravel by .1-.2 clicks coming out or going back (for example: if I had a solution of 5.1 mils I would overtravel to 5.2 or 5.3 and would then have to dial back causing delay) the DT II+ MTC has rectified that and feels like the ideal resistance without having to jump forward to get out of the full mrad value.  The Schmidt turrets are non-translating which means the turret does not rise or fall when spinning through the different revolutions.  I would rate these turrets as the best yet from Schmidt and Bender and arguably close to Tangent Theta in quality.

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Editor's Note: DTII+ turrets are on the left in the picture above.

ZCO 5-27 turrets

ZCO offers a double bearing design that is supposed to provide more even clicks throughout the travel.  The clicks are slightly muted, a little mushy with slight play but very accurate.  ZCO offers a locking mechanism where you have to pull up on the turret to unlock and spin and then push down to lock.  Recently ZCO has offered a non-locking design called NLE (Non-Locking Elevation) which is preferred by some.  Turrets are non-translating which means the turret does not rise or fall when spinning through the different revolutions.  Overall the turrets are very nice but not at the level of TT, Schmidt DT II+ or March (from this review).

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March FFP 4.5-28 High Master turrets

Having owned some March scopes previously, I had an expectation the turrets would be about on par with that experience; however, I have been pleasantly surprised with the latest turrets from March as they have very little play and very distinct clicks.  An interesting feature that March has had for a number of years is the 0-Set (or Zero Stop) which is “almost” toolless – if you have a coin or a key in your pocket you should be able to turn the 0-Set to define your zero stop after you have reset zero which does take a 1.5mm hex key.  While it’s not toolless, and it’s not like Kahles with the key hidden in the illumination cover, March does give you a little key chain sized hex tool that doesn’t take up too much room on the key chain.  The zero stop is a friction design and can have overtravel if you twist hard enough, but most of the time will fall on where you’ve set it.  The windage does come capped on the 4.5-28; however, it does have a nice feel so those who prefer to dial for wind can simply remove the cover to have a nice exposed windage turret that is still big enough to grab and spin even if gloved.  Turrets are translating which means the turret rises and lowers when spinning through the different revolutions.  Something else unique to the 4.5-28 scope is that March is providing a larger diameter turret shroud that can be bolted onto the fixed housing, I do prefer the larger numbers and diameter but because the turrets are translating I’ve found it makes it a little harder to determine center unless you are completely centered behind the scope.

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Vortex Razor HD Gen III 6-36x56 turrets

The Razor Gen III represents the top of the line scope from the vast array of scopes that Vortex offers to the public.  Similar to ZCO, Vortex offers a locking mechanism that must be lifted up to unlock and spin and then pushed back down to lock.  There have been a number of complaints from the community on the inconsistency with turret function and feel between scopes, something it would seem Vortex is trying to rectify through their stellar warranty program; however, even after servicing - my turrets are still pretty muted, a bit mushy and with a slight bit of play, but they do manage to fall on the appropriate hashmark each time.  These turrets will probably not win any awards, but they do get the job done which is what matters most.  Turrets are non-translating which means the turret does not rise or fall when spinning through the different revolutions.

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Burris XTR III 5.5-30x56

Resistance is a bit tight on the USA model I had for this review, that along with the sharp knurling can make for a somewhat uncomfortable experience when spinning these turrets.  They do have a good sound and there is slight play in between clicks.  Turrets are translating which means the turret rises or falls when spinning through the different revolutions.

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Editor’s Note: Burris does have an improved version of this scope out called the XTR Pro.  It sports improved image quality and reticle illumination along with a few additional tweaks.  It would be a stronger competitor in this group had it been out a bit earlier.

Turret Mechanical Assessment criteria (ratings: = (equals) > (greater than) ranked highest to lowest):

Turret Click Spacing Ranking:

March G2 5-40 >= TT = SB DT II+ > March 4.5-28 >= ZCO > Burris XTR III > SB DT > Vortex G3

My rankings for turret click spacing have to do with both the distance between clicks and the resistance between those clicks.  This is more or less a personal preference, but my hand feels better with wider spacing and good resistance but not too much. 

Turret Click Feel Ranking:

TT = SB DT II+ = March G2 5-40 > March 4.5-28 >= ZCO > Burris XTR III > SB DT = Vortex G3

This can be very subjective, but I am drawn to more distinct click feel and audible feedback with very little play between marks. 

Turret Alignment Ranking:

TT = SB DT II+ = SB DT > ZCO = Vortex G3 > March G2 5-40 = March 4.5-28 > Burris XTR III

I define turret alignment by the ability for the turret hash marks to fall directly on the indicator mark and not being offset while running the turret out to the extreme and back.  Because of the nature of translating designs, they do rise pretty high above the center mark which gives a slight perception you are off mark if your eye is not perfectly centered.  I much prefer the non-translating designs that do not rise and fall so preference is given for these designs.

Turret Reset Zero and Zero Stop Ranking:

TT >> March 4.5-28 > March G2 5-40 > Vortex G3 > SB DT II+ = SB DT = ZCO = Burris XTR III

In order to reset zero on the March, Schmidt, ZCO and Burris scopes you have to loosen the side hex bolts on the turret housing, then spin the turret to align zero and re-tighten, this is typical of most long range scopes today (zero stop on S&B is around 0.6 mrad below, ZCO is 0.5 mrad below and I can’t remember with the Burris and have since sold the scope) and is only bested by the toolless design of the Tangent Theta turrets.  March offers the coin/key adjustable zero stop mechanism on the 4.5-28 and a hex key adjustment on the G2 5-40; however, some may find an issue as this feature does not always stop below zero at the same spot – depending on how much torque you give it (with your fingers) you may stop short or overtravel from where you intended to set the actual stop.  Tangent is always fixed at .5 mrad below zero and that is something you can count on every single time which has its advantages for night shooters and those who prefer to count up after hitting the stop vs. visual recognition.  Vortex is unique in that the Razor G3 turrets are zeroed by loosening one hex head screw and then turning the center of the turret, there aren’t clicks when turning the center of the turret so you can set it exactly where you want for a precise zero (zero stop is always 0.5 mrad below zero), you can even mark the center dial for switch barrel platforms to easily change zero between barrels.

 

Total Travel Adjustment (Elevation) Ranking:

Vortex G3 36.1 mrad > ZCO 35 mrad > SB DT II+ 34 mrad > March 4.5-28 30 mrad > TT 28 mrad > SB DT 26 mrad = Burris 26 mrad > March G2 5-40 24 mrad

Pretty self explanatory.  There is variation of windage adjustment but as I almost exclusively hold wind with the reticle, this does not play a factor for me and therefore is not evaluated (however, the spec sheet above shows the exact amount for each scope for those who are interested).

Turret Locking Mechanism Ranking:

Schmidt DT II+ >= March G2 5-40 > ZCO > Vortex G3 > Burris – NA = March 4.5-28 – NA = Schmidt DT – NA = TT – NA

Some of these scopes do not offer a locking mechanism so I am going to rank them NA (Not Available).  The Schmidt DT II+ and March G2 5-40 locking mechanism is the best I’ve seen as they allow you to turn the locking feature on or off with a mechanical lever separate from the turret housing itself; whereas, the locking mechanism of the ZCO and Vortex G3 are the pull up to unlock and push down the turret to lock, this method can “fall” into lock depending on how you spin the turrets, of these two the ZCO feels to be more distinct and possibly has less ability to “slip” vs. the Vortex.

Overall Turret Mechanical Assessment Ranking:

TT >= Schmidt DT II+ >= March G2 5-40 > March 4.5-28 >= ZCO > Burris >= Vortex G3

A few years ago, Tangent Theta was simply the best of the best with regard to feel and function; however, I would say the S&B DT II+ and March Gen2 locking mechanism are encroaching on TT territory.  I’d like to reiterate that my rankings are biased towards features, feel and functionality that I prefer so please keep this in mind – where I prefer more distinct sounding clicks you may prefer more muted clicks and would therefore rank other scopes in almost the opposite order in which I have.

 

 

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MECHANICAL ASSESSMENT OF MOVING PARTS

Besides the turrets you have other moving parts on a scope:  the magnification ring, the parallax adjustment and an illumination module, which all require some type of adjustment.  Sometimes manufacturers make the resistance too hard or too light.  These parts are evaluated based on “resistance” which allows them to turn freely with two fingers, but not so loose that they could get bumped out of position accidentally.  In addition, if resistance is so high that turning a dial would cause POA to shift - this would be considered a negative.

 

Mag Ring, Parallax, Diopter and Illumination Mechanical Assessment criteria (ratings: = (equals) > (greater than) ranked highest to lowest):

 

Magnification Ring Movement Ranking:

Vortex G3 >= Schmidt 3-27 = Schmidt 5-25 > TT >= ZCO > March 4.5-28 >= March 5-40 > Burris XTR III

The ideal magnification ring resistance (IMHO) is one that can easily be turned with two fingers – not so hard to turn as it may now affect your POA and not so light that a brush of your hand (or light bump into a barricade, branch, etc.) is going to change the setting.  The Vortex G3 had what I consider to be the best with regard to resistance and smoothness.  Next up would be the S&B 3-27 and 5-25 which both exhibited excellent resistance and smoothness.  The TT was slightly stiff but very smooth while the ZCO might have been ranked higher as it had outstanding resistance, but it felt a little “gritty” when turning.  Both March scopes were a little too stiff to be ranked higher, but not bad and very smooth.  The worst of the bunch was the Burris XTR III, the magnification ring needs a pipe wrench to turn and worse yet I sent this scope back to Burris for “repair” and Burris kindly looked at it and wrote back saying it is within spec – not sure what gorilla’s work at Burris and think 200 ft-lbs of torque is good spec for a scope but that’s a complete no go in my book, in defense many shooters will say “get a Throw Lever” and while this does definitely help, I think a scope should be both usable with and without a mechanical helper.

Parallax knob Movement Ranking:

ZCO >= March 4.5-28 >= March 5-40 = Schmidt 3-27 = Schmidt 5-25 > Vortex G3 >= Tangent Theta > Burris XTR III

The parallax on the ZCO, both March scopes and both Schmidt scopes were all outstanding offering what I’d consider the right amount of resistance while being very smooth.  The resistance on the Vortex was very tight, so much so I thought I’d check how good the Vortex VIP warranty is and sent the scope in and was pleasantly surprised they were able to lighten it up to maybe a little better than TT level which is to say “excellent” – completely different experience from Burris warranty with the magnification ring where they did nothing.  The Tangent has more resistance than the magnification and takes some force to turn, I would not say the force is too much, but rather more than I would prefer, but coming up last again is the Burris XTR III with having a bit too tight of resistance.

Parallax Adjustment Forgiveness:

ZCO >= TT >= Vortex G3 > March 4.5-28 >= Schmidt 5-25 > March 5-40 > Schmidt 3-27 > Burris XTR III

What exactly is parallax “forgiveness”?  I define this as how finicky it is to adjust the parallax dial in order to get parallax properly set for the distance to target from the scope, keep in mind that many think of the parallax dial as more of a “side focus” and indeed it does help focus the image but it’s primary purpose is to correct for parallax misalignment which can cause you to miss a target at distance.  ZCO, Tangent Theta and the Vortex G3 really stood out among the rest to be some of the most forgiving which is not a huge surprise with how long these scopes are with relatively mild erectors (5.4x, 5x and 6x respectively).  The next surprise for me was the March 4.5-28 which is the shortest scope of the bunch and short scopes tend to struggle more than long scopes, the March comes up very close to the Schmidt 5-25, following that was the March 5-40 with an 8x erector, the Schmidt 3-27 with it’s 9x erector was definitely more finicky and the Burris XTR III was also pretty finicky.

Editor’s Note: Side focus knob is indeed image focus.  That is its primary function and when the scope is set up correctly, while focusing the image it also dials out parallax error.  Perhaps, I need to re-visit this topic in more detail.

 
Diopter Adjustment Rankings:  Tie

All scopes tested here offer a “fast focus” diopter allowing for quick adjustments, some offer a lock ring to help against slippage but it’s wise to use some kind of semi-permanent marker to mark the ideal setting for your eye.  If you have not seen my PSA on setting up your diopter, it is attached, so you can look at the process to better set your diopter for your eyes (if you are used to the blank wall or blue sky method only you may be missing out on maximum performance of your scope).

Editor’s Note: it is a very good PSA, but somewhat incomplete.  I am pretty sure I have covered it in a livestream, but it is another topic that should be re-visited.

 

Illumination Dial Performance Rankings:

ZCO  > Vortex G3 >= Schmidt 5-25 and 3-27 >= Tangent Theta > March 4.5-28 and 5-40 > Burris XTR III

There is no question that ZCO offers the widest range of features with illumination – you have the ability to select between red and green, there is an auto on/off feature that knows when the scope is slung on your back and will not activate until it gets in a position to fire.  Vortex offers a locking feature on illumination and it must be pulled out to turn.  There seems to be a love or hate relationship with Schmidt and Bender’s illumination tumor, but the rheostat function is very smooth.  Tangent Theta uses a dial with on/off positions as you rotate from lowest to highest power settings, there is definitely more real estate to grab and turn on the TT which gives it an advantage.  March is using a rubber cover over a push button for on/off functionality with numbers 1-6 on the side of the dial, due to being on the side it can be difficult to turn especially if wearing gloves.  March also has an automatic shutoff after one hour from being turned on which will help save battery (I have often left illumination on and forgot to turn off only to find my next outing there is a dead battery).  Burris XTR III has no illumination (the new XTR IIIi does).

Illumination Daylight Bright, Coverage and Bleed:

ZCO >= Vortex G3 > Schmidt 3-27 > TT >= March 4.5-28 = March 5-40 > Schmidt 5-25 > Burris XTR III

ZCO has one of the brightest reticles on the market and is what I consider to be daylight bright (keep in mind I’m not talking Aimpoint or other RDS bright) for a long-range scope which is to say it can be seen in bright midday sun, the entire reticle lights up and there is no discernable bleed even at highest brightness in low light.  Next runner up is the Vortex G3 also with a daylight bright reticle, but different from ZCO Vortex has opted to only illuminate the main vertical and horizontal stadia lines, only minimal bleed was noticed at highest brightness in low light.  The Schmidt 3-27 comes in next and was ever so faint in daylight and barely visible in shadow, only center cross lit up and bleed was minimal.  The next scopes were harder to ascertain ranking as none of them were daylight bright by any stretch of the imagination, the TT had good illumination quality with no bleed and center cross is illuminated with some dots in the tree as well.  Next was the March 4.5-28 which only illuminates a very small center cross and dot, no bleed is noticeable and very good low light performance.  The March 5-40 is similar to the TT in that the full cross is illuminated along with some dots in the tree, no bleed was noticed and coming in last was the “old” Schmidt 5-25 which has very dim illumination even at highest settings but because of this no bleed was noticed, this would be a low light illumination use only.  The Burris XTR III of course has no illumination but user reports say the new XTR IIIi has a very dim illumination module that is not usable in daylight which is unfortunate as it’s sibling the XTR Pro is supposed to have a daylight bright illumination module – must be one of the perks you get when you go “Pro”.

Editor’s Note: ZCO’s illumination is superb.  The only precision scope that is as good is the new Zeiss LRP S5.

 

Overall Mag Ring, Parallax, Diopter and Illumination Mechanical Assessment Rankings:

ZCO > Vortex G3 > TT >= March 4.5-28 = March 5-40 > Schmidt 3-27 > Schmidt 5-25 > Burris XTR III

When including everything above, it’s pretty clear the ZCO wins this one hands down as it offers pretty much excellence across the board with the only deficit being the “gritty” magnification experience.  The rest of the pack I’m going to rank based on my first impressions of the whole mechanical experience and not necessarily with an average of the order above.  Again, take my rankings with a grain of salt because they are based on “my” preferences for the most part.  One thing is clear, Burris comes in last and I suppose based on its price point this should not be a surprise; however, it is my understanding that the new XTR IIIi scope offers improvements over the original XTR III with regard to mechanical function and considering it’s “above class” optical performance, makes it a very compelling option for those on a budget.52760_tanaabny31soibg_custom.jpeg

 



 

For the rest of the article and the conclusions, see the next post:  https://darklordofoptics.locals.com/post/3076493/alpha-class-long-range-scope-review-part-2

 

Editor's Note: I did not want to pollute the whole thing with affiliate links.  Most of these are available from Eurooptics and a few other fine retailers https://bit.ly/3tYC193

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SunwayFoto TL3240CS-Q Tripod
Catchy name...

As I have mentioned a little while back, SunwayFoto has introduced (and is continuing to introduce) a series of products aimed at the shooting and hunting market.

I was curious, so I got my hands on a few and have been using them.  This particualr tripod is the first of the reviews that I am publishing.  The video will be out in a week or so.

The tripod in question is TL3240CS-Q (doesn't that just roll off the toungue?) and it has spent some time on the range:

and some time in the field:

This particular tripod is very new, so I have not yet seen it at any of the retailers.  Here is a link to it on SunwayFoto's website.

A similar tripod with collar locks on the legs does seem to be available from a few retaielrs like Adorama: https://adorama.rfvk.net/Ea3q2n, but if you decide to buy it directly from SunwaFoto and use code "DLO", it will get you 5% off.

The choice between collar locks and lever lock is sorta individual.  For heavy duty applications, collar locks are probably a little more robust.  Personally, all else being equal, I prefer lever locks since they give me immediate visual confirmation on whether the leg segments are locked or not.

The tripod comes nicely packaged with 1/4-20 and M-lok ARCA plates, spike feet and all the appropriate allen wrenches.  The machining quality on everything looks quite good.  I tried the ARCA plates with a variety of clamps I have here and nothing looks to be out of spec.  Carbon fiber legs do not have any obvious manufacturing defects that I can see.

The tripod itself is an interesting design.  It has a 38mm ball head, but the non-removable ball head is integrated into the tripod so that it sits very low.  That greatly aids stability.  If you imagine a convergence point (where the axis of each tripod leg would end up), it is right where the ARCA clamp is.  Is it as stable as my heavy duty bowl top tripods? probably not.  It is more stable than I expected it to be though.  It is also light enough to take to the field with me.  This is a hunting tripod, not a longe range competition one.  SunwayFoto does have heavier duty tripods, but I was looking for somehting light enough to comfortably strap to m pack.  The tripod weighs in right around 4lbs and at that weight I am quite impressed with the stability.  The downside of setting up the ballhead that way, of course, is that you loose some range of motion.  You still get about 35 degreed in any direction from center.  That is sufficeint for my purposes.  The Arca clamp has a couple of levels integrated into it on opposite sides of each other, so you have an indicator of tilt.  Some sort of a tipping angle indicator could be good as well, in principle, but tilt is more importnat here.

There is no center column, so height adjustment is done with the legs, which is one of the reasons I like the levers.  Locking the ballhead down is also done via a lever.  Lever operation is nicely smooth.  My preferred way to set it up for shooting is with the lever on the opposite side of the tripod from me:

Most people prefer to operate the lever with their thumbs, but I like to keep my hand a little higher, so this is how I use it.

When I first received it, I went to the range and the clamp starting flopping around under recoil.  I said some uncompimentary things abotu the design that turned out to be premature.  Whoever assembled it at the factory installed the clamp onto the spline coming out of the ballhead incorrectly.  See all that air under the clamp? You are not supposed to see that.

It was installed 90 degrees off:

Once I got it properly lined up, the spline was at 90 degrees to the recoil direction which is how you want this stuff to be.

Even when installed correctly, there was a touch of extra space that I ended up shimming with some aluminum tape.  It is a common problem with most tripods out there, especially with manufacturers that come into this from the photography side of things.  Recoil does introduce considerations that do not exist in photo/video applications.  That spline should really be mated via a tapered interface to avoid a potential tolerance stack up.  Still, once I stopped exercising my vocabulary, I got it to work properly in a matter of a few minutes.  Thanks to the thin shims and a little blue loctite, nothing loosened up afterwards.

I've spent a fair bit of time shooting off of the tripod at the range and a LOT of time glassing in the field.

With a low binocular adaptor, glassing standing was slightly uncomfortable.  I am six foot tall and the tripod was just a hair too low:

Most of the glassing I did was sitting down, however, so that was not an issue.  For glassing, a center column comes in helpful for small adjustments, but for shooting it would not be good for stability.   I think this tripopd's configuration is a good compromise of size, flexibility and stability.

The legs can be opened very wide to get low and increase stability.  I played with it at the range, but in the field, I had to get above tall grass, so I could not get that low.  

I was a little concerned that I could get a spring-like effect with the legs, but 32mm carbon fiber tubes are pretty stiff.  No issues there.  Each leg can be set up at three different angles, but given the terrain I really did not exercise that very much.

Note, that in most of these pictures I am using the rifle adapter from Spartan Precision since that is how the two rifles we've been huntin with this season are set up.  That places the gun a little higher than it would be if I were going direct to a weapon mounted arca plate.

Also, keep in mind that the tripod I have came with an Arca clamp.  However, SunwayFoto does make a clamp that can attach to both Arca and picatinny rails: https://adorama.rfvk.net/ORj1xN I might get one and swap it out on this tripod.  I assume it should work fine, but I'll doublecheck. 

Edited to add: They do offer it with the dual clamp now as well.

What are my conclusions so far?

Overall, mostly positive.  Nothing failed on me in the field.  Build quality is good.  I would prefer to see a combined Arca/Picatinny clamp on this tripod.  Given the application, it would give it a little more flexibility, but with Arca being so ubiquitous what I have is a good setup.

The low mounted ballhead is an unusual and rather effective re-interpretation of a traditional tripod head.  I'll keep using it and post any updates if I uncover anything new.

 

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