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Consumer Scopes Tested


Any buyer’s guide, if you actually test the items (which we do) can be a fairly large endeavor. While other magazines will simply list factory features in their magalogs, we actually went through the process of testing multiple optics available with street prices below $1K. While there are scopes with higher MSRPs, we decided to go with a purchase price of under $1K as a metric.
There are numerous optical testing rigs used by camera lens companies to get into the minutia of each lens — however, even the most basic of computer testing rigs costs more than $100K each. While some testing rigs of this type are undoubtedly used by companies that specifically produce rifle scopes, unfortunately $100K wasn’t in the budget for this one.

Even photographing though each scope was inconsistent, as eye relief remained an issue from scope to scope. Furthermore, one would have to account for additional optical errors added on by the camera lenses themselves. We additionally try to use the very excellent Phone Skope system for photos, but ultimately, we found this system better suited to video rather than still photography.

In the end, we decided to rely on subjective testing performed by the author who has used uncountable variable-power scopes over the years. With all of this in mind, understand that someone else with different experiences may rank these scopes in a different order. All of that said, undoubtedly, we believe those who've used all of scopes in this manner would come to the same conclusions.

For the testing itself, we used a modified AF 1951 ISO 12233 test chart. Not only does this chart show resolution, it also provides distortion information. All optical tests were performed with this chart at 100 yards. Not only can resolution be tested, but also optical error, chromatic aberration, centering errors, and more.

Chromatic aberration, as defined by Wikipedia is, “a failure of a lens to focus all colors to the same point. It is caused by dispersion: the refractive index of the lens elements varies with the wavelength of light,” but what it comes down to the end user is this: purple f*cking fringe around objects of high contrast that’s distracting and terrible. This is absolutely an important feature to note, regardless of how expensive a scope is.

Just as with all variable optics, be them scopes or camera lenses, the best clarity is usually found somewhere between the highest and the lowest magnification. For each scope tested, we found the magnification level that provided most clear sight picture.
In addition to optical clarity answers, we also determined which ergonomic features (such as turret feel) was determined to be the best. Without further ado: RECOIL’s Sub-$1K Optic Test Buyer’s Guide.

For the rest of this article, subscribe here: RECOIL Issue 46

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