A Low Light Riflescope Comparison

The near utility box with the orange tag is at 42.5 yards. The dark green box, to its right, barely visible in the image above, is vibrantly discernible through all of these scopes at sunset. Things changed a half hour later. From the left: Burris FFII, Sightron Big Sky, Minox ZA-5, Weaver Super Slam, Hawke Endurance 30.

Commencing at sunset, 6:02 pm, on an overcast evening, ambient temperature 46 degrees F., 62% relative humidity, with ten mile visibility, five highly-rated hunting riflescopes were compared in ten minute increments as the light dwindled. They were checked against small utility box numbers, a dark green box with green grassy background, and fine detail of blades of grass were also compared scope to scope. The object? A subjective comparison of five, sub five hundred dollar big game hunting rifle scopes, along with an additional ranking looking at bang for the optics buck.

The five scopes used were a Burris Fullfield E1 3-9 x 40, Sightron SII Big Sky 3-9 x 42 HHR, Minox ZA-5 2-10 x 40, Weaver Super Slam 2-10 x 42, and a Hawke Optics Endurance 30 3-12 x 50. Magnification was set to an indicated 6X on all five hunting scopes. This subjective comparison continued until 6:50 PM, long after commonly legal big game hunting hours.

Within the "half hour after sunset legal hunting hour window," every single one of these scopes could easily have “made the shot,” including the very low contrast dark green box on green background. All of these scopes have received positive reviews, individually. The scopes range in price from the $200 Burris on up, with the Minox and the Weaver Super Slam at the higher end, but still below a $500 street price threshold.

Though after legal hunting hours, the first scope that gave up “see to shoot” pointed at green on green was the Burris, but not because of the image. Surprisingly, the Burris Fullfield E1 had a brighter, sharper image than the Weaver Super Slam. The Super Slam, with its far thicker reticle, was usable later even though its image was lesser than the far more economical Burris Fullfield E1. Yet, the etched Ballistic Plex E1 reticle of the Burris is very much a highlight of this scope, previously available on only the upper-end Burris SixX model.

The two scopes with the brightest low light images were the Sightron SII Big Sky and the Hawke Endurance 30. The best resolution as evidenced by ability to read small letters and numbers, as well as being able to discern the fine details of blades of grass was the Hawke Endurance 30. The fastest low light target acquisition was again the Hawke, primarily due to the L4 reticle. The best low light scope of this group was easily the Hawke, due to reticle design, image quality, and the illuminated dot. The Hawke edged out the others anyway by a small margin, but the L4 illuminated dot made it a lead pipe cinch.

As a friend of mine puts it, you might use your binoculars for three hours, a spotter for ten minutes, and your scope for sixty seconds. Yet, we all like to talk about “good glass” on riflescopes. We're funny that way, where ability to hold zero on a riflescope is tantamount and paramount, and reticle selection has more to do with low-light usability than many other factors.

In previous stand-alone evaluations, all of these scopes are excellent. Some evaluations, particularly an “inside the gunshop” evaluation is no evaluation at all. Side by side, though, the Weaver clearly (or unclearly) had surprisingly low resolution compared to the others, the Sightron and the Hawke were the brightest, and the Minox at an indicated 6X gave a noticeably smaller image size than the rest. Naturally, there are other considerations as well you can personally weight as you please, based on your own applications. For example, the largest field of view possible was with the Minox and the Weaver, as both have 5:1 ratio erector assemblies and go down to an indicated 2X. The most generous eye-relief was found on the Minox. All of these scopes had diopter quick focus rings except the Sightron.

Subjectively scaled as optic for the dollar, I'd call it as the Burris is at $200, the Hawke at $340, then the Minox at $480. The Sightron Big Sky HHR at $435 and the Weaver Super Slam at $465 may be your personal choice for a variety of reasons, but they are reasons I sure can't see in low-light optic for the dollar scaling. Though the Weaver Super Slam standalone is a very competent scope, the pull-out turrets are a delight, and some credit is given for the extended ratio zoom range, it fell surprisingly short directly compared optically to the others in this test, one of the things that surprised me the most. For those interested in tracking country of assembly, they are Philippines, China, USA, Japan, and Japan respectively.

Disregarding price, the Hawke Endurance 30 3-12 x 50 L4 reticle wins, followed by the Minox ZA-5 2-10 x 40 with the #4 reticle. Reticle choice pays a significant role in low-light fast targeting, so I'll mention two additional scopes worthy of your consideration, particularly if you're a bit budget-conscious. They are the Burris Fullfield II 2-7 x 35 with the 3P#4 reticle ($190) and the Hawke DeerPass 3-9 x 40 SR, #HK3254, that features an illuminated ballistic reticle ($180).

Where do you like your scope set at? Only you can answer that one. The same goes for low-light hunting as well. Head shots on kangaroos in the weeds is typical low-light shooting to a friend of mine. But, the kangaroo population in Illinois is not exactly at varmint levels at the moment. The lightest of the scopes were the Burris at 13 oz., the Sightron at 13.4 oz., and the Minox at 14.1 oz. The Weaver is over a pound and the Hawke, with a 50mm objective and beefy 30mm tube is the heavyweight of the bunch. Yet, the Hawke Endurance 30 is far from the most expensive of this group. By any standard I can apply, it is the best low-light scope in terms of resolution, brightness, and quick target acquisition with the L4 illuminated reticle taking off where all the others end. The Hawke wins this match-up, in terms of low light performance, even before you engage its illuminated dot.


Copyright 2011 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.


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