Are All Riflescopes the Same?

The Sightron SII Big Sky 3-12 x 42mm HHR reticle scope is one of the clearest, most versatile scopes I've used. It is one of the very few non-adjustable objective scopes that remains crystal-clear at twelve power. It is magnification I appreciate for range work, even though it is more than normally used for big game applications.

This question is asked perhaps more often than you might think, more often phrased as what is the difference, or “What is the “real” difference?” The answer closer to the the truth is a qualified “Yes.” Even though scope manufacturers often try to highlight the most trivial of features as benefits, trivia remains trivia. Often, you'll hear folks refer to a scope as being a “good one,” a term that has little meaning. Scopes are often presented as “special duty” type scopes. There are slug gun scopes, muzzleloading scopes, and of course “tactical” scopes. No one seems to really know what tactics are being employed, of course, except the obvious tactic of trying to sell melted sand in a tube.

Words are funny things, like the idea of a “premium” product. Premium may mean an exceptional product. Premium may also mean just higher-priced. I suppose most people balk at the notion of paying a premium for a premium product, but paying a low price for a premium product is more palatable. The Oracle of Omaha still had it right saying, “Price is what you pay; value is what you get.”

Let's start with the notion of the 30mm tube against the standard 1-inch tube. What does that get you, except for the premium price? The answer, optically, is essentially nothing. No better low-light performance, no better clarity, a whole bunch of nothing in the part you look through. It don't automatically get you a better scope, in fact a 30mm scope might be an advance to the rear. It does give you a stronger and heavier tube, a tube that is many times stronger. It is also a platform that allows for more internal adjustment range. Fine if you need it, but if you don't it is of dubious value. A stronger tube and a higher price is what you get.

The best thing a scope can do is hold its zero. If it doesn't, nothing else matters. One fellow was having a whale of a time trying to sight in his muzzleloader. It sure sounded like a scope issue, but he assured me he had tried six scopes so it couldn't be the scope. So, what was it? It was the scope. As it turned out, the six scopes he tried were all “lightly used” scopes from Ebay. I guess now he knows why they were on Ebay. After several months of experimentation, his exasperated gunsmith, tired of listening, finally did something. The gunsmith pulled off a confirmed scope from his 7mm RemMag and said, “Here. Go shoot your muzzleloader.” The random accuracy problem vanished immediately.

Of course, light transmission is always touted to the point where it is often the battle of the lens coatings. A light transmission comparison is typically flawed, as one color of light (bandwith) may give one scope the edge in one test, its competitor the edge in another. This isn't to suggest there are no differences, there are, including from scope to scope of the same brand and model. Once you get beyond the threshold of modern lens coatings, fully multi-coated lenses being the code for better light transmission, it gets into a very narrow range if you are comparing price brackets of name brand scopes in the same platform. For example, if you compare image quality of 3-9 x 40 platform scopes, a Burris Fullfield II, a Bushnell 3200, and a Sightron SII as a generality they are all eerily close. Machines can generate numbers, but human eyes (particularly middle-aged eyes) cannot look at images and quickly discern that one or more might be one percent brighter than the other.

I'm mentioning Burris Fullfield II, Bushnell 3200, and Sightron SII here as those are three scopes in the couple of hundred dollar price bracket that hold their zeros, offer adequate eye relief, have consistent build quality, and have image quality you can bet your hunt on. I have done just that. Are there “better”? Of course there are. Twice the money does not get you twice the brightness or twice the clarity, though. The more you spend diminishing returns kicks in.

The Burris Signature Select 3-10 x 40mm: one of the few scopes that has upgraded optics that you can readily see and appreciate.

Two scopes that I have reviewed and used extensively are the Burris Signature Select series and the Sightron SII “Big Sky” series. The Burris Signature Select 3-10 x 40 is one bright, clear scope. I can say the same about the Sightron SII Big Sky 3-12 x 42 model. These are two scopes that do offer a clear notch up from for the two hundred dollar level of optic and are as good to most human eyes as any scopes made today. Beyond what essentially better and best image quality, there are other considerations.

One is scope mounting. As scopes get lighter and shorter and stubbier commensurate with that lightness, there can be mounting issues with long or longer bolt actions and two piece ring sets. To avoid extended bases, extension rings and the like, a full size tube addresses the issue before there is one. This suggests a full length scope with a six inch or so main tube as in a standard Bushnell Elite 3200 3-9 x 40. Not a consideration with a one piece rail mount, though, so the choice is yours.

What about scope tracking, dialing the box with your shots at range? Some scopes are known for more accurate and repeatable adjustments than others. The Sightron SII and Sightron SII Big Sky scopes are known for it. Important if you intent on knob-twirling in the field, but if you aren't going to touch the adjustment of your scope after sight-in or conformation of your zero, it moots itself.

What about ballistic reticles? If you are limiting your shots to maximum point blank range shooting, they are meaningless. They still generally only work with your scope cranked all the way up and do nothing for a more important factor: wind drift.

Internal adjustment is a consideration, particularly on rifles that tend to eat it up. They do vary. Take a peek, again, at a Sighton SII 3-9 x 42 for example. It includes 80 inches of internal adjustment at 100 yards where many scopes in the same configuration have 50 inches or so. A scope like that Sightron can be used on more rifles without complications.

Envelope scope dimensions are also good to look at both from a practicality perspective and fitting the style and application of the rifle. The Burris Fullfield II 2-7 x 35 is not only a great value, but doesn't overwhelm lighter rifles. More than seven magnification is so very rarely needed or desired on big game animals it makes more magnification more of a hindrance than a help in the field. At the bench, you might prefer more magnification so once again the choice is yours.

What about large objectives? Adult eyes don't get much benefit from much more than a 4mm exit pupil or so, objective lens divided by magnification equates to exit pupil. The pricey ($3300 or so) Schmidt & Bender 3-12 x 50 PM II Military has a published exit pupil of 4.3mm on the high end, for example. The heaviest part of a scope is the glass itself and larger objectives increase both the weight of the scope and the distance it needs to be mounted away from your barrel. Anything more than a 40 – 42 mm objective is of little value on a hunting rifle. To the contrary, you pay more for larger lenses of the same quality but often it is nothing you can appreciate with your eyes. Very high magnifications, oversized objectives, and 30mm typically cost far more money for the same level of scope as the more conventional offerings of scopes. Aside from costing more, they most often get you nothing that your eyes can possibly use. If you can't use it there is no reason to pay for it. Higher magnifications, on the low end, severely reduce your field of view; normally not a good thing at all.

So, while scopes aren't exactly the same, there are far more similarities than differences when it comes to big game hunting scopes. They are all use for similar applications at similar ranges more often than not, whether it is called a center-fire scope, a slug gun scope, or a muzzleloading scope. They all have the job of holding their zero as tantamount and paramount. You'll not go wrong with one of the scopes mentioned here. There are differences in features and benefits. The manufacturers decide the features, of course, but only you can decide the benefits.


Copyright 2010 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.

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