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December 25, 2016

Best Sniper / Long Range Scopes On the Market

Taking down a quarry from 1000 yards out – or even hitting a bullseye from that far – involves a certain thrill and exhilaration that close-to-mid range competition shooting simply can’t generate. Long range sniping, however, requires not only a rifle / caliber that can create such a bullet trajectory but also a scope that can enable you to aim precisely at your target.

 Top 5 Sniper Scope Comparisons

Model

Weight

Reticle Type

Warranty

Our Ratings

Burris XTR II

2 lbs

F-Class MOA (illuminated)

Unlimited Lifetime Warranty

rifle scope review of the vortex viper

Vortex Viper PST

1.4 lbs

EBR-1 mrad (illuminated)

Unlimited Lifetime Warranty

Top rifle scope

NightForce NXS

3.3 lbs

MOAR™ (illuminated)

Lifetime Warranty

Top rifle scope

Vortex Optics VHS-4310

2.8 pounds

VMR-1 Reticle

Unlimited Lifetime Warranty

Top rifle scope

Steiner M5Xi

3.2 pounds

MSR (illuminated)

Unlimited Lifetime Warranty

Contrary to the impression given by videogames, a high magnification setting isn’t the only thing you need – a lot of design parameters need to be considered in order to pick the best sniper scope for yourself. Furthermore, a sniper scope on your rifle doesn’t automatically make you an elite marksman capable of shooting accurately at all distances.

I’ve learned to appreciate these nuances after years of experience, and put them down in this guide for aspiring long range marksmen to help them pick the right long range scope on their own, without having to sift through the technical jargon and marketing ploys that come with today’s shooting optic products.

Sniper scopes – fixed or variable zoom?

While variable zoom scopes are a no-brainer for most modern marksmen, you’ll be surprised to learn that most military snipers prefer scopes with a 10x fixed zoom. The reasons include simplicity, enhanced reliability and better light transmission as compared to variable zoom scopes.

However, variable scopes have their own advantages: primarily the fact that you can shoot comfortably over a wide range of distances, this is especially useful for hunters or competition shooters who expect to aim at targets over varying yardages. A fixed 10x scope, in this scenario, might limit their field of view unnecessarily and cause them to lose their targets due to a millisecond’s neglect.

Ultimately, you need to carefully evaluate whether you need a scope for exclusively shooting at long range i.e. 500 yards or more, or you’re expecting to shoot over a range of distances i.e. 100 yards to 500 yards.

What kind of zoom range should you be looking for?

If you’ve decided on getting a variable zoom sniper scope, you need to decide next what magnification limits it should have. Generally speaking, a 5x to 20x zoom range is fine for most sniping activities, allowing you to shoot at distances of 100 yards and beyond.

It’s important to understand that these scopes are meant for ranged encounters – you simply won’t be able to use them for extreme close quarters (sub 50 yards) – if that’s your requirement, you’re better off with a red dot or reflex sight.

How much objective diameter do you need?

While the general rule is that a larger objective size (at least 50mm) is recommended for sniper scopes, you should also understand that beyond a certain limit (normally 56mm), the gains become somewhat lessened.

56mm is a decent objective size for light transmission purposes, and going higher will only have marginal effect on the low light performance of the scope. On the other hand, a larger objective diameter can make it difficult for you to align your eyes with the crosshair, because of its size.

Zoom and objective diameter need to be considered together

Relevant to the factor discussed above, you’ll need to consider the exit pupil diameter as well: this is obtained by dividing the objective diameter by the current magnification setting of the scope. It determines the amount of light information your eyes receive as the sun starts going down.

For optimum low light performance, an exit pupil in the range of 5mm to 7mm is recommended – this means you’ll have to carefully consider both the objective length and the magnification range of the scope, in relation to each other.

Image quality is a big deal

  • HD Glass: high definition glass
  • FL Glass: fluoride glass
  • ED / XD Glass: extra low dispersion glass.

For the best image quality, you’ll need lenses that are fully multi-coated – this means that all surfaces of the lenses have multiple layers of coat to enhance their durability and provide the maximum light transmission.

When you’re dealing with extra high mag settings i.e. 15x and more, however, things get a bit trickier than just having decent light transmission (i.e. up to 95%). While light transmission is undoubtedly important for image quality – it isn’t the sole determinant here:

You’ll need to consider the quality of the glass – most manufacturers grade their glass to indicate that it is better than average glass.

Lenses utilizing graded glass will have better sharpness, clarity and color – and are a major reason for the high cost ($1000+) of high end sniper scopes. Better quality glass will also eliminate the issue of chromatic aberration, which causes fringes of color on edges of bright objects against dark backdrops.

As far as rifle scope image quality is concerned – ‘you get what you pay for’ is very much true, and believe me, for sniper scopes you’ll need to pay a good deal!

What type of reticle should you use?

There are many different kinds of rifle scope reticles out there in the market: the vanilla crosshairs, the duplex, the BDC and the mil dot. While each has its unique advantages for ranged engagements, when you’re talking about sniping situations, you require a reticle that can hold for wind i.e. has horizontal markings.

This is because at such long ranges, wind variations and the rotation of the earth can affect the horizontal trajectory of your shots. Holding for elevation is still an option, but plenty of shooters prefer to dial for elevation instead. One reticle that will help you hold for both wind and elevation is the mil dot, this is why it is preferred by professional snipers.

Besides the traditional mil dot reticle, most manufacturers have developed their own reticles that offer additional assistance for compensating for wind / elevation, and range estimation. Depending on your personal preference, they can be a hit or miss – for instance, the NightForce MOAR™, with its fine hash marked MOA divisions and floating reticle allows for excellent range estimation of smaller targets – but for someone who likes an uncluttered reticle, it may prove too cumbersome.

It is, therefore, very important that you consider your personal preference when deciding on a reticle. Just bear in mind that your main objective is to find a product whose reticle lets you easily compensate for both wind and elevation.

First focal plane reticle


While the majority of scopes you find in the market today are second (or rear) focal plane (i.e. the size of the reticle does not change with zoom setting), it is worth it to spend the extra bucks on a first (or front) focal plane scope with a reticle that changes its size with the zoom setting.

What this means is that the relative distance between the reticle dots (or hash marks) will remain constant e.g. for a mil dot scope, the distance between two consecutive dots will remain 1 mil regardless of the mag setting. On the other hand, for a rear focal plane, you have to aim at a particular zoom setting (specified by the manufacturer) in order for the gap to mean 1 mil.

A front focal plane scope will enable you to do range estimations at any magnification, whereas a second focal plane scope will require you to either switch to the default zoom setting for the reticle, or do mental calculations.

An issue with certain front focal scopes is that the reticle may become too thick at the maximum magnification, or too thin at the minimum zoom, which can be distracting for certain riflemen – however, this can easily be ascertained from user feedback pertaining to the scope in question.

It goes without saying that the issue of changing vs. fixed reticle size applies only to variable zoom scopes. Fixed power scopes are front focal by default.

What kind of elevation adjustment is needed?

At longer ranges, the higher the internal elevation adjustment range, the better: 70 MOA or more should be your preferred target, because there may arise situations where you need to compensate by around 65 MOA – in these scenarios, a scope that bottoms at 50 MOA will require you to manually shift the reticle in order to compensate.

If you’re also adjusting for wind at this point, your target will basically appear at an unmarked place in your reticle, and there’s a definite chance that you’ll miss the mark. In some cases, a scope with a larger tube diameter i.e. 30mm instead of 1”, allows for more leeway in adjustment.

Make sure the turret markings and reticles have the same units and graduations

There are two units used for denoting windage and elevation adjustments: MOA and mrad. There’s a simple rule: if your reticle has been marked in mrad, make sure the knobs (turrets) on your scope are marked in mrad graduations too, same for MOA.

Cheaper scopes sometimes combine a mil dot reticle with MOA turrets, forcing you to rely on mental math or conversion tables. Between MOA and mrad, the only factor affecting your choice is whether you favor the imperial system of units or the metric system of units, respectively.

Going for 1/8 MOA instead of ¼ MOA graduations for your adjustment turrets is a personal choice – most marksmen don’t find the need to use the finer markings. However, having an easy zero reset feature always helps when you’re in the field and want to quickly dial back down to your original setting.

Top Rated Sniper Scope Reviews

Burris XTR II Riflescope with F-Class MOA Illuminated Reticle, 8-40x 50mm

  • Zoom Range: 8-40x
  • Objective Diameter: 50mm
  • Tube Diameter: 34mm
  • Parallax setting: 50 yards to infinity
  • Quoted Minimum Eye Relief: 3.5 in

While it is a bit unorthodox for a sniper scope guide to start off with an MOA reticle product, this one is hard to pass given how it manages to match the performance specs of much costlier products at a significantly cheaper price!

Housed in an extra thick, extra wide 34mm tube, this scope has an overkill 8-40x zoom system that will suffice for the needs of even the longest of takedowns. The 50mm objective diameter provides ample light transmission, while staying reasonably manageable (for a sniper scope) in the field.

Furthermore, the exit pupil at the sweet spot of 10x comes out at a full 5mm which translates into plenty of visibility in low light conditions. Speaking of visibility, the lenses are given a special Hi-Lume multi-coating to enhance resolution, light transmission and contrast – going by reviews from marksmen, the scope provides a crisp picture even at high mag settings of 25x and beyond.

The F-Class MOA reticle has been designed for maximum utility: it has detailed MOA hash markings for both windage and elevation, which are illuminated at 10 MOA intervals to help you easily estimate hold-over. The reticle is front focal plane, so you can use it at any mag-setting – furthermore, there’s no concern about the markings being too distracting at the highest or lowest zoom, as per feedback from consumers.

The scope offers 70 MOA of elevation and 30 MOA of windage adjustment, in 1/8 MOA graduations – which isn’t on par with what some of the more expensive scopes offer, but is sufficient for most sniper rifle configurations nonetheless, especially considering the fact that the reticle has a secondary windage scale at deep hold-over to help with field compensations. As with any high end scope, this one has a parallax that can be adjusted from 50 yards to infinity.

The internals are triple spring tensioned so they can withstand the toughest of recoils / extreme vibration and retain your settings without a hitch. There have been no major complaints about the scope’s performance, plus, it’s covered by Burris’s excellent fully transferrable Forever Warranty in case you do find any issues.




What We Liked

  • Huge magnification range.
  • Ample elevation adjustment.
  • F-Class MOA reticle allows for nuanced hold-over adjustments.
  • Robust yet lightweight construction.
  • Lifetime warranty.

What We Didn't

  • Still not the most affordable option.


Vortex Viper PST 4-16x50 FFP Riflescope with EBR-1 mrad Reticle

  • Zoom Range: 4-16x
  • Objective Diameter: 50mm
  • Tube Diameter: 30mm
  • Parallax setting: 50 yards to infinity
  • Quoted Minimum Eye Relief: 4 in

Although it lacks the extra-long zoom range of some of its competitors, the Viper PST 4-16x50 FFP packs all the features expected from a modern sniper scope while keeping things affordable.

The 16x upper cap on the magnification power is more than enough for 700 yards+ encounters, in the hands of an adept shooter. Furthermore, you will enjoy crystal clear imagery even at the highest zoom thanks to the ample 50mm objective, the extra low dispersion glass used for the lenses, and the fact that these lenses are fully multi-coated to ensure maximum light transmission.

The reticle is glass-etched and illuminated – thereby yielding optimum durability, and utility in low light, respectively. It is Vortex’s proprietary EBR-1 style, with thick posts that converge into thinner mil radian hash marks at the center to allow for the estimation of range, as well as holdover and windage corrections.

Since it is a first focal plane reticle, you can count on its effectiveness at all magnification powers. The mrad marks will appeal to traditional snipers, especially given how the turrets are also graduated in mrads to enable straightforward dialing. The scope allows for 21 mrads of internal adjustment for both windage and holdover, which is plenty for sniping applications.

The turrets also utilizes a special Customizable Rotational Stop mechanism that makes it very easy to dial back to zero after having made temporary adjustments in the field. There’s also a side focus adjustment for setting the parallax (from 50 yards to infinity).

The 30mm tube features a single-piece aircraft-grade aluminum construction that provides optimum durability. O-ring seals make the scope waterproof, while argon gas purging ensures fog proofing over a diverse range of temperatures. The rugged design ensures repeatability in spite of heavy impacts in the field.

There have been no major complaints about this scope’s performance or design – but one thing to note is that the illumination knob is placed on the left, which makes the scope very hard to use for lefties. Other than this tiny snag, this is perhaps the best long range scope for those who want the most bang for their buck.




What We Liked

  • Clarity and resolution a major step up from low-to-mid end optics.
  • Highly tactile and functional adjustment turrets.
  • Custom mrad reticle geared towards military shooters.
  • Rugged construction for operation in harsh environments.
  • Plenty of internal adjustment for long ranges.
  • Unlimited lifetime warranty.

What We Didn't

  • Awkward to use for left-handed individuals because of illumination knob placement.


NightForce NXS5.5-22x56mm C434 Riflescope

  • Zoom Range: 5.5-22x
  • Objective Diameter: 56mm
  • Tube Diameter: 30mm
  • Parallax setting: 50 yards to infinity
  • Quoted Minimum Eye Relief:3.9 in

For those who prioritize uncompromising visual clarity at extreme ranges above all else in a sniper scope (and have deep pockets!), this high end offering from NightForce is definitely worth a look.

Sporting a generous 5.5 to 22x variable magnification alongside a meaty 56mm objective diameter, this scope’s glass and tube is manufactured in Japan to exacting quality, and then hand assembled in Idaho, USA, into the final product. The result is top-notch visual clarity even in low light situations, and exceptional durability of the overall device.

This particular model sports NightForce’s proprietary MOAR™ reticle, with 1 MOA windage and elevation markings that allow for accurate ranging and holdover corrections for smaller targets that might get covered by thick mil-dots. The floating center crosshair lets you aim at the target precisely without obstructing your view excessively.

The reticle is etched for durability, and can be illuminated for use in dim light. While the illumination can be switched on / off simply by pulling out / pushing in the focus knob, adjusting the brightness is more of a challenge – the knob has to be removed, then the battery and a small screw rotated with a flat blade screwdriver. The other snag is that the scope is rear focal plane, so the reticle’s markings only hold for the highest magnification setting.

The scope offers considerable internal adjustment: 100 MOAs of elevation and 60 MOAs of windage will see you through in even the most distant of takedowns. The turrets feature a patented ZeroStop™ system that greatly simplifies dialing back to zero in the field without having to check for a visual reference or count the number of clicks. As expected from a big league scope, an adjustable parallax setting from 50 yards and upwards is provided.

There have been no complaints pertaining to this scope’s functionality – those who have purchased it have been blown away by its accuracy and clarity. However, you will have to put up with a fixed size reticle, which can be a major turn-off for someone who operates at a variable ranges. A lifetime warranty is included in case you do end up with a problem with the NXS 5.5-22x 56mm.




What We Liked

  • Exceptional image clarity.
  • Easy to use adjustment turrets with convenient zero reset mechanism.
  • Highly generous internal adjustment.
  • MOAR™ reticle allows for precise and intuitive hold-offs and range estimations.
  • Lifetime warranty.

What We Didn't

  • Expensive.
  • Reticle size is fixed for all magnification powers.


Vortex Optics VHS-4310 Viper HS-T 6-24x50 Riflescope with VMR-1 Reticle (mrad)

  • Zoom Range: 6-24x
  • Objective Diameter: 50mm
  • Tube Diameter: 30mm
  • Parallax setting: 50 yards to infinity
  • Quoted Minimum Eye Relief:4 in

For those who are willing to make a few sacrifices in favor of a budget solution, the economically placed Viper HS-T 6-24x, with its extended magnification power, sturdy construction and milrad adjustments will more than suffice as an affordable sniper scope.

While its optics are obviously not on par with the super-expensive, high-end solutions, it still features fully multi-coated extra low dispersion glass to provide the best image quality and sharpness in its price bracket, even at higher powers. The 50mm objective helps in this regard, by gathering as much light as possible.

The scope features a VMR-1 reticle marked in mrads (the smallest interval is .5 mrads), which allows for straightforward estimation of range, as well as vertical / horizontal correction. The adjustment turrets are graduated in mrads too, and allow for 19 mrads of adjustment for both wind and elevation (roughly 65 MOAs), which isn’t anything to write home about but something that has to be put up with in a budget product.

Vortex’s signature CRS zero reset system is present in this scope as well, letting you easily go back to zero after having made field corrections. There’s also a parallax adjustment knob, so you can be certain of your aim’s correctness at any point, however, the reticle is placed in the rear focal plane – which means the markings are only good for a specific magnification; in this case, 18x.

In terms of build quality, this scope is perfectly adequate: single-piece aircraft-grade aluminum body, with O-ring seals and argon purging for waterproofing and fog-proofing. According to user feedback, the elevation / windage settings on the scope yield excellent repeatability after multiple high-recoil shots, implying decent shock-proofing as well.

There haven’t been any noticeable issues reported about the HS-T 6-24x, which is quite surprising given its low price-point. It also comes with the manufacturer’s unlimited VIP warranty policy, which indicates a lot of confidence in a relatively low-tier product.




What We Liked

  • Cheap for a sniper scope.
  • Decent zoom range.
  • Commendable visual quality for a budget product.
  • Field adjustable turrets with rapid zero reset feature.
  • Rugged single-piece construction.
  • Unlimited lifetime warranty.

What We Didn't

  • Reticle isn’t illuminated.
  • Reticle subtensions are correct only for 18x zoom.


Steiner M5Xi 5-25x56 MSR

  • Zoom Range: 5-25x
  • Objective Diameter: 56mm
  • Tube Diameter: 34mm
  • Parallax setting: 50 yards to infinity
  • Quoted Minimum Eye Relief:3.54 in

Designed to meet the requirements of professional sniper teams serving in grueling battlefields, the Steiner M5Xi has been manufactured to military-grade specifications in Germany, and can be used for extra-long distance takedowns (over 1500 yards).

Before proceeding further, let me just state for the record that this is a very expensive product. But if you’ve got enough cash to spend, you will be spoilt by the visual fidelity offered by its state-of-the-art optical system, that performs outstandingly even in the dimmest of lighting.

There is no hint of tunnel vision at lower magnifications (typical in cheaper scopes), and the picture is remarkably clear even at the highest power, thanks to the broadband reflective coatings that allow for up to 94% light transmission, and the extra-large 56mm objective diameter.

This model features an illuminated Multipurpose Sniper Reticle (MSR) which is marked in mrads, and packs a lot of information compactly for assistance in long-distance range finding and hold-offs. The reticle is front focal, so you can use it at all magnification settings. Adjusting the illumination level is easy, thanks to a dedicated adjustment turret located over the parallax adjustment turret.

Elevation and windage corrections are precise and audible – with 26 mrads of elevation and 6 mrads of windage dialing allowed maximally. While the windage compensation is a bit tight, it isn’t really that important for long range applications – the elevation correction limit, on the other hand, is extremely generous and allows you to compensate for the bullet drop in typical long range sniper setups.

As mentioned before, this scope is meant for hostile environments, which is why it has been made waterproof up to 10 meters, shockproof up to 900 Gs, and fog-proof through nitrogen filling. As such, it offers flawless reliability and repeatability in field conditions, as attested by dozens of professional riflemen.

It also comes with a no questions asked, unlimited warranty, in the rare event that it does suffer from a malfunction. The one hitch with this scope is that you need a wrench to dial back to zero on the elevation knob, which might impede shooting in quick succession at varying ranges.




What We Liked

  • Extremely rugged construction for harsh environments.
  • Ultra-crisp imagery in all lighting conditions, and at all magnifications.
  • Tactically designed MSR reticle for nuanced corrections and estimations.
  • Large internal elevation adjustment.
  • Easy to use adjustment turrets.
  • Unlimited lifetime warranty.

What We Didn't

  • Expensive.
  • Difficult zero reset mechanism.


Conclusion

I hope you’ll appreciate now that buying a sniper scope is as complicated a decision as sniping itself: it has to be based on a number of factors: the intended shooting range, the visual clarity you require, the amount of assistance necessary for elevation / windage corrections, and last but not least, the budget you can allow:

While it may not hold for everyone, it can be generally said that sniper scopes get better with price in all aspects, because the manufacturer is able to use better quality glass and more durable interior components that can adhere to stringent quality standards. That being said, not everyone is able to spend several thousand dollars on a top-of-the-line product – and not everyone needs certain overkill features.

With that in mind, I’ll recommend the Viper PST 4-16x50 FFPas my pick for the best sniper scope: the scope manages to pack a rock-solid construction, ample (though not the highest) zoom, an illuminated tactical mrad reticle, and plenty of internal adjustment, in a very affordable package.

There have been practically no complaints about its performance at long range (in fact some users report it outperforming much more expensive products!), and considering the unlimited lifetime warranty it comes with, you’ll be hard pushed to find a sniper scope that offers better value for the money.

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