Outdoor Life - - GEAR -

This is a test of sport­ing optics, so our eval­u­a­tion mim­ics real-world con­di­tions where pos­si­ble. Those tend to be sit­u­a­tional and sub­jec­tive. But this is also a test of op­ti­cal qual­ity and me­chan­i­cal pre­ci­sion, and those at­tributes are scored through ob­jec­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Tak­ing the lat­ter point first, we test the op­ti­cal res­o­lu­tion of ev­ery sub­mis­sion us­ing the in­dus­try stan­dard, a black-and-white 1951 Air Force Res­o­lu­tion Tar­get. This test re­veals the qual­ity of the glass, pre­ci­sion of the op­ti­cal de­sign, and rich­ness of the im­age, but also flaws such as aber­ra­tions or in­suf­fi­cien­cies in coat­ings that can show up as flar­ing or dis­tor­tion in the field.

Because hav­ing optics that per­form well at first and last light, when animals are most ac­tive, is a pri­or­ity for hunters, we test the low-light per­for­mance of all sub­mis­sions. We mount all optics, in­clud­ing binoc­u­lars where pos­si­ble, on tripods (ri­fle­scopes are all set to 6X; spot­ters on their low­est mag­ni­fi­ca­tion), point them at the black-and-white res­o­lu­tion tar­get down­range, and record the length of time they can con­tinue to see the con­trast­ing lines as night falls. We do this on mul­ti­ple evenings and aver­age the re­sults. Optics that last the long­est get the best low-light scores.

Because ri­fle­scopes are de­signed as pre­ci­sion aim­ing de­vices, we mount them to ri­fles and shoot. We use pre­ci­sion .22s, and eval­u­ate ret­i­cle ref­er­ences as well as the re­peata­bil­ity of con­trols (tur­ret, par­al­lax, mag­ni­fi­ca­tion, and il­lu­mi­na­tion) by shoot­ing a course of steel plates out to 232 yards.

For our rangefind­ing binoc­u­lar test, we cre­ate a course of tar­gets vary­ing in surface type and dis­tance from 10 yards to 5,000 yards. We use Steiner’s mil­i­tary-grade M830r rangefinde­r, ca­pa­ble of rang­ing tar­gets be­yond 6,000 yards, to set stan­dards for each dis­tance, then mea­sure each sub­mis­sion’s rang­ing power, pre­ci­sion, and pro­ces­sor speed against the Steiner (pic­tured below).

For all optics, testers eval­u­ate er­gonomics, dura­bil­ity, ver­sa­til­ity, ease of use, and in­no­va­tion. The op­tic in each cat­e­gory with the high­est score wins our Editor’s Choice award. The op­tic with the high­est value score wins our Great Buy award.

Clock­wise from top: Field­work with spot­ting scopes, ri­fle­scopes, and binoc­u­lars; the Steiner M830r; a rim­fire grizzly tar­get pep­pered with hits.

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