HOW WE TEST
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.