Pewdings from close to far - premium 1x superzoom review
As we got very early production version of new Vortex Razor Gen3 1-10x24 to our hands, we thought to put it in same testing row with other premiums in same segment. Comparison is not fair in sense that that all three were made for different target customers - but optics are optics. It is very difficult to make optically good 1-8, not to mention 1-10, without sacrifices to optics gods. So lets see how these compare. Very close range shooting is area where these scopes shine and are intended to use (too), so we reviewed that part only.
After giving a thought what would be best test site for these, it turned out that backyard works very well! Distance is short 15m (15.1m exactly to tree on FOV pictures), but most importantly, view has contrast differences and lots of straight geometric lines giving instant feedback about possible geometric irregularities. Like barrel or pincushion distortion. These can be problematic, "fisheye" effect can be challenging especially when range is very short - and / or scope is not looked through its center-line perfectly.
Clear view to improvised outdoor laboratory for reference, lots of shapes to reveal geometric problems. Pile of rocks on center shouldn't be there anymore btw, wife told to move them about week ago.
Generally said, any refracting telescope designer is tied to certain limits. Components and budget is one important factor, naturally. But even with unlimited budget, if one of image attributes is emphasized to better direction, then something else tend to suffer. In real life, optical designs -as well as components- go forward, boundaries can be pushed further and further. Or in another words, designers can hide optical problems better and better - but still only in certain limits. I remember trying first 1-10x scope about 10 years or even more ago, still seeing occasional nightmares about its image quality. Latest 1-8 scopes and now Vortex 1-10 too are not even in same ballpark, progress has truly taken a giant leap.
Some fundamental laws wont still change; objective diameter vs magnification always limits usable light beam diameter going into eye through eyepiece part of scope. This has direct effect to image brightness, some effect eyebox feel too. Average human pupil size varies, depending about ambient light conditions, from 2mm to 9mm or even more- any light beam coming from any scope has to cooperate with this physical link too. In this sense, Vortex has kept parameters just in reasonable limits, calculated scope pupil size being 2.4mm in maximum magnification vs 3mm in Swarovski and S&B. So all of these scopes are comparable as objective is same 24mm (though nominal objective size is not necessarily true effective size), but Vortex has pushed boundary bit further. Smallest of any max magnification pupil sizes on market we are aware of is 1.7mm, so in this sense Vortex @10x can be considered to be reasonable. Still, all three of reviewed scopes need plenty of ambient light to perform best possible way with max magnification- and Vortex needs it most because of its 10x magnification.
Vortex has packed scope into shortest length. Practical difference is made on front of turret housing and in objective end of scope - as erector assembly needs certain length dictated by scope magnification ratio. Also eyepieces are typically very same sized (length wise) between manufacturers. Swarovski differs also internally: all optional reticles are located in second focal plane inside of eyepiece. Swarovski erector spring system is also different btw, also unique since Z6 series. Erector assembly is supported from eyepiece end of system, by 4 horizontal coil springs. All others, as far as we know, are made with flat springs inside turret housing, opposite sides of turret mechanism moving erector front end and therefore impact point.
Besides of its size, Vortex seem very straight forward design. Although well, even exceptionally optimized. Traditionally bright FFP illumination has required large, black "donut", to get enough surface area / intensity for "shrinked" 1x view when daylight bright red dot is needed. Vortex has not only managed to minimize this donut part distracting view with large magnifications - but also made it semi-transparent, while keeping 1x illumination intensity still very bright. This is not usual, pretty much none of manufacturers have managed to solve this puzzle before. Traditionally FFP reticle light intensity can not be increased too much, without substantial light leak to remaining non-illuminated parts of reticle. But Vortex has done something differently. Similar intensity with even much smaller illuminated areas has been done with rather new technology diffracting dots, but they are in second focal plane only- which is physically about 4-6x larger reticle lens.
Another improved and unusual feature related to this is viewing angle: when Vortex 1-10 scope is not looked through its perfect optical center line but misaligned, center area does not change its intensity easily. Similar illuminated "FFP donuts" tend to lose brightness immediately if eye has not been aligned well- causing annoying flicker-effect when eye is moved slightly around optimal eye position. This has happened with very good recent scopes too, like with Leupold Mk6 1-6. New Vortex is substantially less sensitive to this phenomenon. In practice, Vortex reticle center must be misaligned to outer third of FOV before dimming happens. With all similar FFP scopes I have tried before, illumination is bright only with almost perfect eye alignment and position. Well, not with this one.
Not perfect focus- these are difficult to align with camera. Almost impossible at 10x due to tiny exit pupil. Vortex view @5x, full illumination intensity. In real life, even slightly brighter than it appears on photo.
S&B approach close + far shooting dilemma is very different. Instead of making compromises, S&B chose to make 2 independent illuminations into same scope: reticle illumination is on first focal plane as is rest of the reticle too- red dot illumination was made independently to eyepiece. User can choose which one to use by simply rotating illumination knob to different directions from zero (off) mark. This is basically optimal solution, as both FFP reticle design and SFP red dot size can be chose freely, illumination included. Problem is price of hardware and also assembly. It is very more difficult to make such system. By the way, Zeiss offered similar system for only a year in mid 2000:s - then dropped it off from production. If my memory still serves me, it was offered in certain Victory Varipoint model and reticle was named as "V90". We do not know final reason for discontinuation, but our guess is slow assembly, more expensive mechanics and eventually price too.
S&B differs also other ways. "DUAL" in model name comes from dual-plane system, but abbreviation "CC" comes from unique "Close Combat" system where scope adjusts parallax internally from 100m to about 10-15m when magnification is cranked down to 1x. We are not aware of any other scope where this same system has been or is used - excluding DUAL:s optomechanical brother, hunting line Exos 1-8. Idea with this system is to offer parallax -free view when shooting very close- but it also helps with geometric problems. Focus too.
Views and scopes, from left to right: Swarovski, Vortex, S&B
- Very good overall performer
- Widest view
- Not too forgiving eyebox, but not too picky either
- Less sensitive to geometric distortions than Vortex- in situation where distance is very short and eye is slightly misaligned
- Feels lightest (we did not scale scopes)
- Optimized for hunting use, simple SFP reticles only
General notes: Same "almost disappearing" scope effect with Vortex when eye is in sweetspot or close to it- except overall image feels larger. Difference feels slightly bigger than specsheet FOV 9% difference suggest. Might have something to do with Swarovski large eyepiece design vs Vortex compact and short design.
- Surprisingly good and was a positive surprise, especially taking its physical size and very big ratio into account
- Swarovski-trademark -like "disappearing scope" effect when eye is on sweetspot - but with smaller felt view than Swarovski. Felt difference is clearly bigger than it appears on FOV photos or in FOV specs. Might be something to do with Swarovski larger eyepiece design vs compact path Vortex decided to use.
- Image is very good via whole magnification range
- Slightly more sensitive to geometric distortions than Swarovski - in situation where distance is very short and eye is slightly misaligned
- 24mm objective with highest magnifications requires light, 10x needs even more than 8x.
- Most sensitive about eye position, via whole magnification range. Not bad and not a problem if rifle ergonomics are good - but still.
- Solid construction and feel. Not diopteric correction zero mark.
Smart, bright 1x illumination with reasonable sized and semi-transparent etching. Done without ruining 10x view with huge "tractor tyre" donut. Illumination intensity will most likely not change during normal shooting eye movement. Unless someone is shooting IPSC with 20mm Lahti.
- Only scope with dual illumination and dual parallax
- Most forgiving eye position, in all magnifications. In two ways: eyebox is larger, but also way image appears after eye misalignment is not "on-off" type, like in Swarovski and Vortex - some kind of image can be seen, even with very big misalignment. This has little to do with practical shooting, but still.
- Least sensitive to geometric distortions problems in 1x / close range use. Not a big difference, but still. Probably thanks to CC system.
- Open and locking mil- turrets, very good feel and audible.
- Designed for MIL- use, solid construction
- Thickest "black ring" around 1x view, larger magnification views too.
FOV photo lies in sense that Tenebraex lenx cap large interface surface surrounds scope view, making S&B example photo look worse than it is. But difference is still very clear, both Vortex and Swarovski black rings are significantly thinner.