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We think the Vari-X III Target EFR AO 6.5-20X riflescope edges out similar products from Bausch & Lomb, Pentax, and Nikon.

 

Silhouette and paper-target shooters who play at many disciplines often pick broad-band 6X to 20X riflescopes as their optical choices—mainly because those products’ 14-power range can cover everything from 10meter gallery airguns (when mounted on nonrecoiling models) to most rimfire matches and some high-power uses. Varmint hunters often pick these products as well, since they can help the shooter cover a lot of field distances by dialing in just the right amount of magnification for the light and wind conditions.

To that end, we took four scopes in this power range and put them through a side-by-side comparison test to see how they stacked up against each other. Our test group included the Leupold Vari-X III Target EFR AO 6.520X ($812.50) Pentax Lightseeker 6X-24X AO ($800), Nikon’s 6.5-20×44 AO Lustre ($591), and the Bausch & Lomb Elite 4000 40-6244A 6X-24X riflescope, $696. The Leupold and B&L; scopes had 40-mm objective lenses. The Nikon and Pentax products sported 44-mm objectives. Of the quartet, we believe the Leupold Vari-X III Target EFR has a slight edge over the other three products. However, we must say that all three scopes are optically excellent, and that our separation and ranking of them entailed some hair splitting.

How We Tested
All three scopes were mounted in Leupold and Bausch & Lomb rimfire rings. The rings were affixed to a KFS NS 522 rifle for the alignment and tracking tests. Our goal was to use a proven firearm shooting lot-tested ammo to check the accuracy of the adjustments. We shot the scopes on a calm 50-yard smallbore range to minimize the effects of wind. We spotted our shots using a Nikon ED78A Fieldscope, a 78 mm–objective glass that ranges in power from 25X to 56X magnification.

Adjustment Accuracy (Optical). We tested the scopes for repeatability and tracking in two ways. First, we mounted them on the KFS rifle. We then clamped the gun to a Ransom Rifle Rest benchrest device, which was set atop a concrete benchrest. Looking through each scope at a target grid placed at 100 yards, we carefully monitored each scope’s movement as it tracked across quarter-inch divisions in the grid. To begin this section of the test, we bottomed the horizontal and vertical adjustments and recorded the total number of clicks and the distance they traversed on the grid. Then we counted how many clicks each scope used to walk around a 6-inch-square box, and whether those adjustments were consistent in returning to zero. We also performed the same test on a 1-inch-wide bullseye, dialing in imaginary windage clicks and measuring how the visual point of aim changed.

Adjustment Accuracy (Live Fire). With the optical judgments made, we then used the 522 rifle to check actual bullet-impact changes when adjustments were made. We mounted each scope on the rifle, and using RWS R-50 ammo, we zeroed the rifle at 50 yards. We then turned the adjustments 16 clicks to the right and fired a group, maintaining our zero sight picture. Then we dialed in 16 more clicks upward, back to the left, and downward. This “around-the-clock drill” pointed out if the adjustments tracked accurately in all directions and returned to zero.

In a similar test we call the “compass points” drill, we established a zero with the gun on a 50-yard target. We then adjusted the scope 8 clicks right with the 1/8-minute scopes and 4 clicks with the Leupold, reestablished our zero aiming point, and fired two rounds, which should have hit 1/2 inch out at 3 o’clock. We then clicked back to original zero and fired another zeroing round. Then we made the same adjustments for 12 o’clock, 9 o’clock, and 6 o’clock. We measured the distances each two-shot group was from the zero.

Recoil Resistance. Next, we mounted the scopes on a Ruger .25-06 M77 bolt action and shot the rifle 20 times with each scope aboard. Afterward, we reshot the two adjustment tests to see if recoil had affected the scopes.

Resolution (Clarity). To check for optical sharpness, we produced an eye chart on a laser printer. The chart consisted of sentences, with the top sentence being set in 36-point type. Each line down was slightly smaller. The wording of each line was also slightly different. We placed the chart at 50 yards in full sunlight and set the scopes side by side. We then had four individuals try to read each line until they reached one they could not complete. We noted the smallest line size all four individuals could discern.

Eye Alignment. Next, we placed the scopes side by side on a table, and the test subjects viewed each one and rated it for ease of eye alignment.

Parallax. We checked for parallax at common shooting distances from 33 feet to 400 yards.

Point of Aim Shift. With the scope secured, we zoomed the adjustable objective from its minimum setting to its maximum setting to see if the aiming point changed.

Brightness. We ran two tests for brightness: one objective, one subjective. In the objective test, we put the scopes in a darkened room 20 feet away from a pure-white frosted, backlit screen to minimize hotspots. We aimed a 55-mm Nikkor micro (close focusing) lens attached to a Nikon 8008S camera (with the light meter set on center weighted) through each scope and focused it on the crosshair and centered the crosshair in the viewfinder. We then set the camera’s light meter at 1/8 second and began stopping the lens down until we reached what the camera indicated was a properly exposed setting. In the subjective part of this test, we had four people view objects through the scopes, which were mounted side by side. We conducted this part of the test at dusk.

Glare. We pointed the scopes toward bright light sources (not the sun) and tried to see if we could detect glare or flare in the optics.

Waterproof/Fogging Test. Last, we dunked each scope in a warm-water bath for 10 minutes, then cooled the scope in a 0-degree freezer for 30 minutes. Water intrusion into the scope body would show up as fog or frost. If a scope survives immersion, the chances of it fogging due to atmospheric conditions are slim.

Here’s how each of the products fared in these tests:

Leupold Vari-X III Target EFR AO 6.5-20X
Look down the line at any silhouette match and you’ll find U.S.–made Golden Rings about every third point, and for good reason. Overall, the Leupolds are solid, bright products that adjust accurately and wear well.

However, you’ll pay for that performance: the Vari-X III Target EFR AO 6.5-20X No. 49801 costs $866.10 suggested list, $250 more than Nikon. Similar models include the Vari-X III AO 6.5-20X Nos. 45263 ($719.60), 46173 ($741.10), and 50201 ($741.10). The EFR nameplate we tested is the company’s Extended Focus Range model, which allows focusing down to 10 meters, the regulation international airgun distance. The company’s non-EFR models allow focusing down to 15 meters. The EFR model contains either the company’s Duplex or 1/8-minute Leupold dot. We tested the latter. In addition to the polished tube we tested, matte and silver finishes are available.

Physical and Feature Descriptions. The Leupold weighs 16.6 ounces and measured 14.2 inches in length. It has a 1-inch tube diameter. Its actual magnification range is 6.5 to 19.2. At 100 yards, its field of view is 14.2 feet at 6.5 power and 5.5 feet at 19.2 power. The optimum eye relief at 6.5 power is 5.3 inches and 3.6 inches at 19.2 power. It features 1/4-minute adjustments and has 48 inches of maximum adjustment horizontally and vertically. The Golden Ring comes out of the box with target turrets which can be zero-indexed with a supplied allen wrench, and a sun shield. With the supplied sun shield screwed into the objective bell, the scope measures 16.5 inches long. Our scope didn’t come with covers.

Using the Scope. Out of the box, the Leupold was impressive. The blued finish was immaculate and attractive. The turret covers fit snugly over the top of the turrets, and fine threads pulled the covers down securely. The adjustable objective moved smoothly, as did the rear focusing ring. The power adjustment, which featured a locking screw, also adjusted easily. We thought white-letter yardage markings were easy to read on the objective’s blued metal, and an infinity-direction marking made it clear which way to rotate the objective to remove parallax error. Detents in the adjustments were crisp and clear, but not stiff. Mounting the scope was easy with high rimfire rings. This was necessary to raise the 40-mm adjustable-objective lens above the barrel. There was plenty of room in front of and behind the turrets to mount many different bases and rings.

Range-Testing Results. Looking through the scope, testers split over how they assessed the Leupold’s brightness. Two testers thought the Vari-X was brighter than the Nikon, Pentax, and Bausch & Lomb products. However, the light-meter test showed no measurable difference in the products. The Leupold was crisp edge to edge, and shooters could read 11point type at 50 yards. The Multicoat 4 optics didn’t show glare in most situations, even off the ocular lens. The scope wasn’t too difficult to bring into eye alignment at 20X, a reflection of its 2-mm exit pupil. The recoil test caused no appreciable changes in the scope’s tracking. Parallax wasn’t a detriment because of the adjustable objective lens. We dialed in satisfactory sight pictures at every distance between 33 feet and 400 yards with the Leupold. Likewise, we didn’t see point-of-aim shift in adjusting the objective lens or zooming the power in and out. The submersion and freezing tests didn’t cause fogging.

The Leupold showed minor tracking and repeatability problems, we thought. Watching the scope track along a 1/4-inch target grid at 100 yards, we noticed that 24 horizontal clicks, which should have delivered a 6-inch total adjustment, actually produced a 6.3-inch change. Vertically, 24 clicks produced a 6.8-inch movement.

In the live fire around-the-clock drill at 50 yards, we saw a 16-click right adjustment, which should have moved bullet impact 2 inches, actually produce a 2.5-inch change. We then moved the sights up 16 clicks, and the corresponding adjustment was 2.2 inches. Sixteen more clicks to the left yielded a 2.5-inch movement. Sixteen clicks down should have put the bullet point of impact back at zero, but it was actually three-quarters of an inch to the left.

Adjusting for nonexistent windage in the compass-points drill, we moved 4 clicks to the right, which should have dialed in a 0.5-inch movement, which it did. We then moved 4 clicks back and shot another round in the zero hole. When we moved 4 clicks up from that point, we got a 0.75-inch movement instead of a half inch, then got only a half-inch change back down to zero when we made 4 additional clicks. We made additional clicks to get back to zero, then clicked 4 left, which gave us a half-inch movement. After clicking back to zero, we then moved 4 clicks down, which gave us a 0.75-inch downward movement.

Nikon 6.5-20 x 44 AO Lustre
Despite its strong reputation in the U.S. camera market, Nikon has had a hard time making a dent in the riflescope market. We’ve seen few optics by this company adorning the guns of competition shooters, even with the company’s aggressive pricing. The Nikon 6.5-20×44 AO Lustre No. 7012 costs $591 suggested list, the lowest-cost product in this test. A mattefinish model (No. 7022) is also available. Both scopes are only available with fine crosshairs.

Physical and Feature Descriptions. The Nikon weighs 20.3 ounces and measures 14.6 inches in length. It has a 1-inch tube diameter. Its actual magnification range is 6.5 to 19.46 power. At 100 yards, its field of view is 16.1 feet at 6.5 power and 5.4 feet at 19.46 power. The optimum eye relief at 6.5 power is 3.5 inches and 3.1 inches at 19.46 power. It features 1/8-minute adjustments and has 38 inches of horizontal and vertical adjustment at 100 yards. The Nikon has turrets which can be zero-indexed with a supplied allen wrench, and a 4-inch sun shield. Our scope also came with wide-head target turrets and plastic lens covers connected by an elastic string. The scope featured a rubber recoil cap on the eyepiece.

Using the Scope. Out of the box, the Nikon initially impressed us. The blued finish was flawless. The turret covers fit snugly over the standard turrets. The adjustable objective and rear focusing ring moved smoothly. The power adjustment, which featured a locking screw, also adjusted easily. Gold-letter yardage markings weren’t as easy to read as those found on the Leupold, we thought. Detents in the adjustments were unnecessarily stiff, in our view, and they didn’t loosen with use. The Nikon’s front bell is slightly larger than the Leupold’s (to accommodate the 44-mm objective lens), which could be a factor in mounting the scope with medium-height rings. We had no problems mounting it with tall rings, however. Though the scope was longer overall than the Leupold, there was less room on the main tube (about 2 inches in front and behind the adjustment turrets, compared to 2.9 inches in front of the Leupold’s turret and 2.3 inches behind the turret) to mount rings.

Range-Testing Results. Looking through the scope, two testers thought the Nikon was as bright as the Leupold product. Like the other scopes, the Nikon’s field of view was crisp edge to edge, and shooters could read 11-point type at 50 yards. The multicoated optics didn’t show noticeable glare or flare. The 2.2-mm exit pupil (20X) made bringing the scope into eye alignment fairly easy. The recoil test caused no changes in the scope’s tracking. Parallax wasn’t a detriment because of the adjustable objective lens. Likewise, we didn’t see point-of-aim shift when adjusting the objective or the power setting. The submersion and freezing tests didn’t cause fogging.

The Nikon showed tracking and repeatability problems in our tests, but no worse than the other scopes, in our view. Watching the scope track along the 1/4-inch grid at 100 yards, we noticed that 48 horizontal clicks, which should have delivered a 6-inch total adjustment, actually produced a 6.5-inch change. Vertically, 48 clicks produced a 6.6-inch movement.

In the live-fire around-the-clock drill at 50 yards, we saw a 16-click right adjustment move bullet impact 1 inch, right on target. We then moved the sights up 16 clicks, and the corresponding adjustment was 1.35 inches. Sixteen more clicks to the left yielded a 1-inch movement. Sixteen clicks down put the bullet point of impact back at zero.

Adjusting for imaginary windage in the 50-yard compass-points test, we moved 8 clicks to the right, which should have dialed in a 0.5-inch movement. Instead, we got a three-quarter inch adjustment. We then moved 8 clicks back and shot a round half an inch off the zero hole. When we moved 8 clicks up from that point, we got the expected half-inch movement, then got a three-quarter-inch change past zero when we made 8 additional clicks down. We then clicked 8 left, which produced a three-quarter inch movement instead of half an inch. After clicking back and shooting another zeroing shot, we then moved 8 clicks down, which gave us a half-inch downward movement.

Bausch & Lomb Elite 4000 6X-24X
The Bausch & Lomb Elite 4000 6X-24X No. 40-6244A riflescope lists for $696. A matte-finish (No. 40-6244M) is also available. We tested the polished 40-6244A with the company’s Multi-X reticle. Custom reticles with 1/4- and 1/2-minute dots are available for $55.

Physical and Feature Descriptions. The Elite weighs 20.2 ounces and measures 16.9 inches in length. It has a 1-inch tube diameter. Its actual magnification range is 6 to 24 power. At 100 yards, its field of view is 18 feet at 6 power and 6 feet at 24 power. The eye relief is 3 inches. It features 1/8-minute adjustments and has 26 inches of horizontal and vertical adjustment at 100 yards. The Elite has turrets which can be zero-indexed by unscrewing a small, knurled-head screw in the adjustment mechanism. Our scope came with a 5-inch matte-finish sun shield and plastic lens covers connected by elastic cords. The scope featured a rubber recoil cap on the eyepiece.

Using the Scope. We noted that out of the box the B&L; Elite’s blued finish was flawless. The covers fit tightly over the short turrets. The adjustable objective and rear focusing ring moved smoothly. The power adjustment, which featured a slotted locking screw, also adjusted easily. Gold- and green-letter meter and yardage markings, respectively, weren’t as easy to read as the Leupold’s, we thought. Detents in the adjustments were smooth but positive, in our view. We had no problems mounting the scope. The B&L; scope, longer overall than the Leupold, had more ring room on the main tube (3.5 inches in front of the turret and 3 inches behind the turret).

Range-Testing Results. Looking through the scope, no testers thought the Elite was as bright as the Leupold and Nikon products, but we were unable to quantify any significant differences in the light-meter test. Like the other scopes, the Elite’s field of view was crisp edge to edge, and shooters could read 10-point type at 50 yards—a slight edge it had over Leupold and Nikon due to its extra 4X of magnification. The multicoated optics didn’t show noticeable glare or flare. The 6.7-mm exit pupil made bringing the scope into eye alignment easy at 6X, but the 1.7-mm exit pupil at 24X sometimes made us search for the right viewing spot. The recoil test caused no changes in the scope’s tracking. Parallax wasn’t a factor because of the adjustable objective lens. Nor did we see point-of-aim shift when adjusting the objective or the power. The submersion and freezing tests didn’t cause fogging.

The Elite 4000 showed minor tracking and repeatability problems in our tests. Watching the scope track along the 1/4-inch grid at 100 yards, we saw that 48 clicks (both horizontally and vertically) produced 6.3-inch changes in points of aim, a bit more than what the 1/8-minute adjustments should have dialed in.

In the live-fire around-the-clock drill at 50 yards, we saw a 16-click right adjustment move bullet impact 0.85 inch, slightly less than we expected. We then moved the sights up 16 clicks, and the corresponding adjustment was just under 1 inch. Sixteen more clicks to the left yielded a 1-inch movement. Sixteen clicks down put the bullet point of impact back at zero.

In the 50-yard compass-points drill, we moved 8 clicks to the right, which dialed in only a quarter-inch movement. We then moved 8 clicks back and shot another round to the left of the zero hole. When we moved 8 clicks up from that point, we got the expected half-inch movement, then got a half-inch change back down to zero when we made 8 additional clicks down. We then clicked 8 left, which gave us half an inch of movement. After clicking back and shooting another zeroing shot, we then moved 8 clicks down, which gave us a 0.7-inch downward movement.

Pentax Lightseeker 6X-24X AO
Like Nikon, Pentax continues to seek a presence in the rifle optics market, but it faces stiff competition from products made by traditional outdoors companies like Leupold and Bushnell (Bausch & Lomb). No one on our staff has seen this company’s riflescopes at any competition venue or in the field—but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good. Case in point is the glossyfinished $800 Lightseeker 6X-24X AO, whose pricing puts it on par with the Leupold. A matte-finish version costs $10 more, and both are available with the company’s Fine-Plex reticle. A dot reticle costs another $10.

Physical and Feature Descriptions. The Pentax weighs in at 22.7 ounces and measures 16 inches in length. That makes it the heaviest glass in the test, which is attributable to its 44-mm objective and 24X power range, we believe. It has a 1-inch tube diameter. Its actual magnification range is 6 to 24 power. At 100 yards, its field of view is 18 feet at 6 power and 5.5 feet at 24 power. The optimum eye relief at 6 power is 3 inches and 3.25 inches at 24 power. It features 1/8-minute adjustments and has 26 inches of horizontal and vertical adjustment at 100 yards. The Pentax has turrets which can be zero-indexed with an allen wrench, and a 4-inch sun shield. Our scope lacked lens covers. The scope featured a rubber recoil cap on the eyepiece.

Using the Scope. We noticed that the Pentax’s glossy blued finish was flawless. The turret covers fit snugly over the midsized turrets. The adjustable objective and rear focusing ring moved smoothly. The power adjustment, which featured a locking screw, also adjusted easily. Goldletter yardage markings weren’t as easy to read as the Leupold’s, we thought, and some of the yardage markings began to wear. Click adjustments were smooth and crisp. The Pentax’s front bell is slightly larger than the Leupold and B&L; products (to accommodate the 44-mm objective lens), which could be a factor in mounting the scope using certain gun and base-height combinations. We had no problems mounting it with tall rings, however. The scope provided 2 inches in front of the turret and 3.5 inches behind the turret to fit rings.

Range-Testing Results. Looking through the scope, two testers thought the Pentax wasn’t as bright as the Leupold and Nikon products, but our lightmeter test failed to separate them. Like the other scopes, the Pentax’s field of view was crisp edge to edge, and shooters could read 10-point type at 50 yards on the 24X setting, the same as the B&L; product. The multicoated optics didn’t show noticeable glare or flare. The 6.9-mm exit pupil made bringing the scope into eye alignment easy at 6X, but the 2.3mm exit pupil at 24X sometimes made us search for the sight picture. The recoil test showed no changes in the scope’s tracking. Parallax wasn’t a detrimental factor. The submersion and freezing tests didn’t cause fogging.

Like the other scopes, the Pentax showed tracking and repeatability problems. Watching the scope track along the 1/4-inch grid at 100 yards, we noticed that 48 horizontal clicks, which should have delivered a 6-inch total adjustment, actually produced a 6.4-inch change. Vertically, 48 clicks produced a 6.3-inch movement.

In the live fire around-the-clock drill at 50 yards, we saw a 16-click right adjustment move bullet impact 1.2 inches. We then moved the sights up 16 clicks, and the corresponding adjustment was 1.2 inches. Sixteen more clicks to the left yielded a 1-inch movement. Sixteen clicks down put the bullet point of impact slightly off zero.

In the 50-yard compass-points test, we moved 8 clicks to the right, which should have dialed in a 0.5-inch movement. Instead, we got one quarter inch of adjustment. We then moved 8 clicks back and shot a round half an inch off the zero hole.

When we moved 8 clicks up from that point, we got the expected half-inch movement, then got a bullet-width change past zero when we made 8 additional clicks down. We then clicked 8 left, which gave us a three-quarter inch movement rather than half an inch. After clicking back and shooting another zeroing shot, we then moved 8 clicks down, which gave us a quarter-inch downward movement, as expected.

Performance Shooter Recommends
As we noted in the beginning, these products are very closely matched—as products in this price range should be. If we were buying these scopes, here’s how we would spend the money:

Our first pick would be the Leupold Vari-X III Target EFR AO 6.5-20X No. 49801, which costs $866.10. The Extended Focus Range (EFR) Leupold allows shooters to nail airgun silhouettes at 10 meters and then transfer the glass to a centerfire gun and shoot at 500 meters. It doesn’t get much more flexible than that.

If you need an extra 4X power boost, then Bausch & Lomb’s Elite 4000 40-6244A 6X-24X riflescope, which lists for $696, would be our choice. It costs less than the Pentax Lightseeker 6X-24X AO ($800), weighs less, and has a slightly smaller front profile, which could be a factor when mounting the Pentax on some guns.

The Pentax Lightseeker 6X-24X AO ($800) and Nikon 6.5-20×44 AO Lustre ($591) are good pieces of glass, but both had niggling problems that the Leupold and B&L; brands didn’t. In our testing, we didn’t see what benefits the extra 4 millimeters of objective lens diameter brought to the table. The slightly larger front lens housing needed to accept the bigger lens, combined with short ring-mounting areas on the tubes of both models, could make it difficult to get the right eye relief, especially at higher magnifications. Also, we didn’t like how stiffly the Nikon operated. Admittedly, these are minor problems, but at this level, the devil is in the details.

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