Rich Saunders takes a close look at some of the very best airgun sights under £200.
“Budget” is often a byword for “not very good”, but if you do a little research you’ll find some great gear can be picked up for a relatively modest outlay. Scopes are a good example. You could easily spend £1,000 or more, but if you’re only planning on shooting at targets 30 or 40 yards away most of the time, then how good does a scope have to be?
Don’t get me wrong, we all like nice gear, and a bad scope is a miserable thing. So for this issue we’ve done our best to bring you six scopes that cost under £200. Courtesy of Range Right, we have the Konus Pro Evo 3-12×50, which retails for £185, while Edgar Brothers has supplied the Bushnell Banner 2 6-18×50, which goes for £173. The Shooting Party has loaned us a PAO Topaz 3-12×44 IR PA SWAT MkII, which will cost you £159.99.
John Rothery sent us a Richter Optik Exact 3-9×50 AOE, priced at £72.95, and we have Highland Outdoors to thank for the £129.22 Nikko Stirling Panamax 3-9×50 AO IR. And no scope review would be complete without a Hawke, so priced at £149, we have the Airmax 3-9×40 AO.
1. KonusPro Evo 3-12×50
Best for extra features
- 3-12×50 model
- Weighs 580g
- 330mm long
+ Ideal for airgun use
+ Accurate markings
+ Crisp image
– Most expensive on list
Konus offers a wide selection of scopes, many of them designed with airgunners in mind, as well as red dot sights, binoculars, torches and spotting scopes. The 3-12×50 model we have on review is packed full of features and is ideal for airgun use.
Based on a 25mm one-piece chassis, it weighs around 580g without mounts and is 330mm long. A set of bikini covers and a sunshade complete the package. The ocular lens adjustment ring moves easily with a reassuring, quality feel. The magnification collar has a series of ridges to help grip along with a raised bar that also indicates which of the 3-12x settings you are on.
The sidewheel parallax adjustment is a feature normally associated with more expensive products. It moves through a range that starts at 10 yards and after checking the markings as best I could against my rangefinder, I found them pretty accurate. The multi-coated lenses give a clear and crisp image, even at distance.
The Airgun Shooter verdict: “The Konus Pro Evo 3-12×50 has all the features you want from a general use airgunning scope. The image is crisp and the construction and finish is of the highest order. Those who shoot long distances with FAC rifles would probably prefer a reticle with more aim points but, for normal 12 ft-lb distances, the Konus is a great choice.”
PAO Topaz 3-12×44 IR PA SWAT MkII
Best for accuracy
- 324mm long
- Weighs 800g
- 3-12x magnification
+ Illuminated reticle
+ Lots of adjustment options
This scope from Professional Airgun Optics wins the prize for the longest name. Part of that is down to the many features crammed into its 324mm long, 800g (including provided mounts) construction.
Made from black anodised aircraft-grade aluminium, the PAO Topaz has a single-piece 30mm tube that should transmit plenty of light to help eke out a bit more shooting time in the gloom. In addition to the two-piece 9-11mm dovetail mounts, you also get a large sidewheel, lens cloth and a set of push-on, flip-up lens covers – you need to pull off the rear cap to access the ocular lens adjustment collar.
Another collar, which has angled grooves to aid grip, turns easily through the 3-12x magnification range. The three chunky, zero-resettable turrets have more grooves. The windage and elevation turrets pull out to adjust in ¼ mil-dot increments and push down to lock. The markings are nice and clear, and raised plastic lugs make navigating the defined clicks easy.
Unscrewing a cap on the left-hand turret enables you to insert a CR2032 battery to operate the illuminated reticle which has red, blue and green options, each with three brightness levels and an “off” position between each colour. The reticle itself has four mil-dot aim point markings in each direction, with half mil-dot points in between, all of which can be illuminated.
A larger dial inside that for the illuminated reticle adjusts parallax from 10 yards out to infinity. I found the distance markings to be plenty accurate for basic range estimation.
The Airgun Shooter verdict: “Although it will serve just as well on rimfire and centrefire rifles, the PAO Topaz is ideal for airgun use, all backed up with a lifetime ‘replace not repair’ warranty. With a comprehensive set of accessories, it means you can be up and shooting within minutes.”
Bushnell Banner 2 6-18×50
Best for image quality
- 6-18x magnification
- Weighs 600g
- 330mm long
+ Good low-light performance
+ Well weighted ocular adjustment
– Lack of features for price point
On the surface, the Bushnell Banner 2 6-18×50 would seem to be one of the more expensive products in our test, and with fewer features. You do get a set of two-piece mounts, a lens cloth and a set of bikini covers, but there’s no illuminated reticle feature or sidewheel parallax adjustment.
However, when you look a little closer, you realise that there is much more to this scope than eye-catching features. The tube, for example, is only 1”, a format that can also compromise low-light performance. However, thanks to the specialist “dawn to dusk” coatings, the Bushnell Banner 2 performs well in even the murkiest of lighting conditions.
In fact, much of the value of this scope is in the quality of the lenses; the clarity and razor sharp definition of the image is superb at any distance and magnification.
The ocular adjustment is well weighted and unlikely to shift accidentally, and the knurled magnification collar moves.
The Airgun Shooter verdict: “There’s no denying the undoubted quality and performance of the Bushnell Banner 2. But whilst the parallax range is airgun-friendly, the reticle, though perfectly usable, is less ideal for airgunners.”
Richter Optik Exact 3-9×50 AOE
- Weighs 620g
- 345mm long
- 3-9x magnification
+ CR2032 batteries included
+ Great image quality for price point
– Placement of rheostat could inhibit night vision gear
Like many scopes, and not only those at the budget end of the scale, Richter Optik’s products are made in China, being manufactured to ISO 9001 standards. I don’t know what that means either, but I take it as affirmation that despite its price, this is a well-made, good-quality product.
Weighing 620g complete with the push-on flip-up lens covers and CR2032 battery that are included, the Exact 3-9×50 AOE measures 345mm long and is based on a 1in chassis made from a single piece of anodised aluminium.
Rather than located by the elevation and windage adjustment, the rheostat for the 11-brightness level illuminated reticle is housed in a turret on the eye bell. Although this works well, it could make night vision gear that relies on attachments to the ocular lens difficult to set up. The 3-9x magnification collar moves smoothly, and the image is as clear and crisp as many more expensive scopes, especially at legal-limit airgun ranges.
The reticle has a floating centre cross – the part that illuminates – with a range of 3½ mil-dots on the up, left and right planes, and 4½ to accommodate holdover.
The elevation and windage turrets are old school; unscrewing the caps reveals dials designed to turn with a coin or screwdriver, though in truth I was able to rotate the ¼ MOA clicks with my thumb.
Located on the objective bell rather than a sidewheel, the parallax adjustment collar turns easily to bring targets into sharp relief, even on high magnification, from as close as 10 yards away.
The Airgun Shooter verdict: “Many of us just want a basic, no-frills scope that won’t cost the earth yet gives us everything we need to enjoy our air rifle. The Richter Optik Exact 3-9×50 AOE fits the bill perfectly. Just make sure it will work with your NV gear if you plan to shoot at night.”
Nikko Stirling Panamax 3-9×50 AO IR
Best for brand credibility
- 3-9x magnification
- 317mm long
+ Claimed 20% greater field of view
+ Very precise ocular lens adjustment
Nikko Stirling was founded in 1956 by an Australian who set the company up in Tokyo after recognising Japanese skill when it came to optics. More than 60 years on, the company produces an encyclopaedic range of sporting optics with products for just about every type of firearm.
The Panamax range comprises 12 products, all of which are based on a 1in anodised aluminium tube which, the company claims, gives a 20% greater field of view compared with standard 1in scopes.
The glass-etched reticle has a floating 4½ mil-dot centre cross with full and half mil-dot aim point markings that are extremely clear thanks to a very precise ocular lens adjustment. A dial on the left side operates the illumination function, with five brightness settings in red and green.
Twisting a knurled collar on the ocular bell zooms through the 3-9x magnification range and a raised lug both helps you grip the ring a little easier and indicates the magnification setting you’re on. Unscrewing the caps on the low-profile windage and elevation turrets reveals black finger-turn dials.
Indicators for ‘up’ and ‘left’ are clearly marked, and the ¼ MOA clicks are reassuringly defined, leaving you in no doubt that you have completed your adjustment.
Testing the scope on the range, my point of impact was initially a good foot low and right. I moved the dials 10 clicks at a time and was reassured to see the subsequent groups progress at an even rate until they met the bullseye.
The parallax adjustment collar is located on the objective bell and rotates smoothly between an indicated 10 yards to infinity range, I also noted the collar could be rotated a quarter turn below the 10-yard mark.
The Airgun Shooter verdict: “Nikko Stirling is a byword for quality and performance when it comes to shooting optics. The Panamax 3-9×50 AO IR carries on the tradition and delivers everything most airgunners in the market for an affordable scope are looking for.”
Hawke Airmax 3-9×40 AO
- 3-9x magnification
- 306mm long
+ Compact and lightweight
+ Designed specifically for airgun use
– Lack of features
– No illumination feature
Hawke is the preferred choice of more airgunners than any other brand thanks to a combination of quality, performance, price and breadth of specification. The Airmax line-up has been designed specifically for airgun use and comprises no fewer than 14 different products.
The 3-9×40 AO we have on test is the second cheapest. As a result, it may lack some of the bells and whistles, but the fundamentals are spot on. Made from a 1in single-piece tube, this compact scope weighs 519g and is only 306mm long.
The ocular lens adjustment moves smoothly and has a rubber end cap. The magnification ring too has a rubber coating that is ridged to aid grip as you work through the 3-9x range. As you might expect on a scope at this price, the low-profile windage and elevation adjustments are revealed by unscrewing caps. The ¼ MOA adjustments are nice and clicky, and the white on black markings are small but clear to see.
Also befitting a scope as affordable as this, the parallax adjustment is via a collar on the objective lens. Once again, it is smooth to operate from 10 yards out to infinity.
Although there is no illumination feature, I was able to use the Airmax 3-9×40 AO for some murky early-evening rabbit shooting without any problems, and when I attached some NiteSite night vision gear for a spot of ratting when the sun went down, the image was superbly clear.
Airmax scopes are available with three different reticles, all of which are glass-etched. The 3-9×40 AO comes with Hawke’s AMX reticle that has a range of 4½ mil-dots in each direction marked in full and half mil-dots. The holdover axis has additional lines to help you easily acquire your target.
The Airgun Shooter Verdict: “It’s always reassuring to know a product has been developed specifically with airgunners in mind. The review product may be one of Hawke’s more basic models, but it delivers everything most airgunners will be looking for in a high-quality, top-performing package.”
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