Andy McLachlan tests a quartet of HFT-ready scopes priced at under £500…
There are many scopes available that are perfectly capable of being used for HFT and cost considerably less than £500. Many of the excellent scopes available from the likes of Hawke, Nikko Sterling and MTC are not only great scopes for general use, but appear regularly at HFT events all over the UK every week. They often cost considerably less than £200, never mind £500. So why do we need to spend more?
Most of the time, we airgun shooters will get by perfectly well with optics costing anything from £50 to £200. The standard at this price point bears no resemblance whatsoever compared with what was available only five years ago, such has been the advance in the market of good-quality, well-priced products.
Years ago, we got by with a 30/30 crosshair reticle with no additional aiming points to help us out. These days it is rare to find a scope with such a limited configuration, as having those additional aiming reference markers certainly helps many of us to shoot more accurately without ‘guesstimating’ correct holdover or -under. They do for me, anyway!
Optics Warehouse (www.opticswarehouse.co.uk) sent me over a few scopes for review. Three of them are not as well known as they should be, while the offering from MTC is already widely used on the HFT circuit.
I used all the scopes at the excellent Bolton Gun Club’s Leigh indoor 54-yard shooting range and attempted to locate the settings that would – for me, with my now less-than-hawk-like eyesight – allow a parallax setting that retains the ability to make out a target between 10 and 45 yards with still shootable blurring.
As many of us are aware, you are not allowed to alter any scope settings once you commence an HFT competition course. This means that an optimum setting for the parallax needs to be found, which retains our ability to accurately identify a target killzone prior to shot release.
Athlon Talos BTR 4-14×44 FFP
This is my first encounter with the Athlon scope range. The American-based company has recently introduced this Chinese-manufactured optic in an HFT-friendly specification. It is a hefty beast, with a 30mm scope body, target turrets, side parallax adjustment (down to 10 yards) and an adjustable illuminated reticle.
The reticle is useful for HFT: it features milliradian hashes, which are more closely spaced than the usual MOA (minute of angle) alternative. This means you get additional aiming point references. The vertical and horizontal lines surround a fully floating central cross. Personally, I don’t like the ‘floating’ format, as very often the required aiming point will be just off centre and will be in the free space surrounding the centre. However, it is still an excellent ret.
What will be of interest to many prospective buyers is the fact that the scope image is in the first focal plane. Basically, this means that no matter which magnification you select, your aim points will be the same. I am aware that most HFT scopes remain on one setting of magnification, usually between 8x and 10x. I prefer this arrangement, as it does not require additional consideration for moving aim points should you desire to use the scope for other purposes, as occurs with a scope using the second focal plane arrangement.
The image quality is good. Colours are well defined with very minimal flaring of the image at maximum magnification. I did not notice any ‘white-out’ of the image due to light conditions, as can sometimes be experienced with optics originating in China. Once I had focused the ocular lens to suit my own eyes, the small central cross allowed excellent shot placement at 10x magnification. Using my setting methodology resulted in best performance at a magnification setting of 9x and parallax of 23 yards. This allowed me to shoot accurately at all targets within HFT ranges.
“A first scope to consider if you are looking for a low-cost competition-ready format. Great performance will see this model featuring more in HFT competitions once the word is out.”
Delta Optical Titanium 4.5-14×44 FFP
It is clear that the lenses used in this scope are of a very high quality. Delta Optical has used Japanese lenses to produce a scope that is strangely reminiscent of a Lightstream model I owned several years ago. What the Delta has, though, is an up-to-date HFT reticle in the first focal plane.
This has apparently been designed by a specialist who has ensured that all the reticle marks line up perfectly. Not too sure about that, as a lot depends upon the height that the scope is mounted according to its position with the centreline of the barrel. The hash marks look much like those of a milliradian scope, and are all the better for it. Like the Athlon, the Delta sports the ‘floating cross’ arrangement, although the space surrounding it is less than with the Athlon.
The front objective allows parallax adjustment from 15 yards, with all controls moving as accurately as you would hope for a serious optical instrument at this price point. Turret adjusters are very positive indeed and are protected by caps.
The performance of this scope on the range confirmed the initial impression of a unit built with high-quality lenses at its heart. The image clarity, edge-to-edge colours and flaring at the edges often noticeable on cheaper optics far surpassed even the Sightron – as they should for nearly double the price. The scope was impressive when shot at the range indicated on the parallax ring. However, as soon as you start shooting at a different range, it quickly becomes clear that parallax error is having a bearing upon your point of aim. This could be addressed with a rubber scope enhancer to ensure that your head always lines up perfectly with the image. Using my system to establish the optimum HFT settings for my own eyes confirmed 10x magnification and a 24-yard parallax to be the ideal balance.
“The Delta offers superb image clarity of a different level to the other scopes on test. Build quality is excellent, although there’s a tendency towards parallax error.”
Optisan EVX 4-16×44 F1 FFP
This scope is already widely used on the HFT circuit, and it is not difficult to understand why. My friend owns one and rates it very highly, due to the number of features it has and the high-quality image its lenses provide the shooter with. This model has been updated within the MTC range of Viper scopes, which brings its specification bang up to date.
The scope comes equipped with side-focusing parallax adjustment from 10 yards, an illuminated and second focal plane reticle (it’s also available with first focal plane) and a 30mm body tube. In addition, each unit comes complete with a sunshade, a three-inch sidewheel for parallax adjustment and flip-up lens covers to protect your investment. The sample I used had the MH10 reticle, which again features a floating cross within a milliradian series of hashes, which helps with locating the correct aim point when holding under or over. The ret certainly allowed me to place pellets precisely upon the point of aim. My friend Dave has even used his for 30-yard bench-rested competition to good effect.
If you decide you need illumination, you will need strong fingers to rotate the dial, but this could just have been the example I looked at. Image quality was certainly up there with the best offered by any Chinese optics manufacturer. Colours were bright, no image flaring around the edges was evident, and the lockable target turrets did their job without fuss or drama. Unlike previous optics from MTC I have owned in the past, there was no ‘whiting out’ of the lenses at certain settings, which always gives me confidence in both the design and, of course, the lens quality.
My regular parallax adjustment compromise test revealed that the optimum setting – again for my eyesight, remember – was the classic 25-yard parallax and 10x magnification. The unit is a hefty beast, weighing in at a test-heaviest 26 ounces. I reckon it would be tough enough to survive as a back-up club to fend off any unhappy fellow HFT competitors should the need arise!
“The image quality, although not in the Japanese spectrum of quality, is very good. A very substantial scope which looks as though it will withstand some serious usage.”
Sightron SI 4-12×40
Over the years, I have used a Sightron SIII fixed 10x magnification optic a lot for HFT competition. That model costs more than our self-imposed limit of £500, but it boasts superbly clear optics and has been very straightforward to use. So, how does the SIII’s cheaper sibling on test here compare in the performance stakes?
This is one of those scopes that when you first peek through its lenses, you are genuinely surprised by the quality of its superb image. Manufactured in the Philippines, the 25mm-bodied scope has a straightforward format. With a front-focusing objective lens for parallax adjustment and turrets for zeroing, that’s about it features-wise, apart from the magnification adjustment. This adds up to a lightweight scope that would suit somebody with a smaller build perfectly. The lack of features also means the American-based company has been able to specify high-quality lenses for this package. The reticle is quite a thick MOA arrangement with sensibly spaced hash marks – not quite as useful as mils in my opinion, but not far off it.
Using the scope when testing confirmed that the truly superb image quality was replicated indoors. The image was amazingly bright for such a reasonably priced optic, and edge-to-edge clarity was also great. Colour rendition was also a vast improvement over the Athlon, with no signs of ‘white-out’ at any setting that I could discover. Some shooters might find the ret a bit on the thick side, but I did not find that the centre area obscured the target in any way. The ret does not feature a central cross, which is an advantage.
During testing, I discovered that the optimum settings for HFT resulted in a relatively low magnification of 8.5x and a parallax setting of 28 yards for maximum clarity at all shootable ranges. The objective will allow focusing down to eight yards, so no problem there! The turret adjusters were of a higher quality than the Athlon’s, and operated with very positive and strangely satisfying clicks.
“This simply laid-out optic is ideal for the owner who isn’t bothered by all the latest gizmos. What you get is a straightforward scope with superb optics and a useful reticle.”
The quality of the lens makes all the difference in these scopes
What do we get for a not insubstantial increase in our financial outlay for something that looks from the outside very much like the scope we already have? Like anything else, the more we pay, the better the quality tends to be. This is especially so when it comes to the main feature of any scope: the lenses.
It is widely known that German manufacturers produce some of the highest-quality optics in the world, with many manufactured by Schott. In addition to outstanding-quality glass, we also must consider factors such as overall build quality and features that have been designed to never let the user down, allowing the shooter to make the most of any opportunity that they are likely to find themselves in when using their scope. Many of these individual items will still be perfectly usable hundreds of years from now, I would imagine.
It’s not just the European manufacturers who have managed to gain for themselves a high reputation for excellent optics, however. We also have US firms such as Leupold, Nightforce and Sightron producing scopes of the highest quality. Moving away from the West, we also have optics manufacturers in the Far East in countries such as Japan, with small companies like March hand-building every scope. Japan has always had a reputation as a producer of optics of the highest standard, which continues to this day. The lens quality of scopes originating from here will always be first-class.
Finally, we then have scopes manufactured both in the Philippines and in China that tend to be somewhat more affordable. This is despite a raft of features that make these products highly desirable to shooters seeking good value as their main priority. The trade-off with these models tends to be slightly lower levels of how bright a scope image will be in low-light scenarios. Some lenses tend to suffer from aberrations in certain light conditions, whereas a higher-priced scope would usually be unaffected.
“The Athlon Talos came out on top due to its first-class features and great price point. The Delta Optical shows how superior Japanese-manufactured optical products tend to be, while the Sightron HFT may shock you with how good its performance is for the price, with its excellent glass. Meanwhile, Optisan continues to raise its game with the great-value EVX.”