The SWFA SS 3-15×42

A Significant Improvement Over Its Predecessor

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Yes, I’m a little late to the party. My OODA cycle is running a little slow in the area of new gear coming out. Rifle gear is expensive, and I tend to want to work on software rather than hardware, so I’m not always able to keep up.

If there is anything that is difficult to keep up with, it’s rifle optics. They seem to be advancing so rapidly in the last five to ten years that by the time I have sufficient cash to get something that seems worth of releasing said cash, the piece I buy ends up being obsolete.

I’ve been aware of the 3-15×42 since it came out. I had considered upgrading to it from the time I was aware of it. Among the things that held me back were that it would be a pain to sell my scope and it would cost me more money to buy a new one. I worried that there would be something about the scope that I didn’t like. I was turned off by the reticle.

I recently didn’t jive too well with the SWFA SS1-6×24, so I think my expectations of the 3-15×42 were a little low. I was really holding tight to the idea of the plain jane mildot reticle that is in my SWFA SS 3-9×42. I really like the way all four of the large stadia lines bracket the point of aim at low power when the fine lines get a little thin in low light or in the “brush”. To say it succinctly I was skeptical.

The “Specs”

The 3-15×42 is a front focal plane scope with a mil based reticle and 0.1 mil knobs. The tube is 30mm. The scope was initially unveiled in March of 2013 and they began hitting the streets in late April/early May. The scope is made in a different factory than the 3-9×42, which is evidenced by certain easily recognizable attributes, such as the turret design. The 3-15×42 reflects the design of the original SS scopes, such as the fixed 10x.

Reticle:

The Mil-Quad Reticle reticle was, to the best of my recollection, first introduced by SWFA in 2011 with their 5-20×50. The reticle differs from the standard mildot by the inclusion of half-mil hashes, and more significantly by the use of diamond shaped outlines rather than dots that are completely filled in.

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The reticle also differs from the older SWFA mildot by the doubling of the length of the mil scale on the bottom stadia, for a total of 10 mils available holdover rather than five. This is the one thing that I really still don’t care for, but after using it I’m not as against it as I was with the concept.

Other details:

The scope is advertised as having 36 mils total travel. Some users report having a bit more, around 40. That should be enough for most applications. It’s way more than I need before my .308 runs out of practical steam (trans sonic).

The magnification ring has a screw in stud that acts as a “cat-tail” lever, to increase the ease and rapidity of magnification adjustment. From the appearance of the device, I did not think it would be of much use.

 

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Impressions:

One minor grip about my 3-9 that I’ve had is the tunneling, which is the shrinking of the apparent image, usually at the lowest power settings. I really don’t like it, although it’s not very prominent on that scope. I was happy to see that with the 3-15 there is no tunneling whatsoever. I’m not really a glass aficionado, but the glass appears at least as clear as the 3-9, which has been more than sufficient for me in the time I’ve been using it, which is two years so far.

The increase in power is a significant advantage over the 3-9. I see 3-15 as an ideal power range. With my 5-20, while I use 20x on some occasions, with a lot of shooting the mirage really kicks in and affects my sight picture. Also, most of my shooting is not farther than 400-500, so while more power isn’t a bad thing, it usually isn’t necessary. For quickier shots in the 25-50 yard range, and for field of view, I really like no more than 3 power for my .308, so I feel that the scope does exactly what I want it to as far as power.

While the appearance of the cattail did not impress me, I found that it made the power significantly easier to adjust. I do worry about it getting loose under extended periods of heavy use, so a light grade thread locker may be appropriate, although I would want to research that a little more before I applied one.

One of the things that impressed me most about the scope was the side focus knob. Yes, I have seen one before, but what I really liked about it was that it adjusts down to 6 meters. I have become accustomed to dry firing on scaled down targets that appear as fuzzy blobs. Actually having a scope that allows a focused sight picture in dry fire is a very welcome development. I believe that must have come about because someone listed to the feedback of a shooter when designing this scope.
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I have already mentioned that the outward appearance of the turrets is markedly different than those on the 3-9. The more significant difference is in the adjustments themselves. One minor gripe I have had with the 3-9 is that the lines don’t match up between the turret and the marks on the saddle. They fixed that with the 3-15 (and probably more recent 3-9 scopes as well).

 

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The adjustments are also much more positive on the 3-15. At first I thought the clicks were a little too audible. As I used it the adjustments didn’t bother me. They were very easy to use. The real enlightenment hit when I remounted the 3-9. The adjustments have always been ‘adequate’, but I felt like the world had turned to mush after becoming accustomed to the 3-15. I didn’t feel nearly as sure of where my knob was when I put the old scope back on.

I did begin a box test. The design was an expanded box in increments of 5 mils, going out to a total of 15 mils in each direction to make a set of squares within a larger square. In retrospect a better way to test the adjustments is by using a calibrated target and fixing the scope so that it can be tested visually without relying on shots hitting paper, as in the Precision Rifle Blog scope testing protocol.

Things were going fine in the box test. I was marveling at that the lines were matching up on this scope. I’m serious, I was really enjoying that. Then, after about 15 rounds into the test, it stopped happening. Right after that it stopped adjusting. The three small allen screws that hold the turret to the mechanism underneath had loosened and allowed the turret to spin freely. Because I live in a time crunch, that really marked the premature end of my box test.

I spoke with ILya, the donor of the test scope, about the way the turret is fastened. The 3-9, which uses one large allen keyed adjustment at the top of the turret, is undoubtedly more secure, but the design does not allow for the same tactile quality of adjustment. I have had the turret slip on the IOR 2.5-10 as well, and I believe it has happened on the Razor as well. The screws are so small that I have always been wary of stripping or damaging them. ILya mentioned that getting it just a bit tighter, and applying some clear nail polish may be enough insurance against the turret slipping.

The reticle was probably the aspect of the scope that I had been most skeptical about. Using it really turned my attitude on it around. I had basically accepted that reticles designed to be in the front focal plane had to be thicker. The problem with front focal plane reticles is that they appear to get smaller as the magnification is dialed down (they actually retain the same dimension in accordance with the image). At low power if the reticle is too thin it is not very usable. That set the mold for front focal plane reticles up until very recently.

What SWFA has pioneered with front focal plane reticles is using different parts of the reticle to do different things. In this case, the crosshair portion of the reticle is thinner than is traditionally used on a front focal plane reticle. They get around it being too thin at low power by using very thick lines on the outside of the reticle that are only visible at the edge of the sight picture at higher magnifications.  The larger parts act as guides to draw the eye in to acquiring the fine crosshair intersection.

I would have preferred to have the thicker lines on all four sides, but they chose to eliminate the bottom line in favor of providing the extra 5 mils of holdover. What you end up with at low power is kind of an inverted German #4 type arrangement. I did not think I could get used to having a sight picture that looks like it’s upside down, but I was able to get used to it fairly quickly. I found that it seems to make the reticle perfectly usable in more dense environments. I did not conduct extensive tests measuring my ability to engage close targets with a timer or anything. It just seemed like it would work fine.

IMG_6686At 3x “in the brush”.  The crosshairs are more visible actually looking through the scope.

The finer crosshair portion, coupled with the extra magnification available, makes the scope much better to use at distance than the 3-9. I also did appreciate the diamonds, in that they are much less obstructive than a dot. Coming into the test I was biased against the diamonds as I thought they were gimmicky, so I think it’s significant that they won me over.

 

Through the scope at 15x close15x close reticle detail.

Through the scope at 15x
15x through the scope.

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At 9x at the same point of aim as the above photo.  There is a lot less detail in this photo. Having the extra magnification available is really an asset for precise aiming in my opinion.

Conclusion:

The scope exceeded my expectations. It won me over, despite my significant skepticism. I think that the 3-15 marks an upgrade over the 3-9 in almost every way I was able to observe. There’s more power, no tunneling, the feel and sureness of the adjustments is miles ahead, the reticle is better for precision although it may give up just a little in low light or dense brush to the 3-9 mildot. The method of securing the turret in the 3-9 is stronger, but there seem to be ways of mitigating that with the 3-15.
IMG_7137I made a big ding in the objective of my 3-9.  It has definitely stood up to some abuse.  It isn’t good, but it is easier to decide whether or not to get a sunshade if I can’t thread it on.

I find it surprising that they only charge $100 more for the 3-15 over the 3-9. While I consider the 3-9 to be robust enough for hard use, I don’t have enough time or any abuse to speak of with the 3-15 to know that for sure. The extra magnification really seemed, to my eyes, to offer a significant boost in total performance. For the money, this scope is very hard to beat. Without considering money, the scope is quite good.

 

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