I decided that a good second scope to contrast the US Optics SR-8 that I just finished testing would be the Swarovski Z6i 1-6×24. Whereas the US Optics scope is a large, heavy, overbuilt design made to withstand the rigors of extremely hard use, has a front focal plane milliradian based reticle, and is seems to be designed with military, law enforcement, or “other” tactical categories, the Swaro is a light, slim, second focal plane scope, with what is also a mil based reticle, and is very popular as a sporting optic, particularly with competitors. What the scopes have in common is that they both cost approximately $2500.
The first thing I notice with the Swaro pretty much every time is the image. Here’s my totally subjective description that will basically do nothing for you until you look through one: very clear, very bright, and the field of view is amazing. It is apparently 127.5′ at 100 yards at the scope’s minimum power. Adding to the sensation of the wide field of view, the profile of the scope body that surrounds the image is minimal (the turret caps are not the size of prescription bottles as seems to be the trend).
Just a randomly placed photo (don’t go nuts trying to figure out how it fits with the text- it doesn’t). The first person to guess the object just below and to the right of the magwell, and by process of deduction the object the rifle sits on will win… the satisfaction of having guess correctly first!!!
The other obvious difference with the US Optics scope is that the Z6i is very slim comparatively and light. The advertised weight of the Z6i is 16.2 ounces, which is approximately 9.6 ounces lighter than the advertized weight of the SR-8. I would expect that the extra weight of the US Optics scope would make it more robust, but I’m not going to torture test them both to find out. I can say that I believe that neither scope has been babied by their owner. The Swaro scope tube is relatively unobstructed and the turret saddle is minimal in comparison to the SR-8. This offers quite a bit more flexibility in mounting than the SR-8.
Speaking of mounting the optic, I was able to use the Nightforce Unimount that I bought in January. I couldn’t use it on the SR-8 because of the peculiarities of that scope, but should be able to use it on the rest of the scopes I have to test on the AR. What that will mean is that my testing protocols won’t exactly be consistent across the board for the scopes I have to test. The SR-8 had a Larue extended cantilever mount with a standard AR sight height (approximately 2.6” over the center of the bore). The Nightforce mount I have is one of the lower cantilever mounts available, and puts the center of the optic approximately 2.3” over the center of the bore. This small amount is an absolutely huge improvement for me. I would like to be a little lower, but I think that if I find a slightly wider stock I might end up about as good as I can hope to be. The increased ease of use with the lower mount for me is likely to skew the results to the detriment of the SR-8.
The turret adjustments are in 0.15 milliradian (0.54 MOA) increments. That’s a real head scratcher for me. As with the SR-8, since the turrets are basically meant to be set and not messed with, I would have preferred finer adjustments so I could really get a perfect zero without having to be lucky (which I may have been in this case).
On the subject of true 1 power
As with the SR-8, it turns out that at most distances zero magnification actually makes for an image smaller as that as seen with the naked eye. It is less so with the Z6i than with the SR-8, I think because of the Swaro’s 6x magnification range as compared to the 8x range of the SR-8. At very close distances, to about 3 yards, 1x seems to actually look like 1x. At about 10 yards the scope needs to be set at about 1.3x to have an unmagnified appearance.
The barn is probably about 20 yards away. The scope is set at 1x. Notice that outside the scope the barn is larger. Also notice how little of the field of view is obscured by the profile of the scope.
Same exact everything, except the scope is cranked up to about 1.3x, which is were I would typically leave it, and I’m a little off center. This whole ‘taking the picture through the scope” thing has a pretty long learning curve for me. A tripod for the camera (and the rifle) would be really, really handy.
The huge field of view combined with the scope being mounted lower mean that the top of my handguard rail is visible approximately 9.2” forward of the upper receiver at 1x. At 1.3x, where I am more likely to keep it set, I can see the top rail approximately 10.5” of the upper receiver. With the SR-8, I placed my thumb at 12 O’clock on the rail. If I do that with the Z6i, my thumb is visible in the lower third of the optic, and is a significant distraction in my field of view (that’s the OCD side of me coming out). This led me to change my thumb position to roughly how I would orient it if I were shooting pistol. This change stuck in less than a day, so no big deal at all.
One thing I was worried about with the lower mount was sufficient clearance for charging handle manipulation. With the Z6i there is no problem whatsoever in this regard. In this case the ocular bell has a “slick” profile and the rear edge is about flush with the rear edge of the charging handle lever. If there were a scope cap I could have an issue.
My first thought at seeing the BRT-I reticle in the Swaro was probably something along the lines of, “Whoa. Like, that could be pretty cool.” (I do my best thinking in Keanu Reaves’ voice). There is a simple arrangements of lines and dots below the crosshair intersection, which appear to offer windage as well as elevation holds. My second thought was probably something along the lines of, “I’m… going to need to… know: what are the subtensions???!!!” (I do my second best thinking in James T. Kirk’s voice [William Shatner’s Kirk of course]) This was not a search engine friendly piece of information, and I thought Swarovski’s online ballistics calculator was stupid (okay, great, now I know where the holds for 254.86, 287.54, and 5047.25896 yards are!). Some research gave me conflicting information so I had to test it myself. I figured out my target’s scoring ring, designed to be 4 MOA at 100 yards (1.047*4 = 4.188) would be equivalent to one milliradian at 116 yards (4.188”*1000 = 4188”, 4188/3 = 1396′, 1396/12 = 116.3 yards). All of the holdover points matched one mil at 116 yards except for the last one that may or may not be intended to be part of the reticle.
After spending a lot of time with a first focal plane reticle with the SR-8, the second focal plane reticle in the Z6i seems to make a lot of sense after just a short exposure to it. My suspicion is that if I were in a situation to use the reticle to hold for elevation, I would have it cranked up to 6x anyway. I probably don’t have enough time to spend with this optic to figure out if that is true or not. I can say that the appearance of the reticle at any magnification setting is pleasing to the eye and is especially nice at 6x.
The only downside I can think of is that some times I want to have an idea what my holdover would be on a target of unknown size at closer ranges to compensate for mechanical offset, (say I wanted to shoot a Eurasian Collared Dove in the head), and I have no good point of reference unless I crank the thing all the way up. This bugs me about the second focal plane scope, but I can’t say that it’s a valid beef because it’s so impractical (unless I wanted to serve up doves for dinner).
The illumination on this scope consists of a red dot at the center of the crosshairs, which is the same as the SR-8. While the net effect of the view to the user is very, very similar between these scopes, they are probably more different than alike in terms of how that dot is produced. The US Optics SR-8 illumination, through some black magic, is not visible from the “business end”, whereas the illumination on the Swaro is. This is, in my opinion, indicative of the difference in design philosophies between the two scopes, i.e. “tactical” vs sporting. This is probably not important to a majority of end users, but I could see how it could be very important to those with live targets, especially those that shoot back.
The other big difference in the illumination is how it’s activated. The Swaro has a pretty brilliantly designed three position toggle switch. The center position is off, the left is the “night time” setting and the right is the “day time” setting. Both of the “on” settings are adjustable via a set of buttons acting to increase or decrease the brightness. The scope “remembers” what it is set at the next time it’s activated. I had thought that the only potential disadvantage to this setup in comparison to the US Optics is that it’s possible to forget to turn it off and run the battery down. It inevitably came to pass that I forgot to turn it off one day. The following day I noticed it was switched on and said something like, “%$^%#$%&^%$#%^&**(*&*()(*&^%$$#!!!!!!!” It appeared to be dead. I switched it off and back on, and like magic, it was fine. Apparently it is also child proof.
This is the best illumination control I have seen yet. Refinement, simplicity, ease of use, and being child-proof are some of the things that the big bucks will buy you.
I will go ahead and say now that subjectively, from a pure shooting perspective, this scope was the most pleasant for me. That makes no considerations for advantages other scopes in the test may have over it in other aspects, but this was a system that stayed out of the way and let me work.