You might be getting sick of the scope reviews. That’s alright, because I talked with Steve and he said he liked them. Steve, if you get a chance email me about 3-Gun stuff. Back to our regularly scheduled programming.
I should begin by saying that prior to putting this scope on a rifle, I had been spoiled by scopes that cost $2500 (x2), and $2000. This scope, the SWFA 1-6×24 HD runs at about $1000 and I have seen it on special for about $800. I was very curious to see how it performed in comparison. I go back and forth between wanting the absolute best (typically thinking it must be the most expensive) equipment and thinking I should be able to do more with less, so this was interesting.
I received all of the scopes that I tested within a short time span, probably a few days (it was a while ago). Before I mounted any of them on a rifle I just looked through them at ‘stuff’. At the time I was very impressed with the image quality of the SWFA. Not being an optics guru, I’m not going to try to describe it in more detail than by saying I thought it was nearly the equal of the Swarovski, and noticeably brighter than the USO scopes. Temper that with the admonition that I’m not anywhere near the optics connoisseur as I am a trigger aficionado.
In the interim after receiving the scopes and before I mounted the SWFA, I spent months playing with the SR-8c, the Z6i, and the SR-4c. The SR-8c was the first one I mounted and spent the most time with. It basically set the bar, so I think I should try to explain how that bar was set.
My impression of the U.S. Optics scopes is that they are well designed, well executed, and have nothing at all gimmicky about them. I think that they are meant to fulfill the expectations of an end user who knows what he’s doing and who is willing to shell out the mackerels for the best he can get. The only trends they need to worry about are performance related. The Swarovski was similarly lacking in anything other than what would make it functionally excellent in its intended genre.
What all the high priced scopes had in common were relatively minimalistic reticles that stayed out of the way of their daylight bright illumination. It didn’t take much time on the range with these scopes to appreciate the utility of an uncluttered visual workspace. This also had an influence on how I handle mechanical offset. In my mind, having had the chance to try it, the superiority of a single illuminated dot combined with a clean, clear field of view is obvious. I disagree with some other reviewers on this, who feel that reticle trumps illumination. I, of course, am right, no matter how much I may enjoy and learn from their reviews (my wife said to make sure it’s obvious I’m joking so I don’t look like an ass).
The context of where the bar was set led me to an immediate dislike of two of the characteristics of the SWFA 1-6 as soon as I mounted it. The knobs and scope caps are unnecessarily large and the reticle is too busy. I’ll explain.
Big adjustment knobs seem to be part of some trend in the tactical scope market, particularly with precision rifle scopes. I own one of those scopes myself, the Vortex Razor 5-20×50, which practically has a beer can sized knob. I don’t think it’s that big a deal with a long range scope, but in a scope with a minimum power of 1x there are some assumptions about the venue of use, namely, it’s made for use at close range. Close range means that things happen quickly and probably dynamically. Success under those conditions calls for keeping one’s capacity for observation and adaptation so high that Scotty would be telling Captain Kirk that the ship is breaking up (“The visual circuits can’t handle much more of this!).
If for some reason the target is no longer in the field of view by the time the rifle is raised (maybe it has moved), or perhaps a second target is detected, the ability to use vision = field of view inside the scope + field of view outside the scope – field of view obstructed by rifle and scope. Therefore the lower profile the scope can be while still fulfilling its functional requirements the better.
Having said all that, although I saw the large knobs and disliked them, I think they were far enough forward to be out of view. Just to prove I’m still human, I continue to dislike them because I think they were made that way to be trendy. Everyone knows that big knobs are cool (like, duh).
The reticle was a different matter. This was the scope I wanted to test so badly before I had the opportunity to test any of these because I thought that the reticle design was brilliant. We’re talking about a first focal plane scope that had a big, obvious circle to line up at close range, where the big circle completely disappears when the scope is dialed up to maximum magnification!!! The rest of the people in the running for the Nobel Prize might as well forget about it. That was how certain I was that this was the best answer .
It was a big surprise when I finally mounted the scope on the X-15 and sighted through it. “Dang. It’s kind of hard to see the target.” It’s not precisely correct that it was hard to see a target, it would be more precise to say that there was also a lot of other stuff to see in the scope that was not the target. I was not prepared for the reticle to come up as part of the vision = field of view inside the scope + field of view outside the scope – the field of view obstructed by the rifle and scope equation.
I also learned something about my reticle preferences for a scope in the 1-?x role. I don’t like circles. That’s ironic because I’ve been using an EOTech for about 8 years now. Having used the single dot, the circle just seems to create visual noise that fulfills no actual function. I’m not reticle ranging at close range (if ever). I’m not using reticle holds at close range. I don’t need to have some magical alignment circle to line up the scope, because the scope is a big circle if I look through it correctly. All I see is that recoil creates a giant, bright, vibrating ring right smack in my field of view when maintaining a continuous sight picture in rapid fire. The dot provides perfectly adequate usefulness with little to no uselessness.
The other primary difference with the SWFA is that the illumination isn’t always visible. The term “daylight bright” has been all the hubbub over at the yonder gun forums for a while now, and after all this scope testing I finally can concede that the concept is more than a marketing ploy.
In some situations in daylight the illumination appears to be nice and bright. Other times it just seems to wash out. Ironically, it’s the prominence of the reticle that allows for consistency in performance whether the illumination is visible or not. So in one way, the over-bold reticle can be seen as a design compromise to make up for the lack of a daylight bright dot, which would increase the cost of the scope.
The only other thing that I found even slightly wanting was that I preferred the illumination modules on the other scopes to the conventional knob on the SWFA. I think I killed two 2032 batteries in the short time I was in possession of it. Some people prefer the knob, as something that can be grabbed and turned, rather than toggled or pressed, but I liked the other scopes’ systems better.
I ended up writing about the things I didn’t like about the scope for some reason. It would only be fair to point out that I’ve recently noticed that the way I perceived these scopes for testing was significantly different than if I had bought it myself. Ironically I was less willing to accommodate any flaw.
I should point out that, even given the things I don’t like about it (which are also completely subjective), the scope is well made and will likely be able to fulfill the requirements is was made to. The testing will unravel that bit.
The scope seems to be a quality piece. There were no issues in mounting or setting it up. The build quality seems very good. Oh, and the knobs clicked like chocolate wafers atop clouds of cotton candy. There. No scope review is complete without going into gyrations over clicks.
Test results coming up.