High-power riflescopes have been on the rise with long-range shooting and precision rifle competitions. Many of the top optics manufacturers have been steadily increasing the power range on their scopes over the past five years and are now offering scopes maxing out in the area of 25-35x magnifications. With the trend toward shooting more distant targets (i.e. extreme long-range matches), I suspect we will see more manufacturers producing scopes in the 30-50x range marketed toward hunters and competition shooters alike.

While having the ability to crank up the magnification is nice at times, it can also be a detriment to shooters using high-power magnification as a crutch while hunting or engaging targets at distance. With the extra magnification comes a longer and heavier scope.

I own several scopes with magnification ranges from 3-18 to 5-25, but I find myself seldom using the higher power ranges beyond 16-18x. I would bet the average power usage on my optic while hunting is in the 10-14x power range, while my scope spends most of the time at the lowest power setting while in transit. I typically hunt alone and need wider field of view to aid in locating my intended target and also to spot my impact. Even in my PRS rifle matches, I seldom shoot a stage above 16x. This lower power aids me in locating my bullet trace and/or spotting my impacts (both on and off target).

In the past several years, many of the top riflescope manufacturers released models in the mid-power range, offering shorter, lighter, and more compact riflescopes. These models have many of the same features as their higher-power brothers in terms of reticles and turrets, but are offered in a condensed package.

In this review, we’re going to take a look into a few of these models offered by the leading manufacturers. I selected the Swarovski X5 3.5-18, Nightforce ATACR 4-16, Leupold Mark 5HD 3.6-18 and Kahles K318i for the top contenders in the field.

For this review, I mounted each model of scope on one of my proven rifles and conducted a series of small tests observing light transmission, turret tracking, reticle design, optical clarity, and overall ease of use. All of these rifles shoot extremely well, allowing me to track any zero shift and turret tracking on a tall target test.

Here is the big disclaimer you often won’t see in many scope reviews: every human eye is different and views the world with varying perspectives. I’m not here to decide what scope is best for you, because that would be an arrogant venture. I plan to provide valuable and factual information on each scope model tested and how my eye perceives the world through the optic. I encourage everyone in the market for a new riflescope to find a local dealer and view every scope you are considering purchasing, with your own eye in a variety of natural light conditions. Side-by-side comparison is the best way to ensure you’re getting the best optic for you.

Never decide on any optical system under artificial indoor light or based on one person’s opinion or statements. Outdoorsmans is my favorite venue to check out optics, because they have a large variety to choose from and you can view surrounding mountains right outside their front door in natural light. I recommend avoiding “big box” retail chains, due to the staff typically not being optics experts and also sometimes a tendency to pushing what they can make the biggest margins on at that time.

Swarovski X5 3.5-18

Swarovski unveiled this optic in 2015, and with every product released by Swarovski, the clarity of the optical system is legendary. Ultra clear images, bright color, and edge-to-edge clarity give the shooter an incredible sight picture. Swarovski went back to the drawing board on the X5 to design a turret system that raised the bar for what I expect to find in a long-range scope. Swarovski developed a system that tracks true and maintains optimum optical quality regardless of power range and position dialed in the turret, with aid of a larger erector and coil spring opposed to the traditional lever spring.

Features:

  • Tube: 30mm 
  • Objective lens: 50mm 
  • Magnification 3.5-18x
  • Weight: 28.6 oz. (non-illuminated); 30.7 oz. (illuminated)
  • Length: 14.4” 
  • ¼ MOA adjustments
  • 2nd focal plane
  • Eye relief: 3.74” 
  • Field of view: 30-6.3 ft. at 100 yards
  • Light transmission: 90%
  • 116 MOA elevation adjustment
  • 80 MOA windage adjustment
  • 3 MOA reticle options
  • Made in Austria

Impacts:

  • Large, tall turret is easy to see and dial
  • Crisp and clear image quality
  • Bright resolution in all light conditions 
  • Positive clicks on turret adjustment
  • 116 MOA of elevation adjustment in a 30mm tube

Misses:

  • No turret and reticle options in Milradian
  • Wind holds and hold-overs on reticle options are too large of values
  • No first focal plane option
  • Task to re-zero turret and requires specialized tool (don’t lose it)

Overall: Swarovski put together a great second focal plane optic for long-range hunting and shooting with the X5. I felt this scope had the best image quality of all the scopes tested and really shines in lowlight shooting.  The turret tracked flawlessly and held its zero while mounted atop a custom .300 Win-mag I built. For the hunter interested in second focal plane scopes with MOA adjustments, look no further; this is your scope. If the X5 was released in a Gen 2 model with first focal plane and Milradian adjustments, this optic could rule the world.

Nightforce ATACR 4-16 F1

Nightforce has long had the reputation of manufacturing the toughest and most durable scopes on the market. The Nightforce ATACR line of riflescopes was one of the first big advancements in long-range precision riflescopes and has led the industry for some time. Range of adjustment, reticle options, and quality glass has earned the ATACR a place in every marksman’s gun safe. The glass and coatings used in the ATACR are a big upgrade over the NXS riflescope line in my opinion and it really showed through in the 4-16 I tested.

Features:

  • Tube: 34mm 
  • Objective Lens: 50mm
  • Magnification 4-16x
  • Weight: 33.3 oz. illuminated 
  • Length: 13.1” 
  • ¼ MOA/ .1 MIL adjustments
  • 1st focal plane
  • Eye relief: 3.50” 
  • Field of view: 26.9-6.9 ft. at 100 yards
  • Light transmission: Unavailable
  • 110 MOA/ 30 MIL elevation adjustment
  • 60 MOA/ 16.4 MIL windage adjustment
  • 1 Milradian reticle options
  • 1 MOA reticle options
  • Assembled in USA from U.S. and imported components

Impacts: 

  • Great reticle options
  • Smooth and positive click adjustments in turret
  • Robust design
  • Clear image quality
  • Easy zero stop reset feature

Misses: 

  • Heaviest scope tested (by .1 oz. compared to Kahles) 
  • Ocular power adjustment rotates the entire ocular eyepiece of the optic opposed to just a single band rotation (eyepiece rotates when you change the power). This isn’t a big deal, but when dialing up power, the flip-up cap that came on the scope would get bound up with the bolt handle when I went to cycle the bolt. I took the ocular cap cover off to remedy the issue.

Overall: The Nightforce ATACR 4-16 keeps true to the Nightforce reputation of a durable long-range optic. Great glass and reticle options make it a versatile optic to fit the marketplace needs of a variety of shooters and applications. The turret system tracked accurately and repeatedly throughout my testing on a Proof TAC III in 6.5 PRC. The parallax adjustment is smooth and offered a quality sight picture from 75-1100 yards during the review.

Leupold Mark 5HD 3.6-18

Founded in 1907, Leupold has a long history of American manufacturing in riflescopes and has always been the “hunter’s” riflescope company first and foremost. As the market demand increased for long-range riflescopes with target turrets, more adjustment, and quality glass, Leupold answered with the Mark 5HD lineup. This scope is quite an impressive unit for as lightweight and compact as it is. The Mark 5HD has plenty of elevation adjustment thanks to the 35mm body and M5C3 turret. Clear target image, user-friendly reticle options, and outstanding customer service makes the Mark 5HD a competitive optic for even the most demanding shooter.

Features:

  • Tube: 35mm 
  • Objective lens: 44mm
  • Magnification: 3.6-18x
  • Weight: 26 oz. illuminated
  • Length: 12.06” 
  • ¼ MOA/ .1 MIL adjustments
  • 1st focal plane
  • Eye relief: 3-3.9” 
  • Field of view: 28.4-5.8 ft. at 100 yards
  • Light Transmission: Unavailable
  • 100 MOA/ 30 MIL elevation adjustment
  • 80 MOA/ 16.4 MIL windage adjustment
  • 4 Milradian reticle options
  • 3 MOA reticle options
  • Locked turret design
  • Made in USA

Impacts:

  • Lightest weight scope tested by 2.6 oz.
  • Lots of great reticle options, including the Horus reticles
  • Generous eye relief 
  • Open aiming point in center of crosshair is great for long-range shooting by not covering up small targets at distance

Misses: 

  • 35mm main tube may limit some scope ring options (I ran the Leupold rings that came with the scope; they worked well and held the scope tight).
  • Parallax adjustment is counter-clockwise, opposite of every scope tested.

Overall: Leupold hit it big with the Mark 5HD 3.6-18! This short, compact, and lightweight optic has great features and a great price point for marksman looking at glass options under $2000. The turret tracked great and held a rock-solid zero throughout the testing on a Proof Research Switch Rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor. Any well-rounded marksman would find this optic more than adequate for any hunting scenario and also cross-train in a PRS match using the Leupold Mark5 HD 3.6-18 with great success.

Kahles K318i

Kahles has been making high-end rifles optics for over 120 years and is one of the oldest scope manufacturers still in business. Kahles has been imported into the U.S. through Swarovski North America for the last couple years and specializes in first focal plane scopes intended for long-range shooting. The K318i and K525i are packed with innovative upgrades not found in any other scope on the market – the left windage turret option, SKMR reticle options, Twist Guard (for preventing accidental windage dialing on barricades), and one of the best turret systems designed.  The Kahles K318i turret was one of the most accurate turrets, tracking extremely well through a full range of travel and holding zero regardless of parallax and power adjustments.

Features:

  • Tube: 34mm 
  • Objective lens: 50mm
  • Magnification: 3.5-18x
  • Weight: 33.2 oz. illuminated
  • Length: 12.3” 
  • ¼ MOA/ .1 MIL adjustments
  • 1st focal plane
  • Eye relief: 3.6” 
  • Field of view: 27.8-5.5ft at 100 yards
  • Light transmission: Unavailable
  • 102 MOA/ 30 MIL elevation adjustment
  • 69 MOA/ 20 MIL windage adjustment
  • 2 Milradian reticle options
  • 1 MOA reticle options
  • Made in Austria

Impacts: 

  • Extremely accurate turret tracking
  • Left side windage option places windage turret on the left side of the scope so it is visible while maintaining a cheek weld. This allows the shooter to dial wind with the left hand and remain on gun.
  • Clear and bright image resolution.
  • Parallax adjustment is very fine due to larger wheel diameter and allows the shooter a precise sight picture.

Misses:

  • Heavy, weighing in at 33.2 oz.
  • Most expensive scope tested (also has features not available with other scopes)
  • Parallax ring needs more texture or deeper knurls to help turn the dial more fluidly.

Overall: This optic is the Cadillac of mid-power riflescopes. The glass is incredible bright, with a clear image quality regardless of light conditions. I really enjoy the design of the system with the windage turret on the left side of the scope and the parallax adjustment on top of the scope, below the elevation turret. The larger diameter of the parallax wheel gives you a more precise parallax adjustment, which is crucial for long-range shooting. Running the scope through a tall target test found the scope tracking to 99% (it may have been even better, but that was as good as I could shoot that day).

All Worthy

In closing, all the scopes I tested were of the highest quality and are industry-leading products in their markets. If you’re in the process of purchasing a new mid-power riflescope for your rifle, check out all these scopes. I promise you’ll be happy with the performance you’ll achieve on the range.

As always, keep the shooting conversation alive by following me on Instagram at @papwinkle, Facebook at Pap Van Winkle, or email me at Colton@Westernhunter.net! “Only accurate rifles are interesting.” ~ Townsend Whelen