However, there are some models that were conceived with the tactical market in mind and I generally find them relatively appealing designs, albeit with some caveats.
Another dynamic I have been noticing with Leupold’s tactical division is that it seems to increasingly ignore the consumer retail market and focus almost exclusively on military and law enforcement sales. Perhaps, there is simply more money there. However, I can’t help but wonder if Leupold is simply finding it difficult to compete in an open marketplace (keep in mind that winning a contract with the military often has little to do with being better than competition and everything to do with knowing the right people). Still, that is mostly guesswork on my part and I could be wildly off base on this.
Here are my comments on different tactical riflescope product lines that Leupold currently offers.
Deltapoint is a small red dot sight that is relatively new to Leupold. There is a number of similar looking sights available from different manufacturers: Burris Fastfire, Trijicon RMR and Docter come to mind. I like the Trijicon version quite a bit, but Deltapoint is pretty interesting as well and is in some ways more appealing to me than the competition.
The reason I like the Deltapoint is simple. Most of these miniature sights utilize a rather sizeable red dot to aim. While very fast at close range, it starts to become a liability quickly when the distances get a bit longer. Deltapoint is available with a triangular aiming point in addition to the large dot. As a matter of fact, that triangle is what gives Deltapoint its name (greek letter “delta” looks like a triangle). I think that a large triangle is just as fast up close, but a sharp vertex allows for a much finer aiming point at distance. When Deltapoint is used together with a magnified focusing sight, this is probably not critical, but if you choose to use it as a standalone sight (and I might get one just for that purpose), the triangular aiming point can make a difference. Aside, from the triangle, Deltapoint has a motion sensor which keep the illumination off when the weapon has not moved for a while. As soon as movement is detected, the dot comes on to a brightness setting that auto-adjusts with ambient lighting.
Another non-magnifying (but still focusing) weapon sight that Leupold offers is the Prismatic. It is a compact, but very beefy 1x weapon sight with a glass etched reticle that is visible whether the illumination is on or off. Since, it is a focusing sight, there is an eye relief spec for it and your eye has to be about 3 - 5 inches behind the sight. However, it is an interesting solution and the reticle is very fast on target. Personally, I am a little mixed on whether I like this one or not. It has some unique advantages compared to a typical red dot sight and some disadvantages. However, considering the proliferation of decent quality low range variable scopes on the market, the Prismatic operates in a rather small market niche. Still, I can think of some applications where the Prismatic is almost the only game in town.
While I largely like the Deltapoint and Prismatic, none of the Mark AR scopes has ever graced my list of recommendations and for a good reason. Imagine a VX-II scope (a pretty average design to start with) with different knobs, reshaped turret box, removed gold ring and snazzy marketing campaign and you’ve got Mark AR. The elevation turret is set up to function as a BDC for 55gr 223Rem load (which alone should make you wonder since for a few years now heavier bullets have dominated tactical shooting with this cartridge). Mark AR scopes are available with either a Mil-Dot or Duplex reticle (another odd choice for a supposedly tactical scope). Their one saving grace is that they are not any more expensive than their VX-II brethren (you do pay about $50 more if you happen to want the Mil-Dot reticle), so if you are comfortable with VX-II performance, but do not like the aesthetics, Mark AR gives you differently styled alternative.
The bulk of Leupold’s tactical scopes are marketed as “Mark 4” scopes, but they are further divided into several distinct product families with names that refer to their intended use. ER/T line has FFP (Front Focal Plane) reticles, while the rest of them have SFP (Second Focal Plane) reticles. Personally, I do not understand the allure of tactical scopes with SFP reticles and all of the tactical scopes I own are FFP designs. I suppose that comes down to a personal choice.
Mark 4 CQ/Tproduct family really only has one scope: 1-3x14 model with an integrated mount for AR-15 type weapons. CQ/T, presumably, stands for “Close Quarter Tactical”. To me, this is an odd duck of a scope since I can not for the life of me figure out why I would want one of these instead of a host of very capable 1-4x24 designs out there that are not any heavier and offer a lot more flexible mounting options for similar or less money. It is not that there is anything particularly wrong with the CQ/T, but I think the competition walks all over it.
Mark 4 MR/Thas multiple flavors of two basic models: 1.5-5x20 and 2.5-8x36. Non-illuminated 1.5-5x20 has 1 inch tube, but the rest of the MR/T scopes are built on 30mm tubes. MR/T stands for “Mid Range Tactical” and the magnification ranges are well-suited for it. Both of the configurations are essentially VX-3 scopes with different cosmetics, exposed knobs and tactical reticles, except for the non-illuminated 1.5-5x20 which has covered knobs. Generally, I like the idea of these scopes, especially the 2.5-8x36. It is my favourite VX-3 scope and I think it is an excellent allround magnification range for most situations. However, in MR/T guise it needs some work. First of all, there is an issue of price. 2.5-8x36 MR/T with a tactical reticle (either TMR or MilDot), 30mm tube and exposed knobs (either ¼ MOA M1 or ½ MOA M2) will cost you $550 more than the 2.5-8x36 VX-3 with 1” tube, covered knobs and plex reticle. $950 for the MR/T vs $400 for the VX-3. If I really wanted a VX-3 with MR/T features, I would simply order one from Leupold’s Custom Shop with any MR/T feature I want aside from reticle illumination. For example, VX-3 with TMR reticle and M1 knobs will cost you $650, a bargain compared to MR/T. On top of that, you can have the Custom Shop engrave the elevation knob with your specific BDC markings for another $30 or so. Unless you are dead set on reticle illumination, I do not see why I would want an MR/T version of this scope? To add insult to injury, these scopes are equipped with MOA-based knobs and mrad-based reticle, which complicates range-finding a bit.
As far as the 1.5-5x20 version goes (well, it is actually 1.5-4.5x20), why would I want to get that one instead of the better featured Weaver Tactical 1-5x24 (or a number of other competing designs) that either outperform the 1.5-5x20 MR/T at a similar or lower pricepoint?
Mark 4 LR/Tscopes, as the name suggests (Long Range Tactical), are higher magnification scopes than MR/T. These are also essentially VX-3 scopes with different cosmetics, taller knobs and tactical reticles, so all of my critique of MR/T (above) also applies here. LR/T scopes are available in the following configurations: 10x40, 16x40, 3.5-10x40, 4.5-14x40, 4.5-14x50, 6.5-20x50 and 8.5-25x50, with prices ranging from ~$800 to $1600 dollars depending on the model. In my opinion, in order to be at all interesting, these scopes would have to be about 30% less expensive. I have been testing scopes and writing about them for the better part of the last ten year and I can only think of one situation where I recommended a LR/T scope: to a guy who had a 40% discount with Leupold for some reason and really liked Leupold’s TMR reticle.
Mark 4 ER/Tscopes are somewhat recent additions to Leupold’s tactical line-up and address some of my concerns with similarly configured LR/T models. ER/T stands for “Extended Range Tactical” and the available configurations are 3.5-10x40, 4.5-14x50, 6.5-20x50 and 8.5-25x50. All of the ER/T scopes have FFP reticles with a choice or Mil-Dot, TMR or a couple of Horus reticles depending on the model. All configurations are available either with M1 (1/4 MOA per click) or M5 (0.1 mrad per click) knobs. Since all the available reticles are mrad-based, M5 knobs are the way to go in my opinion. For the most part, these are still somewhat gussied up VX-3 scopes shoved into either 30mm or 34mm tubes depending on the specific model. Prices range from ~$1600 all the way up to ~$3000 for a 34mm tube model with a Horus reticle. The 4.5-14x50 model with TMR reticle and M5 knobs would have been an attractive scope if it wasn’t for the $1600 price tag, but perhaps it is more reasonable with the military or law enforcement discount.
As is, there is a fair amount of competition in the $900 to $1400 range that outperforms the ER/T. Weaver Tactical 3-15x50 comes to mind, for example. As far as the higher magnification ER/T scopes go, their price takes them into the territory where they have to compete against Nightforce, IOR, Permier Heritage and a host of other scopes that, figuratively-speaking, wipe the floor with the Leupold ER/T.
The newest product line for Leupold’s tactical division is Mark 8. For the time being there is only one model in it: 1.1-8x24 CQBSS with FFP reticle. It costs $4000. Competing models from Schmidt & Bender and Premier Heritage cost a bit less than $3000. All of these scopes are very new, so I have only seen them at SHOT where both S&B and Premier both looked better than the Leupold. Until I get to do a thorough test on all three of these, there is not much I can say.
Another new product in Leupold’s tactical portfolio is the rather compact 4x24 HAMR scope designed to compete with similarly configured Elcan and Trijicon scopes. Since it is very new, I have not had a chance to test the HAMR, but it looked quite good at SHOT, especially when coupled with a Deltapoint.
Lastly, there are a couple more comment I would like to make before I wrap up. I have been quite vocal in my criticism of Leupold Tactical scopes over the years and I am often asked how come so many of these are used by the military. The answer to that contains two parts:
- Leupold tactical scope are generally well built scopes that do their job. My primary complaint with them is that they are largely overpriced and uninspired designs. However, they do work, though not as well as many competing products.
- The fact that the military uses a product has no bearing on the quality of that product. Having been exposed to government procurement process a number of times over the years, I can honestly say that if the government manages to select a truly competitive product for large scale purchasing it is typically a result of blind luck more than anything else.
On the plus side, I see several very compelling designs pop up among Leupold’s hunting riflescopes and I hope to see the effects of that on the tactical side of that. The first harbinger of that is the upcoming VX-R Patrol scope. I hope that there will be others.
This article was written by Ilya Koshkin in collaboration with Webyshops.com. Ilya Koshkin operates an independent optics review site www.OpticsThoughts.com