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Riflescope Brands Ranking - December 2011

I occasionally see different rankings of scope brands and I usually find myself somewhat dissatisfied with them.  Since most companies end up offering multiple quality levels in their product lines, any sort of a ranking system strictly based on product quality becomes very complicated with the same brand name showing up all over the place.  That kind of product segmentation is quite necessary, but it often makes things difficult for the consumer since all too many of them (especially people who are hunters and not gun/optics enthusiasts) are blissfully unaware how different product quality can be in two product lines from the same maker.

I had this discussion with guys who run an internet retailing store called Webyshops a while back and decided that I will try to approach this from a slightly different angle.

I will come up with my personal assessment of different brands (note that I am saying brands, not companies, since a single company can have multiple brands) according to the following, admittedly subjective, criteria:

  1. Quality (Q): This is a tough one, but I expect a good brand to offer decent quality for every price range they compete in.  In this case, I make no judgement on the feature content of the scope.  I simply look at how well executed the features that are there are.

  2. Innovation (I): Innovation means different things in different price ranges and I do not expect much innovation at low price levels.  There is also nothing wrong with simply making a reliable “me too” product.  Still, I like to see some creativity put into product design.

  3. Value (V): Another tough, but somewhat self-explanatory category.  When I talk about value, I think not only of how good the quality is for the money, but also of what you get in terms of features for the money.

  4. Breadth of Line (BoL): This is one of the simpler categories to rank.  While I do not expect every brand to cater to every price range (nor should they), I do have to point out that some brands serve a larger portion of the market than others.

  5. Marketing (M): This is the category I have had the hardest time approaching.  My definition of marketing quality is likely to raise some eyebrows, but I will stick with it anyway.  This is my personal assessment of how well the brand name is managed, how successful marketing efforts are and how well the company stands behind the promises made by its marketing department.  In some cases, it is more of an assessment of how well the company’s marketing avoids making any promises while still making the product sound good.  For example, I truly despise “Counter Sniper” brand and I want the people behind it to go out of business (and, preferably, die a painful death).  However, I have to grudgingly admit that their marketing efforts are somewhat successful since this piece-of-excrement brand still exists.

  6. Customer Service (CS): Naturally, I do not have personal experience with customer service of every brand out there, so I will base this both on my personal impressions and on anecdotal evidence from others.

The ranking will be on a scale from 1 to 5 for the time being, so there will be a fair amount of overlap between brands.  Moreover, this is likely to be a large project and a major “work in progress”.  Once the bulk of the work is done, I will refresh the table once a year or so (perhaps after my annual pilgrimage to SHOT show)

Note, that I have a column marked “T” in the table.  It stands for “total”.  The range of total scores is from 6 to 30.  Higher is better.  I am quite certain this is not a good way to rank brand, and that is one of the reasons the table is not sorted according to total scores.  The brands are listed in alphabetical order and, once again, all numerical rankings you see there are strictly my personal opinion.  Nothing else.  I started working on this table in December of 2011, so this is also a bit of a market overview for me prior to the SHOT show next month.

 

Brand

Q

I

V

BoL

M

CS

T

Comments

Aimpoint

5

3

4

1

4

3

20

Aimpoint makes superb red dot sights, but nothing else, hence the low “Breadth of Line” ranking.  I am also not well familiar with their customer service.

Barska

1

1

1

1

4

2

10

I am not a fan of Barska.  Continued existence of this brand is a testament of the effectiveness of their marketing efforts and of the proliferation of mall ninjas in the US firearms market.  I tested their highest end SWAT scope and the only good thing I can say about it is that it did not fall apart.

Browe

??

??

??

??

??

??

??

This is a new brand that looks to be going after Trijicon and Elcan market and was started by a former Trijicon employee (I think).  I do not know much about it at this point, but I will try to rectify that.

Burris

4

4

4

5

5

3

25

Burris makes a very broad range of products that are mostly quite good for the money.  Their customer service used to be quite mediocre, but has recently taken quite a turn for the better.  If that continues, I’ll bump them up next year.  Their marketing has also gotten increasingly more effective in the last few years.

Bushnell

4

3

4

5

4

3

23

Bushnell offers a very diverse product line, although some of their lower end products do not impress me, to be honest.  Still, they do offer good value and reasonable innovation.  Customer service reports are somewhat mixed, but my personal experience with it has been decent.

Elcan

5

5

3

1

2

3

19

Elcan is very narrowly focused on military sales and applications, so its marketing for the consumer world is not especially effective, in my opinion.  The scopes themselves are superb and quite innovative, especially with the DR series and a couple available reticle variations.  They are a bit overpriced, however.

Eotech

5

3

4

1

4

3

20

Eotech goes head to head with Aimpoint.  The whole product line is based on the holographic screen idea, so it does not have much breadth.  The sights are well made, however, and well-optimized for their application.  They clearly sell well and Eotech’s marketing efforts are well focused and competently run.

Brand

Q

I

V

BoL

M

CS

T

Comments

Hawke

4

3

5

3

4

5

24

I like Hawke products and I like how well the company stands behind them.  The product line-up is low-to-mid in terms of price range, so it is not very broad.  Reticle options are quite innovative, however, and the value for the money is excellent.  Hawke offers the best chinese-made scopes currently available, in my opinion.

Hi-Lux - Leatherwood

3

4

3

3

3

4

17

This company surprised me quite a bit lately.  I started out not being a fan a few years back, but they have shown an increased commitment to coming up with their own ideas (Uni-Dial and angled parallax knob, for example) and to carefully taking into account marketing feedback.  Product range is not very broad, mostly being in the low-to-mid range.  If they continue in this vein, their ranking will go up.

Kahles

5

4

4

2

1

4

20

Kahles is not an easy brand to characterize, especially since I do not have a very good grip on how well it is doing worldwide.  In the US, it is all sorts of mismanaged.  In principle, Kahles has some of the best brand equity (having effectively invented riflescopes many moons ago) and their products are absolutely superb in terms of optical and mechanical quality.  However, bad distributor partnerships have eroded Kahles’ presence in the US.  They are changing things again for 2012, so we’ll see how it goes.

Konus

1

1

2

2

3

3

12

These are the same mediocre chinese scopes that quite a few companies market, except that the people behind Konus seem to be a little nicer about sticking the consumer with mediocre products than the guys from Barska and others.

Leapers

1

1

1

1

3

2

9

My very first scope was Leapers and I still have not gotten over that.  There are a few brands out there worse than Barska and Leapers is one of them.

Leica

5

5

4

1

3

5

23

Leica is new to the riflescope world.  Their current line-up is very small and very high end.  They have several innovative features and offer superb quality for the money despite the high pricetag.  Their marketing seems to have met with mixed success, but I hope they will do better moving on.

Leupold

4

4

3

5

5

5

26

Leupold has a superbly diversified product line with well worked out, but somewhat overpriced products.  Lately, they have started innovating a little more, which has been one of my complaints in the years past.  Their marketing is superbly effective, though not always honest.  Then again, I have yet to see a marketing department that does not use superb wordsmanship to avoid lying outright.

Lucid

??

??

??

??

??

??

??

This is a new brand that I have zero experience with.

March

5

5

4

1

3

5

23

March is one of my favourite high end brands.  These are the highest end scopes coming out of Japan.  Evaluating their marketing is tough since they do not do much of it.  On the other hand, their reputation makes for great word of mouth and considering their limited resources it works well for March.  These scopes are expensive, but if you truly need a March scope, then they offer a good value.

Meopta

4

3

5

2

3

4

21

Meopta is one of my favourite mid-range brands.  They offer excellent quality for the money, but a somewhat limited product range.  They are capable of excellent innovation efforts when pressed, but most of Meopta products are very solid, though not groundbreaking, offerings.

Brand

Q

I

V

BoL

M

CS

T

Comments

Millett

2

2

2

1

1

3

11

Since being purchased by Bushnell, Millet brand seems to have taken a nose-dive.  I am not sure what the future holds for it

Minox

4

3

5

2

3

4

21

Minox is new to making riflescopes, but their first efforts in this market are very well sorted out designs that offer superb performance for the money.  Customer service looks very good so far and if it continues in that vein, it will be worth an upgrade.

Nikko Stirling

2

2

2

3

3

2

14

Nikko Stirling is a more common brand in Australia than in the US.  They used to have a more extensive line-up that included some decent Japanese scopes.  That seems to have changed and they only market rather standard Chinese-made scopes similar to many other makers.  Except Nikko is distributed by Legacy Sports which really does not help.

Nikon

3

3

3

5

4

3

21

Nikon is a big name in this market, but their product introductions in the last few years were not well thought out in my opinion.  Customer service seems to be getting better though (but it used to be atrocious).  Nikon has very broad product line, but a lot of those products are either a bit too expensive (Monarch X) or weak compared to the competition (Monarch).  Lower end Buckmarks and ProStaff are very competitive on the other hand.

POSP

2 or3

2

4

1

??

??

??

So many people import these scopes that I have no idea how to evaluate marketing and customer service.  They do offer decent value and OK quality, though not much innovation.

Pentax

2

2

3

1

1

3

12

Pentax has effectively admitted to ignoring the sporting optics market last year.  Perhaps, they will do better this year (you can’t really fall out of the basement anyway).  Their binoculars and spotters are good, so I know they can make good riflescopes if they choose to.

Premier

5

5

4

2

3

5

24

Premier is easily one of my favourite high end scope makers.  They had some growing pains, but now they’ve got both quality and innovation down pat.  Their marketing is a bit weak and they could really use some stronger brand identity.

Brand

Q

I

V

BoL

M

CS

T

Comments

PFI - Rapid Reticle

4

4

3

3

3

3

22

PFI’s innovation is in their specialized reticles and the brand is built around them.  The scopes they use are quite solid Japanese models, which helps.  Customer service is decent by all accounts and marketing is respectable, as well.  This is a comparatively young brand, so they are near a turning point that will determine whether they remain a small specialized player in this market or get bigger requiring qualitatively different logistics, operations and marketing..

Redfield

4

1

4

1

5

5

20

Modern day Redfield is a Leupold owned brand that has all of the strength of Leupold’s marketing focused on a very limited product line.  The designs are old, but they are well made and well supported.

Schmidt and Bender

5

4

3

2

3

5

23

S&B is easily one of the top brands in the tactical world that markets some of the most expensive riflescopes out there.  They are beautifully made and well supported, but the product line is not very diverse and marketing is sometimes hit and miss.

Shepherd

2

3

2

2

3

??

??

Shepherd scopes were founded on an idea of a dual reticle scope and they have been milking the same concept ever since.  I have never heard of a well-made Shepherd scope, but there must be some out there since the company has been around for a while

Sightron

4

3

5

4

3

5

24

Sightron is easily one of my favourite brands with excellent product quality and superb value.  Sightron scopes, for the most part, do not push boundaries of innovation, but they are well-marketed and well configured for a number of different niche applications.

Steiner

5

3

4

1

4

4

21

Steiner riflescopes are new to the market and these ranking are my early estimates to how I think this brand will continue to develop.  I will monitor this carefully.

Swarovski

5

5

4

2

5

5

26

Swarovski has a small line-up of superbly built scopes.  They have displayed both innovation and enviable marketing acumen over the years backed up by superb customer service.

Tasco

1

1

2

2

2

3

11

Another brand reduced to almost nothing over time.  It is owned by Bushnell, so  you get their customer service, but aside from that these are very unexceptional scopes.

Trijicon

4

4

4

3

5

3

23

Trijicon is based around their reticle illumination technology and they have done well with it.  However, if they do not come up with something new soon, their innovation score will drop

Brand

Q

I

V

BoL

M

CS

T

Comments

Valdada IOR

4

5

4

3

3

4

23

IOR scopes are made in Romania with Valdada being their US importer.  They have innovative designs with good quality, but reliability used to be a problem on some models.  IOR has generally gotten a lot better in the last few years both from the quality and support standpoints.

Vortex

4

4

5

5

5

5

28

Vortex is an example of a fairly new company that is doing an awfully large number of things right despite some occasional growing pains.  They excel both in product development and customer support.  Their marketing is also unusually effective.

Weaver

4

3

5

4

3

3

22

Weaver has changed hands a number of times in the last few years, so it is hard to make an accurate judgement, but with ATK ownership they have a few things going right for them. They offer a lot for the money and compete in the low-to-midhigh market range with a broad line of hunting scopes along with a couple were well thought out tactical scopes.  Their marketing efforts could use some focus in my opinion and I do not know much about their customer service.

Zeiss Sport Optics

5

4

4

3

4

5

25

Zeiss and Kahles are the oldest names in the riflescope world and Zeiss, unlike Kahles, has developed and maintained that brand quite carefully.  Scope range i pretty broad from mid-range upward and the quality is good across the board.  Zeiss does not make any subpar scopes.  They are reasonably innovative in some ways, but quite conservative in others (also similarly to Kahles).

Zeiss Optronics (Hensoldt)

5

4

3

1

3

5

21

Hensoldt is the tactical arm of Zeiss and it markets a small line-up of ultra expensive, but very well built tactical scopes.  They are not especially well marketed in the US these days, but they have the history and brand recognition on their side.


Additional Comments:
Now that I have had a chance to look at the table above in its entirety (it is different than putting in entries one-by-one), I noticed that Vortex ended up with the highest ranking of all the brands listed, with Leupold, Burris, Sightron, Swarovski and Zeiss being not far behind.  When I started out, I thought that Leupold and Zeiss would easily end up on top simply because of their brand recognition and product line breadth, with Swarovski being ranked only marginally lower since they have a more limited product offering.  The presence of Vortex, Sightron and Burris in the top group is either a testament to their growing prominence or to my personal preferences (or both).  Another company I ranked highly is Premier Reticles which is going through some internal turmoil.  However, it is increasingly looking like they will come through it, and their product line has a lot going for it.

One of the things that seems to effect the “Breadth of Line” ranking has to do with Innovation.  There is a trend now toward scopes with large magnification ratios.  While 3-9x40 has been the most common configuration for a while, there are a lot more scopes popping up with nearly double the range, like 2-12x40, for example.  With these new configurations, it takes a lot fewer models to cover a large range of applications, hence BoL is not necessarily about the number of models, but is rather about the range of applications supported.

Lastly, I would like to re-emphasise one more time: this is just my opinion and I have been wrong before.

This article was written by Ilya Koshkin. Ilya Koshkin operates an independent optics review site www.OpticsThoughts.com.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Webyshops.com or its employees.