I wanted to find the answer to this and Ziess vs Leupold. Every person that answers has a different point of view and every forum you visit has a different answer for some reason.
Here is what I found. There are labs that test optics for clarity, repeatability, etc.. They use equipment and in the end the results are not ones point of view, nor are they who likes what best. Pure and simple they list which glass passes all the colors, reflect the most glare, make things clear, do not leak, etc. The results are online and can be found with a simple search. The bottom lime is while Nightforce is "good" they are far from best and they are not as good as Ziess or any other glass from the same region. I was quite shocked at the market place over there and the fact that most USA made glass isn't even allowed over there mostly due to quality. This article explained many times over how it shouldn't matter because the lower class USA made glass isn't available over there. People wanted the test done so they did it.
Leupold was tested and is available to the market over there and there was a note that said it took Leupold many years to gain their trust and improve the quaility of the glass to get to that point.
Like others said the Nightforce has strong points in a heavy built tank type scope. The quaility of the glass needs work to catch up to scope manufactures that start with Z or S.
Leupold was given pretty high marks, so was Ziess, but neither of them was in the top three and Nightforce was way down the list in almost every catagory.
Those test results do not surprise me. Much of European hunting is done by moonlight. This requires glass & coatings that let hunters aim accurately with very little light. In the lower 48 states, almost no hunting is allowed at night, so US made optics are designed to meet these needs, which obviously don't require as good of glass as European hunters need. Additionally, "cheap" optics are almost unheard of in Europe.
It is good to see Leupold finally making optics the European community will consider.
Nightforce's forte has always been indestructibility and a huge range of adjustment that is necessary for very long range shooting — and not their optical quality. Their glass & coatings are good, just not when compared to the best.
Depends on what you are using it for? for benchrest punching paper only, the Nightforce would be better but for hunting in low light conditions, the Zies is worlds better.
Most deer hunting is at dusk and dawn, plenty of light most of the time, but that deer or elk across the field in those dark woods that sometimes you can not make out the rack count or if a branch is going to deflect the bullet can be a loss. . the Zies will destroy the Nightforce in those real life hunting where you need more light gathering so to speak.
,, the Zies is better in low light.
for coyote hunting that 99.999999% of the time at dusk/dawn or low light the Zies will be better.
This is not to say a Nightforce is as poor as a Simmons scope, they in my mind are superior to Leupold for durability and slightly for optics.
For paper punching in the daytime, or day hunting none is better than nightforce
Low end 3-12x56mm and 6-20-50mm Zies are not cheap, like $1000.. and are assembled in America with Geman glass.
, the high end Zies stuff is $2500 and made in Germany, the 6-24-56mm high end is like $3500, and the huge 6-24x72mm (34mm tube) is $3700
Actually the 56mm Nightforce at $1800 is cheaper than a high end Zies with a 56mm, about double the price.
Personally i'd buy a $1800 Nightforce over a $3500 Zies and just go home from the Coyote hunt 1/2 hour early. $3500 to me is a lot of money for optics.
For 1000 yarsds, the moa adjustment on the nightforce will be better, but they do make 20 deg moa bases to help poor moa scopes
Moa Adjustments, and tank construction = Nightforce
But German glass is so much superior to mediocre poor American and Japanese glass, it is not close.
I'm sure someone will correct me if I am wrong, but I don't believe any "glass" or actual lenses are made in the USA. 95%+ of the world's glass comes out of only a few factories in Europe and Japan.
In these tests that were discussed, the glass that performed poorly was spec'ed out that way by the manufacturer. They aren't as good because they were designed that way. Thats why a Burris scope costs less than $500 and an Alpha over $1500 to $4000. Thats why a NF costs $2000 and a S&B is $3500. If you want a scope as rugged and repeatable as a NF with the superb glass of the Alphas it gets expensive in a hurry.
Years ago I thought optical quality in a scope was the most important feature. I don't think that way any more. Basically any Zeiss, Leupold, Nikon, etc for a $1,000 has good enough optical quality for almost any LR hunting need, but where they come up short is adjustment range, rock solid internals and the tactical features that we have grown to appreciate.
Good posts. I can vouch "eye" witness testimony on the glass - the Nightforce is not as good as Zeiss/Swaro (not talking the cheap Zeiss, 1" tube "American" scopes). I have a nice Swarovski scope and bought the NF for another gun - got bored/curious in the off-season and had them out several times in real low light mounted side-by-side. The Swaro was noticably better - brighter, more crisp and clear - not massively better, but noticeable to my eye. Even had the wife look without here knowing which was which or why and she agreed. As many posted - pros and cons. NF has excellent adjustments, toughness etc. making it a great LR scope, it just doesn't match the fine European glass.
I agree JRSolocam - NF fits bill for 95% of LRH. I will say, there is still that 5% - which is what made me buy my Swaro originally. It's near the end of shooting light, I'm on the backside of a mountain (East side with sun going down in West), I have a herd of elk at 350 yards below in the broken timber, several branch-anterlered bulls. (Many Colorado areas require 4 points to a side or a 5" brow tine to make a bull legal.) I had a Leoupold VARXII, my brother with me had a VARXIII - even using his, we couldn't figure which, if any were legal...close, but maddening, especially when those opportunities were sparse. Then and there I decided the extra $ for a Swaro would have been worth it (especially when spread out over many years). Most times now, I have more light, and any reasonable scope would work, but when trying to resolve antler points in the shadows when you have an easy shot, the best glass can make a difference. We had plenty of magnification.
If you have the coin, I guess the best of both worlds is a Schmidt and Bender. If not, I'd probably go with a Swaro/Zeiss on my walking hunting rifle (if enough $) and the NF on the LRH rig. My $.02