Swarovski X5 Riflescope Review
By Len Backus
I was pretty hopeful when I first learned of Swarovski’s plans to produce an entirely new long range rifle scope. I’ve been a Swarovski optics user since I shot my 65 inch Alaskan moose with one in 1997. It was the first “field test” of my new “dangerous game” rifle chambered in .416 Weatherby topped with a very “short range” Swarovski scope.
Already back in those days I had been using Swarovski binos and a spotter because they were (and still are) considered to be some of the very best glass on the planet . So when the new X5 rifle scope was announced and described I thought I’d maybe buy one. But first I really wanted to run one through its paces.
Shown above is the illuminated version of the scope.
I’ve been very happy with the Huskemaw and Nightforce scope lines for my personal use for many years. Two years ago I stepped up from a Nightforce 5.5-22x50 NXS in power, optics quality -- and weight -- to a Nightforce ATACR in 5-25x56. I really like that scope and highly recommend it. But the Swarovski offering was very tempting.
As my eyes get older they need all the help they can get - both in brightness and in resolution. In good light I test out between 20/20 and 20/15. But in dim light -- not so good. The human pupil cannot dilate as much as it ages. I assumed that the Swarovski offering would help my vision even more than the ATACR did.
Swarovski designed this new second focal plane scope from the ground up and it took them 5 years to bring it to market. It is built to be rugged and durable but with a relatively light weight for such a serious performer.
This low weight was quite an attractant to me.The X5 weighs 30 ounces without the lighted reticle (which I don’t need) making it a full 9 ounces lighter than the Nightforce ATACR. I don’t need a lighter weight in a 5-25x56 scope when hunting from a stationary position in Wisconsin. But with boots on the ground for miles in a day out west, saving 9 ounces would be wonderful.
As an example, I left my house at 3 am on the day after Thanksgiving last fall on a 16 hour, straight-through solo drive for just one possible day of mule deer hunting (and scouting for 2016). It is a new spot on BLM land referred to me by one of my rifle customers just a few days before Turkey Day. On that single day of DIY hunting I hiked 7.5 miles up and down hills with 39 pounds of gear and extra clothing to handle the typical temperature swings and potential precip and other emergency surprises out there.
So when the X5 arrived a few months ago I was eager to put it through an optics test. I gathered up several other high quality scopes I use plus a Vortex Razor HD Gen II which I don’t use but which has a great reputation, especially from the tactical crowd.
The least expensive competitors’ scope was a Huskemaw 4-16x42 priced at $1,250. I had shot my 195 gross mule deer last September with it. There was a Nightforce NXS in 5.5-22x50 at $2,000, a Vortex Razer HD GEN II at $2,500 and lastly the Nightforce ATACR Enhanced model in 5-25x56 at $2,300. The Swarovski 5-25x56 X5 comes in at about $3,300.
I set them up on a table in my garage and pointed them all down the street at a neighbor’s mailbox. Then over the next 36 hours I came out and peered through each of them under varying light conditions for brief periods. That first day I ended my test session after legal hunting hours would have expired. I started the next morning at oh-dark-thirty and paid attention during the cloudy-bright mid-day as well. Again that day I ended my test just after legal hunting hours would have expired.
As you know, today’s available optics are pretty darn good when you get above a certain price point - especially in bright daylight. The difference in quality starts to show more in dim lighting and when glare or flare may present itself.
At the end of this first 36 hour test session I easily concluded that the practical optics performance level of the various rifle scopes clearly tracked their price point.
The X5 was the brightest in dim light. The X5 had the least flare or glare in cases with a bright sky above a darker background. Its resolution was also slightly sharper in optimum lighting but this was only an academic difference -- not a practical one under perfect lighting conditions. They are all better than they need to be at reading mailbox numbers in perfect lighting.
There was also a noticeable difference in contrast shown by the X5. Contrast is a more subtle factor in contribution to practical optics performance. And it along with superior color fidelity helps in spotting game. I have owned many thousands of dollars’ worth of high end optics since becoming a serious photographer many years ago. Of the camera lenses I currently own, one cost $5,000 and another cost $9,000. You do get what you pay for, especially when talking about high end optics for either serious photography or for hunting.
I have other less expensive camera lenses that will record a picture of a soaring eagle or of a bull elk accurately. But those images will not have the sharpness, contrast, color fidelity and bokeh (means punch) of the more expensive lenses.
Go to www.LenBackus.com to see examples of the advantages of superior optics
This is true of rifle scopes as well. All the rifle scopes that my son and main hunting partner Andy and I use are far better than what one needs to take a 6 point bull in good lighting. But the best ones do it in all kinds of lighting conditions. And Swarovski Optics products also just simply make the experience a joy!
On my trip to Arizona in March I had my first chance to shoot with the Swarovski X5 scope. I first checked my 100 yard zero at the fantastic Ben Avery Range just north of Phoenix. The mechanical design of the turret system and its zero stop method are quite original and unique. I took a few minutes with the user guide to help me walk through the process for the first time. I really like it.
Fifteen years ago I missed a nice whitetail buck at only 500 yards with a Nightforce NXS scope that did not have a zero stop. And it had only 10 MOA per revolution. It had taken me two obviously clean misses to realize my turret was probably on the wrong revolution. I got down from my deer stand immediately, verified and corrected the mistake and the next day killed this same buck.
The X5 not only has a zero stop but it also has a revolution counter that is very visible. If the last time you used your rifle you verified your drop chart on steel at 1,200 yards (and left it set on its second revolution), there is no way you would not now easily notice that you were still set on revolution #2.
Swarovski has utilized stainless steel parts in this new turret system for maximum accuracy, repeatability and durability. The scope tube thickness was beefed up to improve ruggedness.
On two of my own rifles I have had the opportunity to do repeatability tests with two different X5’s. Each time after I mounted a new scope I first shot twice at 100 yards. Then I dialed up 20 MOA, fired two more shots, dialed back down 20 MOA and fired a final two shots. Both scopes performed perfectly. The click adjustments have a very solid and confident feel to them.
Last fall our writer, John Johnston wrote a great review of the Swarovski X5 which we published HERE. He represented LRH as part of an invited group of writers at the three day media kick-off event. Collectively, they fired thousands of rounds out as far as 1,400 yards. All of the shooters repeatedly dialed up and down with perfect results.
I also used two of the X5 scopes in several field situations. In Arizona I got out onto some BLM land and shot steel at 500 plus yards. I shot from a prone position and found the scope’s eyebox to be very user friendly. In Montana last month I camped and shot on some BLM land and had a chance to shoot one of my rifles with an X5 at rocks that were located “way out there”. The optics quality was a plus. It sometimes is very tricky to spot through your rifle scope your choice of aiming point on a low contrasting rock face that you selected while looking through a high power spotting scope. But the X5 excelled at this.
My second optics test session with multiple competing scopes was done last month on the land where Andy and I hunt Wisconsin whitetails. This second test was even more definitive as to tough lighting conditions. I set up on the deck of my friend’s house overlooking a harvested soybean field. In view is a small valley with ridges on all four sides. Distances are about 350 yards left to right from ridge to ridge on the short sides and about 900 yards toward the east in the long dimension toward the rising sun. I have shot about 15 deer at this spot over the years.
First I aimed all the scopes at a 12 inch piece of steel located at the far end of the field, 600 yards away. I actually set this up the day before. Now it was about 40 minutes before official sunrise and 10 minutes before legal hunt season shooting time. A few hundred yards past the 600 yard target was a very dark and steep hill.
In time the sun would rise just a little bit to the left of the target. My setup was designed to challenge the optics with a bright sky above both before and after the sun rose. Initially there was a little bit of fog or haze above the target but it cleared in just a few minutes.
Later after the sun was up above the horizon at an angle a little left of where the steel target was, I changed the aiming point of all the scopes to just under and to the left side of its bright orb, pointing at a spot on a side hill 300 yards away.
All scopes performed reasonably well under these difficult conditions. But the more expensive scopes did better, as I expected. The X5 was easily the best, and in certain adverse lighting conditions could make the difference between success and failure on a hunt.
Glare and flare coming straight into a scope from a bright light source as described in the above test can render the target or animal almost indistinguishable. The Swarovski X5 handled the challenge extremely well.
Based on my own testing of the Swarovski X5 scope over the last three months I am completely impressed and I have decided that two of my own rifles will now sport X5’s -- my main rifle chambered in 6.5 GAP 4S and my lightweight Mountain Rifle also chambered in that cartridge.
My "main" rifle is used for a lot of steel target shooting and for shooting at rocks - in both cases sometimes "way out there" where higher power and the best resolution helps a lot. My Mountain Rifle is used for mostly deer hunting with "boots on the ground" for many miles in a day. I feel I need the 25 power on the high end quite often but also really need to keep the weight down. And I certainly need the better glass for tough lighting situations with both rifles.
I have also been doing similar testing of the current offerings of Swarovski binoculars and spotting scopes. I’ll be writing about those results as I have time. Meanwhile, I have been so impressed with these latest offerings by Swarovski that we have become full line dealers in their products.
On our LRH Store pages we have ALL the detailed specifications on the X5 line of scopes including the 5-25x56 and the 3.5-18x50 models. Click HERE.
There you can see detailed blowups of the available reticles. Available info also includes reticle subtension, total MOA adjustability range, etc. In addition to the DESCRIPTION tab, be sure you also click on the SPECIFICATIONS, VIDEOS and ATTACHMENTS tabs to see a huge amount more detail.
Len Backus is the owner of www.LongRangeHunting.com. He has been a long range hunter since the 90's and is as likely to bag his game with a camera as with a rifle. His outdoor photography can be seen at www.LenBackus.com.