How important is clarity in a scope.?

Jake in NC

Well-Known Member
Oct 25, 2002
..Seems like the clarity of this-or-that scope is usually the topic of most concern.. But it seems to me that a scopes mechanics would be even more important (in hunting and live varminting).. I don't look thru my scopes for extended amounts of time and all I need to do is see my target, not visually dissect it.. So what are your priorities.? I can appreciate good glass as good as the next fella but I don't know if that's the main priority with a scope.. I'm not talkin' cheap stuff but amongst quality brand names..
.. Whatchyathink.?? d:^) JiNC

PS- The argument I'm referring to usually goes something like this..

"..My "brand X" scope can see a gnat's *** at 500 yards..!! "

"..Well, that ain't nothin'.. With my "brand Y super macho tassital scope" I can count the hairs on that gnat's ***..

".. Amateurs.. With my "brand Z super-colossal astronomical observatory tested" scope I can tell ya how many hair's on said gnat's *** have split-ends.!! etc., etc...
Great question.
I am fortunate to use a lot of brands of scopes and use them almost daily. Today I shot two Leupolds, a MK4 and a VariX lll tactical and a Nightforce NXS for instance. Here are some of my opinions on your question.

Most guys only rate a scope by what they see through it, that is all they can do, or be bothered to do. They might hold up their scope and look through it for a minute or so, then hold up another and try to mentally compare such things as sharpness, brightness, field of view - but really they are only making a cursory assessment. They should assess the optics in varying light, over a period of time but who is going to make the effort to keep looking through scopes until the light disappears? They may shoot a "box test" at the range to assess repeatability, maybe count the available adjustment lattitudes (elevation and windage), twist the turrets to feel the "clickiness", but not much more.

Even then the comparison or "test" is a joke, usually influenced by brand loyalty or perceived value. Bottom line is that very few individuals would have access to the equipment to do a meaningful test. Who has instruments to measure light transmittion, color correction and other lens properties (curvature etc.). They cannot take the scope apart and compare what parts are made of bronze, steel, plastic or whatever. They cannot do micrometer measurements to see who has the tightest tolerances, who is using the best assembly techniques (crazy glue vs plastic vs metal holders to position lenses etc). They cannot look at the lenses and determine what coatings have been applied and with what precision the lenses were ground.

As with most things, consumers are at the mercy of how well some unknown engineers, technicians, assembly-line workers, quality control inspectors etc. did their job on the particular product (scope) they just bought.

Back to the average guy, he will look through a scope or several scopes and make a determination. This is usually done once, at a particular time of day, whatever light is available. What he looks at may or may not really enable anyone to determine any visual differences. Doesn't really matter, his particular set of eyes saw something and he becomes a disciple, telling the world that his X is far-friggin' better than his buddy's Y.

Bottom line is that virtually no-one, including writers who test these suckers for a living, can really do scientific, repeatable, quantifiable tests on hunting optics. Just too costy and technical to do a lab-quality analysis. Strangely much of this stuff is routinely done by the camera lens testers for photographic magazines, but shied away from by rifle scope testers. The readers aren't demanding such info so it ain't getting done.

There is a simple, reliable, repeatable test target for resolution and I find that it works very well. I can tell the difference between two scopes, if there is one, and quantify or give actual scores using a military test target designed for that purpose. I use it all the time. Problem is that I have found that some INDIVIDUAL scopes are just plain lemons - have owned a Leupy 2.5-8 that was terrible, but have also checked others (same scope) that did very well. Also the test result is for my eyes, my partner will get slightly different numbers because our eyes have varying degrees of visual accuity.

Why don't you see more head to head test results, say of a Nikon vs Leupold vs Burris 3x-9x scope comparison? One reason - the guys who put magazines together are very conscious of advertising revenue and they would not want to ****-off any clients. That is the way it is, and it makes sense since the mags have to make money and advertising is their primary income source.

Anyhow, most average shooters trust that the guts of their scopes have been well designed and constructed. They can't see what's in there so have to assume it is good.

That is where long range hunters and any precision shooter differentiates from Bubba. We absolutely require accurate and repeatable turrets. We use them continually, they are like a steering wheel on a car. We have to trust that the turret will give us the exact required adjustment or - we miss our shot. We have to have precision focus (parallax adjustment) and perfect movement of the point of impact, every time.

I believe that optical qualities such as resolution are very important and the first things we look for. Can't hit what you can't see. But on the range or in the field, we have to trust the accuracy of our turrets to make the windage and elevation corrrections that result in hits or kills.

This site enables us to glean info from guys like DC who have used about every high-precision scope made - or our wolf-control predator specialist Alaskan friend who hunts for a living and must have the toughest, most reliable scope he can get his hands on. Ask and you can usually get a good, honest answer.

"Clarity in a scope vs mechanics" - probably about equal importance when you get right down to it.

Sorry to be so long, this just happens to be a topic I really enjoy.
Hey Ian..! Thanks much for your response..

.. "Can't hit what you can't see"..
This or some variation of it is one of the statements I hear a lot that to me sounds a tad extreme.. I'm not sure that if scope "a" has slightly less resolution than scope "b" that target "c" will just completely disappear..!!

.. My scopes currently consist of a coupla Leupolds, a NightForce, a Weaver and while I hate to admit it, a Tasco or two.. (Acutally, one of the Tasco's is the "Target" model with a dot.. It's dependable enough to be used as my load development scope..Although I wouldn't trust it's mechanics for regular field work.) I have used all of them afield and at the range and I can't say that I've ever really felt I was at an ocular disadvantage with any of them.
.. I've seen bullet holes at 300 yards with the Leupold 6.5-20x40 when the NightForce wouldn't..(Same power, mid day. Can't say if it'll repeat just yet.) The turrets on the Leupold still have to be turned to target or zero from the same direction or it will be off ("up" to it and "right" at it, for me.)
.. They jury is still out on the NightForce but it seems to be about the same.. Neither of them track as well as the Weavers I've previously owned.. (This current one has yet to be mounted.)
.. At one place I go to do load work the local yokels are thouroughly convinced I've wasted a ton'o'cash on my scopes 'cause their BSA'a are "just as clear and good as that high-dollar stuff".. I don't even try to argue the point anymore.. It's like trying to teach a pig to sing..
(Please tell me that you aren't getting that same feeling right now.)
.. Anyhow.. Thanks for your insight and effort.. As with almost everything else, I bet it will end up back to personal preferences.. d:^) JiNC
I found a really interesting site that covers much of the stuff we are discussing. Check out:

Check out the media lies section.
Some of what that guy says is very good stuff, particularly about the fact that many brands come out of the same **** factory.

Like women, trucks, cars or rifle actions, we all seem to have strong preferences, guess that is a natural thing. I believe that your "expensive" scopes will last much longer and continue performing at the same level of perormance for much longer than the cheaper stuff those guys are saticefied with.

I worked at a place where we got issued binocs. Guys who were in the field a lot literally went through cheap binocs about every three - four years, but they were "good enough". I got a pair of "expensive" binocs and several of those guys said it was a waste of money. The standard issue binocs cost about 70-90 bucks, mine cost the gov't about 450 at the time. Within two years everyone was asking for the same quality, and we quit buying binocs for a long time. Mine lasted almost 25 years and they were used hard. Had a lot of hard drops, soakings, stuff piled on them, whatever but they worked great.

I believe that under optimum conditions there might not be a significant visualy difference between your Nightforce and my Simmons Whitetail Special. But my Simmons scope started to rattle like a can containing marbles after only five years of use. Plus if we happen to be looking through our scopes somewhat towards (not at) the sun I get a collection of weird flare spots and rings that you don't. Plus you can probably make a shot about fifteen minutes later in the day than I can, because your lenses simply allow more light to pass through. Plus your turret will move your point of impact one inch straight up when you put on four clicks, mine might but I might get some windage as a bonus, or nothing happens until after the next shot. I will end up sighted in, but without the confidence that I can trust my turrets to do a simple job.

I believe that there are times when the good optics literally will enable you to see when the cheap stuff won't. One graphic example was spotting geese - the guys with the good glass could see geese way out there far before the cheap binocs could define the flocks. Same with spotting deer and counting points on a rack, there is a difference, believe me. Same with seeing bullet holes in the black, good glass will do better every time. Probably the bottom line is that guys who really count on optics for their jobs, like hunting guides, tend to use the best glass they can get their hands on. Must be a reason for that.

You are fortunate to have some very nice scopes, just enjoy shooting them and ignore the guys who don't know or appreciate what good is.
Jake, like Ian, this topic is near and dear to my heart. "You can't hit what you can't see" is critical. The other important requirements are internal adjustments (amount and quality), flare/glare, durability, and cost.

The last point pretty much determines the other facets. For the money, I have found only a couple of scopes that work well in the LR arena for me. Those are the Bushnell Elite 3200 10X and Tasco SS 10X.

Other worthy mentions are the B&L Elite 4200 6X24, 4X16, 2.5X10. I don't own any Luppies, or Nikons. I definitely avoid the "cheap" products. Too much can go wrong.

If you want to really reach out, amount of internal adjustment eliminates most scopes on the market. Even many expensive LR scopes don't have that much adjustment (under 70 min). So that is something you need to be concerned with.

Clarity and resolution have to be adequate to put the crosshairs on the right portion of the target. Most any scope will let you see which end of the deer you are aiming at. What better optics will do is let you see the deer while it is behind a log or rock, in different light.

Scopes are a sighting device not a spotting device. So, I can live with lower clarity and resolution. What cheaper scopes will not stop is glare and flash. That becomes critical during the waning hours of light and that big buck comes out just in front of the setting sun. Better scopes will handle this situation much better. With most cheap scopes, you just get a bright flash and you can't see anything. Also, better scopes will transmit more light allowing for shooting a little later.

Adjustment quality is paramount and pretty much solves itself. You have to trust your adjustments and they have to be linear. Most better scopes will adjust fine. You just need to test yours. Luppy definitely has that figured out, so do most of the brands used on this board.

Durability is something that I don't get too caught up in. The scope, and rings/bases, must survive and not move under normal use and firings. Whether it can survive falling from 8ft with an 8lb rifle attached is of no importance to me. If I drop my rifle that badly, I will always rezero. Chances are something else has also broken.

Bottom line is that you have to match your needs to your scope. Most suitable scopes are not cheap but they also do not need a second mortgage. If I had the money to spend a lot extra on a scope with super clarity/resolution/light gathering, I wouldn't, prefering to spend it on spotting optics instead. But I would never compromise on the quality of adjustments.

Most of my shooting is 300 yards and below. I have used: Leupy, burris, nikon, weaver, zeiss, swarovski, nightforce. I can honestly say that I have never made a bad shot because of the Optic quality from any of these scopes (to say it another way: I have never made a bad shot because I had trouble seeing the target). While I have my own preferences as far as clarity goes, my bad shots have always been my own fault. One thing that I believe has made a beneficial difference is the RC600 reticle on my Leupy's.... just my 2 cents.
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