You hear it all the time: Buy the most expensive optics you can afford, and then plunk down an additional 50 percent. The reason is that with sporting optics—riflescopes, binoculars, and spotting scopes—price is a pretty good proxy for quality.
At least, it used to be. I’m happy to report that the price tag of an optic is no longer a reliable barometer for its quality. Improvements in manufacturing processes have evened the quality of the glass and coatings that are the heart of an optic as well as the gearing, housing, and finish that make an optic pleasant to operate.
You can pay several thousand dollars for a European binocular, and expect best-in-class performance. But you can also pay a fraction of that price and expect a very good optic that was made in China, or Malaysia. The market is also awash in junk, products that might wear the logo of a premium brand but are manufactured in facilities that produce worst-in-class products for a wide variety of brands.
What does this all mean to you? Buyer beware. Educate yourself on how to differentiate good optics at a fair price from brands that might also sell premium products at premium prices as well as subpar products at elevated prices. But don’t dismiss products simply because their price is too good to believe. This gift guide features those optics that deliver excellent performance for a fair price.
Leupold VX-Freedom 3-9×40 • $199
While Leupold’s VX-2 line of hardy, simple scopes remains a top seller, the VX-Freedom riflescope, in the versatile 3-9X power range, sells for about half the price. It features crisp one-quarter MOA turret adjustments, the 1-inch tube fits a wide range of rifle actions, and the entry-level scope is enhanced with Leupold’s excellent optical coatings that resist scratches and enhance low-light visibility. Pair it with a budget rifle like a Savage Axis or Weatherby Vanguard for an accurate, thrifty, and effective package.
Maven RS.2 2-10×38 • $550
This riflescope, from a Wyoming company that typically sells direct to buyers, stretches our definition of a budget optic. But its image is so clear, its operation so simple, and its utility so versatile that it belongs in this gift guide. You won’t find a whole lot of knobs and dials. You won’t find a complicated reticle. Instead, you’ll find a simple and useful duplex crosshair, positive one-quarter MOA turret adjustments, and classic 1-inch tube. The clear and bright glass is what will convince you to mount this on your favorite rifle. If you want more information in the reticle, opt for Maven’s very good SHR (Simplified Holdover Reticle) for the same price.
Riton Mod 5 4-16×50 • $305
A newcomer in the world of performance shooting optics, this Arizona-based brand produces riflescopes that bridge the gap between precision shooting and big-game hunting. The Mod 5 is built on a 30mm tube and features a second-plane hash reticle tuned to MOA references. It’s a versatile optic that is equally at home aiming at distant steel plates or Western mule deer. The image is crisp and clear, but you’ll love the tactile turret controls.
Simmons ProTarget Rimfire 3-9×40 • $42
Do you have a .22 rifle without a scope? How about a .17 HMR that’s begging for an optics upgrade? This basic riflescope (for the love of Pete, look at the price!) is worth a long look. The scope is super basic. It features a bold duplex inside its adequate (if we’re being honest here, dim and grainy) glass. But the heart of the scope, and the reason it’s worth your consideration, is because it ships with Weaver-style rings that will fit most rifles. It also ships with three different turrets, one tuned to the popular .22 LR, another for the .17 HMR, and one tuned to generic one-quarter MOA references, which can be used with any number of rimfire or centerfire rifles. Honestly, you can’t afford to NOT buy this scope!
Sightmark Latitude PRS 6.25-25×56 • $700
For long-distance shooters, Precision Rifle Series competitions are the yardstick for measuring your own capabilities, and comparing your skills behind a rifle to other shooters. But it’s expensive to trick out a precision rifle and then mate it with a top-end scope. Happily, the PRS has a Production Class category with a cost cap of $4,000 for both rifle and optic. The optic itself must have a retail price of under $2,000. That division has prompted manufacturers to produce accessibly priced precision riflescopes, and this Sightmark is one of the best. You get oversize turrets, a great magnification range, and a first-plane milling reticle for even the farthest and toughest targets you’ll face in a PRS match.
Bushnell AR Optic 4.5-18×40 • $110
This scope melds a number of hot trends in shooting: a reticle tuned to the ballistics of the 6.5 Creedmoor, compatibility with the AR platform, and the versatility of a wide magnification range. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also a smoking-hot deal. The second-plane reticle features holdovers for the 6.5 Creedmoor load, but you can use it with a wide variety of calibers. At its lowest magnification, it’s useful for high-volume shooting, but you can also zoom up the power and use it for precision aiming at longer-distance targets.
Meopta Optika 10×42 HD • $299
A new platform from the Czech company that defined the term “Euro-value,” this closed-bridge binocular has good glass, excellent coatings, and is completely waterproof. The finish and eyecups could use a little more finishing, but the balance is nearly perfect, and its durability and versatility are both very good. Also available in an 8-power model, the 10×42 version won the Great Buy award for this year’s Outdoor Life optics test.
Vanguard Vesta 8×42 • $129
OK, let’s dispense with the shortcomings: this super-square binocular will not win style awards. Its adequate Asian glass will not conjure big bucks out of the last possible dim light of a November evening. But it will help you see deer in most light conditions. You’ll find it has decent ergonomics and satisfying durability. But you’ll definitely notice its light impact on your wallet. This is a serious hunting optic available at a fair price. What more do you want?
Vortex Diamondback HD • $219
Do yourself a favor and step up to the HD (high-definition) version of the Diamondback. The regular version has noticeably dim glass. But this Vortex hits the sweet spot of performance and value. You can get this binocular in 10- and 12-power versions, but the 8X offers great field of view and image brightness and a big light-gathering 42mm objective lens. Its coatings are pretty good, and its threaded hinge will accept a tripod mount.
SIG Sauer KILO3000BDX rangefinding binocular • $948
Yes it’s almost $1,000, but there’s a ton of value in this rangefinding binocular. For starters, you get SIG’s excellent KILO3000 rangefinder built into the ample housing. The unit won the Great Buy award in this year’s Outdoor Life test of rangefinding binos for its lightning-fast laser, its range (we ranged non-reflective targets out to 2,822 yards), and its full compatibility with SIG’s BDX ballistics software. A Bluetooth connection tethers the binocular to a mobile app with a huge library of data from Applied Ballistics so you can make instant in-field adjustments to your aim. The unit has good glass and features the full suite of modes, from angle-modified ranging, line-of-sight ranging, and target-mode selection. Pretty good collection of assets for under $1,000.
Meopta Carbon Fiber Tripod • $299
This isn’t a magnified optic, but it’s so useful that it will enhance the performance of any spotting scope or binocular in your collection. It’s also a screaming deal. Most carbon tripods cost easily twice this price, and that’s generally just for the legs; you have to pay extra for the head and accessories. This package includes twist-to-lock legs, a full-height extension, and a fluid panning head that locks in place with plates that fit nearly any scope with a threaded mount. It also includes a handy spring-loaded smartphone mount.