The arrival of a new custom rifle provided the perfect excuse to invest ( I like that word – it makes the pain of purchase seem so very much more bearable ) in some new glass. At long last and for all shooting applications other than F-Class, I have finally “seen the light” and therefore knew that my new scope would be a FFP with 34mm tube, a nice reticle and Mil/Mil turrets and so……. the buying was about to begin.
Initially, my choice of new glass was a done deal and if all had gone according to plan you wouldn’t be reading this article. Before the new rifle was even built I’d decided that I was simply going to add another Vortex Razor II HD 4.5-27×56 to my collection but, silly me, I actually wanted a bit of a deal this time around – nothing outrageous, just a bit of sugar to sweeten things up. I figured a few percentage points discount would be doable but it wasn’t to be the case… even though I have previously bought two of these excellent scopes at full retail, when I approached Vortex Canada about whether they would consider a small “LEO discount” for a serving LE, a ‘threepee buyer’ and a part-time writer/blogger I was politely, but quite clearly, told that Vortex doesn’t do any deals for Canadian LE – fair enough. I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that an American company, Vortex, values US law enforcement (for whom they do offer a substantial discount) more than their Canadian brothers and sisters. Of course it is entirely their prerogative about whether or not to offer mil or LE discounts and no doubt many consumers would likely agree with them. Vortex’s response to my inquiry did disappoint me though and gave me ’cause to pause’ which then prompted me to start looking around at other options but, hey, great marketing company that they are Vortex sent me a ball cap and a T-Shirt for asking the question and here I am writing a review of a scope I likely wouldn’t have otherwise bought so, at the end of the day, it all worked out.
That Nightforce Wasn’t Supposed To Be There …………
Back to the drawing board and now in ‘search mode’ rather than ‘buying mode’, I considered a number of other brands of glass. Two otherwise excellent scopes were quickly discounted: March (who have no Canadian support) and the Canadian-made Tangent Theta whose makers have, in my opinion, simply priced themselves out of contention. I ended up thinking long and hard about three particular brands: a Khales, another S+B or a NF ATACR. I love S+B scopes and consider the PMii to be the “Gold Standard” against which all other scopes should be measured when it comes to pure glass but the rest of the scope is somewhat dated. The Khales scopes in FFP have excellent reticles and very nice glass but they max out at 24x and I wanted a bit more top-end magnification ( maybe I was still thinking of my Vortex Razor 2’s which have a 27x max) and then that the little filing cabinet in the back of the head opened up and I remembered reading that the newest Nightforce F1 ATACR was now available with a max magnification of 35x. I like Nightforce ( who doesn’t ?) and I own their NXS, BR and Competition scopes so why not take a look at the NXS’ big brother the NF ATACR ? The big question was could one be found in Canada ?
7-35 and Mil/Mil
Calls to a NF distributor in Eastern Canada quickly informed me that I was actually going to spend more money on the new ATACR than I would if I had purchased a third Razor II because, while the NF ATACR 5-25×56 F1 is in the same ballpark as the Vortex, the new 7-35 ATACR F1 has a Canadian MAP that is substantially higher. Furthermore, the newness of this scope meant there were only a few available in Canada but fortunately my good friend (and authorized Nightforce dealer) Omer Hrbinic at Plainsightsolutions in BC (precisionoptics.ca) had one of the few NF ATACR 7-35×56 scopes that had made it into Canada and so it was from Omer that I made my purchase. Yes, I spent more money than I would if I’d stuck with a Vortex but I did get a price break off the NF MAP and sometimes, whether it be a rifle, a scope or a new truck, feeling like you got a deal makes all the difference to whether you, as a consumer, make a purchase or not.
So,what do I think of my new glass and how does it compare to some other quality scopes I own and use? Of course the words “what do I think” are important as the opinions I have are exactly that – subjective opinions – and where I may say Brand X turrets are the best another user may say that it is the turrets of Brand Y that are better. But before we get into what I think let us look at some specs for the new Nightforce which can be found on the Nightforce website at: http://nightforceoptics.com/atacr/7-35×56-f1
Besides the obvious maximum 35x magnification some of the specifications highlights that stuck me were the 27.3 mils (100 MOA) of elevation, parallax down to 10m and, while not exactly svelte, the weight still under 40 oz. In my view these are all good numbers.
I’ve covered the unboxing of high-end scopes in other reviews but a quick synopsis is this: our German friends (S+B) give you a brilliant scope in what is almost a plain white box, Vortex goes all out and your new Razor 2 is beautifully packaged and Nightforce falls somewhere in between these two – it isn’t the spectacular job of packaging like Vortex but it is much improved over what our friends in Europe provide. I’m pleased to report that at least with respect to the ATACR models, Nightforce have now included real, useful, scope caps and they are the very best – Armament Technologies’ Tenebraex covers which I like to use on all my top-tier glass and while pricey are well worth the money. Well done Nightforce !
The choice of rings and bases is entirely personal and in this review the reader will note that scopes get switched around a bit to prevent ‘rife bias’ interfering with what I really think of a scope. Sometimes the new NF sits in a SPHUR mount while on other occasions it rests in NF rings. I think every reader of an article like this understands that rings and bases are not the places one wants to make economies so I won’t belabor this point.
NF ATACR Mounted on Surgeon 591
Mounted on a Remington AICS Combo
At this level of glass I find writing about a scope in isolation isn’t too helpful as, quite frankly, they are all very good and there are no really bad choices so I like to do some real time comparisons and therefore it was time to lay out some rifles and glass.
No Bad Choices
In addition to my Razor II’s I added a S+B and the ATACR’s little brother the NXS to the mix and I spent a lot of time just glassing various objects in all sorts of light. I made observations in the cold, bright and clear days thru to when it was actually snowing and from morning, thru mid-day and to late in the day when dusk turned to darkness. I tried to keep most glassing done at what I figured was a fair magnification of up to 20x so that I didn’t end up allowing simple magnification of an object to inform my brain that the glass in question was better.
I made a particular point of glassing at various distances and at a wide variety of things – trees, targets, animals and pretty much anything that interested me and a lot of this viewing was done without the distraction of actual shooting. One of the things I spent a lot of time looking at was an optical chart I have pinned to my workshop door – simply reading the typed data in all light conditions. Some may not choose to assess glass this way but I think this is an excellent way to compare glass over time.
Optical Charts and Targets – A Good Way To Assess Glass
This assessment of glass clarity is exactly that – a way of me looking at lots of objects and scenes in varying weather and lighting conditions and figuring out which I considered the clearest/sharpest/brightest with the best color trueness. I find that with scopes of this quality and regardless of manufacturers claims to the contrary, there really is not a lot of difference between one scope and the next but there were some things that were clear pretty early on:
1. the NF NXS with a 30mm tube was outclassed and was retired early – this was not surprising but to make sure it was not that particular scope, I used rifles wearing a Sightron Siii and wearing a Leupold Mk4 and the results were the same. Conclusion – the NF ATACR, the S+B Pmii and the Vortex Raor HD II are, really, in a higher tier than the NXS and comparable scopes.
2. In good lighting conditions I found it super tough to make a decision between the ATACR and the Vortex and while most times I felt the ATACR had the edge I just could not be certain. The S+B’s ( I used a PMii 5-25×56 and a 12-50×60 ) we to my eyes slightly brighter overall but, again, this is a very close game.
So close was this glass comparison that it wasn’t until looking at the optical chart late one afternoon when it was actually snowing that I finally decided that the ATACR had ever so slightly better glass than the Vortex. My final assessment of glass clarity is as follows: S+B, NF ATACR and Vortex Razor HD II.
Of course glass is far from everything and so the next thing I assessed was the reticles. My S+B’s have the P4F, the Vortex’s have the EBR 2-c and the new NF ATACR has the Mil-R. While reticle choice is based on intended application (and a lot of personal preference) I do feel that NF should work on providing a reticle that is more like the Vortex EBR 2-c or (even better) the excellent SKMR 3 offered by Khales. When shooting for groups on 25x I thought that while the Mil-R worked fine and, to be entirely fair, it is growing on me that it lags behind the Vortex as a target reticle. My assessment of reticles is as follows: Vortex, NF ATACR and S+B.
Other than the usefulness and clarity of what is contained within the scope tube the other thing that users want to know about is how the turrets work and how they feel. Obviously each of the scopes I own pass box tests and track properly otherwise they would be returned for warranty so a lot of what remains comes down to feel and use in the field.
NF ATACR 7-35×56 F1
Vortex Razor HD II 4.5x27x56
S+B PMii 5-25×56
The turrets of each of the three scopes work really well but there are some standouts for each – the color change rev indicator on S+B, the Zero Stop (ZS) function on the Vortex and, simple as it sounds, the large lettering on the NF each have their appeal to me. The locking caps on the Vortex is an appeal to many and it initially really impressed me but I find in cold weather they are hard to use and have recently been a very minor irritation as, on occasion, I forgot they were locked when going to use them.
Easy To Read Markings on the NF – Important To Me
One thing that was raised on a Canadian website was a criticism that Nightforce have chosen to use a 12 mil per rev system rather than a base 10 system. I asked Nightforce why they chose a 12 mil per rev and the answer was:
“The 12 Mils per turn came about from various end user requests to get more travel per revolution, which ultimately reduced the number of revolutions needed for extended range shooting. We decided to incorporate the adjustment for commercial models as we found benefit while testing it ourselves, in being able to take most high performance rifle cartridges to 1200 yards or beyond, all within a single revolution of the adjustment.
The illumination feature on a scope is something that I rarely use – I simply don’t shoot when light is so poor – but it is a feature that many other shooters find relevant to their shooting. I do think illumination controls should be easily accessible, not take up tube space so as to impede scope mounting and should be easy to switch on an off. Both of the ATACR and the Vortex achieve these illumination requirements while the S+B ( being of an older design) houses the illumination controls in a third turret which, in turn, limits the space available for mounting. I personally like the one touch button on the NF and the dual (red-green) color choice and so I place it above the Vortex with the S+B rounding out the three.
NF ATACR Illumination – One-Touch Under the NF Trademark
Back of the Illumination Pack – the Third Turreted S+B
So, in the final analysis it is for me pretty much of a wash between NF ATACR and Vortex when it comes to the feel and usefulness of the turrets – initially I preferred the Vortex then I really dug the NF but at the end of the piece I am going to cal it a tie. Of course all my scopes track properly and I find it amusing when people report tracking errors as a scope that does not track accurately is broken which leads to the next issue – warranty.
Each scope is well-warrantied and I’ve never heard of a Canadian user being let down by either of NF or S+B but the warranty is what often sells Vortex ( especially the lower models ) and their warranty can’t be beat. Put simply – if it breaks Vortex will look after you. I’m sure none of the other top makers would leave a customer hanging but the bullet-proof warranty of Vortex reassures many people ( me included ).
Of course one would rather not have to use a warranty and while each of the scopes here are well-regarded as being reliable and robust it is the NF range that has a reputation for being incredibly tough. I don’t torture test stuff I buy, but if industry reputation means anything then the NF may well move to the top of a consumers wish list.
One of the things that the ATACR really has of course over the Razor II and the S+B is that the top-end magnification goes up to 35x. Usually if shooting at much above 25x I’d likely be shooting a F-Class match at KD and using a very high magnification SFP scope but it is nice to have that bit extra in a FFP scope and I would expect to see this trend towards higher magnification FFP scopes continue.
In the bulk or weight department the NF has an edge over the Vortex (but not of course the S+B ) is in weight – many people trying to save weight get a bit hung up on this though to be honest I can’t tell the difference on my rifles as they are all pretty heavy and so a few ounces is negligible but if it is important to you then note the specs.
As I said at the beginning I bought the NF ATACR F1 because I was a bit put out about the response from Vortex re price discounting for LE but I’m pleased I spent the extra money on the NF as it is a nice scope with excellent glass and where I shoot the extra magnification can be really useful. In conclusion, my ratings of my scopes which I own and are not loaners are:
- Glass – S+B- NF – Vortex
- Reticles – Vortex – NF – S+B
- Turrets – Vortex and NF tied – S+B
- Weight – S+B -NF -Vortex
- Fit & Finish – All equal
- Warranty – Vortex
- Price High to Low – NF- Vortex -S+B
So – perhaps the ideal scope would have S+B level glass with Vortex level reticles and turrets that are the equal to the Vortex or NF with perhaps…….left side windage ???? Mmmm, my next review might give me just that – stay tuned for my thoughts on the Khales 624i with SKMR3 reticle: