January 03, 2011
By David Fortier
Leupold's VX-L riflescopes have gotten a lot of press, but they aren't the only great new optics from the Oregon-based company.
By David Fortier
Although it seems like a lifetime ago, I can still remember scrimping and saving every hard-earned penny to buy my first really nice riflescope. It was a Leupold 3-9X with an adjustable objective, which I quickly put to use in some informal long-range shooting. Its one-inch tube unfortunately ran out of adjustment at about 600 yards, and so I shimmed the mount to extend my reach as far as possible.
Using that scope, and a bunch of holdover, atop an old reworked Enfield I shot all the way out to 1200 yards. Driving a 180-grain .311 Sierra bullet just as fast as I dared, the old rifle shot quite well at 850 yards and okay out to 1000 yards. A couple childhood friends and I learned a lot as we cut our teeth on long-range shooting, and although that old Enfield is long gone, I still have that Leupold scope.
Today the company provides scopes for not only hunting and target shooting but also for law enforcement and government agencies and the military. This year Leupold has introduced some exciting new products, so I thought I would give you a close look at some of the most interesting ones.
Mark 4 3.5-10X 40mm LR/T M2 With TMR
The year 1981 was important for both Leupold and long-range shooters. It marked the introduction of the 10X 40 Ultra tactical scope. Subsequently adopted by the U.S. Army for use on the M24 sniper rifle, this scope was the genesis for Leupold's highly successful Mark 4 tactical scope line.
Since this first fixed-power scope was introduced, the Mark 4 line has expanded dramatically and now includes both fixed- and variable-power models with a number of options in a wide range of magnifications. Due to the Mark 4's rugged design, reliability, and high-quality optics, it was embraced by the law enforcement community as well as varmint hunters and long-range shooters.
Leupold's new 3.5-10X 40mm LR/T M2 has .5 MOA windage and elevation adjustments, a built-in bullet drop compensator, and an illuminated
reticle with 12-position rheostat.
As good as it was, though, the Mark 4 line did have one shortcoming: its adjustments. Basically, you had two options, either .25 MOA adjustment multirotation M1 turrets or 1 MOA adjustment single-rotation M3 turrets with a Bullet Drop Compensator. Many shooters, myself included, felt neither was quite perfect.
On the one hand the M1 turrets, although very precise, were too fine for field shooting requiring multiple rotations to go from distance to distance. Under stress it was all too easy to lose count of clicks or end up one turret rotation off. The M3 turrets on the other hand, with their 1 MOA adjustments, were very fast and foolproof to use but a little too coarse. Many shooters wished Leupold would introduce a turret design that would split the difference between the two.
Well, with the introduction of the 1.5-5X 20mm MR/T in 2005, Leupold introduced a new turret design, called the M2, with .5 MOA adjustments and a Bullet Drop Compensator. The new design was a hit, so Leupold introduced a 3.5-10X 40mm Long Range/Tactical model with the turrets for 2006. Although this model was originally developed for the U.S. Army, it has all the features to make it a truly great scope for varmint hunters and long-range shooters.
The starting point for the design is Leupold's well-proven 3.5-10X 40mm LR/T. Built on a 30mm tube, it's 13.5 inches long and weighs 19.5 ounces. Field of view runs from 29.9 feet (at 3.5X) to 11 feet (at 10X) at 1000 yards. Eye relief is rather healthy and varies from 3.4 inches (at 10X) to 4.7 inches (at 3.5X).
What's neat about this model are its M2 turrets. These are uncapped low-profile knobs similar to Leupold's familiar M3 turrets. They are approximately .75 inch tall and 1.25 inches in diameter and are nicely contoured to provide a secure grip. Adjustments for both the windage and elevation are in .5 MOA clicks whereas the M3 turrets have .5 MOA windage adjustments but 1 MOA elevation adjustments.
One complete revolution provides 30 MOA of adjustment. In addition, above the normal .5 MOA delineations the elevation turret also has caliber/load specific range markings from 100 to 1000 yards. With the 168-grain .308 Winchester turret installed one complete revolution will take you from 100 to about 830 yards, with just under another half revolution to take you out to a full 1000 yards. Adjustments have nice positive clicks that are audible and tactile, and the turrets are easily reset after zeroing.
This model also features a side focus knob and an illuminated reticle. A rheostat with 11 power settings is conveniently located on the ocular. Reticle choices include the standard Mil-Dot and Leupold's new Tactical Milling Reticle (TMR). An evolution of the traditional Mil-Dot reticle, the TMR uses hash marks in place of the dots. In addition, .5 and .2 Mil marks are added to aid rangefinding and to use as holdovers.
The result is a more flexible reticle system that is quicker and easier to use. Available in Dark Earth, as per the Army's request, this model is an excellent design for field use. I mounted a review model onto a custom-built sniper rifle and was quite impressed. Optical quality was very good, color rendition was excellent, the adjustments tracked perfectly, and foul weather did not bother it in the least.
Is this model perfect? No, low-light performance will never be outstanding with a 40mm objective, I really wish the rheostat had positive click adjustments, and some people will not dig the Dark Earth brown color. That said, I give this model two big thumbs up and suspect the M2 turrets will migrate across Leupold's scope line and eventually replace the older M3 models.
Big news from Leupold in 2006 is that the company now offers four laser rangefinders. Models offered include the 6x32mm RX-II and 8x32mm RX-III with inclinometers, thermometers, and a choice of 13 different reticles.
RX-II & RX-III Laser Rangefinders
The big news from Leupold for 2006 was the company's entrance into the laser rangefinder market. The new RX line consists of four models of digital laser rangefinders designated RX-I, II, III, and IV. The main differences between the four models are the distance they can measure out to and the amount of features they have. The RX-I and II are listed as being capable of ranging a reflective target out to 750 yards and a deer out to 500 yards. The RX-III will range a reflect
ive target out to 1200 yards and a deer out to 700 yards. The RX-IV will range a reflective target all the way out to 1500 yards and a deer at 800 yards. What's interesting, though, is the amount of additional features they were able to jam into such compact little packages.
I reviewed Leupold's new RX-II and the slightly larger RX-III. The RX-II features a 6X monocular, is 4x3x1.5 inches in size, and weighs 6.8 ounces. The RX-III has an 8X monocular, is 4.6x3.5x2 inches in size, and weighs 12 ounces. Both feature an inclinometer (to measure the angle to a target), a thermometer (in Fahrenheit or Celsius), 13 different aiming reticles to choose from, and the ability to measure a line of sight distance (in yards, meters, or feet).
In addition, they also have the ability to calculate the horizontal range to a target when shooting at an angle. Plus, both units are capable of providing elevation come-ups (in MOA) or holdovers to compensate for the distance/angle of a shot. This is possible through the use of a ballistics program. In addition, the RX-III also incorporates an illuminated display.
Both feature an adjustable diopter with clicks and fold-down eyecups. While the monoculars suffice, neither is particularly impressive. Between the two, I felt the RX-II's 6X offered the better, and brighter, image combined with a larger field of view. Lasing reflective targets, I was able to obtain readings out to 768 yards with the RX-II and 1216 yards with the RX-III.
Switching to nonreflective targets dropped about two to three hundred yards off these distances. Accuracywise, the RX-III was dead on, but the RX-II was off by 6 yards at its maximum distance. Both units took a minute of head scratching to figure out, but then they were simple to operate. Regarding the thermometer, I did notice that body heat from my hand affected the results. If I held the unit in my hand for a minute or two and then took a temperature reading it would be 10 degrees warmer than if I simply picked the unit up and immediately checked the temperature.
Leupold lists the RX-II as being water resistant and the RX-III as being waterproof. So I left both out for two days of hard rain. When I carefully checked them I noted both functioned fine, but the RX-II had water inside its battery compartment, but the RX-III was completely dry.
In the hands the RX-II is a good bit smaller. It is also more comfortable to use as it's held vertically whereas the RX-III is employed horizontally. Both units feature threaded sockets to allow them to be easily mounted onto a standard tripod, and they have lanyard loops and come with carrying cases and easy to understand manuals. Quality of both of these units appears to be good, although it should be noted that they are both made in China.
Leupold's new 6x30mm Yosemite binocular is a compact and lightweight porro prism design that features center focus and twist-up eyecups.
6x30mm Yosemite Series Binocular
Although Leupold was founded by a German and they do make top-notch optics, unlike their German competitors Leupold also offers optics within reach of the blue collar worker. One excellent example of this is the new 6x30mm Yosemite binocular. A compact porro prism design, this model sports the second largest field of view of any Leupold binocular, a whopping 420 feet at 1000 yards. Features of this model include multicoated lenses, twist-up eyecups, center focus, and waterproof construction. With 30mm objective lenses and 6X magnification, this model generates a healthy 5mm exit pupil. Weight is fairly light at just 17 ounces.
For decades the standard military binocular in many of the world's armies was a 6x30mm model because this combination provides a wide field of view, useful magnification range, and decent low-light performance in a compact package. Leupold's 6x30mm Yosemite is no different. Optical performance of this model was pretty good, and the focus knob goes from lock to lock in less than 300 degrees of rotation. I left my review model outside in a constant downpour for two days with no ill effects.
The porro prism binocular looks a bit dated, but this design is inherently more robust than a roof prism. Light and handy, it is easy to carry about. However, for some purposes 6X will simply not be enough magnification, and these are marked "Made in China" on the side and sport a green rather than a gold ring, so don't expect Golden Ring optical performance. Models are available with black, natural, and dark red rubber armor.
New to Leupold's flagship Golden Ring binocular line is a compact 8x32mm model with three-position twist-up eyecups and brown rubber armor.
8x32mm Golden Ring Binocular
If you are looking for the best binocular Leupold has to offer, then simply look for the Golden Ring. For 2006 Leupold expanded its flagship Golden Ring line by adding 8x32mm and 10x32mm compact models. I've always been somewhat partial to 8x32mm models, so I selected this model to review. It is a roof prism design and sports 32mm objective lenses and 8X magnification, which generate a 4mm exit pupil.
Field of view is a wide 420 feet at 1000 yards. Optically, this model sports Leupold's Index Matched Lens System with phase coated prisms. Features include the Golden Ring signature brown rubber armor coating, twist-up eyecups with three positions, and an Interpupillary Distance Lock. This latter feature allows you to set the distance between the eyepieces to match your eyes and then lock the setting. A simple feature, it eliminates having to constantly reset your binocular every time you pick it up.
In the field the Leupold 8x32mm performed very well. It comes with a carrying case, objective and ocular covers, and a carrying strap for accessories. Putting it to use I noted the focus knob went from lock to lock in less than one full rotation. The eyecups adjusted easily and locked into place securely. Optically, this model performed very well with accurate color rendition. Resolution was excellent in the center of the image with a slight degradation at the edges.
Sizewise this model is fairly compact being only 5.2 inches long. Covered in a durable rubber armor the Golden Ring shrugs off knocks, blows, and dings without taking a scratch. To check its waterproofing I left it outside during two days of heavy downpours. The heavy rain didn't bother it in the least. Weight is a bit heavier than I'd like at a fast-food-guzzling 27 ounces. Plus, if the carrying strap's mounting points were recessed the body would be more comfortable to hold and handle. A high-quality binocular assembled here in the U.S., Leupold's 8x32mm Golden Ring is a precision optical instrument that should serve you well for years.