Best 1-4x Scopes for the Money

How to Spot a High-Quality Riflescope

Like most other outdoor equipment, a riflescope’s quality can be determined just by holding it in your hand. For durability and longevity, you want a scope that’s made out of a strong metal like aluminum that’s been anodized to better resist wear and corrosion. Adjustment knobs and mounting brackets should also be strong.

Since scopes are essentially just a series of lenses, the glass should be tough too. Manufacturers commonly build their riflescopes to be fogproof and shockproof. Besides being able to weather any conditions, the best scopes should also have brightness settings that will allow you to see your target even in low-light conditions and a fast-focus eyepiece so you can quickly lock on.

Scope Construction

There are several lenses inside a riflescope. Light first enters through the objective lens on the opposite end from the shooter’s eye. It then travels to the erector lens which flips the image upside down. The erector lens is in the first focal plane.

The upside-down image from the erector lens is then scaled up by the magnifying lens. From there, it passes through an aperture in the second focal plane where it’s put right-side up again and then finally through the ocular lens and into the user’s eye. 

Other Features of Riflescopes

Most riflescope descriptions are going to mention ratings in most or all of the following categories:

  • Eye Relief: If you’ve used binoculars before, you probably already know about eye relief. It describes the distance at which your eye can see the entire field of view provided by the scope. The eye relief is defined by a range called the eye box – if your eye is too far away, you’ll only see part of the image, while if you’re too close, the edges of the image will be out of focus. Eye relief distance is measured in inches and it’s important because you might be injured if your eye is too close to the gun when it recoils after a shot.
  • Scope Reticle (Crosshair): Basic reticles are simple crosses in the center of the scope’s lens. They might be placed in the first or second focal plane. Reticles in the first focal plane (FFP) are in front of the magnification lens, which means they will increase in size when you zoom, while reticles in the second focal plane (SFP) are in front of the magnification lens so that they maintain the same size. You can also find reticles with Bullet Drop Compensation, commonly called BDC reticles, dot reticles with a small point in the center, or illuminated reticles to make it easier to aim in bad lighting conditions.
  • Light Transmission: As light travels through the various lenses of a riflescope, some is inevitably lost. The degree to which a given scope transmits light to your eye without losing brightness and clarity is called light transmission. Generally, you want to have a scope with a light transmission rating of at least 90% and anything above 95% is considered very good. Scopes with a larger objective lens have a higher light transmission. The more you zoom in on your scope, the less light gets through.
  • Field of View: Everything you can see through the scope at proper eye relief is called the field of view. Wide-angle riflescopes with larger fields of view are built for people who want to be able to keep their eye on the crosshairs more of the time.  In some cases, you can also aim with both eyes open on a wide-angle riflescope, which means you can keep an eye out for anything. If you’re on the move, this is an invaluable benefit, although a wider field of view is always helpful.
  • Elevation Adjustment & Windage: It might take some practice to use effectively, but the knob on the top of most riflescopes is used for elevation adjustment. Moving parts inside the scope change the angle at which light hits the lenses and thus makes the reticle appear to move up or down, helping the shooter compensate for uneven terrain. The knob on the side helps adjust for windage, which is simply the effect of wind patterns on the course of a bullet. You can use Minute of Angle to adjust for windage.
  • Focus Speed: Old scopes had locking focus rings so the user could determine a focus level with the ring of the viewfinder, lock it in place, and not have to worry about it again. These days, almost all riflescopes feature a fast-lock scope, which doesn’t lock and is therefore easier to use and adjust on the fly. The disadvantage to the fast-lock scope is that it can easily be knocked out of focus if you’re on the move or taking your weapon out of its case.

Bonus tip: Learn more about BDC reticles with this informative video!

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