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Illuminated reticle rifle scope review

Illuminated reticle rifle scope review

Scopes seem to have proliferated in the rifle accessories market lately, with new models from existing manufacturers appearing regularly and new brands of scope popping up every time you scan the ads in Shooting Times.

The desire, if not the need, for an illuminated reticle in your scope seems to entice a lot of shooters these days, but what do you look for in a scope of this type and do you actually need one?

I chose six standard rifle-scopes from established manufacturers, which are typical of the type you would fit to a deer or fox rifle, or a rabbit gun, if you?re feeling flush!

Having the capability to illuminate your reticle and give a clear aiming mark certainly increases the usefulness of your rifle-scope, especially when the light fades.

Even in daylight conditions, a fine reticle can disappear among the foliage and an illuminated option can solve this problem.


Understated, but with a pedigree name, the NXS Compact is a real hunter?s scope offering excellent performance in a compact, yet feature-laden design.

It mounts close to the rifle for better scope-to-eye alignment due to its 32mm objective size, yet still manages to offer superb light-gathering performance at dawn or dusk, with accurate tracking and wind adjustments.

The zero stop feature is tailored in such a way that, once zeroed, you can adjust your scope?s point of aim yet always return to its original zero setting.

The zoom range allows the shooter the opportunity to engage a close target at 2.5x magnification yet still feel confident at a distant stag with the scope wound up to the 10x.

The choice of reticles is good, but the NP-1 on the test scope was a great all-rounder, allowing a precise aim without cluttering up the image with unnecessarily thick stadia.

In the low-light scenario the NXS was very bright throughout the power range and the lit reticle gave a clearly defined aiming mark.

– Magnification: 2.5-10x zoom
– Objective lens diameter: 32mm
– Adjustment clicks: .25in at 100 yards
– Reticle: np-1
– Body tube diameter: 30mm
– Length: 12in
– Weight: 19oz
– Features: Compact with zero stop adjustment
– Lens quality 5/5
– Low light ability 5/4.5
– Value for money 5/5


Most illuminated scopes have their illumination controls on a separate turret that makes the scope look unbalanced, but Leupold has addressed this with its new VX-R scope.

The illumination is a simple push button that is sited centrally in the side-mounted unit that looks like a parallax adjustment ring.

The gold Leupold medallion is pushed in for the single dot on the reticle to illuminate.

A single push turns it on and subsequent pushes increase the dot intensity for a maximum of four low settings and four brighter settings.

To switch off, hold the button down for three seconds.

The VX-R has motion sensor technology that means, when illuminated but not used, the dot is switched off automatically, saving battery life, but as soon as the scope or rifle is moved, it switches back on.

The VX-R has a clear lens and a sturdy 30mm main body tube.

– Magnification: 3-9x zoom
– Objective lens diameter: 50mm
– Adjustment clicks: .25in at 100 yards
– Reticle: Fire dot
– Body tube diameter: 30mm
– Length: 12.3in
– Weight: 16oz
– Features: Reliable and innovative Illumination system
– Lens quality 5/4.5
– Low light ability 5/4
– Value for money 5/4.5

KAHLES KXI 3.5-10×50 L

This may be a scope with a 1in body tube, compared with the 30mm tubes of the other scopes, but the lens quality overcomes any negatives in that department and only overall elevation and windage travel is compromised.

I use a Kahles myself. It offers a no-nonsense, high-quality scope that will not break the bank.

The internal mechanism is also rugged.

Like the Leupold, the illumination controls are sited in an additional turret on the central body housing, but unlike the Leupold, you have to turn the turret to activate and increase the intensity of the lit reticle.

The dimmer-type switch allows you smooth control over the reticle brightness.

The reticle is an open duplex type with a fine dot, which is the only part that?s illuminated, offering a quick and precise aiming mark.

Low-light performance was also impressive, with crystal-clear images and good colour retention to distinguish between deer and background foliage.

This is a cracking little scope.

– Magnification: 3.5-10x zoom
– Objective lens diameter: 50mm
– Adjustment clicks: .25in at 100 yards
– Reticle: no. 4 dot
– Body tube diameter: 1in
– Length: 12.5in
– Weight: 18oz
– Features: lightweight, infinite brightness Illumination setting
– Lens quality 5/4.5
– Low light ability 5/4.5
– Value for money 5/4.5


This is expensive, but it is arguably the best-engineered illuminated scope on the market today.

The product range is large, with many differing zoom ranges and objective lens sizes coupled with a good choice of reticle types.

The 50mm objective lets in a lot of available light and the internal lens coatings give sharp, clear images even when the light is extremely gloomy.

It?s actually quite light for a 2-12x zoom power scope, as is its unique 6x zoom magnification range, and the illumination offers a good degree of choice with regard to illumination brightness.

However, this can be accidentally switched on by the top-mounted toggle switch unlike the push-button type on other scopes.

You adjust the illumination with a convenient toggle switch mounted on the eyepiece that allows illumination intensity to be set for either day or night.

– Magnification: 2-12x zoom
– Objective Lens Diameter: 50mm
– Adjustment: Clicks 1cm at 100m
– Reticle: 4A-I
– Body Tube Diameter: 30mm
– Length: 13.5in
– Weight: 19.8oz
– Features: Both day and night reticle brightness settings
– Lens Quality 5/5
– Low Light Ability 5/4.5
– Value For Money 5/4


Probably the old stalwart of the group, this is the Klassik design, not the Zenith model, and it is built like a Tiger tank.

Weighing in at 22oz, it?s made to take the knocks ? and it can ? while remaining perfectly zeroed.

It?s also the least complicated of the group with a fixed parallax at 100m and a side-mounted reticle illumination system with the L-7 reticle where only the central crosshairs are illuminated.

I like this, as it avoids any excess light in your eye. Also, the illumination range is one of the best of the bunch. It starts with a dim setting all the way up to bright.

This allows use in dark situations.

Too bright a reticle will destroy your own natural night vision, yet this is bright enough at the highest setting to allow a precise aim in a brighter environment.

In the low-light field test the 3-12×50 IL was the best. Indeed, at any power setting the big Schmidt really cut through the gloom to give clear, sharp images for a well-aimed shot.

If you take your rifle scope combination out in all weathers, this is the one for you.

– Magnification 3-12x zoom
– Objective Lens Diameter: 50mm
– Adjustment Clicks: 1cm At 100m
– Reticle: l-7
– Body Tube Diameter: 30mm
– Length: 13.5in
– Weight: 22oz
– Features: Steel construction and good range of reticle illumination
– Lens Quality 5/4.5
– Low Light Ability 5/5
– Value For Money 5/4


A Zeiss-illuminated scope for under £900, that?s all I need to say really.

Aluminium-built for lightness yet still retaining strength, its 30mm body tube houses the quality Zeiss lens system that offers clarity, definition and great low-light capabilities.

The pewter exterior finish is eye-catching and Zeiss has not cut any corners designing this scope.

It rivals the performance of their more expensive, top-of-the range scopes.

The lenses give great clarity and good colour retention, even in poor light, and the illumination system is compact and easy to use.

A two-second hold on the button turns the system on and the brightness is controlled by the negative and positive buttons.

The reticle choice is limited to one, and the product range is more limited than with other brands, but it makes up for itself in outright performance in the woods with a simple illumination system and superb lens clarity.

– Magnification: 2-8x zoom
– Objective Lens Diameter: 42mm
– Adjustment Clicks: 1cm at 100m
– Reticle: No. 60
– Body Tube Diameter: 30mm
– Length: 11.9in
– Weight: 18.3oz
– Features: Compact, easily adjustable reticle brightness
– Lens Quality 5/4.5
– Low Light Ability 5/4.5
– Value For Money 5/5

Any one of these scopes, when mounted to a rifle and taken into the field, will work without fault.

Some, however, are better than others with regard to layout, price, clarity and performance.

The Zeiss Duralyt, which offers superb illuminated optics at an incredible price is my top choice.

My next favourite is probably the Nightforce, as it offers excellent construction and performance despite its size, and the zero-stop feature allows a foolproof return to zero after elevation or windage adjustments.

Similarly, the Kahles never lets you down. I have used Kahles in the worst Scottish winters without fault, and I like the clarity and simple dot-illuminated reticle of this model.

The 1in tube is no disadvantage as the low-light performance is superb.

Swarovski has built its reputation on superbly crafted scopes and the Z6I does not disappoint, but it is expensive and the illumination controls can easily be turned on by mistake, which would result in a flat battery.

The big old Schmidt just keeps on selling because it?s a no-nonsense, well-built scope and is optically superior to most on the market.

It is expensive, but when you have trudged a mile in pelting rain at near-zero degrees and knocked the life out of your rifle, a Schmidt will always deliver that first well-aimed shot precisely where you want it.

That leaves the Leupold. Though it is cheaper than most, the Leupold still offers great performance backed by a lifetime?s warranty.

You probably will not need that warranty as Leupolds are built to last. The VX-R model is one of the best I have tested and would make a great deer or fox scope for all environments.

There is something here for everyone, but you should go to a local dealer or gunsmith and handle and look through the scopes in question to ascertain what suits your style of shooting.

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