If you're looking to upgrade but can’t afford to splurge on top-of-the-line models, the scopes in this category, offer exceptional value. They're made of quality components, and have high density (HD) extra-low dispersion (ED) glass, which minimizes chromatic aberrations, or color fringing, and delivers bright images even at dawn and dusk.
Size emerged as one of the most-discussed characteristics in this category. That's because the Kowa TSN-553 and Vortex Razor HD 50, which took best in class, are small in comparison to many of the other contenders. Don’t be fooled by their petite appearance, though—both are compact but mighty, delivering outstanding image quality in the midday sun and at dusk, and great feel overall. Multiple reviewers commented that they’d like to slip one or both in their jacket (a refrain so oft repeated that the editor running the trials kept an especially paranoid eye on the optics).
After you’ve taken a stroll through these scopes, check out the top picks for the other two categories in our complete Audubon Guide to Scopes.
The takeaway: The two models earned the exact same score for color quality, but the TSN-553 edged out the Razor (by a few hundredths of a point) due to higher ratings for zoom, ease of focus, and edge-to-edge focus. “Remarkable for such a compact body,” said one reviewer.
More specs: 15-45x magnification; 55mm objective lens; 16mm eye relief; 28.6 oz
Vortex Razor HD 50
The takeaway: The Razor is also optically excellent, and the image sharpness was nearly as good at high magnification as at low magnification. One downside: Our eyeglass wearers weren’t fans of the fold-down, as opposed to twist, eyecup.
More specs: 11-33x magnification; 50mm objective lens; 19-16mm eye relief; 25 oz
Nikon Monarch ED
The takeaway: Our guinea pigs went gaga over the zoom on the Monarch, and gave it high marks for overall image quality. Bespectacled users, however, weren’t thrilled with the eye relief.
More specs: 20-60x magnification; 82mm objective lens; 57.2 oz
Vortex Razor HD
The takeaway: Like its smaller cousin above, this Razor delivered sharp, bright images with really nice color rendition. It simply didn’t score as well on the overall feel.
More specs: 22-48x magnification; 65mm objective lens; 17-16.7mm eye relief; 56.8 oz
Meopta MeoPro HD
The takeaway: Testers liked the bright image the MeoPro produced, but found that the scope didn’t focus as well at higher magnifications as the other contenders.
More specs: 20-60x magnification; 80mm objective lens; 18.5mm eye relief; 67.97 oz