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AR15 Mounts and Optics: Review: Sightron SIII 10-50x60 & Bushnell Elite 6500 4.5-30x50 Scope

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Review: Sightron SIII 10-50x60 & Bushnell Elite 6500 4.5-30x50 Scope

Rifle Scope Review: Sightron SIII SS 10-50x 60mm Fine Crosshair & Bushnell Elite 6500 4.5-30x 50mm Mil Dot

I had the pleasure of choosing from a handful of rifle scopes to review. In the end, like my other reviews, I decided to focus on specific scopes which are the best of the bunch. Coincidentally both these scopes are not on the cheap end of the spectrum, while also not on the extremely high end either when it comes to price range. With optics, you really get what you pay for in most cases. I did not bother including the cheaper models from other manufacturers in this review, you cannot compare them with their shortcomings against a quality scope. If you purchase a cheap scope thinking it will work just as good as a high quality scope and spending more money is a waste, I urge you to reconsider that line of thought. I understand money is an issue in some cases, which is why I suggest, save up and be patient, instead of making an ill advised decision to purchase an inferior scope you will end up selling in the long run. Before making a purchase, do your due diligence in research and read as many reviews as possible and educate yourself on scopes if you are new to the sport. This general saying usually holds true in most cases: Buy cheap, spend twice.

There are lots of options when choosing a scope from basic fixed power to variable power in tactical to target configurations. The idea is to pick the right scope with maximum versatility to meet all your shooting needs and buy it only once. Most quality scopes will last a lifetime and can be passed down to future generations. Choosing the right manufacturer which will honor defects and warranty issues is also important, so take time to read the fine print. Understanding how a scope works is critical to choosing the right scopes and there are a lot of helpful resources on the internet which in detail break down the inner workings of a scope. I will not get into details about the basic features of a scope, so I suggest you brush up on the basics before you get confused as you read on. If you need help or would like my suggestion feel free to email me.

Sightron SIII SS 10-50x 60mm is made in Japan with high quality glass and made from Aircraft grade aluminum. SIII is a big boy with a 60mm objective and really a work of art with a 30mm main tube which is twice as thick as 1” models to provide durability and ruggedness. This particular model is a two piece tube joined at the bell compared to other SIII models of lesser magnification which are a one piece design. Sightron has patented windage and elevation system which is unlike any other system out there on the market. Their ExacTrack system prevents any drift due to the way the erector and adjusters interact with each other. If you would like more information on this design click on this link ExacTrack (http://sightron.com/index.php?action=view_document&did=1201831270). Like most high end scopes it is weather and waterproof. The lens is ZACT-7 seven layers multi-coated and is nitrogen filled to prevent fogging. It is also tested for shock and recoil as expected. SIII has high profile target turrets which are resetable to zero with supplied allen key and come in 1/8 MOA clicks at 50-MOA total adjustment in windage and elevation. The turrets come with aluminum black coated covers with no markings. SIII comes configured from factory to 0 diopters but it can be changed with the fast focus eyeball adjuster. Parallax side adjustment on this scope is configurable from 10 yards to infinity. SIII comes packaged with a set of flip lens covers similar to Butler Creek as well as instruction manual, allen key, cloth scope cover and lens cleaning cloth. Best of all it comes with a Lifetime Warranty and the customer service is second to none, which I experienced firsthand.

Bushnell Elite 6500 4.5-30x 50mm is made to Bushnell’s specifications by one of the leading optics factories Japan. The Elite is a one piece design with a 30mm main tube made out of forged aluminum to offer maximum rigidity. Elite is Argon purged even though their website is not updated and states otherwise. Since 2011 all of the Elite series scopes have been upgraded with Argon vs traditional Nitrogen gas. The advantage of Argon is the atom size is bigger than Nitrogen atom so there is less chance it will bond with oxygen and form water droplets. Elite comes with multi-coated lenses and waterproof as expected. It is also recoil tested with thousands of rounds of 375 H&H Magnum. RainGuard HD is a big feature advertised for Elite series scopes. The patented hydrophobic lens does a superb job of preventing large beads of water from forming on the lens. The theory is smaller droplets of water scatter less light which makes the overall picture brighter and clearer. This link has additional details on RainGuardHD RainGuard HD (http://www.bushnell.com/rainguard/). Elite comes with finger resetable turrets which are 1/4 MOA clicks at 50-MOA total adjustment in windage and elevation. Out of the box the Elite comes with a 5” sunshade and plastic covers with bungee strings between them. Turrets come with aluminum covers and one of the covers has some gold colored markings and an engraved Bushnell logo while the other is plain black. There is a instruction manual with limited information and the Elite comes with only a one year no questions asked warranty and a lifetime warranty against defects.

I was impressed by the matte black finish and quality on both scopes. It is worth while mentioning, scopes which are more expensive, such as NightForce, also get their glass from Japan. I would not be surprised if they come from the same source Sightron or Bushnell uses but is finished in house. Both scopes have an adjustable eye piece so if you have flip lens covers they rotate with the eye piece which can be bothersome until you get it dialed in. This is the most popular design and I would assume this was an engineering decision based on tradeoffs between cost and design. SIII is a larger scope and weights about 8oz more than Elite. With a standard ring mount, the SIII 60mm objective might have clearance issues depending on the mount used and platform. I had these scopes mounted in one piece cantilever quick disconnect mounts, such as the American Defense AD-RECON, Burris & GG&G without any clearance issues on a AR flat top rail system (Check my Youtube channel [www.youtube.com/user/jetspeed81] for review on mounts). Even with the lowest profile mount ( AD-RECON) there was still about 2.5mm of space between the rail and 60mm objective. I personally like to have my scope as low as possible to the barrel for best cheek weld position.

SIII has true high profile target turrets while the Elite, has low profile target turrets. The adjustments on SIII turrets are very crisp and really audible in my opinion. Being it is 1/8th adjustment it is very fine, however not overly sensitive. They are easy to grasp due to the knurled ends and adjusting them with a glove is a breeze. I personally like the design of the turrets better on the SIII compared to the Elite but it is all subjective. The gold markings are all engraved which is appealing and clear to see. There are gold engraved hash marks for easy return to zero in both directions which is convenient. There is 10 minutes of adjustment per revolution so it is easy to keep track. One gripe I have is the direction indicator markings are on top of the turrets so you have to take your eye off the target to see them or just remember which direction to adjust. I use the right-hand-rule for adjustments if I forget which direction to adjust, however not all scopes follow the right-hand-rule method for adjustments, so check the markings on the turrets first. The Elite has slim short turrets with knurled ends which have very fine tight grooves, it makes them a pleasure to adjust with gloves. The Elite clicks are less audible and crisp than SIII without a doubt, there is no slop, however there is a slight play which is due to the design of pop up adjustable turrets. It is really a tradeoff between being able to zero quickly without any tools and having slightly less than perfect clicks. The Elite markings on the turrets are dark gold paint, not engraved like SIII which reduces cost but takes away from the overall theme and quality since the magnification markings are engraved and painted light gold. Just like SIII direction markings are on top of the turrets. The horizontal markings are painted white and only have hash mark indicators in one direction which is similar to tactical turrets. One could argue this scope is borderline a tactical scope and I believe that is the direction Bushnell was going in offering this versatile scope. There is 12 minutes of adjustment per revolution and True Mil-Dot can be achieved at 10X magnification which is colored red instead of light gold engraved markings on the magnifier ring, which makes it easy to find. Adjusting the magnification on SIII and Elite are easy since they both have raised ridges which are easy to grasp with bare hands or gloves. The advantage SIII has over the Elite is the ability to go up to 50x while the Elite has the ability go to down to 4.5x. One of the main differences between the turrets on these two is the Elite has finger resettable turrets so you can easily pop them up, zero them and forget about it, While the SIII requires a tool to reset, but as I discussed above this also causes slight play on the Elite turrets. The parallax knobs on both scopes are very firm and take a good grip to adjust, the upside is they will never move on their own. SIII has a infinity mark at one end while the rest are just basic engraved gold hash marks. The Elite has the same light gold engraved marking as magnifier ring and starts off with a 25 yard hash mark all the way to infinity, with hash marks in between with numerical yardage values which is a big plus.

The optical quality on both scopes is outstanding. SIII is comparable to Nightforce in my opinion and even when you have both scopes side to side it is very hard to see any difference. These non scientific tests were all conducted without sunshade on the Elite. The Elite at highest magnification (30x) compared to SIII at the same magnification is slightly darker in a low light conditions. Early morning there was little difference in contrast when sun was out. Keeping in mind the 60mm objective of SIII is key to gathering more light. Late afternoon when the sun was facing the objective there was a slight white-out affect on both scopes, but more apparent on the Elite. I put the sunshade on for this test and the white-out affect was reduced significantly however the image was also slightly darker in contrast so there is a tradeoff. Resolution on SIII was clear from center to edge but the Elite slightly lost sharpness around the very edge, thought not enough to notice unless you are specifically looking for it. The side parallax focus on both scopes helped quite a bit especially on SIII when getting into the higher magnification ranges. Depending on light conditions and mirage, higher magnification will vary in clarity and usefulness. The particular time of day when I was testing the maximum magnification had great light conditions and no mirage what so ever. SIII at the highest magnification, with some parallax adjustment, I could easily see .223/5.56 bullet holes at 100 yards. Out to ~300 yards I was still able to make out the bullet holes at 50x, but as temperatures got warmer as the day went on the mirage was noticeable and there was some image degradation as expected. Tracking on the SIII is unbelievable and I was amazed how well it performed. It returned to zero every time without a hitch. No matter what kind of abuse I threw at it the performance was flawless. Elite from 4.5x-30x is very versatile and usable at all magnifications. Elite passed the box test easily and was repeatable. It also handled all the abuse I threw at it and was predictable. At the lowest magnification this scope really shines and it really performs well. Without any mirage and some adjustment at 30x to get a perfect picture I was able to make out bullet holes at 200 yards easily. At 30x Elite exhibited some of the same problems I saw at 50x with SIII, so surprisingly, it just goes to show at maximum magnification of any scope there is always room for some improvement.

An important factor which separates these high quality scopes from cheaper scopes is proper eye relief and good Field of View. Eye relief on both scopes is advertised very conservatively, I was shocked how much eye relief there was with both scopes. Eye relief and Field of view is inversely related to magnification power. Eye relief on the SIII is anywhere from 3.5-5.25” which makes shooting a pleasure not having to worry about scope-eye related injuries. The Elite eye relief is about 3.5-7.75” again depending on magnification and it really shines in the lower magnification range. Both companies did a fantastic job of making sure there was at minimum a 3.5” eye relief at the highest magnification. Field of View is also a critical factor in choosing the right scope. The Elite at lowest magnification has an impressive FOV of ~22’ while at maximum magnification 30x, it is lacking with only ~3’ compared to SIII which has a FOV of ~5.9’ at 30x. It is slightly disappointing the Elite has such a small FOV at maximum magnification when SIII at 50x has a FOV of ~2.2’ However SIII at lowest magnification 10x, has a disappointing FOV with only ~9.6’ when compared to Elite at 10x with ~17.7’ While naturally you would expect there to be some tunnel vision there is no such problem with these scopes. Testing these scopes in different light conditions did not affect field of view in any way and the sight picture was wide and clear. Eye relief did not change as the light conditions changed throughout the day which is a big plus.

There is always room for improvement no matter how expensive or cheap a product is. What I would have liked to see included with this SIII model is sunshades. Other SIII models come with sunshades, so why they did not include such an inexpensive item is mind boggling. Also additional MOA adjustment would be nice on both scopes. With a 20MOA base shooting out to 1000 yards this would put you near the end of elevation adjustment range to zero out to 100 yards. While it is not a big problem, I prefer to stay in the middle of the elevation range as much as possible because of the circular adjustment range design. Depending on the design of the scope, when elevation is maxed out, it has a tendency to slightly shift in elevation when there is windage correction due to the way the eractor tube moves inside the main tube. Most scopes come with circular adjustment vs. rectangular, the benefit of rectangular adjustment is the erector will never run into the main tube wall and allow maximum allotted adjustment in both elevation and windage without any ill affect when maxes out. However the major downside is limited total MOA travel, close to a 50% loss of overall travel since the erector tube is circular and limiting the movement to a rectangular pattern you lose almost half of overall MOA adjustment. Circular adjustment while offering more MOA travel on paper, when either elevation or windage is maxed out the other adjustment is severely limited. For example, elevation is maxed out and the erector tube is basically a hair from touching the main tube wall. Small windage adjustment is made till there is resistance but it is far the maximum allowed windage travel listed on paper. Not knowing this, people force the windage and cause the erector tube to run into the main tube wall not only causing a shift in zero but possibly damaging the scope. Both these scopes are utilizing circular adjustment range and when the turrets hit the stops, it is evident and not possible to adjust further causing internal damage. While I did not want to risk damaging these scopes by forcing the issue I did test a cheaper scope I have and sure enough the $100 scope is going straight to the trash because it is useless now. While there is certainly a trade off in which type of adjustment is best, most manufacturers use the circular adjustment range because it offers more MOA travel, however the downside is once you max out either elevation or windage the other adjustment is limited. I would like to see Bushnell come with lens caps instead of the bungee bikini cover. The SIII caps work well like Butler Creek caps and I will not be replacing them unless they break. While this is not a deal breaker, I would like to see more information on Bushnell website with respect to scope measurements and a more informative owner’s manual. Elite comes with a more clicks than advertised with 212 clicks total in elevation and 213 clicks total in windage from zero. Bushnell claims this scope is 50-MOA however this scope came in at 55 MOA total in elevation and 55.25 MOA windage. SIII on the other hand was short 1 click from zero, 199 clicks in both elevation and windage. This equates to 49.75 MOA in both elevation and windage. I expected this, so it was not a big deal compared to some of the cheaper scopes which were short up to 7 MOA. However the Elite with an additional ~5MOA was a pleasant surprise not often heard of.

Now while these two scopes might be different animals since one can be used for F-Class shooting and other is for closer range bordering a tactical scope they are both great scopes in the price range. SIII 10-50x comes in five variants of reticles to choose from while Elite 4.5-30x has three options. Both scopes are designed with the reticle installed in the second focal plane, however Bushnell does offer a series of tactical scopes with the reticles on the first focal plane. The magnification in my opinion is a matter of preference, while some like to keep it low and others want the highest they can get. Based on mirage and light conditions you will need to adjust accordingly, so having a variable powered scope over the best fixed powered scope is a no brainer in my opinion. Higher magnification allows for more precise sight picture, while lower magnification offers a much wider field of view. Bigger is not always better, but in case of objectives, when light conditions are not optimal bigger objective will gather more light. The turrets on both scopes have nice solid clicks so there is no issue with ghost clicks which I experienced on cheaper scopes. MOA click adjustments are really subjective as to what kind of shooting you do in conjunction with what mount you use on what platform. If you are shooting at 1000 yards vs. 100 yards ill take 1/8th, but if you are shooting less than 300 yards 1/4th might be preferred. One point is pretty clear and I will say it again, if you buy a cheap optic, you will never be as happy with a better quality optic which costs more. To sum it all up I’m very pleased with Bushnell and Sightron as companies who stand behind their products and offer quality optics at an affordable price. Depending on what type of shooting you like to do you can’t go wrong with either of these two scopes.

Video of turret clicks Siii vs. Elite


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    11/26/2011 05:14 AM


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