Sniper riflescopes are a specific niche of optics designed as a war instrument paired with a sniper rifle. They are purpose-built for man hunting on the battlefield.
Luckily, sniper scopes are not designed only to use in military operations, but hunters can also use them for long-range hunting. Whether you are an avid hunter or a seasoned shooter, good sniper scopes can dramatically improve your marksmanship and give an overall positive experience.
Anyway, the sniper scope is not your everyday glass sighting system since this type of scope is generally designed for military and law enforcement use, complying with the strictest technical definition issued by military officials.
Speaking of sniper scopes, there is no one size fits all. For example, the US Armed Forces use various sniper scope types designed for weapon platforms and battlefield conditions.
What to consider when buying a sniper scope?
When looking for the best sniper scope, you may encounter different kinds of sniper riflescopes designed for different purposes. So, don’t be confused with several terms like tactical, target and long-range scopes that are interchangeably used for sniper scopes.
While sniper scopes are a specific type of long-range riflescope, the term tactical scope is the only one that can be used as a synonym with sniper scopes. They often have reticles in the first focal plane and exposed turrets for quick, easy adjustment.
On the other side, the target scopes are meant for pinpoint accuracy. Hence, they tend to have even higher magnification than sniper scopes with fine and more complicated “Christmas tree” type reticles.
Although sniper scopes are also optimized for the highest possible precision, their more important feature is the capability of hitting the target with a first shot. It means that glass quality, fast target acquisition and increased situational awareness are of much higher importance than consistent pinpoint accuracy.
The snipers are long-range shooters, but they don’t need huge magnification or gargantuan objective bells. Anything within 50-56mm and in the 4-25x range should work well for sniper shooters.
While many refer to sniper scopes as optics for long-range shooting, you may need them for shooting targets just a couple of hundred yards away at max. It means you don’t always need high magnification because too high a magnification level can limit your field of view.
Tactical rifle scopes must have fingertip adjustable turrets with quick-moving and reliable adjustment mechanisms to adjust the windage and elevation quickly.
For this overview, we selected several quality tactical/sniper scopes with variable magnification and other features designed to acquire targets at longer distances.
1. Schmidt & Bender PM II 5-25×56
There is no one marksman who didn’t hear of four magnificent European optics brands: Zeiss, Swarovski, Schmidt & Bender and Kahles. While the other three manufacturers lean more towards the civilian market, Schmidt & Bender is a genuine benchmark for every elite military or professional shooter in the optics industry.
This Germany-based optics manufacturer offers several in-house product lines in Germany and Hungary. Among others, the PM series of riflescopes is their most popular lineup designed for professional use by police, military and law enforcement agencies worldwide.
The PM stands for Police Marksman, and as its name says, Schmidt & Bender, or for short S&B, developed these high-end rifle scopes for all demanding situations and to meet all the harshest police and military standards.
Without a doubt, the Schmidt & Bender PM tactical scopes are top-of-the-line products equipped with numerous high-end features. The main features of these sniper scopes are the first focal plane reticle, 5x, 6x, or even 9 times zoom factor, zero-stop, tactile locking turrets, extremely comprehensive total adjustment range and parallax compensation.
Schmidt & Bender Police Marksman II 5-25×56 PMII is the second generation featuring even more advanced optical and mechanical improvements.
All S&B 5-25×56 PM II scopes are fitted with 5x optical zoom and a maximum magnification of 25x, which is ideal for long-range and extremely long-range tactical and target shooting.
The Police Marksman II series boasts MTC or More Tactile Clicks turrets (every 10th click is stronger) and DT or Double Turn elevation turret, which offers 26 MRAD of travel. These locking turrets also offer a ZS feature or a Zero Stop.
The 5-25×56 PM II is available with 23 illuminated and 9 non-illuminated reticles, either in the first or second focal plane, but the standard configuration is the first focal plane.
The housing for the fully multi-coated optics is a single aluminum tube with a 34mm diameter, which is Nitrogen-filled and waterproof.
As the upper-end long-range sniper scope, the Schmidt & Bender PM II 5-25×56 is the gold standard of sniper-grade glass. The PM II’s massive 56mm objective lens provides extraordinary light transmission, bright resolution and razor-sharp edge-to-edge clarity.
With more than 30 different reticle options, three different colors and different turret styles, the 5×25 PM II from S&B is known for a vast number of derivatives.
2. Leupold Mark 5HD 3.6-18x44mm
One of the most durable sniper scopes comes from one of the world’s most respected optic manufacturers, Leupold & Stevens, Inc.
Unlike the premium Leupold Mark 6 and Mark 8 lines of tactical scopes, a Mark 5HD series is designed at a more consumer-friendly price point, offering somewhat less optical/mechanical quality and performance.
This tactically orientated Leupold scope is intended for the civilian marketplace and serious shooter or hunter.
The Leupold Mark 5HD 3.6-18×44 riflescope features a typical hunting magnification range of 3.6-18x and 44mm objective lens diameter.
While there are many 6-24 and 5-25 magnification scopes, this Leupold Mark 5HD comes with 3.6-18x zoom and a 5:1 zoom ratio. The optics’ high-speed power selector features a built-in quick-turn throw lever for smooth and reliable operation.
With 35mm tube construction, this scope is built to last, but at the same time, measuring 12.06 inches in length and weighing in at 26 ounces, the Mark 5HD 3.6-18×44 represents one of the lightest and shortest sniper scopes within its magnification range.
All Mark 5HD series scopes use the Twilight Max HD Light Management System to give you an incredibly bright sight picture and provide extended shooting time during low light conditions in dusk and dawn.
The Leupold Mark 5HD 3.6-18×44 boasts low-profile turrets with their new M1C3 ZeroLock adjustments with a 3-turn dial at .25 MOA per click.
Although lightweight and compact, the optic is built to withstand the harshest conditions and punishing recoil of high-powered calibers like .338 Lapua or .300 Win Mag.
3. Swarovski Z5 5-25×52 BT
Although Swarovski Optik’s target markets are hunters and civilian shooters, they also have something to offer to professionals and those marksmen who like long-range shooting.
The Swarovski Z5 model 59884 comes in standard sniper zoom configuration 5-25x and, with a large 5:1 zoom ratio, offers maximum precision at long distances.
The Swarovski Z5 line features a compact and lightweight 1” tube design, making it an ideal tool for accurate long-range shots in the mountains or on rough terrain.
Combining crystal-clear optics and a reliable, sturdy mechanical design, the Z5 5-25×52 riflescope provides excellent resolution and contrast with 90 % light transmission and offers a 65% greater field of view than its counterparts.
Weighing 17.5 ounces, this slender, high-precision scope is versatile and suitable for several hunting scenarios.
Along with excellent optical properties, this Z5 sports a 52-millimeter objective lens, a compromise between large 56mm and modest 50mm bells. This combo allows for a low profile on the rifle and delivers optical performance rarely achieved by 1-inch scopes at an affordable price tag.
You can choose several reticles, all set in the second focal plane. There are also newer Z5i models available with an illuminated reticle. One of the main selling points of the Z5 series is the lateral parallax dial and ballistic turrets. These turrets are pre-set to four separate range zeros making the Swarovski Z5 5-25x an exceptionally accurate tool no matter how far away your target may be.
With much smaller and lighter dimensions than its comparable competition, the Z5 5-25×52 would be especially useful for long-distance hunting without breaking your budget limits.
4. Zeiss Conquest V6 5-30×50
Another great scope comes from Carl Zeiss AG, a famous European manufacturer with a reputation for the very best glass quality in the industry.
While being a level below the Victory scopes, the Zeiss flagship series, the Conquest V6 line as the middle class, is well above many other competitors at a similar price point.
The new Zeiss Conquest V6 riflescopes feature a true 6x zoom and 30mm tube, and they are available in three configurations.
For this guide, we selected Zeiss V6 5-30×50, a perfect setup for long-range and precision shooting.
This German optical system is made to meet modern standards, featuring FL (Fluoride) Schott glass, a lockable external turret and T* six-layer multi-coating lens.
The fluoride element in the Zeiss Conquest V6 makes the glass quality a step above HD lenses, allowing a 92 percent light transmission and providing some of the sharpest, high-contrast images.
Furthermore, the combination of 50mm objective, T* and hydrophobic LotuTec coatings offers crystal-clear and sharp images from edge to edge in low-light situations.
The 5-30×50 model has exposed elevation and windage turrets with a Zeiss Ballistic Stop feature. Like all high-quality and popular long-range scopes, the Conquest V6 5-30×50 also features ¼ MOA click adjustments and side parallax.
Our Conquest V6 5-30×50 model comes with ZBR-2 Christmas tree-style reticle designed for sniper-level, extreme-distance shooting. This second focal plane and MOA ballistic reticle are particularly suitable for long-range shooting and hunting. In addition, even the most demanding users will find that the ZBR reticle would allow them to engage multiple targets at different distances quickly.
5. Vector Optics Continental 34 mm 3-18×50 FFP
The best sniper scopes don’t come only from the Old Continent or the USA; nowadays, these superb optics instruments also come from the Far East and are often labeled Made in China.
The Shanghai-based Vector Optics is one of the finest Chinese manufacturers of top-rated rifle scopes, with more than 15 years of experience in this field.
Along with a wide pallet of optics and accessories related to these products, this China’s top maker of sport optics offers a wide variety of high-quality riflescopes classified into more than ten series.
The Continental is a class of high-quality Vector Optics rifle scopes designed for tactical shooting that can compete with scopes priced in quadruple figures.
However, Vector Optics developed and released the new top premium line with a 34mm diameter main tube that has succeeded the standard 30mm Continental range. Compared to the old SFP Continental, the brand-new Continental 34 mm has a reticle located in the first focal plane (FFP).
The 34mm monotube of these new, top-of-the-range Vector scopes houses the German Schott HD glass that provides over 90% light transmission with minimal distortion making it well-suited for low-light use.
In addition, the newest Vector Optics riflescope is equipped with extra-low dispersion LaREE lenses coated with VePRO full multi-coatings to provide clarity, light transmission and image quality well above its price point.
Along with three other tactical rifle scopes from the Continental 34 mm series, we opt for the 3-18×50 FFP as the most versatile and suitable for various types of shooting and hunting.
Like other 34mm Continentals, the 3-18×50 features a body of 6061 T6 aluminum alloy, a true 6x zoom factor and constant 4″ eye relief.
This scope comes with tactical-style MIL turrets with a locking system and elevation/windage adjustment of 44/44 MIL with a 0.1 MIL click.
The Continental 34 mm 3-18×50 boasts an etched glass VCT-34FFP Christmas tree-style MIL reticle. Whereas this Christmas tree-style reticle has 6 levels of red illumination, the scope has a fast-focus eyepiece and an incredible side focus that controls parallax from 10 yards to infinity.
Unlike other unreliable Chinese optics of low quality, Vector Optics delivers excellent products of high quality that are thoroughly inspected and tested.
Sniper rifle scopes are specialized optics designed to ensure a clean shot at long range so they can be quite expensive and complex.
Sniper Scopes are generally made with high-quality materials to endure extreme circumstances, and because of that, you should look at them as a long-term investment.
While we have reviewed some premium and some more budget-friendly scopes in this guide, it’s always on you, and your shooting needs what sniper scope you will select.
As always, the better-informed customer can make a better-informed decision.
L.P. Brezny is a highly respected and experienced shotgun expert and author with over 50 years in the industry and testing lab. He has contributed to numerous firearms publications, including Wildfowl, Shotgun Sports, and Varmint Hunters, and is a regular columnist for Gun Digest and AmmoLand News.