Dark Lord of Optics
Location: United States
Tweener scopes are an interesting breed.
They are somewhat unpopular these days: most of the attention goes either to Hubble sized scope used for low light and long range shooting and to low range variables of 1-4x24 configuration which are both "tacti-cool" and have the aura of being DGR scopes.
The middle of the road (3-9x40 or thereabouts) scopes get some attention from hunters, but that is largely it.
So what is a tweener scope? Honestly, I am not sure who came up with the term "tweener". I have been using it for a few years, but I am pretty sure I saw it somewhere.
Tweener scopes are, loosely, scopes that have objective diameters below the common 40mm diameter, but are not straight tubed. Most common magnification range for a tweener scope is something along the lines of 2-8x, and the most common objective diameter is around 32mm.
For the sake of the discussion, I will define "tweener" scopes the following way:
I am intentionally not mentioning weight or overall length, since they vary greatly. I do, however, want to weed out some ultra compact scopes since their usefullness is limited to only certain applications and their design has some limitations imposed to by trying to make them extra short (Burris TImberline/Short Mag scopes, for example). While tweener scopes are fairly compact, the best ones of the breed (IMO) are not overly short allowing their mounting on long actions.
By specifying the magnification range, I am also weeding out a few very capable scopes like Burris Signature Safari 1.75-5x32 and Weaver Grand Slam 1.75-5x32. While these are excellent and much more versatile than most people give them credit for, I think they are aimed at different audiences and should be considered low range variables instead (another class of scopes I take a lot of interest in).
Why do I like tweener scopes? There are several reasons. These scopes bridge the gap between low-range/DGR variables and full-size hunting scopes. They offer enough magnification to shoot quite far out. They offer sufficiently low magnification and wide field of view for fast shooting if need be. While not optimal for low light, they have enough exit pupil for good low light performance at 4-5x.
From an optical standpoint, these scopes are not too difficult to build, so you can expect nice performance even at a moderate price point. One caveat is that this "ease of design" can be easily countered by trying to make the scope too short. One feature that is not talked about much is that the combination of a fairly long optical system and small objective lens yields greater depth of field. That is one of the reasons why I added a requirement that they should be mountable on long-action scopes. In practical terms, that implies mounting length of at least 5" or so. The overall length usually works out to be something between 11" and 13". If you look up the specs of the scopes I list below, you will see that vast majority of them have overall length between 11" and 11.5". Additionally, "tweener" configuration typically allows for generous and flexible eyerelief. As far as reticles go, I prefer highly visible reticles that work well in low light (like the #4). I will go over the reticle selection in available scopes a bit further below, but I am generally disappointed in most of the choices.
Until recently, the best (once again, in my opinion) tweener scope has been Kahles CL 2-7x36. It is small and light while still having very good low light performance. Mine has a very visible #4 reticle. The catch is that Kahles does not currently have a US distributor and I have no idea about what is going to happen to Kahles in North America. I hope they will partner with a new distributor soon.
Of the currently available tweener scope, here are the better ones that I can think of that are made by reputable manufacturers:
Bushnell Elite 6500 1.25-8x32
Zeiss Conquest 2.5-8x32
Leupold VX-3 2.5-8x36
Nikon Monarch 2-8x32
Vortex Viper 2-7x32
Sightron S2 2.5-10x32
Here are a few more by the same manufacturers that are a bit cheaper (and lower performing):
Leupold VX-II 2-7x33
Vortex Diamondback 2-7x35
Burris Fulfield II 2-7x35
Bushnell Elite 3200 2-7x32
Weaver Classic 2.5-7x32
There are some others I left out either because I have not run into them a whole lot or because I do not consider them to be worth the money. Additionally, there are a few that are quite a bit more expensive and are targeted at somewhat different markets: for example there are a couple of very nice IOR scopes that are aimed at the tactical market (2-12x32 and 2-12x36), and a well regarded Nightforce 2.5-10x32.
For the time being I will stick to the scopes in the first group and discuss their comparative merits. To forewarn the inevitable question of "which one is tougher", I would expect all of these scopes to be equally durable. Either way, I do not have the means to conduct a statistically meaningful study needed to determine a particular design's durability.
Kahles CL 2-7x36
This scope is/was available with either plex or #4 reticle either with Multizero or with a normal elevation knob. The one I have has the Multizero know which works well, but is ultimately unnecessary for a scope of this type. As far as reticles go, the #4 is one of my favourite allround choices and that is how my Kahles is configured. Optically, Kahles CL is the best 1" tube scope I have ever seen. Mechanically, the adjustments are spot on and the scope has not given me any trouble so far. It sits on one of my favourite rifles: a Tikka chambered for 280Rem. From the low light performance stand point, this is the best of the tweener scope and by a good margin. The eyepiece is of fairly large diameter, but it has not given me any trouble. I think it matches well with the 36mm objective.
Bushnel Elite 6500 1.25-8x32
I have only seen this scope at the SHOT show, although I hope to get my hands on one some time this year (with the economy being what it is, I am obvously not planning to spend too much money on optics this year, so we'll see). Optically, this scope is very good as is the rest of the Elite 4200/6500 line. Mechanical quality and durability should be very good as well, but this is a new design and time will tell. For the time being, there is only one reticle available: plex, which is really this scope's only let down in my opinion. Still, it s versatilty is unmatched in this group due to a large magnification range. Additionally, eye relief is impressively long at "5-6" or so. This scope seems to be designed for rifles with kick: 5" of eye relief AND 5.9" of mounting length. This is the only scope here with a 30mm tube, and it is the heaviest of the group. The overall size is still pretty trim though. Since I have only seen this scope once, I do not recall the exact dimensions of the reticle and the eyepiece, but I recall that the eyepiece seemed of fairly normal size and the reticle seemed quite thin.
Zeiss Conquest 2.5-8x32
This is one of the heavier and longer tweener scopes, but is still reasonably small. Optically, it is a touch below the Kahles, but still excellent as is the rest of the Conquest line. Eye
Those who are merciful to the cruel, are cruel to the merciful. Talmud