When you hit the Athlon Optics web page, there is not a lot of information about the company or its history. The “about us” page talks about relationships with manufacturers and a lot of big words describing supply lines and distribution channels and that they are a USA company with engineering capability. All of this was provided as reasons why they could produce feature rich products at competitive prices. We were hoping for more. Athlon has been around for several years and besides not really knowing much about the company, we can only say that they are another of the optics companies providing OEM scopes here in the USA. We had had several requests to perform a review of one of their higher end scopes to see how they compare and if they are suitable for tactical use, so when the opportunity arose, we decided to take it and see how these scopes did. The scope we are reviewing here is the Ares BTR 4.5-27x50mm FFP scope with MIL adjustments.
The scope arrived in a nice looking box with an instruction manual, battery for the illuminated reticle, Allen wrench and a lens cloth. Standard items for a rifle scope these days. As is normal for us, the first thing we did is flip the scope upside down and read where the scope was manufactured, which in this case is China. Most of you know our experiences with Chinese made rifle scopes and that they have not been positive, but we are still willing to approach our reviews of Chinese scopes with an open mind and just let the results tell the story.
The Ares BTR features a fast focus eyepiece with a thin rubber cap on the end to help protect the eye in case of unfortunately eye contact during firing. The adjustable eyepiece itself does not have any indicator mark to help return it to a known setting, so its a matter of either leaving it as is, or adjusting it each time a different shooter uses the scope. The eyepiece covers the entire adjustment range in about 1.75 turns. During that adjustment range, it is mostly smooth, though we noticed a few bits of notchiness on a few of the spins from extreme to extreme. When the eyepiece is adjusted all the way out, there is little to no side to side movement showing good build quality on the eyepiece. There are some light serrations on the eyepiece to help provide a bit of grip when adjusting it.
In front of the eyepiece is the zoom adjustment ring with markings at various intervals from 4.5 – 27x. This zoom range is a 6x magnification range which provides an immense level of flexibility. With a zoom range that great, the quality of engineering and manufacturing becomes even more important. The zoom control itself has some moderate knurling on it as well as a thumb protrusion to help with gripping the control while adjusting the magnification. That thumb knob is necessary as the zoom ring requires a good amount of force to adjust and the knurling is not very aggressive so the knob is needed for grip. The control is smooth through the entire range.
The tube is a single piece aluminum tube that is 30mm in diameter. In front of the zoom control ring there is fairly short 1.82″ of length to use for the rear scope mount, at which point there is a cube shaped shoulder that the control knobs are mounted on.
The external adjustment knobs are large, but not overly so, and have some of the similar knurling as is found on the zoom control. That light knurling is not an issue with the control knobs as the clicks are light and do not require much force to adjust. There are some directional markings along with horizontal hashes on the tower that the elevation and windage knobs are mounted on as well as direction markings on top of the knobs. The numerical markings on the knob itself are relatively small, but clear and easy to read, as are the individual hashes marking the clicks.
This version of the Ares BTR is calibrated in MIL so each click represents .1 MIL and there are a full 10 MIL per revolution allowing a .308 Win shooting M118LR ammo to go from 100 to over 900 yards in a single rotation of the dial (Standard atmospheric conditions). The factory indicates that there is a total of 24 MIL of adjustment within the scope and our test sample had 23.3 MIL (80.15 MOA), so a tad less than the factory specs. The scope does have a zerostop feature that is set by removing the knob and setting a large 1/8″ thick ring at the base of the internal post using three set screws. It is pretty straight forward and works well. The clicks themselves are light and semi-muted, and while a slightly firmer click might be preferred, there is no slop between the clicks, which is a marked improvement over typical Chinese made scopes.
The windage knob is pretty much the same as the elevation knob except for the markings and the fact that there is no zero stop. The markings go up in both directions and each numeral is trailed by a R or L to make it clear which direction the scope has been adjusted in. The overlap in numbers happens at 5 MIL which provides enough windage to adjust the same M118LR ammo in a 10 MPH crosswind out well beyond 1300 yards without overlapping. The clicks are the same style click with light force as the elevation knob.
On the opposite side of the shoulder we find the combination controls for both the adjustable objective and the illuminated reticle. The adjustable objective is located closest to the shoulder and is marked from 25 yards to infinity, with the entire range being covered in only half of a revolution. This does not give much room for fine tuning the focus, especially at the longer ranges since a full two-thirds of that adjustment range is covered with the settings from 25 to 100 yards. The control does move smoothly and does not require a lot of force, which is good due to the location of the knob and only being able to use the tips of your fingers to adjust it due to the illumination controls set on top. That illumination control has six brightness levels for the reticle with an off position between each one. The control is stiff and requires some hefty twisting, but it works as expected. The brightness levels are pretty good with the lowest setting just barely visible in low light, just as it should be. The brightest settings (5 and 6) are probably too bright and would likely not often be used.
In front of the shoulder there is an additional 2.3″ of tube length to use to mount the forward scope mounting ring. From there the tube tapers up into the bell that houses the 50mm objective lens. This bell housing is threaded for a sun shade, but there is not one provided with the scope. The scope is finished in a matte black anodizing and the majority of the markings are done in white. The scope is not too large with an overall length of 13.8″ (351mm) and a weight of 27.3 ounces (1.7 lbs).
The reticle in the MIL version of the scope is known as the APLR3 which is a hash based MIL reticle with a Christmas tree style reticle below the horizontal stadia. It is a bit busy with all of the hashes and numeric labeling and with such a large zoom range (4.5-27x) the first focal plane reticle gets quite large and hectic when at higher zoom powers. This is not uncommon for this style of reticle. Only the interior portion of the reticle, with all the hashes, is illuminated, and something we found odd is that the actual numerical numbers on the reticle are not fully illuminated and they almost look like residual spots (see the image below) with the numbers unrecognizable.
For our operational tests, we mounted the scope to our normal Remington 700 test rifle using a set of Leupold Mk4 30mm rings mounted to the Warne 20 MOA rail. Everything mounted with no issues and with the scope boresighted we headed to the range for the shooting evaluations and testing. The weather was a partly overcast sky with temps in the mid 50’s with little to no wind. Good Montana shooting weather.
The optical quality on the scope was okay, the one area we found to be lacking was when the scope was cranked all the way up to 27x and looking at a 100 yard target, the resolution was not sharp, almost like there was a haze. If you back the power down to 20x or so, it was much better. Lots of times this is where the larger 56mm objectives help out on these higher magnification settings. It wasn’t horrible, but you just were always wanting the picture to be more crisp. The higher 27 power combined with a 50mm objective lens creates a small exit pupil of only 1.85mm, and with your eye pupil being around 5mm in diameter it makes getting a full scope picture without scope shadow very sensitive at the highest powers. I think this also what happens with the resolution as well. It is just cramming a lot of light and image into a very small exit pupil possibly causing those resolution issues we saw, but I’m not an optical engineer to know that for sure. Perhaps it is just not having enough focus range on that adjustable objective.
Using Federal Gold Medal Match 168gr ammunition we began the shooting portion of the evaluation by shooting the scope through a 2 MIL square box to test the tracking and repeatability of the scope. We found no issues with the box test and then moved to the click adjustment size test. Firing the first group, which measured about .75 MOA and then dialing in 6 MIL of left adjustment we fired the second group, which was about the same size. Finally we dialed the 6 MIL of right back into the scope and fired a final round to be sure it tracked right back to the first group, which it did. The distance between the two groups measured 21.49″, compared to the expected 21.6″, leaving an error of less than 1%, which is an excellent result. There is always some fudge factor in there because of the group sizes not being a single hole and us measuring from center to center of the groups, but this is as accurate as we could expect from a scope.
Our final operational test consists of checking for reticle drift when going through the full range of the adjustable objective as well as the magnification dial. There are a lot of moving parts within a modern rifle scope and this test shows us the initial build quality and engineering of the scope. So we mounted our boresight grid to the rifle and started out tests with the magnification adjustment. The reticle was steady through the zoom range with perhaps just a very slight movement toward the top of the range, but it was almost imperceptible. The adjustable objective showed a more obvious reticle shift with about .5 MIL of movement at the lower end of the adjustable objective range, from the marked 25y to just above 50y on the dial. This actually is common with scopes and we have asked numerous times why scope manufactures try to make their AOs go down to those close ranges on a long range scope with 27x of magnification? The movement is pronounced on this scope, but a sniper will not likely use rifle system at ranges as close as 40 yards. This is especially perplexing when you consider the remaining control input from 100y to infinity takes up a very small portion of the AO knob. In our mind, start the knob at 40 or 50y and give your scope more room to fine tune the focus at the ranges where the scope will be used at. Several times during our testing we found ourselves wanting more adjustment range with the AO to try and get a sharper picture.
When the testing was all said and done we found ourselves with probably the best results of a Chinese made scope yet. At nearly $800 street price, the scope needed to be better than its other Chinese made rivals and it is. But we find ourselves looking at a scope that is trying to do too much. If Athlon were to back off the zoom to a 4 or 5x zoom range, such as 5-20x, then the smaller objective would not hurt it as much and the resolution would be better. Start that AO at 40 or 50y and give more refinement and adjustment range to the AO on the upper end. Tone down the reticle and simplify it with less markings and make it streamlined. Then you have a scope that is starting to get more serious. It is not all about just adding features, but rather adding usability and capability. The FFP is nice, the controls are okay, and the clicks are even good (best of the Chinese scopes). It is just kind of like the new kid on the playground who tries to show off about everything to everyone. Just do the right things the right way and not try to do everything with more bravado. All in all, it is a solid effort, provided good quality materials were used and it holds up over time.