In the United States, Leupold is probably one of the most trusted brands of scopes and they could even be considered one of the pioneers in the tactical scope market as well. They developed their Mark 4 series of scopes back in the 1980’s and their very durable Mark 4 Ultra M3A (M3 Alpha) is still in use on the original US Army M24 today. They also developed their Mark 4 Ultra 16x scope for use on the big 50 BMG sniper rifles back in the late 20th century as well and that scope has over 140 MOA of vertical adjustment, which was just about unheard of back in the early 1990’s. Of course today there are a lot of other very high quality tactical scope options available and there are many new features that tactical shooters desire and may even need. Leupold has not been resting on their laurels and they have been hard at work developing new product lines that are relevant to today’s tactical rifles and needed by modern sniper teams. The scope we are reviewing here is one of their latest in their tactical scope lineup, the Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25x56mm M5B2 tactical rifle scope.
The Mark 8 comes well packaged in a large Leupold box and of course comes with all of the normal documentation including an instruction manual, reticle information, warranty card, a battery for the illuminated reticle, Allen wrench, butler creek flip up lens caps and something that Leupold does not normally include with their scopes, a sun shade. Leupold has sunshades for just about every scope they sell, but normally they are available separately for purchase and not included. The Mark 8 has a suggested retail price of over $5000 USD, so I suspect that they figured they could include a sunshade that normally runs about $40.
As is the trend with high-end tactical scopes these days, the Mark 8 is a very large scope. Part of the large scope trend is having a larger diameter tube which allows for more elevation adjustments. The more common large tube diameter is 34mm, but this Mark 8 scope has a 35mm tube, which is odd because the Leupold Mark 6 line of scopes, as well as their Mark 8 1.1-8x24mm scope, all have a 34mm tube. In fact, Leupold, as of yet, does not even make their excellent Mark 4 tactical rings in 35mm, only 34mm. I have not yet heard why they elected to go with 35mm on this scope versus the 34mm, but regardless of the tube diameter, the scope is large. The length is a respectable 16″, but the girth is a heavy 37 ounces, over two pounds, and all of the other dimensions are significant. We have commented a number of times about the size of these new generation tactical scopes, but we have to admit it cannot be argued that they certainly do have remarkable capability and features. Just be aware that if your plans are to have a compact and light weight sniper rifle system, these new extra-large scopes may not fit those requirements.
The tube of the Mark 8 is made of 6061-T6 aircraft grade aluminum and while we could not find any mention by Leupold that it is indeed a one piece tube, it at least appears to be so. Like all of the Leupold tactical scopes the tube body is finished in a nice matte black anodized finish that is even and consistent over the entire scope and has a nice matte luster to it. All of the markings are done in an off white color and while Leupold typically does a nice job of keeping extra markings to a minimum on their tactical scopes, the Mark 8 has two very large Logo’s, one on the windage knob, the other on the focus knob that probably should not be on a tactical scope. It does not do much good to sub-due the scope markings and make it matte black and then plaster big white Leupold logos on the extra-large knobs. Nitpicky? Yes. But in our opinion, if you are going to go tactical, then go tactical all the way.
Most of the Leupold tactical scopes, primarily those in the Mark 4 line, do not use a fast focus eyepiece, but rather a fine focus lockable eyepiece. According to the Leupold web page and literature, the Mark 8 does use a fast focus eyepiece, but we are not sure what Leupold’s definition of fast focus is because the Mark 8 has the same fine focus locakable style eyepiece as the other Mark 4 line of scopes. Is this a bad thing? No, not at all. The fine focus allows for precise adjustment to dial in the eyepiece, and reticle, exactly where you want it and then lock it there with the lock ring. Typically most shooters have their eye sight corrected to near 20/20 and as such there is not a lot of adjusting needed on the eyepiece between shooters so a fast focus isn’t necessarily required. It is just odd to advertise a fast focus when it is not what most consider a fast focus. Perhaps they just meant “faster” focus than the Mark 4.
In front of the lock ring on the eyepiece is the power adjustment ring. One of the features of the Mark 8 scope is the very wide 8x of magnification with a zoom range of 3.5 – 25x. With this amount of zoom range Leupold could have gotten crazy and made it zoom to a very high power, but we appreciate and like the zoom range they choose. This allows them to keep the vertical adjustments high, the light gathering optimized, and the field of view greater. All of those are positive traits for a tactical scope. This zoom range also allows for using the scope with a forward mounted night vision device (AN/PVS-24 or others) that typically require 10x or less of magnification for optimal effectiveness. The zoom ring itself rotates 180 degrees to cover the full zoom range and there are some serrations to help with gripping and importantly there is a larger protrusion that can be used by the operator’s fingers to help move the ring, and it is needed. The zoom ring requires a good amount of force to rotate it which is most likely due to the mechanics involved with making such a large zoom range combined with larger parts used with the 35mm tube. With the finger protrusion there, it is not bad to adjust and it is smooth and even through the entire range. The markings on the zoom rings are canted slightly toward the user which aids in helping the numbers be visible from behind the scope.
Directly in front of the power selector ring is the illumination control knob on the left hand side of the scope tube. Leupold has gone through several iterations of their illumination control and this seems to be their latest. There are seven (7) different brightness levels with an off position between each one. The off position is nice to have between each level as it allows the operator to keep the knob within a single click of the brightness setting they like. So if 4 is the preferred brightness level, they can have the knob in the off position next to the four and then with only a single click, they are there. Leupold’s standard arrangement of the brightness knob is usually at a 45 degree angle to the left so it sticks up between the focus and elevation knobs, trying not to block the view of either. On the Mark 8 scope, it is directly to the left and it does block the view of the focus knob. At first this surprised us but after using the scope and taking some time to think about it, it turns out that this is not as big of a deal as one might think. The reason is because nine times out of ten, the user will adjust the focus of the scope until the picture is sharp and crisp and not look at any reference numbers on the focus knob, this makes seeing the knob and its markings nonessential. In fact, many higher end tactical scopes like the Leupold Mark 4 line have gone away from actually marking the focus knob with distances. The odd thing is that the Mark 8 has gone back to marking the focus ring with distance numbers. Yes, we are scratching our head over that one as well.
The version of the Mark 8 scope we reviewed here has what Leupold calls the M5B2 elevation and windage knobs. This is one of the more distinguishing features of the new Mark 8 scope versus some of the other Leupold tactical scopes. The elevation knob has a unique shape with a larger indicator ring at the bottom of the knob which has the actual markings on it and then a taller and smaller diameter portion of the knob that protrudes up from this base cylinder. At the top of this taller knob are two pinch style buttons on opposite sides of each other that have a rough texture on them. The actual elevation knob is locked in place until the operator pinches both of these buttons simultaneously at the top of the knob and then while holding them in, twists the knob to make the adjustments. Rotating the knob while holding in those pinch buttons will rotate the entire indicator ring as well. The idea behind the setup is to prevent any accidental or unwanted movement of the knob without the operator specifically and deliberately doing it by pinching in the two buttons on top. In our opinion, the system works only okay. The problem that we ran into on repeated occasions was that while looking through scope we would reach up to make adjustments and we would go to pinch the buttons on top but our fingers would be on the portion of the knob that was on the side of those pinch buttons and we could not move the knob until we moved our hand around until we found the proper finger location, or we would have to take out eyes off the scope to look up to see where the proper location was. This was a distraction to us. Many times an operator needs to be able to quickly reach up and quickly and easily adjust and rotate the dial and there were times that that was not possible.
The M5 portion of the M5B2 nomenclature on the elevation turrets indicates that the knobs are setup with milliradian (MIL) clicks. Each click is .1 MIL and the indicator ring around the bottom is clearly marked with two rows of numbers. Having the larger dedicated ring just for indications makes it easy and precise to have good clear markings and also the wider diameter allows for more space between each indicator mark. There are 10 full MILs of adjustment per revolution and with a .308 rifle shooting 175gr bullets this will allow for shooting from 100 to over 900 yards with just a single rotation of the knob and in certain conditions, such as higher altitudes with higher temps, will allow shooting from 100 to 1000 yards before overlapping the numbers after a full rotation. Leupold indicates there are over 26 MILs (90 MOA) of total elevation travel, and not only does Leupold list that number, but they actually put hard stops on the top and bottom that prevent going beyond those 26 MILs. The elevation knob also has an adjustable zerostop that allows the user to set the zero stop so it is easy to find the zero again by just dialing down until it stops.
Additionally, there is actually a rotation indicator on the top of the elevation knob that is a small protrusion that pops up as the knob rotates through a full rotation. There are actually three settings, a recessed one where it is below the top of the knob, then one when it is flush with the top of the knob and finally a position where it is above the top of the knob. The only negative is that from behind the scope you cannot see the difference between the first two positions (recessed down and flush with the top). The indicator ring that surrounds the knob on the bottom is easily adjusted by pressing in two additional protrusions on either side of the knob and then lifting the ring where you can rotate it to zero and simply place it back down. It is an easy and quick way to reset the zero. The clicks on the knob itself are audible and there is a tactile feel as well, but the tactile feel of the click is not as positive as we like and are difficult to feel through gloves. There is a firm detent at each 0 and 5 MIL mark in every rotation of the knob, which certainly helps the operator know when zero is reached, though we are not sure why there is one at 5 MIL unless it is just an engineering byproduct of having the firmer detent on zero.
The shape of the windage knob is very similar to the elevation knob and it also has the same pinch release as the elevation knob. The knob is not as tall as the elevation knob and the indicator ring is also a bit shorter and actually is a part of the knob itself instead of being separate like on the elevation knob. This means to reset the windage the operator actually has to loosen the lock screw on the knob and slip it like a more traditional scope knob. The knob counts up in both directions but even more importantly the markings have a little R or L next to each number to clearly indicate which direction the knob has been adjusted, which is a nice feature for simplicity. Another unique feature is that the knob has hard stops at 5 MIL in each direction which prevents the operator from rotating the knob to where there is overlapping of the numbers, which is another scenario that can cause confusion to a shooter. Of course, this limits the shooter to only being able to dial in 5 MILs of wind adjustments, though 5 MILs is enough for shooting a 308 175gr in a direct 10 MPH crosswind up to 1600 yards, or a 15 MPH crosswind out to about 1100 yards, which is a good amount of adjustment and probably a good compromise. The clicks are the same as the elevation knob but there is no firmer detent at the 0 mark like on the elevation knob. The pinch knobs are placed well and since there typically is not as much moving of the windage dial over as great of a range as the elevation, we did not have as many problems finding the proper sides of the knob to pinch when using the scope as we did with the elevation knob.
On the opposite side of the wind knob is the side focus, which of all the knobs on the Mark 8 is the most traditional in function and design. It is a fairly wide diameter knob with some knurling on it and a fairly low profile. The focus adjusts very smooth through the range and as we indicated earlier in the review, there are actual distance marks on the knob which is different from the normal Mark 4 focus knobs. The down side was that those numbers are obscured from normal view by the brightness controls for the illuminated reticle. Beyond that, there is not a lot to say about the focus knob, it is smooth, it stays where it should, it works very well, and we had no problems with it.
In front of the control knobs the large 35mm tube tapers nicely into the 56mm bell area where the objective lens is. The overall shape and design of the scope looks very nice, though with the illumination controls taking up a portion of the mounting area, a one piece rail will most likely be required if mounting the scope on a long action as the mounting area is limited.
The reticle is a traditional mildot reticle but instead of stopping after 5 mildot markings in each direction, there is a taller hash mark to signify the 5th Mil, and then the hash marks continue for another 10 mils past the original 5 in each direction for a total of 15 Mil marks in each direction, or 30 total mils on each of the horizontal and vertical stadia. There are also hash marks at the 30 MIL mark in each direction as well, but because it is a First Focal Plane scope, those marks are only in the field of view at 6x or less. There are no marks at half mil intervals or anything like that, so the reticle still stays clean and uncluttered except for a small number 10 on each of the four hashes that represent the 10 MIL marks. The reticle is in the first focal plane so it grows and shrinks with the power selection of the scope and with the power set to 25x (the max power) there are only 7 MILs shown in each direction. The stadia thickness is a decent compromise between a thinner precision oriented reticle and a thicker reticle for visibility. Down on the lowest power of 3.5x the inner stadia is thin and can get lost on dark backgrounds, but with such a wide range of zoom power, it will be all but impossible to get a perfect stadia thickness that is both visible at the lowest and then not too thick at the highest zoom power. The illumination lights up the inner stadia all the way out to the 15 MIL mark in each direction, but one interesting point is that only the dots are illuminated on the inner 5 MIL stadia area, the crosshairs are not illuminated there.
For our shooting tests we mounted the scope on a SIG Sauer SSG3000 rifle chambered in 308 Winchester. The SIG has an integral rail on top so we did not need to worry about using a separate rail, but we did have to search out some 35mm rings as Leupold does not make any. We sourced some IOR high rings and mounted the scope using our traditional methods. The SIG SSG3000 shoots sub .5 MOA and provided a good platform to perform our normal shooting tests with. The IOR steel rings are of high quality and there were no mounting problems, especially with the single piece rail and a short action as we were able to position the rings wherever we needed. We took the scope out on several different shooting sessions where all the temps were in the mid 30’s and the sky overcast (typical weather during the winter in Montana).
Shooting the scope through a 2 MIL box showed excellent mechanical tracking of the adjustments with great repeatability as each group was precisely placed and then the final group ended up right where the first began. Throughout all of our tests the knobs continued to exhibit excellent precision and repeatability, though as we mentioned earlier, we desired a bit more positive tactile feel to the clicks. For our adjustment measuring test we fired a group, adjusted the scope 6 MILS to the left, fired another group, and then came back to the original settings and fired a third group. The measured distance fell within our 5% margin of error which indicated the adjustments were the correct size. We allow for the 5% error due to the error introduced by the group sizes of the rifle and ammo itself. It was during these tests, as well as our mid range shooting tests, that the pinch knobs became an occasional annoyance as we reached up to pinch the elevation knob to make an adjustment only to realize we were pinching in between the two knobs on top. We would then have to take our eyes off the target, look up, make the necessary movement with our hand, then pinch the knobs and finally dial in our adjustments. The system works, and it is well constructed and engineered, but it is just not as friendly as we would like. In our minds, keep it simple and easy because nothing else will be simple or easy in a tense combat situation.
In regards to the optics, we have no complaints! The glass is excellent, very bright and crisp from edge to edge and with excellent contrast in all shooting conditions, including low light. The focus worked great and we were always able to get a sharp picture in the scope. Low light shooting was not a problem with excellent light gathering ability. The wide zoom range allows for dialing the power down to aid with gathering more light in very low light conditions and it also allows for using the scope with a forward mounted night vision device where usually a 10x or less magnification is needed for optimal results. Shooting at mid and long ranges was no problem with the excellent optics and repeatability of the knobs doing a very good job.
The Mark 8 is Leupold’s jump into the big, advanced features, tactical scope market and while it did many things very well, such as the durable design, excellent optics, great tracking knobs, and lots of adjustments. It also fell short in a few areas that continued to nag us through the test, mainly being the pinch knobs on the elevation. Sometimes it can be harder to evaluate the high end scopes than the low end because so much is expected from the scope where as the low end scopes are expected to have major flaws. We do not consider the elevation knob to be a major flaw, but it was a minor one that kept biting us. I do suspect that with extended use an operator will get used to it and be able to compensate with little problem. Certainly the capabilities of the scope are excellent and we would have no problem putting it on any of our mid to long range sniper rifles. Leupold stands behind their products very well and the scope is rugged and well built, so prolonged tactical use should be a non issue. If you are in the market for an ultra high end tactical scope, do take a look at the Mark 8, just be sure to play with the knobs to see if you like them, and then be sure to find some 35mm rings somewhere.
Sniper Central – 2014