When we came back from our visit to the Leupold factory, we were excited to see what the future held for their tactical line of scopes. Especially having seen the quality that goes into each of their scope builds. The Mk6 and Mk8 series of scopes are great and we will be looking at them in future reviews, but another area we were really interested in was what Leupold was going to replace their old basic Mark4 scopes with. The classic Mark4 4.5-14x50mm was just a basic tactical scope that had high quality, great knobs, tons of elevation adjustment and all for a good price, and we were wondering what Leupold had for a replacement. One of the new scopes that Leupold released which seems to be the closest replacement is their new VX-3i LRP series of scopes. LRP is short for Long Range Precision and it is a line of scopes that is not purely tactical but targets the F-Class shooters as well as other competition and long range marksmen. The model we brought in for this review is the 6.5-20x50mm with MIL knobs and First Focal Plane (FFP) TMR reticle.
The scope arrives in a standard Leupold box that contains the scope, instructions, lens cloth, set of bikini style scope caps, Allen wrench, throw lever, and a Leupold sticker. The old Mark4 scopes always came with a set of flip up scope caps which we were a little sad to see not included. The instruction manual has been trimmed down to a fold out pamphlet, but it does include the basic maintenance and care instructions needed for the scope.
Leupold still uses a traditional “slow focus” eyepiece instead of the more popular European style fast focus eyepieces. The entire eyepiece rotates to set the diopter and bring the reticle into focus. By having the slow focus style it allows for very precise adjustment to match the shooters eye. Then once it is set the lock ring is cinched against the eyepiece to hold it in place. This arrangement is very strong and durable and you set it once and leave it, the down side is if you have multiple shooters using the scope and one may require a drastic diopter difference, then it can be slow. Typically if the shooters have 20/20 eyesight, corrected or uncorrected, then setting it once and leaving it should work fine. There is no rubber on the eyepiece to help protect your skin in the event of a scope kiss, but typically on a tactical rifle they get covered with a scope cap anyway. The other benefit of this slow focus style eyepiece is that the eyepiece itself is quiet compact and small.
Directly in front of the short eyepiece and its lock ring is the power select ring, clearly marked in white numbers from 6.5 to 20. This scope only offers a 3x zoom range, which is small by modern high end scope standards today, but is one way to help reduce costs. The range from 6.5x to 20x is a good range that allows the scope to cover a wide spectrum of capabilities. For tactical use, the 4.5-14x model of the VX-3i LRP would also be another good choice to look at, and would be even a bit cheaper. The number markings are on the front side of the power selector ring and they are angled toward the operator to help make them easy to read without much head movement. The ring itself only has light knurling on it to help with grip, but it does also include a larger raised thumb knob to help further. The scope also includes a screw in throw lever that threads into the top of that thumb knob and this is an excellent addition to the scope and was the first thing we attached when we opened the box. It makes quick power adjustments easy and natural from behind the scope. Other scope makers offer this feature and it was good to see Leupold incorporate it into the LRP line.
The number markings on the zoom ring are evenly spread out over a third of the ring and since there is only 3x of zoom range, it allows for quick adjustments from minimum to maximum. The zoom control itself is smooth and even through the entire range. Without the throw lever the force required to move the ring is moderate, but the added leverage from the lever makes it easy, yet still plenty of resistance to keep it in place once placed on the desired magnification. The reticle is a front focal plane reticle that changes size with the magnification, so it isn’t important what power the scope is set on for measuring the target, it can be set on whatever range gives the best scanning and field of view, and then adjust if needed when preparing to estimate range or engage the target.
There is 2.6″ inches of 30mm diameter scope tube in front of the zoom selector ring before the start of the shoulder in which to position your rear scope mounting ring. On the old Mark 4 line of scopes, the shoulder was rounded and on this new VX-3i LRP, Leupold went to a more squared off design. There is no real apparent reason why the change was made beyond aesthetics, and it does look good. There is a slight flat spot at the very bottom of the shoulder that Leupold used to locate the direction indicator marks for up and right with small arrows.
The elevation knob is the most pronounced knob and the size of it draws all of the attention when examining the scope. The big knob is a part of the LRP package and it is perched high on a pedestal, or tower, that is about .5″ tall. The size of the knob itself isn’t out of line or character for a tactical scope, but that .5″ tall pedestal at first appears a bit awkward, but then it becomes obvious why it is setup this way. As the elevation knob is rotated up there is another cylinder that moves down which has the horizontal markings on it to indicate how many rotations of up have been dialed in. You can just barely see the bottom of it in the image below. That .5″ tall pedestal gives this cylinder room to continue to extend down as the revolutions of up are dialed in.
The knob itself has knurling at the top for extra grip and the numbering is clear and easy to read with clear hash marks for each .1 MIL click. There are markings at both the full MIL marks and half MIL marks. There is only one level of numbers on the dial, though a custom BDC knob would have plenty of real-estate to do multiple levels. The horizontal hash marks on the extending cylinder are labeled with 5, 10, 15… for the number of actual MILs that have been dialed in. There is also a zerostop feature on the elevation knob and it is very easy to set. Just establish the rifle zero and then loosen the two set screws at the top of the knob and rotate the knob back down to zero, which retracts the descending cylinder back up, and then set the screws. This sets the zerostop at the same time.
There are 5 MILS of adjustment per revolution, which is enough to take a 308 175gr rifle from 100 to 600 yards in a single rotation in standard atmospheric conditions. Then it is up to the horizontal markings to keep the shooter on track for longer distance shooting. The markings are clear and very easy to see and read and it should be easy to track. The factory indicates there are 80 MOA of adjustment in the scope, which equates to 23.25 MIL. Our test scope actually had 24.7 MIL, which is a good amount of elevation for most shooting conditions, especially when combined with a 20 MOA base.
The clicks themselves are firm with a good feel to them and are slightly muted. There is a little bit of slop in the knob before the click actually happens which we guess is probably from the introduction of that in-between cylinder that extends down. The old original M1 knobs did not have any slop in them so we were a little disappointed in that, but the clicks are still pronounced and it is clear when a click has been dialed in.
The windage knob is smaller than the elevation knob, obviously, and it is unique in that it comes with a dust cap. It is still a larger target style knob and in fact, the scope ships with a thread protecting ring that can be threaded onto the area where the dust cap threads onto if the operator wishes to leave the windage knob exposed at all times. There is merit to doing it either way. If the cap is utilized, it prevents accidental adjustment. If the cap is not used and its left exposed, then it is always available for rapid changes. The clicks are again a nice click like the elevation knob, but it does not have as much slop as the elevation clicks do. The numbers count up in both directions and with 5 MIL of adjustment per revolution, it means the overlap of numbers happens at 2.5 MIL, or enough to adjust a 308 in a direct 10mph crosswind out to 900 yards without the numbers overlapping.
Located on the opposite side of the windage control is the adjustable objective, or side focus knob. Leupold does not mark their focus knobs with actual distances like other manufacturers do, rather they just use different size dots to represent further distances. They do have an infinity sign on the top end to signify that it is the far end of the focus range. The focus knob on this scope is extremely smooth and works very well. There is just the right amount of force required to keep the knob in place, yet is smooth and easy to adjust. It was a bit odd that the knob rotated about a .5″ past the infinity mark, but in reality it doesn’t really matter, just adjust it until the sight picture is as sharp as you can make it, then double check parallax, and you should be good to go.
The LRP scope does not have an illuminated reticle, so there are no other controls on the scope. The solid one piece 6061-T6 aluminum tube steps down off of its shoulder and there is another 2.4″ of tube in front of the shoulder for which to mount the forward scope ring. From there the scope tube tapers up into its 50mm bell housing for the forward objective lens. The scope has an overall matte black anodized finish that is very even and nice looking, but we found it a bit odd to have the two golden rings up on the front bell housing. Leupold’s tactical line of scopes do not have these gold rings and while the LRP is not specifically a tactical scope, it is definitely geared toward that use and we would be happier to see the gold rings go away so a sniper doesn’t have to do it themselves with paint or tape.
The scope shape and design are very nice and while it is a large scope, it is not the size of many of the very high end tactical scopes that are found on the market today. The scope is available in several different configurations with both MIL and MOA adjustments combined with matching reticles in MIL or MOA. There are also versions that have the reticle located in the first or second focal plane, with this scope having the FFP option with TMR reticle. The TMR has been around for many years now and it is a good reticle with hash marks at the whole and half MILs on both the vertical and horizontal stadia. There are 5 MILs in each direction and in the last MIL there are smaller hash marks at each .2 MIL mark to help with even more precise measuring. At the very center where the crosshairs meet, it is actually open so as not to obscure any of the target right at the aiming point. Some shooters like this, others do not. We have gotten used to it now and seem to prefer it.
The glass quality is very high with the LRP scope using all the latest optics enhancements from Leupold including Diamond Coat 2, Twilight Max Light Management System, Argon & Krypton water proofing, etc. These scopes are considerably less expensive than their top of the line Mark 8 series of scopes, so we would imagine that the quality of the glass itself is perhaps not to the same standards, but it is still very high and the image is bright and sharp in all the conditions we tested the scope in. It certainly compares favorably with other scopes in the same price category.
For out shooting tests we mounted the scope on our Remington 700P test mule rifle chambered in 308 Win. This rifle routinely shoots sub .5 MOA with Federal GMM ammunition and it has been used for many, of not most, of our scope evaluations. We used a set of Leupold Mk4 medium height rings to mount the scope to the Warne 20 MOA canted base which was all done with no problems. If you are not familiar with our testing procedures, please take a moment to read about how we test our scopes.
Our primary shooting day was the morning right after a light snow storm so there was about two inches of fresh powder on the ground and the temperature was about 30 degrees (F) with a 5-8 mph crosswind blowing. The initial zero was quick and easy and our box tracking test went off without a hitch and showed good tracking and repeatability. Next up was to test the click sizes of the scope and we fired our first group which measure just under .5 MOA and then dialed in 6 MIL of left and then fired our second group, which was only .4 MOA. We then dialed in the 6 MIL of right and confirmed that the next round was back to where we started, which it was. Measuring the distance between group number one and group number two the distance was 22.4″ between the two groups. At 100 yards this distance should be 21.6″, meaning the adjustment was 3.7% larger than the technical size. We consider anything less than 5% to be passing and consider sub 3% to be right on. It passed our test, but we would like to see those adjustments a bit more accurate.
Our final two operational tests include checking for any reticle drift during adjusting the focus and when changing the zoom power. We attached our optical boresighting scope and aligned the reticle on one of the grid intersect points and then watched closely as we first adjusted the side focus through its entire range. As we moved the side focus knob we noticed just a very slight up and down movement of the reticle. Through the entire range is drifted maybe .1 of a mil. For long range shooting most of all of the focusing of the scope happens over the last half of that adjustment range which puts the drift even lower than that. Of course we would like to see no drift at all, but it was still a good result. On the zoom test, there was no drift at all and the reticle stays right where it is set all the way from 6.5x to 20x. We need to dig a little deeper into the mechanics of it, but we feel this is likely the case on most FFP scopes.
Shooting the scope at mid to long ranges works well and there is good capability with the optics, magnification range and the amount of elevation adjustments. Those combined with a nice throw lever, FFP reticle, and good knobs allows the scope to be used effectively on a tactical rifle. We would like to see a bit more precision in the click sizes and zero reticle drift on the focus knob, but they were both within spec and acceptable tolerances and are likely the results of tolerance levels of a mid priced scope. The FFP and throw lever are two features we liked as well as a windage knob that could be exposed or covered, though the clever elevation knob we are still trying to determine if we like or not. We found ourselves liking the scope as a whole, though perhaps not loving it. Is it a worthy replacement of the older Mark4 line of scopes? It does not have the pure tactical focus of the Mark4, but that should be expected since it is marketed toward the F-Class shooters and long range hunters and not a pure tactical scope. We suppose we as snipers would have liked to of just seen some of these newer features and upgrades to be added to the original Mk4 scopes instead of replacing them… but maybe we are just being nostalgic.
Sniper Central 2017