Due to an excellent reputation of durability, very high quality scopes, and their use by several Special Operations groups, Nightforce Optics is considered one of the premier scope manufacturers for military grade tactical scopes. In 2013 Nightforce brought out two new scope lines, the Advanced TACtical Riflescope (ATACR) and the Best Example of Advanced Scope Technology (BEAST). Slightly goofy naming aside, both of these scope lines introduced new technologies to the Nightforce lineup to complement their NXS and F1 tactical models. Their more traditional competition line continues to be a part of the Nightforce lineup as well. We wanted to bring in at least one, if not both, of these new scope models to see how they compare with their own current line of scopes as well as to the competition. We were able to first bring in an ATACR 5-25x56mm scope to perform a full review on and is the subject of this writeup.
If you have not read our Nightforce NXS review yet, go ahead and do that now, as we will be making some comparisons between the the NXS line and this ATACR. The NXS is a very solid scope with excellent performance and we are rightly impressed with the scopes and use them on some of our rifles here at Sniper Central. The ATACR is taking the excellent foundation of the NXS scope and builds on it using some of the modern advanced features that are showing up on the latest models of tactical rifle scopes.
The ATACR scope comes from the Nightforce factory with the standard instruction manual, warranty information, bikini style lens covers, a nice sunshade, and a few other miscellaneous items such as a Nightforce bumper sticker. Part of the new advanced features with the ATACR scope is that it incorporates a 34mm main tube versus the 30mm tube on the NXS. Because of the larger tube diameter, the normally large 56mm objective lens actually does not look as large as on a 30mm tube scope since the proportions match up nicely with the larger tube. It is not until you put the scope next to another scope that you notice how large the scope really is. We have spoke many times about the growing dimensions of tactical rifle scopes lately, and the ATACR continues that trend for Nightforce as well. Weight on the ATACR is up almost 19% over the 5.5-22x56mm NXS which is part of the price that is paid for the growing dimensions of the scope. Though it does need to be noted that the one dimension that has not grown is the overall length of the scope, it is actually nearly an inch shorter than the NXS which does keep the size reasonable and probably helped keep the weight down as well. The overall dimensions are not as large as many of the larger modern tactical scopes and the scope has an overall very good look to it with pleasing lines.
Like all Nightforce scopes, the ATACR has a multi-piece 6061-T6 aircraft grade aluminum tube and according to Nightforce the tube wall is two to three times thicker than the average competitors scope. The advantages of the 34mm tube on the ATACR over a 30mm tube are better durability and more importantly it allows for additional adjustment range for both elevation and windage. The scope tube on the ATACR is fully sealed with O-rings around the lenses, metal lock rings, as well as bonding agents, all to insure everything is sealed tight and extremely durable. The exterior of the scope is hard anodized in a matte black finish that is uniform over the entire scope. The markings are done in an off white color and are very clear, sharp and easy to read. The lenses are all fully ED glass and multi-coated for light transmission and anti-fogging. Nightforce has a list of additional items that they do to each scope, such as hand bed the lenses, machine the screws that control the elevation adjustments to 110 threads per inch, use titanium for their adjustment springs, and some others items, but it is difficult to know how those compare to scopes from Hendsoldt, Premier Reticle, Schmidt & Bender and others as those manufacturers do not typically list how those items are manufactured, but we do know that Nightforce does them and it bodes well for the line.
Because it does matter to some shooters, we will mention that the country of origin on Nightforce scopes is different per model and not exactly from a single source. Because the main tube body and other major components on the ATACR are sourced from Japan, the markings on the scope indicate such. Final assembly and quality control are actually handled in the Nightforce plant in Orofino, Idaho here in the USA. The compact models of the NXS scopes, such as their excellent 2.5-10x42mm are actually made in the USA, and labeled so.
The ocular eyepiece is a fine focus design with a very precise level of adjustment. By having the very fine threads and adjustment level it allows for extreme precision when getting the reticle exactly focused to the shooters eye. It is a slower and longer process to focus it than that of a fast focus eyepiece that many other companies are using, but if exactness and precision are what is desired, it is hard to beat. Once the ocular adjustments are completed, there is a knurled lock ring that locks it firmly in place. If a sniper team does have two different shooters with widely different adjustments for the ocular, it could be a hindrance versus a fast focus eyepiece, but since most shooters shoot with 20/20 or corrected 20/20 vision, it is not often that a dramatic difference is found between shooters.
It could be said there is a power adjustment ring in front of the eye piece, but that would not be entirely correct. Like the traditional NXS series of scopes, the eyepiece is a part of the power ring and the entire eye piece rotates when adjusting the power setting of the scope. Nightforce indicates that this is a design enhancement as it increases the durability of the eyepiece mechanism and the scope as a whole. That may be true, but it is still somewhat of an irritation as the use of flip up scope caps becomes a nuisance. To go from 5x to 25x the eyepiece rotates 180 degrees and an operator can strategically place a flip up cap so it can work throughout the range, but it is not an ideal setup. The power selection ring does have what we call the “Nightforce Knurling” which is a moderately aggressive knurling that is used throughout the scope. It provides a good gripping surface and the eyepiece rotates smoothly through the power range with moderately high resistance. The zoom power numbers are tilted slightly toward the eyepiece to help them be easily visible from behind the scope with only a slight rise of the head to see what power setting the scope is on. In front of the knurling are some additional indicator lines to help indicate exactly what power the scope is set to, but these require the shooter raising their head a bit higher in order to see. There is a dot at 12.5x which a user might assume is to indicate what power the reticle is accurate at since it is a second focal plane scope, but that is not the case as the reticle is calibrate to be accurate at 25x. We are assuming that dot is simply to indicate the half way power setting, which can also be used for ranging, but each MIL hash will now measure 2 MILS since the zoom is at half of what it is calibrated for. This does add some flexibility for using the reticle.
The elevation, windage and side focus knobs each sit atop an elevated shoulder midway up the scope tube. The elevation knob is the new standard Nightforce ‘high-speed’ turret that Nightforce switched to a few years back. It is a large knob with a full 10 MILS of adjustment per revolution with each click measuring .1 MIL. In a single revolution a 308 175gr can go from 100 yards to over 900 yards, but with a scope like this perhaps we should be looking at an even more capable cartridge. The 338 Lapua 250gr load can go from 100 yards to 1150 yards in just a single rotation of the knob. Nightforce indicates that there is a total adjustment range of 34.9 MILs or 120 MOA for the MOA knobs. This particular sample had even more adjustments with 38.7 MILs of elevation, and on our sample rifle with a 20 MOA canted base, there was 25.5 MIL of up available from the 100 yard zero. This would allow that same 338 Lapua 250gr load to go from 100 to 1800 yards with just a simple 20 MOA canted base. If an operator needed to go further, a 40 MOA base, or greater, could be used.
The elevation knob has the Nightforce knurling at the top of the knob which provides a good gripping surface to make any elevation adjustments. Nightforce prides itself on its precise and repeatable adjustment system with their scopes and we have always liked the muted but tactile clicks. Each click is very positive with no question that a click was made. They are completely free from slop and are some of our favorite click adjustments found on a scope. There are also horizontal hash marks under the elevation knob to help the operator know how many rotations the elevation knob has been adjusted. Furthermore, with the ATACR being a new high end offering from Nightforce, it only seems logical that it comes standard with the Nightforce zerostop feature which allows the scope to be adjusted to “stop” down at whatever elevation adjustment the shooter would like. Normally this is at the 100 yard zero. Once that desired zero distance is set, then the elevation knob is removed and the zerostop is set by following the instructions provided by Nightforce. Once this zerostop has been set, then the elevation knob is placed back onto the scope at the zero mark. From then on out, the operator can simply crank the elevation down until it stops and then know they are at that selected zero range.
The windage knob, on the right hand side of the scope, is of the same basic shape as the elevation knob, but it is smaller in both diameter and in height. It has the same knurling on top to allow for a good grip onto the knob. The windage knob has the same 10 MILs of adjustment per revolution that the elevation knob does with .1 MIL per click. The markings count up in each direction and a nice little feature is that there is an R or L marked after the number to indicate which direction you have the knob adjusted. The overlap happens at 5 MILS, which with a .308 allows for shooting out to 1000 yards in 15 MPH crosswinds without overlapping. Nightforce has setup the scope adjustments to have less overall total adjustments for the windage, only 17.45 MILs, versus the elevation which has 34.9, this is a smart move as there is not as much windage adjustments required. The clicks are the same excellent click that the elevation knob has and are just as positive.
The focus knob is located on the left hand side of the scope and has the same shape and feel as the windage knob. The full focus range covers about 80% of the knob which allows for a lot of adjustment range and it rotates very smooth through the entire range. There are no distance markings to indicate at which ranges the focus and parallax adjustment should be correct, but rather there are hash marks of descending lengths as the knob is rotated to infinity. One of the unique features with the Nightforce NXS line, and it is carried over to the ATACR, is that the focus knob also acts as the on/off for the illuminated reticle. To turn the illumination on, the operator simply has to pull the focus knob out and it engages the illumination. Push it back in to turn it off. The one downside to this arrangement is that there is no easy brightness control. To adjust the brightness of the reticle the focus knob has to be removed and an illumination brightness adjustment set under the knob. It is not something to be easily done while in the field, rather the brightness is adjusted once and essentially left there. Typically this is no problem once properly adjusted.
The reticle itself is what Nightforce calls the MIL-R and can be seen on their web page. It is a MIL calibrated reticle with hash marks at full and half MIL intervals as well as .2 MIL intervals on the edges. In additiona, there is an inverted T scale in the lower right quadrant which includes .1 MIL graduated markings for even more precise measuring. The inverted T does crowd the viewing space a bit and can be a little busy, but it is not too bad. Only the internal part of the main reticle is illuminated. On the ATACR, the reticle is located in the 2nd focal plane which means it is only accurate in size at one given magnification power, which on the ATACR is 25x. As mentioned earlier there is a dot on the magnification scale at 12.5x, which could be used as a midpoint if doing broad scans and each hash mark would represent two MILs instead of one. On a whole, the reticle is very good for accurately MIL measuring with several options to help get the operator as precise as possible. We will not indicate whether a Front Focal Plane reticle is better or not, that is an operator preference, but the option to have an FFP might be nice to have. To get an FFP on a Nightforce, you either have to get their F1 or the new BEAST, both excellent scopes in their own right.
The objective lens is a full 56mm which does require the scope to be mounted a bit higher than normal to allow the bell to not make contact with the barrel; this is one of those side effects with having a large tactical scope. There is a sunshade that comes with the ATACR, as well as the NXS scopes, and that is nice to have, preventing a team from having to procure one on their own. The sunshade will reduce the likelihood of any glint giving away a snipers position and it helps prevent having to use an Anti-Reflective Device (ARD) as well.
For our operational test the ATACR was mounted to a Snowy Mountain Rifles Paladin rifle chambered in 308. This rifle shoots well under .5 MOA and we wanted to be able to precisely test the scope. We used a set of Nightforce 34mm rings, which themselves are very high quality, and the standard Snowy Mountain Rifle 20 MOA rail that came on the rifle. We took the scope out on several occasions with temperatures ranging anywhere from 30 to 50 degrees and with a combination of various lighting conditions.
Our basic scope tests include shooting a 6 MOA box at 100 yards which constitutes shooting at the same aiming point but using the elevation and windage knobs to move the impact area around the four corners of a box and then coming back to the original starting point to insure the adjustments are repeatable and accurate. We will indicate here that through all of our tests the adjustments were always extremely repeatable, the adjustments always came exactly back to the starting point. To test the accuracy of click sizes we not only do the box test but we like to do 20 MOA of adjustment and measure it, but since we have MIL knobs on this scope we went with 6 MILs of adjustments. We fired an initial group, then adjusted to the left 6 MILs, fired another group, and then moved the adjustments back to the original setting to fire a final group to insure repeatability. Because of variables outside of the scopes control, such as how tight of a group the rifle and shooter are firing, we have determined that anything under 5% of error indicates the adjustment sizes are accurate. Of course there are more precise ways to measure exact adjustment sizes, such as clamping the scope down and using a measured grid at 100 yards and then moving the adjustments to see how far they move on the grid, and we may adopt that test at some point. But this test, using a rifle in real shooting conditions, usually works very well to determine the accuracy of the clicks. The ATACR was only off by 3.2%, indicating it is well within acceptable margins. As one finally real world test, we shot at 100 yards, adjusted to 400 yards and engaged a target and then quickly adjusted back down to 100 yards and reengaged that target, all with excellent results.
The optics on the ATACR are the best that Nightforce offers with fully multi-coated ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass and the results are excellent. The scope is very bright and clear with excellent contrast, even in heavy overcast and low light conditions. The resolution from edge to edge is very sharp and we would rate the optics up at the top of the quality range with the other very high end rifle scopes. Also, the field of view is wide for a scope of this magnification range and at 25x it has a wider field of view than the NXS 5.5-22x does at just 22x. The low light gathering capability with the ED glass and larger 56mm objective proved to be excellent as well.
One way to summarize the ATACR is to simply state it is an enlarged and improved NXS with a 34mm tube and larger 5x magnification range, but the scope is probably more than just that. What those additional features introduce to the scope is an improved adjustment range allowing for extreme range shooting, a larger and even more durable scope body and fantastic optics with a wide field of view combined with a large zoom adjustment range. To top of the list of improvements over the NXS, Nightforce combined the ATACR with some new reticle designs. All of these features add up to make an excellent long range tactical scope, but there are still some draw backs that come with the ATACR as well. The extra weight and bulk do add up, the entire eyepiece still rotates when changing the zoom range, the illumination brightness is not easily adjustable, and there is not an FFP option for those that might desire one. None of those draw backs are major and the overall quality and features of the scope make an excellent package. Some might consider the ATACR just an improved and enlarged NXS, and that would not be a bad thing at all!
Sniper Central – 2013