• Manufacturer: Nikon Optics
  • Model: M-Tactical 3-12x42SF
  • Model Number: 16520
  • Finish: Matte Black
  • Magnification Range: 3-12x
  • Objective: 42mm
  • Tube Diameter: 30mm
  • Eye Relief: 3.9-3.6" (99-91mm)
  • Click Value: .1 MIL
  • FOV: 37.2'-9.5' @ 100 yards
  • Reticle: MK1-MRAD
  • Focal Plane: Second Focal Plane
  • Weight: 20.5 ounces (581 g)
  • Overall Length: 13.1" (333mm)
  • List Price: $ 399.95
  • Street Price: $ 330
  • Buy Here:

This scope review will have a slightly different twist to it than normal. During the time we were reviewing this scope, it was announced and confirmed that Nikon is exiting the rifle scope making business. So we had a scope we were reviewing that instantly became obsolete. We have modified the review slightly to reflect this and will alter some of the things we do and say because of it. For the time being, you can still get this scope as the re-sellers clear out existing inventory but that will eventually dry up. We had intended to do a video review of the scope as well, but we are going to forgo that because of this announcement.

Nikon has a long history of making excellent camera’s and other optical devices, including sport optics and scopes. We even reviewed one of their older Monarch X 2.5-10x44mm tactical scopes and came away impressed. But a lot has changed in the nearly ten years since we did that review. Unfortunately, the scope offerings from Nikon have not really fit the precision tactical rifle niche since that Monarch X. Nikon had some very suitable scopes, but they were obsessed with their BDC reticles and they rarely would pair a good universal tactical reticle with a suitable mid power scope with tactical knobs. Their M223 and M308 scopes have been semi-popular, but with no ability to estimate range using those reticles it kept us from reviewing any of them here. That changed with the M-Tactical scopes.

The M-Tactical line is a lower priced line of scopes, but Nikon’s scopes have always seemed to be decent, so we decided to perform a review and see how it would do. The scopes, of course, were also available with their BDC reticles, but the one we cared about has a hash style tactical reticle in either MOA or MRAD (MILs) and as is popular today, the knobs adjustment clicks match the reticle. MOA to MOA or MRAD to MRAD. For our test, we brought in the M-Tactical 3-12x42mm with side focus and Mk1-MRAD reticle with turrets with MRAD adjustments.

Pulling the scope out of the box for the first time, the thing that strikes you most is…well, nothing. The scope is a basic tactical scope, and nothing more. It doesn’t try to be more, it is what it is. A no frills basic tactical scope and in many ways that is refreshing. Instead of trying to innovate some fancy new feature that no one else has, the M-Tactical just has what it is supposed to have, and nothing really more. Keep it simple and keep it affordable seems to be the purpose of the scope design. One thing we did find interesting is that Nikon, a world renowned Japanese optics manufacturer, has these scopes built in the Philippines. This actually is not a bad thing as the manufacturing facilities in the Philippines makes many of the middle grade scopes out there and they are preferred over Chinese manufacturing. Yes, it would be nice if they were made in the very nice Japanese factories, but cost is the big determining factor here.

There is nothing fancy with the box and the included items feature a set of bikini style lens covers, an optics cloth, and some instructions including a warranty description card. The instructions are basic and cover all the M-Tactical model of scopes and while the lens caps are fine, they will likely get replaced by some flip ups for any serious use.

The ocular lens is housed in a fast focus eyepiece with some very shallow and wide knurling on it. While it does not provide the best grip, the amount of resistance to adjust the eyepiece is lighter than most and feels very smooth through the entire diopter adjustment range. The entire range is covered in only about 270 degrees of rotation, so not even a full turn. This is one of the quickest fast focus adjustments we have seen on a scope.

This short amount of adjustment range raised a few eyebrows with concern about if the reticle would focus for a wide enough range of bad eyes in the world. Nikon does not provide the diopter range that the eyepiece will cover, but it was borderline for a couple of shooters here when they were not wearing corrective lenses. But that brings up an important point. How many shooters, especially snipers, are operating their rifle without corrective lenses in? Everyone here that tried it with their glasses on or contacts in, had no problems adjusting the reticle to be very sharp and crisp. The short adjustment range is likely a non-issue.

In front of the adjustable eyepiece, the lens housing takes an interestingly sharp step down as it tapers toward the zoom power adjustment ring. At first we just thought this was an aesthetic thing, but then it became apparent when looking at the zoom ring from behind the scope. The markings on the zoom ring are placed on an edge that is tilted toward the shooter, and that dramatic step down on the housing opens up a clear viewing path to those numbers and they are visible from behind the scope with just a very slight raise of the eye. This is a clever design and a facet that is often over looked. It is especially important because the reticle is located on the second focal plane and the zoom power does matter when using the reticle marks.

The zoom ring itself has similar shallow and wide knurling as the eyepiece does, but in this case the zoom has more resistance and some extra grip would be nice. The edges on the square knurling are fairly sharp which helps with the grip, but some more would be better. The markings on the zoom ring, as well as the entire rest of the scope, are subdued tactical OD Green. Something that is somewhat unique on the zoom ring is that every zoom power has an individual marking, 3 through 12. This is only a 4x ratio zoom range, so its a bit easier than if it were a 5x, 6x or even 8x range that some other scopes have now. While the ring is a bit stiff, it does rotate through the entire range smoothly.

In front of the zoom power adjustment ring, the 30mm diameter tube extends almost exactly 2″ before the shoulder of the scope starts. This is a fairly small area for which to mount your rear scope ring, but the tube length in front of the shoulder is longer to help compensate for that. The shoulder itself is a rounded design and smaller in height, keeping things nicely in proportion.

Sitting on top of the shoulder are the external tactical knobs. The knob size is not terribly large and there is only a single level of markings. The markings are done in the same subdued OD green with taller hashes for each .5 and whole MIL and then smaller hashes for each .1 MIL click between those. There are also a number of “up” direction indicators on the top portion of the knob to offer that friendly reminder. There are 8 MILs of adjustment per rotation, which is a bit different than the 5 or 10 that is common on scopes. 8 MIL will allow a .308 shooting 175gr M118LR style ammunition to go from 100 to over 800 yards in a single revolution, which is not bad. There are also horizontal hash marks under the knob to make it easier to track what rotation the knob is on.

Nikon indicates that this scope has 15 MIL of elevation adjustment which only equates to 51.6 MOA. But they indicate the MOA version of the same scope has 75 MOA of adjustment which seemed odd. Of course, we test all of the scopes we review to see what they actually have and this scope has 25 MILs of adjustment, which equates to 86 MOA. We think the 15 MIL number may just be a typo. The 25 MIL that this scope has is a good amount for long range shooting and should work well for the power of the scope.

The clicks themselves are nice with a good crisp click that is audibly muted. There is just a small amount of movement, or slop, between clicks that is not noticeable unless you are looking for it. The same knurling style found elsewhere on the scope is found again on the top of the knob and in this case there is plenty of grip to make adjustments in all conditions. There is no zero stop feature on the scope, but in this price range, that is to be expected. But the knob does feature a tool-less zero set. Once the scope is zeroed, just pull up on the knob, rotate it to zero and let it settle back down. This feature has become more popular on scopes as of late and it does make things easy, though we feel it also contributes to that tiny bit of slop in the clicks.

The windage knob is the same size and shape as the elevation knob with the same style markings. There is numerous “R” markings on the top to show which direction to turn to move bullet impact to the Right. The numbers do count up in both directions and since there is the same 8 MILs of adjustment per revolution, the overlap happens at 4 MIL. This gives enough windage control to theoretically shoot in a 10 MPH crosswind with a .308 Win shooting 175gr M118LR class ammunition to well beyond 1100 yards without overlapping on the windage knob. The clicks have the same feel as the elevation knob and it features the same tool-less zero reset feature as well.

On the left hand side of the scope we find the side focus, or adjustable parallax control. It is a larger diameter knob than the other controls, and it has the same style of knurling on it as well. The control is nice and smooth with a linear amount of force required to adjust it through the entire range. There are markings starting at 50 yards and then various readings going up to 1000 yards and then finally infinity. The range covers about 80% of the circumference of the knob, providing for a good amount of adjustment for precisely adjusting the focus and parallax. There are some scopes in the 3-12x power range that do without the side focus, so we were glad to see the feature included on this scope and it worked well in our testing.

In front of the shoulder there is 2.82″ of tube length to locate the forward scope mounting ring which helps provide some mounting flexibility compared to the shorter length on the rear portion. The tube tapers up at a moderate angle to the objective lens housing, or bell housing as it is also known. The objective lens is a modest 42mm in diameter which perhaps is a bit smaller than might be ideal, but will get the job done. The bell is threaded, but no sunshade was provided with the scope and with Nikon getting out of the scope business, we do not expect they will be offering one after market.

The overall finish on the scope is nice with a good even matte black anodizing on all of the surfaces. The subdued markings and the lack of big prominent logo adornments helps provide a good tactical appearance. The bell perhaps looks a little small aesthetically, but that is not important to functionality.

Optically the scope is pretty good. Nikon has a very good reputation for good glass and good coatings on all of their optical devices including their rifle scopes. The glass is bright and clear all the way out to the edges and it compares very well with other scopes in this price class. The reticle is a traditional MIL based hash system with smaller hash marks at each half MIL mark and larger hashes at the full MIL marks. It is a clean and effective design and does everything you might need. There are markings for a full 6 MILs to the right and left of the center as well as six extended above the horizontal crosshair. There are a full 10 MILs below the horizontal line and that is done to allow the reticle to be useful for holding over using the reticle. Optically we have no complaints with the scope and were pleased with the reticle design.

With everything examined in detail, it was now time to look at this scope operationally to see how it functioned. If you are not familiar with how we test optics, please read the article How We Test Rifles and Scopes. We mounted the M-Tactical to our Remington 700P test rifle chambered in .308 Winchester. This rifle has a 20 MOA canted steel base from Warne industries and we used a set of Nightforce Extreme Duty 30mm Steel Rings of low height to mount the scope to that base. For this scope, an even lower set of rings could have been used, but these were the lowest that we had, and the lowest that Nightforce makes.

For our shooting tests it was a typical fall day in Montana with overcast skys, some drizzle, and 35 degrees F. (1.7 C). The wind was just slightly blowing at about 2-4 MPH. We brought our normal Federal Gold Medal Match 168gr ammo that shoots about .6 MOA from this rifle, depending on the day. The initial zero process was quick and easy and once we had the scope zeroed, it was a simple lift and rotate to slip the knobs to zero. From there we initiated our box test, shooting at each corner and then bringing it back to the start to confirm the clicks are repeatable. We used a 1 MIL box in this case and everything tracked well and looked good.

The side focus was effective and the optics were good even on a darker overcast day. Next up was the click size test and we fired our first group, which measured .7″, and then dialed in 6 MIL of left and fired the second group. This group too measured just a tad over .7″. Finally we dialed the 6 MIL of right back into the scope and fired a final confirming round to insure the clicks came back to their original point, which they did. We measured the distance between the center of the two groups and it came to 21.71″. At 100 yards 6 MILs equates to 21.6″, which means there was only 0.5% of error, falling well within our 3% passing grade. This was an excellent result.

The clicks were nice to use on the range even with light gloves on, though they may be a little tight together with thicker gloves that might cause over shooting the amount of clicks you are trying to dial in. We shot the rifle and scope combo at some mid ranges as well just to test it and then come back to short ranges and everything checked out true and worked well. The reticle thickness was a good size that allowed for good precision yet was easy to pick up on darker backgrounds. Do recall that it is a second focal plane scope which means it must be set at 12x for the hash marks to properly represent 1 MIL of spacing. With the shooting done, the final objective tests were to check for reticle drift with both the zoom ring and side focus knobs.

With the bore sight grid mounted to the rifle, we tested the zoom magnification ring first by aligning the reticle on one of the cross hatches and then adjusting through the entire zoom range multiple times watching for any reticle movement. There may have been just a very slight movement, but not enough that we could pinpoint it. Next up was the side focus knob and we had two interesting discoveries. The first was just a slight drifting of the reticle from the 50 yard to 75 yard markings on the knob. It was slight, probably only covering .5 MOA total at those closer ranges and we would not be concernd about that. The more interesting one was on the opposite end of the knob and it happened in the 1/8″ of rotation past the infinity mark. While the infinity symbol is the last marking on the knob, there is still a little bit of travel beyond that mark before the knob its a hard stop. Unfortunately the reticle showed a significant amount of movement in that last bit of rotation. If you were engaging a target at 1000+ yards where the focus is set at, the amount of movement would be multiple full MOAs. The rest of the adjustment from 75 to the infinity mark, the reticle was solid. A shooter would need to be careful NOT to rotate the knob past infinity.

It took Nikon nearly 10 years to finally realize that they simply needed to put a plain tactical reticle in one of their mid priced scopes and make a simple and affordable tactical scope. They finally did it with this M-Tactical and the results were pretty good. Unfortunately, they are quitting the scope business, just when they were figuring it out. There is a large market for a $400 decent tactical scope and this one fits it pretty well. The only major hiccup was the reticle movement beyond infinity on the focus, and even that could be avoided. The rest of the scope seems up to the task for light tactical or long range shooting work. Because of the issue with the focus and because Nikon is leaving the marketplace, we cannot endorse it, but we can say its a decent scope and you should be able to pick them up at a good price as they clear out inventory.

Sniper Central 2019

One Comment


I’m surprised you never tested the fx1000 for a low level scope. Was it something you were not interested in?


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