Schmidt & Bender. Just saying the name brings a large amount of prestige and weight into any conversation of the best optics for sniping. The German manufacturer has long been the first name mentioned when speaking about the highest quality of rifle scopes. We have reviewed several of them before and we wanted to continue to review more of them to continue to compare them with the new crop of high quality tactical optics from the likes of Nightforce, Premier, Vortex, and others. So this time around we went with a bit higher magnification, which has become popular with sniper rifles, and are reviewing a Schmidt & Bender PM II 5-25x56mm with the two rotation turret (Clockwise) and a Premier Gen 2 XR reticle. We would like to thank our friends over at EuroOptic who made this review possible by providing the scope. They deal in the full line of Schmidt and Bender scopes, as well as many other hard to find brands. So does the S&B brand still hold a spot atop the competition and provide the best scope for sniper work? Let us dive in and find out.
Back only about ten years ago this scope would have been considered massive, but now it is probably just a normal sized tactical scope. It has a 34mm tube and 56mm objective combined with a length of 16″ and it weighs over two pounds. So the scope commands a significant presence, but with that presence comes a feeling of quality and precision, as it should. The PM II is at the top of the spectrum for reputation and price. The list price on the scope is $3800 which is out of the price range of many individuals and even departmental budgets, so the quality is expected to be at the very top as well. Of course, Schmidt & Bender offers many different lines of tactical scopes including compact and even higher magnification scopes with prices reaching even higher than this PM II. They also have some below this price as well, like the venerable fixed power 10x42mm PM II scope, a classic and one of our favorites here.
The ocular lens housing on the PM II is long and includes a fast focus eyepiece design. There is a single small dot on the rotating eyepiece to provide a reference point when adjusting the eyepiece for dioptre focus. The entire range is covered in a very smooth 1.5 rotations of the eyepiece. There is also a rubber ring around the eyepiece to soften the edges and protect forehead and eye socket in case of the scope meeting the shooters head during recoil. When the ocular lens is adjusted all the way out, there is zero movement side to side, which we would expect with a scope in this quality. The actual adjustment itself allowed for a quick focus of the reticle to be nice and sharp for each shooters eye. The amount of force to adjust the eyepiece is not a lot, so there my be some concern of it getting moved during scope use, but a common trick is to set the eyepiece where you want it, and then put on the Butler Creek flip up scope cap to both help keep the ocular lens from rotating as well as providing a reference point… just make sure the scope cap is orientated straight up and down and you are back to your adjusted point.
Just in front of the eyepiece is the power adjustment ring. The power adjustment is stiff, requiring a firm grip to rotate it through the range. In front of the markings on the ring is attached a hard rubber portion with several protrusions to help grasp the ring. There is one of the raised knobs that is larger than the rest and it is strategically placed near the 10x mark and provides an even larger protrusion to help with gripping that ring. The numbers are beautifully marked, but the ring is flat so the operator has to raise his or her head to see what power the scope is set at. Though this is of little concern with a Front Focal Plane scope like this one because the reticle is always the proper size for ranging no matter what the magnification is set to. While the power ring is stiff and requires a good amount of force to rotate, it is smooth through the entire range.
Directly in front of the magnification ring, and positioned on the left hand side of the tube, is the reticle illumination brightness control knob. Many scope makers will position this knob at a 45 degree angle in an effort not to block the view of the focus knob and the elevation knob, but S&B makes no such effort and directly aligns it with the focus knob. Yes, it does block the view of that knob. The reason this is not an issue is because when adjusting the focus, the operator will want to adjust it until the picture is sharp and clear, at that point any parallax has been dialed out, it really doesn’t matter what the setting says on the knob. Since the marking on the focus doesn’t really matter, obscuring it and leaving the elevation knob in full exposure, which is far more important, is a very workable solution.
The brightness control knob itself has eleven brightness settings above the zero, or off, position. It is a great relief to see that S&B has got their brightness settings correctly adjusted. A big problem we see with a vast majority of the scope manufacturers today is that they set the brightness levels way too bright for effective low light use. As the ambient light diminishes, an operator wants the reticle to be just barely lit, providing just enough brightness to see the reticle. If the reticle is too bright it will completely drown out the target to where you can sometimes not even see it, especially if it is at medium to long range. Many of these scopes, even very high end ones, will be way too bright even on their lowest setting. Here, S&B has it right, even on the highest brightness level of eleven, the reticle is still properly dim to where it will not wash out the target or hurt your night vision. While the brightness levels are good, unfortunately, we do not like that there is not an “off” notch between each of the settings. So if you have the reticle brightness turned to 7, you will have to rotate the knob all the way back down to zero (0) to turn it off. Its not a huge problem, but many of the scope makers today have designed their brightness knobs with the very convenient “off” position between each number. It is convenient, simple, and very quick, all traits we like on a tactical scope and something we would like to see on this scope as well.
The elevation knob is perched on top of a large elevated shoulder and is a large external style knob. There is a full 14 MILs of adjustment per revolution which provides enough elevation for a 308 rifle shooting M118LR style ammunition (175gr SMK @ 2600 fps) to be able to zero at 100 yards and fire all the way out past 1100 yards in standard atmospheric conditions in a single rotation! This is fantastic and helps prevent the very common occurrence of losing track of the number of revolutions that have been dialed into the elevation knob. To further aide in this problem is the presence of a zero stop as well as the “windows” on top of the elevation knob. These windows get filled with yellow once the elevation knob passes its first full revolution.
The clicks are firm and each click represents .1 MIL. There is an audible click as well as the tactile, though the audible sound is properly muted to prevent excessive noise while adjusting. The numbers are nicely marked and quite large making them very easy to read. Because the turret is tall and large in size, there is plenty of room to mark two full levels of numbers and notice that the numbers on the top, or second revolution, are marked in yellow to match the color that is displayed in the windows once the first rotation has been passed. This is a clever visual indicator to help the operator associate what amount of MILs are currently dialed into the knob. On the bottom row of markings there is a small hash mark for each individual click with a larger hash on the .5 mark as well as the whole number marks. The reference arrow is located below the knob itself and rests in a small cutout in the shoulder. There is a full 26 MIL of elevation in the scope, so if it is properly setup with a canted base, there is enough elevation for extreme distance shooting to match the high magnification range.
The windage knob is not nearly as tall as the elevation knob, though it is the same diameter. It has the same .1 MIL clicks with the same firm and positive clicks with no slop whatsoever, again, this is what is expected on these scopes. The markings are straight forward and clean with small hashes for each .2 MIL and smaller number. Because the marks are only at the .2 MIL marks it means that the reference arrow will be pointing in between two hash marks on each of the .1 MIL click values. It is not as precise when doing a quick scan, though we suspect it will not take much to get used to. The numbers count up in both directions and there are arrows on the knob itself indicating which direction to rotate the knob to adjust the impact right, but there are no indicators on the numbers themselves to indicate which way the knob has been rotated. Initially we thought this would be a problem, but then we realized that there are actually stops on the windage knob to prevent any overlapping and the markings end at 6 MIL in each direction. Those stops are at about the 6.5 MIL mark in each direction, so just a bit past the markings. Those 6+ MILs in each direction is plenty for shooting a 308 in very high 20 mph winds past 1000 yards.
On the left hand side of the scope is the focus, or parallax adjustment knob. The knob is larger in diameter than the elevation, windage and illumination control knobs but has the same serrations on the “top” of the knob to help with gripping it. The knob is marked in meters from 10 to 1000 and then infinity. It is not often that a higher powered scope like this one will focus all the way down to only 10 meters, which is impressive. The entire focus range takes about 355 degrees, or nearly a completely full revolution which gives the knob a lot of room for precise focus control, especially with the larger diameter. The knob is smooth through the entire range with a moderate amount of force being required to move it.
The amount of tube space in front of the shoulder to place your mounting rings is fairly small before the start of the forward bell begins. If you are using a typical picatinny rail, this should not be too much of a problem, but if you are using a two piece base, especially on a long action, then you will be limited in terms of scope placement. The bell houses the 56mm objective lens and has a long taper from when it begins. The overall shape and style of the scope is pleasing enough and it is fairly typical of larger tactical scopes available today.
The reticle on our test scope is the Gen 2 XR which is a reticle designed by Premier Reticles and is the same one we saw on the Premier Heritage scope we reviewed. The reticle is located in the first focal plane which allows it to be used at any magnification for ranging. The reticle has smaller dots at each of the full mil marks and then the larger hashes at the half mil marks. At first the eye has a tendency to gravitate toward the larger hash marks and you may mistake them for being the full MIL marks, but once you have used it a bit you quickly overcome this tendency. It is interesting to note that the dots become hashes on the lower part of the vertical stadia below the horizontal. There is also a Christmas tree style setup, made popular by the Horus reticles, below the horizontal stadia to allow for easier hold offs when compensating for windage and distances other than the zero. The Christmas tree style can be a bit cluttery with all of the markings and can make the viewing area busy, a complaint we have made other times. But the Gen 2 XR is not as cluttered as many of the others… or maybe we are just slowly getting used to them. The MIL markings, including the Christmas tree markings, extend down to a full 10 MIL below the horizontal stadia. The dot and hash marks on the horizontal stadia extend 5 MILs, as well as the vertical stadia above the horizontal. When the scope is zoomed all the way into 25x, only 8 MIL are visible below the horizontal line. (See the image below). Because the scope is a First Focal Plane scope, the engineers have to balance the thickness of the reticle so that it is thick enough to be visible at the low magnification ranges yet not be too thick at the high magnifications. This can be even more difficult when the scope covers a wide zoom range like this one does. The engineers at S&B elected to error on the side of a finer reticle and at the lower magnification ranges, many of the small details of the reticle disappear. But when at the higher zoom ranges, it is beautifully sized.
With the evaluation of the general features of the scope completed, it was time to perform the functionality check of the scope to see where any mechanical short comings might come up. With the price and quality level of this scope we expected excellent results as we prepared the scope for testing. The scope was mounted to a Tactical Operations Tango-51 chambered in 308 Win using some Leupold Mark 4 rings and Tactical Operations two piece 24 MOA canted bases. With the rifle being a short action, there were no problems using a two piece base and finding proper ring spacing on the scope. So with everything setup we proceeded to test the firing portion of the scope over a few different sessions of late Montana winter shooting. So the weather was typically in the high 30’s with a mix of clouds and sun.
The optics on the scope are excellent with beautiful clear and crisp scope images. The dioptre adjustment allowed us to get the reticle very sharp using the eyepiece adjustments and then we were able to get the target very clear using the side focus and its wide adjustment range. The image was very bright and the optical quality was obviously very good as was the low light gathering capabilities. There are some excellent resources on the web that have compared and measured the exact details of the glass of all the high end scopes out there and we’ll leave those details to those excellent reports. For us, we try to classify the quality of the glass we are reviewing to keep it simple, and the S&B glass is some of the best.
Once the scope and rifle were zeroed our first test is to run the scope through a box test using the windage and elevation controls to move groups to each corner of a box and testing the repeatability of the adjustments. Everything checked out good with the fifth group starting right where we began on top of the first. From there we moved to the adjustment size test. We fired a group, then dialed in 6 mils of left, fired another group, came back right 6 mils, and fired a third group. The first part of that test is to insure that the third group comes back right on top of the first to again test repeatability over a larger adjustment range, and then the other critical part of the test is to measure the 6 MILs to insure they are the correct size. After we fired the three groups, the third group was indeed right on top of the first and the distance between the groups measured 21.62″. 6 MILs at 100 yards measures 21.6″ and because of variations in group sizes we allow for some error. Within 5% we consider passing, within 3% is considered right on. The amount of error here was only .1%, so obviously well within the excellent realm!
We also did some multi-range firing from short to mid ranges, using the elevation dials to do the adjustments. Honestly, all scopes should be able to handle repeated elevation adjustments, so it does not come as any real surprise that the PM II had no problems here.
We then tested for reticle shift during magnification changes by using a boresighting scope attached to the front of the barrel and then zero the reticle of the scope to it using the elevation and windage controls. We then watch the reticle for any movement while cycling through the entire magnification range. There was no reticle shift at all. The other area where scopes can have problems is with reticle shift while going through the entire focus range with the parallax adjustment, or focus knob. So we test it the same way that we do with the magnification. As we mentioned before, this scope has the remarkable ability to focus as close as 10 meters away, and with a 25x scope, that is amazing. Unfortunately, I think they tried to do too much. The reticle is rock solid with absolutely no shift from 20meters to infinity. Unfortunately, from 20m down to 10m, there was a very noticeable shift in the reticle. The good thing is that for our purposes as snipers and long range marksman, the movement below 20m will have no impact on us at all, and because the range is so close it would likely not equate to more than .5 inches, but… it is still a shift.
So with all of our normal tests completed, mechanically it does excellent, except for that super close range issue with focus and reticle shift. But before we had concluded our testing, one of our readers posted a comment on a Friday update when we mentioned we were in the middle of testing this scope. His comments asked if we were going to mention and test the tunneling at low magnification. This was a fantastic question and was something we had not looked at or noticed and we at first were not sure if it was really an issue. So of course, we had to check it out. Low and behold, it is true. What is tunneling? On this 5-25x PM II, it happens between about 5x to just a tad over 7x. The magnification changes as normal, growing or shrinking what is viewed through the sight picture, but what happens is that the field of view remains exactly the same, it does not shrink the field of view when going from 5x to 7x. It is hard to explain, but when looking through the scope, it is like the entire scope image is moved away from the user, or closer to you. If you look at our side by side reticle pictures above, you can kind of see it. Look at the edges of the scope view in the 5x picture on the left compared to the edges on the 25x picture on the right. It is like the internal erector tube is moved away from you and it seems like you can see the edges of the tube itself. It is odd, and we measured the field of view to confirm what we were seeing and verified that it did not change from 5x to 7x. Above 7x everything is great and as you would expect. Does this really matter or does it impact its use? Not that we could tell, but we think it might be another case of trying to do too much with the scope. Maybe have a 4x zoom range instead of the 5x, would prevent some of this. Additionally, the same poster mentioned that the scope is only 24x on the top end and not 25x, but we did not have an easy way to test that.
So, with the testing completed, and with some interesting findings and revelations, how do we score the scope overall? Well, we certainly would not turn the scope away as the glass is beautiful and the features are excellent and the scope is very capable of long range precision shooting. There are definite limitations with some of the mechanical issues pointed out, but luckily they can all be easily avoided and are at the extremes on the snipers operational scale, and thankfully on the lower extreme. So those limitations would likely never show themselves during operational use… but they are still there. So, it is still an excellent scope and quite capable, but with some flaws.