We have reviewed a few other Nightforce scopes and have been impressed with their quality and features. The NXS line is very durable and rugged and they have an excellent reputation among the special operation units from around the world. Their NXS and ATACR scopes performed very well when we reviewed them and they make excellent tactical scopes. But one down side is that with their capability comes a large size. This time around we wanted to take one of their smaller and lighter scopes for a trial run and see how it would do as a tactical rifle scope. If you have followed Sniper Central over the years you have probably noticed that we have tried to keep things grounded in reality and not just get caught up with the latest trend in the commercial world. Rather, we try to evaluate the equipment based on actually using them in the field in the role of the military or law enforcement sniper. We do tend to favor smaller and more universally applicable scopes for all around sniping use and when we first started noticing the Nightforce Compact series of NXS scopes we liked what we saw. Then they came out with the improved 2.5-10x42mm version and we decided we wanted to see how this little scope would do. For the evaluation we selected the MIL-R reticle as it seemed to be especially suitable for sniping use.
It is somewhat interesting to note that this scope is marketed as a “compact” scope, but in fact it would have been considered a normal sized tactical scope just a decade ago. This gives you an idea of what the modern tactical scope has evolved into today. The packaging is typical Nightforce, arriving in a nice box with a good instruction manual, reticle detail sheet, and even a product catalog CD-ROM. There are even some nice stickers included and a set of rubber flip up scope caps included as well, but we will comment more on those later in the review.
The tube is an aluminum 30mm tube that is compact in length and that compact length does limit the mounting length to just a bit over 5″. If your rifle is a long action, the ring placement might be tight, but it should work, especially if using a single piece picatinny style rail. The entire scope has the traditional high quality Nightforce matte black finish that has little to no glare. The overall scope shape and design is attractive, especially when you look at the size and weight of the scope. It is less than 12″ in length and weights only one and a quarter pounds (just a bit over half a Kilo)
One of the big complaints we have had, as have others, with the full size NXS scopes is that the entire eye piece rotates when changing the magnification on the scope. This makes for an irritation when trying to use flip up scope caps and in most cases, users either do without a scope cap on the eyepiece, or they come up with some make-do configuration. Nightforce has always indicated that this was a part of the design as it created a much stronger eyepiece, but there are plenty of other extremely durable scopes on the market that do not have this same limitation. The good news is that with the compact NXS series, the moving eyepiece issue has been resolved. The eyepiece is a traditional design that is separate from the magnification ring and it rotates to focus the reticle. The lock ring at the front of the eyepiece is knurled and sets the eyepiece in place once it has been adjusted. The focus is a fine focus, meaning it is not a fast focus design, but allows for an exceptionally fine focus adjustment. Once the eyepiece has been focused and the reticle is a nice crisp image, the lock ring is cinched against the eyepiece locking it into place. We prefer this fine focus style as it allows for adjusting the reticle picture to be as sharp as possible. The fast focus designs are quick, but the granularity suffers and many of them do not have a means of locking them in place. The setup on this NXS compact also feels very robust and solid and we have no concerns for durability.
Directly in front of the eyepiece is the aforementioned magnification ring. This ring has the indicator marks placed at a slight slope toward the shooter which does help the operator to easily see what magnification setting the scope is set to by checking where it aligns with the single indicator mark on the tube. The ring itself has the same aggressive knurling on it that the eyepiece lock ring does and further more there are two higher raised finger protrusions that help the fingers get a good hold on the ring for adjusting it. The best part of the magnification ring is the included throw lever that threads into those protrusions. When attached (see the image above), it provides an extremely convenient lever to grab and adjust the magnification of the scope. These throw levers have grown in popularity and it is nice to have one included with the scope. The resistance on the magnification ring is on the stiff side but it is smooth through the entire range. That stiffness does keep the ring in place and also builds confidence that it too should hold up well over time and through rigorous use.
The NXS external knobs have always gotten high marks from us as the size and shape are easy to use and the clicks have always been very nice and accurate. The knobs on the compact version of the NXS are smaller than those on the full size NXS scopes, but this smaller size is in line with the smaller size of the compact scope. The shape of the knobs is similar to the full size NXS knobs but just on a smaller and shorter scale. There is the normal Nightforce knurling on top of the elevation knob and there are nice large size and easy to see tick marks on the face of the knob. There is a clear indication arrow showing which way to rotate the knob to move the bullet impact up. This arrow is placed in a very good spot that allows it to easily be seen from behind the scope. There is also a direction arrow on top of the knob as well. The full size NXS knobs have a full 20 MOA or 10 MIL of adjustment per revolution, but the smaller knobs on the compact NXS come with half as much adjustments per revolution, only 10 MOA or 5 MIL. Our test scope had MIL adjustments so there were 5 MILS per revolution with a click for each .1 MIL. This 5 MIL of adjustment per revolution will take a 308 shooting the standard 175gr bullet at 2600 fps from 100 to 600 yards in the first revolution and past 900 in the second revolution (in standard atmospheric conditions). Once the revolutions go beyond that second rotation, it can become an issue with failing to remember how many rotations the shooter has gone, but these scopes do have Zerostop as an option, which our test scope did have. If the shooter gets lost and fails to remember how many revolutions have been passed, he or she can just turn it down until it stops, which would then be their initial zero, usually at 100 yards. At that point, they can start over.
The specification sheet says that on the MIL adjustment versions of the scope there is a total of over 27 MIL of elevation adjustments and the MOA versions have 100 MOA, which should be plenty for just about any cartridge covering the capabilities of the scope. Our actual test scope had over 32 MIL of adjustment, even more than the spec sheet. The clicks are audibly muted and have a very positive click with no slop or mushiness and we would categorize the clicks as being excellent. You are able to feel each of the clicks even with gloves on and there are no questions about whether a click happened or not. There is a larger than normal single set screw at the top of the knob which makes slipping the knob for zeroing corrections very easy using the provided Allen wrench. There are horizontal lines on the turret below the knob to help track how many revolutions the knob has been adjusted, which will be handy and necessary with the limited amount of adjustments per revolution.
The windage knob is very similar in size and shape as the elevation knob, it is just slightly shorter but has all the same features like the knurling at the top and the single set screw. The markings on the knob count up in both directions and there is a little R or L indicating left or right to help remind the shooter which direction they have adjusted the scope. As is expected, the numbers overlap at 2.5 MIL, which if you are shooting our standard 308 with 175gr bullet, would allow you to shoot to about 900 yards in a 10mph crosswind before the numbers begin to overlap. The same excellent clicks that are found on the elevation knob are present on the windage knob as well. There is the same 27+ MIL/100 MOA of total of adjustments for the windage as there is for the elevation, but again, our test scope actually had more than the specifications called out for.
On the opposite side of the scope from the windage knob is the side focus knob which is a bit taller than both the elevation and windage knobs. The knob is marked with hash marks that grow a bit larger until the infinity mark is reached. There are not any other additional markings beyond the hashes and infinity symbol, which is probably fine since most all shooters just focus until the picture is sharp, regardless of what the marks might indicate. The knob rotates quiet smooth throughout the range, though the resistance is somewhat light. It is still enough to hold it in place without any concern, but it is just lighter than the rest of the controls on the scope. The full adjustment range uses about 300 degrees of rotation which allows for fairly fine adjustments for a sharp picture.
The reason the focus knob is taller is because the scope is equipped with the Nightforce Digillum system, which is their digitally controlled reticle illumination setup. The standard size NXS line of scopes has traditionally used an on-off setup where the focus knob is pulled out to turn the illuminated reticle on and pushed in to turn it off. There is no easy brightness control as that requires removing the focus knob and adjusting the brightness with tools. It is simple enough, but not something that can be done while eyes are on target. The newer digillum that is on this scope attempts to address that issue without the need of adding another illumination control knob on the scope. The way the controls work is that by pressing the botton on the top center of the focus knob once, it will illuminate the reticle. There are several different controls that can then be done, all using the same button on the top of the focus knob. Holding the button in for 1-3 seconds and then releasing it will turn the reticle off. By pressing the botton and then immediately releasing it without pause, will change the brightness of the reticle. The shooter can continue to do this to cycle through the brightness levels. Once it reaches its max level it flashes three times, and then the next time the button is pressed, it will decrease the brightness until the bottom is reach when it will flash three times again. If the operator holds the button in for 5 seconds, the reticle will change from red to green. Do it again, it changes green to red. If the button is held for 8 seconds, the reticle changes to night vision compatibility mode, which are very dim brightness levels for compatibility with night vision devices. We like all the different capabilities of the illuminated reticle, and we like that Nightforce has stayed away from adding a separate control knob for the reticle, but with only a single control (the button) remembering all the different functions might take some getting used to. Once the controls are mastered, it is becomes an effective illumination setup that seems to offer all the right capabilities for the intended role of this scope.
In front of the control knobs the tube tapers into a traditional objective lens bell housing. The bell has threads, but we do not see that Nightforce offers any sort of sunshade for the scope, which is an accessory we would like to see for tactical and practical purposes. We would like to mention that we love to see the label “Made in the USA” with the scope serial number marked on the tube, but it is a bit different to do it on the top of the tube instead of on the bottom.
With the inspection of the scope complete, it was time to perform the actual functionality test to see how it would perform in its intended role. For our shooting evaluation we mounted the scope onto a Sig Sauer SSG 3000 sniper rifle chambered in 308 Winchester. The SIG has a rail already attached from the factory and we then used a set of Leupold Mk4 steel 30mm rings of medium height to mount the scope to the rail. We then bore-sighted the scope to the rifle and headed out to the range. Our tests were all performed during a Montana winter with temperatures averaging in the mid-teens. The cold did not seem to effect the scope at all and the functionality of the controls remained good throughout all the tests.
The clicks on the control knobs continued to be a bright spot on this scope as they where easy to use even with gloves on in the cold. The throw lever on the magnification ring was also a nice addition that allows easy manipulation of the zoom power without having to take your eye away from the scope while trying to locate a good hand hold to adjust the zoom. The scope is a second focal plane scope so for any range estimation using the reticle the magnification needs to be set to 10x. This particular arrangement actual does allow the use of one of the range estimation tricks that is capable for second focal plane scopes with the reticle set to 10x. If you are looking at a 2 yard tall target, such as a 6 foot tall bad guy, just zoom in until the target measures two MILs tall on your reticle. Look at the zoom power, and that is how far away the target is in hundreds of yards. For instance, if you do the above and the zoom reading says 7.5x, then the target is 750 yards away. Crude, but quick and simple and accurate enough for quick engagements. The same trick can be done measuring a 1 yard sized target, just zoom in until it measures 1 MIL on the reticle and the same applies.
We shot the scope through the traditional box, shooting a group, then going down 2 MILs shoot another group, then left 2 MILs, shoot a group, then up and then back right. The 5th and last group should be right on top of the first with the groups all making a nice 2 MIL box, and the NXS compact did very well. We then fired a group, moved the windage over 6 MILS to the left, fire a group and then brought it back to zero and fired a last group, again, printing right on top of the first. We then measured the distance between the groups to verify the accuracy of the adjustments. At 100 yards 6 MILS should measure 21.6″. Of course there is going to be some fudge factor in the measurement due to the size of the groups and other variables when shooting rifles, but we like to see anything within 5% error, and consider 3% to be precise. When we measured the distance between the groups, it measure 21.5″ which is only 0.46% off indicating the adjustments appear to be right on the .1 MIL per click.
The optical quality on the scope is very good as well. The environment during the shooting was snow covered terrain with dark cloud cover which provides some tricky optical conditions with shadows. The scope did a good job with contrast and provided a crisp edge to edge picture. It is very difficult to compare optic quality between scopes and scope brands, but we had no complaints with this scope and appreciated the nice bright and clear scope picture that was easy to focus in with the side focus knob.
The reticle on this scope is what Nightforce calls the MIL-R and has some additional features to try and help estimate range more accurately. This is a traditional hash style MIL reticle that has larger hashes for the full 1 MIL intervals and then smaller hashes for half MIL intervals. There is a full 10 MILs below the horizontal stadia and an additional 5 MILs above it with 5 MILs both to the right and the left. To top it off, there is a small inverted T in the lower right quadrant that is 2 MILs tall and has tiny hash marks alternating on either side of the stadia at each .1 MIL mark. This is used for precise measurement to help improve range estimation measurements with the reticle. The reticle is effective and while the inverted T can obscure some of the viewable target area, it is not too bad.
The illuminated portion of the reticle is effective and there are enough brightness levels to satisfy just about every shooting condition, especially when you take into account the very dim night vision compatibility mode as well. The button control is different and we were mixed whether we liked it or not. The only real problem is remembering all the different functionality controls with that one button. With enough experience and time with the controls they will more than likely become second nature, but right now they are a bit cumbersome to use. For instance, if you discover that the reticle is a bit too bright and you want to dim it, but then press the button and discover that the next brightness level is actually more bright. Well, then you have to keep pressing the button until it reaches its max level and then keep pressing it until it comes back down to the brightness it was, and then press it again to get it to where you originally wanted to end up. This tended to drive us to just use it like the old Nightforce NXS way, press it once to turn it on. Press and hold for 3 seconds than release it to turn it off. Though if you forget and release it too soon… you just changed the brightness.
We do also need to point out that the floppy scope caps that are provided with the scope are really not worth keeping. Just plan on tossing them and replacing them with a good quality set of Butler Creek caps or something similar.
Overall, we really like this scope. We would love to see a version with a FFP reticle, but even without it, this is a very capable scope and very good for sniping work from 100-1000 yards. Its compact, light, durable and has excellent control knobs. The optics are very good and there are plenty of adjustments to shoot at long range with most any cartridge. Well beyond 100-1000 yards for the 308 even, though the max magnification of 10x will limit the distance capabilities of the scope. The illumination controls are a hindrance in some situations, but the scope as a whole will make a very effective scope for many sniping platforms. The price is on the bottom of the higher end pricing, but there is a lot of quality and capability included in this smaller package from Nightforce and its worth checking out.