While we love, and use, a lot of high end tactical and sniping equipment, we are also always on the lookout for affordable rifles, scopes and equipment for the individual and departments that do not have unlimited funds. Vortex recently came out with an entry level line of tactical scopes called the Diamondback Tactical and we liked the initial features and price-point of the scope and decided to bring one in to perform our full evaluation of the scope. There are two different models in the Diamondback Tactical line from Vortex and we decided to go with the slightly higher magnification version and ordered up a Diamondback Tactical 4-12x40mm rifle scope with VMR-1 reticle.
The box and packaging are nothing special and when you open it up you get your normal fair of scope related items. These items include a warranty card, instruction manuals, bikini style lens covers, a Vortex pin, scope cloth, and some other items. It should be mentioned that the manuals are specific to the Diamondback Tactical line and the VMR-1 reticle. The scope does not have an adjustable objective or illuminated reticle so the controls are few and the instruction manual is likewise short with minimal pages. The warranty card indicates the scope carries the normal Vortex VIP lifetime warranty that is fully transferable with no cards to send in. Finally, our initial inspection further tells us the scope is made in the Philippines where many mid and even upper middle grade scopes are manufactured.
The eyepiece of the scope that houses the ocular lens is moderately sized and features a fast focus eyepiece. This dioptre adjustment, used for focusing the reticle, adjusts through the entire range in about 1.2 revolutions and has a light knurling on it to help when gripping it. It rotates through the entire range very smooth and when it is adjusted all the way out there is no perceptible movement, or wobble, from side to side which typically indicates good tolerance levels during construction. The eyepiece does not have any rubber on it to cushion the blow if you get your eye too close during firing, but there is a decent amount of eye relief at 3.8″. There is also no indicator mark anywhere on the eyepiece to give a reference point when switching shooters, so it would have to be a matter of adjusting the focus whenever needed or if switching shooters.
In front of the eyepiece is the magnification adjustment ring that goes from 4x to 12x. The scope only features a 3 times magnification range, going from 4 to 12, so it is not as flexible as some of the modern and more expensive tactical scopes that feature 5x or even 6x zoom ranges. What this does allow is for individual markings for each of the magnification settings which are on the ring and slanted toward the shooter so they can easily be read. The indicator dot is located on the part of the eyepiece that is slanted away from the shooter making it hard to see, but since it is located directly on top of the eyepiece at the 12 o’clock position, it becomes fairly easy to see what magnification power the scope is set on by just looking at which number is located at the 12 o’clock position.
The magnification ring has a moderate amount of resistance that remains constant and smooth through the entire range, but there is no thumb knob and the knurling is only of moderate size and effectiveness, so a firm grip is required to rotate it. The entire magnification range, and its markings, covers about 40% of the circumference of the ring. Directly in front of the magnification adjustment ring the eyepiece tapers quickly down to the single piece 1″ diameter tube with 2.15 inches of tube length in which to mount the rear scope ring.
As a result of the 1″ diameter tube, the shoulder area of the scope is fairly small with some directional indicator markings that illustrate which direction is UP for the elevation knob and RIGHT for the windage knob. The knobs are an external tactical style knob of moderate height. Again, due to the fact that this is a smaller 1″ diameter tube scope, the knobs themselves are also limited in size, but they match the scope nicely. The elevation knob has large and clearly marked numbers with the 0 (zero) being oversized to help provide a visual queue of where your zero is at. There is also a red high-viz indicator on top of the knob at the zero mark to help further with knowing where the dial is set at. There are 12 MOA of adjustment per revolution with horizontal hashes under the knob to provide a visual reference as to where the scope is currently at in its elevation range. Vortex states that the scope has 70 MOA of adjustment and our test scope had 77 MOA. For a 1″ tube scope, this is a decent amount and when combined with a 20 MOA canted base it is enough to take a 175gr 308 Winchester out to 1100-1200 yards while maintaining a 100 yard zero.
The clicks themselves are actually quiet nice for a lower priced scope with a good positive click that is semi-muted audibly yet provides a very positive tactile feel. There is almost no slop between the clicks which is one of the biggest problems we encounter on lower priced scopes, so this is nice to see. There is no zero stop on the scope, a feature eliminated to keep costs down, so careful tracking of what rotation your dial is on will be required. You may have also noticed that there was no mention of a provided Allen wrench to use for slipping the rings, the reason is because the knobs have a ‘tooless’ reset feature that allows you to set your zero by simply pulling up against the spring tension in the knobs, rotate them to zero, and then allow the knob to set back down. Provided the springs maintain their tension for a long life, we have no issues with this setup as it is simple and effective.
The windage knob is the same size and shape as the elevation knob to include some more aggressive knurling at the top that provides a good amount of grip for both the elevation and windage knobs. The windage knob has the same nice clicks as the elevation knob and the same tooless zero reset feature. The windage knob counts up in both directions and is clearly marked with the same larger zero and with R and L markings before each number to provide a clear indication of which way the knob is adjusted. With 12 MOA per revolution, the markings overlap at 6 MOA which allows for shooting a 308 Win with 175gr ammo out to about 700 yards in a direct 10 MPH crosswind before the overlap occurs.
There is no adjustable objective on this scope so the left hand side of the shoulder is blank with just the Vortex logo there. Because there is no adjustable objective, the scope is set to be parallax free at only one specific range and on this scope it is 100 yards. The non adjustable parallax means as an operator, you will need to be careful to have a solid and repeatable cheekweld so that your eye is aligned in the same place every time you fire, this will help keep parallax problems from effecting your long range shots. It is nice to have an adjustable objective, but when you don’t, you just need to mind your fundamentals more closely.
In front of the shoulder there is an additional 1.9″ of tube length to locate the forward scope mounting ring before the tube tapers up to the objective lens bell housing. The taper is long and gentle which, while elegant, does reduce that ring mounting area on the scope. The objective lens is 40mm in diameter which provides a small overall diameter of the bell and allows the scope to be mounted low on the rifle, though sacrificing some light gathering ability.
In keeping with the tactical theme of the scope, it is finished in a matte black finish with very little extra markings on the scope beyond the necessary numbers on the dials and adjustment rings and a few Vortex logos and minor other markings. The scope has a long and elegant look to it and with the 1″ tube and 40mm objective it is rather small when compared to the modern trend of large tactical scopes. The overall length is a tad over 14″ and the weight is almost exactly 1 pound (16.2 oz, 0.46 kg) so the size is comparatively small and light. The matte black anodizing is quite matte and appears to be of decent quality and thickness. The bell of the scope is threaded and Vortex states that they will have a sunshade available for the scope in the summer of 2017, but there is currently not one available.
The scope features what Vortex calls the VMR-1 reticle which is a familiar looking MOA based tactical reticle with hash marks every 2 MOA that can be used for both range estimation and holdoffs. There are 30 MOA of markings below the horizontal stadia which allows for a decent amount of holdoffs for rapid fire engagements at various ranges. The reticle is located in the 2nd focal plane which means that the scope has to be set at a specific magnification power in order for the markings to be accurate. For the Diamondback Tactical scopes the power needs to be set at its highest magnification, 12x in this case. We prefer, and are glad that Vortex used, the highest magnification as it makes it quick and easy to just crank up the power until it stops without taking your eye off the scope, and then you know its at the correct magnification. We would like to see some visual marking on the magnification adjustment ring to indicate that 12x is the correct setting, but that is a minor issue that is typically not a problem to remember if you use only a few different scopes.
The reticle is NOT etched on the glass but is a wire reticle. Wire reticles are not as durable as etched glass reticles and can break, but when properly manufactured they are very durable and it would take a major blow to break the reticle. This was another cost savings compromise made to keep the price of the scope in their desired range. It should also be noted as well that the reticle is a MOA reticle that matches the MOA adjustment knobs which many shooters, if not most, prefer.
The optics on this Vortex scope are not going to match their high end Razor HD line of scopes, or other multi-thousand dollar scopes, but they are extra low dispersion (XD) lenses that provide good optics and compare very well with other scopes in, or slightly above, the price class of the Diamondback Tactical. The field of view is a bit more narrow than higher end scopes but again falls in line with other direct competitors. The field of view is a function of the eyepiece construction and design, but with a lower magnification level of 4-12x, it still works well. The light gathering performed well enough during our early and late day tests indicating good light transmission from their fully coated lenses.
For our operational tests we mounted the Diamondback Tactical onto our Remington 700P test rifle chambered in 308 Winchester. The rifle already has a Warne 20 MOA canted steel one piece rail attached and we used a set of TPS steel alloy 1″ low height rings. With the one piece rail it made it easy to properly locate the mounting rings without any spacing issues and we quickly had the scope mounted and ready to test. Our shooting tests were conducted in overcast and rainy spring weather here in Montana, we figured we might as well test the scope in real world conditions. If you are not familiar with how we test our scopes, feel free to read about our testing procedures.
With the scope zeroed we were able to run through the box test without any troubles and with good results. The clicks continued to be a positive feature of the scope as they are a nice and positive click with good tactile feel even with light gloves on. The sight picture was solid out in the field and the optics are clear and sharp as we already mentioned. We then went to our click size test and fired our first group and then dialed in 20 MOA of left adjustment and fired our second group. Both of these groups were tight at about .5 MOA which is normal for this rifle. We then dialed back in our 20 MOA of right and fired again to insure the groups had moved right back on top of the original group, which it had. The distance between the two groups measured 21.19″ compared to the 20.94″ that 20 MOA equals at 100 yards. This .25″ difference equates to 1.19% of error which easily falls within our allowed 3% of error that equates to a good score on this test.
During our use on the range and while under simulated field conditions we did note that we would like a throw lever or thumb knob to help with adjusting the magnification ring from behind the scope, but it was still perfectly functional as is. We also noticed that the markings on the elevation and windage knobs were slightly off of perfect so that the little hash marks did not line up perfectly with the index mark on the scope. A minor annoyance since it was just slightly off and it was still easy to determine which value the knob was set to.
The next test was to check for any reticle drift in the scope when adjusting the magnification. Obviously there was no need to test reticle drift when cycling the adjustable objective since there is no adjustable objective. We set the scope up with the boresighting grid and aligned the reticle with one of the intersection points and then cycled through the entire range of the magnification ring several times while watching closely for any movement of the reticle. Keeping the zoom range down to only 3x from the bottom to the top of the range likely helps with simplifying construction and we did not detect any discernible reticle movement during this test. The point of impact should not change no matter what magnification you have the scope on.
With all of the tests complete and with all of our probing and prodding done, we had to come up with a final evaluation of the scope. What did we think? Well, we have long been looking for a simple and basic scope that removes unnecessary features and just leaves us with an affordable but yet functional and good quality scope. We think we may have found that with the Diamondback Tactical. The scope really is a basic scope, but it has functional optics, external knobs with good clicks, and enough elevation adjustments to be usable on a mid to long range sniper rifle. The scope passed all of our functional tests with good results indicating good internal mechanics. The tooless zero adjustment is a feature that could probably be eliminated, but it doesn’t bother us and has worked well so far. Beyond that, provided you recognize and accept the lack of features, such as an adjustable objective, FFP, 30mm tube, or illuminated reticle, then the scope does was it was intended to do and fits its intended niche well. What more could we ask for only $300?