Vortex Optics continues to expand their lineup of rifle scopes to a dizzying array of choices. They have a scope that will fit just about every budget and that is what we are focusing on in this review, a budget tactical scope. We have previously reviewed their Diamondback Tactical 4-12x40mm scope and for the price point of $250 that is a good choice. But that version is a Second Focal Plane scope, only has 3x zoom range, is made with a 1″ diameter scope tube, and it does not have an adjustable objective. What if you had an extra $100 in your budget, what could you get for $350 from Vortex? The Diamondback Tactical FFP 4-16x44mm scope has a First Focal Plane reticle, side focus, a 44mm objective, 30mm scope tube and a 4x zoom range. That is a lot of scope for the money, but is it just more features thrown in, or is it an actual good value?
The scope comes in a basic scope box and includes instructions, warranty information card, lens cloth, bikini style scope caps, and even a sunshade. Sunshades are an easy accessory that many scope makers sell as an extra feature at a large mark up for some easy profit. To have one included on a budget scope that is already feature rich can only mean one thing…
We figured this might be the case, as all of the FFP scopes with these features in this price range seem to come from China. The scopes coming from China are getting better, but we have still not found one that we would feel comfortable keeping on a rifle we had to rely on as a duty rifle. Perhaps that will change with this scope? The cheaper Diamondback 4-12x40mm SFP scope is made in the Philippines which has a more solid and higher quality scope manufacturing reputation. Like we said though, the factories in China seem to be doing better and it really comes down to what procedures Vortex has in place to insure quality and good design.
The eyepiece is a quick focus eyepiece with serrations around the perimeter to help grip and adjust it. It adjusts smoothly through the entire range which takes about 1.6 rotations. There is an indicator dot that is visible for about half of the adjustment range and is not really useful because even when it is uncovered from under the housing, its located in a spot that is difficult to see. With the eyepiece extended all the way out there is no movement in the lens housing, which we have seen in other Chinese made scopes.
Located at the front of the eyepiece is the zoom power control ring. The full zoom power from 4x to 16x is covered over about 60% of the ring circumference. It does give a good amount of spacing between zoom powers, especially on the lower end. It rotates fairly smoothly with just a bit of coarseness in a few sections and without too much force required. There are number markings for each zoom level from 4x through 8x and then on each even number from 8x through 16x. There is an indicator dot directly on top of the eyepiece housing. The numbers are located on a beveled edge that is tilted toward the shooter to help make reading them a little easier from behind the scope.
In front of the zoom ring there is 2.7″ of tube length to mount the rear scope mounting ring. The tube is made of aluminum, but Vortex does not specify what type, they only say “Aircraft Grade” which doesn’t narrow it down very much. The tube is a 30mm diameter tube which does provide some extra strength and more room for internal adjustments.
The external knobs sit on a moderately sized rounded shoulder. The scope is available with either MIL or MOA adjustments and corresponding reticle to match. The version we acquired for our evaluation was setup in MOA. The elevation knob is medium sized and has serrations around the top for extra grip. There is not a lot of room on the face of the dial for the markings and there is only a single level with small hashes for each .25 MOA click and then a number for each full MOA. The knob has 15 MOA of adjustments per revolution.
There are no horizontal marks beneath the elevation knob to track the number of rotations nor is there a zero stop feature of any sort, so the operator will need to be very diligent in keeping track of what rotation the knob is set to. The factory indicates that the scope has 85 MOA of elevation adjustment, our test scope had 105 MOA, which is significantly more than the factory spec. The extra adjustments are good, but 23.5% of variance versus the specification raised some eyebrows.
The clicks themselves are a bit mushy and not as defined as we would like, this is the most common trait of Chinese made scopes. There is an audible click, but the tactile click just is not very crisp. The knob is also a design that sits down on a sprocket and is set to zero by removing the large screw on top, lifting the knob completely off, and then sitting it back on the post aligning the teeth of the knob onto the sprocket, or gear, of that internal post. It works fine and many scopes use this setup, but occasionally the hash marks do not line up right on the indicator mark. This scope isn’t too bad.
The windage knob is the same size and shape as the elevation knob and located on the right hand side of the scope. The markings count up in both directions, which we like, and there is a little R and L next to the numbers to clearly indicate which direction the scope has been adjusted. With 15 MOA of adjustment per rotation, that means the overlap happens at 7.5 MOA. This is enough to shoot a .308 175gr out to over 800 yards in a 10 MPH crosswinds before that overlap happens. Incidentally, the 15 MOA of adjustment per revolution means the elevation enters into the second rotation before that same .308 round gets to 600 yards and then the third revolution comes around 850 yards.
On the left hand side of the shoulder is the focus knob. Again, the knob is the same size and shape as the others and has markings from 20 yards up to 500 yards and then one final marking at infinity. The adjustment range utilizes nearly the entire circumference of the knob which typically is good to allow as much precision in adjusting the focus as possible. Unfortunately, the vast majority of that adjustment range on the knob only covers 20 to 75 yards, which is pretty much useless on a long range tactical scope. Only about 30% of that adjustment range is used for 100 yards to infinity. We consider this a design flaw for a scope intended for tactical use as this one is. The knob is also very stiff through its entire adjustment range. It’ll certainly stay put when left alone, but is is so stiff it requires a very firm grip and large application of force to move it.
In front of the shoulder there is 2.25″ in tube length to mount the forward mounting ring. The tube does not appear to be a single piece tube as the objective lens bell housing appears to be separate and attached to the tube, either threaded or bonded. If done right, this is not a problem and can be plenty durable, such as the Nightforce NXS scopes. If not done right, it can be a weak point and we have seen scope failures here on other Chinese made scopes. It will depend on the engineering and build quality to determine where the Diamondback falls.
The entire scope is finished in a satin black anodizing that looks good and even. The scope is nitrogen purged to prevent fogging and they indicate it has O-ring seals to keep it water, dust and debris proof. Vortex indicates it is shockproof as well, but that can mean a lot of things to different manufacturers. Vortex does offer their standard lifetime warranty on the scope as well.
The reticle in this scope is the Vortex EBR-2C reticle that is glass etched to enhance durability. The reticle is setup in MOA to match the elevation and windage knobs and each hash mark indicates 2 MOA. There are numbers all along the vertical and horizontal stadia which clutters the view a bit and there is the ever popular Christmas tree style arrangement below the horizontal stadia. This is good for rapid hold overs and hold offs, but does provide a lot of dots to clutter the viewing field. The reticle is located on the First Focal Plane and as such it grows and shrinks with the magnification of the scope.
Vortex uses extra low dispersion (XD) glass for better resolution and they have multi-coatings on the lenses that touch the air to help with light transmission and brightness. The brightness and sharpness of the optics do seem to be pretty good and we were satisfied with its optical performance.
Because of the manufacturer origin of the scope, we wanted to mount it to a rifle we would be using periodically over the coming years to keep a continued test going to see how it holds up over time. So we mounted it to a prototype DMR rifle chambered in .308 Winchester. We used a set of high Nightforce XTreme duty steel 30mm rings to insure that the mounting system could not be held accountable for any disparities during a long term test. With these durable rings and single piece rail along the top of the rifle, mounting was quick and easy.
At the range we ran the scope through our normal battery of tests, which you can get more details about on the how we test page. The box test went well without and problems as the scope seemed to track well and was repeatable. The mushiness of the clicks was even more apparent when we were using a pair of light tactical gloves on the chilly 28 degree F morning. Those gloves were additionally handy when adjusting the focus knob as it continued to be stubborn and stiff.
We were using some Choice 178gr Match ammo that was shooting about .75 MOA out of this rifle. For our 20 MOA adjustment measuring test we fired our first group and then dialed in 20 MOA of left and fired the second group. We then dialed 20 MOA of right back in and fired another round to insure it came back to the original zero, which it did nicely. The distance between the two groups was 21.4″ compared to what should have been 20.94″ (20 MOA at 100 yards). This equated to 2.2% of error. For this test we consider 5% to be passing and under 3% to be desirable, which this scope did. So the adjustment sizes were good as was the repeatability.
Our last set of technical tests is to test for reticle drift during zoom, focus and elevation/windage adjustments. With our boresighting grid mounted to the barrel, we first tested for any reticle movement during zoom magnification changes. With the reticle zeroed on a cross hash, we did notice some slight upward movement when going from 4x through 16x. Through that entire range it equated to about 1 MOA of movement, not great, but not horrible either. The side focus, on the other hand, caused a downward movement of over 2 MOA from 40 yards to Infinity. It was probably another 1 MOA from 40 yards down to 20 yards. This also further emphasized the drawbacks of having the vast majority of the focus knob devoted to 20 to 75 yards. It is a lot of wasted adjustment range that equates to additional reticle drift.
Our final test was to check to see how well the elevation and windage adjustments tracked along straight lines. We are happy to report that the results were better on this test than the drift test. Adjusting through 30+ MOA of clicks, the reticle followed the straight lines very well which backed up the results we saw during our range testing. While the clicks may be a bit mushy, they do track nicely.
When the dust had settled and our testing was completed, we sat down and evaluated the results. There are still concerns with Chinese scopes that this model did not alleviate. The mushy clicks are only mediocre, but it is the focus knob that was our biggest gripe in both terms of design and performance. The reticle drifting is a common issue with lower budget scopes and its an issue with this one as well. Glass quality and tracking seemed to be the bright spots on the scope. The scope can work as a budget scope on a budget rifle, but if we had to chose, we would probably opt for the even cheaper second focal plane 4-12x40mm version. It just seems to be a little better built.