NIKON MONARCH 3-12 X 42
A COUPLE OF SHARP SCOPES
By John Herbert
Nikon; it’s not a brand that we talk about everyday like Apple or Toyota but it’s a brand that everyone knows and mainly associates with cameras. But Nikon is firstly an Optics company and as such they make lenses for your glasses, scientific instruments and of course sport optics. In the USA Nikon have a big share of the riflescope market and they have a selection of scopes from the lower mid-range Pro Staff scope to the lower premium Monarch 7 Scopes. To Nikons credit they don’t put their name on entry levels scopes which, with a few exceptions, are generally compromised both optically and mechanically.
As mentioned Nikon are a big deal in the USA and they have been selling scopes there for well over a decade now and during that time they have given the established scope makers a real run for their money to the point where they now command a large part of the market. The other thing to know about Nikon is that much of their product is made in the Philippines. For those of you who worry about such things I would say you have very little, if anything, to worry about as many of Nikon’s Cameras have been made there for a long time. Just look at the optical test results further on and you will see what I mean.
Now before I start the review I have to admit to being a Nikon scope user, they are neither the best nor worst scopes in my gun room. So I am familiar with the brand and have to confess that I own over 20 scopes and those that I don’t like usually end up being sold, given away or swapped. I still own 3 Nikon scopes.
New Zealand Nikon agents Lacklands sent NZ Rod&Rifle two scopes for evaluation, a Monarch 3-12 x 42 with Bullet Drop Compensator (BDC) reticle and a Monarch 5-20 x 42 with Plex reticle, both with side focus.
Both scopes have a one piece aluminium body for strength and the tube is finished with a tough satin anodized finish. The turrets are capped and with the cap removed you will find mid-height adjustment dials that can be reset to zero by loosening a hex bolt in the centre of the turret. The turret adjustments are positive and well defined. Not quite as sharp as some of the premium scopes I have tested over the past few years but neither are they mushy and dull like so many of the low priced scopes on the market today. The rear or ocular lens uses a seperate power adjustment ring that has knurling and a raised ridge to aid in turning the dial in wet, cold or slippery conditions. The ocular lens group is largish at 45mm in diameter and has a fast focus eyepiece.
The objective lens on both scopes is 42 mm and they are slightly recessed to provide some protection from the elements. The adjustable parallax dial is on the left side of the scope and this must first be pulled out to disengage the lock, the dial can then be set from 50 yards to infinity, when the correct parallax is set just push the cap back down to secure it. This is a nice feature as it stops the parallax dial rotating on your pack or shoulder as you move. Both scopes have a four power erector lens which gives a good magnification range and is common for mid-range scopes. High erector lens values are seen most often in more expensive scopes and the internal optical arrangements become more complicated as this value goes up. As such I feel more comfortable when mid-range scopes have conservative erector values zoom ranges rather than pushing the envelope with a bigger range but compromised optical performance.
Aesthetically the scopes are pleasing; the gold lettering is easy to pick up in daylight but perhaps not quite as easy in lower light as white lettering used on other brands. The scopes came with their own flip-up lens caps and they are a step up from the more common lens caps, they fit well and as a bonus they fold right back to a near parallel position to the scope body to keep them from catching on bushes, or your hunting hat in the case of the rear one. Fit and finish was good and both scopes looked the business.
The scopes use Nikons proprietary lens coating system, Ultra Clear Coat and as you would expect they are both fog-proof and waterproof. Eye relief is listed as 4 inches. Nikon point out in their advertising that the large eye box allows for non-critical eye relief.
The 3-12 x 42 is a solid choice for an all round scope that could go down low enough for bush stalking and high enough for longer range shots. The windage and elevation clicks are ¼ minute of angle and Nikon states that there is 60 minutes of elevation available in the 1 inch tube, a quick check showed that you can physically dial over 70 minutes but some of the adjustment at the far end of each rotation can be negated if the erector tube is not centred in the main tube of the scope. I can only assume Nikon is playing it safe and understating the actual amount of elevation to cater for any off centre scope alignment. The upshot is that with somewhere around 30 minutes of up elevation the scope will have enough elevation to cover most of the longer range calibres out past 600 yards which is probably where you would look at a higher magnification scope anyway.
In the 3-12 is Nikons BDC reticle and it is one of the better ones I have seen. Instead of having small cross marks the Monarch uses circles; at first this seems imprecise but as the attached table shows the circles actually give you more aiming marks. Now before I tell you why this is useful you need to know about the Nikon Spot On Ballistics Match technology.
The Ballistics Match website allows you to plug in your ballistic data so you can get a drop chart that lines up your chosen ammunition with your reticle. To be fair Nikon are not the only ones to offer this type of system, but I will say Nikon’s system is one of the best as it allows for quite a bit of control over the inputs including important but often ignored inputs like atmospheric conditions and G1 or G7 ballistic coefficients and as a bonus it also has quite a decent bullet and ammunition library. The site is reasonably straight forward to use and the only downside is the loud gunshot noise that is made when you choose the ballistic solution. The end result though is a drop table that gives you either the usual 4 or 5 hold over points or an expanded set of 14 holdover points. This alleviates some of the issues with holdover reticles as there are often gaps between where the animal is and the closest holdover point. The further the animal is from you and the smaller it is the more critical this becomes. Fourteen points can be a bit confusing but all you need do is tape the chart to the side of your stock and you have a handy quick reference point.
The 5-20 x 42 Monarch harks back to the more traditional varmint scopes in that it still has a 1 inch tube and traditional turrets as opposed to the 30mm tubes and larger turrets that are now commonplace on higher magnification optics. The 1 inch tube will limit the amount of elevation available and therefore limit the range the scope can be used for. The reality is that this Monarch is not a long range hunting scope, it’s more of a target/varmint scope. The varmint target nature of the scope is further evidenced by the ⅛ minute of angle adjustments which are great when trying to make the small adjustments needed for pin-point accuracy on small targets. The scope came with Nikon’s Plex reticle which has the traditional thicker cross hairs that step down to a finer centre section. In all other facets the 5-20 was essentially just a longer version of the 3-12. The turret on the scope is a little on the small side for a varmint/target style scope but there are options here.
It is worth noting that Nikon offer custom turrets for these scopes. For the hunter who has a set load that works these can be a very convenient option when taking longer shots. The Spot On Website guides you through bullet/cartridge selection allows you to input your data and takes you through to the order process.
Looking through the scopes while mounted on rifles showed both to be bright and sharp - which is what I would expect from a decent mid-range scope. The eye box on the 3-12 was more forgiving of head placement than the 5-20 but this is to be expected as increases in magnification result in more critical eye relief. Both scopes showed a little bit of flare when the sun was low but it was only marginally worse than the expensive European scope I had next to it. Optical aberrations were well controlled and as I expected the 5-20 had a small amount of colour fringing at maximum power, but it was minor and only just noticeable; to be fair it would not be a factor in whether or not I would buy the scope. Again this is more common on higher magnification scopes and as such it was absent on the 3-12.
Resolution wise I got a little bit of a surprise with the 5-20, it was able to resolve down to 2 on the small section of the 1951 USAF optical test chart. This is very good performance and it puts the scope in the same ball park as some of the far more expensive scopes we have tested over the past few years. The 3-12 is the same scope NZ Rod&Rifle have been using over the past 18 months as base line scope for comparison purposes and unsurprisingly it gave us the same results resolving down to 4 on the middle group of the 1951 USAF chart. What this test clearly demonstrated is that if you are going to add magnification to a scope you need to have your lens formulas right and your tolerances tight; the 5-20 Monarch showed Nikon are on the ball in both cases.
I checked the tracking by shooting a group and then winding on 10 minutes of elevation; the 3-12 was spot on and the 5-20 was off by 0.1 MOA. The group size of the 5-20 was nearly 0.8 MOA so I am being a bit picky here and it may well have been within the margin of error.
Nikon are playing catch-up in the New Zealand market but based on the performance of these two scopes I would have to say they are going to win a few sales off the more established manufacturers. The scopes are slightly conservative in design but optically very good. When it comes to specifications I would rather have a scope that is optically excellent and gives up a few features to one that has the opposite, because let’s be honest - if your scope is compromised optically or mechanically its usefulness is greatly diminished. In conclusion these scopes are very solid offerings with enough features to match and better their competitors, the optics are very good, they are made by an internationally recognised optics company and they have lifetime warranties; what’s not to like?
NIKON MONARCH 3-12 X 42
OBJECTIVE DIAMETER: 44mm
TUBE DIAMETER: 25.4 /1 in
EYE RELIEF: 102mm
OVERALL LENGTH: 330mm
ADJUSTMENT GRADUATION: ¼ in/100yd
MAX INTERNAL ADJUSTMENT: 60 MOA
50 yds - ∞ side focus
LIGHT TRANSMISSION: Up to 95%
NIKON MONARCH 5-20 X 42
OBJECTIVE DIAMETER: 44mm
25.4mm / 1 in
EYE RELIEF: 96-102mm
OVERALL LENGTH: 358mm
ADJUSTMENT GRADUATION: ⅛ in
MAX INTERNAL ADJUSTMENT: 34 MOA
PARALLAX SETTING: 50 yds - ∞ side focus
LIGHT TRANSMISSION: Up to 95%