Nightforce 3-10 x 42 SHV
By John Herbert
‘Entry level’ is a term that gets bandied around a bit these days - but when it comes to a brand like Nightforce you have to realise that ‘entry level’ still means that it’s ‘top of the tree’ compared to many other scope brands.
The scope came with the excellent MOAR (Minute of Angle Reticle) that has a floating cross hair and 2 MOA hash marks for holdover and wind hold.
Taking a step back: the Nightforce reputation was built on its line of NSX scopes that when they came on to the market in the early 2000’s were exactly what a lot of long range shooters had been waiting for. The scopes were not cheap but they had very good optics, great adjustment dials, innovative reticle choices; they were industrial level tough and to be honest they just plain looked the business.
Nightforce also had their well-regarded Benchrest scopes and latterly their ACTAR and BEAST scopes, but the hunter who couldn’t afford the price of a top tier optic still couldn’t join the Nightforce club. With the advent of the Shooter Hunter Varminter (SHV) scope however, Nightforce have made entry into the club a lot more affordable.
The SHV is Nightforce’s attempt to make a scope that still lives up to its reputation but at a lower price. The figure for the SHV 3-10 x 42 is $1799 - which when compared to an NSX 2.5-10 x 42 at $3599 is close to half the price. I spoke to Dead Eye Dicks owner Tracy Short who is the Nightforce distributor in New Zealand; he tells me he’s been very happy with the performance of the SHV range. He conceded that they give up a few features compared to the NSX, but the scope still performs optically and is very well made. The SHV still has the Nightforce look but the scope departs from the NSX with a fast focus Diopter and covered adjustment dials.
At the Shot Show this year I stopped by the Nightforce stand and asked the question “So what does the SHV give up compared to the NSX”? The Nightforce guy looked at me and said well it’s got simpler controls, the manufacturing process is not as complex and because it’s not quite as overbuilt as the NSX we don’t recommend you use it to hammer in tent pegs! From the ensuing conversation he said it’s still tougher than most competitors’ scopes, just not super-tough like an NSX. Now at Rod&Rifle we don’t knowingly abuse test equipment though, so I’m just going to have to take their word that the scopes are tough enough.
The scope as mentioned looks good. It’s compact and with a 42mm objective lens it can be mounted low over the barrel, while the ocular lens setup is again low profile with a fast focus Diopter and a tactile power change ring. The adjustment dials are capped and underneath you have mid height target style turrets. The 3.5-10 x 42 has 90 minutes of elevation and 80 minutes of windage available in its 30 mm main tube. The scope came with the excellent MOAR (Minute of Angle Reticle) that has a floating cross hair and 2 MOA hash marks for holdover and wind hold; and there is also the IHR reticle which is a hybrid of the Plex and German No4 reticle with a floating cross hair.
The dials on a Nightforce NSX are some of the best ever and while the SHV has gone to smaller capped dials, just like on the bigger NSX they were positive to use and the ¼ MOA adjustments proved to be accurate. To check this I adjusted up 10 inches on a 100 yard target and the centre of the group was 10.4 inches higher. 10 MOA equals 10.47 inches so that’s a pretty good result! It takes a Benchrest rifle capable of ¼ MOA groups to really test the adjustments for exact accuracy as the dispersion of the group can be misleading. The SHV eye box was quite forgiving with regard to head position, and obtaining a quick sight picture was easy. As mentioned, the SHV departs from the NSX by having a European-style fast focus eye piece; it’s less rugged than completely turning the ocular lens but it makes focussing the reticle easy. The SHV used standard optical glass rather than ED Glass but on first glance the image pops just like it does on many high end optics. I compared the light transmission of the SHV against a Schmidt & Bender Zenith, Swarovski Z6 and a Nikon Prostaff scope. I set them all to 9 power, in deference to the maximum magnification of the Nikon scope. I then looked into the pine forest next to my house and started trying to pick out the writing on an oil drum 120 yards away that is well shaded and quite dark. The SHV optics were able to pick out the writing quite clearly, as did the two European scopes, and the Nikon struggled to define the smaller letters as I would expect. In the end the SHV appeared fractionally less bright then the Euro pair but considering it was around half the price of them and had a smaller objective lens it seems appropriate. I spent a lot of time switching among the four scopes and I would say that the SHV uses some very decent optics.
I shoot on bench rest targets when group shooting as squares are just plain easier to hold on than circles. I usually use the 1 inch bench rest squares for scopes in the 12 plus magnification range, as below that it’s hard to define the reticle from the target; but with the SHV I could see the definition easily. Part of this is optical resolution and a sharp reticle, but some of it is contrast. Older NSX scopes had a cold bluish tinge to the lens coatings and I always felt this reduced contrast a little on darker days, while doing a great job on bright days. Lens coatings that work in the middle (550nm) range of visible light are common and the lens coating, while being clear, refracts light and can appear to be a blue/violet colour when you look at the lens at certain angles. Advances in lens coatings has allowed for a wider spread of refraction and this results in a image with better contrast and little or no colour cast. The SHV had a cool clear image without either a blue tinge or the warm brownish tinge that some mid-range US scopes have. It would appear that Nightforce are using quality multicoated lenses in the SHV, as both dark and bright images showed decent levels of contrast.
There was no evidence of Chromatic Aberration (colour fringing) and the image showed no barrel or pincushion distortion at either end of the magnification range, I thought I detected some fish bowl distortion at 3 power - which is not uncommon - but looking through the scope with my glasses on showed an even image. I looked through a cheaper Chinese scope I had on hand that had known fish bowl and I decided to put my initial observation down to eye strain from spending too much time looking through optics that day.
Straight out I was impressed with the SHV; it’s one of those scopes that has a lot of appeal as an all round hunting scope for New Zealand conditions. Its magnification range is suitable for most situations and when paired with popular short action cartridges like the .308, 7mm-08 and .243 it would be a good fit. The excellent MOAR reticle allows for meaningful hold over compensation and the adjustments are suitable for dialling in longer range shots. Nightforce make a 4-14 x 56 version of the SHV and this would no doubt appeal to those shooting the longer range calibres. The scope is noticeably lighter and smaller than the NSX range but at 590 grams it’s still no lightweight. And it’s still built to meet Nightforce’s rugged reputation, so we can assume some of that weight is there to make the scope strong.
I took a liking to the SHV and while it’s not cheap it is cheap for a Nightforce - and the compromises made to get the price down seem minor rather than major.
Nightforce 3-10 x 42 SHV
FOCAL PLANE: Second
MAGNIFICATION: 3 - 10 power
OBJECTIVE DIAMETER: 42mm
EXIT PUPIL DIAMETER:
3x 10.7mm, 10x 4.4mm
FIELD OF VIEW (100 YARDS):
3x 10.9m, 10x 3.4m
90 MOA Elevation, 80 MOA Wind.
25 yards to infinity.
OCULAR EYE PIECE: 40mm
WEIGHT: 590 grams