Testfire by John Herbert
Objective lens diameter 56mm
Main Tube 30mm
Field of View
21.0 - 4.5' @ 100 yd / 7.0 - 1.5 m @ 100 m
Eye relief 95mm
Adjustments ¼ MOA
82 MOA, 50 MOA
Weather proofing Nitrogen-filled; fog- and water-proof to 4m
Reviewed by NZ Rod&Rifle Magazine's Technical Editor,
The Long-Range Expert
Swarovski scopes have a long tradition of producing excellent optical quality, and in traditional European hunting situations, where game is mainly shot at short to medium distances, the Z series of scopes have been very successful.
The X5(i) is Swarovski’s first tilt at a true long range scope and, unlike a number of its European rivals like Kahles, Schmidt & Bender, Zeiss and others, Swarovski didn’t go down the tactical scope road.
Instead, they built a scope that they believed would meet the needs of the long distance hunter and target shooter. And as you would expect from a high-end European scope the X5(i) is feature-packed and promises top-notch optical performance. New Zealand Swarovski agents the New Zealand Ammunition company sent NZ Rod & Rifle an X5(i) 5-25 x 56P model to evaluate, and after using the scope over the last 3 months this is what we found out.
As I mentioned, design-wise this not a tactical scope. The differences between a tactical scope and a long range scope are blurred, as a lot of the features can be similar, but the X5(i) is aimed not at police and military but at the needs of long distance target shooters and hunters. So, what’s the difference? Well, the main one is where the focal plane is located. In tactical scopes the reticle is in the first focal plane, and in traditional hunting and target scopes it’s in the second focal plane. I’ve touched on this a few times in the past but to recap, a first focal plane reticle stays the same in relation to the target and therefore the reticle subtensions (mil or MOA marks) will have the same values when the magnification is changed. The second focal plane scope subtensions will change as the magnification is changed but the reticle can be made finer, so that it appears the same to the eye when the magnification is changed. The scope also eschews the tactical scope trend towards bigger main tubes, and sticks with a 30mm tube. It does however have a large elevation turret, but the windage turret is lower in profile and the side parallax adjustment on the left is similarly-sized. The objective lens is 56mm and the ocular lens has controls for the electronic reticle illumination. The magnification adjustment ring is rubberised for grip and has a raised fin to indicate the position. The magnification numbers face the shooter when they are behind the rifle, to reduce head movement when making adjustments
As you would imagine, the turrets are where all the fancy stuff happens. The elevation turret is large and designed to enable adjustment when wearing gloves; as such the feel of the adjustments is excellent – very positive and defined. The base of the turret has a window that allows you to see whether you have moved past the first rotation (20 MOA per rotation) of the turret; this can be useful when you’re using more than 20MOA of elevation, as it’s easier than you think to be a complete rotation out – especially if you’ve been shooting at multiple distances. The X5(i) does have one popular tactical feature: the Zero Stop. However Swarovski have tweaked this useful feature by allowing you to go below the Zero Stop by simply lifting the location indicator ring. In practice this is simple and could well be useful for long range hunters who use a 300 yard zero but need to be able to come back a bit for that close shot in the bush. Now, all this trickery requires a special tool – which Swarovski provides with the scope – and zeroing the scope and setting the Zero Stop is a little bit more involved than on traditional turrets. When I first saw JP from the NZ Ammunition Company demonstrate it I thought it was a bit complicated, but now having set it myself it’s really quite simple and, like most things mechanical, it’s just a process; you follow the process and it all works perfectly. In the field the end result is an easy-to-use system that has useful features and the ability for you to set it how you want it.
With only a 30mm tube, I was surprised to see that the X5(i) had 82 minutes of elevation; this is very good, as many 34mm tactical scopes only have this level of elevation travel. The X5(i) uses a clever low profile internal lever system to gain elevation travel; instead of having springs under the erector tube the spring is horizontal, and its relationship with the lever allows increased elevation travel. The windage travel is a more modest 50 MOA, and I suspect the location of the lever and the side parallax turret has something to do with the reduced travel – but giving up some windage for elevation in a long-range scope is a very acceptable trade-off, as very few shooters would be winding on more than 25 MOA of wind anyway.
The sales market for this scope is clearly North America and you can see this with both the adjustments and the reticle being in Minutes of Angle rather than Mils. The reticle is very sharp and, unlike a first focal plane reticle, it is a lot finer. The test scope had the 4WX-I reticle which has a floating 1 MOA crosshair with MOA hash marks on the windage and elevation crosshairs. The top elevation marks only rise 5 MOA above centre, leaving an uncluttered space for observing your target. The eyebox design makes it easy to acquire a clear sight picture and eye relief is a generous 95mm.
The (i) stands for illumination, and in this case a small turret on the ocular lens has the controls and battery. The reticle illumination is sharp, with no blooming, and is adjustable with easy-to-use plus or minus buttons, and as a bonus the cap on the parallax knob contains a spare battery should you need it. Weight-wise the scope is 850g which is pretty reasonable for a scope of that magnification, with competing scopes being well over the 1kg mark. At 377mm it is again a little shorter than many of the similarly-sized tactical scopes, and lighter and shorter is always preferable in a hunting scope.
I have used the scope on a number of rifles; firstly in mid-winter at Ngamatea Station and latterly on my field target rifle. Subjectively the optics are outstanding; the combination of definition and light transmission makes distant objects sharp and clear, in a way that must be seen at first hand to be believed. This was illustrated perfectly when we were shooting a steel plate at 1850 yards. That’s eighteen-fifty (not eight-fifty) and not only was the target sharp and bright at near 5pm in the middle of winter, but we could clearly see the impact of the 300 grain Berger Hybrids that we fired from the .338 Lunatic. And I know, having shot those Bergers from my .338 Lapua, that they leave a smudge on the plate of around an inch at best. So being able to resolve a 1 inch smudge on a steel plate at 1850 yards was far more impressive to me than hitting the target in the first place!
I mounted the scope on my Tikka T3 Varmint in .260. The rifle is set into a KRG X-Ray stock and has proven to be a solid .6 MOA (5 shots) shooter. After sorting a load using the Norma 130 grain Diamond line at 2910fps, I set up for a steel plate competition in the Wairarapa. Shots on the 8 inch gongs at 350, 420 and 500 were all first round hits. A first round hit at 750 right in the middle of the plate gave me full confidence in the accuracy of the adjustments and my wind reading, but alas my confidence was misplaced. At 905 yards I couldn’t call the wind as it swung around from south-west to north-east and my bad wind calls pushed me from first place to third. I managed a few hits on the 905 plate after the competition and it was then I realised I’d allowed too much wind. The positive however was that the elevation was spot on: Mr Swarovski 1 point, Mr Herbert nil.
Shooting the same setup at the tactical distance range in Wellington and without the pressure of a competition I had the opportunity to again appreciate the optical clarity. I spent a good few minutes observing a black nanny goat at 930 yards – she had a patch of brown on her face and one brown ear, and again the resolution of the scope was jaw-dropping, but the contrast and colour definition were equally impressive. If you’re a trophy chamois or tahr hunter you need to look through this scope!
Using the 1951 USAF optical chart at 100 yards I was able to clearly see the 5 on the -1 column and the three lines that form the 6.5mm square. Using our mid-range Nikon Monarch 3-12 as the reference scope I was readily able to define the 4 on the far left-hand side and the lines which are 14mm square. As you would expect, with twice the magnification, the Swarovski was able to resolve an image half that of the Nikon. And while it would be easy to say that if the Nikon had more magnification it would also be able to resolve this image, this was disproved by reducing the Swarovski to 12 power; I could see the 1 on the bottom of the target and this had lines that are 10mm square.
Magnification and resolving power do not increase at the same rate and it takes a perfect lens group to resolve real detail; increases in magnification require even greater increases in optical performance. If you want an example then look through a cheap high-powered scope; it won’t resolve any better than a mid range 3-9 x 40.
The image was sharp from edge to edge; there was no colour fringing or other optical aberrations and as you would expect the image popped; it had that almost 3D-type quality that only premium optics seem able to deliver. The image was flat, with no pincushion or barrel distortion.
The parallax turret was smooth and it was very easy to focus the image. At the range a number of shooters looked through the scope and the response was always the same: “Wow, that’s clear!” or something similar. Contrast was strong with clear definition between greys and blacks, and the scope was neutral in its coloration. Swarobright, Swarotop and Swarodur are the trademark names for Swarovski’s proprietary lens coatings that enhance colour fidelity and reduce reflections in this way and funny names aside, the coatings work; according to Richard Kramer from Swarovski the coatings are actually a key component in image quality ... a perfect lens group is not enough.
By now it will be obvious that I was impressed with this scope; there’s not much more I can say about it without repeating myself. To a keen long range shooter and hunter the Swarovski offers best-in-class optics, controls, design and mechanical accuracy. In fact it’s hard to find fault with it. Alpine hunters who need to clearly see heads of their game animals before shooting them will find this scope invaluable; its smaller size and lighter weight make it an attractive alternative to the bigger, heavier tactical scopes.
The price will put some off, but putting things into perspective, this is one of the best long range hunting/target scopes available – and the best is never cheap. Look at it this way: very few of you can afford one of the best cars in the world, but realistically a number of you can afford to own one of the best optics in the world. The old adage ‘Spend more on your scope than your rifle’ was never more true than when deciding to buy a scope like the Swarovski X5(i).