It’s priced just below the top brands, but can the Nightforce NXS compete with them? Tim Pilbeam puts this American optic through its paces, with some European glass for company
Gone are the days when riflescopes were simple. Today there is a growing demand for all-purpose, target-hunting-tactical scopes that may hopefully improve one’s shooting skills. Nightforce is one brand that’s gaining popularity, especially within the foxing fraternity, so I asked importer RUAG to send some down to test. How do they compare to the top-end European scopes, and – more importantly for some – are they any good for lamping?
Not only do I want to review the NXS riflescopes, I also want to briefly compare them to a Zeiss and a Schmidt & Bender. In broad terms, the European scopes seem to command at least £500 more than the Nightforce range, and I hope to give you an idea of my gut feelings bearing in mind I have used the best Austrian glass for over 15 years. For this review, I will be primarily looking at the 5.5-22×56 model as this is an all-round and popular hunting scope – but I also played with the 12-42×56, which is more suited to our paper-punching friends down on the range.
The NXS series has been developed for military or tactical applications and boasts a strong 30mm tube made of high-grade aluminium, which Nightforce claims to be two or three times thicker than most other scopes’ tubes. The NXS 5.5-22×56, as with most other tactical-biased optics, comes with chunky elevation and windage target turrets, giving it 100 and 60MOA of adjustment respectively – it’ll accommodate a .50 cal shooting out to 2,000 yards!
The parallax or focus adjustment is nicely located on the left-hand side, while to turn on the illuminated reticle, you just pull the knob outwards. The brightness can only be pre-adjusted by removing the knob and battery assembly and resetting it with the use of a small screwdriver. Personally, I didn’t find this much of an issue as I only use illuminated reticles in poor light, not when lamping, and on most occasions I rarely seem to change the brightness.
With regards to reticles, available in either first or second focal plane, Nightforce boasts a range of standard types, most of them suitable for a range of hunting applications. For this review, the scopes were fitted with the NP-R1 and the NP-2DD, but I also like the look of the mil-dot, MLR and the NP-R2. Nightforce now offers the facility to tailor reticles to your own ammunition – check out its website for more details.
Moving to the back, the dioptre or eye focus can be easily adjusted. When adjusting the magnification, the whole rear body turns. This can be a little tricky when rear scope covers are fitted, as they turn with it! On the 5.5-22, you can fit the cover in such a position that it will not interfere with the bolt when cycling a round, but on the 12-42, on the highest settings, the cap is directly in the way. I found it very annoying, but there is a reason for this as it makes for a stronger design, so why have most other manufacturers not adopted this set-up? The NXS also comes with its own rubberised scope covers as standard.
For testing, I used the scopes on a variety of rifles, such as a Browning X-Bolt in .243, RPA Woodland Stalker in .308 and a RPA Long-Range Interceptor in 6.5×284. My colleagues and I tested the scopes at night, fox shooting, medium- to long-range varminting on crows, as well as out to 800 yards on targets.
From experience, comparing riflescope performance is tricky as everyone’s eyes are different, not forgetting the changing with age. My European scopes – the Schmidt & Bender PMII 5-25×56 and Zeiss Diavari 6-24×56 – reflect, in my humble opinion, some of the best tactical optics available on the market today. So we are comparing the NXS 5.5-22×56 at an SRP of £1,536 to the European top-end models that vary from around £1,900 to £2,500 SRP.
In an unscientific but practical fashion, we compared the Nightforce to the top-end scopes in terms of brightness, clarity and ease of use in the field. One easy test of clarity was using an A4-size opticians’ chart from a distance of 100 yards. In bright daylight, we concluded that there was barely any difference between them; when the light faded, the top-end scopes made it easier to identify the smaller letters, but only by a little.
On targets from 300-800 yards, after careful adjustment of both ocular and parallax focus, once again, in full daylight there was very little to separate any of these scopes. The field of view is definitely less on the NXS, especially compared to the Zeiss when on the same magnification settings, though it’s not too drastic.
Night shooting was where we were the most surprised. We were expecting the more expensive models to be better by a country mile. The Nightforce reticles are very thin but we had little problem acquiring targets and seeing the point of aim. The Nightforce was not quite as bright and clear as the others and I have no doubt that an expert in this field could blind us with various facts and figures stating the superiority of the European glass, but in the field, lying on your belly, there ain’t much in it.
Overall, from a hunting or sporting rifle point of view, can the NXS compete with its European competitors in the field? I think it can. If you are a shooter like me, who is involved with deer and fox control at shorter ranges, but also long-range varminting and target practice out to over 1,000 yards, there are huge savings to be made. If you are only interested in the culling of deer and foxes out to 250 yards, I would probably favour a European scope, especially when many can now can be bought with easily adjustable range settings on the elevation turrets to help that longer shot.But we were all pleasantly surprised at the quality of the glass of the Nightforce NXS. If they are good enough for the military, there is no question about their rigidity and reliability for the sporting rifleman.