Where trees prevail in the country or where large forests can be found, many hunters sit on afternoon stands in the woodlands expecting deer, wild boar, and predators to abandon the shelters of bedding areas and stomp their feet to where hunters can see them better as it gets darker. Hikers, mountain cyclists, and people, in general, are the culprits of restlessness in nature, so the habits of animals are always changing. Hunting, as well as any shooting, also does not always happen in perfect lighting conditions, that is why we created this ULTIMATE Low Light Riflescope Buying Guide, to help you get the perfect shot in not-so-perfect conditions.
First off, we uncover some general features and the most frequent fields of use. Next, low light riflescopes are put into categories concerning their price, where their features are addressed as well.
Watch the entire BUYING GUIDE below
We narrow down the competition and depict the pros and cons of the well-deserving candidates. This is how we introduce the most fitting options for low light riflescopes in each price range.
Keep in mind that our team tested only the low light performance of each riflescope, and not how these scopes perform during the day. If we tested all of the features, the order would most likely be different, so when reading the article, remember that low light performance was the primary criterion for the categorization. We need to emphasize that the best buys are not categorized by their all-round performance.
If you have any additional questions regarding low light riflescopes or any optical device from the field of sport optics, send an e-mail to email@example.com. As a team of passionate sports optics enthusiasts, we are always glad to help.
- 1. General Features
- 2. Zoom Factor
- 3. The Impact of Coatings on Low light Performance
- 4. Light Transmission Rate
- 5. Fixed Magnification Vs Variable Magnification
- 6. Low Light Riflescopes and the Reticle
- 7. Fields of Use
- 8. How the Testing Was Done
- 9. Price Classes
- 10. Conclusion
- 11. Picture Gallery
- 12. Glossary
As promised, we will begin with the basics. As dawn and dusk are usually hunter’s best bets for successful hunts, low light riflescopes often feature an objective lens with a wide diameter, usually from 56 mm to 60 mm and sometimes, but less often 54 mm. Low light riflescopes feature capped turrets since distances for low light shots are usually short. The stumbling block is that these riflescopes are quite heavy, as they can weigh from 800 g to 1 kg, but the bright side is that they are mostly used in stationary forms of hunting and rarely for stalking.
Looking for low light binoculars?
When it comes to other features, let us first take a look at the configurations:
- Also, some with bigger zoom factors (2.8-20x56, 2.3-18x56)
The capacity to zoom between near and distant objects within moments, just by turning a ring was a game-changer when introduced. . Now, what is the zoom factor? The zoom factor is the ratio between the max. and min. magnification; in other words, how many times the actual scope in question magnifies on itself from its smallest power, up to its biggest power. With riflescopes, the bigger the zoom factor, the more lenses there are in the design. The more lenses in the design, the bigger amount of light is reflected, and consequently, there is a bigger loss of light as well.
The amount of light that gets lost in the process is also greatly influenced by coatings on the lenses – if they are of high quality, less amount of light is lost each time light travels through the lens’ surface. About five years ago, low light riflescopes had a 4x zoom. Now, such riflescopes are becoming extremely rare, as manufacturers produce those with a 5x zoom or more – but they wish to lessen the loss of light by using coatings of a higher quality.
Speaking of coatings, they play a crucial role when it comes to light transmission. There is far more to scope brightness than meets the eye. By not coating the lenses, more than half the amount of light entering the riflescope can be lost in a blink of an eye. Even a single layer of anti-reflective coating can split this loss down the middle. This is why coatings are so important, some might even say magical – because they can double the brightness without also doubling the weight of the riflescope.
Currently, the best coatings on the market have multiple layers, some even more than 40. Such coatings can enhance the light transmission rate of a single lens up to 99.9 %. The overall light transmission rate depends on the number of times light passes through glass surfaces. The best riflescopes on the market have more than 95% of light transmission rate. Below, we will better explain what this term means and further describe it.
Before coatings, the twilight factor was the one determining the brightness of the optics. The twilight factor can be simply defined as a number used to determine the brightness of optics used in low light conditions. Since the arrival of coatings, it is no longer useful, but if you, for some reason, still want to calculate it, the parameter is the square root of the product of the magnification and the diameter of the objective lens.
Today, the situation is a bit more complex, as sport optics manufacturers began using coatings on the lenses. With this, light transmission significantly improved. For a simple explanation: when light is reflected from the optical surface, a part of it gets lost but with coatings, we decrease the amount.
Currently, sport optics manufacturers are competing who will apply coatings of the higher quality and therefore provide the maximum light transmission, and competition between companies equals better products for the buyer.
The light transmission rate is a percentage of light that passes through an optical instrument, in this case, a riflescope. The outcome determines the quality of the scope, and how it performs in poor light conditions. To give you some perspective, everything above 80 % is decent and everything above 90 % is exceptional – but the results should be displayed in a graph, instead of numbers. As you can see on the picture below, the vertical axis portrays the light transmission rate, whereas the horizontal one depicts the wavelength of visible light. The colour of visible light depends on its wavelength – which should be from 380 to 780 nm. This is the realistic way of portraying results, as it is most accurate and not misleading.
Manufacturers can misrepresent the ability of how a riflescope performs in low light if they provide the consumer with the number value of the light transmission instead of a graph, as they pick the highest point in the graph, which is misleading. For a proper low light performance of a scope, it is important that the light transmission is great below 550 nm of wavelength. This is because at night, the human eye cannot recognize warm colours, so the performance above this wavelength is not as important. Additionally, some manufacturers only provide the light transmission rate of a single lens, instead of measuring the value of all of them.
For low light performance, contrast is also of high importance. Also, a riflescope can have a high light transmission rate value, but if it has poor diminishing of internal reflections, there is also poor detail rendering, because the user’s eye gets a lot of useless light – even though you get the feeling of the picture being extremely bright, you see very little details. In such cases, even the graph does not provide us with the exact information. Because of all these marketing tricks, we test the optics for ourselves, since only then we can truly know the quality of a scope.
In simple terms, fixed magnification means that the riflescope features only one magnification, and the user is not able to change it. Low light hunting is exclusively the only type of hunting where riflescopes with fixed magnification are still used, namely 8x56 and 7x50 configurations. Riflescopes with fixed magnification are more lightweight and have a higher light transmission rate as there are fewer glass elements in them.
These scopes are simple to use and have a smaller amount of optical components, which results in a better light transmission rate. Only a few manufacturers still produce low light rifle scopes with fixed magnification, two of them being Schmidt&Bender and Kaps.
Optics with a variable magnification allow the user to change the magnification, so they can see their target closer or further away. In other words, the magnification can be adjusted according to various circumstances users find themselves in. In the past few years, using thermal or digital night vision attachments has been increasing in popularity, which functions best with magnifications up to 6x – but most riflescopes with a fixed magnification have a magnification that is too high, and their field of view is too narrow.
In the past, the riflescopes did not have any illumination, so when hunting in the dusk, reticles n. 1 had to be used, which were thick and thus visible against a background. The riflescope's reticles were placed in FFP (first focal plane) so that the reticle would appear small when zoomed out and large when zoomed in.
As time went by and the manufacturing of the riflescopes progressed, reticles became illuminated, which helped the user to pick up the reticle in low light conditions as well. This is becoming more and more common in modern rifle scopes and since illumination exists, almost all riflescopes are now SFP (second focal plane).
With these low light riflescopes for hunting, only the small dot in the centre is illuminated, and not the whole reticle. With the entire reticle illuminated, the hunter sees only the reticle, and not the background. However, it is imperative that these scopes have soft illumination, so light does not shine too much into the user's eyes, which would defeat the whole purpose. And as far as the styles are concerned, the 4A reticle and its derivatives are most often used.
As difficult as it may be to accept it, animals do not keep the same schedule as people do. As already pointed out, many successful hunting trips happen during the dusky twilight hours when the day comes to an end or when it begins. There are also cases when a hunter is required to hunt in dark situations because of the weather.
In such circumstances, using a good low light scope is essential. Low light riflescopes are made solely for the purpose of hunting at dusk or dawn.
Everything is adapted in such a way that these riflescopes work well in such conditions. Low light optics are built in such a way that they maximize the amount of light while also containing illuminated reticles. These are profoundly specific products but can also produce a tremendous difference when hunting in the late hours or under moonlight.
Because of the heavy weight, low light riflescopes are not the most popular for other hunting styles, where more lightweight hunting riflescopes are popular. Most hunters hunt for red deer, roe deer, wild boar, and predators, which mostly come out at night. Therefore, low light rifle scopes are a piece of equipment that works best for, as the name suggests, low light hunting.
The Optics Trade team tested a handful of low light riflescopes. Co-workers from different sectors were included, such as the sales and marketing team, who are met with optics daily, and the logistics and the accounting team, who do not use optics as much. These teams were selected because we wanted to achieve as least biased results as possible. What also contributed to fair results was covering the scopes up, so no one knew which brand it was.
The riflescopes were arranged by price, and the first ones to be tested were the most affordable ones. The scopes were tested two at once and ranked based on two factors – illumination of the red dot and the image details. The winning optics then got paired up with the next one on the price scale, and this went on until the last one was tested. All riflescopes were paired up at one point, even the one which performed the worst with the one which performed the best.
What was taken into consideration? As mentioned, we focused mostly on how well the details can be seen in twilight and the illumination of the central red dot – how well can it be adjusted to low light situations. Low light riflescopes were then categorized, also based on these two aspects. It is also important to mention that the daytime performance of the riflescopes was not tested, as this buying guide is focused on optics used in low light (we do, however, have some others).
Do not forget that the Optics Trade team tested the riflescopes based on their low light performance, and not the overall performance. Most manufacturer representatives claim that our bare eyes cannot notice less than 3% of the difference when it comes to light transmission rate in binoculars and riflescopes. On the other hand, we have heard too many anecdotes from the military to believe such claims. The anecdotes say that the human eye can recognize a cigarette bud in complete darkness more than 1 km away. There are many stories of soldiers being shot because they were noticed by the opposing side - and it was the cigarette's fault.
When our team tested different low light riflescopes that ranked close to each other when it comes to low light performance, 90 % of the team opted for the same one, without having any knowledge of the other's choice, thus biased influence. We are most certain that the human eye can still differentiate even the smallest of differences, as the testing and the 90 % of the unanimous decisions confirmed this. We also noticed that image contrast is extremely important when it comes to detail recognition - the image can be darker on some scopes, but the details can be seen better than on the scopes with a brighter image - and vice versa.
For this price, it is pointless to expect a riflescope that has optical performance that is out of this world. Low light riflescopes are remarkably difficult to manufacture, so they do not come cheap. Most of the scope under 500 € are produced in China with a warranty period of about 2 years, some offer even 5, and on special occasions, you might even come across a 10-year warranty, like with Yukon.
These riflescopes have a 4x zoom factor and a fixed parallax, which is set at a specific distance, most often at 100 m. They are usually of the 3-12x56 type and feature capped turrets, which is the most usual turret type on hunting scopes.
The brightness of the red dot can be adjusted but in many scopes of this class, it is too bright even at the lowest setting. Many of them have bigger portions of their reticle illuminated, which is a minus, as the illumination gets in the way of the observer seeing the whole target. When only the central dot is illuminated, the user can see the target more clearly. These scopes are purged with nitrogen or argon in order to prevent internal fogging at low temperatures. The lenses have coatings, which are not as high-quality as those on more expensive riflescopes.
The regular selling price for Yukon Jaeger is 525 €, but we still chose to place it in this price class, as with discounts, the price for this low light riflescope can quickly fall under 500 €. Yukon Jaeger has a red dot for low light use, which is above average for this price class. This Belorussian-made scope can withstand heavy recoil, and we can mount it on a .375 H&H rifle. There is also an off switch between each illumination level, so you can quickly turn it off without the need to turn the knob all the way.
Yukon has a good build quality and it sports a modern look, however, the size might be an issue to some. The light transmission rate is also Yukon’s ticket to success since it is above average for such an affordable scope. The parallax is fixed at 100 m, and the eye relief is also great, thus this riflescope is suited for stronger calibers. The illumination is also better than expected.
|a small illuminated red dot for low light use (compared to others in this price range)||yellow tint on the image|
|relatively wide field of view||long|
|generous eye-box||light transmission rate (compared to more expensive scopes)|
|can withstand heavy recoil (also .375 H&H and calibers with similar power)|
If you are on a hunt for a low light riflescope at a reasonable price, then take a look at riflescopes in this price class. Here, a 4x zoom factor prevails, and some scopes with a 5x or 6x zoom factor can be found as well. This is also the place where many quality riflescopes with a fixed magnification can be found, one of them being Schmidt & Bender Klassik Hungaria 8x56.
Low light riflescopes under 700 € are made in China, but those above 700 € are mostly made in Japan, and some even in the EU. Optically, they are on a higher level than those under 500 €. The image is sharper, the colours brighter, and the field of view is wider.
The red dot can be finely adjusted, even more than with the previous price class, and some rifle scopes offer up to 11 levels of illumination. The coatings are of greater quality than those with more affordable riflescopes, which contributes to a brighter image.
Quite a few of them have a magnification higher than 12x. Another feature of low light rifle scopes with such a zoom factor is that they have adjustable parallax. They have a capped turret, accompanied by a warranty period of 5 to 10 years.
Meopta is one of the biggest producers of optics in Europe and this model specifically is made in the Czech Republic. Regarding the light transmission rate, the Meostar R1 3-12X56 RD gets many points, as it can compete with riflescopes that cost up to 500€ more. The thick reticle is great for low light use because you can see it immediately and extremely well.
Meopta Meostar R1 has a finely adjustable red dot, but when it comes to illumination, some riflescopes in this price range might be better. However, it is still amazingly bright and it can also be bought with a mounting rail. Meopta is also one of the few remaining optics manufacturers that still offer 30-years of warranty with their products, and Meostar R1 3-12X56 RD is no exception.
This riflescope performs way better in low light situations than it does during the day. We could say that during the day, Meopta Meostar R1 is average at best.
|great light transmission rate for the price||some do not like the thick reticle|
|30-year warranty||daytime performance|
|available with a mounting rail||narrow field of view|
|tunnel effect at low magnifications|
More details on Meopta Meostar R1 3-12x56 RD in our video review below
Delta Optical 2.5-10x56 Titanium is a riflescope made in Japan. Delta Optical promises a lot of quality for a reasonable price, and this scope is absolute proof. The scope is waterproof and filled with Nitrogen gas, which means it is waterproof and fog-proof. The Titanium model has fully multi-coated lenses for a brighter image and better contrast. Delta Optical has a reticle in the second focal plane.
The housing of Delta Optical is made from a single piece aluminium, so this riflescope can withstand the strongest of calibers. The riflescope has 11 levels of illumination, a modern look, along with smooth edges. The 2.5-10x56 Titanium HD model features a classic hunting reticle that is based on the German #4.
|cheapest Japanese low light hunting riflescope||narrow field of view|
|4x zoom (better light transmission)||not as bright as the more expensive models|
|fiber optic reticles|
|thick reticle (good for low light use)|
More details on Delta Optical 2.5-10x56 Titanium HD in our video review below
We decided to only list two top buys in each price category so it would be easier to choose. However, it would be unfair not to mention some other riflescopes that are also great but unfortunately did not make it on the top two list.
This riflescope pleasantly surprised us, as it has a finely adjustable red dot, and its low light performance is also good. What is also interesting is that even though this Burris riflescope has a 6x zoom factor, it still has an excellent light transmission rate.And even though it is a riflescope made for low light use, its overall performance is great for the price range. Regarding the field of view, Burris SIX XE 3-18x56 has a solid one, which also makes it a solid competitor, extremely close to being one of the winners.
See reticle subtensions of Burris SIX XE 3-18x56 in the video below
We already mentioned that riflescopes with fixed magnification are great for hunting at dusk, as less light is lost to fewer glass components. This was confirmed when Schmidt & Bender Klassik Hungaria was tested, as this piece of optical equipment is a match to even 400 €-500 € pricier scopes when it comes to the light transmission rate.
We still did not list it as the best buy, because fixed magnification today is a bit outdated when it comes to hunting – it offers less versatile use. Also, such magnification is too large for the user to mount thermal or night vision clip-ons on the scope, as this would result in a narrower field of view. Nevertheless, Klassik Hungaria belongs in the notable mentioned section, as it is still extremely suitable for low light use.
More details on Schmidt & Bender Klassik Hungaria 8x56 in our video review below
This price class includes entry-level low light riflescopes from more prestigious European brands. Most of them still originate in Japan, but some are made in Europe, namely from Western and Southern Europe’s favourites: Germany and Portugal.
Still, we can find some riflescopes with a 4x zoom factor, which are of higher quality than those with a 6x zoom factor that cost from 500 € to 1000 €. However, more and more riflescopes with a 5x or 6x zoom factor are being sold within this price class.
All of these low light riflescopes can be mounted on big-caliber rifles with heavy recoil, as they are extremely well-built. The dot is finely adjustable, some of the scopes even have a continuous adjustment with an exceptionally high number of illumination intensity levels. These riflescopes have a 10-year warranty period as a rule.
The turrets are capped, and some manufacturers in this price range even grant the possibility of mounting the scope with a mounting rail (Zeiss ZM/VM rail, Schmidt & Bender Convex rail, Swarovski SR rail). The coatings are of notably high quality, and some riflescopes even have coated outer surfaces for dust and water repellency, and to protect them against smaller scratches.
Minox All-Rounder is a relatively new German-made series of riflescopes that Minox introduced at the end of 2020, and it soon grew popular. Despite their narrow field of view for the price class, these scopes are exceedingly bright for their price and offer sharp and clear images even in almost total darkness. This riflescope pleasantly surprised us when we tested low light optics, as it proved to perform better than most of its competition. This Minox riflescope also has an adjustable parallax.
We are big fans of the scope’s design, and the fact that the All-Rounder comes with flip-up covers is a major plus, as well. Minox All-Rounder 3-15x56 is also available with a mounting rail at the bottom. The central dot is finely adjustable, but some scopes in this price range have an even finer adjustable one. Even though we have such high hopes that this Minox riflescope would not need repairing, it still offers 10 years of warranty.
|an extremely bright image for the money||field of view|
|comes with flip-up covers|
See reticle subtensions of Minox All-Rounder 3-15x56 in the video below
Steiner remains one of the most popular companies that offer premium optics praised by many sportsmen, hunters, explorers, law enforcement, and military personnel around the world. One of the reasons is that Steiner works using only the best materials, production techniques, and testing.
This model is the successor of the Steiner Ranger 3-12x56 model, and the changes are minimal – the 4 3-12x56 is still made in the USA. The dot offers better brightness control, and it is adapted for low light use. There were mechanical improvements made, along with clicks that are even crisper, and the magnification, as well as the diopter ring now, turn even more smoothly than before.
|light transmission rate||illumination settings are better with Zeiss|
|finely adjustable red dot||4x zoom factor|
|bright and sharp image|
|optional rail mounting|
More details on Steiner Ranger 4 3-12x56 in our video review below
Here, the quality is undeniable; in the range from 1500 € to 2000 €, only products from renowned manufacturers appear. Almost all of them are made in Europe and offer a 10-year warranty, even though these optics are extremely durable and functional.
The red dot is, again, finely adjustable – they have either continuous adjustment or a large amount of illumination intensity levels. The coatings are of extremely high quality, even on the outer surfaces of the optics. The images are sharp, and the colours bright.
Almost all low light riflescopes are available to be purchased with a mounting rail. The turrets, as with previous price classes, are capped, but some manufacturers offer the option of buying the scope with a ballistic (BDC) turret.
These scopes feature a 4x or 6x zoom factor, and the quality cannot be matched to cheaper riflescopes, as it is superb, and the difference is self-evident. Riflescopes for this price are a fine investment, as they work great for a great deal of time, so you can even sell them after for a fair amount.
Introduced in 2021 – American-made Steiner Ranger is part of an array of popular rifle scopes on the German market, and in other parts of the world as well. They offer outstanding quality and continue with their tradition of creating excellent optics, which many other brands try to reach, but fail. Steiner Ranger 6 3-18x56 offers high-contrast ED optics, which means you can see the animals much clearly in not-so-friendly light conditions. The scope also sports a finely adjustable red dot, and the illumination system is better than on Steiner Ranger 4.
The excellent light transmission rate, a sharp image with many details, along with a wide field of view, is every hunter’s dream. What is more, Ranger 6 is one of the shortest low light riflescopes there is. Paired with its low weight, there is nothing that stands in the way of longer hunts. This model of Steiner Ranger is hard to be surpassed in its price range in terms of features and quality, which was a great surprise to us.
|field of view|
|excellent light transmission rate|
|6x zoom factor|
Watch the video about differences between Steiner Ranger 4 and Ranger 6.
Zeiss has always been successful when it comes to riflescopes, and with Zeiss Conquest V6, the company carried the day – and night. Zeiss Conquest V6 is among the best in its class with its good light transmission rate and a very finely adjustable red dot, which is Zeiss’ trademark. The dot is finely adjustable, even more so than on an older and more expensive Zeiss Victory HT. Delivering quality and robustness, Conquest provides high-performance in all light conditions packed in a robust and functional design.
These riflescopes made in Germany are perfect for hunting in low light conditions such as dawn and dusk. The only downside is its missing adjustable parallax, even though the highest magnification it offers is 15x.
|a very finely adjustable red dot||no adjustable parallax|
More details on Zeiss Conquest V6 2.5-15x56 in our video review below
Kahles Helia 2.4-12x56i is made in Austria, as Kahles is extremely proud of its local production. They are the oldest riflescope manufacturer in the world, so they surely know what they are doing. It has a classical Kahles design, so you cannot mistake it for another brand - you immediately know it is Kahles. This is another riflescope that is not far behind from being the winner.
The Helia model offers a wide field of view, reliable, shockproof housing in a low-weight package. Its aesthetic design is also a good choice for older or traditional rifles. To end on an extremely positive note, we noticed that Kahles has a finely adjustable red dot that is the best in this price class.
See reticle subtensions of Kahles Helia 2.4-12x56i in the video below
In this price range, the only riflescopes left are made in Europe, and Europe only. These companies have a rich history of producing rifle scopes in the field of sport optics. Low light riflescopes in this class are exceptional in terms of mechanics, as well as optics.
The red dots are finely adjustable, and most have continuous adjustment, as well as several illumination intensity levels for ideal low light use. The coatings are of high quality and applied on outer surfaces as well.
All low light riflescopes in the price class from 2000 € to 2500 € are also available with mounting rails. A 6x zoom factor prevails, but as we get closer to 2500 €, riflescopes with mostly an 8x zoom take the wheel. However, because a lower zoom factor also means a better light transmission rate, some models in this price range are also available in a lower zoom factor than 8x. They can also be bought with a ballistic turret.
Most riflescopes in this price class have an adjustable parallax, as the maximum magnification is more than 12x. They prove to be a great investment, as they last an extremely long time, and you can sell them after for a great price. These low light riflescopes also come with a 10-year warranty.
In this price range, two riflescopes made specifically for low light use can be found, namely Schmidt & Bender Polar 4-16x56 and Zeiss Victory HT 3-12x56. We wanted to test and see how much truth there is in advertising. Even though riflescopes in the previous price classes already mostly have a 6x zoom factor, these two have a 4x zoom factor, as manufacturers wished to achieve the ultimate best performance at dusk.
Of course, both were tested, and we came to interesting conclusions. Namely, we expected them to work best out of all, even better than the most expensive ones. They performed great, but pricier low light riflescopes still beat them to the punch. Schmidt & Bender Polar did a terrific job when tested, thus we placed it among our best buys list in this price class, however, it was not the best of them all.
Zeiss Victory HT is a great riflescope, however, Polar is a tad better. We did not place it among our top picks because its red dot is too bright – based on our experiences, we assume that Victory HT does not have the latest Zeiss technology when talking about red dots, but Victory V8 and Zeiss Conquest V6 do.
Schmidt & Bender Polar 4-16x56 is a rifle scope that offers extremely bright images. Since reliability is so important when it comes to success, the most important question to ask is: "How reliable is it?” This model of S&B riflescopes is built with incredible precision with high-quality technologies, making it truly reliable. Many features are similar to the extremely popular series of tactical riflescopes called PM II.
It is a sturdy scope full of many valuable and useful features while boasting a reasonable price. The scope has a high-quality all-metal construction and a finely adjustable red dot. Due to its high light transmission rate, the scope outran its many pricier rivals. However, it did not outrun all of them. Polar is made for low light usage, but it is still not the most usable in such conditions, as we expected it to win, but there are others (more expensive ones) that came before on our best buys scale.
|light transmission rate is measured on every single model (claimed by S&B)||non-fiber optic reticle illumination|
|build quality||34 mm tube (making the scope heavier)|
|FFP or SFP||the position of illumination (on the side)|
|price||short mounting length|
|can be ordered with a BDC turret|
When it comes to the optical performance of Swarovski Z6i 2.5-15x56, its lenses provide notably sharp and colourful images joined with eminent contrast. Deeply refined Swarovski products, like this one, are designed and built to perfectly operate even in the most challenging of conditions. This Swarovski riflescope can be used in bright daylight, as well as the evening, as the reticle’s illumination can be adjusted to any need.
Swarovski Z6i 2.5-15x56 has an astonishing wide view angle at any magnification and exceptional build quality. We noticed that the Z6i model offers brighter images than the Z8i, which can contribute to the lower zoom factor. Swarovski representatives always said that the difference is so slim that it cannot be noticed, however, our team notices it. For hunters looking for a versatile rifle scope, this is an applaudable option. So, if you buy it, congratulations, you made a wise choice.
|field of view||bright, but not as bright as some more expensive low light riflescopes|
|can be ordered with the Swarovski SR rail mount|
More details on Swarovski Z6i 2.5-15x56 in our video review below
As the price increases, the competition decreases. Riflescopes in this price class offer the best of the best: the quality is unimaginable, mechanically and optically speaking, and the coatings are of high quality as well. As for the red dots, these have continuous adjustments.
First-class low light riflescopes are a worthy investment as well, as they are, as we said, the very best, and if you ever decide to sell them, the buyer will get their money’s worth. The manufacturers also offer a 10-year warranty, even though malfunctions are highly unlikely. Such riflescopes are a true delicacy in the optics cuisine and are surely worth 3 Michelin stars.
Magnus is Leica's premium riflescope line and here, buying premium is definitely worth it. This riflescope currently features the widest field of view in the category of hunting riflescopes. The high contrast and vivid colours it offers can only be met by a few premium riflescopes made by other well-known manufacturers. It is 400 €-500 € cheaper than its competition (Victory V8, Blaser Infinity, and Swarovski Z8i) but still does not fall behind when it comes to optical performance in low light situations.
We were extremely impressed by Magnus’ low light performance and its finely adjustable red dot. When it comes to low light performance, Magnus takes second place, after Blaser. When it comes to the adjustability of the dot, Magnus takes third place, after Swarovski Z8i and Zeiss Victory V8. All in all, this Leica scope is one of the best low light scopes there is. The combination of price, low light performance, and the illuminated dot in the reticle is a recipe for greatness.
|eye-box||zoom factor (only 6x)|
|design||the illumination is marginally worse than in V8 and Z8|
|the widest field of view|
|the option of a BDC turret|
|impressive light transmission rate for its price|
|can be bought with a rail|
More details on Leica Magnus 2.4-16x56i in our video review below
Blaser calls this model “the twilight specialist”, as it has excellent light-gathering capabilities in low light conditions which is, of course, expected if you pay so much money for it. We are big supporters of the “looks do not matter” tagline, but Blaser Infinity sure does look great. Great fit and finish, accompanied by even better optics is a package anyone would dream to have.
Out of all riflescopes we tested, this proved to provide the brightest images. Optically, Infinity is on an extremely high level, except for the illumination – the red dot is a tad brighter than ideal, while Blaser Infinity 4-20x58’s competition has more dimmed dots. When it comes to its FFP reticle – some love it, and some do not, as many hunters (especially European) prefer the SFP configuration. The only big downside might be the price, but this riflescope is nevertheless a great investment.
|FFP reticle (user preference)||ergonomics|
|image brightness||FFP reticle (user preference)|
|58 mm lens||parallax on the ride side of the scope|
|rail mounting||5x zoom|
|even in the lowest setting, the illumination could be dimmer|
More details on Blaser Infinity 4-20x58 in our video review below
In the line of Victory V8 scopes, the 2.8-20x56 is the best of the best for hunting at dusk. The demand for this scope is huge, and for a reason, as it is a premium scope with very high magnification. When it comes to the light transmission rate, Victory comes extremely close to Blaser and Leica. The illumination dot is extremely small (3 mm), daytime usable, and finely adjustable, even more than its previously mentioned competition. However, it is heavier.
This Zeiss Victory V8 is big due to the big objective lens and high magnification, but it is short in length. The scope can handle heavy recoil due to its strong construction. Zeiss uses innovative technology, the best materials, and optics solutions, which inspire every hunter and nature lover to this day. Zeiss Victory V8 4.8-35x60 is expensive for a reason.
More details on Zeiss Victory V8 2.8-20x56 in our video review below
Swarovski Z8i 2.3-18x56 also proved to be great, especially during the daytime, as the colours are amazing, it has a wide field of view, but what we love most is its red dot, as it is the best we have seen and used in this price range. The build quality is also impressive, and the Z8i can also be bought with a BDC turret and SR rail. Both of these are great scopes, but we only had two avalible spaces to fill for our top picks.
More details on Swarovski Z8i 2.3-18x56 in our video review below
Below there is a table of contents rating low light riflescopes in this price class by illumination and brightness:
|1. Swarovski Z8i 2.3-18x56||1. Blaser Infinity 4-20x58|
|2. Zeiss Victory V8 2.8-20x56||2. Leica Magnus 2.4-16x56 i|
|3. Leica Magnus 2.4-16x56 i||3. Zeiss Victory V8 2.8-20x56|
|4. Blaser Infinity 4-20x58||4. Swarovski Z8i 2.3-18x56|
Big differences can be noticed between price classes, such as the illumination systems. The differences in brightness are noticeable even among the riflescopes in the highest price class, so it is wise to do a bit of research before taking up the responsibility of buying one. But do not worry, as we did the research for you.
It took us by surprise that Schmidt & Bender Polar T96 and Zeiss Victory HT were not the best when it came to low light performance. The two riflescopes came close to winning, but the most expensive ones were still better, brighter. However, we should take into consideration that Victory HT is 10 years old in design, but is still a great low light scope.
Our team realized that even the smallest of differences in brightness and contrast can be noticed when using the optics in poor light conditions. It was extremely interesting to see how our colleagues picked the top choices, because they did not know the other's opinion, but the results were still unanimous. Even when comparing two riflescopes with an almost identical low light performance, we could still pick which one was better. You only notice how important the red dot is (and the capacity of dimming it so it does not shine directly into your eyes) until you use the rifle scope in low-light.
A predator lurking, sitting, and waiting in the bush in the hours of darkness or a prey animal attempting to live at least until morning – to some animals, night vision is a matter of life and death. In this case, the hunter is the predator, who will catch the prey much easier with good optics. When it comes to hunting at dusk, low light riflescopes are an enormous game-changer, hence we created this buying guide, so you, as a hunter can see better and always be one step ahead.
11. Picture Gallery
Magnification is the magnifying power of an instrument that enlarges the viewing image and makes the observed object seem bigger. For example, with a 10x magnification factor, we see objects 10x closer, which means that if the target is 100 m away and we use a 10x magnification, it means that is the same as watching it with the naked eye 10 m away. When choosing the right magnification for fixed magnification optical products, practice shows that the most useful magnification is between 7x and 10x, where average people seem to handle optics without too much hand tremor.
12.2 Fixed Magnification
Optical products with fixed magnification are designed in a way that they allow only one magnification setting. Due to the smaller number of lenses used in their construction, they are optically brighter. The number of lenses contributes to the smaller size and lighter weight in comparison to optics with variable magnification. Most binoculars tend to have fixed magnification, whereas, with riflescopes, it is getting rarer each year. Normally, this kind of optical products are easier to use and are also cheaper. They also offer better optical performance, especially in terms of the light transmission rate.
12.3 Variable Magnification
Variable magnification simply means that the optical product is designed in a way where you can change the magnification. This consequently changes the viewing angle, where a higher magnification equals a narrower viewing angle, and a lower magnification means a wider viewing angle. Variable magnification adds to the versatility and general usefulness of the optics.
12.4 Lens Diameter
The second number in the product’s name represents the lens diameter. For example, 10×42 binoculars have a lens diameter of 42 mm. It is known that the bigger the lens, the more light goes through and the image we see is brighter. All of this, however, also depends on the magnification and quality of a certain optical product. Although a bigger lens diameter in binoculars is better, the size adds up on the weight, making it heavier and more difficult to handle. The most common lens diameters are 24 mm, 42 mm, 50 mm, and 56 mm.
12.5 Exit Pupil
The exit pupil is a circle from which the light is being transferred to your eye through the optical product. When you hold the optics a bit further away from your eyes towards the light, the exit pupil can be seen as a bright circle in the center of each eyepiece. The larger the exit pupil the more light can reach the eye and the image appears brighter. This is why the exit pupil plays an important part when it comes to optical products in poor light conditions at dawn or dusk. The size of the exit pupil also determines how comfortable viewing through an optical product really is. An important factor is also the size of the eye box, which is a space where the eye still sees an entire picture without any tunnel vision or blurry edges. A bigger eye box means more flexibility of the eye position and therefore a more comfortable viewing experience because the eye can move in several directions within the eye box and still obtain a full image.
The diameter of the exit pupil is calculated by dividing the lens diameter with the magnification power. For example, 8x50 binoculars have an exit pupil with the diameter of 6.25 mm.
To ensure a brighter image, the eye pupil in low light conditions has to be at least as big as the exit pupil. This way, there is no loss of light, and the image is as bright as it can be. However, the maximum diameter of the eye pupil depends on a person’s age. At night, children’s eye pupils can widen up to 7 mm but with aging, they decrease to a maximum of 4 mm. So, if the observer’s pupils can only widen up to 4 mm, the 7 mm exit pupil cannot be fully utilized. It may contribute to a more comfortable viewing, but not to a brighter image.
In daylight, when the eye pupil is as wide as 3 mm, all optics with an exit pupil bigger than 3 mm are equally bright. For example, 8x30 binoculars with a 3.75 mm exit pupil are no brighter than 8x56 binoculars with a 7 mm exit pupil. Those with a width of 7 mm, however, are more comfortable to use since they are less sensitive to the eye position (they have a bigger eye-box).
12.6 Field of View
The field of view is an area the observer sees when looking through the optical product. Although it primarily depends on how the eyepiece is built, it is also hugely affected by magnification. If you look through two binoculars of the same model but with a different magnification, you can notice that the one with a lower magnification factor will have a wider field of view. So, when comparing binoculars, you must compare the ones with the same magnification. With binoculars, spotting scopes, and other optical products it is measured at 1000 m.
With binoculars, a field of view with more than 140 m at 1000 m distance is considered a wide-angle one, while with riflescopes, a wide angle refers to a field of view over 38 m at 100 m. A wide angle is particularly useful when bird watching. It is also important to mention that the size and lens diameter of optical products are not indicators of their field of view – bigger binoculars do not automatically mean a wider field of view.
The field of view can be expressed in two values – degrees or meters.
One degree is 17.5 m at 1000 m / 1.75 m at 100 m.
If you divide the field of view given in meters by 17.5 you get the field of view in degrees.
If you multiply degrees with 17.5 you get the field of view at 1000m.
12.7 Apparent Field of View
The apparent field of view is a value in degrees that represents the viewing angle of an image the observer sees through the eyepiece. Two binoculars that share the same magnification, lens diameter, and field of view, do not necessarily have the same apparent field of view, because it depends on the structure of the lenses inside an eyepiece. It is simply a subjective impression of the field of view.
The apparent field of view also depends on the eye relief distance. A shorter eye relief also means a wider apparent field of view. But when comparing two different binoculars with the same eye relief, the one with the larger eye lens in the eyepiece will have a larger viewer field.
It can be calculated by multiplying the actual field of view with the scope’s magnification. A higher value is better as it makes the image appear wider and larger.
12.8 Prism Types
Most modern binoculars are made with a transparent optical element with flat, polished surfaces that refract light. Prisms in binoculars also determine their size, shape, optical features, and play an important part in providing image quality of binoculars. However, prisms are often a neglected factor in the process of buying binoculars. There are many types of prisms present that normally determine the purpose of certain binoculars – whether they are for hunting, marine, bird watching, etc.
12.8.1 Porro Prism Binoculars
Binoculars that have Porro prism (named after Italian physic Ignazio Porro) in their optical construction were predominantly the first type of binoculars on the market. In the last couple of decades, binoculars with Roof prisms (either Schmidt-Pechan or Abbe- Köning) became more popular, due to their compactness and water tightness. This traditional arrangement of binoculars provided by Porro-prisms makes objective lenses stand further apart and thus offer a higher light transmission rate. Images are not only brighter and sharper but also have a better depth of field, offering realistic 3D images and a wider field of view.
Many Porro prism binoculars also have a focusing mechanism separated for each eye, which can be very useful in low light situations, when observing at dusk, and dawn. Even though Porro prism binoculars are becoming rarer, this traditional arrangement makes them more affordable due to less expensive manufacturing. But a wider design makes them heavier and more difficult to hold. They are also not as watertight and rugged, which provides a less secure grip. Another disadvantage of Porro prism binoculars is the lack of adjustable eyepieces, which in most cases leads to problems when using the binoculars with glasses.
12.8.2 Abbe/Koenig Roof Prism & Schmidt/Pechan Roof Prism Binoculars
Binoculars with roof-like prisms in their optical construction provide a compact design due to the straight-line position of eyepieces and objective lenses. They are more expensive due to complex manufacturing and provide many advantages for more demanding users. They are less sensitive to abrasions and are incredibly impervious to water and dust entering the construction. They are usually purged with nitrogen or argon gas, which also helps to eliminate internal glass fogging.
Compared to Porro prism binoculars, they are more likely to withstand extreme weather conditions. The very good ergonomic design of this straight-line construction makes them less difficult to hold and immensely eases their portability. But compared to Porro prism binoculars, this construction makes light transmission less permeable and thus provides darker and less sharp images.
The main difference between both types of binoculars with Roof prisms is that those with Schmidt – Pechan prisms tend to be smaller and less expensive, while those with Abbe – Köning prisms tend to have better light transmission rate and a longer construction.
12.9 Lens Coatings
Optical products have many lenses in their housing. With each lens, about 5% of the light that passes through is lost. This can be solved with the application of coatings on glass surfaces. Through the years, the process of applying the coatings has changed. At first, they used only one layer, where the reduction of the loss was to 2% per surface. Today, they use multiple layers of coatings where there is minimal loss of light, namely 0.1% per surface. The best binoculars even have 95% of the light transmitted to the eye, through all their lenses.
With the increasing transmission of the light, the coating is also important as a protectant of the optical glass and to ensure the true color fidelity, so the colors are the same when entering as they are when exiting the binoculars/a riflescope. Above all, coatings also increase the image quality because all the light bouncing around on the inside can cover up detail and blur out colors.
The process of applying coatings has to be precise, otherwise, it can lead to a hazy and blurred image. Coatings must be spread evenly and thin to ensure the best quality. The better the coatings, the more expensive the optical product.
Lens coatings are as important as the quality of the lenses themselves. You can easily check whether your optical product has coatings – if you look at the reflection and it shows multiple colors such as purple, green, or yellow the lenses are definitely coated. On the opposite, lenses with no coatings have a clear reflection without showing any colors.
There are many different ways of applying lens coatings:
- Coated: where one or more glass surfaces are coated with one thin anti-reflective layer.
- Fully coated: where all glass surfaces are coated in one thin anti-reflective layer.
- Multicoated: where one or more glass surfaces are coated in multiple layers. Light transmission is more than 75%.
- Fully multicoated: where all glass surfaces are coated in multiple layers. Light transmission is more than 85%.
- Outer surface coating: coating on the outer glass surface which protects the lens from external dew (especially in the winter), partially from dirt and other impurities. They can have different names, depending on the manufacturer (LotuTec, Swarodur, AquaDura)
12.10 Focusing system
Depending on the purpose of use, there are two focusing systems available when it comes to binoculars. The most common is a central focusing system, which is present in every pair of binoculars with roof prisms almost without an exception. The other less occurring system is focusing separated for each eye, which is the most useful in marine (because of the water-resistance) and extreme low light situations. Binoculars with this kind of focusing system have an advantage in setting the right focus only once for each eye, which is especially useful when viewing in the dark where it is not necessary to set the focus again.
With central focusing, it is often difficult to focus the image in the dark, because there is not enough light to see whether the object is sharp or not.
12.11 Binoculars With Central Focusing
Binoculars with central focusing have a central wheel that is able to provide perfectly sharp images. With a central focusing knob, you adjust the focus of both barrels at the same time, moving the lenses simultaneously. When choosing between binoculars with a central focusing system, it is important to look for their design and performance. Depending on the manufacturer, some binoculars provide sturdier focusing and some very smooth focusing, which is especially suitable for dynamic situations.
The focusing also varies from binos to binos. It takes more time for setting a proper focus with a long focusing throw, than with the ones with a shorter one. When it comes to ergonomics, most binoculars provide a central knob with different bulges for a better grip, which is very convenient when wearing gloves. Since the central focusing wheel does not eliminate differences in both eyes, a diopter on the upper side of the barrel is included.
12.12 Binoculars With Individual Focusing (Focusing Separated for Each Eye)
An individual focusing system provides focusing for each eye separately. On the upper side of both barrels lie focusing rings – diopters, with the numbers for setting a proper focus by moving lenses individually. The majority of binoculars use the central rotating knob, so this arrangement is not that frequent and is most commonly found on Porro prism binoculars. The individual focusing system has many different commercial names like sports autofocus, permanent focus, or simply autofocus.
The main characteristic of this system is that you can set them only once and afterward, the eyes focus on different distances by themselves. This can be a significant advantage in low light situations when there is not enough light for precise focusing with a central knob. Binoculars of this type are also incredibly watertight and thus very likely to appear on most marine binoculars. There are, however, some disadvantages of such a focusing system compared to more conventional central focusing. The close focusing distance is usually bigger and most binoculars with individual focusing do not offer adjustable eyepieces for those wearing eyeglasses.
12.13 Fog-Proof Binoculars
Optical products are often filled with dry gas to prevent the condensation on the inside of the housing when exposing them to extreme temperatures. If there is even a slight sign of air inside, there is a certain % of moisture present. Usually, they are filled with either argon or nitrogen gas, which have the same effect – to prevent moisture and internal fogging without affecting the optical properties. In addition, these gases also prevent the formation of fungus which would destroy the optics. Internal dewing was the biggest problem in older binoculars when exposed to lower temperatures because they were not watertight and contained air. Newer binoculars are therefore all airtight and filled with dry nitrogen or argon.
12.14 Waterproof Binoculars
The waterproof feature is made to keep the optical products sealed and protected from water or dust. Such products are suitable for marine, hunting, hiking, or use in extreme humidity. Even if you are not planning on using them in such situations, it is a good feature to have in case of heavy rain or dust. Waterproof optical products are typically sealed with O-rings.
All optical products that are fog-proof are also waterproof because they have to be properly sealed to keep the dry gas inside. Yet not all waterproof products are also fog-proof, as the air inside the product is not necessarily replaced with dry nitrogen or argon.
You should be careful not to confuse waterproofness with optics being weather-resistant as they are designed to be protected only against light rain and are not fully sealed. Slightly better waterproofing of binoculars can also be ensured with an individual eye focusing mechanism.
12.15 Closest Focus Distance
The closest focus distance is an important value when observing butterflies, moths, or plants at a really close distance. It represents the nearest distance where the viewing object can still be in focus. With binoculars, an excellent viewing distance is from 1.5 m below. If you are not particularly interested in observing objects at a close range, this is an irrelevant factor when choosing a new pair.
12.16 Twilight Factor
In the past, the twilight factor was an important value in determining the brightness of the optics. The manufacturers were using the same kind of technology and materials of the lenses therefore, the optics were comparable. Nowadays, they use different types of lenses and modern coatings, so the twilight factor has lost its meaning because the brightness of the optics depends more on the quality of the coatings than on the twilight factor.
The twilight factor is calculated by the square root of multiplying the magnification and the lens diameter.
The twilight factor of 8x42 binoculars is a square root of 336, meaning 18.33. All the binoculars with this kind of magnification and a lens diameter have the same twilight factor, but not the same brightness. If you look through an old pair of binoculars made in the 1950s and a new pair with the same magnification and lens diameter, you could see the difference in brightness, even though they share the same twilight factor. The newer pair is significantly brighter due to better lens materials and coatings.
Though manufacturers still specify the twilight factor, we recommend you ignore it as it is not important.
12.17 Relative Brightness
Relative brightness is a calculation of how bright the image should be when viewed through binoculars. It is presented as a square value of the exit pupil. 10x50 binoculars have an exit pupil value of 5.0 (dividing lens diameter with magnification). The square of 5.0 gives us a value of relative brightness which is 25.0. As the relative brightness value increases, so does the brightness of the image. On the opposite, the lower the value, the darker the image.
In the past, relative brightness was an important factor in determining the brightness of the optics. The manufacturers were using the same kind of technology and materials of the lenses therefore, the optics were comparable. Nowadays, they use different types of lenses and modern coatings, so the relative brightness has lost its meaning because the brightness of the optics depends more on the quality of the coatings than on the relative brightness.
12.18 Light Transmission
Light transmission specifies the amount of light that is let through. Each crossing through each lens means a certain loss of light (0.1% with best coatings, up to 5% without coatings). A higher light transmission rate is very important when using optics at dawn or twilight. Good optics normally have a light transmission rate up to 90%, whereas top-notch ones have even 95% and more light is let through.
Although the quantity of light reaching the eye depends on the size of an exit pupil, light transmission determines the transparency of the lenses, whether the image is dark and cloudy or bright and clear.
Light transmission can be increased by applying different coatings on glass surfaces. However, it depends on the coating type and the number of layers. Multi-layered coatings also mean a higher light transmission.
12.19 Diopter Range
The diopter ring is present in the central focusing system on each of the barrels near the eyepiece, where you can correct the difference in the prescription of the left and right eye individually. Once you have set the right value, you can focus the image using just the central focusing ring. If you are wearing glasses, the diopter value should be set to 0, because the differences in your eyes are already corrected in your glasses.
To see a sharp image without wearing glasses, you can easily set the diopter by looking with the bare eye, turning the ring, and adjusting sharpness. So, when looking with both eyes your image should appear sharp. If you have astigmatism, the diopter adjustment cannot correct it – you will still need your glasses and the diopter set to 0 to see sharp images.