November 23, 2021
Crimson Trace has been in the variable-powered optics business for about 3 years, and its new Hardline, Hardline Pro, Brushline and Brushline Pro series reflect its growing ability to tailor its products for the American market. The Hardline models favor the competitive and tactical shooting crowd, for example, while the Brushline models target the hunting market. The differences in features between these four lines are found in the reticles, focal planes and turrets. Not surprisingly, the Pro models are more feature-heavy.
Asia’s Optics Manufacturing
It’s actually rare for any riflescope brand to build its own scopes. The most common business model is that the company, Crimson Trace in this case, sets the scope’s specifications and testing protocols. Then they look at the optic-manufacturing plants in Asia to build the product. Crimson Trace’s role is extensive. They designed the reticles, determined the engineering guidelines for each product, and quality standards that each scope had to maintain. Crimson Trace also does quality control testing in-house, a step that many optic-importing companies who operate using this business model do not.
The major optics manufacturing centers in Asia are located in China, Japan and the Philippines. One look at the retail pricing for Crimson Trace’s scopes, and I was happy to see that production is handled in the Philippines. The best Asian scopes come from Japan, but they cost more than $1,000. Once the price and (more importantly) the features driving the retail drop below $1,000, Japanese taxes and labor rates are no longer worth the effort, from a consumer perspective. Japan has a robust optical manufacturing capability and they can insert some amazing features in any scope. But if a company like Crimson Trace isn’t setting specifications on a fully-featured flagship model, then Japan is no longer my top pick for Asia’s optic manufacturing.
In the sub-$1,000 Asia-production category, the Philippines reigns supreme as a source for quality optics. Philippine manufacturers hold tight tolerances and turn out a good product when directed to do so and when managed correctly. The beauty of Philippine production is that Crimson Trace’s scopes track well and include reticles with little-to-no cant, all while remaining budget friendly.
China produces the least expensive scopes. For anything other than casual range use, Chinese scopes lack the precision required for accurate fire at ranges past 300 yards. Chinese optic companies will only guarantee plus-or-minus 5 percent accuracy on turrets when dialed. If a shooter dials 10 mils on a turret and the internals only moved 9.5 mils, the result is a miss. This much error in the turret system also means it will be impossible to true the rifle to any ballistic calculator because that 5 percent error means it will only be correct at the specific truing distance. Most shooters will be tempted to blame the ballistic software for inaccuracies, but I’ve found that Chinese turrets lack the repeatability required for dialing targets at any distance. The smaller the target and the longer the range, the more this deficiency affects your shots.
Crimson Trace Performance
The quickest way to determine how precise a riflescope is made is to run a tracking test and a reticle can’t test. Tracking tests assess the accuracy of the turrets by measuring how far the reticle moves when the turret spins. A lot of folks will test this by putting the scope in an immobile jig and then measure by viewing through the scope how far the reticle moves on the target as they dial. I don’t like this method because if there’s any mirage it becomes close to impossible to get an accurate measurement.
I took a 6-24x50mm Hardline Pro to the range and put it atop my rifle dedicated to scope tracking. I shoot this test at 50 yards to minimize the effects wind has on the bullet’s flight. I shoot one round at a small dot near the bottom of a 24-inch by 36-inch target sheet, dial as much elevation as the scope will allow, 13 mils in this case (I didn’t release the zero stop), and then fire again. I then dial back to my zero and shoot again, then dial up 13 mils and shoot again. I repeat this process until I have two, three-shot groups that are 13 mils apart.
Thirteen mils at 50 yards is 23.4 inches apart. In reality, my two groups were 23.68 inches apart, for a measured error of 1.2 percent. To put that in perspective, 13 mils of elevation travel takes my competition rifle chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor out to 1,357 yards when the temperature is 72 degrees and there is 65 percent humidity in the air. A shift in muzzle velocity of 11 feet per second (fps) yields the same 1.2-percent amount of elevation error. Considering that even the best handloads can’t consistently keep velocity extreme spreads (ES) less than 11 fps, this amount of elevation error is irrelevant. The fact that there is only 1.2-percent elevation error is fantastic, as this is about as much error as I usually find on scopes costing two or three times as much. If all I can find is about 1 percent error, my measured results could just as easily be operator error versus turret error.
Measuring reticle cant occurs by measuring the distance of each group from the plumb vertical line. My two groups impacted almost directly over one another with only .1-inch lateral difference between the two. I set the elevation distance traveled (23.4 inches) as the maximum amount of lateral error possible due to the circular shape of the internal erector assembly. A .1-inch shift at 23.4 inches of travel gives this scope .04 percent error for reticle cant. To give this some quantifiable meaning, a guy would have to be able to call wind within .5 miles per hour at 1,357 yards before that much reticle became an issue. No human being can call wind that well. It’s unusual for reticles to be perfectly mounted in a scope, and it’s not uncommon to see several tenths of an inch in lateral shift across 13 mils or more of travel. To see so little shift for a scope that retails for $859 is, again, fantastic performance from this scope.
I was shocked at how well this Hardline Pro model performed. It ties for the best Philippine-production scope I’ve ever tested, and would beat many of the more expensive Japanese-production models. The only Philippine-produced scope that did this well for me was the Zeiss Conquest V4 ($950, zeiss.com). Crimson Trace’s full-featured and most expensive model is still a hundred dollars more affordable than the base V4.
Features & Testing
Features and magnification levels are what delineate Hardline from Hardline Pro, and Brushline from Brushline Pro. The “Pro” models come with all the bells and whistles. They have higher magnification, and are slightly more expensive for those features.
All Hardline and Hardline Pro scopes with exposed turrets come with a zero stop that is simple but effective. Removing the turret cap exposed a lock ring that wraps around the turret screw. If you run out of travel with the elevation turret, loosening the lock ring will likely free up more travel. Once the scope is zeroed, screw the lock ring down until it sits tight against the turret housing and then tighten the set screw. Replace the turret cap and the scope is good to go. The Brushline turrets are capped and have a spring-loaded inner cap that lifts and rotates to zero without the need for tools.
The Hardline and Hardline Pro reticles are first focal plane (FFP) mil- and minute-of-angle (MOA)-based with subtension in .2 mil or 1 MOA increments. Anyone using a ballistic calculator, dialing for elevation, or holding for wind will want these reticles. The Brushline and Brushline Pro reticles are second focal plane (SFP) with ballistic drop compensating (BDC) reticles featuring three or four diamond-shaped windows in each reticle. Each diamond offers three aiming points — top, middle, bottom — and gives most hunters plenty of aiming points for hold-over use. An interesting note, Crimson Trace’s most popular scope features a BDC reticle developed just for the .350 Legend.
While I was thoroughly impressed with the mechanical performance of the Hardline scopes I tested, I was equally impressed with the stringent quality control and durability testing Crimson Trace requires across all product lines. I was pleased to learn that Crimson Trace conducts impact testing in six directions: front, back, both sides, and on two diagonal axes. Each direction sees 1,400 g-forces, which is a lot of energy. All 50 of Crimson Trace’s scopes have to pass these tests.
I asked Crimson Trace about the warranty. These come with a lifetime warranty, and there are no warranty cards or proof of ownership required. The warranty includes both the optic and the electronics within. When talking to them about the warranty, Crimson Trace emphasized that the quality of their product mattered more than the warranty. A killer warranty is poor consolation if a failed scope ruins your match or a hunting trip. Crimson Trace is designing scopes to last, not cheap scopes they expect to have to replace. From a consumer standpoint, I can appreciate this approach.
Known for innovating laser-aiming devices since 1994, Crimson Trace is a newer name in the optics world. Still, it has a great strategy and business plan in place. They picked the right place to build scopes for this price bracket, and the factory is producing quality scopes with all the features that many of our budgets will allow. Crimson Trace reticles make sense, too, and you’ll find that their features are abundant. I expect all four scope lines will grow and increase in popularity.
Crimson Trace Hardline Pro 4-16x50mm Specifications
- Power: 4X-16X
- Objective: 50mm
- Tube diameter: 30mm
- Elevation adjustment: .1 mil per click
- Windage adjustment: .1 mil per click
- Reticle: MR1-Mil
- Length: 14.8 in.
- Weight: 1 lb., 8 oz.
- Eye Relief: 3.6 in.
- MSRP: $859
To view the full line of Crimson Trace riflescopes, please visit: CrimsonTrace.com
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