December 15, 2017
United States' Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is at it again. They're waving around their cash letting the industry know they're in the market for a Squad Variable Power Scope (SVPS).
Up until now the Raytheon ELCAN 1-4X has been doing the heavy lifting in this category. It's a quality choice, but SOCOM has decided that the 1-4X is no longer sufficient and has decided it's time to choose an heir apparent.
Nightforce has two new 1-8x24mm scopes releasing at the same time. While it's unusual to see two scopes in the same magnification range coming to market simultaneously, they are different enough that they will find homes in two separate shooting demographics.
INTRODUCING THE NX8
The NX8 is Nightforce's smallest and least expensive 1-8X variable that will be competing for the SOCOM contract. The NX8 does not belong to any other line in the Nightforce family and represents the potential for and totally merits an entirely new product line. I suspect that future NX8 scopes (should there be any) will all share the new 8X erector assembly, 30mm maintube and remain compact and very light for their magnification range. These scopes will have a very broad appeal to everyone from tactical shooters to hunters.
Compact and light is the name of the game with the new 1-8X NX8. The NX8 is so small I had to bust out an old Nightforce 1-4X NXS to see which was smaller. The NX8 is about a quarter-inch shorter than the 1-4X (and the 1-4X is not a large scope in any sense).
The NX8 has parallax fixed at 125 meters, 10 illumination settings, is either mil- or MOA-adjustable, features a Lightforce ZeroStop and has a capped windage turret. The NX8 comes with an optional power throw lever that provides an ergonomic means of quickly changing magnification settings.
Internally, the NX8 has a new illumination system in which it shares some of the same technology of the 1-8X ATACR. The new illumination system differs significantly from what's commonly found in scopes and the end result is no one has a brighter illuminated reticle than Nightforce.
Illumination systems in scopes historically consisted of two types: an etched reticle bathed in red LED light or a fiber-optic system. Etched reticles frequently have reflective material put in the etching and a red LED bathes the entire lens in light. Some of that light reflects back towards the shooter's eye and "illuminates" the reticle. Such a system has about 5 percent efficiency, and is why the battery powering the system can't generate enough juice to make the reticle easily visible in bright daylight.
Fiber-optic illumination systems use a cable to channel the light directly at the shooter's eye. These systems are very bright, but they're only relevant in second focal plane reticles. While durable, the wire reticles that accompany them are prone to breakage. Under recoil, wire reticles don't hold up well over the long term.
While it sounds too simple to matter, Nightforce put a lens on their light source that focuses all of the red LED light on just the center portion of the reticle, instead of letting LED light hit run around inside the scope.
Focusing all the red LED light down to just the center of the reticle boosts system efficiency to about 90 percent. Almost all of the light coming from the red LED gets focused and bounced back to the shooter's eye. It makes for the brightest reticle I have ever seen in any scope. The segmented circle in this 1-8x24mm scope functions very much like a red dot optic when the brightness is turned up to 10 and magnification is turned down to 1X.
THE NEWEST ATACR
This new 1-8X has the features that have made the ATACR line of scopes so popular amongst rifle enthusiasts and professionals. Key fixed lens are bedded in place to ensure no lens movement. Lens movement is the number one scope-centric source of point-of-impact shift and ATACRs don't suffer from that problem, even when treated like a rented mule.
This ATACR uses extra-low-dispersion glass. Low-dispersion glass is a glass family that offers exceptional optical quality but is difficult to manufacture. It is also expensive. Few optics companies are willing to make the effort required to use it, but Nightforce is one of them, and it's one of the reasons why ATACR scopes have such excellent image quality.
The improved image quality that comes from using extra-low-dispersion glass occurs because light passing through it doesn't split into individual colors as much as it does through lesser grades of glass. Each color has a different wavelength and keeping them all corralled into the same focal plane is a much harder task that it sounds. Low-dispersion glass ensures all the light remains in the same focal plane, which contributes heavily to good image quality.
As 1-8X scopes go, the ATACR is very short. There's a rule that applies to all optics (which is a rare occurrence) and that is the shorter the scope, the harder it is to get good image quality from it. The reason behind this principle is a short scope requires light to bend very aggressively and light doesn't like to do that. To make it work, there is no room for error.
Every variable-powered scope has an erector assembly that consists of two lenses that slide back and forth in a tube. The erector sits between the shooter's eye and the scope's turrets. The two lenses in the erector slide back and forth when the shooter adjusts magnification. The relationship between those two lenses across the entire range of motion is critical to good image quality. If at any time those lenses get a little too far apart, close together or tilt, image quality will suffer.
The 1-8X ATACR has an entirely new erector design that uses modern technology to ensure the lenses inside it cannot tilt or move out of place while they track inside the erector. A little tilt that wouldn't be a problem in a longer scope was unacceptable in this short ATACR. Nightforce had to design something new for a scope this short and it works beautifully.
Lighting conditions were great for an optics shoot-out between these two 1-8Xs. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the sun was directly in front of both scopes about halfway between overhead and the horizon. This put a significant amount of direct sunlight on the objective lens and my face simultaneously, a difficult light condition for any scope to handle.
There was plenty of vegetation and shadow on the range that allowed me to assess resolution and contrast in shadow, a key scope performance metric. Most things that you really want to shoot are smart enough to hide in shadows. A good scope will allow you to see your target.
Once most get past the physical dimensions and differences between the two scopes, the first question asked is probably going to be, "How good is the glass?" This is always a difficult question to answer, but there are some clear differences between the image characteristics. It should come as no surprise that the ATACR has better image quality than the NX8 for the reasons outlined above.
I've competed with an ATACR for the past three years on the Precision Rifle Series circuit and come to know these scopes well. While other scopes on the market offer optical performance with different characteristics, I continually find myself returning to the ATACR because of its durability and exceptional image quality.
When I first saw the NX8, I thought it might be too small to have a chance at decent image quality. By the time I got to the end of my evaluation, I was more excited about the NX8 than I was about the ATACR. That was unexpected, but occurred because of the size, weight and price of the NX8. To me, represents incredible value, performance and utility for the price.
When comparing the 1-8X ATACR with the NX8, there are some very subtle differences in what you see through the scope. I would expect so to justify the $1,000 price difference between the two. I observed small colored bands surrounding objects of high contrast (chromatic aberration) on objects near the edge of the field of view (FOV) in the NX8. This softens the edges of objects in the FOV forcing the eye to work a little harder and, when viewed for hours at a time, can lead to eye fatigue and headaches. If you don't spend hours at a time behind a scope, this may not be an issue.
I also noticed the NX8 portrayed black shadows with a slightly gray tint when compared to the ATACR. The graying shadows caused resolution in those shadows to slightly fall off. This means that anything hiding there is going to be a little harder to recognize because the resolution isn't quite as good. If you don't plan on hunting critters that hide in shadows, this is a non-issue. Both of these scenarios are very minor details, but I feel are necessary to help explain the cost and size differences between the two scopes.
While Nightforce is unveiling these two 1-8X scopes at the same time, do not be fooled into thinking they are the same. As much as I love the ATACR line, the new NX8 is going to be a better seller. It has good optical quality, and pairs it with such a compact and portable package that most (myself included) are going to be powerless to resist.
Nightforce 1-8x24mm ATACR
Tube Diameter: 34mm
Elevation adjustment: .1-mil per click
Windage: .1-mil per click
Length: 10.06 in.
Weight: 21 oz.
Eye Relief: 3.74 in.
Manufacturer: Nightforce Optics, 208-476-9814, nightforceoptics.com
Nightforce 1-8x24mm NX8
Tube Diameter: 30mm
Elevation adjustment: .5-MOA/.2-mil per click
Windage: .5-MOA/ .2-mil per click
Reticle: FC-MOA, FC-MIL
Length: 8.42 in.
Weight: 17 oz.
Eye Relief: 3.15 in.
Manfacturer: Nightforce Optics, 208-476-9814, nightforceoptics.com
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