July 25, 2019
By Tom Beckstrand
My first exposure to Nightforce occurred while deployed overseas. I was serving as a sniper team leader with the 3rd Special Forces Group on a project that was severely undermanned when my company commander requested a platoon of U.S. Navy SEALS to augment our ranks. Higher up approved his request.
As our snipers were getting acquainted with their snipers, a few of the SEALs pointed out their new Nightforce scopes. It was the first time I had heard of the company, but it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
The scope line that launched Nightforce into the premium optics category was the NXS, several of which sat atop the SEAL sniper rifles when they arrived in our little patch of the war. Snipers are required to do many tasks, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to know that few are intimately familiar with each piece of their gear, how it’s made and how it works. This is especially true with optics, which are often viewed with a degree of mysticism.
How scopes work can be terribly complicated, but performance is pretty easy to assess. It’s so easy, in fact, that even a young gang of SEAL snipers and their U.S. Army Special Forces counterparts — optical neophytes, all — were equally impressed with the NXS. They proved to be extremely durable, had good optical quality and tracked accurately when dialed for elevation. That was more than 13 years ago and the NXS has remained largely unchanged since. Reticles have evolved, and elevation turrets now include an optional zero-stop feature. Optically, the NXS has remained untouched.
While Nightforce has no plans to stop making NXS scopes, they figured it was time to take what they’ve learned in the almost two decades since the NXS inception and roll out a more modern midpriced scope line. That new line is called the NX8. The first model, a 1-8x24mm, appeared about a year ago. We got our hands on two of the new NX8 scopes, a 2.5-20x50mm and the 4-32x50mm. So far, both have stayed true to the Nightforce lineage of extreme durability while offering improved image quality over the NXS.
Improvements were made in the lens composition and coatings, along with an entirely new optical design. They used the same extra-low dispersion (ED) glass found in the ATACR line, but managed to keep the cost of the NX8 well below that of the ATACR.
The 2.5-20x50mm is 1½-inches shorter than the 4-32X model, yet both weigh 28 ounces. While it’s easy to think the shorter scope should be lighter, it is not because it has extra glass in the objective lens group to keep image quality high in such a compact, high-magnification scope.
The easiest way to damage image quality in any scope is to make it short, give it high magnification and put a large objective lens on it. While that combination is hard on image quality, the damage done by the combination can be corrected. It just takes engineering and some additional lenses, at the cost of a little weight.
There are few guarantees in the world of riflescopes, but one guarantee is that there is no such thing as a cheap, lightweight, extremely durable, short, high-magnification scope with a large objective lens. Only when you’re willing to spend more than $1,500 and carry a 20-ounce-plus scope does the above combination become possible.
The 2.5-20X NX8 fits the billed description above, minus the “cheap” part. Retail will be right around $2,000. It represents excellent value for the performance and features that come with the purchase price. At 28 ounces, it isn’t the lightest scope out there, but the weight brings added durability and optical quality with it.
The weight gain for optical quality comes with Nightforce’s use of an additional lens in the objective lens group. Adding that extra lens corrects any degradation that shortening a scope creates.
Durability also comes with a weight penalty. It’s possible to make a scope lighter by using a thin aluminum main tube. The problem with that is the tube becomes vulnerable to damage from being dropped or having the rings over tightened, which happens often. Nightforce uses a main tube that’s about three times as thick as a standard main tube. If you go to the website nightforceoptics.com, there’s a neat video of an employee using one of the scopes to drive a huge nail into a tree stump. The scope then gets put back on the rifle and the rifle fires at an exploding target.
The construction method goes far beyond a thick main tube that doesn’t deform when driving nails or using enough lenses to attain the image quality that meets a high standard. Nightforce also secures the lenses inside the main tube in a proprietary manner that ensures they don’t move under impact.
The number one cause of a scope losing its zero (assuming the rings aren’t garbage) is an impact to the scope that causes any lens to move .001 inch or so. The objective lens is the usual culprit because it is so big and heavy which makes it challenging to prevent the lens from moving around. Impacts to the sides of the scope are the worst.
Nightforce uses bedding compound when installing the lenses inside the main tube to make it virtually impossible for movement under impact. In fact, the new NX8 scope gets beat-on by a rubber-coated steel block to make sure the reticle cannot and will not move.
Both the 2.5-20x50mm and the 4-32x50mm also feature a zero-stop. This is an internal mechanism inside the elevation turret that, once zeroed, allows the shooter to dial back to zero by turning the turret until it stops. There is no need to worry about being on the right turret revolution.
Both scopes have the reticle in the first focal plane (FFP), so the reticle’s subtension is accurate at any magnification level. Guns & Ammo’s two test samples featured Mil-C reticles, which are good for everything from general use to competitive shooting. The reticles are also illuminated, so picking them up in low light isn’t a problem.
Nightforce has remained loyal to the principles that built the company and made the NXS line such a success. They’ve updated the NX8 to get the most from modern technology with the gains visible in optical performance, reticle design and magnification range.
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