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Vortex Optics 1-10X Razor HD Gen III Review

Vortex Optics unveils the 1-10X Razor HD Gen III scope.

Vortex Optics 1-10X Razor HD Gen III Review
Photo by Mark Fingar

The battle of the low-powered variable optics (LPVOs) rages on, and Vortex is taking no prisoners. After years of Razor HD silence, Vortex designers unveiled the 1-10x24mm Razor HD Gen III at SHOT 2020. This is the first Gen III scope in the Razor line.

What’s hard to believe is the new scope is the same size and weight as its predecessor — the Razor HD II-E 1-6x24mm — which has been extremely successful for the company. It was even adopted and fielded by the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in 2013 and is still in service today.

Photo by Mark Fingar.

Why Now?

Having SOCOM field the 1-6X was a big victory for Vortex because it validated their engineering efforts and testing protocols. They produced a scope that was crowned “best in class” by the world’s most discerning customer. The 1-6X is a second focal plane (SFP) scope with a fiber-optic illumination system. During testing, it proved to be exceptionally durable and fast to acquire a full field of view. This allowed the scope to function as effectively as a red dot at 1X while still being fast at 6X.

While the 1-6X has been highly successful, today’s consumer is always looking for the next best thing. Plus, you can’t stand still in the optics world; it changes quickly. So in 2016, Vortex started working on what would become the 1-10x24mm scope. Some of the attributes Vortex wanted in this scope included an increased magnification range, a first-focal-plane (FFP) reticle and no increase in weight.

Photo by Mark Fingar.

Building Blocks

One of the best features about the 1-6x24mm Razor HD II-E is the ocular design. The ocular lens group is the enlarged portion of the scope behind the magnification ring. The ocular group functions as a microscope that enlarges the image exiting the optic’s second focal plane.

The design of the ocular group is what determines the optic’s eye relief threshold. Put into crude terms, the ocular lens is responsible for the forward and aft portion of any scope’s “eyebox.”

Photo by Mark Fingar.

The 1-6X Razor has an excellent ocular lens that allows for a lot of head movement while still maintaining a full field of view. This is important for any optic used for run-and-gun work because it allows the shooter to throw the rifle to their shoulder quickly and then get a full field of view and acquire the target before squeezing one off. The new 1-10X Razor allows for just as much head movement as the 1-6X.

I don’t understand how this is possible, given the wider magnification range of the new scope, but one of the key features that got the 1-6X Razor adopted by SOCOM in 2013 made the transition to a 1-10X Razor in 2020. This is a big deal because it’s much harder to maintain that kind of usability while increasing magnification by 66 percent.

Photo by Mark Fingar.

The fact that Vortex was able to design an ocular lens group that got them the SOCOM contract and then put another ocular group that’s just as forgiving on a 1-10X scope speaks very highly of their engineers. Vortex optical engineers designed this 1-10X; it was not a design purchased overseas.

Photo by Mark Fingar.

That Illumination, Though

Illumination systems on most FFP LPVOs have been in need of improvement for some time. The classic and inexpensive method of powering the system with a 2032 battery and then bathing an etched reticle in red light works in most lighting conditions. The red light gets washed over the lens possessing the reticle, then some light hits the reflective material in the reticle etching and bounces back to the shooter’s eye. This system is about 20-percent efficient. Most of the red light never makes it to the shooter’s eye.

The Vortex 1-6X scope has a SFP reticle and uses a fiber-optic cable to channel all the light in the system to the shooter’s eye. Many SFP reticle scopes use this approach, and it works very well.

The problem in FFP scopes is the fiber-optic cable would look like a huge post in the reticle, so a fiber-optic system is never used. Up until recently, the only illumination system choice for FFP scopes was the highly inefficient system described above.


Photo by Mark Fingar.

Vortex, however, uses a much more sophisticated illumination system in the 1-10X. The system is still powered by the ubiquitous 2032 battery, but there is a prism attached to a red LED light. The prism acts like a lens and focuses all the light on just the center portion of the reticle. The end result is 90-plus percent of the light that is emitted makes it to the shooter’s eye.

Having all that light focused in the right spot makes the illuminated portion of the reticle extremely bright. This means the center dot remains highly visible in even the brightest direct sunlight. This is one of very few LPVOs featuring FFP reticles that allow for use as a red dot at 1X in all lighting conditions.

Adjusting the illumination system is pretty easy. The illumination dial is on the left side of the scope, and it locks in place. Grabbing the knurled portion of the dial and pulling away from the scope unlocks the system and allows for adjustment. Illumination brightness settings go from one to 11 with a shut-off stop between each setting. The battery sits inside the illumination turret, and a coin or case rim works to remove the turret cap to replace the battery.

Photo by Mark Fingar. The illumination turret unlocks by pulling the cap away from the maintube. There are 11 settings with an “off” position between each one.

A New Reticle

I was skeptical of the reticle in a 1-10X FFP scope. I couldn’t think of any possible way to make the reticle usable across the entire magnification range, but Vortex has come up with an excellent solution.

New for this scope are the EBR-9C MRAD and MOA reticles. The MRAD model subtends in mils, but the MOA reticle is really a combination of a ballistic drop compensated (BDC) and an MOA reticle.

The scope I tested was the MRAD model. However, the center of both reticles is the same. Each reticle’s center has a floating dot surrounded by an interrupted circle. The MRAD reticle’s horizontal stadia subtends in each half-mil out to 8 mils. The MOA version subtends in each minute out to 20 minutes.

Photo by Mark Fingar. EBR-9C MOA. The EBR-9C MOA reticle is a combination of a 5.56 bullet drop compensator and a MOA reticle.

The MRAD reticle’s vertical stadia line also subtends in each half mil. At each mil line below the horizontal stadia there are dots in 1-mil increments. This makes the EBR-9C an effective holdover reticle without cluttering up the field of view. For the magnification range and likely engagement ranges, this reticle makes a ton of sense.

The MOA reticle is a BDC reticle designed for use with the U.S. Army’s M855A1 small arms round. There are elevation hold lines in 100-yard increments from 300 to 600 yards. Below the 600-yard horizontal line, the reticle reverts back to MOA. The MOA marks start at 20 MOA and go all the way down to 32 MOA for elevation holds.

The MOA reticle has 5-, 10-, 15- and 20-mph wind holds at each of the horizontal range lines. These wind holds are for a full-value wind when shooting M855A1. Obviously, the MOA reticle was designed for a military solicitation, but it should work pretty well with most 55- to 62-grain 5.56mm bullet weights.

During my testing with the MRAD reticle, I found the holdover marks were usable from about 3X all the way up to 10X. The reticle is very small at 3X, but I could still see it when placed against a target that offered some contrast. Below 3X, I would use the scope as a red dot.

Photo by Mark Fingar. EBR-9C MRAD. The MRAD subtends in mils. Both reticles have the same floating center dot inside a segmented circle.

One nice feature about the reticle Vortex developed is that is turns gray when placed against a black background. The illumination system is excellent and works just fine to make the reticle standout on a dark target. However, the simple fact that it automatically turns gray as soon as it touches a dark background means the shooter will likely be able to get off a quick shot without having to touch the scope. I don’t know how the reticle does that, but it is a feature that’s just starting to hit the scope market.

One question that will inevitably surface about this scope is whether or not it is a true 1X. It is. However, some folks will want to argue the point. Allow me to provide some quick training on LPVO scopes.

Photo by Mark Fingar. The 1-10X takes the same 2032 batteries as other optics systems, but its prism on the light source creates much brighter illumination of the reticle.

A True 1X

Most 1X scopes really are true 1X scopes. The reason some appear not to be is because adjusting the diopter to focus the reticle changes the scope’s magnification. Don’t believe me? Point any LPVO scope set at 1X at the blinds on a window and watch what happens when you turn the diopter to focus the reticle. The blinds get bigger or smaller depending on which way you adjust.

One way to focus the reticle on any LPVO scope is to set it at 1X and point it at the blinds, then turn the diopter until your eye tells you everything lines up. Run it up to maximum magnification to check and you’re all done focusing the reticle.

After spending some time with Vortex’s new 1-10x24mm, I can say that this will be a very big deal in the optics world. LPVOs are becoming the optic of choice on most AR-15s, and this has all the details right. It will make a very fast and functional red dot while simultaneously allowing the shooter a high degree of precision.

Every time I pick up this 1-10X, I think back to when I went through the United States Marine Corps scout-sniper advanced course where we had to shoot for record out to 1,000 yards. I attended that program with a scope that maxed out at 10X. This scope would have allowed me to do everything required for sniper school while still being highly functional on a short-barreled AR for use in close quarters battle. If I wasn’t looking at it, I wouldn’t believe it.

Photo by Mark Fingar. The fast-focus diopter ensures the reticle is visible for just about anyone’s eyesight.

Vortex Optics Razor HD Gen III Specs

Power: 1-10X
Objective: 24mm
Tube Diameter: 34mm
Elevation Adjustment: .1 mil per click
Windage: .1 mil per click
Reticle: EBR-9C
Length: 10.1 in.
Weight: 21 oz.
Eye Relief: 4 in.
MSRP: $2,799
Manufacturer: Vortex Optics;
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