Compared: Bushnell Banner, Bushnell Elite 3200, Leupold VX-II and Simmons AETEC
By Chuck Hawks
The specific models compared here are the Bushnell Banner 4-12x40mm AO, Bushnell Elite 3200 5-15x40mm AO, Leupold VX-II 3-9x33mm EFR Compact, and Simmons AETEC 3.8-12x44mm AO. These scopes were mounted on .17 HMR varmint rifles from Marlin (2), Savage, and Ruger for a Guns and Shooting Online varmint rifle comparison. This scope comparison grew out of that project. Each scope was evaluated by four G&S Online shooters (Technical Assistants Jim Fleck, Bob Fleck, Nathan Rauzon, and yours truly).
These scopes have several factors in common. All four are built on 1" tubes and are alleged to be waterproof and shockproof. They offer eye relief adequate for centerfire rifles. All four scopes are supplied with some sort of "plex" reticle, a real Duplex in the case of the VX-II (Leupold invented the type) and a knock-off of the Duplex in the others. They all have a front focusing adjustable objective (AO) to eliminate parallax, and the range figures seem to be accurate as marked. The adjustable objectives all worked correctly. Each scope comes with some sort of fast focus eyepiece. Lens caps were supplied with all but the Leupold (a strange oversight for the most expensive scope in the comparison).
Various mounting systems were used, depending on what was provided with the particular test rifle. All of the scope mounts worked fine during our testing. Brief comments about each scope follow. Full length reviews of each can be found on the G&S Online Product Review Page.
Bushnell Banner 4-12x40mm AO
One of our two Marlin 917VS test rifles ("Marlin B") was fitted with a Bushnell Banner 4-12x40mm AO scope. This is the least expensive scope in the review, but it proved to be a satisfactory choice for a .17 HMR varmint rifle. The Banner was mounted directly to the rifle's tip off mount grooves by means of high Millet rings.
It features a one-piece tube, 1/4 MOA fingertip windage and elevation adjustments, fast focus eyepiece, standard Multi-X reticle, and a matte black finish. This scope's AO features an extended focus range, making it suitable for air rifles and rimfire rifles that may be used at short range, as well as long range hunting and varmint rifles.
Here are the Banner's basic specifications from the 2005 Bushnell catalog:
The Banner's optics are acceptable, but do not equal the contrast and resolution of the other (more expensive) scopes. Nor is flare as well controlled. Eye position is fairly critical if the shooter is to prevent the scope "winking" at the shooter.
The reticle is a little finer and seems to subtend a little less of the target than the AETEC reticle, which is a positive feature for a scope used on a varmint rifle. The windage and elevation adjustments worked with reasonable accuracy; it was not difficult to sight-in the rifle wearing this scope.
Remember that the Bushnell Banner is the least expensive scope in this comparison by a considerable margin. Altogether, it gave good performance for its modest price, and I would recommend it to anyone operating on a tight budget.
Simmons AETEC 3.8-12x44mm AO
Our second Marlin 917VS test rifle ("Marlin A") was equipped with a Simmons AETEC 3.8-12x44mm AO scope in high Millet scope rings that clamped directly to the tip-off scope mount grooves in the Marlin's receiver. The Simmons AETEC line features aspherical lenses to maximize sharpness and minimize aberrations, a real optical advantage. This model boasts a wide field of view, long eye relief, fully multi-coated optics, 1/4 MOA fingertip windage and elevation adjustments, fast eyepiece focus, Truplex reticle, and a matte black finish. A lens hood is included.
Here are the AETEC's basic specifications from the Simmons 2005 catalog:
The AETEC's fingertip windage and elevation adjustments are convenient and satisfactorily accurate, although not perfect (very few hunting scopes are). All controls on this scope work smoothly and properly, equal to those of more expensive scopes. This is the heaviest, although not the most powerful, scope in the comparison.
We found the view through the AETEC to be crisp and clear. Everyone praised this scope's optical quality. Its performance was on a par with the much more expensive Bushnell Elite 3200. My only suggestion is that I wish it were available with an (optional) fine reticle, as the standard version is a little bit heavy for a varmint scope. This is a big game reticle. Never the less, it served satisfactorily on the Marlin .17 HMR rifle.
Bushnell Elite 3200 5-15x40mm AO
Roughly twice the price of the AETEC and three times the price of the Banner (based on the 2005 MSRP) is the Bushnell Elite 3200 5-15x40mm AO scope, which was mounted on a Ruger 77/17VMBBZ rifle using the supplied Ruger scope rings.
This upscale Bushnell model features a one-piece tube, fully multi-coated/Rainguard optics, 1/4 MOA fingertip adjustments, standard Multi-X reticle, 91% total light transmission, fast focus eyepiece, and a matte black finish. It boasts an extended AO focus range of 10 yards to infinity. A lens hood is included.
Here are the Elite 3200's basic specifications from the 2005 Bushnell catalog:
The Elite 3200's fully multi-coated optics suppress flare well. The proprietary Rainguard coating on the front and rear lens surfaces is advertised to reduce the size of water droplets adhering to the surface of the elements, thus clarifying the view in rain and fog. Excessive moisture did not become a factor during our shooting trials, so the Rainguard feature was not put to the test.
The view through this scope was sharp and clear with good contrast, as good as any of the other scopes and noticeably better than the Banner. The relatively long eye relief is appreciated. Field curvature at the edge seemed better controlled than in the AETEC. The Elite 3200's price is justified by its performance.
Leupold VX-II 3-9x33mm EFR Compact
The most expensive of our four scopes (by about $15), and also the smallest, is the Leupold VX-II 3-9x33mm EFR Compact. The Leupold is marketed as a rimfire scope, although I also tested it on a .223 centerfire rifle and it performed just fine. EFR means, "extended focus range." The scope's adjustable objective focuses from infinity to 10 meters, which makes it especially suitable for use on rimfire rifles and air rifles. In addittion to EFR, this premium scope boasts Leupold's Multi-Coat 4 fully multi-coated optics, 1/4 MOA coin adjustments, fine Duplex reticle, locking fast focus eyepiece, and a matte black finish.
Here are the Leupold VX-II's basic specifications from the 2005 Leupold catalog:
Although less powerful than the other scopes, the Leupold's sharp, contrasty optics are second to none. Flare and optical aberrations are well controlled. And the fine Duplex reticle subtends less of the target, allowing greater aiming precision. This is the best reticle of the bunch for a scope used on a varmint rifle.
We mounted this scope on a Savage 93R17-BVSS, the shortest and lightest of our .17 HMR rifles, as it perfectly complemented that rifle's smaller size. Weaver rings were used to clamp the scope to the Weaver bases mounted on the rifle at the Savage factory.
The Leupold's coin slot windage and elevation adjustment dials are less convenient than the finger tip adjustments of the other scopes. On the other hand, the Leupold's adjustment turrets are lower as a result. In any case, the Leupold's adjustments were very accurate in operation. If I remember correctly it took only 2 shots at 25 yards and three shots at 100 yards to zero-in this rifle/scope combination.
The adjustable objective and zoom rings on the Leupold required more effort to turn than the other scopes' controls. This is typical of Leupold scopes, not something unique to this particular model. Apparently Leupold wants to eliminate the possibility of a ring being inadvertently moved. For the same reason, the Leupold's fast focus eyepiece has a locking ring, the only scope in this comparison that does. Leupold scopes are designed to withstand hard hunting.
To be fair to the Leupold, we compared the view through all four scopes when set at 9x. I very much liked the view through this compact Leupold scope. When combined with its more precise reticle, I felt that the Leupold was the easiest scope to aim precisely. This is fine performance for the smallest scope with the smallest front objective lens in the comparison.
Summary and Conclusion
In summation, all four scopes did what they were supposed to do without any problems or malfunctions. Each proved to be a good value for the money, with the most expensive models providing the most precision and the best performance, as they should.
Perhaps the standout in a subjective price/performance calculation would be the Simmons AETEC. It is a moderately priced scope with big time optical performance.
Note: Full length reviews of these scopes can be found on the Product Reviews page.
Copyright 2005, 2015 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.