Leupold VX-3 1.5-5x20mm I.R. Metric Riflescope
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
Illustration courtesy of Leupold & Stevens, Inc.
Leupold introduced their four-star-plus, VX-3 1.5-5x20mm Illuminated Reticle (IR) riflescope in 2010. It is the All-American interpretation of a European/African safari or dangerous game scope, boasting a one-piece, 30mm main tube, German #4 reticle with an illuminated center dot and a 1.5x minimum magnification to maximize the field of view.
The modern dangerous game scope, more often than not, is a low powered variable magnification model with an illuminated reticle (IR). A low power variable offers an extremely wide field of view at low power and enough magnification at the high end for the occasional long shot to at least 300 yards. Even when set to its maximum magnification, a good variable power dangerous game scope should offer sufficient field of view to allow the hunter to instantly respond to a short-range charge by a large animal. A maximum magnification between 4x and 6x is ideal; more magnification results in an unacceptably restricted field of view and should be avoided in a dangerous game scope. This safety requirement eliminates hunting scopes in the 2-7x (and higher magnification) range from consideration for use on safari rifles.
With its straight main tube (no objective bell), the Leupold VX-3 1.5-5x20 has plenty of mounting latitude and can be mounted low over the rifle's bore for fast acquisition in snap-shooting situations. It is also one of the lightest scopes of its type on the market and thus degrades the rifle's handling less than heavier scopes. A scope like the VX-3 that is the subject of this review is not only a safari/dangerous game scope, it is excellent for hunting any large or fast moving game in heavy cover, including deer, feral hogs, black bear, Roosevelt elk and moose. More North American hunters should experience the benefits of hunting with a wide field variable; if they did, a lot of slightly used high power scopes would be gathering dust on shelves.
VX-3 optics are fully multi-coated using Leupold's proprietary Xtended Twilight Lens System that specifically matches the lens coatings with each lens element, based on its glass type and index of refraction. The lens edges are blackened to reduce internal reflections. Highly abrasion resistant DiamondCoat2 is applied to all exterior lens surfaces.
Leupold scopes are triple purged and then filled with a blend of inert Krypton/Argon gasses to ensure that they are absolutely fogproof and waterproof. This second generation waterproofing was first applied to riflescopes by Leupold and is superior to the Nitrogen gas used by most other riflescope manufacturers.
Eyepiece focusing is by means of a Euro style, knurled aluminum ring at the rear of the ocular bell. The fingertip windage and elevation adjustments click in 1 cm at 100 meter increments and are protected by threaded aluminum caps. Under those caps is storage space for a spare CR-2032 battery, a unique and thoughtful feature for an IR scope.
The German #4 reticle is placed in the second image plane, so it does not change size as the magnification is changed. Most European style scopes have their reticles in the first image plane, so they get thicker at high power and finer at low power, exactly the reverse of what we would want. Like most American designed riflescopes, the Leupold's second image plane reticle avoids this problem. Naturally, the reticle stays centered as windage and elevation are adjusted.
Leupold's third generation illuminated reticle deserves comment. It is 15% brighter than their second generation IR's and incorporates eight intensity settings (four for dim light and four for daylight), a battery saving motion sensor and integrated battery storage. The motion sensor automatically turns off the IR during periods of inactivity and instantly turns the IR on at the slightest movement. There is an OFF position between each intensity setting, so you don't have to cycle through all of the brightness settings to find the intensity you were using. Also included is a hard stop at the end of the dial, so you can be sure the IR is off. It is a trick system. Power is supplied by a single CR-2032 battery.
Leupold chose to locate the IR rheostat turret on the ocular bell, just behind the zoom ring. It juts out of the ocular bell at an angle to the left. This is unsightly and a bit clumsy to operate. It also makes the supplied scope cover bulge in unusual places. It would be better if Leupold moved the IR control to the left side of the windage and elevation adjustment turret.
Like all Leupold Gold Ring scopes, the VX-3 is made in Beaverton, Oregon USA. The tubes and adjustment turret are CNC machined from solid 6061-T6 aluminum bar stock for maximum durability. The front of the tube and the rear of the ocular bell are threaded for Leupold Alumina accessories. The knurled aluminum zoom ring turns smoothly, but with enough resistance to ensure that it will not be changed inadvertently. There is a large, square, "tactile" bump at the 3x position, or approximately half way through its rotation.
Compared to similar safari scopes from other manufacturers, the VX-3 is lighter and this helps it be more recoil resistant. (The lower a scope's mass, the less recoil acceleration has to work on.) Worthy of note is Leupold's hard anodized matte black external finish. It is exceptionally durable and scratch resistant. Overall, Leupold scopes are the toughest on the market.
All Leupold Gold Ring scopes are covered by Leupold's industry standard setting Full Lifetime Guarantee, regardless of whether they are still owned by the original purchaser, with no receipt or registration card required. Note that this is a flat-out "lifetime guarantee," not a "limited lifetime warranty."
In our testing, we found that the four night (dim light) settings (#1 through #4 on the IR rheostat) were perfect at night. #1 is dimly visible an hour after sundown, while #4 is bright, but none of these settings cause irritating reflections inside the optical tube. The four daylight (bright light) settings do (unavoidably) reflect somewhat from the inside of the tube in full darkness, but this is not noticeable in daylight and does not cause a problem.
The images seen through the VX-3 are crisp, contrasty and clear. Flare and coma are well suppressed, as are all other visible optical aberrations. Color rendition is accurate and well saturated. Compared to other scopes of its type, the VX-3 1.5-5x20 Metric has good center sharpness and very good edge sharpness. The field of view is also good.
Once mounted on our Nosler M48 Heritage 9.3x62mm Rifle in Leupold 30mm QRW quick-detachable rings, we found the Leupold scope's fingertip windage and elevation adjustments to be commendably accurate. Each click moves the point of impact 1cm at 100 meters, or approximately 3/8" at 100 yards.
The feature most appreciated by the Guns and Shooting Online staff is the second image plane reticle, which stays the same size no matter where the magnification is set. We are not fans of reticles that change size as the scope is zoomed. The least liked feature is the location of the IR turret on the ocular bell, but we can live with it. The question most asked, but which we are unable to answer, is why the 20mm objective lens, when a 30mm diameter tube can accommodate a 24mm objective?
No one had any complaints about the VX-3 at the range. It works exactly as intended, producing sharp images and making it easier to identify and hit the target. That is what telescopic sights are all about and this safari grade Leupold VX-3 does the job very well. We would have absolutely no qualms about mounting this scope on any dangerous game rifle and heading for Alaska, Africa or anywhere else in the world.
The VX-3 1.5-5x20mm Metric is not inexpensive, but compared to other, roughly equivalent, Euro style safari and dangerous game scopes it is something of a bargain. In terms of quality, this Leupold VX-3 1.5-5x20mm Metric is second to none, but it retails for hundreds of dollars less than the best European brands. For more on this and a comparison of four leading dangerous game riflescopes, see the Safari Riflescope Comparison.
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