Leupold VX-3L Scopes
By Chuck Hawks
In 2006 Leupold & Stevens, a fifth generation, family owned company and the premier U.S. manufacturer of telescopic sights, introduced a new concept in rifle scopes. You may remember their ad in the print magazines that featured a solar eclipse with the tag line, "In 2006, everything you know about riflescopes will be eclipsed." It was the VX-3L scopes that were alluded to in that ad.
VX-3L scopes are designed to offer low mounting height combined with large diameter objective lenses. A VX-3L scope with a 50mm diameter front objective will mount on a rifle at the same height as standard scopes with a 36mm objective, and VX-3L scopes with a 56mm objective will mount in the same height rings as standard scopes with a 40mm objective.
We are pleased that Leupold chose Guns and Shooting Online to write the very first article about the VX-3L line. Leupold made a pre-production VX-3L scope available to us.
The point of the VX-3L exercise is to counter the trend toward top heavy hunting rifle/scope combinations caused by the popularity of high powered hunting scopes with syrup bucket size front objectives. The justification for a large objective lens on any scope is a brighter view at high magnification in dim light.
Total Light Throughput is the total amount of light that passes through an optical system and it is proportionally related to the surface area of the objective lens. The following chart compares the new VX-3L scopes to conventional scopes with 36mm, 40mm and 50mm objectives.
Unfortunately, big diameter front objectives are heavy and require high mounting rings, and that causes the rifle to become top heavy. (Just plain heavy if it must be carried for any distance.) Obviously, the line of sight is higher than with a low mounted scope. A scope in high rings is usually positioned too high for a good cheek weld on the stock, which negatively impacts practical accuracy and rapid target acquisition, especially in the field where it matters most. The typical rifle wearing, say, a conventional 3-10x50mm scope is clumsy to swing for a follow-up shot on fleeing game.
Given these drawbacks, it is a wonder that hunters want to purchase scopes with large objective bells. That they do is due to relentless advertising. (Magnification and brightness are the easiest things to sell in consumer optics, even when they are pointless.) This state of affairs is partly--perhaps largely--the fault of the sporting press, which has turned a blind eye toward the shortcomings of these large scopes, rather than endanger their advertising revenue from the major scope manufacturers.
Regardless, the market for scopes with unnecessary magnification and large objectives has been created and any scope manufacturer must offer what the customers are buying. That is the unfortunate reality of the situation today.
The good news is that one of our premier scope manufacturers, Leupold, is making an attempt to ameliorate the drawbacks of these oversize, yet popular, scopes. It should come as no surprise to find Leupold in the forefront of product improvement and innovation, as they have pioneered a number of important riflescope advances that have subsequently been copied by almost all of their competitors. Four of the most notable of these, which should be recognized by practically any shooter, are inert gas filled and sealed scopes to prevent internal fogging, the Duplex reticle, side focus parallax correction and a full lifetime guarantee on all Leupold Gold Ring scopes.
To lower the height of a mounted VX-3L scope, Leupold has taken the simple expedient of grinding away a small curved section at the bottom of the objective lens and shaping the objective bell to match. The bottom of the new objective bell has a concave, rather than a convex, curve.
The visual effect is as if someone took a bite out of the bottom of the objective. The scope no longer sits perched high above the barrel. Instead, when the scope is mounted low and over bore on a rifle, the barrel passes through this cut-out in the bottom of the objective bell. (See the photo at the top of this article.) It is a "Columbus and the egg" type of solution; so simple that the rest of us never thought of it.
I mounted a new VX-3L 3.5-10x50mm scope on a Weatherby Mark V Deluxe rifle that previously wore a Leupold VX-I, 3-9x40mm scope in a one-piece Leupold base and Leupold rings. With absolutely no change of any kind to the base or rings, the new (and seemingly much larger) VX-3L dropped into the existing rings and the clearance over the barrel was, if anything, greater than with the smaller scope.
Leupold's VX-3L line includes 3.5-10x50mm, 3.5-10x56mm, 4.5-14x50mm, 4.5-14x56mm and 6.5-20x56mm models. Available variations in these base models include illuminated reticles, side parallax focus and target knobs. Like the Leupold VX-3 scopes from which they are descended, the VX-3L line is rugged and waterproof, offers superior image quality, uses Leupold's index matched lens system, provides generous eye relief and is equipped with a lockable fast focus eyepiece. They are designed to the industries highest standards for durability and finished with Leupold's super hard anodizing process that resists scratches and wear.
Here is some information about the new VX-3L line that Leupold Technical Services provided for this article:
One of the features you may have noted above is the use of argon/krypton gas instead of nitrogen in VX-3L scopes. (Both are inert gasses used to prevent internal fogging.) The use of nitrogen gas in a purged and sealed scope was pioneered by Leupold, has been copied by virtually the entire scope industry, and it works well. However, there are benefits to the more exotic argon/krypton gas. These, as explained by the Leupold Technical Services Staff, are:
I reiterate, nitrogen works well to prevent internal fogging and it will remain in widespread use. However, Leupold is constantly seeking ways to improve their products, making even the best scopes better.
All VX-3L scopes are, naturally, covered by Leupold's famous Full Lifetime Guarantee. (Note that this is an old fashioned "guarantee," not a latter day limited "warrantee") The Guarantee provides that if any Gold Ring product is found to have defects in materials or workmanship, Leupold will repair or replace it for free. This guarantee applies even if you are not the original owner. No warrantee card is required and there is no time limit.
The VX-3L's front objective lens, not being round, cannot be retained by a threaded ring. Instead, Leupold uses a front trim ring that appears to be secured by four small Torx head machine screws. The actual lens retaining system is behind this trim ring and Leupold representatives would not comment on their solution to the problem of keeping the "eclipse" shaped front element in place against the very high "g" forces of recoil.
Inside the front objective bell there is a guide notch (at the top) and two retaining notches (at the sides). These are designed to accept special Leupold VX-3L Alumina accessories.
The finish on the VX-3L is matte black with the famous Leupold Gold Ring around the objective bell and a small, bronze colored, Leupold "circle L" trademark on the left side of the adjustment turret. The zoom ring is marked for magnification and range estimation with fine gold numbers. These are classy looking scopes. Optically the VX-3L scopes are top drawer, as befits a top of the line Leupold scope.
VX-3L scopes generally come equipped with a standard Duplex reticle. Many other reticles, including CDS and Metric, are available.
If you can't live without a scope with an objective larger in diameter than about 40mm, I suggest that you seriously consider a Leupold VX-3L. These are first rate scopes and the lower mounting position with consequent lower center of gravity is a crucial advantage for a hunting rifle that is simply not available from other manufacturers. The benefits in terms of the rifle's balance, practical accuracy and handling are real.
Copyright 2005, 2015 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.