I.O.R. - Valdada 4x32mm Riflescope
By Chuck Hawks and the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
I.O.R. - Valdada is not exactly a household name in the U.S., not even among shooters. Guns and Shooting Online Contributing Editor David Tong brought this European brand to my attention, suggesting that they deserved a look.
I discovered that I.O.R. is based in Bucuresti, Romania. Back in 1936, about three years before the start of the Second World War in Europe, three optical companies joined together to form I.O.R. - Bucuresti, which became the leading military optics manufacturer in Central Europe. During the war that followed, I.O.R. manufactured a variety of field optics for Germany and its Allies, including binoculars, sniper scopes, submarine periscopes, sights for fighter planes, and so forth.
After the end of WW II Romania, occupied by the Red Army, fell behind the iron curtain. I.O.R., along with German optical giants Carl Zeiss-Jena, Pentacon, and Schneider (then located in East Germany), became valuable spoils of war to the new Communist puppet governments. By 1967 increased collaboration between these optical companies was allowed (or dictated) by the Communist governments of these Warsaw Pact neighbors, to I.O.R's benefit.
In 1975 I.O.R. was completely refurbished with the latest (by Eastern Bloc standards) technology, and a second plant was opened. Cooperation was extended to include the West German company Leitz and their offspring Leica, of camera and binocular fame. I.O.R. was by then producing a wide variety of optical systems, primarily military in nature.
Jump ahead to 1993, when I.O.R. and Valdada joined efforts and introduced the I.O.R. sporting products line to the United States. The fall of the Evil Empire and the rapid westernization of Central Europe has certainly worked in I.O.R's favor and now, after 12 years in the U.S. market, they are seeking a larger market share.
I got in touch with Mike Saulsbury, the I.O.R. - Valdada West Coast Sales Representative, and arranged to borrow a fixed power 4x32mm riflescope for review. When the scope arrived a couple of weeks later, it was packaged in a forest green cardboard box with the I.O.R. - Valdada name and logo printed in gold.
Inside, the scope itself was wrapped in a sheet of bubble wrap. Generic scope caps are provided that are a little too large for the diameter of the objective and ocular bells of this particular model scope, but they are connected by elastic strips on both sides that have enough tension to keep the caps from falling off. Also packaged with the scope was a specification sheet, a warrantee sheet, a flyer showing some scope rings and bases presumably available through Valdada, and a brief history of the I.O.R. Company. This latter may have been included specifically for my benefit, and in fact I used it to compile the four paragraphs immediately above.
I chose the 4x32 model to review because (1) I like fixed power scopes, and (2) it is the only hunting scope in the I.O.R. line that is built on a 1" diameter tube. My supply of rings that I use to mount test scopes all fit 1" tubes!
The rest of the I.O.R. hunting scope line is clearly built to European requirements, featuring oversize objective lenses and 30mm main tubes. Neither of these features is particularly desirable for North American hunting conditions. We hunt in daylight, from 1/2 hour before dawn to 1/2 hour after sundown, while Europeans commonly hunt at night.
In fact, the increased bulk and weight occasioned by oversize main tubes and objective lenses are definitely negative factors that adversely affect the balance and handling of any hunting rifle. So I requested a scope to review that would be practical for deer hunting in Western Oregon when mounted on a trim new rifle that we were scheduled to review.
The rifle in question is a brand new version of the Winchester Model 94 known as the Trails End Hunter Octagon. Its review may be found on the Guns and Shooting Online Product Review Page. The special thing about this particular rifle (aside from its classic good looks and modern angle-eject action) is that it marks the return of the .25-35 Winchester cartridge to the Model 94 line. For several years I have been suggesting the return of this mild deer cartridge, so when Winchester finally offered a rifle in .25-35, I naturally had to review it.
A 4-power riflescope is about right for a .25-35 rifle. It offers all the power needed for shots to and beyond the maximum point blank range of the cartridge, and enough field of view for most deer and coyote hunting. A 4x32mm scope is also very bright, boasting a huge 8mm exit pupil, which makes it an especially good optic for use in the pre-dawn and post-dusk dimness that mark the beginning and end of legal shooting hours.
The Model 94 Trail's End Hunter Octagon is not a lightweight rifle, despite its 20" barrel. The heavier contour of the octagon barrel brings the catalog weight of this model up to 6.75 pounds, and when equipped with Weaver two-piece scope bases, Weaver low rings, and the I.O.R. scope reviewed here the total weight approached 8 pounds. A good part of that beef is in the I.O.R. scope, which weighs 14 ounces all by itself. That is a heavy 4-power riflescope. For comparison, a Leupold 4x33mm FX-II weighs 9.3 ounces, and a Sightron SII 4x32mm weighs 9.8 ounces, so the I.O.R. 4x32 is about 45% heavier than its competition.
I wondered why this scope was so heavy, and a magnet provided the answer: the tube is made of steel, not lightweight aluminum alloy. I have not used a scope with a steel tube since an early vintage Weaver K4 that I owned 40 years ago. In scopes, lighter is better because it minimizes the effect of recoil on the scope. And, of course, the lighter the scope the less it negatively impacts the balance and handling of the rifle. Also, a steel main tube, unlike an anodized aluminum alloy tube, can rust. Consequently, steel scope tubes have been obsolete in North America almost as long as T-Rex.
Some of the I.O.R. scope's other features are more modern. The lens system, for example, is fully multi-coated with I.O.R's. proprietary MC-7 wide band lens coatings. The lens elements themselves are ground from optical glass sourced from Schott Glasswerk in Germany. The scope is built on a one-piece main tube. (The ocular bell remains a separate piece, and appears to have been brazed or sweated--not threaded--to the main tube.) The eyepiece focusing range is -4 to +4 diopters and focusing is by a convenient, fast focusing, Euro style ring. There is an easy to grasp knurled rubber ring around the end of the ocular bell that makes focusing easy even when wearing gloves. The windage and elevation adjustment knobs click in 1/2 MOA increments, and are fingertip adjustable. The external finish is entirely matte black. All in all, good stuff.
Not so good, in my opinion, is the test scope's German 4A "three post and crosshair" reticle. Visualize 3/4 of a very heavy Duplex reticle. This reticle is photo engraved on glass, a perfectly acceptable system, but the 3 flat top posts (at right, bottom, and left) are far too heavy, while the crosshair is too fine for a big game reticle (although great for target shooting at the range). The 4A reticle is another distinctly European touch, perhaps useful for shooting in the middle of the night. But in normal light I found the heavy posts distracting, and they subtend too much of the view.
I.O.R. also offers their version of a Duplex reticle (7A) in the 4x32 scope, and that is what I requested. But the 4A reticle is what I received. If the illustrations on their web site can be trusted, their Duplex reticle also uses flat top posts that are too wide for the purpose. A plain, medium crosshair reticle would be simpler and a worthwhile addition to the line.
Like most modern scopes, the I.O.R. 4x32 is nitrogen filled and "O" ring sealed to assure that it will not fog internally. The Company claims that the scope will operate normally through a temperature range of -40 to +140 F, regardless of humidity or precipitation, and also claims it to be recoil proof.
I.O.R. - Valdada promotes their use of Schott optical glass, as it has been made famous by the prestigious West German (now just German) firm of Zeiss. However, people who are familiar with the optical industry know that practically any grade or type of raw glass can be provided by any of the world's big optical glass makers. Schott Glasswerk, for example, can provide crown glass, flint glass or rare earth glasses, whatever the customer desires (and will pay for), from the ordinary to the exotic. What matters is the specification of the glass, and what is done to it after it is delivered to the scope manufacturer, not whether it was made in Germany, Japan, the U.S., or anywhere else.
Valdada provides a limited lifetime warranty for I.O.R. scopes sold in the U.S.A. This warranty provides for the free repair or replacement of any scope determined to be defective in original materials and/or workmanship. They also state that non-warrantee repair or refurbishment of I.O.R. products is always provided at reasonable cost.
Here are the basic specifications of the I.O.R. 4x32 Hunting Riflescope:
Of great interest to any scope buyer is the quality of the view through the scope. In the case of the I.O.R. 4x32, the viewing is excellent. Contrast and resolution appear to be comparable to the best scopes in its price class. Center sharpness is very good, and sharpness remains good at least 80% of the way to the edge of the field of view, which is better than average. Few hunters will have cause to complain about this scope's resolution, and its contrast is excellent. Optical aberrations are well controlled; coma and curvature of field are held to very low levels for a riflescope. Altogether, judging subjectively by my Mark 1 eyeball, this I.O.R. scope delivers sharp contrasty views with a lot of snap.
For reference purposes I compared the image seen through the I.O.R. 4x32 scope to several other four-star scopes and decided that it was optically about equal to a Leupold FX-II or a Weaver Grand Slam--which is very good company, indeed.
The eye position behind the ocular is not particularly critical. There is adequate latitude so that the scope does not tend to "wink" out until the shooter's eye is noticeably out of alignment. Eye relief is about as advertised (3.5"), and is entirely adequate for use on most high-powered rifles. I'd probably want a little more distance between my eyebrow and the ocular bell on very hard kicking rifles, say from about .300 Weatherby Magnum on up, but the eye relief should be adequate for rifles of normal weight firing standard cartridges. Certainly it is more than adequate for our .25-35 Model 94 test rifle.
The windage and elevation adjustments are covered by the usual threaded caps. Interestingly, the caps themselves are not steel; in fact, they appear to be made of aluminum. Remove the caps and the desired adjustment can be made by hand--no coins required. The 1/2 MOA "clicks" feel extremely positive and are easy to count when making adjustments. The adjustment knobs are marked with an arrow to indicate the direction of change ("UP" and "R"), and there is a "0" on each knob that is aligned with a white dot on its housing as the scope is shipped from the factory. But there are no other numbers or scales provided and the index dot is not re-settable after the rifle has been sighted-in.
The specifications don't say at what distance the scope is focused to eliminate parallax, but I can tell you that parallax was not a problem at the range, where we did most of our shooting at 100 yards. I made it a point to move my head laterally as I looked through the scope at a 100 yard target and the reticle appeared to remain steady on the center of the target.
I bore sighted the Model 94/I.O.R. scope combination at home using my Bushnell magnetic boresighter. This allows us to start shooting at a 25 yard target with a pretty good chance of at least hitting the paper.
For the shooting and evaluation chores I was joined by Bob Fleck and Rocky Hays of the Guns and Shooting Online staff, and the three of us put both the Winchester rifle and I.O.R. scope through their paces. As usual, we did our testing at the Isaac Walton range south of Eugene, Oregon.
The shooting was accomplished using a Caldwell Lead Sled rifle rest weighted with 25 pounds of lead shot on a solid bench rest. Outers Score Keeper targets were used for all recorded groups.
At 25 yards it took only 3 single shots to "walk" the bullets into the "x" ring of a 100 yard small bore rifle target. We then moved back to the 100 yard line to (first) zero the rifle, and then shoot some groups for record.
This proved to be more of a problem; here's what happened. At 100 yards our first group, aimed at the exact center of the bullseye, hit about 1" right and 3" high.
The scope was adjusted accordingly (2 clicks left and 6 clicks down), and the second group hit about 1/4" right and 3.5" high. The windage adjustment had worked correctly. (After all, we were shooting a lever action .25-35 rifle and not about to hold +/- 1/4" deviation against the scope.) But, the 3" elevation adjustment had no apparent effect at all.
We again adjusted 6 clicks (3") down. The next group centered 1/4" left and 3" low, or a total of 6" below the first two groups. Evidently the first elevation adjustment had "hung up" and not taken effect until we made the second--and then both took effect. I hate this kind of "chasing your tail" situation.
To correct for the over-correction, we dialed in 6 clicks (3") up elevation. The final sighting-in group hit in and around the point of aim, so we left it at that. After all, we just needed to be reasonably close for accuracy testing of the rifle. Ultimately, it was the size of the groups in which we were interested, not their exact location on the paper. But the repeatability of the scope's adjustments, after a good start at 25 yards, had come into question at 100 yards. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough .25-35 ammunition to attempt to further evaluate the accuracy of the I.O.R. scope's adjustments at this range session.
Stars and Stripes Custom Ammunition, located in South Florida, had graciously consented to supply the .25-35 cartridges for this review. Unfortunately, the first ammunition shipment went missing when a hurricane went right over the USPS shipping center. Stars and Stripes, at that time forced to rely on their own emergency generator for electrical power, sent us the last two boxes they could put their hands on for this review. Many thanks to Stars and Stripes for their efforts above and beyond the call of duty on our behalf. You can visit their web site at: www.starsandstripesammo.com
The I.O.R's. 1/2 MOA fingertip adjustments are convenient and have an excellent feel, and when they work they are acceptably accurate--close enough to the advertised 1/2 MOA for hunting rifle purposes. But after the shooting portion of this review, none of the reviewers trusted the I.O.R's adjustments to consistently take effect.
To summarize, our overall impression of the I.O.R. 4x32 scope was mixed. Bob commented that he liked the fine crosshair aiming point of the reticle, and the optics were first rate. Otherwise he found the scope "clunky." He had no faith in the repeatability of the windage and elevation adjustments, and suspected that they were changing back and forth incrementally from shot to shot, opening up the resultant groups. Two thumbs down.
Rocky found the optics to be good, but felt that the reticle's heavy posts should taper into the center crosshair portion. He, too, questioned the repeatability of the windage and elevation adjustments. Rocky also agreed that the scope is too bulky for a 4x32. One thumb down.
I found this I.O.R. riflescope to be something of a dichotomy. Optically a very good scope but saddled with some unfortunate design elements. It is over size, over weight, and the reticle design and windage/elevation adjustments need improvement. The steel main tube is archaic.
I believe that it is fundamentally a good quality scope, far better than the cheap Tasco (and equivalent) 4x scopes that you commonly see in the display case at Wally-World. (Good 4x scopes are getting kind of thin on the ground.) Even though it is more expensive, I feel that the I.O.R. represents a better value in the long run. One thumb up.
Copyright 2005 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.