A Tale of Two Sights

By Paul Evancoe

Technical Evaluation of the Nightforce ATACR™ and NXS™ Model Riflescopes

Nightforce riflescopes are nothing less than sophisticated simplicity in thoughtful design, uncomplicated operation and reliable performance. If you’re looking for these attributes in a long-range riflescope, Nightforce’s ATACR™ or NXS™ model is the one to own.

Two new Nightforce rifle scopes were technically evaluated during December 2017 for the purpose of ascertaining the following: design features and technical advantages, ease of use (user friendliness), overall effectiveness and functionality, manufacturer’s support availability and sustainability (life span). The two models evaluated were the ATACR™ 5-25x56mm F1 (34mm tube, 1 Mil-Radian, Mil-R, CW, Digillum PTL) and the NXS™ 8-32x56mm (30mm tube, 25 MOA, MOAR-T™).

Like most modern scopes offered on today’s market, Nightforce optics are fully coated to prevent fogging. Their scope tubes are gas-filled to further prevent internal optical distortion from climate extremes. The scope’s adjustment knobs and optics are O-ring sealed, ensuring the scope is weatherproof and will not internally flood when exposed to wet/damp environments, heavy rain or even brief water submersion. Likewise, the scope’s optics are internally shock-mounted using a proprietary bedding process to survive the G-forces resulting from heavy caliber recoil and tactical abuse.

To the casual observer, these two scopes differ only slightly in outward appearance. However, on closer examination, their features certainly are distinctive. Common to both scopes is their overall elegant yet robust design. These two riflescopes have some subtle advantages over similar scopes in their class that can easily be overlooked at first glance. Reticle focus and parallax adjustment are extremely easy to accomplish, especially if you wear corrective lenses or have a weak target eye.

Reticle focus is achieved by first setting the power zoom ring to its highest power setting. Then, the parallax adjustment is set on the infinity setting. The next step is to loosen the scope’s eyepiece locking ring. You now look through the scope’s eyepiece at a light-colored background like a white wall or target-draped white sheet—even a cloudy sky will suffice. The key here is to ensure that the background you choose is bright and uncluttered. While looking through the scope, determine if the reticle is clear and in focus. If it isn’t perfectly focused, rotate the eyepiece either clockwise or counterclockwise—whichever serves to blur the reticle and then clear its image.

At this point, it is important to note that the human eye will always attempt to adjust one’s vision. So, after no more than two seconds, you will need to look away from your scope for a few seconds to give your eye a chance to readjust to the natural unmagnified visual environment. This will prevent you from adjusting your scope to a “false” focus.

If your reticle is not in sharp focus, slowly turn the eyepiece inward (clockwise) a few turns. This usually provides a better focusing starting point. If the reticle blurs more, reverse the turn counterclockwise until the reticle comes into sharp focus. Once a sharp focus is achieved, turn the eyepiece-locking ring back against the eyepiece to lock its position for your eye. Obviously, this procedure will need to be accomplished for each person using this scope to provide maximum focus for each user’s individual eyesight.

At this point you’re ready for parallax adjustment, which is accomplished by using the parallax adjustment knob located on the left side of the scope. At long distances and higher magnification settings, significant sighting errors can result if the parallax isn’t eliminated. What is parallax? Parallax is what appears to be the movement of the reticle in relation to the target as the shooter moves his eye across the exit pupil of the scope. This phenomenon is caused by the target and the reticle appearing on different focal planes within the scope.

Therefore, turning the scope’s left side parallax adjustment knob eliminates parallax. The best way to accomplish removing parallax is by bench resting the gun or using a bipod for gun stability. To quickly remove any parallax, look through the scope at your specific point of aim (target). Slightly move your head up and down while peering through the scope so your eye crosses the eyepiece’s ocular lens. If parallax exists, the reticle will appear to move even though your gun is in a stationary position. Simply adjust the parallax knob to remove the parallax. Obviously, this step will need to be repeated for every range change. Nightforce has easily readable yardage/meter markings on the ATACR and NXS-model’s parallax adjustment knob that provide approximate values as a guideline to begin your adjustment. These aggressively point-knurled knobs are robust and easy to grasp with wet, cold or gloved fingers.

Another superb feature of these scopes is reticle illumination. The purpose of reticle illumination is to make the reticle more visible in low-light situations or against darker colored targets, on which the reticle would otherwise be nearly impossible to see. Both scope models combine the parallax adjustment (previously discussed), reticle illumination switch, CR2032 battery compartment and reticle illumination intensity adjustment in a single control knob on the scope’s left side.

The two scopes differ here slightly. To activate the reticle illumination on the ATACR 5-25x56mm F1, you simply press and release the tan-colored illumination control switch located on the left side face of the parallax adjustment knob. Repeatedly pushing the control button adjusts brightness. To turn the illumination off, you push and hold the button a couple of seconds, then release.

On the NXS 8-32x56mm model, the parallax knob is physically pulled out, away from the scope tube (you’ll feel and hear a positive click) to turn the illumination on, and it is pushed back in to turn the illumination off. Adjusting the reticle illumination brightness requires the removal of the control knob’s top cap. Using a small blade screwdriver, brightness is controlled by a small dial adjustment while holding the battery against its contacts with a finger. This means that the scope’s reticle brightness must be pre-adjusted and, as logic dictates, this procedure may not lend itself well to certain operational or environmental extremes experienced under field conditions.

Secondly, this small illumination intensity adjustment dial is a somewhat sensitive component and susceptible to damage if excessively rotated. Setting it requires care and finesse. Once the illumination brightness is set, the battery is replaced, and the cap is screwed back on to complete the procedure.

As ATACR scope elevation and windage employ angular measurements, adjustments lead to varying results at different distances. For example, 1 MOA is 1.047 inches at 100 yards, 2.094 at 200 yards, 3.141 at 300 yards and so on. Depending upon the NXS model you have, the click values will differ. Most Nightforce scopes with MOA adjustments are calibrated in ¼ (0.25) MOA increments and they provide true MOA measurements, where 1 MOA is 1.047 inches at 100 yards. NXS scopes with Mil-Radian adjustments are calibrated in 1/10th mil clicks, and based on the TRUE mil of 3.43775 MOA (1 mil = 3.6 inches). All this may have little to no meaning for many hunters or weekend warriors who simply want to sight in their gun for a few hundred yards and shoot at no further extremes once the gun is sighted in. However, for those long-range shooters who value precision rifle scopes and understand how to operate them, these scopes were made for you.

Elevation and windage adjustments are positive. The knob turrets on both scopes are robust and easily grasped with gloves or wet cold fingers. Adjustments are positive and “felt.” Like almost all scopes, the turret tops have arrows depicting turn direction for up elevation and right windage. Differing slightly from the NXS model, the ATACR scope has a protective windage turret cover that must be unscrewed and removed for turret windage adjustment access—a small price to pay for the protection it offers.

Thoughtfully, Nightforce has added an additional arrow marked onto the scope’s body located at the base of the turrets that provides the shooter, who may be in question on a particular adjustment, easy turn direction reference without having to remove the gun from the shoulder for a turret top arrow check. For the professional sniper this may not mean much, but for the occasional competitor, hunter or recreational shooter, who may only shoot his gun a few times a month, the addition of this second reference arrow for elevation and windage adjustment means a great deal.

Both the ATACR and NXS models evaluated were equipped with Nightforce’s trademarked ZeroStop™ feature that allows elevation adjustments to be set to the zero position on the number dial once you have zeroed the riflescope. This allows the full use of the elevation travel above your established zero for longer target engagement distances, while still allowing for a definitive position to return your zero, regardless of the conditions.

The procedure to effect the ZeroStop adjustment involves loosening setscrews located beneath the turret cap with an Allen wrench (supplied with the scope) so the dial can turn freely without changing the actual setting. Then the zero point with the number scale engraved in the adjustment is aligned with the centerline engraved on the rotation scale located underneath the adjustment. The setscrews are retightened, and you’re in business. Nightforce offers an in-depth tutorial on this procedure (and others) on their website. You’ll want to watch it before attempting the zeroing procedure.

Nightforce’s one-piece titanium base/rings were provided on both scopes evaluated, which were subsequently mounted atop a MIL-STD-1913 (Picatinny) rail. The Nightforce one-piece base/rings are high-quality billet-machined titanium precision mounts that provide a lightweight, ruggedly ridged foundation for the NXS scope. Selecting the right rings and mounts for your riflescope has analogy with motorcycle helmets. If you have a cheap head, buy a cheap helmet. Selecting the right scope rings and mounts works the same way. Clearly, you can’t go wrong using Nightforce’s factory rings/mount that are engineered exclusively for their scopes.

How’s the optical clarity of these scopes? That’s always a subjective question. In this case, it can be answered with a single descriptive word: outstanding! Many of today’s riflescopes are offered with 30mm tubes and fewer with 34mm tubes. Obviously, larger tube diameters provide for more light transmission (the bigger the hole, the more light shines through it). That said, along with a larger diameter tube, the quality of the optics themselves is most important to a “bright” light-transmission scope. Nightforce’s optical lenses exceed industry standards in optical material, clarity and quality. The two scopes evaluated in this article both provided superb clarity, focus and brightness at all magnifications in ranges out to 1 mile in low light (sunrise and sunset), cloudy winter sky and blue sky/bright sun.

What is the life expectancy for the ATACR and NXS model scopes? Under normal range conditions, the answer is that they will last a lifetime. Under combat or law enforcement tactical conditions, it logically depends on the abuse to which they’re subjected. But that’s where Nightforce’s warranty and product support comes into play. Nightforce is a reputable scope manufacturer, known for their product quality and superb product support. Their answer is, “Send it back to us. We’ll either fix it or replace it.” If that sounds too good to be true, read the unfiltered Nightforce product reviews posted across the variety of retailers who offer Nightforce optics. The Bubbas may not use elegant wording in their reviews, but they don’t lie.

Lastly, if you’re a military or law enforcement sniper who needs to reliably reach out and touch somebody under all tactical conditions, the Nightforce ATACR and NXS scopes are made for you. If you’re a long-range shooting competitor punching holes in paper or ringing steel, the Nightforce ATACR and NXS scopes are a perfect fit for you too. If you’re a hunter who requires first shot accuracy at extreme ranges, the Nightforce ATACR and NXS scopes will meet your every requirement. The Nightforce factory headquarters are located in Orofino, Idaho (God bless the USA). Detailed information is available on both the ATACR and NXS model riflescopes, as well as Nightforce’s entire product line, on their website: www.nightforceoptics.com

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V22N5 (May 2018)
and was posted online on March 23, 2018


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