Inexpensive Glass

Not open for further replies.


Feb 22, 2003

This thread is prompted by another here that asks about scope failures. Rather than get side-tracked there, I thought I'd put out my opinion on glass that costs at or under $200.00.

I've had surprisingly good glass that wasn't too expensive and I've also experienced absolute trash at virtually the same price point from another source. Couple that with many negative stories related here & on other forums about the first example & I can only conclude that it's somewhat of a lottery. Your odds of getting a good one increase as you near the top end of my arbitrary cap it seems. In other words, there are extremely few true bargains in shooting optics, you do get what you pay for. There are, of course, exceptions.

When I had my Ruger 77/22, I bought it with the idea that it was going to be my long-term high class rimfire gun. After spending the money on it, I then bought what had been touted to me as excellent glass to put on it, a Burris 3-9X rimfire A/O in silver, to match the stainless gun. That scope got sent back to Burris, then an American company, in very short order. The complaints being that it took two men and a boy to turn the A/O on the objective bell, and the eye placement in the ocular bell was ridiculously critical. It was returned with a note that all was within specification & there were no problems with it.

I then bought a Simmons Whitetail 4-12X & put on the gun. As far as I'm concerned, I got twice the glass for half the money. I then gave the Burris away to another family member. He also mounted it on a .22 rimfire, and the reticle flopped over. I'm very impressed with Burris. Understand though that it's a negative impression.

On another .22 rimfire, some few years later, I wanted to try the mil-dot system & put a Tasco rimfire mil-dot on the gun. I think I paid something like $70.00 for the scope. I lived with the combination for about a year & never did become satisfied with either the gun or scope. And I put a fair amount of work into the gun trying to get decent accuracy out of it. The glue globs residing in the objective bell on the edge of the lens kinda put me off the scope to begin with, and then the return to zero on the turret adjustments was not good. Separated them & sold both. Both the guy who bought the gun and the guy who bought the scope told me years later that they were both happy with the items. I do note that both of them relayed the items on to their respective sons.

My latest cheap scope effort is a Nikon 3-9X so-called rimfire target scope. Huh! As far as I'm concerned target scopes do not have .5" adjustment increments at 100 yards. Target scopes frequently have 1/8th inch adjustments at 100 yards. Just because it's a "rimfire" scope shouldn't mean that coarse adjustments are acceptable. My fault, didn't do the research. In my defense though I stopped in an LGS in a different town that was running a pretty good special price on the thing. Typical Nikon optics, the glass is outstanding for the money, but it's been relegated to a grouse gun where 25 yard shots are about at the extreme far range. The Nikon replaced a Sightron 3-9X rimfire that I gave to my son-in-law. Far better glass, but that adjustment thing still gravels me.

My primary small varmint .22 rimfire wears Nikon Monarch glass, I learnt my lesson.

I have been playing that same lottery for years. Sometimes a win, more often a loss. However, I have never used truly high quality glass so I don't have a good comparison. It may be worse than I think.
I've had good luck with everything I've bought that wasn't made in China. Not all of the Non-China made scopes were prefect, but all have been acceptable for the price.

My only optic from China that has been pleasing has been a Mueller APV. No complaints with it at all but it's also never been used on anything more than a rimfire. Still, for the money it has been a good value.

I hate the optic snob mentality but after looking through and using some very nice optics (most of which I didn't pay for but rather borrowed) there is a big difference in quality from the average sub-$200 optic and the ones above that price. Not always worth the cost difference, but enough so that I've given up the inexpensive lotto and rather have a more sure thing.

You'll notice that all the inexpensive glass I noted above were on rimfire rifles. For big game guns that's not where I shop. Centerfires have Nikon Monarchs, Leupolds, and Zeiss. And as was stated above, there is an easily seen difference in quality, as there is in price.

But, at shorter ranges shooting at relatively unimportant targets, there's a some good reasons to look at, and through, sub-$200.00 glass. Most of those reasons being located in the wallet. Depends on what your priorities are though. If your game is competition bench rest, then $200.00 doesn't even constitute a good down payment for what you need. For vermin, plinking, and basic instruction, it's fine. Just be aware of what you're buying. I've literally seen (barely) through soda pop bottle bottoms masquerading as optical glass. Gave me a massive headache in short order. That was helping a friend sight in a gun he'd bought as a package deal. I advised him to throw the so-called scope away & spend as much on new glass as he'd paid for the package. Which would have been about $150.00.

So, yes there's some decent, not great, stuff out there, but you have to do your research to find it.

I think that for the most part $200 is where decent glass starts. There are several options from several manufacturers that sell scopes near that price point that I'd use with confidence. There are only a couple under $200 that I'd trust and none under about $175. While some of the under $150 scopes work, at least for a while, the difference in quality once you get to the $200 mark is noticeable and well worth the price difference.

Most of my scopes fall into the $300-$400 range. I'm paying a bit more for features that are worth the difference to me. But I'd probably do just as well with any of the $200-$250 scopes.

With the $400 and up scopes you start paying extra for features not important to me. For example a very good 3-9X40 scope can be had for $350. Move up to the exact scope in a 4-14X50 and you are going to pay closer to $500. I don't need the magnification or bigger objective.

The true high end scopes selling for $1000+ do have better glass. But above $400 or so you get very small increases in quality for very large increases in price. For 1/3 the money you can buy a scope 95% as good. If someone really needs, or just wants that last bit of quality and they don't mind paying for it then that is why they make them.
I have had good luck from both the VX1,and the Revolution..I had a Simmons ATV that was actually a decent scope,but that was the exception not the rule for Simmons,.I currently have an old Japanese made Bushnell Banner that is way better than a Bushnell usually is..
Nikon has some very nice scopes for the money.
The Prostaff Rimfire line does have 1/4" adjustments but it's at 50 yards since it's a .22 scope.
I'd rather good glass on a rimfire too. Sure recoil won't tear up a cheap scope on a .22lr but headaches from bad scopes are no different on a rimfire or a center fire. Give me enough quality to not fight those most basic problems. It's just not worth the $100 savings to buy a cheap scope over a bit better scope, on any rifle I plan to use for more than a couple minutes.
I was looking for a $300 - $350 optic for my (relatively) light AR10 - and I made the mistake of looking through Leupold glass.

It's like meeting that special girl, then failing to ask for her number.

I'll almost certainly be scratching up the extra money when the job needs done.
For good glass under $200 go with a used Leuopld. Their lifetime warranty is good even if you bought the scope used and they actually honor their warranty unlike my experience with Bushnell. I've had the low end of their line on a 458 Lott with no problem.

You can spend less than $200 each on three scopes that aren't satisfactory or spend a little more on a better one once and be happy for years. Also, read some reviews on the scopes you're considering. I had thought about a Burris once before I read the reviews.
The least expensive scopes I've owned were Burris Fullfield II's that cost less than $200.00. I have mostly Meopta and Leupold but I wouldn't feel handicapped for the vast majority of hunting I do, if all I had were Fullfields.
My best 'inexpensive' scope purchase was the Bushnell Elite 10X fixed scope. It was on sale at MidwayUsa for $200 and Bushnell had a $75 rebate on ALL Elite scopes. Net was $125. Great scope for $125. I have had 5 consecutive hits on the 6" plate at 1000 yds with it.
The phrase "you get what you pay for" is almost always true when the conversation turns to rifle scopes. For my Ruger 10-22 plinker I have a 4x simmons. Because if it fails and doesn't hit "minute of soda can" at 50 yards, I'll trash it and get another (the one I have has been fine for 10 years). The $80 bushnell 3-9x with illuminated reticle is fine on my Rem 700 243 as is its twin on my Ruger American 308- wouldn't hesitate to take a deer at 300 yards with either of them. When I go deer hunting in NC they both make the trip- in case one of them gets dropped or whatever. But scope like that probably isn't a good choice for hunting in extreme cold in a rugged environement. I also have scopes on long range rifles that go for over $1500. With a $900 rifle underneath. But I can ring steel at 1000 yards with those setups, and wouldn't hesitate to HALO jump that setup into afg for a mission (if I was into that sort of thing). Its just a matter of being honest with yourself about your expectations and the environment you will be using the scope in.
Not open for further replies.