LED technology is more than 100 years old, yet it has only really taken hold in the past few years. Light-emitting diodes have found all sorts of uses and one of our favourites is their place as an aiming device. Now Leupold has joined a handful of other riflescope makers to use LEDs to help shooters hit their targets.
Designed predominantly for hunters, Leupold's FireDot reticle has spawned the new VX-R range of scopes that add a red LED dot to the middle of traditional reticles. The VX-Rs are up-spec optics and the unusual reticle system gives them an edge over other scopes, yet you don't pay through the nose for them.
They're not cheap, but the 3-9x40 that we're testing here is being advertised for around $600-$700, depending upon which shop you go to, and that's good value for what turns out to be a very effective riflescope. There's a lot to be said for the FireDot system.
There are several reticles available for VX-R scopes. In the 3-9x40, there's the #4 and the ballistic-drop reticles, but we went for the traditional duplex, knowing this review would primarily involve on-foot hunting with a sporter-weight .308 rifle. The duplex reticle is nice and simple, ideal for this kind of use.
Not having done more than look through a scope with crosshairs and a red dot before, I was curious about how I'd adapt to having both. After a bit of fiddling around, I ended up sighting in the scope with the dot's intensity right down, where it's invisible during strong daylight. On a bench and shooting at paper, I found it easier to shoot accurately without the distraction of the dot.
Out hunting, and after a bit more trial (fortunately without error) I took all my shots with the dot lit up. What I quickly discovered was that my brain subconsciously made the decision about how to aim and, more than ever before with a magnifying scope,
I was far more focussed on the target than the reticle. The combination of cross and light seemed to make everything more automatic for my eye.
For close-range snap shots, I know my eye relied more on the FireDot. Intermediate ranges left me uncertain of how my brain weighted it, but the results spoke for themselves. You see, I reckon I shot better.
In 14 hunting shots during the test period, at least 13 hit home (and I still reckon the unaccounted one was good, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it!). There were long shots and close shots, careful shots and hurried shots, steady shots and offhand shots, stationary targets and running targets. As well as the one I can't account for, two shots weren't perfect: I know I pulled one (and at first I thought I'd surely missed) and for the other I didn't apply enough lead on a moving target, but I can't blame the optic for either of them! On all the other shots, I knew where the bullets went, not something I can always boast about.
The only low-light experience I had during the test period was pointing the scope at unsuspecting but un-endangered roos late in the evening and some bunnies under the spotlight. That's when the dot reveals more advantages. It really speeds up target acquisition and makes all the difference when the crosshairs aren't clear enough against dark backgrounds.
It didn't come up as a challenge during this test, but I know from experience that when hunting deep in the thick forests of places like Victoria's mountains, the light can drop to very poor levels and animals can be nearly impossible to target in dense thickets. Again, a light at the centre of the scope can change the game.
The trick is to ensure the intensity is never too high. If it is, the light flares and makes centring difficult. As a rule, keep it on the low side and, as the light changes, keep checking and adjusting it.
This, of course, is the hassle of the FireDot. Unless you pay attention to changing light conditions, it's easy to take aim and find the light's so bright it's hard to aim or it's not visible at all. If you're not thinking ahead, the FireDot can catch you out and make your shot more difficult. The most important time to keep tabs on it is as the light fades in the evening.
The Leupold's intensity is varied through eight settings by pressing the button that masquerades as the gold symbol on the left turret, which is where the battery lives. The FireDot has an auto-on, auto-off switch, activated by motion. As soon as you pick up your rifle, the FireDot comes alive at whatever intensity you last set it at. After a period of being stationary, it will turn off.
Leupold makes no claims about battery life, but if the technology is in the league of similar red-dot scopes, you'll get tens of thousands of hours from it.
Do you need a FireDot reticle? Not if you hunt open country in daylight hours and you have time to be deliberate about most of your shots. However, there are still benefits there in the more subconscious aiming, especially for quick shots. As I said, I am certain I shot better overall with this scope than with a regular one.
And if you've ever struggled with, or just been slowed down by a lack of light and definition when trying to lock onto a target, you'll know the situation when a FireDot reticle will really help.
The FireDot reticle makes the VX-R sit apart from most of the Leupold range but it's not this pony's only trick. Leupold has put a lot into this one, which is fitting considering it's in a similar price bracket to the brand's VX-3 line-up.
It doesn't have the VX-3's higher level of lens quality but in all light conditions I highly rated the VX-R's clear picture and very good light transmission. It uses the Index Matched Lens System, in which the various lenses are coated according to their spec, position in the scope, etc. The outer surfaces use Leupold's Diamond Coat to resist damage.
The effect is right up there with top-notch Euro brands. I was able to compare the Leupold side-by-side in very dim end-of-day light against one slightly more expensive European scope and another that cost more than twice as much. The VX-R was appreciably better than both, and that's without factoring in the FireDot. It'd have to be similar to the Schmidt & Bender illuminated reticle in these conditions, which is impressive.
Inside, the erector is mounted on the stronger twin-bias spring set-up of up-spec Leupolds. VX-Rs use a 30mm tube, giving greater latitude for adjustment than in the regular one-inch tubes. Windage and elevation adjustments are the standard ¼ MOA per click, unless you choose the FireDot 4 reticle and its metric movements of 1cm (at 100m) per click. The adjusters turn without tools and have positive clicks, as well as consistent and accurate increments. The non-locking eyepiece provides focus adjustment.
Eye relief is up around 100mm and, even at 9x, quite generous. I had no trouble mounting it in a comfortable position on the short-action Remington used for the review.
The tube is filled with the argon/krypton gas mix that Leupold developed to improve on nitrogen, citing better thermal shock resistance and reduced diffusion. The VX-R is fully waterproof and backed by a lifetime guarantee. It's very well constructed and should be as strong as other Leupolds.
The finish is great, everything operating smoothly and the matte black coating looking good and cleaning up nicely. In the Leupold QRW rings we used, the colour match was spot on.
The one thing you don't get with the VX-R is the scope cover that most other Leupold scopes come with.
Leupold has done well with the FireDot reticle. It works – certainly better than I'd expected it to, and it proved it's far from being gimmickry. Aiming is faster and more natural, reducing the processing your brain has to do and allowing you to place your shots more accurately.
The only drawback is the fact that if you don't keep adjusting it as light conditions vary, you can find it's too bright or dim at the very moment you want it to be spot on.
The VX-R line is apt for the FireDot, being high quality, clear and bright. The reticle styles available cover the needs and preferences of almost all hunters and the pricing is appropriate for what Leupold is offering you.
|Description||Leupold VX-R 3-9x40 FireDot|
|Magnification range||3.3 to 8.6 (nom 3-9x)|
|Objective lens diameter||40mm (1.6in)|
|Main tube diameter||30mm (1.2in)|
|FOV @ 100yd||13.6 to 33.6ft|
|FOV @ 100m||4.1 to 10.2m|
|Eye Relief||95 to 106mm (3.7 to 4.2in)|
|Windage/elevation click values||¼ MOA (1cm in #4 reticle)|
|Windage/elevation travel – total||60MOA|
|Overall length||323mm (12.7in)|
|Colours||Matte black only|
|Reticles||Duplux; #4; Ballistic|
|More information||Distributor: Nioa, email@example.com
Leupold VX-R website
VX-R range and reticle options
*Pricing is based on dealer advertising as at September 2011.