If my rifles had feelings, I bet my .22’s and air rifles would feel slighted. They don’t get the expensive accessories that my centerfire ones get, the most important of which are quality optics. I usually have to pinch pennies, and I view the most important firearms in my collection to be the self-defense and hunting ones, so that’s where the money goes. The importance of self-defense does not need to be stated, while hunting puts food on the table and also serves a critical function. I don’t get to hunt as much as I would like, but when I do it is most likely going to be for things like hogs and other medium game. In my mind, these jobs are for centerfire rifles, so our 22’s usually get relegated for fun and training.
I did decide, though, that I needed to change that and get at least one of the family .22’s outfitted with a quality scope. The .22 is very useful for controlling small predators as well as taking small game. A good scope enhances one’s ability to hit, especially if their eyes are over 40 years old, and a good scope is easier to see through and more reliable than a bargain basement one.
As I cast about looking for what scope to get, there were a number of things to consider– fixed or variable power; whether or not to get one with adjustable parallax; what size objective; whether it might adapt to an air rifle, should that need ever arise; what size; if variable power, what power range; what finish; and so forth. In other words, there were lots of decisions to make, many of which affect price, which was very critical to me.
I decided that price was going to have to be the first matter to dispense with. I settled on a $200 price point and hoped to find something for less. I also knew I would prefer a matte black finish, so with those two decisions out of the way quickly, it was onto the harder stuff.
The next issue was parallax. This is going to be a simplistic explanation by someone who is not an optical engineer, so please bear with me. Scopes are basically focused at a specific distance. The problem is getting the reticle and target both in focus at the same time. If they are, there should be no error in lining the reticle up on the target. If they aren’t, there can be problems, particularly if your eye isn’t in perfect alignment with your scope. The focus adjustment found on the rear objective on most scopes doesn’t, by the way, have much to do with the focus on the target. You are instead, focusing on the reticle.
Because .22’s are used at shorter ranges than centerfire rifles, they need to have their parallax set to allow for that. Rimfires usually are adjusted to 50 yards, while centerfire scopes are generally set to 100 yards. The closer you get to the target, the more small changes mean in terms of parallax adjustment. More magnification also increases the effect. If you work with binoculars or a manual focus camera, you can check this out for yourself. Going from 15 feet to 100 feet with a powerful telephoto lens will require more spinning of the focus ring than going from 100 feet to infinity.
Since the parallax setting on a rifle scope affects the focus on the target, you will also get a clearer image of it when you use a scope set appropriately for your purpose.
If you want to use the thing on an air rifle, the problem gets even worse. Remember how short air rifle ranges are. A centerfire scope can cause considerable trouble on an air rifle, especially if the power is cranked up. You often really can’t even get a clear image of the target at 10 yards through a centerfire scope, and 10 yards and less are common ranges for air rifles.
Another thought is that we also need more accuracy for the small targets we are likely to try to take with an air rifle or rimfire. Even a small amount of parallax induced error could make more of a difference than if we get a close shot on a buck with a centerfire.
You can certainly use a scope at distances different from how it is set for parallax, but we are looking for the best results, and those occur when you use the right tool. That means looking for rimfire and air rifle scopes when you are going to mount them on such weapons.
Just as with magnification, we can get scopes with adjustable parallax (sometimes called focus) settings; since I was looking for the most versatile scope I could get, I decided that I should look for one with adjustable parallax. That narrowed the field considerably.
The power range and fixed versus variable power were the next issues. Variable power scopes are bulkier, heavier, and more complex than fixed scopes, but I decided the advantages outweighed the disadvantages. The reality of today’s market also means there are more choices for variable power scopes than fixed ones.
Magnification led to a compromise for me. I think many shooters go for more magnification than they need and certainly more than they can use in most field positions. Magnification definitely makes it easier to see stuff, but you have to hold it steady to be able to use it. More power also adds size and weight, which is not welcome on a .22. Since most of us start having problems with the shakes when we go over about four power, I decided that I wanted a scope with that as about the midpoint of the power range. That would have given me about a two to seven power scope, but I couldn’t find many in the desired price range that were also rated for air rifles, which are often harder on scopes than heavy game rifles due to the odd back and forth recoil impulses they create when fired. Scopes that can take .308 recoil sometimes lose their reticles when used on an airgun, if they aren’t built for it.
Since my first choice for power range wasn’t doable, I shifted to the three to nine power scopes, and I found more options. The one that caught my eye first and held it was the Nikon PROSTAFF Target EFR Rimfire Rifle Scope at $186.00. There were several other options, but I used Nikon cameras for many of the years I was a news photographer and was generally very happy with their gear, especially the lenses. I also have one of their 3x scopes intended for the AR-15 that I’ve been happy with and plan to review. I was especially happy to see that this scope is made in the Philippines instead of China, like so many of today’s optics. While the Chinese can make excellent products, I am bothered by their political system, so I look for other options when I make purchases.
Since I planned to review this, I requested and received a sample from Nikon. To make this part of the story short, I did decide to buy it from Nikon after using it.
The scope made a favorable impression as I unpacked it. It is well finished in a matte black, and it gives off an aura of quality. The one thing that seemed slightly chintzy were the covers for the adjustment dials. They appear to be made of a polymer, and I think metal would have been better. That said, they are very serviceable and are not as likely to bend as metal ones might, which could render them unusable.
The tube diameter is one inch, which is enough to allow for a 40mm objective to gather light and a wide range of adjustments to zero with. The objective is large for this type of scope. There were a few that matched it, but I found none that exceeded it. A larger sized objective is good in terms of gathering light, which helps as twilight grows deeper, but it does make for a bigger scope, which brings us to the only drawback I found– the size and weight. It weighs in at 15.7 ounces– just shy of a pound. It is 12.5 inches long and almost two inches in diameter at its widest point– the front objective. This is, frankly, larger than I wanted, but you have to make tradeoffs in life. To get the other things I desired, I had to give up some in this area. That said, it looks massive on the Ruger 10/22 that I put it on.
The scope has performed quite well on the range. I had no problems getting it to a 50 yard zero, which is where I usually zero .22 rifles. The adjustments were positive enough to inspire confidence, and the groups moved as they should when you made adjustments.
I usually study user reviews before making most purchases, and the adjustments seem to be one area of contention by some on Amazon. Nikon says each click moves the group ¼ inches, but that is at 50 yards rather than the more usual 100 yards for this specification. Some reviewers take exception to this and argue that the adjustments are too coarse for a “target” scope. I view this as making a mountain over a molehill. While Nikon might be making a mistake in calling this a “target” scope and should probably change to the 100 yard convention, I don’t think this scope is one that most competitive target shooters are going to buy. They need something far more expensive, and they know it. The adjustment ranges are plenty good; they’re enough for a hunter or plinker to get an excellent zero and will serve all but the most finicky quick well.
My go-to scope for comparisons and accuracy testing on rifles is a Leupold 3.5-10x 50mm adjustable objective scope that I purchased about 20 years ago during a very aggressive sale by a vendor. I have never regretted stretching to get it. They go for $550 today. I like to use it as a benchmark when I look at other scopes. The Nikon did well in comparison, considering the price difference. While I think the Leupold offered more contrast and better sharpness, the difference was a lot less than the prices would imply. The biggest area of difference was in light gathering, as one would expect, since the Leupold has a 50mm objective and the Nikon has a 40mm one. A larger objective simply lets in more light at the expense of size and weight. That said, at lower magnifications, it didn’t matter much. Our eyes can only take in so much, and until you go past about 5x the Nikon does just fine, even in comparison to a top notch Leupold.
I don’t have an optical test bench, but I did use a U.S. Air Force optical test target for comparisons and can only give the Leupold a slight edge in resolution.
The one place where I think the higher-priced scope would clearly win is durability and build quality. Just as in my photographer days, a lot of the extra money for the professional stuff went into making it harder to break. As good as this scope is, I would prefer to spend more money on a scope for a defensive arm, if I could raise it. Otherwise, I would use this and be careful.
The field of view is comparable to other scopes in this magnification range, but again Nikon uses measurements at 50 yards in the manual. Most other companies use 100 yards for field of view statistics. I was initially perplexed as I thought I was seeing more than Nikon was admitting to giving me. I also noticed that Nikon used the numbers in the manual on their website, but said they were for 100 yards, which is an error according to my measurements. Field of view matters, as it makes it easier to have situational awareness. Looking through a scope tends to concentrate our focus, which can be detrimental. Being able to see more usually helps.
I mounted the scope to the Ruger with the Weaver Multi-Slot Base System. It had been wearing a mount that only had two slots and didn’t line up with Picatinny slots, so that meant I couldn’t move the scope back and forth between rifles without futzing with the mounting. Since I test stuff, being able to move things about is helpful.
I used Warne Quick Detachable rings in the medium height. Again, the reason was to be able to move it around with a minimum of work, plus these are good, solid rings at a reasonable price.
The one thing that surprised me was how much eye relief the scope has– 3.6 inches– which is what many centerfire scopes offer. That meant mounting it further forward than I expected. I had to push it forward as far as possible. It would probably be better a little more forward, but then I would have had to go to higher mounts.
One very nice feature of the scope is that once you have zeroed it, you can lift the adjustment knobs and set them to zero. That means you can easily get back to your zero setting should you make any adjustments for range or windage. Another good feature is that the knobs are covered with caps. I have scopes that lack these covers, and I fret endlessly about how easy it is for the knob to rub against something and get changed.
Nikon rates the scope as waterproof to 1 meter for 10 minutes but advises you to keep it out of running water. It is nitrogen filled to prevent condensation and mold.
Nikon calls the reticle their Precision one. It is a fairly typical duplex with a fine dot at the center of the crosshairs. Both the heavy, outside crosshairs and the finer inner crosshairs are fairly fine. I usually, if there is a choice, get a heavy duplex, but I am normally thinking of larger targets and longer ranges than what a rimfire or airgun is likely to be used on, so this works pretty well. They give you a nice diagram on the box that tells you what each element of the reticle covers at 100 yards at 3x and 9x, which is very useful information you can use to estimate range with. I wish it had been included in the instruction manual or on their website. I normally am quick to heave out boxes to make room for more stuff in my debris field of an office, and I’m glad I spotted this before tossing the box. Speaking of the instruction manual, the fine print in it was a painful reminder of the fact that my eyes are getting old. I think they should have used larger type to spare my psyche.
Overall, there is a lot to like about this scope. The optics are impressive for the price point. It is well finished and seems solid. I think it will make a good long-term partner for my 10/22. The lifetime warranty is comforting. My other .22’s are now jealous.
– SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor, Scot Frank Erie