Leupold VX-3 2.5-8x36mm Riflescope

By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff

Leupold VX-3 2.5-8x36
Illustration courtesy of Leupold & Stevens, Inc.

The family owned firm of Leupold & Stevens, Incorporated (www.leupold.com) has been manufacturing fine optical products for five generations. Leupold, the best known American owned and operated optics company, employs more than 650 people in its state-of-the-art Beaverton facility, right here in our home state of Oregon. This is where Golden Ring scopes and sports optics are designed, machined and assembled. (See the article "Leupold Factory Tour" on the Scopes and Sport Optics page for details.)

No name in the industry is better known, or more respected, by shooters and hunters than Leupold. Leupold Gold Ring scopes have always been industry leaders. They are the overwhelming choice of custom rifle builders and their customers, as a visit to the annual Custom Gunmakers and Engravers Guild show, held in January in Reno, Nevada will affirm.

Thus, when Leupold improves their entire flagship line, it is big news in scopeland. That is exactly what has happened for 2009, as the Leupold VX-III line has been upgraded and renamed the VX-3. The VX-III's were the Guns and Shooting Online staff's favorite riflescopes, so we admit to feeling some trepidation when we heard the news. We have seen far too many honored names and fine products of the US shooting sports industry discontinued or prostituted over the years.

Fortunately, a quick call to Leupold's Patrick Mundy allayed our fears and got a new VX-3 on its way for a Guns and Shooting Online review. Now we can tell you with assurance, gentle reader, that as great as the old VX-III scopes were, the new VX-3's are even better. You are gonna love these VX-3 scopes!

That's a pretty bold statement, given the excellence of the VX-III's and the high esteem in which they are held, so here are some of the improvements incorporated into the new VX-3/VX-3L line, which essentially combines and expands the benefits of the previous VX-III and VX-L lines.

  • All VX-3/VX-3L riflescopes feature Leupold’s Xtended Twilight Lens System. The system uses index matched glass with proprietary lens coatings that rebalance blue and purple wavelengths to provide hunters with an even brighter, sharper image in low-light conditions.
  • Cryogenically treated, Titanium-Nitride coated, high-strength aluminum adjustment dials and Leupold’s most durable dual spring erector system. This combination of features makes the VX-3/VX-3L riflescopes more rugged than ever before.
  • The VX-3L models feature the Light Optimization Profile – the cut crescent shape made famous by the VX-L. The crescent delivers maximum Total Light Throughput, yet allows a lower mount for proper cheek weld and faster target acquisition.
  • Second generation Argon/Krypton waterproofing – Leupold’s exclusive internal gas blend and the last word in thermal shock resistance, keeping the riflescope fog proof as well as waterproof.
  • Blackened lens edges – eliminates residual refraction and minimizes the effects of stray light for maximum photopic transmission, clarity and contrast.
  • DiamondCoat 2 – ion-assist lens coating provides higher light transmission while supplying the highest level of abrasion resistance Leupold offers.
  • The new riflescopes are offered in configurations from 1.5-5x20mm, which is ideal for dangerous game and close range shooting, all the way to 8.5-25x50mm Long Range Target, which is ideal for long range varminting and competition shooting.
  • The riflescopes feature a one-inch maintube and ¼-MOA adjustments for both windage and elevation, with selected models having finer adjustments and/or 30mm maintubes.
  • Users can choose between a wide selection of reticles, appropriate for virtually any hunting or shooting need.
  • All VX-3/VX-3L riflescopes are backed by Leupold’s Full Lifetime Guarantee.

The VX-3 line is packaged in a new black and gold box. Inside the spiffy packaging is the scope, a "thank you" card from the Leupold staff and management (a nice touch!), Leupold scope cover, Owner's Manual, Product Registration card (not required for service under the terms of the transferable Leupold Full Lifetime Guarantee) and even a cool Leupold decal. This is a complete and upscale package, as befits the new flagship of the Leupold line.

The VX-3 that is the subject of this review is the popular and versatile 2.5-8x36mm model, which is the successor to the famous VX-III of the same magnification range and objective lens diameter. Like the previous VX-III model, this new VX-3 is built on a one-piece, one-inch diameter main tube. The optical elements are fully multi-coated. The focusing eyepiece is secured by a lock ring in the traditional "American" style. The low, fingertip windage and elevation adjustments click positively in 1/4 MOA increments. (If you prefer, the fingertip adjustment caps can be removed to reveal coin-slot screw adjustments underneath.) The adjustment dials are protected by aluminum screw caps. The front and rear bells are threaded to accept Leupold Alumina accessories, including a lens shade and the famous RainCote Kit. (There is an article about Alumina accessories on the Scopes and Sport Optics page.) The front and rear lens elements are recessed to help keep fingers and other foreign matter off the lens surfaces. The shooter's eyebrow is protected by a rubber eyepiece guard.

Our test scope was finished in Leupold's hard-anodized matte black. In our considerable experience, this is the most durable scope finish available today. (Gloss black and silver finishes are also available.) The scope's graphics are restrained; there is a 1/8" wide gold ring around the front bell and a small gold Leupold "L" medallion on the left side of the adjustment turret. The serial number is on the bottom of the adjustment turret. Small gold numbers mark the magnification and distance settings. There is nothing gaudy or ostentatious about the VX-3's appearance, a pleasant change from some of the scopes from other manufacturers that we have recently reviewed. Inside, our test scope came with Leupold's standard Duplex reticle, still the best all-around hunting reticle on the market.

The VX-3 2.5-8x36 was so new at the time of this review that we had not received the official specifications, so the following information is based on our measurements. The outside diameter of the front objective bell is 1-5/8" and the outside diameter of the ocular bell is 1-17/32". The objective lens diameter and clear aperture are 36mm. Exit pupil diameter is 4.6mm at maximum magnification (8x setting) and a whopping 13.8mm at minimum magnification (2.5x setting). Overall length when focused to our eyes is 11-3/4". Weight is 11.5 ounces. Eye relief is approximately 4". It is difficult to accurately estimate the windage and elevation range (too many clicks to count), but it was more than sufficient for our purposes, probably around 65 MOA. Midway USA (www.midwayusa.com), a Guns and Shooting Online sponsor, sells Leupold VX-3 2.5-8x36mm scopes identical to our test scope for $429.99 (Feb. 2009 price).

In use, we found the zoom ring to turn smoothly and with sufficient friction to prevent inadvertent magnification changes. (Some zoom rings turn too easily; these usually feel good in the store before you buy, but are apt to accidentally change in the field.) There is a squared tactile bump in the middle of the zoom ring, at about the 4.75x position. The windage and elevation adjustments click in an exceptionally positive and precise manner. Turning the ocular bell to focus is a smooth process and there is a stop that prevents the ocular bell from being completely unscrewed.

There is plenty of room for positioning scope rings between the front and rear bells and the adjustment turret. This should be an easy scope to mount on most rifles without recourse to offset rings or bases. The 36mm front objective lens allows the use of low scope mounting rings on most rifles and minimizes the scope's effect on the rifle's balance and handling, while still transmitting plenty of light. The VX-3 fit perfectly in low Leupold rings on the Weatherby Mark V rifle chosen for testing. Mounting and bore sighting were a snap.

The optics of this scope are brilliant. Sharpness and contrast are first rate from edge to edge. Flare suppression is excellent. Optical aberrations, including coma, are very well corrected, as we verified at night using distant, pinpoint light sources. Views of the target through the VX-3 are exceptionally crisp.

We cannot remember a riflescope that so impressed the jaded Guns and Shooting Online staff and drew so much praise. Some of the comments were over the top. "I've never seen a scope this good!" "This VX-3 is so snappy it is like looking through an astronomical telescope!" It is a great riflescope, but that is a stretch. Regardless, the VX-3 is an impressive achievement and it had some of the staff members reacting like children opening presents at Christmas. We feel it is safe to say that this scope's optics will impress potential customers and reward purchasers in the field.

In closing, we would like to reiterate that beyond the outstanding optics and classic good looks of the VX-3, it is Leupold's experience and attention to detail that makes it a standout product. Often overlooked details such as 100% quality control, mounting latitude, repeatable windage and elevation adjustments, adequate internal adjustment range, long eye relief, non-critical eye placement, controls that stay where set, absolute waterproofing, light weight, a scratch resistant finish and the ability to shrug off the effects of the heaviest recoil are among the unseen factors that raise the cost of manufacture. (Leupold maintains the most advanced recoil test center in the world and no competitive brand has ever passed Leupold's recoil test.) This attention to details of design and manufacture makes Leupold scopes a bargain down the road and has contributed to Leupold's towering reputation among serious shooters and hunters.

Sometimes these "hidden" factors are not immediately obvious when you are looking at new scopes under good lighting in your local sporting goods store, but at the range or in the field, a decade or more after the initial purchase, they become far more important than the few dollars you might have saved by purchasing a lesser riflescope. This is the measure of true value received for dollars spent.

Leupold's excellent VX-III flagship line has been replaced by the improved VX-3 series riflescopes. The King is dead, Long live the King!

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