I spent quite a bit of time last night in the dark comparing the glass and illumination of the SS to the 3.5-18X50 IOR again as well as my new 3-24X42 March.
On low powers/close range the glass looked great on all three and the illumination worked fine for all. Having the thinnest reticle, the SS was not as easy to see as the other two without illumination but with the illumination they were all pretty equal and what one would prefer would come down to what he liked to aim with the best—a tall cross shaped aiming point or a dot. The March had the biggest FOV while the SS had the most flexible eye relief with the IOR falling in between on both counts. Any of the scopes could get the job done and get it done well.
The testing for higher powers/longer ranges is where they separated from each other. Glass quality and objective size become more important here and the SS simply beat the other two. While the SS is certainly no better than the other two in daylight, when the sun goes down it has the advantage. It was notably the brightest and it wasn’t “empty brightness” as it had the resolution and contrast to turn that brightness into the ability to see more details than the other two scopes could see. It wasn’t a huge difference but it was enough of one that under the right conditions it could make the difference between being able to make out the target or not.
I realize this isn’t really fair to the March, only having a 42mm objective, but it is what it is. The March did quite well despite that, hanging with the IOR very well and looking as good as any on the lower powers. But on the higher powers it just couldn’t keep up with the SS. I suspect it would put most other 42mm scopes to shame pretty easily, even many 50mm scopes for that matter. But it wasn’t going up against low-mid level 50mm scopes but two with very high quality glass. It’s unfortunate I don’t still have a S&B or Premier handy as they were both notably better than the IOR in low light as well and would have been tougher competition for the SS.
Beyond seeing the target, there’s hitting it. These conditions were dark enough none of the scopes could have provided a sure shot without illumination. The reticles just couldn’t be seen on the target. The illumination is the second way the SS distinguished itself.
Both the IOR and March have very nice digital illumination systems that light up the entire center of the reticle, which most people seem to say they want. No blooming or bleeding, etc, they really look great. The problem with conditions like the above is they provide a whole lot of light even on the lowest setting. When it’s all you can do to make out the target, too much light will wash it out easily.
I’d call the IOR’s illumination borderline usable for those conditions. On the dimmest setting it is pretty dim and doesn’t wash out the target totally, but it’s brighter than it needs to be. It does seem to “cover” some of the fine details right around the target. If you want to really look at the target you can get the best view with it off. Not bad, it should be usable for most situations, but I’d like it better if it had one or two dimmer settings. Or if only the center dot lit the brightness would be OK.
The March’s illumination is just too bright for the above type of use. It has user replaceable modules so hopefully that won’t be permanent. I have the “dim” module but IMHO it’s not dim enough. Hopefully I can convince March to make an “extra dim” one I can swap in. Anyway, the result in the above conditions is when you turn the illumination on the target goes away. Even on the lowest setting, in conditions that dark it just produces way too much light. If you want to see the target, you have to shut off the illumination. Then you can see the target but you can’t hit it.
Once again, the SS impressed. While it’s illumination may not “look as good” in the daytime as the other two, and many have been dogging it for only having the center dot illuminated, in the above conditions it’s easily the best tool for the job. It was the only scope that had zero, absolutely zero image degradation with the illumination on. You could see every last detail of the target with or without it. With it on, there was just a tiny little red dot you could precisely place where you want the bullet to go. Money.
So, it was quite an interesting experience. I figured the SS would do well against the other two but I was really surprised by just how well it did. Against two much more expensive scopes—the March is nearly three times the SH group buy price for the SS—it easily came out the clear winner. If you need to make a shot at longish range in the dark, it’s simply a better tool for the job than the other two. Of course there are other things the other scopes do better, but for this particular job—which is one of the most difficult for a scope—it put on a clinic.