Swarovski X5 Long Range Hunting Scope

From Jason Keim, who spent a week with the Swarovski X5 Scope. Designed as a Long Range Hunting Scope, this new model appears pretty Tactical, it has a similar mission, however Swarovski wants you to know this is for the Long Range Hunter.

I’d like to thank Swarovski and Snipershide.com for the opportunity to attend the X5(i) Long Range Scope media release event at FTW Ranch in Texas.  The event consisted of a short classroom discussion on the features of the scope, instruction on how to use these features, as well as some really great information concerning the design and manufacturing process.  There were 5 gun writers in attendance including myself, 4 people from Swarovski North America, and the real treat was the attendance of 3 Swarovski project management engineers from Austria.  These three gentlemen literally know every screw, spring and other part of the scope. They have been part of the Swarovski X5 from the initial idea phase, managed the design and engineering, and now are overseeing the actual manufacturing and release of the final product to us long range shooters. (Note, you’ll see me use the model X5 and X5(i) in this review, I use them back and forth as they are the same scope with the (i) simply indicating “illuminated” in the models).

Since this review will be posted on Snipershide.com I think it’s important to first tell you what this scope is not.  This scope isn’t a “tactical scope”.  Swarovski was quick to point out that the scope wasn’t designed to be tactical, they are well aware of the difference between a long range target and hunting scope and a tactical one.  When I first read the specs, without any real knowledge of the scope, I thought they missed the tactical boat.  I made a poor assumption that with a large turret, zero stops, and some of the other features that they were trying to enter the tactical scope market and boy was I wrong.  They left out FFP on purpose to keep the reticle thinner throughout the entire magnification range.  Milradian (mil) adjustment and reticles aren’t really needed for hunting and moa is more standard for hunters and allows a finer adjustment.  Will a mil scope be in the future, maybe, but it’s not really needed in my opinion.  What they set out to do was design and build the ultimate long range target and long range hunting scope; I’m pretty sure they succeeded. 

I want to touch on the design to build process of the X5(i) scopes before I get into the details of functionality.  I think it’s important to note that 6 months ago Swarovski didn’t decide they wanted a “long range hunting scope” and just slapped a big turret on some existing models and call them long range hunting scopes.  Instead, Swarovski started 5 years ago with a blank slate and decided on the features and functions that their customers wanted in a hunting scope.  After they knew what they wanted the X5 and X5(i) to be they started the task of designing it.  Everything in the Swarovski X5, from the small mechanical parts to the optical lens system, was designed from the ground up specifically for the X5.  Once design was complete, the easy part was done, now they had to build it.  The engineers from Austria explained that to achieve the precision that the X5 team insisted on they had to not only buy new higher tolerance CNC machines and tooling, but they had to purchase new measurement tools.  Standard mechanical means of measuring part thicknesses, tolerances, etc. weren’t accurate enough.  I was impressed that after 50+ years of making some of the world’s most highly regarded rifle scopes that they raised the bar so high for themselves that they needed to buy even better equipment.  I guess the equipment used to measure the mechanical parts is similar to the machines used to measure optical surfaces and coatings.  These are machines that can measure in microns, not human hair thicknesses but 1/75th of the thickness of a human hair.  The engineers told us that there were only four parts on the X5(i) scopes that had been used on other Swarovski scopes.  The Swarovski hawk on the side is one of those pieces, the battery is another and I can’t remember the other two.  This is very telling on how truly purpose built this scope is, designed from the ground up with no expense spared.  Two more quick things to mention before I get on to the real good stuff.  Each scope takes hours to hand assemble, two of those hours alone are hand polishing surfaces to insure that every part works buttery smooth. The X5(i) scopes are built 100% in house at Swarovski in Austria.  People like to use the saying “runs like a Swiss watch”, well I think those watch makers could learn a thing or two from the Swarovski team.

Now let’s get on to the fun part.  The Swarovski X5(i) comes two main models, a 3.5-18 and a 5-25.  Both models are only offered with minute of angle (moa) adjustments and matching moa reticles.  Within those models are various features that you can choose from, this includes reticle design options, illuminated (i) or non-illuminated, and special order in the 5-25 you can get 1/8 moa adjustments (clicks) vs. the standard ¼ moa adjustments.

Overall impression:

I used a 5-25x56 with the 4WX reticle mounted on a 6.5 Creedmore for two full days of shooting. Sending about 200 rounds down range from distances starting at 100 yards and going all the way out to 1,600 yards.  There were 8 shooters total, all of them using various models of the X5 and X5(i).  I think between my own experiences with the scope, what I witnessed with 1600+ rounds being shot, and the opinions shared with the other writers I can give a pretty accurate and honest assessment of the X5 and X5(i).  

The glass in these scopes is pretty phenomenal, truly living up to the Swarovski reputation for producing some of the world’s best glass.  Great scope glass isn’t just about clarity, it’s also about color and contrast.  The X5 optical coatings give the color, contrast and depth of field that made finding the steel targets on far away hillsides very easy. Using the parallax adjustment it was always quick to get a clear sight picture no matter the distance or target size, there’s a large and forgiving sweet spot that not all scopes have.  All of the scopes that I looked through had clear and crisp reticles.  The reticles had good contrast and always stood out well no matter if the targets were surrounded by rocks, brush or dirt.  I also think they did a good job with the reticle subtensions (thickness of the crosshairs and hash marks).  They were thick enough to find and focus on quickly while thin enough to not block out too much of the target at a distance.  In addition to the 6.5 Creedmore’s we shot for both days, we also mounted scopes on a Barrett 50 BMG and a lightweight 338 Lapua Magnum hunting rifle.  The very generous eye relief really made shooting these two shoulder shockers easy.  I never got nervous about being too close to the scope and risking getting thumped in the head and suffering the harassment of our good spirited group.

Mechanically, the scopes essentially performed flawlessly for everyone.  One shooter had to re-zero towards the end of day two, but we determined that this was due to not tightening the screws enough after he set his zero-stop function on the scope.  Right after his re-zero he went on to win the last 20 round shoot off where we used dialing and holdovers to quickly engage targets from 250 to 500 yards in some windy conditions.  The 1600+ rounds shot by our group was never at a static distance except for the initial 100 yard sight in.  After those rounds pretty much everything else was done at ranges that varied from a 250 yard chip shot to farther then a lot of people will ever get to shoot.  These varying ranges really gave the turrets a workout as they were twisted up and down a lot.  Never did I miss a shot that I thought I should have hit due to incorrect elevation, I feel comfortable that all the scopes tracked well.  I would have loved to have done a full tracking test, but it just wasn’t possible in the format that we were shooting.

Fit and finish of the X5(i) scopes is also on par with the rest of the work that has gone into them.  Every scope that I handled had smooth and consistent feeling adjustments.  Power adjustment rings and parallax adjustment knobs all felt the same, no matter which scope I picked up.  All of them felt good throughout the line.  The turrets clicked with precision and had a very tactile feel, you could easily count clicks without actually looking at the turret itself.  This is important if you need to dial up and don’t want to take your eyes off of your potential trophy and risk not being able to find them again. 

The cool features:

Besides incredible glass, great eye relief, tactile and repeatable clicks there are a couple of specific features that make this scope really cool.  These next few features are what really set it apart from all of the other long range scopes on the market.

Zero stop elevation turret.  Long range hunters like to dial, actually they need to dial, no exceptions in my mind.  Having an elevation turret with a zero stop makes this much easier and eliminates a lot of headaches.  I won’t explain all the reasons why that is in this review, but trust me there are many.  Basically a zero stop turret allows you to quickly make sure your rifle is at zero, true zero, not just the zero on the little elevation knob.  Someone messes with your scope, maybe the knobs got moved pulling it out of a scabbard, easy enough to just turn it all the back until it stops and you’re done!  Now you’re ready to make quick shots at 100 or dial up from there, knowing you’ll always return to true zero without fail.  Setting the zero stop on the Swarovski X5 is simple and painless after doing it a couple of times and getting the hang of it.

Elevation turret turn counter.  This is a little window that displays what turn of the elevation turret you’re on, saving you the hassle of cranking all the back to your zero stop if you’re not sure.  There is 20 moa of travel in one complete revolution of the turret, so it’s unlikely that you’ll exceed one turn in a hunting situation.  However, shooting out to 1600 I was into the 3rd revolution of the turret and it was nice to just take a quick look between adjustments and know that I was on 70 moa for example and not 10, 30 or 50.  I’ll also add in here that having 20 moa in a single revolution makes some very quick adjustments possible.

Subzero dialing! This is possibly one of the most innovative features in my mind, if it exists on another scope then I’ve never seen it.  This feature essentially lets you bypass the zero stop and dial down 10 moa below your zero.  Let’s say you’ve set your 338 Lapua Mag up for maximum range, you have 500 yard zero so you can really ring some steel out there a ways….but you want to take it prairie dog hunting for some fun.  Well you can dial subzero and actually dial in a 100 yard shot!  Pretty cool feature for sure and we utilized it on the 338 Lapua that we shot to see how it worked.  The first couple times it’s a little awkward, just learning how it works, once you use it a few times it becomes rather quick to deploy.

There are other little things that set this scope apart from the others, I’ll let you read all the press release literature and Swarovski web pages, I don’t need to retype them for you.  If you have any questions please feel free to ask and if I don’t know the answer I’m happy to bug Swaro for them!

In closing:

Is Swarovski the best value in hunting scopes?  That’s not an argument that I’m going to get into.  I’ve killed game with all sorts of scopes, from $300 Leupold’s to $3,500 Schmidt & Bender’s, it’s not the arrow it’s the indian.  That being said, do I think that quality gear helps, you’re damn right it does!! Is the Swarovski is a bad value, nope, far from it.  It’s truly a matter of getting what you pay for.  Hand polishing, meticulous details, scopes assembled by craftsmen…..it all comes at a price.  You can get there in a Ford, but a Ferrari makes it faster, more comfortable and you look damn good doing it.

Swarovski truly set out to design, build and deliver the ultimate long range shooting and hunting scope.  Did they do it?  Honestly, I think they might have, the scope is both optically and mechanically one of the best I’ve used.  I personally will have one on my rifle come October when I’m shooting game at long ranges in Colorado this year.

Jason Keim