Crimson Trace Series 2, 3 & 5 Rifle Scopes

You have the opportunity to take advantage of what happens when a big name gets into a crowded marketplace but doesn’t gain traction. SALE! SALE! SALE!

When I think about Crimson Trace’s “Series” scopes I visualize in my mind some buyer at MidwayUSA.com screaming, “Sell! Sell!” as he collapses into a mosh pit of depressed stock traders, like Randolph Duke the end of the movie “Trading Places”. Crimson Trace came to market with $800-$2000 optics that sold like snow cones in the Arctic despite being at quality and feature parity with other scopes costing $800-$2000. The whims of precision rifle marketplace are sometimes hard to predict and usually arbitrary. I mean, Arken optics is still standing despite selling only currently the garbage SH4 line and not selling their epic EP4 line. I think this situation persists largely because people don’t read and they often don’t think either. They associate brands with quality rather than brand-models. This leads people to buying garbage based on faith, then losing faith because of that and then when they find actual quality available, they look askance at it because they’ve been bitten before (see Arken). Big sale discounts on expensive stuff just makes people nervous anymore. Enter my latest need for a long range capable optic and a budget limited to not far from $800.

My .223rem chambered Mossberg MVP has been without a decent optic for nigh on 2 years now and I promised my nephew that he could go to a match with me soon so I needed a very light recoiling rifle that’s not ultra loud or heavy and it has to have an optic on it that is simple enough (mils not MOA, not a tree reticle, big eye box) for a kid to shoot his first match (and his first time shooting a real powder burning rifle) with. I had been looking for another US Optics SN3 3.8-22x (I like this brand-model and prefer it to all others) before this particular need came up but there weren’t any being proffered so I had to look then to other brand scopes and thought a Bushnell DMR or XRS or ERS or HDMR would do very nicely.

Then while browsing around MidwayUSA.com I happened upon the Crimson Trace scopes at 50% off and was made instantly curious. I know they’re made in Japan which is a VERY good sign and I know the original MSRP’s were pretty heart stopping like all top end scopes which is a good sign. So, they had to be at least decent and at 50% off, well now we’re talking real value. Topping all that, any of the Bushnell scopes would have ended up being just a little bit more expensive than I had bucks on-hand for and I didn’t want to overdraft my checking account or wait several days to get paid and risk not getting one because the sale ended or they’d sold out. So, I ponied up to the bar and got the CT Series 5 3-18×50 which I had all the dollars to cover. I’m glad I did. There was also a CT 3-24x but an 8x magnification range, to me, only means an unusable reticle at the low end or too heavy a reticle at the high end. It’s just too much range for me. That being the case, 3-18x is right where I needed. The .223 it’s going on will never need more than 18x anyway. It can’t reach far enough for that to be really helpful and 18x is enough to shoot a mile against a man size target anyway.

The reticle on the 3-24x56mm Series 5 is, to many, hideous. I think it’s fine but it is markedly busy.

These were and still are at the time of this writing on sale at 50% off at MidwayUSA.com. For me it was a choice between a Bushnell DMR or XRS II both of which I know are excellent scopes or I could check out the CT 5-series. These things retailed for $1500-2000 depending on where you went and I can’t see that the marketplace really responded well. It’s a crowded market full of newly formed companies so just leveraging a storied name like Crimson Trace isn’t likely to get you much traction. You need to hit the features:price ratio that makes you barely profitable and you need someone popular to glom onto your stuff. CT had no such luck of getting a popular booster and they didn’t keep the price reasonable.

Brownell’s sells a Match Precision Optic which is literally the exact same scope as the CT Series 5 3-18x50mm but it sells for $1000, not 50% more than that like the CT version. The only difference between the CT scope and the Brownell’s is the red ring of death that CT puts on the occular to tell you if your eye relief is good. So I guess the real question you want answered immediately is, “Is the scope worth $1000?” Yes. Totally. Really good glass quality yields clean images and very natural color rendition and a very consistently flat image. My unit passed a box (tracking repeatability) test perfectly and pulled the tall target (click value) test with no measurable error inside 10mils.

Now here’s where a lesson got learned. The Series 5 have 6x or greater magnification range and all sit on 34mm tubes. The Series 3 have a 5x magnification range and some sit on 34mm tubes while others are on 30mm tubes. The 3 Series 5-25x is every bit as optically good as the Series 5. The real difference between the two appears to be tube size and magnification range but not glass quality or tracking. The Series 2, which I haven’t tested yet but will soon, have 4x magnification range and vary between 30 and 34mm tubes but it’s important to note that they have the same exact glass as in the Series 3 and Series 5 and use the same turret setups. These are legitimate long range scopes for under $800, usually quite a lot less than that.

A nice simple reticle in the 3-18x50mm. Open center with a dot. .5mil increments vertically and .2 horizontally. Very well thought out for a person that always dials their elevation and holds for wind… like I tend to do.

Reticles vary across the line and some are pretty busy while others are pretty plain. It’s pretty common for them to have open centers which helps by not obscuring the target. Illumination is really clean with no blooming and plenty of difference between the top and bottom brightness settings and useful differences between adjacent levels.

Magnification and reticle focus rings are firm but not excessively stiff to turn. The elevation turret has nicely distinct clicks but they’re not notchy like a Bushnell ET1040 that feels like you’re shifting gears in gated transmission. The illumination ring is quite stiff and extremely notchy. The parallax ring is firm but not stiff and goes down to 10yrds which is killer if you’re planning on using it on a .22lr. I had no trouble getting target focus on targets up to 1500yrds distant. One thing that CT did which you might find cool is what I call their red ring of death (Yes Xbox, I’m making fun of you.). The purpose of the red ring (it’s in the occular lens) is to tell you when you’re at proper eye relief. I thought that would be handy for those match stages where I’m at a really awkward shooting position which is not behind the rifle. It ended up not being quite that handy but it is distinctive and that’s cool enough and handy for instructing new shooters.

There is a zero stop and it’s pretty darned easy to set up, 1 screw in the elevation turret. Another nice feature is the level lines on the sides of the tube. Really simplifies getting the thing level because you just index those to your scope ring’s cap splits and you’re pretty well golden.

What surprises are in store? Well, one big one was these seem to be intended to be used on seriously canted bases. I have a 20MOA rail on my .223 and I put 15 MOA more into the Burris Signature Series XTR rings that I used. That put me pretty much in the middle of the mechanical range for my zero. I like to set up my scopes to be zero’d anywhere from a little under middle of mechanical range to ~2-5mils off the bottom depending on how far I plan to actually use the thing. I set up my scopes so that my max range drops are not at the limits of the mechanical range so I’m still somewhere near the sweet spot of the optical quality when I’m reaching out farthest. That sacrifies some short range optical performance but you can’t tell because it’s at short range where defects have to be much bigger to be apparent.

Horizontal leveling lines help level the scope. A generally clean profile makes any rifle you put it on look really good. Turrets are not too tall, not too short, not too narrow and not too fat. They’re just right.

With anything that’ll go farther than a .223 you’ll probably want to start at 30MOA of base/ring cant and maybe go as high as 40-50MOA. Putting 20, 30, 40MOA in Burris Signature Series XTR rings is trivially easy so you might plan on using those rings. They can be a pain to set up as you have to slowly and evenly torque all 12 screws across both rings like you’re installing an aluminum cylinder head. It takes a while but it’s not hard to do and the Burris Signature rings don’t mar scope tubes up with ring marks and they have adjustable cant in via little polymer eccentrics. I use Seekins rings on my US Optics scopes but I use Burris Signature Series XTR’s on anything else with a 34mm main tube (and Burris Signature Series Zee rings on 30mm tubes).

What’s not awesome? They’re not winning any awards for total elevation adjustment range. The total range of up is about 35mils (~120MOA) and the windage turret seems limited to adjustments that might actually be useful, not much more than 20Mil total range. Also, the elevation turret has a little tiny bit of lash in the clicks which annoys some people. The most annoying thing is that Brownells is selling the exact same thing for half price so it seems that CT was being a little greedy and got their comeuppence. Now that their peepee got smacked though, we get the bargains as CT gets out of the business. They still make scopes but not this line. They’ve got a lifetime warranty as well so you can feel protected there.

These scopes do not come with a sunshade and there is not one available as far as I can tell. Bummer. What you can get are throw levers (20 bucks) from Crimson Trace. those appear to be in stock. I don’t see a need for them but if you want one, they’re available. As far as accessories, that’s all folks.

So, if you’re in the market for an optic in the $450-1000 range right now, you best get your butt over to MidwayUSA.com and order up one of these bad boys. Series 2, 3 or 5 you’re in for a great scope. The best bargains are on the Series 5’s and the Series 3’s right now as they’re 50% off but the Series 2’s are still pretty darned nice and they’re in that price range too. While you’re there grab a set of Burris XTR Signature Series rings and a Fat Wrench and a 20MOA picatinny rail and you’ve got the whole kit.

After I got my scope and had done all my testing on it, I was looking for other reviews. Mostly this is to see if others had different experiences before I go writing any review articles. If there’s substantial inconsistency of quality/performance then I usually will not publish an article. This is why low and middle end Vortex stuff never appears in these pages. QC by RMA is easily forgiven by the masses if the warranty process is simple and if the warranty process is too simple and forgiving, like Vortex’s, then you get a lot of people that say, “Oh it works perfectly.” even though they’re on their 6th replacement unit and nobody complains that QC is crap. Whereas with a company that tries to make 6-sigma manufacturing quality a reality and which treats warranty claims as serious failures of the manufacturing operation will usually get pilloried for even a single trivial failure that gets publicized even if there’s a million other units that never had problem-1. While looking around I found the Dark Lord of Optics. He has his shit together and knows what he’s talking about. He actually did a little comparo of 50mm objective precision rifle scopes with a broad range of price points, from expensive to heart-stoppingly-expensive and he came up with (no surprise) essentially the same result.

I do love Russians. They’re unapologetic.