November 14, 2023
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Nightforce needs little introduction, as they have a stellar track record for not only quality, but also clarity of glass, premium features and durability. So, as a current owner of two NXSs and an SHV, I was excited to see and try a member of the NX8 line of rifle scopes. The model I selected being the Nightforce NX8 2.5-20x50mm F1. The NX8 series is a fairly recent addition to the Nightforce line, being shown at the 2019 SHOT Show in Las Vegas, with an official release in July of the same year. The NX8 is a modernized variant of the robust and battle proven NXS series of scope, with several updates and offerings that many users (including myself) wanted to see on the NXS initially. It is no secret that Nightforce’s NXS series is well-respected. It has seen use with the military, snipers, with long-range shooters, hunters and target shooters. This ‘bombproof’ optic is heavy-duty, offering the user a “tonka tough” design. That said, the NXS series does have its limitations compared to their more expensive ATAC-R and BEAST series. This is why I was pleased to view the options and offerings found on the new NX8 series of scopes, especially with their wider and more forgiving optical magnification ranges. So, I was very interested to see how their NX8 2.5-20x50mm F1 would perform.
The packaging includes a nice box, with clear technical information on the end, with the scope well-secured to prevent damage. It includes a Nightforce ‘Multi-tool’ for adjusting the zero stop, a lens cloth, flip-up covers and a throw lever for quicker magnification adjustments. Upon initial inspection I immediately noted how compact the optic is, especially with the maximum zoom of 20 power. Typically, scopes of this magnification are 2 to 4 inches longer. This 2.5-20x50mm is not a whole lot larger than my Nightforce SHV 3-10x42mm. I found that favorable and was highly impressed with its compact nature, being just 12 inches in length. Even with its compact size it still has typical Nightforce heft. Weighing in at 28.6 ounces it is 6.1 ounces heavier than Leupold’s famed military big hitter, Mark 4 LR/T 8.5-25x50mm. Weighing in at 10 to 20 ounces less than Vortex’s Razor HD line of variable powers, this model would be a “mid-weight.” So, it’s short and not too heavy.
I was quite excited to see the protective flip-up covers, as the older NXS included bikini-style covers due to the entire rear portion of the optic turning to adjust magnification. Nightforce went with Tenebraex brand covers. These high grade covers typically are an expensive accessory that must be ordered separately. Working with the optic, I was impressed with such a wide range of magnification and the glass clarity found in those ranges. This is largely due to Nightforce’s “Extra-Low Dispersion” (or ED) glass used on the NX8 series. While not quite as noted at 2.5 power, the ED glass really shines as magnification increases past 10x. Resolution and light transmission are impressive, and it performs very well in lower light situations. It isn’t quite on Nightforce BEAST levels, but it is quite close to the ATAC-R and offers a noted improvement over the NXS and SHV glass at maximum power.
Initial testing began using a Christensen Mesa Long Range in .300 Winchester Magnum. I opted to mount it using Nightforce Xtreme Duty rings, in their ultralight configuration. Machined from 7075-T6 lightweight aluminum and using Titanium crossbolts and locking jaws, these rings only add 4.2 ounces to the overall weight of the rifle. Installation was easy and painless, with absolutely zero lapping of the rings necessary for optimal scope to ring fitting. I liked that torque values were supplied in the instructions, making precise installation quite easy and less time consuming. Overall, I like the Xtreme Duty ultralight rings paired with this scope. Nightforce’s NX8 2.5-20x50mm features a First Focal Plane reticle. While Mil reticles are very popular, I selected their MOA Reticle (or MOAR). This is by far my favorite offering from them, and the one I am most familiar with. This allows elevation, windage and lead to be held using the reticle. Turret adjustments are in .25 MOA clicks to match the MOA reticle. This model has a substantial range of adjustments with the turrets. This includes 110 MOA of elevation and 80 MOA of windage.
By far, the size-to-weight ratio is a huge plus over the legacy NXS series. This scope is quite compact for the magnification offered, 20x in just 12 inches. To put this into perspective, this is roughly the same overall length of a typical 3-9x power riflescope and only .4 inches longer than the Nightforce SHV 3-10x42mm currently in use on my LaRue Tactical 5.56mm precision rifle. It is hard to believe that the NX8 offers the user not only a wider range of magnification, but also double the magnification power, all in a package roughly the same size and within 6 ounces of its 3-10x42mm brethren. Nightforce really did their homework here, offering maximum performance in a minimal package.
The Nightforce NX8 2.5-20x50mm also offers a very practical magnification range. While most companies are offering 3, 4 or 6 fold magnification increases this model offers an 8 fold magnification increase. This makes for a highly forgiving and incredibly universal optic, ranging from tactical use on both large and small pattern AR rifles, to long range precision shooting and hunting in extreme environments. For instance, the 2.5 power magnification would work well for the mountainous region of Kentucky or further into the Appalachian Mountains, where heavy foliage limits shots to 75–100 yards. The same user could take their NX8 and test the limits of their rifle at extreme ranges, simply with the turn of a dial. My biggest complaint with the NXS series is the magnification control knob is a singular piece turning the entire ocular housing. The NX8 fixes this with a new design. The low profile throw-lever “knob” allows for ease of adjustments, while remaining low profile and not becoming a snag hazard for those who may need it for practical, tactical, or field usage. Use with heavy gloves does result in the magnification lever becoming somewhat lost and the user does have to feel for it. This means, for those who may be using it in extreme weather situations may want to opt for the aftermarket levers.
I was most pleased to see the NX8 offered as an “FFP” optic. First Focal Plane (or FFP) is widely used, accepted and often demanded by long range shooters as adjustments and calculations are quite simplified over their Second Focal Plane offerings. This opens new avenues for the NX8 that may have been overlooked with their NXS offerings. This includes F-Class competition and PRS as well. I believe the NX8 2.5-20x50mm in the First Focal Plane is likely the most complete offering for gas gun PRS shooting for under $2,000. This is one scope that would pair incredible with a LaRue Tactical C.A.N. mount and fill several roles for one user, by switching it between rifles. It is just that versatile. Outside of tactical or long-range applications, the Nightforce NX8 2.5-20 shines yet again for the long-range hunter. For those who may opt for a featherweight bolt gun for dropping ram, pronghorn, or mule deer, the NX8 offers acceptable eye relief of
almost 3.5 inches (3.44 inches) for harder recoiling rifle (especially long action Magnums).
While minimal, I did find a thing or two that I did not like about the Nightforce NX8 2.5-20x50mm F1 optic. The windage and elevation adjustment housing is set substantially further forward than traditional optics which have a more centered placement. I am sure this is due to its wider, 8x magnification range and was a “necessary evil” in the design. That said, on long action bolt action rifles it does make mounting the optic somewhat difficult and can possibly limit the usage of scope rings and optics mounts for the user. Considering how much real-estate is left when mounting on my .300 Winchester Magnum Mesa Long Range, the likelihood of using wider and heavier built SPUHR rings or ISMS optics mounts is likely out of the question, as it would likely touch the bell or magnification housing. Of course, options such as Nightforce’s Xtreme Duty rings, Seekins, Steiner, Badger and others would work well, as they are smaller and have similar footprints. On short action bolt action rifles, gas guns or AR pattern rifles however, the user would never notice and find optics mounting not only easy but universal and unobstructed.
My first Nightforce’s were of course, the NXS series. I became accustomed to the “push/pull” aspect of illumination adjustments, and I like this feature. It has tactile clicks for on and off, along with smooth brightness adjustments. On the NX8 however, they use a push button style illumination activation system. While aesthetically more pleasing than its predecessors, I do prefer the adjustments found on other Nightforce offerings. I have mixed feelings on having both red and green illumination. I like having both, as it widens the usability among the color blind and allows the optic to be more versatile. It is scientifically proven that the human eye will see green substantially better and more vibrant than the color red. With this, I do like the choice of both, as the color red can wash out in autumn, while the color green can wash out in warmer months. I dislike this illumination style as it has its roots buried in “Chinese optics” and could create a stigma among some users and some in the public ‘gun community.’
Hitting the range with three Nightforce optics on three separate rifles, I was able to gain a more thorough opinion on the NX8 2.5-20x50mm F1 optic. The windage and elevation knobs were typical Nightforce, with smooth, strong, and precise clicks; with absolutely no ‘mushy feeling’ or lazy adjustments. This is something I’ve come to expect from Nightforce as well. Of course, setting the zero stop was simple and easy (although I am considering a 200 yard zero on my Mesa Long Range over the traditional 100 yard) as it has always been. The Nightforce multi-tool worked like a charm for these settings and adjustments and I was soon shooting groups.
Now, banging away at the range with a .300 Winchester Magnum isn’t quite as easy or cost-effective as it used to be, especially considering I am only using Black Hills Gold Match, Federal Gold Medal Match, Hornady Match, or other premium boat-tail hollow point Match offerings. Every time I press the trigger, the faint sound of a cash register chiming can be heard, so range trips aren’t quite as numerous as I’d like with this rifle. So, this optic also spent time on a couple other more cost-effective rifle calibers (.308 Winchester and .223 Remington) as well. While recoil related damage was not expected, I wanted it trialed on harder recoiling rifles so it saw use on a rather obnoxious 12.5-inch .308 Win AR-10 Short Barrel Rifle.
I will note, when having all three Nightforce’s on the range, the NX8 glass clarity while great, the NXS 5.5-22x56mm does seem to have a slight edge over it. This is most noted on maximum power on all three optics, and I believe this largely due to the larger, 56mm objective found on the NXS test scope. Going through the powers, I would rate the resolution of the NX8 “great to excellent,” whereas I would rate the NXS “excellent.” While the NXS and NX8 are more closely related for comparison, I would like to note that the NX8 does surpass the clarity found on their SHV offerings.
The reticle on the NX8 is Nightforce’s MOAR (Minute of Angle Reticle). I like and prefer this reticle, as I am very familiar with it and have used since 2016. One of my favorite features of the MOAR is the “crosshair inside a crosshair.” While the MOAR does have easy to use windage and elevation markings integrated, I like the fact that the center of the crosshair is separated from the rest of the reticle. This allows a more precise shot from the user, as the reticle can easily be centered in 100-yard rifle target ‘boxes’ or centered easily around a bullseye dot. It seems to work well with those with glasses or astigmatisms as well. Everyone I have let use the MOAR likes it over other reticles they have used. Overall, the Nightforce NX8 2.5-20x50mm performed well, and lives up to its Nightforce pedigree. The NX8 is hitting well outside of its weight class, with a MSRP of $1,950. It is hard to beat for a multitude of roles, including long range hunting, tactical applications, long range and precision shooting. In a world where optics are dependent on the situation, this is the only optic that I can think of that comes closest to “one size fits all.”
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