Anyone who has spent time in the USA military, or likely any of the NATO countries, has likely spent some time with Steiner binoculars. The largest ever US Military binocular purchase was made in 1988 for Steiner M22 binoculars and they have been widely used since. The Steiner company was started in Germany in 1947 following World War 2 and they have since had the single goal of producing the finest optical devices in the world. They make their own lenses and coatings in Bayreuth, Germany and have been a leading innovator since day one. In 2011, Steiner expanded their reach by jumping into the rifle scope business for both the military and hunting customers and it is here that we find ourselves today. We wanted to test one of their tactical rifle scopes and were presented with the opportunity to take an in depth look and review at their P4Xi 4-16x56mm scope. This scope is part of their mid-range Tactical line of scopes and not one of their higher end, and more expensive, Military grade scopes, which we do plan to review at a later date. The price of the PX4i is right around that $1500 USD mark which puts it in with some tight competition from Nightforce, Leupold, Vortex and others.
The P4Xi scope is actually made in the USA, though it does use the excellent German made glass. The box is fairly simple and nothing too exciting to talk about and only some basic instructions and accessories are included with the scope. The box does have a foam insert that is cutout specifically for the scope, which is a nice feature. Though of course, once the scope is mounted, the quality of the box and foam really does not matter… but it is still nice. The scope does have the solid German large scope quality heft to it that is found on S&B, Hensoldt, and other large scopes like them. They just feel solid, and yes, heavy… just under 2 pounds in this case.
The P4Xi has a fast focus eyepiece that covers the full diopter adjustment range from +2 to -3 in exactly 1 rotation which is quicker than most other fast focus eyepieces. There is a small indicator dash put into the rubber ring that is attached to the eyepiece to protect the eye from major damage if it makes contact during recoil. That small indicator mark is just molded into the rubber and not painted or colored in anyway, but it is enough to be useful if needing to repeat and come back to a previously set diopter setting. The resistance on that eyepiece is moderately light and it has a smooth high quality smooth feel to it.
At the front of the eyepiece is located the zoom power selector ring. It is a larger power selector ring with aggressive knurling on it to help provide a solid gripping surface, which is needed as the force required to move the ring is moderate and requires a firm grip. The full range of 4x through 16x covers about 180 degrees of the ring with markings at every 2x along the way. While the force required is high, the travel is smooth and the pressure required is even across the whole range. Due to the heavy hand required to make the zoom adjustment, this is one scope that can benefit from a throw lever, thankfully Steiner makes one that fits both the P4Xi and the P5Xi scopes. Cost is $65 USD. The scope and ring is perfectly usable without a throw lever, it just makes it easier to operate from behind the scope.
In front of the eyepiece the 34mm one piece tube extends 2.5″ inches before the rounded shoulder begins. The tube size and shoulder design both give an appearance and feel of durability and thickness. On top of the shoulder is the large external elevation knob. The knob itself is not too tall but is fairly wide in diameter which gives the knob plenty of room to have the individual clicks clearly marked. Each click is .1 MIL with a full 10 MIL of elevation adjustment per revolution. Each full MIL has a numeric marking done in white, with a 2nd level of markings that are done in green. Under the rotating part of the knob there is a small circular “window” that is filled with white, until the knob itself rotates past the first rotation. Once the first rotation is passed then the window fills with green to match the green markings on the upper part of the knob. It is a clever visual reference indicating what numbers the scope is set to, either white or green.
The documentation from Steiner indicates that there are 30 MIL of elevation adjustment which should be plenty for most of the long range uses a scope with 16x magnification is capable of. The 10 MIL per revolution is also a good amount and will get a .308 from 100 to 900 yards in just that first revolution. The clicks themselves are quite firm with a sharp feel to them and a clear, if not loud, audible click. There is no slop between clicks and while they are not the most pleasant feel due to the stiffness, they are “positive”, leaving no question when a click has been dialed in. There is both a zero stop as well as a hard stop at the 20 MIL mark as well, and when combined with the green/white indicator window, there should be no issues with getting lost on where you are in the elevation adjustments. Do be aware that this means there is only 20 MIL of usable elevation adjustment with this scope.
The windage knob on the right hand side of the scope is the same size and shape as the elevation knob, but it does not sit up on top of a pedestal with color window like the elevation knob does. The same 10 MIL of adjustment exists per revolution and the numbers count up in both directions and there is a R or L after the number to remind the operator which direction the scope has been adjusted to. The clicks on the windage knob of this particular scope were actually a little nicer than the elevation knob. It still had the very positive click, but it was just slightly muted giving both a better feel and noise to the clicks. The windage knob also has a stop at the 5 MIL mark, preventing any overlap as adjustments are dialed in. You get 5 MIL of wind either direction, that is it. This should be enough for most all the situations that this scope would find itself in, but it is a hard limit that needs to be made known.
Opposite of the windage knob is the combined adjustable objective (focus) control knob and illuminated reticle control knob. The AO is the larger diameter knob located closest to the tube/shoulder and it has serrations to help grip the knob to make adjustments. The full adjustment range covers less than half of the diameter of the knob, 180 degrees, and goes from 50m to infinity. The knob requires a moderate amount of force to adjust and it gets noticeably firmer down close to that 50m range. It is not the smoothest AO we have used, but its not terrible either.
The illuminated reticle control has eleven different levels of brightness covering a wide spectrum. It is nice to see that they included some very low brightness settings which is desirable since the ideal brightness setting is one that is just barely visible so as not to drown out the target with an over illuminated reticle. There are also two settings that are for nightvision use and not visible to the naked eye. Not the entire reticle is illuminated, only out to the 3 MIL mark on the horizontal stadia and from zero down to the 6 MIL mark on the bottom vertical stadia. When we were testing the illumination with the scope on 16x, making the reticle its largest size, we noticed significant light spillage on the left hand side and upper portions of the non-illuminated parts of the reticle. We were very surprised to see this as it is typically a sign of low quality manufacturing. The spillage is visiable on the upper 5 or 6 brightness settings and is significant. You can see some of it in the picture below looking along the left hand horizontal stadia.
In front of the the shoulder of the scope, there is an additional 2.7″, or so, for which to mount the forward scope ring. The tube then tapers up in a smooth fashion to the 56mm objective lens bell housing. The bell is threaded for a sunshade, but one is not included with the scope. The scope is covered with a very nice matte black anodizing. The overall look and feel of the scope is one of solid construction and similar to other larger 34mm scopes. It is heavier, as we have mentioned already, and its 14.6″ length is in the middle of the pack for the larger scopes. The 3.5 – 4″ of eye relief is a decent amount and should pose no problems with all but perhaps the hardest recoiling rifles.
As we were doing our background research on this scope, we discovered that there have been some documented complaints and design issues with the AO failing on these scopes as well as some other problems. This was concerning to us coming from such a highly regarded manufacturer and it appears as if the scope production has been halted as a result as they work through these problems. We decided to go through with the full review to see if we had one of those scopes suffering from problems and if it was, just how extensive the issues were. So we mounted the scope to our test Remington rifle using some Nightforce 34mm rings on a Warne 20 MOA canted base.
With the scope mounted and the rifle system out on the range, it is immediately clear that the optics are excellent. As we have mentioned, Steiner has a fabulous reputation for outstanding optics and it continues to hold up with this scope. We had a Leupold Mk6 along side this scope and they both had excellent optics with great clarity, contrast and sharpness from edge to edge. The P4Xi is considerably less money, but has optics that are up there with the higher priced scopes.
The reticle on the P4Xi is what Steiner calls the Special Competition Reticle (SCR) which has marks every .5 MIL on the vertical stadia and smaller hashes every .2 MIL on the horizontal statia. The last 2 MIL on the upper portion of the vertical stadia has little hash marks every .1 MIL which will help with precision measurement on higher magnifications. The reticle has a lot of hash marks and is a bit busy, but it is not bad and they have kept the center portion uncluttered to a good extent. The very center has a floating cross hair which actually was very nice to use during our evaluations.
If you are not familiar with our testing procedures, please read how we test rifles and scopes. With some anticipation to see how the scopes internals tracked, we zeroed the rifle at 100 yards and fired a 1.5 MIL box test which showed no issues with tracking and repeatability on our scope. The elevation knob continued to be very stiff and became more of a nuisance as the testing wore on. It would take a heavy hand to adjust the knob, but again, the clicks were positive. The windage knob was not as bad and behaved well.
We next fired a three round group, which measured about .5 MOA, and then dialed in 6 MIL of left and fired another three round group, measuring about .75 MOA. We then dialed back in 6 MIL of right and fired one last round to verify the reticle came back to the first group, which it did. The distance between the groups measured 22.6″. At 100 yards the distance should be exactly 21.6″, which meant there was 4.6% of error, which we consider passing. Ideally we like to see 3% or less but with our second group larger than we normally get, that introduced a bit more potential error. During our testing we had no issues with the adjustable objective focusing the scope at all the ranges we tested it at, though it was still noticeably more stiff when the knob rotated down into the lower range settings.
We next needed to test for reticle drift when both changing the zoom and focus of the scope. We mounted up our boresighting grid and started with the zoom adjustment to see if we could notice any drifting. Going from 4x up to 16x and back down several times we could discern no movement of the reticle, it was very solid. Next was the adjustable objective focus and the results were the same. We could not see the reticle move at all when going from one extreme to the next on the knob. We still did not like the tightening of the knob as we got to the lower extent of the dial, but it was solid and worked. The reported problems with the P4Xi 4-16x scopes has been that the AO is inoperable, but we must have gotten one of the good ones as everything checked out on all of our tests. We also did a tracking test with the elevation and windage knobs while we had the boresight grid attached and they tracked straight and true.
So where does that leave us with our final verdict? The optics are excellent, exactly as we would expect from Steiner, and the knobs and controls all worked as they were supposed to. But, the heavy handed elevation clicks, the spillage of light from the illuminated reticle, and the tightening of the adjustable objective control as it reaches the lower extent of its range all are cause for concern. We like the design and the way the scope is laid out and right now this specific sample is certainly usable, but it would score much higher on our score card if some of these issues were addressed. We wanted to like the scope, but with these short comings, and yes, with its reputation of defects, it makes it hard to stand behind it. The simplicity of the controls with the hard limits has a lot of merits and is a bright spot for the design, as are the excellent optics. Hopefully they can resolve the issues with the scope and get it back on the market where it would be a solid contender in the $1500 scope market. Until then, we disappointedly wait.