SWFA has long been importing the the SS 10x42mm Tactical Rifle scope, formally known as the Tasco Super Sniper, which has been a long time solid offering for the money (around $300). Over the past few years SWFA has introduced some new models to the lineup that are targeted squarely at the mid-range scope market. Some of these new models includes a 1-4x24mm with illuminated reticle and high-density (HD) glass, a new 10×42 Rear focus model with HD glass, and a 3-9x42mm FFP model for midrange flexibility. For this review we decided to take a look at the new 3-9x42mm with FFP and see how well it does compared to the older 10×42 and some of the other offerings on the market in the same price range.
If you have not read our review of the SS 10x42mm you can do that to get a bit more information about the history of the Super Sniper scopes, now called the SS scopes. They have had a good following over the years and they do offer a solid value for your money. This 3-9x42mm version comes from a different factory in Japan and is essentially a whole new line of scopes and is variable power and obviously has some some differences compared to the fixed 10x42mm version. Throughout this review we will be drawing comparisons to the fixed power version to help point out differences and similarities. One immediate difference you notice is the much nicer finish on the scope. The 10×42 model has a very matte finish that gives it a rugged, almost Eastern European look to it; that finish is durable, a bit crude, but certainly functional. The 3-9 variable power model has a more satin matte finish that is evenly applied over the entire scope and looks and feels quite a bit nicer.
The tube is a one piece tube made of aluminum and is 30mm in diameter. There is a fairly generous amount of space to use for ring placement and the proportions of the scope look nice. The lettering on the bell of the scope appears to be laser etched in a slightly off-white color, as well as the SS Eagle head logo, which incidentally looks very similar to the eagle head used on the German shoulder patches awarded to accomplished snipers in WWII. The tube feels and appears to be rugged and on a whole is a good looking scope. The overall size of the scope is about average, not overly large but not compact either.
The eyepiece of the scope is similar in size and shape to the fixed power models but does not have the fast focus eye piece. Rather the variable power version uses what would be termed a fine focus where the entire eye piece rotates to adjust the reticle focus. The threads are very fine so there are a lot of rotations needed to make your adjustments. Once set, there is a locking ring to set the eyepiece in place. The eyepiece does not have the rubber protector on it, so a scope kiss could be painful if it happens. The eyepiece has flutes on it to help grasp it and it rotates smoothly throughout the adjustment range.
In front of the eyepiece and the locking ring, is the power selector ring which is similarly shaped to the eyepiece and lock ring and continues the flutes forward as the power selector ring tapers forward to give a nice finished look to the design. Unfortunately, that forward sloping taper is where the power numbers are printed which makes it very difficult to see what power you have selected when you are behind the rifle scope. The printed numbers are clear and well marked; you just need to raise your head a good amount to see them. The one saving grace to this is the fact that the scope is a FFP scope which drastically reduces the need to see what power you have selected as the mildot reticle is accurate on any power setting selected. The power selection ring rotates smoothly and the flutes provide a gripping surface when making power changes, though the power ring itself can be a bit too smooth and slick in some conditions, making it a bit more difficult to get a good grasp on it.
The windage and elevation knobs are a large exposed style knob that is fairly tall with a knurled top to aide in getting a good grip on the knob. The clicks are a very nice positive click that is audibly subdued with a tactile feel that is very good; I like the clicks on these knobs. Each click is .1 MIL, or 1cm at 100 meters, and there are 5 MIL of adjustment per revolution and a total adjustment range of 23.5 MIL, or about 81 MOA. This is enough adjustments to easily get from 100 to 1000 yards/meters with a 308 using a 20 MOA canted base and depending on your rifle, it may be enough to do it with a flat base as well. One thing I found interesting about the elevation knob is the marking system. It has two layers of markings on the knob, 1-5 MIL on the bottom and 6-10 MIL in the top. I believe the intent is to help with keeping track of how many MILs you have gone when you go multiple revolutions. This is fairly common with BDC knobs as they will go to the next higher yardage mark as you cross the zero on the knob again. But for just standard markings, I’m not sure how much it helps, but if your ballistic charts or card is marked with total MIL from your zero, it may be useful. It is just an interesting way of marking the knobs that I do not recall seeing on many other scopes.
The windage knob is the same size and shape as the elevation knob and has the same nice clicks. There is no mushiness in the clicks from either adjustment knob. The windage knob also has 5 MIL of adjustment per revolution and the markings count up in both directions. For both the windage and elevation knobs there are clear direction arrows marked on the body of the tube directly below the knob to allow them to be visible from behind the scope with just a slight movement of the head to see around or over the scope rings. With the wind markings counting up in both directions and with 5 MIL of adjustment, the overlap starts at 2.5 MIL, which with a 10 MPH crosswind is enough to get a 308 175gr load out to 900 yards before having to worry about keeping track of direction with the overlap.
The elevation and windage knobs are set with a single screw on top of the knob. To zero the dials you use an Allen wrench to loosen the screw, lift the knob and put it back down on the zero mark. As many know, this style of knob has the knob fit onto the gear with teeth and occasionally the markings can be slightly off from where the knob comes down so that the indicator mark is sitting between two of the marks on the dial. With this particular sample the marks were dead on for both knobs.
One obvious thing missing from the scope is a focus knob, or adjustable objective (AO), also known as an adjustable parallax. SWFA elected to go without an AO on the 3-9x42mm model which was an interesting decision considering the lower priced 10×42 model has one. Typically for shorter range shooting this is not a problem as most scopes are set to be parallax free at about 100 or 150 yards. I do not have any data to indicate at which range this scope is set at, but either way, as you begin to shoot at longer ranges such as 400, 500, 600 or more yards, which this scope is capable of doing, parallax problems can certainly come into play. Of course, having an AO adds complexity and cost to the scope and I am sure SWFA was aiming for a particular price point, which then necessitated the exclusion of an AO. This scope is certainly not the only long range scope without an AO and with proper practice and cheek weld, most parallax problems can be overcome.
The reticle on the scope is a traditional mildot reticle without any added complexity. It is simple, uncluttered, and effective. The nice thing about this scope is that it is a First Focal Plane (FFP) reticle that shrinks and grows with the magnification power so that the mildots are the correct size at any power setting. FFP scopes are handy to avoid having to worry about setting your scope to the correct power when preparing to take your MIL reading, and when combined with knobs that are set to MIL units, as is the case on this scope, it makes a nice combination to have the knobs and reticle in the same units. Any system can be just as accurate as any other so we do not get too bent out of shape about insisting on having a MIL/MIL or MOA/MOA scope, as a shooter can be just as effective with a MOA/MIL or MIL/MOA scope, it is just a matter of training and comfort with the system you have. With FFP scopes, it is a delicate balance between making a reticle thick enough to be visible at the lower powers when it shrinks and also not making it too thick so that at the high powers it obscures too much of the target. I think SWFA got it just about perfect with this scope. At the lower powers you do loose the dots on a cluttered background, but at the higher powers where you tend to do most of your shooting and range estimating from, it is just right and the inner stadia is not too thick.
The optics on this 3-9x42mm scope are not the HD glass that SWFA now has available on the higher end 10x42mm HD model and it appears to be the same glass that is found on the standard non-HD 10x42mm scopes. I had a standard 10x42mm SS scope next to the 3-9x42mm for comparison and in early morning low light conditions they were indeed very similar and it was difficult to tell any difference. The glass is fairly good, just as with the 10x42mm, with decent light gathering ability which is helped with the lower magnification settings vs. a higher powered scope. The eye relief on the scope spans a large spectrum between the low power setting of 3x where it is about 4″ and then up to the high power setting of 9x where it is about 3″. This range can cause a little bit of goose-necking to get the correct eye relief as you go from 3x to 9x, but by adjusting the scope placement a bit you can find a happy medium that helps minimize this.
For the shooting tests we mounted the scope to our standard Remington 700P “test mule” rifle that we normally use for scope evaluations. It has a Warne 20 MOA canted base on it and we used some Burris XTR 30mm low rings we had here to mount the scope. We did our typical battery of tests including shooting a “box” to test repeatability as well as engaging medium range targets and coming back down to close range targets. We had very good luck with the accuracy of the knobs on the 10×42 and this 3-9x model did not disappoint. The box was excellent with the final group being right on top of the first group fired on the box. The same held true when shooting 100 yards, then transitioning to the 400 yard gong, and then coming back down to 100 yards where again the group was right on top of the first. Finally we dialed in 5 MIL of adjustment (equaling 18″ at 100 yards) and then fired a group and measured the distance to see how close it was to an actual 18″. The center of the group was 17.8″ from the center of the first group. This is just a tad over 1% of error from perfect and with a rifle that was shooting about .75 MOA groups with the M118LR ammo we were shooting, it is within the margin of error for our conditions. We were impressed with the accuracy of the 10x42mm adjustments and are equally impressed with the accuracy of the 3-9x42mm adjustments as well.
To sum up the evaluation of this scope, it is a solid offering that would serve well on a mid range tactical style rifle. Something like the DM/S concept rifle would make a nice fit. The optics are good enough for most conditions and it has some good features including mid range power, FFP, and nice knobs with good clicks. The missing AO is not critical, but would be nice for mid to long range shooting. The real question that most people are wondering is whether this scope is as good of a bargain as the fixed power version? Well, at $600 the competition is pretty stiff including some scopes like the new Weaver Tactical 3-15x50mm and Bushnell Elite 3-12x44mm Tactical. Both of those scopes are about the same price and have FFP reticles, side focus AO’s, glass that is as good and with MIL knobs. There is even an illuminated reticle on the Bushnell Tactical. Of course, the verdict is still out on those other scopes, but there is some serious competition in that price range and as such, while this SWFA SS 3-9x42mm may not be as good of a value as the other scopes, it is still a solid scope that gets the job done with good quality.