Table of contents:
- Unboxing and Physical description
- Reticle description, explanation, and testing
- Comparative optical evaluation
- Illumination evaluation
- Speed Testing and exit pupil testing
- Mechanical testing and turret discussion
- Summary and conclusion
March, the house brand of DEON optical design corp. is far less well known as a manufacturer than each of the other markers to which it will be compared in this review. The parent company, DEON, does at least as much design work for other makers as it does actual manufacture for its March label. Despite having a small market share, woeful website, and being sold through only one distributor in the U.S. (Kelbly’s), March has a large product line and has gained great market penetration in the Benchrest market. Over the past few years March has been making forays into the tactical market by offering front focal plane scopes with matched turrets and reticles. The results of these forays have been somewhat mixed in my opinion. The features desired in a tactical scope differ greatly from those of a Benchrest scope especially as regards eyebox, reticles, adjustments, and magnification ratios. That is to say, mast all the features desired are different. Nevertheless, I have noticed a constant trend toward better feature choices. This is well illustrated by this ffp 1-8x as compared against the 2fp March 1-10x I reviewed a few years ago.
Unboxing and Physical description:
It seems that companies are split about 50/50 as to whether they send reviewers new in box products or whether the send a few scopes around to everybody in turn. Kelbly’s, the sole U.S. distributor of March products and also really the only U.S. contact for them does the latter. Being as I only live 1 1/2 hours from Kelbly’s and they have a very nice and uncrowded range on which I could do testing I just drove up and picked up the scope. Their range is far better than the one I usually test on and I was able to get a great deal of testing done very quickly with these superior facilities.
What I found in the box Ian gave me for testing was a scope marked SN X001, no manual, some packing, and strange little slip on leather scope caps. I expect that the X001 means prototype one and that no manual existed at the time of the production of this optic. Without a manual I suppose I will have to be content telling myself not to shoot myself or others. How ever will I get along?
Physically, this March shares much in common with others I have used. It is small, at 10.16″ long, 30mm in diameter, and light at 19.5oz. The machining on all parts is excellent and the feel of all things that turn or click is that you would want. I have only two complaints at the outset. First, I hate American style diopters. They turn and turn and the adjustment is so fine you are just never sure if things are getting better or worse until they are quite a long way off and then you have to go back the other way and suffer the same fate. Though the length of the testing I fiddled and futzed with the diopter and, in the end, I’m still not sure I ever had it optimized. The second complaint I have is the illumination control. March has done an excellent job managing to integrate this into the parallax knob (yes it has a parallax knob) but the button is unshielded and requires virtually no force to actuate. This thing will get accidentally turned on all the time. I am not sure if it has an auto off function or not.
The March-F 1-8x24mm that I tested was equipped with the FMC-1 reticle. It consists of 3 main parts. At 3:00, 6:00 and 9:00 are thick tapering arrows that extend to the edges of the field of view at all powers. These appear to be a feature designed for low light, and close quarters use. They are large enough to make themselves obvious. In the middle of the reticle, a 3 mil diameter circle is present for close quarters use. This circle, and everything in it, are the only illuminated portions of the reticle. Lastly, crosshairs display mill hashes on all but the 12:00 extension for ranging and holds. All in all, the reticle departs little from a typical mil hash design and is intentioned to be used as such. Ranging is done by counting the mils and running the equations in the manner of most long range scopes. Drop is primarily intended to be done via the elevation adjustment as on most precision rifle scopes though you could also hold using the mil hash marks for guidance. Wind can be done via holds or adjustments though I am quite sure the dial for drop, hold for wind method would be preferred by most. In short, it is a long range scope reticle with a circle and thick posts added. Not surprisingly, when measured on a test target, the reticle mil marks were the correct size.
Comparative Optical Evaluation:
It has always been somewhat difficult to compare the optics of March scopes to those of other makers. The reason for this is that, while most makers strive to make the users experience comfortable with a large eyebox, March cranks the magnification ratio up user experience be damned. I was happy to see that in this iteration some balance has been achieved. The scope is more forgiving than past examples and I found it of at least average comfort compared with the other 1-8x offerings. Furthermore, March is the sole maker to have a 1-8x offering with an adjustable parallax. At most distances this greatly improves the user experience vis a ve not having one as this allows both the reticle and the target to be in focus at the same time.
As for the clarity, the March trailed only the Leupold CQBSS in this area. And that only slightly. It took me a while to decide this and I am still obsessing a little as it can be hard to tease apart the effects of a more comfortable eye box and warmer color from the simple ability to resolve. In any case, the March was obviously better than both the Bushnell and USO offerings. The color rendition of the March appeared, on balance, the most true to reality with the Leupold tinting the image a bit warmer and greener and the USO tinting it a bit cooler. The clarity of the March was excellent edge to edge and only a slight pincushion distortion was noticed at 8x. The overall experience was quite good.
Prices for the 1-8x24mm March are $2,100 without illumination and a disproportionately higher $2,720 with illumination. My advice, skip the illumination. To say that the illumination is not daytime bright is misleading. The illumination is not daytime visible at all. I am embarrassed to say that initially I thought it might be broken or the battery dead. I changed the battery to no avail. Since I was at Kelbly’s doing the testing at the time I walked in and asked how to turn the illumination on thinking maybe I’m just a fool or perhaps there is some special ritual or sacrifice that I need to perform. Jim Kelbly looked at me like I was an idiot when I ask. It’s the big button on the side of the parallax. All I could think was how embarrassing for the both of us. It turns out you can see the illumination indoors. As you can see in the photo at 8x, the circle and inner 6 mils are lit.
Now you would think that given the illumination never gets bright enough for daytime use it probably has a great night vision setting. I do not believe this is the case though. The illumination has 4 brightness settings that are cycled though using the one button and all are visible indoor under normal lighting. Most of the nightvision settings I have observed in optics are not. For this reason I expect the March illumination is ironically probably a bit to bright for optimal nightvison system use. What you are left with is a system that is really only useful for low light use without a nightvision system. You are also left with only 3 mils illuminated in each direction for drop and wind holds or ranging. It just isn’t an illumination system that is really very good at anything.
Speed Testing and discussion of contributing factors:
Over the course of the last couple of reviews I have had the opportunity to evaluate, in cooperation with eight or nine different testers, some 14 different optics, with a 1x setting, engaging close quarters targets. For this I use an air-soft AR and pie pans. I’m not made of money. It’s a lot of fun and you can go though thousands of rounds for the cost of fast food dinner. What I have found after doing all of this testing is that what counts for close quarters is not exactly what you would expect. Here is my summary of the major factors and what part they play:
1) The optical design: Having a distortion free, flat, field of view at 1x is, by far, the most important factor to speed. Pincushion distortion, barrel distortion, or curvature to field throws off your ability to merge the data coming in from your left and right eye into a single image. The result is slow, and a little disorienting. This disorienting effect is not noticeable when you are focused on a stationary target but as you move across the field of fire, having the objects viewed through the optic bend as the field of view moves across them is very hard to deal with. At 1x the March does pretty well with regards to flatness of field of view. It is not perfect, but it is not problematic either.
2) The reticle: The reticle is a little more subjective. Not every tester has always agreed. However, in general, an open field of view, with a few thick objects in just the center is the desired. Crosshairs are generally disliked. The testers were split on the arrow shaped March crosshairs at 1x. A few shooters liked the feel and a few thought the thick elements were distracting. I’ll admit to being in the latter camp. I did not find the reticle a fast design.
3) The illumination: It may come as a surprise given optics makers quest for daytime bright illumination but it comes in a bit down the list. To be sure, having a daytime bright dot can eclipse reticle design in importance to speed if the reticle is thin and therefore not distracting but it will not make up for a bulky distracting reticle. Reticle design and illumination can be seen as working together to determine speed but, in my experience, the reticle is the bigger part of this pair. During the speed testing we used the March without illumination, or maybe it was with illumination, you never can tell. Illumination did not add to it’s speed.
4) Eyebox: It should come as no surprise that having more freedom of motion while still getting a picture is good for speed. What I have found though is that, within reason, this factor plays less a part than you might think. It is true a tiny eyebox can make an optic slow but most scopes have enough leeway that it is not a big factor. The March has one of the smaller eyeboxes in this test group. This was mentioned by at least one tester. When compared to March 1-10x I have previously tested it is still quite generous though. Improvement has been made, and March is no longer an outlier, but it is not the class leader either.
All told the March-F 1-8x24mm was not one of the faster scopes in the test group. It landed somewhere in the bottom third depending on the shooters relative like or dislike of the reticle and sensitivity to eyebox size. I think the best way to look that the March 1x speed results is to remember that it is a long range scope that can be used up close not close range scope stretched to extended distances. As you will see by the conclusion of this review, this is the best long range scope in the test. It is not the best close quarters one.
Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion:
This optic is equipped with 10 mil per turn, .1 mil per click, non-locking, uncapped turrets that are quite low profile compared to most competing designs. The Windage turret is labeled up to 5L and 5R from 0 and features no stop. The elevation turret features a unique zero stop that is engaged by turning a coin in the slot in the middle of the turret until it stops. Therefore, you can run the turret in either zero stop or no zero stop mode. It is a very easy feature to set or engage, easier than setting the zero itself. This involves three tiny set screws and is performed the same way on the windage and elevation turret. This is a common method, though I don’t expect I will ever find it elegant. The feel of both turrets is excellent both in regards to force required to turn and the feel of the clicks. I will also mention here that the March-F 1-8x24mm has a side mounted parallax adjustment integrated with the illumination. It focuses from 10meters out and March is the only scope tested to have this feature that is nearly ubiquitous in long range optics and virtually unheard of in close quarters optics.
For the adjustment testing of the March as well as the other scopes being reviewed this year I made up a new target shown below. I spend a good deal of time shooting at my local 100 yard range with scopes that are adjusted in mils. It annoyed me that I could not find a target made on a mils at 100 yards grid. I therefore made one and furthermore, made it have 6 bulls so that I can shoot a box and power change test on the same target. The grid on the pictured target is .1mil at 100 yards. I will make the PDF of this target available just as soon as I can figure out a way to get the CAD program to make a PDF of the correct size. It seems to be able to print out the correct size but the PDF is not right. I will have to use some printer plug in.
A box test checks for the accuracy in magnitude, and independence in direction, of the adjustments. To perform this test, the shooter aims at the same place when firing all shots, but moves the adjustments between groups such that a box is formed by the groups fired with the last group landing back atop the first. This box should be square and the corners (i.e. the groups) should be the correct distance from each other as dictated by the scale of the scopes adjustments. As performed on this target, all of the groups should have the same position relative to the exes. The March passed this test with no difficulty. This is not surprising given March’s reputation for flawless adjustments.
In a power change test the rifle is fired at two different targets with one being shot at maximum magnification and the other at minimum. The targets are then compared to make sure that the scope does not shift with regard to point of aim when the power is changed. Some shift will be expected with a second focal plane scope but a front focal plane scope, such as this one, should exhibit no shift. The March exhibits no shift.
Summary and Conclusion:
There are really two ways to look at a 1-8x scope. You can view it as a close quarters scope that has some extra magnification, or as long range scope that can be up close in a pinch. Most makers have slanted their optical designs toward the former interpretation. March, by including a parallax focus, zero stop 10mil turrets, and a close to traditional mil hash reticle, has provided all the essentials of a long range optic. It’s shortcomings; lack of daytime visible illumination, smallish eyebox, and reticle lacking central attention grabbing features, only effect the secondary, close quarters, function of the optic. The areas that the March excels in; parallax focus, clarity, and adjustments are of paramount importance to its primary, long range function. Add to that, the relative light weight of this optic, at 19.5oz, and small size, at 30mm and 10.16″ long, and you have a compelling package. March, once a niche product of the benchrest community, is beginning to produce products with appeal to a variety of more practically focused disciplines. This 1-8x scope is light years ahead of the former 1-10x and represents the best 1-8x available for long range shooting.
Here is your Pro and Con Breakdown:
- Side focus 10m on out parallax
- Excellent clarity
- Excellent adjustments in both feel and function
- Light weight at 19.5 oz
- Small at 10.16″ long and 30mm
- Excellent long range function
- Attractive appearance
- March has a good reputation for reliability
- Illumination is to dim for daytime visibility and lacks good nightvision settings
- That poor illumination costs you $620
- Eyebox is smaller than most similar optics
- Has aggravating American style diopter
- Slower for close quarters than many similar optics
- Short, 5 year, warranty period