It’s not very often that a riflescope excites me, but Swarovski’s X5i really gets my heart beating quickly. For years, scope makers have experimented with packing all kinds of features into scopes that enhance them well beyond being simple tubes with magnification and a crosshair. For example, there are several reticle types that aid aiming at long range, compensate for wind and even help range target distances. Illuminated reticles help in low light, continue to get better, smarter and last longer, even as their power sources get smaller. Ever higher variable magnification, parallax adjustment, quick focus and turrets that you simply twist to compensate for target distance have all steadily progressed from clever but crude to practical and refined.
Swarovski’s X5i is the culmination of all those advances and refinements done right and packed into a reasonably sized device. “A lot of scopes have had those features in the past,” explains Swarovski’s Senior Media Relations Specialist, Rob Lancellotti, “but what none of them had in the equation was the awesome glass” he adds when discussing what makes the X5i stand out from the competition. These features are not “added” to an existing Swarovski scope to create the X5i; instead they’re fully integrated as an inherent part of an efficient, sleek design and done with the same quality, clarity and reliability that SCI Members have come to expect from Swarovski.
SCI recently received an X5i 3.5-18x50mm with BRM-I+ reticle for review. Like many reticles, this one was specifically developed for long range shots and is packed with features for the hunter who takes the time to learn how to use them. The reticle even comes with its own separate user manual that’s well worth the read to get the most out of your scope.
Features include hold-over and –under aiming points so you can quickly compensate for distance without any more effort than raising your rifle. The hold-under aiming points make it possible to zero the main crosshair for a longer distance, such as 300 yards, and still have precise aiming points for closer distances. With this arrangement, you also don’t leave any hold-over capability on the table by having to settle for a closer main zero range.
With the scope’s magnification at full 18x, the BRM reticle has 20 MOA worth of hold-overs and 6 MOA worth of hold–unders. There are also 20 MOA of windage correction to the left or right of center on the main crosshair. Increments are 2 MOA in value and, because the reticle is in the second focal plane, changing magnification changes the value of those increments. By simply going to Swarovski’s free online ballistic subtension program, shooters can select their specific load and find the range values for the entire magnification range resulting in a comprehensive, printable range table for any practical distance or wind condition.
If all that wasn’t enough, at the scope’s highest power setting the reticle also works as a range estimator if you know the size of the target using the formula: size of target in inches ÷ number of MOA that cover the target × 100 = distance in yards. For example, measuring various kudu shoulder mounts around the International Wildlife Museum indicates that on average, kudu are 25 inches from the bottom of their brisket to the top of their back. Using that number, if a kudu is covered by 8 MOA of increments with the scope on 18x, the animal is about 300 yards away (25÷8×100=313). Whitetail shoulder mounts around the museum average 18 inches from brisket to back, so a whitetail similarly covered by 8 MOA would be approximately 225 yards away (18÷8×100=225).
Since game is most active at dawn and dusk, the BRM-I+ reticle is illuminated, and not just at it’s middle, but the whole thing making the entire grid useable in low light. Like most illuminated reticles, the BRM-I+ has multiple push-button brightness settings, 10 specifically, but also has a built in memory so that after you turn it off, it comes on at the last used setting. That’s helpful because the reticle also has a three-hour automatic shut off so you don’t kill the commonly available CR 2032 battery. Battery run time is 260 hours.
Mechanically, the turrets are amazing—particularly the elevation one. Usually when you zero a scope, you simply remove the turret caps and turn the turrets in or out to zero the scope and then replace the caps. It’s more complicated with the Z5i as it takes special tools (provided) and you’ll want to bring the owner’s manual to the range with you, but if you can follow the instructions and zero this scope correctly, its abilities are amazing. If you’re not so good at following written instructions, Swarovski has a short instructional video on its website you should watch.
Essentially what you’re doing when sighting in this scope is setting the elevation turret to a sighted-in zero stop setting, meaning you’re elevation is zeroed when the elevation knob is turned all the way clockwise until it stops. If you follow the sight-in instructions, your elevation turret will read “0+0” when sighted in. You now have 20 MOA of elevation adjustment per revolution of the turret, and a counter window that shows you how many revolutions you’ve made up to three.
An example of how to use this is if you’re shooting Hornady’s factory 180-grain InterBond .300 Win. Mag. load and have the main crosshair zeroed for 300 yards. You see an elk you want to harvest at 600 yards, but can’t get any closer. At that distance, the bullet will drop a tad more than 48 inches from your point of aim.
According to the Swarovski online program, to hit at 600 yards with that load you simply rotate the elevation turret until it reads 0+7.75 and use your main crosshair for aiming. The turret mechanically adjusts for the bullet drop. After the shot, you return the turret back to zero and your scope is back to it’s original sight-in. It will not go past.
The windage turret is not nearly as complicated because a stop would make no sense as wind can come from either direction. Instead, you sight in with your windage turret as usual, then loosen the grub screws on the turret cover, set it to zero and retighten.
As Lancellotti points out, this mechanical ability is nothing new—shooters have been twisting turrets to compensate for distance ever since someone was bright enough to put marks on turrets. The zero stop is a relatively recent refinement, as is the turret rotation counter, but to ensure long-term consistency and repeatability when using turrets and such a broad power adjustment range, Swarovski has completely redesigned the inside of the X5i.
“A basic scope like you and I grew up with has a leaf spring in it,” says Lancellotti when describing the new design. As you adjust the power of a variable-power scope, the erector tube inside moves forward and back. It’s positioned by pressure from the turrets against the pressure of the leaf spring. “It’s pretty reliable,” says Lancellotti, “but not with constant cranking up and down… It’s a good design, but it’s dated and has its limitations, especially when you’re talking about the [power] adjustment range [of the X5i] and the travel distance that erector tube has inside the scope. It’s asking a bit much of a leaf spring.”
Instead of the leaf spring, the X5i uses a coil spring with lever arrangement that keeps consistent pressure on the erector tube no matter which position it's in. Lancellotti calls “more robust, repeatable and longer lasting.” It better and more firmly supports the erector tube while allowing for a huge range of adjustment without spring fatigue.
To try the repeatability of the X5i, we mounted it on a Barrett 98B chambered in .300 Win. Mag. and zeroed the scope at 100 yards according to the instruction manual. After zeroing the rifle, we set the elevation knob at 0+4.5, aimed at the bullseye and fired our next shot, which hit 4.5 MOA high as expected. We continued running the windage and elevation turrets 4.5 MOA and firing a shot in a clockwise fashion until we had formed a square to the upper right of the bullseye, then reversed the adjustments and shot to form a similar square to the upper left of the bullseye. After that, we turned the scope’s power down to 3.5x, then back up to 18x and repeated the shooting and adjusting in reverse order. The second series of shots perfectly superimposed on the first ones, indicating that within the limitations of our range session and the recoil of a .300 Win. Mag., the X5i retained its consistency and repeatability.
“Hunting has taken on a whole new form as far as longer range shooting,” says Lancellotti--and he’s right. It wasn’t that long ago when hunters typically shot sporterized Mausers or lever-action .30-30s using a Weaver K4 if not iron sights. Ethical ranges were limited by the capability of equipment. Ammunition choices were also limited, as was ballistic knowledge.
Today, there are practically no equipment limitations, and ballistic resources are only a mouse click away. There are also a higher number of shooters engaging targets at long distance, and that’s naturally spilling over into hunting because it’s the new normal for them to shoot and practice at longer range. With an accurate, powerful and flat-shooting rifle, combined with the X5i, its 3.5-18X magnification range and long range aiming capabilities, you can pretty much hunt anything, anywhere in the world.--Scott Mayer
- Magnification: 3.5-18x
- Objective lens diameter: 50mm
- Exit pupil diameter (mm): 9.5-2.8
- Eye relief: 95mm
- Field of view (ft/100 yds): 30-6.3
- Dioptric compensation (dpt): -3 to +2
- Light transmission: 91 percent
- Twilight factor: 11-30
- Click adjustment: 1/4 MOA
- Max. elevation/windage adjustment range: 116/67 MOA
- Length: 14.4 inches
- Weight: 28.6 ounces
- Diameter: 30mm
- Submersion tightness: 13 feet
- MSRP: $3666