Nikon has been in the optics market for a long time, and is best known for their camera and non-hunting optics business. However over the last decade, Nikon has been progressively making a push into the hunting and sporting optics market. Today, Nikon manufactures a variety of binoculars, spotting scopes, rangefinders, and rifle scopes specifically for the hunting market. Chances are good that you or a hunter you know has tried out one of Nikon's products. For this review we are going to take a look at the Monarch series of rifle scopes.
If you are new to the Nikon lineup of rifle scopes it can be a bit bewildering to figure out their product lineup. Nikon's rifle scopes are loosely broken into three lines: ProStaff, Buckmasters, and Monarch. ProStaffs are Nikon's entry level scopes, they cost the least and perhaps offer the most bang for the buck. Buckmasters are a step up with improved light transmission and larger selection of objective sizes and magnifications. Monarch rifle scopes are the pinnacle of Nikon's lineup with the best light transmission and a variety of features.
Unfortunately the Monarch group of scopes is further subdivided into several different lines. For purposes of this review we are only covering the standard Monarch line. Nikon also offers the Monarch Gold which have 30mm main tubes, the Monarch African which are offered in low power lightweight designs. Finally there is the "X" series which is more of a tactical configuration with optional mil-dot reticles and various external turret configurations.
The Monarch lineup of scopes offers a standard one inch main tube and 4x magnification range. Nikon offers the starting power in no less than 7 starting points (2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8) which gives the following magnification ranges and objective sizes: 2-8x32, 2.5-10x42, 3-12x42, 4-16x42, 4-16x50, 5-20x44, 6-24x50, and 8-32x50. Throw in various finishes and reticle configurations and the standard Monarch line comes out to twenty-four different cataloged scopes.
For this review we will examine in more detail the 8-32x50ED SF scope with BDC (bullet drop compensation) reticle, which is Nikon product #8480. This scope is at the top of Nikon's Monarch series and has a list price of $980, but the typical street price is around $700.
All Monarch scopes offer what they call "Eye Box Technology", which is 4x times power magnification and a constant four inches of eye relief. Eye relief is the distance from the eye piece to your eye. The farther your eye is from the scope the less likely you are to smash your eyebrow against the ocular piece under recoil. Longer eye relief is usually more comfortable on the eye as well.
In our testing the four inches was about right at 32 power, but at 8 power the eye relief was closer to an impressive five inches of eye relief. So while it wasn't constant it was nice to have at least 4 inches at the high power. Nikon has done a good job of keeping the eye relief relatively constant, since on some other 8-32 variable powers it is not unusual to have 2-3 inches or more of variation.
Optically this scope was especially bright and clear for the power and objective size. Our review Monarch is the only scope in the Monarch lineup, that comes with special "ED" glass. ED stands for Extra-Low Dispersion and is a technology that Nikon has been using on their telephoto camera lens for a few decades. ED is unlikely to be of much benefit on lower powers; however it did seem to improve the clarity on high power (20x or greater) settings.
The 8-32x50mm is the only scope in the Monarch lineup to wear the ED badge.
To improve the brightness of the scope, Nikon uses what they call "Ultra ClearCoat", the upshot being that it boosts light transmission to 95% which is about 5% above their baseline Prostaff scopes.
Some Monarch models offer a parallax adjustment on the side. These models are designated with an SF in the model name. The side focus works like most other scopes, except our test model had a locking feature. Pull the ring away from the scope ring to free it, rotate, and then push in to lock.
The side focus, showing the locking feature. Turrets are in 1/8 of MOA clicks.
The windage and elevation turrets move in 1/8 of a MOA movements and have an audible click. 1/8 of a MOA is nice for precise tuning at longer distances. However for long distances, it will take many more clicks to get to a desired elevation adjustment over a 1/4 or 1/2 MOA adjustment. It's also worth noting that our test scope only has 20 MOA of internal adjustment, which will be fine for most applications but may become an issue for long range shots that require more internal adjustment.
Our test model came equipped with Nikon's BDC reticle.
All Monarch scopes can be configured with BDC reticles. Nikon's BDC reticle was introduced in 2006 and is a simple way of figuring out hold over for most hunting cartridges. The BDC reticle has a series of four circles on the lower portion of the vertical axis of the reticle. For standard cartridges (ie.those with muzzle velocities of around 2800 fps) the circles correspond to 200, 300, 400, and 500 yard holdovers. For magnum cartridges (ie. those with muzzle velocities of around 3000 fps) the circles correspond to 300, 400, 500, and 600 yard holdovers. For a nice onine interactive demo visit Nikon's BDC webpage .
Diagram of Nikon's BDC recticle.
If you're looking for a simple BDC system you will most likely find value in Nikon's BDC implementation. However if you're looking for more precision, consider the Zeiss Rapid-Z reticle  we reviewed previously.
Our test scope also came with a couple of nice added bonuses. Nikon included a sunshade, front and rear flip-up lens cap covers, and two extra sets of target turrets. These are all available as after market accessories; however it was nice to see Nikon offer them in the box with their top of the line scope.
Our test model came with scope cap covers. The overall
scope length comes in at almost seventeen inches.
In conclusion there is a lot to like about the Nikon Monarch series of scopes. Reasonable prices, bright and clear glass, and wide magnification range. Some of the higher end models offer even better glass and enhanced features like locking side focus ring. Nikon also offers a full lifetime warranty for their Monarch scopes.
On the downside this probably isn't the best scope for big game hunting, especially at higher power. The 32 power magnification is almost like having a small spotting scope on your rifle, however it can really only be shot from the bipod or from a very steady rest. At the lower power settings (10 power or less) it is easier to manage. Furthermore, our test scope only has about 20 MOA of internal adjustment while, for example, a Leupold VX-3 8.5x25x50mm LR Target has 94 MOA of internal adjustment (although the Leupold would cost nearly $300 more). The smaller range of internal adjustment limits some of the scope's long range applications. Most hunters will not notice the difference though.
For more information on Nikon's Rifle Scopes visit: www.nikonhunting.com/riflescopes.html .