Leupold vs Vortex: Who Makes the Better Scope?

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When discussing U.S.-based riflescope brands, the two most well-known brands are (arguably) Leupold and Vortex. Both brands offer a variety of models to suit different rifles, budgets, and shooting needs.

Given the popularity of both brands, it only makes sense that prospective scope buyers have a number of questions about each brand. A common request that I’m asked at my day job (and online) is to compare Leupold vs Vortex against one another at the brand level.

Leupold vs Vortex

Vortex Scopes vs Leupold Scopes

When comparing two different riflescope brands or makers, it’s essential to focus on comparing features or aspects that seem to be the more critical topics for comparison. The topics that I usually focus on with these types of comparisons are the following:

  • Comparison of Scope Offerings
  • Comparison of Optical Quality
  • Reticle Options
  • Warranty Programs
  • Country of Manufacture
  • Costs

Let’s dive deeper into each topic.

Comparison of Scope Offerings

When you start trying to compare riflescope brand to riflescope brand, I’ve always thought the fairest way was to loosely break the scopes offered by each brand into broad categories as some scope brands have a huge product offering while other brands may have a much smaller product offering. I tend to use the following categories:

  • Entry Level
  • Mid-Range
  • Upper Mid-Range
  • Top End

Let’s look at comparing both brands within each category:

Entry Level Scopes (Up to $500)

Both Leupold and Vortex match up well in this category, offering several entry-level scope models or families. Typically, for the entry-level scope classification, I use riflescopes with a price range up to $350. However, since Leupold has some models in one of their entry-level series that goes all the way up to $499, I increased the top end price point for this category up to the $500 mark.

With Vortex, using the $500 MSRP limit, their entry-level lines are the Sonora, Copperhead, Crossfire II, Diamondback, and Diamondback Tactical models.

For the longest time, Leupold’s entry-level series was the Rifleman and VX-1 series of riflescopes. However, Leupold has phased both of those series out, and their new entry-level scope series are the FX fixed power models and the VX-Freedom series. Some Leupold fans could argue that the VX-3i series was also an “entry-level” series for Leupold, but this series was phased out at the end of 2020, so it’s kind of a moot point.

Combined, the Vortex Sonora, Copperhead, Crossfire II, Diamondback, and Diamondback Tactical models feature 40 different scope models, while the Leupold FX and VX-Freedom series feature 27 models. In terms of the number of riflescopes offered in the sub $500 price level, Vortex has the clear edge.

Optically, I’d say that the entry-level Leupold glass range is slightly better than the entry-level Vortex glass. The entry-level Leupold rifle scopes also seem to offer less critical and better eye relief compared to Vortex.

The power ranges between the two brands in the entry-level category are basically the same. Hence, no fundamental differences there other than Vortex offers s few power ranges (like a 3-12) that are not found in the Leupold line.

Another area where Leupold offers an advantage in the entry-level optics is their Custom Dial System (CDS). Several of Leupold’s entry-level scopes come with this CDS dial platform that includes one free CDS dial. This CDS design is a really neat system that is an optional custom bullet drop compensation platform.

The final area where these two brands significantly in the entry-level or budget-oriented scopes is the pricing. The highest MSRP price you’ll see with the Vortex in the entry-level stuff is $370, while the highest MSRP price you’ll see in the Leupold entry-level optics is $500. And you’ll pretty much see that trend throughout this comparison as the Leupold optics tend to run at least $100-150 more (or higher) than it’s equal (or near-equal in the Vortex line).

Mid-Range Scopes ($500 – $1000)

For many riflescope brands, the mid-range scopes are the most competitive segment of the scope optics industry because it’s the industry’s fastest-growing segment. Usually, I consider mid-range scopes to be priced somewhere in the $400 to $900 range, but since Leupold has some entry-level models that top $500, I’ve adjusted the mid-range price point to $500 to $1000.

Within the Vortex line, the mid-range optics in the $500 – $1000 range include the following scope series:

  • Strike Eagle
  • Venom (which is a new 2021 series)
  • Vortex Viper (which is only available in a second focal plane)
  • Viper HS
  • Viper HSLR (although the FFP model in this series exceeds the $1000 MSRP criteria)
  • Viper HST

Within the Leupold line of riflescopes, the mid-range models in the $500 to $1000 MSRP range are the following:

  • Mark 3HD
  • VX-3HD
  • VX-5HD (this series has some models that are right on the upper end of the $1000 limit and some models that exceed $1000)
Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x40 Scope
Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14×40

Vortex has a total of 22 scope models in the mid-range price points, while Leupold offers 32 scope models that fall into the $500 to $1000 price point. In this range of pricing, Leupold features a broader range of scope options.

Optically speaking, I think the two brands are relatively comparable in this price point as the Vortex models in this range have better glass than what is seen in their entry-level scopes.

The power ranges between the two brands is relatively even as well, except that Leupold seems to offer more options in this cost bracket that are in the lower power ranges (like 2-10, 3-15, etc.) as they seemed more focused on the hunting side of the market within this price point. Vortex seems to focus more on the higher magnification scopes more geared towards long-range shooting within this price point.

Like the entry-level scopes comparison, many of the Leupold scope models in the mid-range category also offer the Leupold C.D.S. system. Vortex does not currently offer a system like this, although they partner with Kenton Turrets for custom-made aftermarket turrets that function like the CDS system.

In terms of costs within this category, you’ll also find that the Leupold scopes tend to cost more, and many are right at the top of the $1000 MSRP line.

Upper Mid-Range Scopes ($1000 – $1500)

The upper mid-range category is for riflescopes with an MSRP between $1000 and $1500. Like the mid-range category, the upper mid-range category is also highly competitive. However, at this price point, the number of brands competing in the space begins to drop.

Leupold Scope vs Vortex Scope

With the Vortex scope line, the upper mid-range models in the $1000 – $1500 price points include the following scope series:

  • Viper HSLR (within this line, only the 6-24×50 FFP model falls into this category)
  • PST Gen II (except for the 1-6×24 model, all the PST scopes fall into this category)
  • Razor HD LHT
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Switching over the Leupold scope line, the upper mid-range models in the $1000 to $1500 MSRP range are the following:

  • VX-5HD (about half of the scopes in this series have an MSRP that exceeds $1000 and are in this category)
  • VX-6HD (within the VX-6HD scopes, only the 1-6×24 and the 2-12×42 are in this category. The remaining scopes in this series all fall into the next category up)

Within this range of price points (at the time of this writing), Vortex offers a total of 18 scope models in the upper mid-range price points, while Leupold offers 12 scope models that fall into the $1000 to $1500 price point. In this price range, Vortex offers a wider range of scope choices.

You start to see some excellent, high-end glass between both brands at these price points. Having looked through an example of pretty much all the optic models in this category, I’d give a slight edge in optical quality to Leupold across the board. However, you really can’t go wrong with either brand in this category.

Much like we saw with the mid-range category, the power ranges offered by each brand are pretty even across the board, although Leupold again seems to provide more lower-powered options geared towards hunting. The Vortex offering in this price range seems more geared towards long-range shooting or tactical precision shooting.

The Leupold CDS system still applies in this category as well and could be considered as a positive point in Leupold’s favor since nearly every Leupold scope in this price range comes with one free CDS dial included.

In previous categories, the Leupold scopes came in at a slightly higher price point through the categories, but that levels out in this category as both brands are similarly priced across the board.

Top End Scopes ($1500 and up)

While I technically could probably utilize another category to cover the $1500 – $2000 range, there won’t be many models included in the category. Because of that, it made sense just to create a top-level category that includes every scope from each brand with an MSRP cost that exceeds $1500.

The scope models from each brand in this category will be included in the upper-level echelon of US-based riflescope models and will compete with some higher-end European-based optical models.

Most of the scopes in this price range will be geared towards long-range hunting, long-range shooting, and precision-based tactical shooting.

In the Vortex Optics line of scopes, the top-end models in the +$1500 price range include the following riflescopes:

  • Golden Eagle HD
  • Razor HD
  • Razor HD Gen-II E
  • Razor HD Gen II
  • Razor HD Gen III
  • Razor HD AMG

As you can see, most of the Vortex optics at this price point are in the Vortex Razor family of optics. In the Leupold scope line, the top-end models in this price range are these:

  • VX-5HD (A select few of the very top end scopes in the VX-5HD family will fit into this category)
  • VX-6HD (All the VX-6HD models except for the 1-6×24 and 2-12×42 models fit into this category)
  • Mark 6
  • Mark 8

When this post was written, Vortex offered 16 scope models in the top end category, while Leupold offered 38 scope models with an MSRP of $1500 or more. In this price range, Leupold offers a much broader series of riflescope options. Leupold also offers the most expensive scope between the two brands with an MSRP of $4700 compared to Vortex’s most expensive model with an MSRP of $3700.

Chances are, you won’t be disappointed at most any scope in this price range.

Comparison of Optical Quality

Optical quality is kind of a catch-all term used to describe the brightness, clarity, and color of the image through a scope.

Optical quality is also somewhat hard to quantify as its entirely based on one’s perceptions and opinions, so there’s plenty of room for debate on this topic.

I briefly touched on it before, but overall, I’d give Leupold the edge in optical quality across the board. However, that edge comes at the price of the increased or higher costs typically associated with Leupold.

Now that doesn’t mean that every single Leupold scope has brighter, more clear glass than every single Vortex scope. It means that looking at each brand as a whole; my opinion is Leupold has slightly better glass.

Is Leupold Better than Vortex

I very much like Vortex as a brand and own a few Vortex scopes personally, but that does not change my opinion that Leupold has marginally better glass when comparing brand to brand. To me, the difference is more noticeable in the entry-level category more than any other category I discussed above.

Vortex Optics fans will most likely push back on that opinion saying that Vortex is a better buy and offers a better value. I won’t dispute that; in some cases, buying a Vortex scope gets more value for the money. However, that is not always the case.

Now, does that mean that I always recommend buying a Leupold scope over a Vortex scope? No, it does not. While the glass quality is undoubtedly important, it’s not the only factor to consider when shopping for a riflescope.

Reticle Options

Both of these scope brands offer a significant number of diverse and functional scope reticle options. If you can’t find a reticle choice that meets your needs between the Vortex and Leupold, then the reticle you want may not exist yet.

Also, if you are not familiar with Leupold’s history, they invented the “duplex” reticle design in the early 1960s, so they know a thing or two about reticle designs.

If you looked at just the total number of reticle choices offered within each scope brand, Leupold wins that battle as they provide far more reticle variants than Vortex.

In the lower magnification ranges, Vortex predominantly uses their Dead-Hold BDC and V-Plex reticles. Leupold offers several reticle options with the lower magnification ranges, but their Duplex and Tri-MOA reticles are the most common and most popular.

Leupold features two different “sets” of reticle options in this range with the mid-range power magnification. One series of reticle options focuses on hunting (with their Duplex reticle being the focal point), while the other begins to focus on longer-range shooting. Vortex somewhat follows the same plan except that they have a smaller number of reticle options, and their choices in this power range are more geared towards long-distance shooting.

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As we move up into the higher magnification ranges, the Vortex reticle options move away from hunting applications and focus extensively on long-range shooting. Examples of this style of reticle are the Vortex EBR-4 and EBR-7 reticles.

With Leupold’s higher power scope models, they continue to offer reticles that are geared towards hunting but predominantly focus on long-range shooting reticle options like the H59, Tremor 2, and Tremor 3 reticles.

Like I said before, I’d be shocked if you cannot find a reticle option that works for you in either of these riflescope brands.

Warranty Programs

I’ve always found scope warranty programs to be an interesting topic of discussion. My experience has been that “most” people are not concerned about the warranty program until the costs of the scope hit a specific price point. I typically see customers start asking questions about warranty around the $350 to $400 price and up.

Personally, I put quite a bit of stock in a warranty program for two reasons:

  1. I tend to keep scopes I like for long periods of time.
  2. I’m not the most graceful guy. If there’s some way to fall down, over, or up something, I’m your guy. As such, I end up engaging a scope’s warranty more than the average person.

Now, let’s get into looking at the warranty program for these two brands:

Leupold Warranty

I’ve been working in the outdoor/hunting equipment field for over 20 years now. During that time, I’ve used the Leupold personally and on behalf of customers more times than I care to count. Simply put, Leupold has one of the best (and many would argue the “best”) warranty program in the sports optics market.

The Leupold warranty program is easy to understand; it’s a lifetime guarantee on the product. They don’t require proof of ownership or register the product to be warranty eligible. They don’t care if you’re the original owner or the 15th owner; they will either repair or replace it free of charge.

My experience with their warranty program has never been anything but excellent. Yes, you have to pay the shipping costs to return the item to them, but they pay the shipping costs to return it to you.

One caveat about their warranty program (and most all warranty programs) is that they do not cover the optic or item if you’ve made any alterations or modifications. To be clear, painting your scope or having it cerakoted (or Durakoted) constitutes an alteration and voids the warranty. I know this because I had a customer at my day job who made that mistake.

Vortex Warranty

Vortex offers what they call their VIP warranty, with VIP standing for Very Important Promise. Their warranty program is also outstanding and easily one of the top warranty programs in the sports optics business. And many Vortex fans would argue that the Vortex warranty is the best warranty in the riflescope industry.

The Vortex warranty is an unlimited lifetime warranty that is fully transferable and does not require any prior registration. Like Leupold, the Vortex warranty does not require proof of purchase, a warranty card, or a receipt. Vortex will repair or replace the item at no charge for the life of the product.

I’ve also had the occasion to engage the Vortex warranty personally and for customers at my day job, and it’s always been a very smooth and hassle-free process.

Which brand has the Better Warranty?

Rarely do I say this in the optics industry, but I think it’s a tie in the warranty category.

Both of these brands have, what I would consider to be, the best warranty programs in the business.

Now, that’s not a knock against any other scope brand, but most of their competitors have “small print” warranty rules and regulations that are just a hassle.

Country of Manufacture

For most consumers, where a product is made is essential. The country of origin for a product plays a role in supporting US-based business and in relation to the product quality.

Given the number of times that I’ve been asked, “is this scope made in America?” the country manufacture matters in the riflescope market as well.

Let’s look at where each of these optics manufacturers is produced:

Vortex Optics

While Vortex is a US-based company out of Wisconsin, most of its riflescopes are made in either China or the Philippines. Only Vortex’s top tier of scopes features glass from Japan that is assembled at the Vortex facility in WI.

Despite sourcing about 90% of their products overseas, Vortex has done exceptionally well in the US market. Their warranty that was discussed above has most certainly played a role in that success.

Leupold

The Leupold & Stevens company (which is more commonly known as a Leupold) is the oldest US-based sports optics company in the United States.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty details about where Leupold’s scope are made, I’m going to get off into the weeds about a topic called Country of Origin.

Leupold Riflescope

The Federal Trade Commission is the primary government agency responsible for making sure that goods made in the US and goods made outside the US are accurately labeled based on the country where the goods are manufactured. This label is commonly called the Country of Origin.

Suppose a product is manufactured from components from different countries. In that case, the country-of-origin label must be the country that sourced the majority or highest percentage of the product. So, if a product is assembled in the US, but 60% of the components come from China, then the country-of-origin label will be “Made in China.”

Let’s get back to the topic of where Leupold’s scopes are manufactured.

Like most rifle scope brands, Leupold does not produce their own glass or lenses. They outsource the production of optical glass from different sources in different locations. Leupold reps have indicated that the glass is sourced from US, Japan, and Europe locations.

Aside from the optical glass and few components, Leupold does all their machine work, assembly, testing, and packaging at their Beaverton OR facility (very much like Nightforce Optics does).

However, because the glass and some components are sourced from other countries, Leupold no longer marks its products as being “Made in the USA.” They have opted to replace the official country of origin label with a generic “USA – Designed – Machined – Assembled” designation. As their products are assembled in the US, it appears that they opted to remove the country of origin labeling entirely at some point.

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So, technically, speaking, Leupold is not 100% made in America from the perspective that 100% of the scope components come from the US. However, they are far closer to being “made in America” than most other US-based scope brands.

Now, the older made Leupold models are marked as being “Made in America,” but Leupold migrated away from this label around the 2007-2008 timeframe. At least, that’s the timeframe where I first started seeing the modified label. Scopes from that era were allowed to be marked as “Made in the USA” because the FTC guidelines at that time permitted that labeling.

So, if you were shopping for a new riflescope within the Vortex and Leupold brands and preferred to buy something that was “mostly” made in America, then Leupold is the clear choice between the two brands.

Riflescope Costs

I’ve already touched a little bit on the costs associated with each brand and how they loosely compare to each other.

To quickly reiterate, the Leupold brand tends to cost a bit more than the Vortex stuff when comparing comparable models. The Leupold gear can run $100 to $150 more than a similar Vortex on the low end. A Leupold scope can cost $400 to $500 more than a comparable Vortex model on the high end.

Please note that those cost differences are usually comparing MSRP to MSRP, so with real-world pricing (or what’s commonly called street pricing), the actual cost differences may be less. If you happen to catch a significant sale, then the costs may be closer to even.

But to be clear, just because the Leupold optics typically cost more than a comparable Vortex optic doesn’t necessarily mean that the Leupold is automatically the better choice, higher quality, etc. Those decisions are better made on a case-by-case basis, looking at all the scope features that are important to you.

Which is Better: Vortex or Leupold?

Answering that question is extremely difficult s the answer really depends on several factors like:

  • One’s budget
  • Desired features
  • Desired reticle
  • Desired magnification range, etc.

However, I would make the following broad recommendations:

  • If you were strictly shopping on costs, then I’d suggest looking closely at Vortex scopes.
  • If you wanted to buy an American-made scope or as close to American made as possible between these two brands, then the Leupold is your only option.
  • If you wanted a fixed power scope, then I’d suggest looking at Leupold as, between the two brands, they are the only one that offers any fixed power scopes.
  • If you wanted an illuminated reticle, both brands offer that type of reticle, but Leupold has far more illuminated reticle options than Vortex.
  • If the warranty is a significant purchasing point for you, then either brand would be an option.
  • If you were looking for a specialty scope or a scope designed for a specific purpose, then I’d look closely at each brand as both have a broad offering of application-specific riflescopes.

FAQS

Here are some frequently asked questions that I see regarding the Vortex vs Leupold debate:

What are your thoughts on the Leupold VX Freedom vs Vortex Diamondback scopes?

I’m familiar with both series and like both. The glass on the VX-Freedom scopes is better than the Diamondback scopes and has less critical eye relief. The Freedom scopes also come in a more extensive range of power magnification compared to the Diamondback scopes. In addition, many of the VX-Freedom scopes come with the Leupold CDS dial system, which may be a bonus.

However, the Diamondback scopes cost about $100 (and in some cases, depending on the specific VX-Freedom scope model, up to $150) less than the VX-Freedom scopes.

Which is better, the Vortex Dead-Hold BDC vs Leupold LRP reticle?

While the Vortex Dead-Hold BDC is a reticle, Leupold does not (or at least no longer offers) a reticle called the LRP. Leupold does offer a riflescope series called the LRP series, but each of those models comes with different reticle options, and none of those options are called the LRP reticle.

I think we’re talking an apples to oranges question.

Can you compare the Vortex vs. Leupold warranty?

I went into that in greater detail above under the Warranty section, and here’s a link to it.

Rather than repeat some or all of that information, I’ll just suggest that you follow the link above and check out the warranty section.

Is Vortex better than Leupold?

That’s another tricky question to answer because it’s just based on opinions.

Both brands have areas where they are strong and then other areas where they are not as strong.

Vortex optics tend to less expensive than Leupold and, in some cases, offers features at a lower price point.

Leupold costs more, but their optical quality seems a little better across the board, and they have a larger offering of scope models than Vortex.

Is Vortex a better brand than Leupold across the board? While both brands are the two most popular US-based optical brands, I wouldn’t say in a blanket statement that Vortex is “better” than Leupold.

What are the main differences between Leupold and Vortex?

Leupold and Vortex offer a wide range of products, including binoculars, rifle scopes, and other optics. One main difference is that Leupold has been in the industry for a longer time and is known for their durable and reliable scopes. Vortex, on the other hand, is known for their affordable and feature-packed scopes.

What are the main features to consider when comparing Leupold and Vortex scopes?

A: When comparing Leupold and Vortex scopes, it’s important to consider factors such as optical performance, durability, ease of use, warranty policies, and price. It’s recommended to do thorough research and read reviews from other users to make an informed decision.

Are Vortex scopes less durable than Leupold scopes?

I’m not sure that I’d say the Vortex optics are less durable than a Leupold optic. The durability of scopes can vary depending on the specific model, construction, and materials. While Leupold is known for their rugged and durable scopes, Vortex also offers scopes that are built to withstand tough conditions. I’d be more inclined to say that those two brands are neck and neck in terms of durability.

As I come across more questions or new information, I’ll update this page.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>