The Vortex Razor HD spotting scope proves it’s sharp enough to run with the big dogs.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the decades as a hunter and shooter, it’s that big, open country demands high-quality glass. When you spend dozens of hours each year picking the right hunting unit, putting in for points, stretching the maximum effective range of your rifle at the range and glassing high-altitude ranges for that trophy animal, poorly made optics are simply an unacceptable strain—and a waste of time.
I’ve done my time afield with cheaply made binoculars and bargain-basement spotting scopes, and I’ve also had the opportunity to tour the wild backcountry with some of Europe’s finest optics. The great tension, of course, is that we’d all like to own the Bugatti of glass, but many of us simply can’t afford to drop four or five grand on a spotting scope. If you’re facing that dilemma, one of the best solutions comes from Vortex Optics.
One of its best new spotting scopes is the Razor HD 20-60x85mm, which features premium high density (HD), extra-low dispersion glass that is precision crafted to produce outstanding clarity, resolution and color fidelity. The Razor HD carries a very reasonable MSRP of $2,000 (which means you can find it on the street for quite a bit less) and has the optical horsepower to hang with the big dogs. Ruggedly built to stand up to the worst elements, the Razor HD is also backed by the famous Vortex lifetime warranty—unlimited, fully transferrable, no receipt needed—which makes it an extremely tantalizing option for the serious hunter or shooter.
The Vortex Razor HD comes in a few different setups and represents the top-of-the-line for Vortex spotters. The scope comes with the option for either straight or angled eyepieces and is available in variants of 11-33x50mm, 16-48x65mm, and 20-60x85mm (reviewed here). Magnification is obviously one thing to consider when choosing which scope you’ll invest in, but weight is the other. The 85mm version weighs 4.1 pounds, which isn’t a big deal if you’re scouting by vehicle, but it gets bulky if you’re packing that sucker on your back. On the other hand, I prefer the 85mm for Western hunting and the many times I’m watching elk at 1,200 yards or more. The 85mm also allows you to make out bullet holes in paper at considerable distances, certainly at 100 yards.
The Razor HD features a Porro prism design that provides excellent optical capabilities without sending the price to the moon. Invented by Ignazio Porro around 1850, this particular prism design, recognizable by the dog-leg design of the tubes, incorporates at least one triangular prism that transmits light and turns an upside down image right side up for the viewer. Porro prism optics generally offer a robust, sharp viewing experience for less cost than roof prism designs, which are characterized by straight, long tubes and a more compact design. Roof prism technology has come a long way over the decades and prices have fallen as a result, but binoculars and spotting scopes of this make are still generally more spendy because they require greater precision in manufacturing. In terms of quality, both styles offer premium-quality optical performance, all other things being equal.
The Razor HD also features a built-in sunshade that extends out roughly 43 millimeters. A permanent tripod mount with standard-sized mounting screw is attached to a band around the middle of the scope, while a small knob allows you to rotate the body of the scope in its base. The scope comes with a zippable carrying case that helps keep it from getting dinged in the truck or a pack.
Like most spotting scopes, the Vortex Razor HD comes with the option of a straight or angled eyepiece. Neither option is necessarily superior, but each offers a different set of benefits and more or less comes down to preference. The straight eyepiece (reviewed here) is ideal for use from a truck window and works well from the seated or standing position from a tripod, though you’re in for some serious neck strain if you’re looking upward at a steep angle, as you would be for sheep and goat hunting. Some people also feel the straight eyepiece makes it easier and quicker to acquire a target. The downside is that you have to raise your tripod higher, especially when standing, which makes it more susceptible to shaking in the wind and is less desirable for keeping a low profile when stalking animals. The angled eyepiece is great for tripod viewing and steep angles and allows you to keep a shorter profile with the tripod, but would be difficult to use from a car window. Since I do most of my viewing from a tripod in the field, I lean toward an angled eyepiece.
I put the Vortex Razor HD to the test this spring in Colorado during what has been a particularly wet year. It’s also a time of year when temperatures and weather change rapidly, so it’s t-shirts and sunshine one moment and jackets and snow the next. The Razor HD performed exceptionally well in all those conditions, and I never had a problem with fogging up or fading out in sunshine, heavy fog or cloud cover. The Razor HD is argon-gas-purged to prevent fogging in a wide range of temperatures, and that feature certainly came in handy. The XRPlus Multi-Coated lenses provide premium light transmission, anti-reflection and improve use in midday sunlight.
Light transmission was impressive, and I often found myself with elk in clear view at full magnification well after sunset. For comparison’s sake, I pulled out a $5,000 European spotting scope for late evening glassing and found, not surprisingly, that the big difference in optical capability comes at low light. The European optic was a clear winner in clarity and light transmission, but not by as much as the price disparity would indicate. For $3,000 less, the Razor HD still handled low light incredibly well and produced sharp picture clarity out to 1,000 yards.
The Vortex Razor HD offers an incredible amount of bang for your buck, pairing premium quality glass and scope construction with a very reasonable price point. The scope is a homerun for Vortex, which continues to bring superb optical quality down to the range of the workingman’s budget. After reviewing the scope in all weather and light conditions in the vast spaces of the Rocky Mountains, there was nothing the Razor HD couldn’t handle. It’s backed by the legendary Vortex lifetime warranty, which as I’ve personally experienced is as good as advertised. At four pounds it’s not exactly lightweight, but that’s very typical of even the high-end 85mm scopes. If you’ve been holding on to that old clunker of a spotting scope for too long or have simply gone without because the price tag has always been too great, the Razor HD is your excuse to make one of the best purchases yet. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
Vortex Razor HD 20-60x85mm
Objective Lens Diameter: 85mm
Glass: Premium High Density (HD), extra-low dispersion
Construction: Porro Prism
Body Type: Straight
Focus: Dual focus ring
Eye Relief: 20mm
Length: 15.8 in.
Weight: 65.7 oz. (4.1 lbs.)
Manufacturer: Vortex Optics
Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from the Summer 2016 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.