In January, March announced a whole clutch of new scope models, and one model caught my eye straight away, the 10-60×56 High Master (aka the HM). I’d bought my 10-60×52 7 years ago, and I was keen to see what the differences between the models may be. A quick email off to Gary Costello at March Scopes Europe asking about specs and info was promptly responded to. A 34mm tube, Super ED glass and a new focus mechanism were the new headline features. “I’ve got a pre-production prototype here, want to have a look?”, he said. You know that cliché of a swooshing noise and paperwork falling around a spinning empty office chair? That.
Arriving at the offices, Gary placed two signature black boxes on the table. One marked ‘Special Specification’. The anticipation needle was firmly buried into the redline now. Chatting over various aspects as I handled it, 3 things struck me right away. The 34mm tube, the weight, and the fact that everything else was completely familiar. The solid turret clicks which had a bit more bite than my 7 year old ones, the smooth turning wheels, the attention to detail and the clever bits of design like the turret caps which are tools for lifting and shifting turrets, or the red magnification numbers with the corresponding references MOA on the eye ring), all simple and effective, and all typical March, and all reassuringly familiar. And if the reticule or turrets weren’t to my liking, then well, any of their other options could be fitted on request.
So, what was the point of this new scope? Don’t get me wrong, 4mm extra on 52mm wide objective is a step in the right direction giving a brighter and a wider field of view and 34mm allows for a bigger range of movement. Ok. But was this just an update to match the specs of rivals, and was the previous 10-60 now going to be quietly phased out? “No” was the answer. The new 10-60 HM was meant to give you another option. It’s a completely new scope using new the latest technology and designed from the ground up to do a job. Where established design elements work, they’ve been kept, where they can be improved, like the Super ED glass, they’ve have been. Its designed to be what it is, not something just with the most number of knobs and dials to counter or copy rivals, not to have the biggest mag or another top trump statistic, and not to be just different for the sake of it. The higher mag 8-80 March X is there if you want it, and so will the lighter 10-60×52 be, something that weight watching shooters will appreciate, especially if they compete under specific limits like benchrest shooters do.
While I was chatting to Gary I thought I’d get to the bottom of this Super ED Glass specification while I was there. “Ok, what is it, Fluorite?” I confidently asked. This is the stuff that Canon and other camera manufacturers use on their top pro prime lenses, so I figured that was a sure bet. Nope. It wasn’t. March found too many issues with Fluorite in production. “Ok, so what is it then?” “Can’t say. Apart from it’s a step up in terms of glass over the ED”. That was it. I wasn’t going to get any more. A step up is a bold statement since my March has always been a very capable performer. I wasn’t sure what room for improvement there could be, but I’d heard some reviewers grumble about this and that before so who knows. Personally, I’d always thought them to be picky, I mean what did you expect from a 60 mag 52mm scope? ED glass was a step up that allowed that to work, that a lot of rivals had now adopted, but I wondered how much more super this Super ED could actually be. Ok, I guess you can always have better glass, but it’s the law of diminishing returns, was this going to be like the British cycling team telling the French they’d made a rounder wheel?
In the other box was something else. A March 40-60×52. Unique in that it zooms via the eyepiece, but probably not suitable for FT due to the eye relief changing considerably as you zoom, but it had the new focus mechanism intended to be put into the HM and Gary wanted to see what my thoughts were. This made me a bit apprehensive. One of the strengths of my March is the focus mechanism, and I’ve seen a few attempts along the way to re-invent the wheel by other manufacturers that just haven’t, well, worked. I liked just how mine felt and how it worked, how it snapped onto a range, and liked how that hadn’t changed in the 7 years I’d owned it. Gary assured me that the artisan ethos of March design and production meant they didn’t change things just for change’s sake. There would be a reason.
The forecast for the next day was dry for a change, but heavily overcast, with slim chance of seeing the sun. Not ideal for photography, but quite good for testing a scope. It’s easy to use a lot of scopes when the conditions are good. But if you want to know how gear performs when the going gets tough then perfect conditions are no good.
Given the short amount of daylight available I got straight onto it the next morning. I found some testing detail at 55yds that I could comfortably and repeatedly view. With my competition rig to hand I could easily compare my 10-60×52 with the HM. The dull winter sky was heavily overcast and the tree I was working with was heavily silhouetted against it. Sure, enough this prompted my scope to display some chromatic aberration aka fringing. This happens on all scopes as the light of varying frequencies is split as it’s bent through the lenses of the scope. Various designs of lens clusters and coatings reduce it, but it’s something that always appears when looking at high contrasting images through every brand of scope to some degree. It generally gets better the more you spend, but it’s generally always there under certain conditions.
But anyway, despite the fringing, my 10-60 still snapped onto tiny details on the edge of the branch I was looking at and hit the mark every time. It was a hard test, but it still did its job.
I then picked up the HM and had a peek. I wished I hadn’t. The difference was like night and day. The amount of fringing was dramatically reduced, to the point where you’d be hard pressed to see any. In fact, I was struggling to find any. In fact, it was such a jump I got distracted and just forgot about its absence and started to look at other characteristics. That’s what you want, not to notice problems and to get on with what you’re supposed to be doing. Edge to edge quality was also noticeably improved. This wasn’t something I’d always noticed as being lacking, and I thought mine stood well aside its peers, but the HM was showing there had definitely been room for improvement.
I quickly picked up my original scope to compare again, just to double check I wasn’t just imagining things or that conditions had changed. Nope, there was a lot more fringing in comparison and it coloured the entire picture to the point where it saturated dark contrasted shapes and turned them into a purple dark silhouette. I thought the sun had gone in, so I jumped back to the HM. It was in another league in comparison. With the aberration gone, the detail and colour in the subject was completely revealed. Where I could just see an outline before, I could see natural colours and tones that were simply obliterated in my scope. But holding the scope by hand wasn’t going to let me see the detail on 60x and there was only one way of seeing that, it had to go on my rig. This is where I realised I’d made a mistake in not bringing another rifle. With two rigs, I could have bounced between them faster, but with just the one it meant my scope had to come off. Luckily Gary had also chucked in a set of mounts. These were deliciously CNC machined aircraft grade Aluminium, exuding quality and detail and with a spirit level built in. They fitted like a glove, not kicking out of level as they were clamped to the dovetails. To ensure the ham-fisted (i.e. me) couldn’t chew the hex screws they’d done away them entirely and fitted Torx titanium bolts instead, supplying a Wiha bits for your socket drive just in case you didn’t them to hand. I also set up the other scope with another set in 30mm so I could look at this new focus mechanism.
Putting the HM onto my rig yielded even more detail. With the ability to hold it much steadier I was free to move around the subject and spend time studying the image. I could clearly see the veins on the leaf I’d been looking at previously at 55 yards, and where the bark had been removed on a section of trunk below I could clearly see the detailed grain of the wood. My March is good, I’ve watched flies clean themselves on targets way out downrange, but then I’d also seen how the Falcon with a brighter image had revealed more detail in darker conditions. The HM seemed to be doing the same thing, except the detail was so very fine it had me doubting that I was giving this a good enough test and I think we’ll need to just how small a detail it will resolve in another test because it appeared to be a step up from my 10-60. This is important because the smaller the detail you can resolve, the less range of distance that detail will be visible for as you focus the scope, and that means the less amount of variation on a range you should see.
So, the HM was a real jump optically, but I wanted to double check to see if anything else had changed so I started to test the ranging. I didn’t have a spare sidewheel to hand so I had to make do with the standard sized hub, but marking it with some pencil, with a bit of effort I could hit the same mark repeatedly. It wasn’t easy with such a small wheel, a bigger sidewheel would have allowed better control, but it was doing the job every time and was very like my scope. That consistency of product was reassuring because it means I wasn’t likely to be looking at a one off.
With focusing in mind, I put on the other scope to see what this new mechanism was like. It took me a while to get used to its unique magnification mechanism, so I set it on 60 and left it there. Going back to the same subject I focused onto the leaf with ease. I could easily feel the improvement, but it’s very difficult to quantify. The snap is still there, but the finesse and fine control right when you want it, just at the last nth degree of turn, is greatly increased. It’s just like silk. Not loose, not slow, just, well, so nice and smooth and a pleasure to use.
I spent most of the afternoon jumping back and forth between all three scopes, but try as I might I just couldn’t shake the amazement of the new kit. I know my March is good. I love it. It’s not going anywhere. Against other scopes I prefer it’s ranging over anything else I’ve owned, I rely on it every competition and it’s never let me down even when other high end makes either side of me have struggled, but what March have managed to I think is genuinely astounding because I just didn’t think there was that much room for improvement to start with, not at the big mag end of the market where glass is pushed hard.
The inevitable questions will be, does it shift and which March is best? Well, my 10-60×52 shifts, it took me a year to find it because it didn’t encounter the conditions beforehand that did it. But it’s predictable, learnable, and thus workable. Will the HM be different? My suspicion is probably not. I wouldn’t be surprised if it just follows the March X’s shift characteristics, but without spending some time with it, no-one will know. What I do know is they haven’t scrimped on the internals, there’s no plastic or glue in the scope anywhere. How it stays together only March know, because only they have the tools to get them apart.
Which big March is best then? Ok, not everyone is stumbling around vexed with where to spend £2500 on a scope, but for those that are, there are some important decisions to be made.
Personally, I’d like to get all 3 together for that judgement call, but on paper they form a range. The 10-60×52’s top trump value is that it’s got all the features in a super lightweight offering at a lower price point. Assuming the production HM’s are as good as this pre-prod example, and there’s no reason they wouldn’t be, the HM’s top trump value is its better optics and better focusing. But these features come at a cost financially and in weight, it sat naked at 900g on my scales. And if 60x isn’t enough, then there’s the March 80x at 845g. These weights will be give or take bit to take into account optional features. Fully loaded with levels, pointer, wheel, and mounts and shade my 700g 10-60×52 turns into a 1050g addition to the rifle.
I suspect the HM will be where most FT shooters will settle because most 80x users I’ve spoken to don’t run at 80x all the time, yet I know several 10-60 users who sit on 60x all day long. And FT rigs are heavy, so you can probably find a few 100g to shave off somewhere if you needed to.
Do I think it would get you more targets? Well, like I’ve said about my scope, if you have no issues range-finding 50-55 and all your misses are level then you have no issues and a new scope may not give you anything at all in performance terms. But if you’ve been through all the usual suspects, and if you’re into dropping this sort of money on a scope, and are looking for something that will present a quality visual to the eye then the HM is would be on my very short list of suggestions.
Gary has offered us another chance to review when the production models arrive at the end of March so assuming he will have one left then, the next test would be to get all 3 alongside each other and give them a good going over and, if we’re lucky, we can see if we can trip them into shifting. I’m kind of dreading that day because I’ve a funny feeling my bank balance won’t survive it intact…
Until then, if you fancy finding out all the specs in detail they’re at www.marchscopes.co.uk