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Razor’s Edge (Vortex Razor HD 5-20x50)



I had just finished placing the order for my Accuracy International AE Mk II when I realized I didn’t have any idea what glass to top it with. Up to that point I had been using a US Optics SN-3 on my duty rifle. I greatly enjoy US Optics products, but the wait can vary from weeks to months.

Since I couldn’t go custom on the timeline I was dealing with, I comprised a list of the features I needed for a duty capable optic. I then took a look at the current offerings in high end scopes. Vortex Optics had recently released the Razor HD 5-20x50mm. I had been using a relatively inexpensive set of Vortex binoculars while on street patrol and was impressed. I also had a lower end Vortex scope on my .22 trainer. The quality I had seen from the lower end products piqued my curiosity about the top of the line.

The Razor HD 5-20x50mm is a variable power, first focal plane tactical scope. The first focal plane reticle allows you to use the reticle markings for holds or range estimation at any power setting. You don’t have to remember to set the power or to add a correction factor in. This is a definite plus when your adrenaline is up and things are moving fast. The Razor HD can be ordered with a Minute of Angle (MOA) based reticle and ¼ MOA graduated turrets or a milliradian (mRad) Reticle and 0.1 mRad graduated turrets. My preference is for the milliradian turret and reticle. I have been using mildot reticles since my days in the Marine Corps. That is what my brain is calibrated for. However what matters is that your reticle and turrets match. Vortex understands this.

Due to the high demand for this model, it took me a while to get my hands on one. As soon as I opened the box I was impressed. The Razor HD is manufactured in Japan. It is finished in a copper/brown anodizing. This is what Vortex calls their “Stealth Shadow Black” and is claimed to be less visible in low light. I can’t attest to that claim; however in my experience black is not a good color for concealment.

Vortex throws in several useful accessories with the Razor HD. The box comes stocked with a sunshade, Anti Reflection Device (ARD), and bubble level. The Razor HD also comes with a pair of Vortex branded flip-up scope caps. The flip-up caps are useable, but they are not on the same quality level as Butler Creek caps. The sunshade may be useful in some situations, but the scope is already fairly long. The sunshade makes it absolutely huge.

The ARD was well thought out. It fits under the objective scope cap. It’s thin, so it can easily be carried in the pocket of a databook and slipped in if the situation warrants. The included ARD is of the small-grid variety like the ones made by Tenebraex. These work, but the drawback is they block light transmission. This is definitely not a good thing in low light scenarios.

The bubble level included with the Razor HD mounts to the scope tube. It’s a fixed level so it remains on the rifle in its “deployed” position at all times. The level is a fluorescent green type and very visible. Unfortunately the design of the mount makes it VERY visible from both sides of the tube. I don’t feel very good about placing a bright green target indicator in front of my face. If you are using this scope for long range competition it may be handy to have.

The Razor HD does not come with any mounting rings. The 35mm diameter of the scope tube limits your ring choices somewhat. Not to worry though, Vortex offers rings in several heights to accommodate you. Seekins Precision and IOR also offer 35mm rings.

We mounted the Razor HD with a set of Vortex 35mm Low rings. These were almost too low on our AI AE Mk II. The medium rings would have made for a more comfortable setup. The rings are steel and of excellent quality. They use one ½” mounting nut on each ring. The caps are secured by hex head cap screws. They are a fairly standard design similar to Badger Rings and will serve well.

It is worth commenting on the 35mm scope tube. One of the most prevalent myths about scope tube diameter is that the larger tube allows for more light transmission. This is absolutely untrue. If all other factors are equal a one inch scope tube can pass the same amount of light as a 35mm tube. The benefit to a 35mm tube over a 30mm (most common diameter for tactical scopes) is that the 35mm tube has more room for the erector assembly to move. This gives the scope a wider range of elevation and windage adjustment. If you intend to shoot a .308 to 1000 yards, elevation travel is a primary concern. The Razor HD offers a generous 36 mils (mRad) of total elevation and windage adjustment.  Once I zeroed the Razor HD on our AE Mk II I found that I had 15.7 mRad remaining. After that the elevation turret would click, but no additional elevation was seen in the reticle. The Razor HD provides enough elevation travel for the AE Mk II to reach out to 1175 yards without having to hold over(at sea level).

The turrets on our Razor HD are graduated in 0.1 mRad clicks. Each full rotation of the turret moves the reticle 5 mRad. The clicks are distinct and audible. They can be easily felt when wearing gloves. The spacing between the clicks makes precise dialing very easy. There is no ambiguity when the turret is on a click and it’s very difficult to stop between a click. It actually takes a concerted effort to balance the turret between clicks.

The Razor HD comes equipped with a zero stop feature. This is almost mandatory on an exposed turret scope that will be used in low light. A zero stop allows you to set the turret so that it cannot be dialed past zero. This benefits a shooter in two ways. First, if you are in light conditions that do not allow you to see the elevation turret markings you can confirm that you are on zero by simply dialing until the turret stops. Secondly, if you are shooting long range and have had to turn the turret through several rotations, you can forget which rotation you are on. The zero stop allows you to dial back to the stop and know without a doubt you are now on the first rotation of the turret.

Zeroing the Razor HD is a fairly simple matter. It’s only slightly complicated by the zero stop feature. First, dial the turret DOWN until it stops on the zero stop. Now loosen the three set screws securing the outer cap and remove it. If you want to set the zero stop so that it stops at your zero then skip the next step. If you shoot different loads and you want some room under the zero before the turret stops, then dial that in now. On my 700 it prints some loads .5 mRad below my duty ammunition. For that rifle I would leave 5 clicks below the zero. Now that you have the zero stop set where you want it, loosen the set screws marked “Lock”. This frees the turret from its click and zero stop mechanism. Turning the turret will now move the reticle, but it will do so without any clicks. You will use the scale printed on the turret instead of clicks to gauge the movement of the reticle. The benefit of this is that you can now zero the scope finer than the 0.1 mRad clicks would allow. Once you have the elevation zeroed you simply tighten the “Lock” screws to return the clicks and zero stop. Please note that you cannot “zero” the scale on the inner turret. It only serves to indicate how far the reticle is moving. Once you have zeroed the reticle you can now replace the outer turret cap and set that to read zero.

Setting the windage zero is similar to other scopes. You just dial to zero the reticle. Loosen the lock screws. Set the turret to read zero, then lock the screws back down. Once you accomplish the zero process it becomes second nature.
The markings on the turrets are large and easy to read in low light conditions. Vortex placed a small red fiber optic rod on top of the turret to aid in determining zero. This is an interesting feature, but I have not really seen a situation where it works well. If the light is enough to illuminate the rod, then there is enough light to read the markings. This also holds true for the small fiber optic rod at the magnification ring.

In addition to the mRad or MOA marked turret that comes with the Razor HD (depending on the model you order) you can also order a custom marked elevation turret that is calibrated to your rifle. I am not a great fan of these since the trajectory of your bullet will change with the environment. However they will get you close, fast. If it’s a feature that you would like, you can go to Vortex’s website and enter your rifle data to order the turret.

Vortex offers one reticle on the MOA version of the Razor HD and two options on the mRad Razor HD. Our mRad version came equipped with the EBR-2 reticle. This is one of the best laid out reticles I have ever used. The center of the reticle is a pretty standard affair. It’s comprised of heavy stadia lines the feed into a fine center. The center crosshair is divided by long hashes at each 1 mRad and shorter hashes at 0.5 mRad. On the outer edges of the fine crosshair the hashes increase frequency to every 0.2 mRad. Every 2 mRad hash is labeled with the number of mRad from the center. This helps to keep you from getting lost when ranging or holding. These features are not anything special and appear in many different makes of riflescope. This is also exactly what the EBR-3 mRad reticle looks like.

What makes the ERB-2 reticle special is the “Christmas tree” extending from the bottom of the crosshair. This grid of dots allows you to hold for windage and elevation and do it very accurately. The biggest drawback to holding for windage and elevation is that it causes you to hold in “empty space” where there are no markings. You may be a little off or a lot off depending on how precise your eyeball is. With the ERB-2 reticle you have specific points to hold on. This is exactly what is needed if you are engaging multiple targets at multiple ranges and absolutely necessary for moving targets. This reticle accomplishes this without being anywhere near as “busy” looking as a Horus reticle.

First focal plane reticles offer some difficulties in reticle design. The reticle appears to “shrink” when the magnification is reduced. Because of this, it needs to be a bit thicker to be easily seen. When you make the reticle thick enough to be seen at low magnification you make it so thick that it appears to obscure precise targets at high magnification even though it still covers the same actual amount of the target. Vortex helped solve this problem by thickening the inner crosshairs and then leaving a small gap at the center. This gap makes it much easier to quarter ½” – ¼” dots at 100 yards. Some shooters have complained about the gap, but I have found it to be extremely useful for precision.

Another problem caused by first focal plane reticles is when they are used at low magnification in low light against a cluttered background they are extremely hard to see. Much of my real world use is in low light at close range. This makes an illuminated reticle an absolute requirement. Vortex has taken care of this with an eleven position illumination turret on the ocular housing. In the past these types of turrets have led to many dead batteries. The Razor HD’s illumination turret is stiff enough that it’s not easily switched on in the drag bag or in transit. The turret also has an “off” position between each illumination setting. This allows you to set the illumination at a level you like, and then turn to the next click to shut it off. The illumination is powered by a CR2032 lithium battery and is easily and quickly replaced.

The illumination of the reticle works well without being distracting. The center of the reticle and the major dots of the holdover grid are illuminated. The dots are barely visible and aren't very usable at night. It’s not immediately apparent if they were intended to be illuminated or if they are just spillover from the main reticle. While fully functional the illumination is not a clean as on some other optics. The reticle is not evenly illuminated across all markings. It gives it a shadow effect.

When comparing this level of rifle scope the same question always comes up. “How is the glass?” When compared to other optics in this price range the Razor HD glass holds its own. The glass is clear and offers good contrast and accurate colors. Set side by side the glass is high enough quality that it cannot be used as a deciding point. Low light performance is excellent and long periods of glassing do not fatigue the eye more than any other comparable optic.

(2500 yards at 20x)

The Razor HD is a 5x-20x optic. This brings us to my biggest criticism of the scope. Five times magnification is really too much for a tactical rifle scope. The 20x is nice for target identification and precision shooting, but I would sacrifice some of the top end magnification for a lower bottom end. I routinely use a 3.2-17x scope for Law Enforcement work. The 3x low range allows a wide enough field of view to open up your situational awareness and to track moving targets or transition from opening to opening. The Razor HD is still usable for Law Enforcement work, but it is now on the upper end of what can be utilized. It is rare that an LE Sniper would ever need to dial up to 20x on an actual callout. However for those of us who use our rifles for work and competition, the 20x magnification can give us an advantage in the games.

The eye box on the Razor has been the source of much complaint from other shooters. At 20x your cheek weld needs to be close to perfect to avoid shadowing. At 5x the Razor is a little more forgiving but not by much. To be honest I don’t notice it much if I am not looking for it. I have the adjustable cheek piece on the AE set to where I need it and I leave it alone. I have not done any gas mask shooting yet with the Razor HD, but I do anticipate some issues with getting it perfect. When shooting with a gas mask on you very frequently have to change your cheek weld to avoid interference with the mask itself. You also routinely get smashed in the face due to the lack of eye relief from most scopes. Reducing the magnification to the lowest level will aid both of these issues.

The overall feel of the Razor HD is excellent. All of the components are well made. My only tactile complaint is the rubber magnification ring. I would have much preferred if Vortex carried over the same aggressive serrations on the turrets to the magnification ring. That ring is the only “cheap” feeling part to the whole system. The folks at Vortex reminded me that it is easily replaced under warranty should it ever become damaged.

Appearances and clear glass are well and good, but a rifle scope makes its reputation on accurate tracking. To test the tracking we set out a target backer at 100 yards and placed several ¾” pasters on it. The method is to keep the aiming point on the first paster, but use the reticle to measure and the turrets to dial the impact to hit the other pasters. This tests the most critical feature. Does the reticle match the turrets? In this test the Razor HD passed with flying colors. We tested tracking to 8 mRad with no deviation between reticle and turrets. Since tracking is tested in the vertical and horizontal planes at the same time, I feel this is a much more accurate test than the classic “box” test.

During our testing with the scope we cranked all the controls through their ranges more times than we can count. The scope was subjected to storage in the back of a police car in a soft case for weeks. It was banged, bounced and shaken through many Code 3 runs and at least one pursuit. The scope was subjected to handling by my two year old son. It was dropped at least twice while attached to a rifle, although both times were while it was cased.  It was slammed by the trunk lid a couple of times. In short, it was subjected to the kind of treatment that would be common to a working rifle versus that of a safe queen. No real problems were encountered and it always returned to zero. However if there are problems, you can be confident that the scope is covered by Vortex’s VIP warranty. Basically if you break the scope or something malfunctions, Vortex will fix it. This warranty was what originally convinced me to buy a set of their binoculars several years ago. Thankfully despite the abuse, I have never had to use the service.

After using this scope for several months I do have a couple of complaints. The scope is huge. It’s really like a Hubble telescope sitting on my rifle. If the AE wasn’t so chunky I would be afraid of the scope upsetting it. The parallax turret gets pretty stiff when it’s cold out. I have not attempted to clean it, but I suspect it’s just the grease getting sticky at low temps. The turrets are HUGE. The elevation turret is 1.5 inches tall and actually sticks up above the 50mm objective. The scope caps are barely acceptable. This is not a huge gripe, but as soon as this test is over I plan to replace them with Butler Creek covers. The illumination turret seems to be a bit picky about position. Sometimes when clicked into an illumination setting it likes to shut back off. You then have to wiggle it a little to get the illumination to pop back on so far it has not been a problem because once on, it says on.

I was told that the sample that I have is one of the first production runs. It was not new and had some mounting wear when I first received it, but not much. One issue that I noticed when I zeroed is that the zero stop is one half click past the last click on the turret assembly. I contacted Vortex about this. They explained that this occurs on the far end of the tolerances when the turret was assembled. It has to do with the ball detent and the splines on the turret. When I originally zeroed the scope I turned the turret to the stop and then just turned it back ½ hash until I felt the click. This is where I set the true zero. After talking to Vortex on the phone I found that this is actually what they recommend if your turret has this issue. It’s a simple matter when I run the turret to the stop to allow it to seat into a full click instead of leaving it against the stop.

Vortex did inform me that they have tightened the production tolerances on this piece and that very seldom does a Razor HD with this issue ship. However if you receive one and it bothers you, they will fix it under warranty. In reality it is such a non-issue that I didn’t even bother contacting Vortex about it until I began writing this review. I would not go to the trouble to send the scope back to correct it unless I was shipping it back for damage repair or another issue.

Overall the Razor HD is an excellent scope and a strong performer in the $2000 price range. Its features and quality put it on par with its competitors in the same price bracket. Thus far I have not been able to find any true weaknesses with the scope and look forward to keeping it in service for a long time. It is quickly becoming one of my favorite scopes to use.

The folks at Black Hills Ammunition were kind enough to provide their 175gr BTHP Match loads for the testing and evaluation of the Razor HD. They functioned flawlessly in the Accuracy International AE MkII and would be an excellent choice for any long range competition.

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