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NcStar, at least in my mind, is best known for their line of VERY affordable scopes on OpticsPlanet. I’ve never had a real inclination to check out their gear as optics quality isn’t normally something I skimp on. But then Nick sent me this octagonal shaped scope to test out, and now that I’ve put my hands on on one, I have some formed opinions based on real world experience. I still wouldn’t buy one…

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Removing the scope from the box, you immediately notice the shape. The aptly named Octagon has eight sides versus the much more typical round scope body. NcStar claims this shape aids in both durability and style. I didn’t go beat it against rocks during my test, but it held up to the recoil of an AR-15 shooting .223 Rem. As far as style goes, I’m probably not the best judge as I normally wear cargo shorts in public. If you think a Glock is pretty, you might check this out. Another standout item is the rubberized coating covering the scope. Having looked at purchasing a scope lapping kit in the past, my sensibilities were offended at the thought of not using metal on metal contact for a scope and rings. It held zero pretty well during my testing, so it must work, but I didn’t find it to be confidence inspiring.

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Next out of the box was the set of includes rings. I had hoped they’d be similarly octagonally shaped inside to match the scope. This would allow a totally aligned mounting system which, if done correctly, could eliminate the issues of using a level in the pursuit of leveled scope perfection. Alas, the inside of the rings are circular meaning some mating surfaces between scope and rings are receiving more pressure than others. Again, no failures of the scope during my testing, but future durability might be impacted by this design choice. I’m not certain that I stripped the mounts during installation, but I never was able to get the nuts securing the mounts “tight”. Every time I would tighten them down, the other end of the threaded rod would retreat even further inside the mount. I finally gave up on achieving some indication that it was going to have a hard stop, called it good enough, and moved on.

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After mounting the scope to any Picatinny rail section you desire, it comes time for the installation of the included CR 2032 battery that powers the illuminated reticle. I tried taking a clear picture of this reticle, but was mostly thwarted. What you see above is the scope set on the lowest power for the red color (it also has blue). There’s an incredible amount of light bleed out on the reticle as well as the inside of the tube which makes focusing on the reticle fairly difficult. I turned it on to check that it worked, and then never used it again as I found it largely distracting.

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The power adjustments work fine and there’s a nice tactile knob to use for throwing the lever from 1.1X to 4X, though I ran the scope on 4X for the duration of the test. Included in the kit are also some octagonal shaped flip up scope covers, one of which was immediately lost during normal usage after it popped out and I lost it. After turning off the lit reticle, I peered through hoping for crystal clear glass, and was largely disappointed. This glass is mediocre at best and when run side by side with the 1.5X – 4X Leupold I normally use on this rifle, the disparity only becomes stronger. The NcStar glass generally doesn’t transit as much light, and lacks the clarity normally seen on even entry level scopes from Leupold.

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When it came time to finally shoot using the Octagon, I found that achieving zero was fairly easy. The capped turrets were easy to access and adjust giving the operator tactile feedback about changes made. Each turret is graduated in “1 click = 1/2 inch at 100 yards” measurements which is close enough to 1/2 MOA for me. Once zeroed, I ran the octagon through a box drill at 25 yards using a support for the forend and bag for the rear end of my gun. As you can see above, I shot 3 shots at position one, turned the horizontal knob 12 clicks to the left, shot 5 shots at position two, and so on and so forth through position 5. Once returned to the original position, position five and position one did not overlap letting me know that this scope failed a box drill. I did not bother measuring group size, spread, or distance between the centers of these groups since the scope failed that test.

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Specifications: NcStar 1.1 – 4 x 20 Octagon Scope

• Variable Power 1.1X – 4X Magnification
• Octagon shaped Rubber Armored scope body for durability and unique style
• 45 degree offset Rheostat Knob
• Dual Illuminate Reticle in Blue and Red, with multiple brightness settings for each color
• Quick Focus Eyepiece
• Fully Multi Coated Lenses
• Includes 30mm Scope Rings, Scope centerline set at AR15 1½” scope height
• Uses standard 30mm Scope Ring, does not require special 30mm rings.
• Integrated Flip-Up lens covers
• Reticle: P4 SNIPER
• Magnification: 1.1X – 4X
• Objective Dia. (mm): 20mm
• Tube Dia.: 1”, outer Rubber Armor @ 30mm Diameter
• FOV (Feet at 100 yards): 82.7’ – 22.5’
• Eye Relief (in): 3.9” – 3.3”
• Net Weight (oz.): 13.8
• Length (in): 9.6”
• Click Value : 1/2 M.O.A
• MSRP: $99.99
• Street Price: $79.79 from Optics Planet $79.36 from Amazon

Overall Build Quality * * *

The Octagon feels cheap in the hand. It is cheap after all, but it still feels poorly built. Watching the scope mounts strip out upon initial installation didn’t help that feeling and the rubberized coating was a weird addition as well. Nothing else stripped and it didn’t spontaneously burst into a bucket of parts so I’ll give it three stars

Holding zero * * * * *

The Octagon seemed to hold the same zero each time I brought it to bear, and  if you treat this as a set it and forget it scope, you might find some use out of it.

Optical Quality * * *

You can see through the glass which I found to be a pro, though the picture is generally dim. Illuminating the reticle doesn’t help as the whole sight picture gets washed out by a sea of red or blue.

Tracking *

The Octagon cannot pass a box drill. You should not rely on these turrets to return to zero after making a change. Subsequently, this scope is relegated to “set it and forget it” status

Overall Rating * *

If you need a scope to sit on top of your gun, you need it to look a little weird, and you’re not interested in doing much shooting with it, the NcStar Octagon is going to be about the cheapest scope on the market that meets that criteria. If you’re interested in shooting with it, you won’t be able to use the turrets adjust elevation and windage on the fly, as you’ll need to rezero after making any changes. That’s a showstopper for me, and should be for you too as its an indication of poor build quality, which should be expected on a sub $100 scope. Don’t skimp out on optics. If you need an aiming device, and you only have $80 to spend, buy a decent set of irons.

59 Responses to Gear Review: NcStar 1.1 – 4 x 20 Octagon Scope

  1. Why on earth would you make an octagon shaped scope if you weren’t also going to make octagon shaped rings? A non-round scope could be useful (I can never seem to mount mine level), but it here it seems to serve no purpose other than looking cool, and it doesn’t really even do that.

    NcStar is what you buy when you’re first starting out and don’t realize that the whole “you get what you pay for” thing applies doubly to guns and shooting accessories. I’ve thrown a lot of money away a few dollars at a time thinking I was getting a bargain when in reality I was just buying crap. It was cheap crap, but it was crap.

  2. About 25 years ago, I bought a .44 mag lever rifle. Thought about a scope, but after realizing that 99% of my shots for deer and bear were going to be 50 yards or less, I got up graded iron sights. It was a wise choice. Even with my 58 year old eyes, I can use the peep sights very well.

  3. Seems like a waste of time to review something like this. Why not do reviews of some of the reportedly more functional “budget” items out there, like the stuff from Primary Arms, the SuperSniper from SWFA, et al?

    • Because knowing what not to buy is also important.

      And for a newbie to rifles and associated gear (like me) who doesn’t have a local mentor, it can help identify things to look for and what to check. Nobody was born knowing what a box drill is, for instance. I sure didn’t until just now.

      • I’m with John on this one – I too have never heard the term “box drill” before, and I’ve been shooting for years, often with optics. At least I know what I’m doing this weekend with every scoped firearm I own! Thank you for the education!

        • +1 on that, I’ve not heard of doing this and I’m going to the next chance I get! Only have 2 to check anyway.

  4. Cheap scopes are disposable scopes. They’re some of the most disappointing things in the gun market. They don’t hold their zeros, their internals won’t hold repeatability, they’ll fog or get water into them.

    Just say ‘no’ and use iron sights until you can afford a quality scope. Budget $500 to $600 for a quality scope and mounts.

      • The problem with any cheap scope is that you don’t know what they can really handle. I put a Primary Arms scope on my .338 Lapua and it proceeded to shit itself in about 5 shots.

        I once read somewhere that Americans buy expensive rifles and cheap scopes while Europeans buy expensive scopes and cheap rifles. The simple fact is that if you want to get the best possible performance, you need to plan top spend a fair bit on both. My $3000+ rifles all wear either Nightforce or Bushnell scopes that run close to $2K. I figured this one out the hard way and have several cheap scopes sitting in my cabinet that will never see another gun.

    • Just putting an optic on (regardless of quality) adds to the cool-factor. I believe someone new to distance shooting of any kind probably has to get suckered into a cheap optic before he/she learns where the extra money goes. I own a $100 mildot and a $500 mildot. They don’t belong in the same league. I can only imagine what $1,000 gets.

      • The following are only general observations on what you get at different price levels for a scope:

        1. In the $450 to $700 range, you find solid, repeatable, fixed and variable power scopes such as you’d use on hunting rifles, short-range target rifles (ie, 600 yards and under) the high end of red dot w/ magnification and holographic sights (EOTech and the like).

        In this price range, you should expect fog-free/waterproof optics, sealing covers over the adjustment turrets, 92%+ light transmission, good repeatability, good shock resistance, etc. In some scopes, you’ll see some distortion at the edges of the field of view, you’ll see artifacts from the prisms when you hold it at an angle to the sun in some situations, your objective might be larger than necessary to obtain the light you need in low light situations, or the scope seems dimmer than you’d like in lower light situations. Your choice of reticles will probably be somewhat limited.

        2. From $1300 on up to $2500+, now you see 94%+ light transmission, superior magnification ranges, better repeatability, a much wider choice of reticles, possibly including custom reticles. The distortion at the edges of your field of view will be substantially lessened, you’ll have fewer artifacts in the scope with the sun at an angle off the objective, you’ll likely have a no-compromise warranty, there are scopes with first focal plane or second focal plane reticles available, you might have very fine adjustments of elevation and windage, you might have an adjustable objective with a pretty tight focusing range (which is useful in some situations as a semi-range-finder).

        The light transmission is what most people notice between the “good” scopes in the $450 to $700 range, and the very high end. I think Zeiss has one of the highest transmissivity scopes out there now with 95% light transmission.

        As with accuracy in rifles, you can buy “good enough” in the $400 to $800 range now (where “good enough” is MOA or perhaps a tad less), or you can buy “holy crap!” accuracy for five to eight times that amount to get down to 0.25 MOA or less. When you get down to the very top end of scopes and rifles, you’re paying a rapidly increasing amount for rapidly decreasing improvements.

        • I have always heard the convention of spend as much on the scope as you did on the rifle. You buy a $3-4000 GAP long range rifle your shopping list better include names like NightForce, USO, Schmidt and Bender, etc. You spend $500 on a generic tupperware stock sporter rifle from any big name MFG you can lower your sights (haha) a little bit lower.

          I find the only exceptions to this rule being Savage model 10 varriants and Vortex HS and PST scopes. Both the rifle and the scope punch well above their weight class in terms of quality/accuracy.

  5. I have a drawer full of NC scopes that were on “inaccurate rifles” I took in trade, every single one had a damaged riser (plastic springs do not last long). after switching out scopes those same rifles shot sub-MOA. So for me, crappy Chinese scopes are a boon and those scopes let me re-enact White Feather’s amazing shot!

  6. “If you need an aiming device, and you only have $80 to spend, buy a decent set of irons.”

    Exactly what I did on my AR build. I’ll save up for a decent optic. I like shooting with irons anyway.

    • Yep, pretty sure a set of those plastic Magpul MBUS “irons” would be better than this. Absolutely have to have glass? Get a Nikon ProStaff 3-9×40, dont get one with more magnification, on a scope in that price range the upper levels of magnification are essentially useless, 9 is about as high as you can go before the image sucks.

  7. +1 on more reviews of Primary Arms stuff. Those guys crank out awesome products for less than half of the price of their competition (yes, it’s made in China; so what? the quality is still great, and their customer service is top notch, too). It’s probably the most under-appreciated brand in gun accessories market – especially optics! – today. It would be good to spread some more awareness about them.

    • The specific PA optics that would be interesting to review:

      Micro-Dot – a budget ($80!!!) alternative to Aimpoint Micro
      (https://www.primaryarms.com/Primary_Arms_Micro_Dot_With_Fixed_Base_p/md-fbgii.htm)

      4x Prism Scope – a budget alternative to ACOG
      (https://www.primaryarms.com/Primary_Arms_4X_Compact_Prism_Scope_p/pac4x.htm)

      Their new 4-14×44 scope with a very interesting DMR reticle, that combines SVD-style range estimation (with some more creative additions – not just height, but also width and head size), with ACOG-style bullet drop markers, movement compensation, and with mil-dot incorporated seamlessly into all this.
      (https://www.primaryarms.com/Primary_Arms_4_14X44_FFP_Scope_with_308_p/pa4-14xffp308.htm)

      • You had me at Dragunov. Too bad it doesn’t have a chevron but other than that, looks good.

        Now I just need to understand how it works (the reticle).

        • Actually, it does. If you look inside the main horseshoe, there’s a chevron reticle. The side tick marks act as both range estimators (the heights represent a roughly 30″ torso in 100 yard increments, 400-1000 yds) and are also 1 mil apart.

          I think one of these is going to wind up on the PSA AR-10 build I’ve been drooling over. I’m really liking that it’s first focal plane and that the illumination has OFF settings between the brightness settings. No having to run through half the dial to turn it on and off, just one click.

        • Holy sh**! It has a chevron, and fancy markings that are practical/not too obtrusive.

          For the love of all that is holy, review that!

      • I have a passel of the P.A. red dots that I slap on the beater .22’s, Mini’s, ARs (including a .458 and a Beowulf) and assorted levers and pumps that come out when I have a big group of inexperienced shooters that want to plink. They all still work and hold zero. I’m 100% confident you could run them all day long on a gamer gun and shoot about as well as you could with an Aimpoint.

  8. Yeahbut… if I have a ~$120 Nugget I picked up to plink with, then an optic half that price is going to be what I want. Nice review.

    • Why? Mosins are pretty accurate. Have you guys ever thought that buying an inexpensive rifle allows you to put on some higher quality glass?

      • I was shooting a Finnish Mossy just this past weekend with reloads. I was ringing a 6″ gong at 200 yards with the irons from a kneeling position just fine.

        It might be a butt-ugly rifle, but they do shoot reasonably well.

        • I can never understand the American dislike of putting expensive optics on cheap rifles. IMO it is better to have a cheap rifle than a cheap scope.

  9. I tried an NcStar scope on an AR. It didn’t hold up. After the zero was lost could not reestablish. At least the laser still works. Save your money.

  10. Just lost a barska 3-9 to mosin nagant recoil.

    Just don’t do cheap scopes …..I say as I ignore my own advice and out another cheap pistol scope on the nagant…..

    • My dad put a Simmon’s pistol scope on his Ruger GP100. Nothing like putting sh*tty glasses on your pretty pistol.

      The finish matches. There’s something positive.

      It holds zero. But then again, its been shot about 100 rounds total in the past 15 years.

  11. Really would like to see a good review on something from the red field line. Especially one that was at least assembled in the U.S. I hear some of the leupold tech is trickling into the refield line and a comparison of two comparable models would be awesome.

  12. The first scope I ever purchased was for a 22 rifle.

    It was a Leupold VX-1 rimfire. It was roughly $220. It “holds zero”, is nice and clear, and has nice, positive adjustments.

    I “set it and forgot it” at 50 yards, dead center. It will stay there indefinitely, most likely.

    I’m no optics professional, but I like my firearms enough to where I will do my best to not adorn them with cheap sh*t.

    In fact, I need a red dot sight for my 22/45 Lite. No idea what to put on there. But I will not jump for the cheapest thing I see and will damned sure do some research.

    By the way, any suggestions? Lol Help is appreciated for the right red dot.

      • Why would Nick give you this to test? Was Nick just trying to get rid of it? Was it a re-gifted, re-gift that just wouldn’t go away? What did you do with after you were done? Give it to the small neighbor kid to play with?

  13. Years ago Bauch and Lomb made adjustable scope mounts, and scopes with no adjustments. Seemed like the best way to go. Never have to worry about you cross hairs getting out of alignment, Plus, if you wished, you could use the scope on more than one rifle, as long as you had another B & L mount.

  14. I like the Redfield or Leupold scopes for the low end stuff. I just don’t have thousands of dollars to put into optics on top of each rifle, and they hold a zero pretty well. They don’t do box tests like a sniper, but I don’t expect them to when they are in the $200-$300 dollar range.

    Both scopes have been stuffed into cases, flown thousands of miles, and helped me to take deer in the frozen tundra.

    Neither have the optical clarity of my Burris XTR 312 or Bushnell ERS 3.5-21 FFP scopes, but they don’t hit the checkbook nearly as hard. A Schmidt and Bender or US Optics would be nice, but would also probably cause a divorce. That’s just too damn expensive.

    • That’s how I am about it, after I spend $1,500 on a rifle I usually don’t have another $1,500 for some good optics so I just hope I get lucky w/a $250 leupold or Nikkon , if not tuff-titt. I think a lot of people on these things (not all so please don’t bother) are just full of it dreamers that never held a Zeiss or a nice Schmitt & Bender. (some of them just got thru reading a new gun mag and are on a “bender” lol!). I can shoot with a hi-end scope or a cheapie or none at all. If the SHTF and I gotta live in the woods for the rest of my life wich will be pretty short anyway as for the rest of us then I might say ” Oh crap, that guy is 100+ yds away…I’d sure like that bag of food he has”. lol. Keepin it real.

  15. The best inexpensive scope I ever owned, (and still own), is a Tasco World Class 6X24 Silhouette Scope. I’m not referring to the Chinese made Tasco junk they’re making now with the “World Class” name on it, that junk’s not worth the time it takes to mount. I’m talking about the World Class scopes that were made in the early ’90’s that used that great Japanese glass. My World Class scope from that time period is every bit as clear as my Zeiss. It is rock solid, repeatable, crystal clear and distortion free right out to the edge of the glass. I’ve been looking for another one at a good price, but it seems that now they are bringing a slight premium on the used scope market. Apparently I’m not the only one who spotted the “diamond” in the coal pile. If you’re in the market for a great piece of used glass at a still reasonable price, give these old Tasco’s a look.

  16. My first scope purchase ever was some cheapie $30 3-9x at Bi-mart for my Remington Gamemaster 760 in .30-06. I got the rifle when I was 12, slapped the scope on when I was 14 or 15 and shot it this spring for the first time in 11 years. It shot 12 inches high at 100 yards. It held zero for the 10 years I used it. I still don’t go too crazy on the optics. My most expensive red dot is an Aimpoint PRO, my next down is a Nikon P-223 3-9x which isn’t too bad as I got it on sale for $150. I wouldn’t touch an NCstar unless it was mounted to a BB gun, even then it might be pushing it. I really want to give the Primary Arms 1-6x scope a try if it evers is back in stock.

  17. Quite a few people like to complain about the cheap scopes but some of them do have their place. I’ve had great luck with the CenterPoint scopes from Wal-mart when it comes to hunting rifles and general plinking guns. If I subscribed to the theory that scopes under $500 aren’t worth buying(as some around here seem to) I’d have many fewer guns. I also have a couple rifles that I own just to let friends and family use when they come up so it doesn’t make sense to have expensive glass on rifles I personally never use.

    That being said…. Even I won’t use the two NCstar scopes that people GAVE me. They just collect dust. Maybe one day I’ll trade them for a box of .22lr….. If prices on ammo go down.

  18. I want to see objective reviews on the Burris and Vortex line of 4x or adjustable type optics, especially when comparing them to, say, ACOGs. I think anything that says NcStar on it is thrown in the _avoid_ category for any serious use.

  19. “This glass is mediocre at best and when run side by side with the 1.5X – 4X Leupold” ……Well no shit! A 50 dollar scopes glass isn’t going to be as nice as a $600 scopes glass. comparing an obviously budget optic to a $600 optic is just idiotic.

  20. Thanks for the review. I, as others, was not familiar with the “box test”. This will give me something to investigate next time at the range.

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