The phrase “budget red dot” has mostly lost its meaning. Most red dots — outside of a prominent Swedish firm — have dropped in price considerably in the last few years. The technology is relatively simple, and economies of scale mixed with the laws of supply and demand have helped lower entry into the market considerably.
Sure, plenty of junky red dots still exist, but SIG, Vortex, Leupold, Holosun, and more are making quality red dots for less than $300 bucks. That’s the realm today’s subject falls in, the Vortex SPARC SOLAR. Also known as the SPARC SOLAR, but that’s a hassle to constantly type.
The SPARC SOLAR is one of the latest offerings from optics maker Vortex and is the third generation SPARC optic. The street price sits well below 300 bucks, and for 300 bucks, you are getting a lot of optics. It’s a bit more than the basic models of the Romeo5 series but also offers a few more features. Do you see why it’s tough to even say what exactly a budget red dot is anymore?
The Basic Breakdown
The Vortex SPARC SOLAR is a compact red dot optic designed for just about any long gun or large format pistol out there. Red dots are known for their versatility, and the SPARC SOLAR is no different. The optic weighs 5.9 ounces and is 2.6 inches long.
The red dot reticle is a simple 2 MOA dot. No other options are currently offered. As the name implies, a solar panel sits on the top of the optic, and the SPARC SOLAR also uses a CR2032 battery to provide a reported 150,000 hours of battery life. If my calculations are right, that’s roughly 17 years.
Keep in mind that number factors in the optic on a mid-setting and using a mix of the battery and solar power, I’m sure. Speaking of settings, the SPARC SOLAR packs ten daytime settings and two-night vision settings.
What’s New with the SPARC SOLAR?
As the third generation of SPARC optics, you’re right to expect some improvements. Of course, the Solar element is new to the SPARC series of optics, as is the incredible battery life. The SPARC SOLAR also uses an auto shut-off to keep that battery alive.
When the optic fails to detect movement, it will shut off automatically. When moved, it springs back to life. I tried my hardest to beat the dot, turning on when I grabbed it. It takes very little movement to engage the red dot, and it truly springs back to life.
Previous SPARC models utilized Triple A batteries, and the Solar model uses the 2032 battery. The SPARC AR series only provided an AR height mount, and the latest SPARC AR provides both a lower 1/3rd co-witness mount and a low mount for firearms without inline stocks. Swapping mounts takes very little effort and can be done quite quickly.
Controls have been moved to the left side of the optic and seemingly have increased in size. Overall the SPARC SOLAR seems to be a very well-put-together package. Let’s see how it handles Florida in June sunshine.
Mounting and Sighting In
The included Torx wrench makes installing the correct mount and optic easy. I popped on the high mount and then tossed the optic on my Aero EPC. The Torx wrench also offers a flathead wrench to make adjustments to the turrets, so I pocketed it before I hit the range. Vortex includes a set of rubberized bikini-style lens covers.
They kind of just flop around, so I tossed them to the side for now. I did a quick zero at 25 yards with a Caldwell Lead Sled and had to make only minimal adjustments to get on target. I had to dial-up and left, and boom, we had a perfect PCC zero. The turrets provide 1 MOA adjustment graduations, and combining that with a 25-yard zero makes zeroing rather easy.
Get to The Shooting
I’m in the sunshine state, it’s June, and this is a solar-powered optic. So I immediately popped the battery out and forced the SPARC SOLAR to be powered by the fury of the sun! The battery didn’t stutter or fail in any way. It didn’t even swap off when I popped the battery out.
The reason being is the SPARC SOLAR packs what Vortex calls AUTO D-TEC technology. The AUTO D-TEC automatically switches from battery to solar when the optic is taken outside. It’s nice and handy to have the optic swap to solar and battery without interruption.
I ratcheted up the brightness to the max setting, and the solar power had no issues keeping up. I went under my barn for a little shade without direct light, and it still worked fine without a battery. However, indoor light is not enough to power the optic.
Clarity is top-notch in all directions. The dot is very crisp and round without any noticeable streaking or star-like effect. It’s a perfect little 2 MOA dot that’s easy to see and engage with. The lenses are also super clear with minimal tint.
A lot of budget optics have a noticeable hue, but I don’t see one with the SPARC SOLAR. Vortex also tucked away the emitter, and it doesn’t take up a small section of your optic’s viewing window.
Finally Real Shooting
My wife and I have been training her up on a variety of weapons. As such, introducing her to rifles has been interesting and red dots seem to be her optic of choice. On the Aero EPC, we practiced engaging targets at 15, 25, and 50 yards.
She loves the sound of a steel gong, and I set her up with the SPARC SOLAR and a series of steel targets that shrink in size from 10 to 4 inches. The small and crisp dot made the targets easy to see, and even as an inexperienced shooter, she could easily hit the 10, 8, and 6-inch targets.
When we went to the 4-inch fella, we saw a few more misses at 50 yards. That’s a challenging target for a new shooter, and from an off-hand standing position, it’s even more challenging. However, she gave the little gong its fair share of rings.
At close range, we worked some box drills and failure to stop drills between two targets with the Vortex SPARC SOLAR. Red dots rule for shooting like this. I got a big thumbs up from the wife. When she realized how fast she could effectively shoot with the red dot, she got that thrill I’m sure most of us get.
I found the dot to be perfect for speed shooting. Never did it flicker or stall as I moved rapidly between targets. It stayed a clear and consistent circle throughout any and all movement. The Vortex SPARC SOLAR served us well for that range day and the next, and the next. It’s been popped onto a Scorpion, a Sentry 12 shotgun, and then back to the EPC as my wife’s dedicated herself to learning a multitude of weapons.
It’s been zeroed, and re-zeroed, and zeroed again. It’s also taken some substantial recoil without fail. The Vortex SPARC SOLAR is a well-made, easy to use, and well-priced optic for those needing a red dot.
Specifications: Vortex SPARC SOLAR Red Dot Sight
Brightness Settings: 10 Daylight 2 Night Vision
Length: 2.6 inches
Weight: 5.9 ounces
Battery Life: 150,000 Hours
MSRP: $399.99 (street price about $269.99)
Clarity * * * * *
No noticeable tint, no emitter in the way, just nice clear glass with a red dot reticle floating in the middle. It’s impressive for such an affordable optic.
Reliability * * * * *
With two power sources, the reliability is doubled when it comes to illuminating the little red dot. In practice, it never failed, flickered, or shuttered between multiple weapons and multiple zeroing.
Ergonomics * * * *
If I wanted to be super picky, I could knock a point off for not having ambidextrous controls. That’s about all I can complain about here.
Overall * * * * *
The Vortex SPARC SOLAR provides users with a feature-filled red dot at a great price point. It does the basics well, and then plus some. It’s the higher end of budget red dots, and it’s helping close the gap between red dots and ‘budget’ red dots.