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Showdown: Low Power Variable Optics vs. Red Dots With Magnifiers

VUDU 1-8X24mm (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

EOTech Vudu 1-8x24mm SFP LPVO (JWT for TTAG)

By Dave Merrill

[Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in RECOIL #51 and is reprinted here with permission.]

Lately, low-power variable optics dominate the CQB optic market, but magnifiers for red-dot sights have graced many a rifle for more than 15 years. To be fair, the popularity of magnifiers has waned, but we’re beginning to see more of them on rifles again.

The purpose of this article is to give you a clear pro/con of each setup so you can make the decision of what’s best for your needs. Understand that since we’re discussing these products in general and not each and every SKU out there, there’ll be some outliers. So if something doesn’t apply to your favorite pet LPVO or RDS, that’s 100-percent A-OK. Think about each use case, and compare and contrast with your own anticipated uses.

Eye Relief / Off-Angle Viewing

WINNER: RDS + MAG

Eye relief varies greatly amongst LPVOs depending on brand and model, but the eye box in any of them is smaller than that of the most basic RDS. While on the bench or flat range it may not seem to be an issue, once you start getting weird and shooting from unconventional positions, the need for eye relief really rears its head. The maximum viewing angle of a RDS is invariably larger simply due to the design of the scope body itself. The larger the window and shorter the body, the better the maximum off-axis viewing angle.

Of course, this only applies while a RDS doesn’t have a magnifier behind it. Once you add a magnifier, you’ll run into similar issues as with LVPOs. But, when both are used at 1x power, the difference is obvious. There are some ways around this with an LPVO, namely using a piggybacked MRDS or offset irons, at the expense of additional gear hanging on your rifle.

Batteries

WINNER: LPVO

Most modern LPVOs use a common watch battery for reticle illumination. When an LPVO battery dies, it’s very irritating, but the optic still works fine since the etched or wire reticle remains. With most RDS, a completely dead battery means a dead optic. We say most because there are some older designs that use self-powering tritium or fiber optics to light their reticle. But contemporary RDS largely rely on a battery-powered LED or laser to project their reticle. We’ve yet to see an LPVO with the battery life of an Aimpoint Comp M4, though, but auxiliary reticle illumination isn’t necessary for the optic’s basic functionality.

Daylight Brightness

WINNER: RDS + MAG

While everyone’s eyes are different, the search for “daylight bright” LPVOs is coming to an end, but it still remains an issue. While an LPVO works without illumination, at lower magnification settings, a bright reticle brings a significant speed advantage, especially on targets without high contrast. Second focal plane LPVOs with fixed reticles have an easier time in this respect compared to first focal plane scopes with reticles that change size according to the optic’s magnification level, but even a $50 RDS beats the pants off of anything but the most expensive LPVO.

Passive NVG Use

WINNER: RDS + MAG

Passive night vision means using a viewer that doesn’t project lasers or illuminators for aiming or shot spotting. The advent of inexpensive IR cameras and night vision devices marked a new chapter of night fighting. At one time, soldiers only worried about near-peer forces matching their nighttime combat capabilities. But these days, anyone with a $25 cell phone with the IR filter removed can see where an IR laser is coming from.

Thus, we’ve seen many tactics shift toward the use of passive night vision devices. A RDS with a night vision mode is easier to view while wearing NODs than an LPVO, and the same maximum viewing angle limitations also apply. Further, it’s rare to see an LPVO with a night vision setting, so using one risks serious bloom in your tubes, even at lower brightness settings.

Precision

WINNER: LPVO

The clear winner in this category is the LPVO simply because a wire or etched reticle can be made infinitely more complex than an LED-reflected or hologram-projected red-dot sight. Some companies like EOtech made some models with bullet drop compensating reticles built-in, but they’re hard-coded for a narrow range of rifle and ammunition combinations … and the aiming point looks like a big mess without the magnifier at 1x.

Additionally, some people, especially with astigmatism, will see smearing or artifacts in an RDS’ reticle, making them less precise than LPVO etchings. Many will find magnifiers help mitigate this. Also, even if you don’t have a Christmas Tree Tremor3 reticle, LPVOs usually have toolless windage and elevation adjustments allowing one to dial on the fly, if need be.

Ranging

WINNER: LPVO

The LPVO wins the ranging fight for the same reason it cleanly rules the precision category: the reticle design. Both MIL and MOA reticles can easily range objects of known sizes, along with a little math, but ranging becomes much harder with a red dot. The EOtech and similar reticles have a bit of an edge here compared to a plain dot because the 65MOA circle in the reticle can be used as a rudimentary ranging device to calculate distance and holdovers, but it can’t offer the precision that a dedicated LPVO ranging reticle is capable of.

Speed

WINNER: DRAW

Both the LPVO and RDS + mag have positive points in their favor regarding speed. The common knowledge is that at 1x a RDS has the edge, but 3-gun shooters have effectively demonstrated that with training there’s no significant difference between the two in terms of shots on target unless you’re in a situation where you cannot achieve a good cheekweld.

In terms of speed of changing magnification, engaging a modern magnifier in a flip mount, such as the EOtech G43 and G45, takes only a smack and a split second. Even with a cattail installed on an LPVO, the nature of gas-purged optics makes them slower to rotate and adjust.

Magnification

WINNER: LPVO

LPVOs have the edge on the higher ends of magnification, though it’s less significant for older 1-4x or newer 1-6x LPVOs. At 6x-and-under you’ll typically dial your magnification all the way up or all the way down, but at 8x and above, you may find yourself using mid-power levels; twist a bit for target identification and ranging and then back down, if desired or required.

Cost

WINNER: RDS + MAG

The middle market of optics has come a long way in the last five years, but you still end up paying significantly more for a top-of-the-line LPVO when compared to a RDS and magnifier. And that cost cuts in even more ways. With an LPVO in addition to a mount for the optic itself, you have to eat all of that cost all at once in order to have something usable. A RDS can be purchased separately than a magnifier, and they both typically come with mounts. Provided they have the same height mounts, a given RDS or magnifier has cross-brand compatibility and either or both can be updated at your leisure.

Parallax

WINNER: RDS + MAG

Despite what marketing departments will tell you, there’s no such thing as a parallax-free optic — it’s just that with a RDS, parallax is usually too small to make much of a difference in many situations. Variable power optics typically won’t have a parallax adjustment or a so-called “side focus” knob unless they’re above 10x, because the effect exacerbates with magnification. As Alex Hartmann discusses here, taller mounts on an LPVO can cause more shooter-induced parallax.

Durability

WINNER: RDS + MAG

Even inexpensive red dots are increasingly durable. Hell, we set a Vortex Sparc II on fire in RECOIL Issue 19, and it still worked. The number of glass elements that need to be held in place in an LPVO makes it inherently less durable, but companies have made huge strides in recent years with new materials. Some have even been experimenting with things like synthetic polymer lenses and optic bodies made of exotic materials. As the U.S. military increasingly implements the use of LPVOs, it’s inevitable they’ll bridge the gap.

Weight

WINNER: DRAW

While anything less than a COMBLOC RDS will certainly weigh less than an LPVO, once you add on a magnifier and mount you begin to see diminishing returns. Every new generation of LPVO seems to weigh less than the last, but we haven’t seen a generational reduction in weight in RDS magnifiers.

Loose Rounds

If we simply compare the number of wins for each category, you may get the impression we’re bigger fans of the RDS + magnifier than the LPVO. But that’s not the case; both are excellent tools when used properly. The LPVO allows for engagement at greater distances with greater precision, while the RDS is better for close range, funny angles, and NVG use. As manufacturing technology increases, gaps between these systems will continue to diminish — and that’s a good thing.

This article originally appeared at RecoilWeb.com and is reprinted here with permission. 

 

comments

  1. avatar . says:

    CQB’s, SKU’s, LPVO’S, RDS’s NOD’s, MRDS’s, IR’s , NOG’s, a new chapter on night fighting.
    Kill Kill Kill and kill some more.
    Used to be civilian firearm adds about hunting and target practice.

    1. avatar gamer-747 says:

      Go back to field and stream fudd….

      1. avatar . says:

        Join the Army and maybe you can fly a submarine.

    2. avatar Jimbo says:

      Wtf? Are you serious???….. go on an’ GIT!!!!!
      Your kind ain’t wanted in these parts…..got’dam ghetto rats….

    3. avatar Automatic Jack says:

      Modern optics ARE used for hunting, target shooting, and competition.

      They are also used for self-defense, security, military, and police service.

      They are here to stay.

    4. avatar Ing says:

      It’s all still hunting and target practice — if you want to look at it that way.

      1. avatar Don from CT says:

        Actually what the young tacticool folks don’t seem to understand is that they need to get off the bench. Hunting is real life practice for all the medium to long range stuff they think they know.

        Go elk hunting with 3 days of gear on your back. Its as close as you will get to “real life” for most people this side of a civil war. Its like shooting PRS but no steel gongs.

    5. avatar Matt in Oklahoma says:

      I hunt with my RD and Mag. The mag for precision and the RD when walking in on them.
      There are many articles here in hunting guns and hunting.

      1. avatar guy says:

        If I had the money I would run that on my game master I couldn’t do that to my 700 though.

    6. avatar Baldwin says:

      Parasitic scum.

    7. avatar Ron says:

      TTAG has never been like that and I’ve been popping in here on occasion since 2012. It’s always had a wide arrange of topics and firearms, and if anything, I’d say conceal carry and handguns have the edge in articles here.

      If you want only hunting guns and target shooting, I suggest you get a time machine and travel back to 1996, and find the nearest fudd convention, and remain in that era permanently.

      Because the gun rights world grew its balls back since then, and the vast majority of gun owners now own an AR/AK and have a semi auto handgun for conceal or open carry.

    8. avatar Hank says:

      When the civil war starts maybe you can shoot us a bunny wabbit for dinner, Elmer.

    9. avatar B-RadN says:

      Funny. I don’t remember reading anything about hunting or sport shooting in the 2nd Amendment or the federalist papers.

    10. avatar sound awake says:

      were armed up and ammod up and trained up because this is what were up against:

      https://www.zerohedge.com/political/michigan-trump-supporters-home-bombed-police-investigate-video-footage

      1. avatar Someone says:

        Come on, what’s a little fireworks between friends? As the “president elect” said, we have to get together, heal, get the vitriol out of politics and lose all memory.

  2. avatar Ralph says:

    I’ve always believed that the easiest way to turn a 1 MOA rifle into a 3 MOA rifle is to use a red dot sight.

    1. avatar ABN LRRP RGR 3 tours RVN says:

      MOA explanations broke down for those that want to learn…….https://www.myknowledgeguy.com/what-is-moa-and-what-does-it-mean-to-shooting/

    2. avatar Mercury says:

      You may be turning the brightness up too high for conditions, which causes the reticle to bloom and obscures the target, even on a good sight. With a small dot (2 MOA) and correct brightness apartment, a good dot sight is more than precise enough to take an AR out to 300 yds on a man-sized target. If you need more precision than that, you wouldn’t be getting any of the advantages of a red dot with what you’re doing anyway.

      1. avatar jwtaylor says:

        You just proved Ralph’s point by describing a 6MOA capable rifle.

      2. avatar Someone says:

        And you can get easy headshot at the same distance with a 1MOA rifle and decent scope.

        Red dots are okay – for short distances.

    3. avatar busybeef says:

      That’s not the point of an RDO.
      Faster target acquisition and target oriented aiming – you no longer have to line up the rear and front sight and focus on either the front sight or the target.

      You focus on the target and line up the dot on the target. Simple. Try it sometime.

      Remember – you’re shooting for Minute-of-Bad-Guy, not 1 MOA.

      1. avatar Mk10108 says:

        Shooting for a minute of bad guy. Wise words with a pearl.

  3. avatar former water walker says:

    Why not both? I have a red dot & a 3x magnifier. Quick detatch on the magnifier(for those worried about weight!) Precisely because I want to shoot farther I’m perusing a LPVO. 1to6 or 1to9. No plans on shooting past 300yards. I dunno what will happen when I have cataract surgery but it should be light years better than now. I don’t hunt,compete or skeet shoot(or care about doves-he he). Prices are dirt cheap for a fair optic too. Lots of info on LPVO’s on YouTube…

    1. avatar S.Crock says:

      The Primary Arms 1-6 ACSS LPVO looks amazing. I’ll be getting one for my new AR build. For under $300 it seems like a steal.

      1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

        Yeah, I was looking that one over too. I hope it can take recoil, I’m putting it on a .375.

        1. avatar former water walker says:

          Way under $300 on Optics Planet. If I read right it’s $149! And it’s Christmas😋

  4. avatar Prndll says:

    What these things need is a reliable means of wireless charging that is integrated into a storage rack.

    1. avatar Me says:

      Throw a spare in the grip of your rifle. Or change the battery annually/semi-annually and you won’t have a problem with dead batteries.

  5. avatar M1Lou says:

    I’ll be trying a magnifier in the near future to see how I like it with my Eotech. I already have LVPOs and like them for the most part. I also have Aimpoints and might try that also. While most of my shooting is shorter range, it is nice to have a little magnification to see the target better.

  6. avatar sound awake says:

    tried the red dot magnifier route
    didnt like it
    now my 10.5s get a red dot
    the 16.5s get a second focal plane 1-4x or 1-6x

  7. avatar guy says:

    I have a vortex strike eagle 1×9 I never use it past 7 because the edges blur to much but other than that I have nothing bad to say about it. The 1×6 is what I should’ve gone with. I have one a the old wide view redfield scopes I would love to see a lpvo similar to it.

  8. avatar GoodOptics=$$$ says:

    Depends on the application.
    Somehow an Trijicon 1-4 I had got destroyed. One day I picked it up and the eye-bell was bent. I have absolutely no idea how it happened. Trijicon replaced it thankfully.
    Have had an Aimpoint Micro T-1 since 2006… changed the battery a couple times… beat the heck out of it… still going strong. Been on my go rifle forever.
    So, durability and battery life, Aimpoints win.
    If I were looking for an LPVO, it maybe the Sig 1-6 the military just chose. Or a 1-10 Vortex because of warranty. Or any other military approved optic as you know they’ve been beat up. But… any LPVO, I’d still treat like a China cup, especially with my life depending on it. LPVO’s are great for target identification which is really important, but binoculars do that also.

    1. avatar Elliot says:

      If you look around on forums, there are a bunch of LPVO that our troops bought themselves and used overseas before they were issued. Some of the more common ones I saw were Leupold and Vortex, with the occasional VCOG and Kahles.

  9. avatar Quasimofo says:

    Here I am with my 5x prism and offset RDS feeling like a redheaded stepchild.

  10. avatar sound awake says:

    as the pictures here indicate this is of course a big advantage of the standard right out of the box entry level ar over the standard right out of the box entry level ak:
    immediate and almost unlimited options for scope/red dot/magnifier/offset sight/sling/light/laser/vertical grip/bipod mounting

  11. avatar beaky says:

    the Primary Arms 3X Prism will get you pretty much where you want to be in any situation except a 1000 yd snipe

    1. avatar DAVID BILL says:

      These comparisons are always using the LVPO against the red dot + magnifier. A better comparison in my opinion is that 3X or 5X prism against the red dot + magnifier. Of course maybe they aren’t compared because the prism would win in a landslide.

  12. avatar Josh says:

    LPVO, or prismatic scope for me. Why? One word: Astigmatism.

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