Rifles have a firm place in our world’s history and after a new, more efficient weapon one day comes to pass the rifle, it will still be remembered. Rifles replaced the sword hundreds of years ago and in time they have rapidly evolved from simple pieces of steel and wood, into a complex amalgamation of steel and polymers. As rifle’s advanced it became apparent that a shooter’s capability could be greatly improved depending on the sights the rifle was equipped with.
As rifle’s evolved sighting system followed in lock-step, but there is only so far iron sights could go. The natural progression for shooters, hunters, police, and military was to advance to an optic. These days it’s rare not to see and optic equipped rifle. The gun market has exploded and alongside it has given consumers a broad and sweeping variety of optic options. The market is made up of iron sights, laser sights, red dot scopes, variable rifle scopes, and holographic optics. These sighting options allow men and women to customize their weapons for their specific needs and what the weapon is intended for.
Rifle Optics World Recommendations
Best Red-Dot Sight – Burris Fastfire III ( 4.4/5 from 305 Amazon customer reviews )
Best Holographic Sight – EoTech OpMOD XPS-2 ( 4.7/5 from 15 Amazon customer reviews )
Best Long-Range Scope – Leupold Optics Mark 4 ( 5/5 from 3 Amazon customer reviews )
Best Medium Range Scope – Trijicon Vcog ( 5/5 from 24 Amazon Customer reviews )
Top Rifle Optics
|Picture||Product Name||Type||Price||Amazon Rating|
|Burris Fastfire III||Red-Dot||$$ (Check Price)||4.4/5|
|EoTech OPmod EXPS-2||Holographic||$$$ (Check Price)||4.7/5|
|Leupold Mark 4 LR/T||Long-Range Scope||$$$$ (Check Price)||5/5|
|Trijicon Vcog||Medium-Range Scope||$$$$$ (Check Price)||5/5|
Introduction To 6 Types Of Sights
Iron sights are the old standard for firearms. For hundreds of years, they had a place on our rifles, handguns, and shotguns, and regardless of how much optics have evolved every weapon should have a set of iron sights. A quality set of Iron sights are ridiculously hard to break and are a perfect backup for an optic.
Back up iron sights are typical on rifles and a variety of flip-up models are available like the Magpul MBUS, Diamond head sights, or Troy sights. These sights fold conveniently out of the way and allow the use of optics with ease. Handguns that utilize a red dot sight should still be equipped with back up iron sights mounted in front of or behind the optic that can be used if and when the optic fails.
Iron sights actually offer a number of advantages over optics.
- Primarily they are more dependable and nowhere as fragile as an optic. Iron sights do not have to worry about batteries, about breaking glass, are completely waterproof, and not affected by extreme temperatures. Outside of long range, specialty sights used for competition iron sights are extremely tough and dependable in any situation. Irons can be used effectively for both short and medium range engagements with the standard AR 15 iron sights is able to reach out to 500 yards and hit a man sized target.
- Iron sights offer will always be the most dependable option because they rely on simplicity. The simpler something is the fewer failure points it will have. Iron sights can do a lot, and have a place on every firearm.
- While it’s true iron sights can reach out and do work they do not do it as effectively and as quickly as an optic can. A five hundred yard shot with irons is going to require some adjustments, and a mastery of the fundamentals, and once you add in moving targets this becomes extremely difficult. A magnified optic will make hitting targets at long ranges much easier, much more precise and much faster.
- At close range iron sights can work, but they can also be obstructed by the environment around you and difficult to see, and let’s not forget light considerations. Low light situations make more iron sights difficult to see without tritium inserts. To effectively use iron sights behind bad breath distances you’ll have to line them up which takes time. A red dot is much faster than iron sights to get on close range targets.
Do not let the name deceive you laser sights are not traditional sights. You’re not looking through anything, but rather looking for the sight. These sights emit a laser that the user places on their target. Most commonly found on handguns laser sights are favorites for low light situations.
Lasers make it possible for those armed with handguns to place their shots on targets with little use of the sights. While the sights should be used when possible, a laser allows a shooter to take a sure and confident shot in the dark. On a handgun, a laser can also be used as a training device for dry fire practice.
Lasers on rifles are a bit less common but still used routinely by some. A good IR laser on a rifle can work hand in hand with night vision optic as a hunting tool. With the rise of night vision as a hunting device, the use of IR lasers is sure to rise.
The downside of the laser is the fact is is nearly impossible to see during the daylight, or in a bright environment in general. Lasers like anything electronic can also fail, and a shooter trained to look at the dot will find themselves at a disadvantage when it fails. When cost is considered lasers are also quite expensive, going for around 200 dollars for a solid set of crimson trace grips.
Popularized and invented by Aimpoint the red dot optic is a solitary tube that uses a simple red dot as a reticle. Perfect for any time of day a red dot optic is remarkably simple to use and often one of the best choices for close quarters shooting or for like cape buffalo hunting.
Red dot optics are the quickest and most effective close range optic. They rely on a very simple concept and are easy to use with minimal instruction and training. A red dot optic is capable of engaging targets typically within two to three hundred yards. At close range, the red dot makes it as simple as putting the dot on the target and pulling the trigger.
Red dot optics comes in a wide variety of sizes and can be used on nearly every projectile weapon imaginable. There are red dot sights that can act as a primary optic on a rifle or shotgun, or smaller models can be used in coordination with a variable optic for close range transition work. Small red dots can be mounted on handguns for both defensive shooting and hunting. Aimpoint even produces red dot optics that can be used with compound and crossbows
Red dot sights and their simplicity make them a limited application and restrain them to close range as home defense or tactical optic. At long range, red-dots are difficult to use, even when paired with a magnifier, because you do not have a correct reticle that lends itself well to medium and long range shooting.
Our Red-Dot Sight Buyer Guide: http://rifleopticsworld.com/blueprint-red-dot-optic/
Variable scopes are the classic rifle scopes. The one most often found on the rifles of hunters and marksmen. Variable scopes allow the user to fine tune the magnification for the job and range at hand. These scopes typically vary from short to long range and size will often dictate their power level.
Variable scopes have a very wide range of power selections, which can range from 10 to 40 power down to 1 to 4 power. Variable scopes allow users to shoot accurately at a variety of different ranges and allow for clear observation of targets. Variable scopes come in two different sight planes, the first focal plane and the second focal plane:
1. First focal plane scopes have a reticle that will grow and shrink as the scope’s magnification is changed. This keeps any measurement devices accurate for the entire magnification range. First focal plane scopes allow users to accurately measure and utilize distances and compensate for bullet drop and windage at any range.
2. Second focal plane scopes means the reticle does not adjust as the magnification is increased and decreased. This affects the scope’s use of mil dot or bullet drop compensators and means they are only accurate at one specific magnification level. Second focal plane scopes are often cheaper and more commonly available. Second focal plane scopes are best used with know distance courses or environments.
Variable scopes biggest problem is the fact they are fragile when compared to other options. Whenever moving, pieces are present there are more failure points. High-quality variable optics are also quite expensive, ranging from several hundred dollars to several thousand.
Some of our articles that cover variable power scopes:
Our Long-Range Scope Buyer Guide: http://rifleopticsworld.com/buyers-guide-long-range-rifle-scope/
Fixed power scopes are magnified optics that feature a single level of magnification. This level of magnification varies and can be used as both a rifle combat optic or as a sniper’s optic. Example include the Trijicon ACOG is used by the Marine Corps, a 4x fixed power optic, to the Bushnell Elite G2 a 10 power fixed power optic.
With a fixed power optic, the focal plane doesn’t really matter since magnification range isn’t an issue. This allows a very high-quality scope to be available and affordable. The lack of variable magnifications allows the optic to be more effectively sealed and much tougher overall as an optic.
The only issue is, of course, a fixed power optic isn’t as versatile as a variable optic. In some situations too much, too little magnification is a handicap.
Holographic optics is another variant of the red dot optic. They are however a square in shape and not a tube design. They are also more open and can often have a more complicated reticle. These reticles are often designed to do specific positions and are often proprietary between optic companies. They do retain the close range engagement aspect of red dot optics though.
Holographic optics are identical in almost every way to a red dot. The more complicated reticles make the optic more versatile, but they also drain the battery much faster than a traditional optic. Holographic optics are often a lot less durable, and cannot be submerged as deep, or as exposed to extreme temperatures.
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Top 4 Rifle Optics Reviews
The Burris Fastfire 3 is a small, lightweight, holographic red dot optic designed for use on a wide variety of different weapons. In fact, the Burris Fastfire 3 can be used on rifles, carbines, submachine guns, handguns, shotguns, and can really be effective on anything that has a rail to attach it too. The Fastfire 3 makes the best use of it’s small size, the window is 15 mm tall, and 21 mm wide. The Eotech has a 33 mm window and is at least three times the size of the Fastfire 3.
The Fastfire 3 has options for both a 3 MOA reticle or an 8 MOA reticle. The 3 MOA would be more effective on a rifle or carbine since it’s more precise and easier to use at longer ranges. The 8 moa is perfect for handguns or shotguns, where the range is closer, and speed on target is more important than precision. The Fastfire 3 is designed to be used with both eyes opened, and the open top design allows the shooter to maintain a natural and wide field of view.
The Fastfire 3 has something quite unique, a sensor that automatically adjusts the reticle’s brightness to the environment. This allows a seamless transition from inside to outside transitions. There is also a manual switch to variate the brightness levels. The Fastfire is tough as nails, and it’s shockproof design can work on heavy recoiling handguns and shotguns without issue. The Fastfire is waterproof as well, and the glass itself is a high-grade optical glass for both excellent clarity, and uncompromising strength.
Objective Lens: 21×15 mm
Eye Relief: Unlimited
Length: 1.9 inches
Weight: 1.5 oz
Illumination Settings: 3 manual brightness levels, automatic brightness adjustment
MSRP: $ 287-299
The Eotech OPMOD EXPS-2 is a holographic optic designed for close range use on long guns, either rifle or shotguns. The OPMOD EXPS-2 features buttons on the side of the optic that are much easier to access than the standard rear controls on the original EXPS-2. Another addition and improvement is the use of a quick detach lever that ensures both an even grip on the rails and the ability to rapidly install and remove the optic.
The OPMOD EXPS-2 is a more compact variant of the traditional Eotech optic that reduces the optic’s length by using a single 123 Lithium battery over two double A batteries. This keeps the battery compartment very small, and out of the way. This allows easier mounting of the optic and accessories like magnifiers on weapons with limited rail space, like an AK 47, or an H&K g3/91. The EXPS-2 have two options for reticles, the traditional Eotech reticle, and the two dot reticle.
The EXPS-2’s optic is ideal for engagements ten yards away, or for engagements two hundred yards away. The wide 68 MOA portion of the reticle is for close range bad breath engagements. Fill the 68 MOA circle with the target and start pulling the trigger. For targets, fifty meters and up to 200 the single small dot in the center is small and precise. The EXPS-2 is an excellent optic for military and LEO use, as well as competition, and home defense. Eotech optics are known for their strength, their durability, and their precision and the OPMOD EXPS-2 is no different.
Eye Relief: Unlimited
Length: 3.5 inches
Weight: 11.2 oz
Color/finish: Non-reflective black w/ hard coat finish
Water and fog proof: Yes, submersible to 33 ft
Brightness Settings: 30 settings with scrolling feature
Power Source: Single CR123 Battery
MSRP: Not Specified on Manufacturers page
Best Long-Range Scope
The Leupold Mark 4 is a prominent long range optic built to the same standard Leupold has placed into the optics they provide for the military. The Mark 4 comes in a variety of different magnifications but for long range shooting the 8.5 to 25 power or the 6.5 to 20 power optics would excel. Both provide a high level of magnification of and a wide objective lens. The Mark 4 equipped with the TS-29 x 1 reticle is perfect for adjustments for elevation and windage at long ranges.
The Ts-29 reticle is complicated and complete with both windage and elevation hash marks throughout the reticle. The Leupold Xtended Twilight Lens System is designed to allow shooters to see further in low light situations, and the Diamondcoat 2 lens coating provide a high level of light transmission and a durable, abrasion resistant surface for exterior lenses. The Mark 4 would be well suited on any 30 caliber weapon, as well as any 338 Lapua, or 416 Barrett.
The Mark 4 has a very generous eye box to allow shooters to rapidly get behind the optic and get on target. The Mark 4 is perfect for both hunters and for tactical environments. The optic is rock solid, the design is shock, water, and fog proof. The only trade off is the 22-ounce weight, which isn’t exactly a feather. The Mark 4 is perfect for long range engagements and excels at handily powerful calibers with ease. The Mark 4 is an excellent long range optic that can put rounds on target past eight hundred yards.
Objective Lens: 50mm
Eye Relief: 5.3-3.7″
Length: 14 1/2″
Weight: 22.5 oz
F.O.V @ 100 yards: 11.3-4.4′
Reticle: Non-illuminated mil dot
Parallax Settings: 75 yards to infinity
Best Medium Range Scope
The Trijicon Vcog also known as their Variable Combat Optical Gunsight is the infusion of some of Trijicon’s best features from the ACOG, and the Accupower, and Accupoint optics. The VCOG is a built with the same strength every Trijicon optic is built with, meaning it is resistant to shock, and fog, and not only waterproof but submersible up to sixty-six feet. The VCOG is an excellent medium range scope with a 1 to 6 power, allowing it to have the versatility of both close and medium range engagements.
The VCOG features an illuminated reticle with adjustable brightness settings and is powered by a single double A battery. The VCOG comes complete with it’s Trijicon brand mounting adapter that is ready to be mounted out of the box. The VCOG is the perfect design for a designated marksman’s rifle, or a medium range hunting rifle. The illuminated reticle adds a certain level of versatility, and the magnification allows the optic to be used at a variety of distances.
The VCOG magnification ring has an integrated dial fin for rapid and easy manipulation of the scope’s magnification. The VCOG reticle works on the first focal plane to keep the bullet drop compensator true for any magnification. Speaking of which the VCOG had a variety of different reticles available, and bullet drop compensators for the 223/5.56 round, the 308, and the 300 Blackout round. The Trijicon VCOG is an extremely durable and capable optic, perfect for medium range engagements.
Objective Size: 24 mm
Weight: 23.2 oz
Length: 10.05 inches
F.O.V @ 100 yards: 95 – 15.9
Parallax Settings:Parallax Free
Batteries: 1 AA, 715 hours continuous use
Water and fog proof: Yes up to 66 feet
Choosing an Optic
The most important considerations to choosing an optic are knowing what your rifle is going to be used for:
- Are you a police officer looking to outfit your patrol carbine?
- Are you hunter in Texas looking for something to hunt the plains with?
- Maybe you are just looking to outfit a home defense rifle?
Once you know what the rifle is going to be used for you can proceed to choose the proper optic.
Outside of choosing right type of optic, there is a variety of considerations to remember. Is the optic designed for your rifle and caliber? Some scopes are specifically designed to be used with a certain caliber, a certain barrel length, and a certain loading. So be sure your rifle matches the scope.
One of the most important aspects of choosing a scope is it’s durability, carefully consider user reviews. Most importantly if you are looking to depend on this optic for anything more than recreational plinking you need to invest in a quality optic. Quality doesn’t cost, it pays. When purchasing an optic take careful note of a few things:
- Is it shock proof?
- Fog Proof?
- Does the optic require any special batteries or other considerations?
Durability is a major concern since no one wants their optic to go off and break on them. This is more of a concern with cheap, low priced, foreign made optics. Mid and high range optics from reputable manufacturers are rarely a concern in terms of general durability.
Designed For Your Caliber
One major concern is making sure the optic is rated for your caliber. High powered rounds like the 338 Lapua, the 375 H&H magnum, or 444 Marlin can damage scopes not rated for their recoil. The Nikon P-223/300 is an excellent optic for an intermediate cartridge rifle, is well made, and durable, but is not rated for a magnum like loading.
Coated lenses are also a feature you should look for, especially fully multi-coated glass. This coating allows the scope to capture more light and aid in low light situations. Another feature is the size of the objective lens, a larger lens captures more light. Does the scope have an illuminated reticle for night shooting in the first place?
Optics are somewhat fragile, some more than others. I always look into what kind of warranty a company offers on the optic. Remember you really just using pieces of glass and aluminum, both of which can break or fail. A good warranty can protect you from losing out on your investment.
Batteries and Battery Life
Understand what kind of the batteries the optic may require, and how and if they can work without batteries. Some optics with an illuminated reticle may also be glass etched and not require batteries to work, some may rely entirely on a battery-powered reticle.
Size considerations are another issue. For example, an Aimpoint M4s is a red dot, and a Trijicon RMR is a red dot, but only one of these can fit on a handgun. Some optics may be too big to fit a small section of rail. Often shotguns, AK clones, and older rifles, in general, do not have generous section of rail like H&K G3 clones. This is pretty important when you are looking to combine an optic with night vision or a red dot with a magnifier.
Understanding the Terminology
If you’ve started reading reviews, or even glanced at an optic company’s website, you may have come across a few phrases and pieces of terminology that are new to you. Optics has a very specific terminology that is important to understand.
Eye Relief – This is the distance necessary from your scope to have a complete field of view.
Parallax – Parallax is the how the reticle appears on the target at a variety of different ranges. You can see parallax when you move your eye to the right or left of the scope.
Coatings – There is a variety of different coatings that are used on the lens to reduce light loss and reflective glare. The better the coating offers a higher contrast image that can reduce eyestrain. The following coatings are representative of quality and listed from worst to best.
Turrets – The circular objects mounted on the top and side of an optic. They adjust for both windage and elevation. Turrets are used to make adjustments and to zero an optic.
Scope Rail – A section dedicated to mounting the optic. Often referred interchangeably as Weaver or Picatinny rails. Most optics can mount to both Picatinny or Weaver rails.
Field of View – The field of view is the area you can see through your scope. This is often a distance measured from left to right, for example, a FOV of 100 yards means you can see 100 yards from left to right through your scope.
First Focal Plane /FFP – FFP scopes have the reticle placed in the front of the optic. Reticles will grow and shrink as the optic’s magnification changes.
Second Focal Plane/SFP – On SFP scopes the reticle is placed in the back of the erector tube. The reticle does not change as the magnification changes.
Minute of Angle / MOA – MOA is a unit of measurement of a circle. MOA is 1.0472 inches at 100 yards but is often referred to 1 inch for simplicity sake. So MOA is 1 inch at 100, 2 inches at 200, 3 inches at 300, and so on and so forth.
MIL – A unit of measurement that is typically expressed as dots or hash marks on an optic’s reticle.
Scope rings/Mount – The rings that act as the platform between the rifle and the scope. Rings are to separate bases, and a mount is often considered a one piece base.
Bullet Drop Compensator – A compensator built into an optic to give aiming points and holdovers for specified ranges. These are often designed to be used with a specific barrel length, bullet weight, caliber, and loading to ensure accurately.
Zero – A zero refers to your rifle and optic being sighted in. You zero your weapon at a particular range and this can refer to a particular distance. So you can have a 500 yard zero if your weapon is sighted in at 500 yards.
Power – Is the level of magnification a scope has. So a 10 power scope (Or 10x) it has a magnification factor of 10.
Windage – Horizontal adjustments on an optic
Elevation – Vertical adjustments on an optic
Zoom On At the Other Side
Optics has changed the face of the rifle. These days finding an AR carbine without a flat top railed upper receiver is nearly impossible. A good optic can transform your rifle and increase its effective range dramatically. Optics make firing a weapon much easier by reducing the necessary skills required to align sights and ensure perfect sight picture.
A good optic can work wonders, keyword being good. A bad optic can mean a waste of money, time, and ammo, and a boatload of frustration. Invest in a quality optic that is capable of meeting your needs, and an optic that compliments your rifle’s capabilities. Always shoot straight.