Best AR-15 Optics : Which Optic is Right for you?

by Travis Pike

May 28, 2023

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The AR-15 is clearly America’s favorite rifle and like any good rifle, the AR-15 is well-served by the presence of an optic. However, the AR 15 optics market is flooded with options; you can shove basically anything on there, and this can make this selection process of finding your best AR 15 optic somewhat overwhelming.

But don’t worry–I’ve got you covered. As an avid shooter and optics enthusiast, I’ve spent countless hours behind various optics, testing their performance in different scenarios. Using my knowledge, I’ve put together a list of the best optics in the market for AR-15 rifles.

I’ll guide you through this diverse landscape of optics to help you zero in on the best choice for your AR-15, be it for close-range shooting or target shooting at longer distances.

That said, most AR 15 optics fall into three categories: Red Dots, Prism, and LPVOs. Let’s take a closer look at them first.

A line up of AR-15 optics

Types of AR-15 Optics

There are a lot of different optics out there but you’ll mostly be using one of the following three types with your AR-15. Each type brings its own set of advantages, catering to specific shooting styles and preferences.

  • Red dots – Red dots gain their name from the simple reticle they utilize. Most use a plain red dot that serves as your reticle although newer red dots are incorporating more complicated, multi-use reticles for a better degree of versatility. It’s a straightforward, non-magnified option that’s relatively easy to use from 5 to 200 yards or so. These simple optics can be tiny, lightweight, and have a minimal footprint overall.  Holographic optics are not technically red dots but act in the same way. They can work with a broken window and can create more complicated reticles effectively. These optics serve the same purpose as a red dot in close-range shooting.
  • Prism – Prism optics are often fixed power optics between 2.5 to 6 power. These optics are more compact and lighter than variable optics and tend to be extremely durable and simplistic. Prism optics utilize etched reticles that are illuminated. The etched reticles can be more complicated with bullet drop compensators, windage adjustments, and beyond. While the illumination utilizes batteries, should the batteries die or electronics fail, the etched reticle is still visible. There are a few prism optics that are 1x models that offer their own benefits over red dots. This includes the always-on etched reticle, a clear reticle for those with astigmatism, and the ability to utilize more complicated reticles. 
  • LPVOs – LPVO stands for Low Power Variable Optic. These versatile optics pack a punch and provide users with a magnification level that can range from 1x to 10x and everywhere in between. LPVOs come in various sizes, and the most common is 1-4x, 1-6x, 1-8x, and 1-10x. Most LPVOs use illuminated reticles that can act almost like a red dot at close ranges, and then the user can dial-in the magnification for longer range shots, target identification, and reconnaissance purposes. LPVOs are taking over the industry, and their versatility matches the AR 15 well. 

When putting together this list, I made sure to include something for everyone to ensure that every shooter would be able to find something that suits their style. Here’s how I went about it.

How I Set Up To Curate The Best AR-15 Optics List

As someone who’s dived headfirst into the world of AR-15 optics, I’ve written tons about these babies and had the joy of not just owning a bunch of optics but also getting some sent over by companies. Heck, I’ve even had the chance to put a few through their paces at media events – a couple of those trials convinced me to snag a few for myself!

But before I got cracking on this article, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing any gems. So, I hit up a few pals in the industry, picked their brains about sights I hadn’t laid my hands on yet, and boy, did that add some serious depth to this guide. Those discussions helped me craft a comprehensive list of top-notch AR-15 optics, all aimed at fitting different needs and preferences – ’cause let’s be real, there’s no one-size-fits-all perfect optic out there for every shooter or scenario.

So, armed with this mix of personal tests, industry insights, and a passion for all things AR-15, let’s dive into my handpicked selection. Time to explore these optics and find the ones that truly shine for different shooting styles and situations.

Best AR Optics

Budget AR Optics

Best AR Optics

Vortex 1-10X
  • Editors Choice
  • First Focal Plane Reticle
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Aimpoint Comp M5 BDC Turrets
  • Best Red Dot
  • Quickly adjust the reticle
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Trijicon ACOG 4x32 BAC
  • Best Prism Optic
  • Rugged Aluminum-Alloy Housing
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Eotech XPS3
  • Holographic Sight
  • 68 MOA Ring w/ 1 MOA Ballistic Dot
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Trijicon Credo 1-4X
  • Crisp, precise, windage / elevation adjusters
  • Ruggedized design
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Vortex Spitfire 1X
  • Prism-Based Design
  • 5 Levels of Red/Green Illumination
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Budget AR Optics

SIG Romeo5
  • Budget Red Dot
  • Elevation / Windage Adjustment
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Athlon Optics Midas TSP3
  • Budget Prism Sight
  • Adjustable illumination settings
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Swampfox Tomahawk
  • Budget LPVO
  • Guerrilla Dot BDC Reticle
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Best AR-15 Optics Spec Comparison

OpticsMagnificationObjective LensTube DiameterEye ReliefWeight
Vortex Razor 1-10x1-10x24 mm34 mm3.6 inches21.5 ounces
Aimpoint Comp M5b Turrets

1x

25 mm N/AUnlimited6.3 ounces
Trijicon Acog 4x32 BAC4x32 mmN/A1.5 inches15.1 ounces
Eotech XPS3 1xN/AN/AUnlimited9 ounces
Trijicon Credo 1-4X 1-4x24 mm30 mm2.6-3.9 inches17.1 ounces
Vortex Spitfire 1X1x300 mmN/A3.7 inches11.2 ounces

Budget AR-15 Optics Spec Comparison

OpticsMagnificationObjective LensTube DiameterEye ReliefWeight
SIG Romeo51x20 mmN/AUnlimited5.6 ounces
Athlon Optics Midas TSP3

3x

30 mmN/A3.2 inches16 ounces
Swampfox Tomahawk 1-6x24 mm30 mm3.7 inches18.6 ounces

Reviews of the Best AR-15 Optics

When looking for a scope there are so many options available, so it can be hard finding the best one that suits you. But have no fear because we’ve done all of your research for you! These are our top picks in this category.
Each optics reviewed here has its own unique features that make them stand out as something worth looking into further, whether you find yourself in a place that budget isn’t really an issue or you just want something simple, check out our reviews below and find a scope that suits you.

1. Vortex Razor HD Gen 3 1-10X24

Editor's Choice
Vortex Razor HD Gen 3 1-10X24

Vortex Razor HD Gen 3 1-10X24

The reticle incorporates both a large illuminated circle with a Christmas tree like reticle. This provides you points for both drop and wind compensation.

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  • Clarity A+
  • Shootability A+
  • Reliability A+
  • Features A+

Our Grade

A+

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TBD

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Vortex Razor 1-10x Specs

  • Magnification 1-10x
  • Objective Lens 24 mm
  • Tube Diameter 34 mm
  • Eye Relief 3.6 inches
  • Weight 21.5 ounces

Vortex Razor 1-10x Review

As the proud owner of the Vortex Razor 1-10x, I can confidently say it’s a game-changer in the optics world. Let me tell you why it’s right at the top of my list among AR 15 optics even compared to other Vortex optics.

When I first got my hands on the Razor 1-10x, what struck me was its ability to cram 10X magnification into a frame that feels as light as a 1-6X. The weight reduction without compromising magnification was a major win for me. It’s like having the best of both worlds.

The glass quality? It’s got some very clear glass. I can vouch for the exceptional clarity, especially when pushing it to the maximum 10x magnification. Long-distance shots? No problem. The images remained clear and crisp, ensuring I didn’t miss a beat.

What really adds to its versatility is the reticle. The illuminated circle with a Christmas tree-like layout was a pleasant surprise. It’s like having a roadmap for drop and wind compensation, which made those longer shots a breeze. But here’s the kicker: paired with the 1-10x magnification, it’s surprisingly adaptable even for close-range shooting. It may not match the speed of a red dot, but it’s darn close.

Speaking of performance, this optic really shines beyond 500 yards. The combination of clarity, magnification, and that versatile reticle system was a game-changer for my shooting experience. I felt confident taking shots at longer ranges, something I hadn’t been able to do as effectively with other optics.

Now, there were a couple of things that caught my attention. At 1x magnification, there’s a slight distortion, but it’s hardly a deal-breaker. And when cranked up to the full 10x, the eye box does get a bit snug. But hey, that’s the norm with high magnification, and with some practice, it becomes manageable.

Durability-wise, this optic feels like a tank. It’s rugged, built to withstand the intensity of active shooting. However, I do wish it had exposed turrets for those finer adjustments.

The illuminated reticle is a game-changer in low-light conditions. It’s focused on the center dot and donut, making it easy to acquire targets even in dim settings. Though, I found that on low-contrast targets, the mil grid while illuminated could be a tad challenging.

The mil-based reticle is well-designed, especially the dot, donut, and the T-shaped layout for holdovers. It grows larger and slightly translucent as you zoom, which came in handy for targets within the 250 to 400-yard range. Yet, I noticed the mil grid alignment could feel a bit off with numeric designators and wind holds.

So, why did I rank the Vortex Razor 1-10x as the top optic for AR 15 in my article? It’s simple: its exceptional clarity, versatile daylight bright reticle, and adaptability for various shooting scenarios impressed me beyond measure. Sure, it’s not the cheapest option out there, but its quality justifies the investment. Remember though, your skills and training matter as much as the optic itself.

In a nutshell, the Vortex Razor 1-10x is a top-tier LPVO that caters to a wide range of shooting needs. Whether you’re into precision shooting, hunting, or simply love the flexibility of a 1-10x LPVO, this optic is a gem worth considering. Trust me, put it to the test, and it won’t disappoint. Check out our full review of the Vortex Razor here.

Vortex Razor 1-10x Pros and Cons

  • Incredible Versatility
  • Brilliant Clarity
  • Outstanding reticle
  • Expensive

2. Aimpoint CompM5b

Aimpoint CompM5b

The new Comp M5b is a full-sized red dot optic that is topped with a set of innovative turrets. These turrets act as a bullet drop compensator and are designed around the 5.56’s ballistic drop.

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  • Clarity A+
  • Shootability A+
  • Reliability A+
  • Features A+

Our Grade

A+

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TBD

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Aimpoint Comp M5b Specs

  • Magnification 1x
  • Objective Lens 25 mm
  • Tube Diameter N/A
  • Eye Relief Unlimited
  • Weight 6.3 ounces

Aimpoint Comp M5 Review

I got my hands on the Aimpoint Comp M5b, and it’s a serious contender in the red dot sights arena. Aimpoint has a history of pioneering red dot optics, and the Comp M5b continues that legacy. The Comp M5b is the best red dot sight you can get your hands on. It’s earned its place high on my list of recommendations, but why isn’t it at the very top? Let me break it down.

First off, this is one of the reflex sights that boasts innovation. Those innovative turrets designed for the 5.56’s ballistic drop? They’re a game-changer. Being able to adjust the turret for range elevates the reticle, ensuring precise compensation for bullet drop. That kind of adaptability is invaluable, especially in dynamic shooting situations.

Durability is a standout feature. This thing is built like a tank. It’s rugged and designed to withstand harsh conditions, which is crucial for me. Pair it with a magnifier, and you’ve got extra range without compromising on reliability. Plus, the battery life is impressive—5 years on a single AAA battery? That battery life is peace of mind in the field.

Now, the 2 MOA reticle might seem simple, but it’s rock solid. It’s versatile enough for close-quarter engagements and medium-range shots, giving me flexibility in various scenarios. And let me tell you, the clarity of the glass is exceptional. It’s like looking through a crystal-clear lens—essential for fast target acquisition.

But, there are a couple of things that nudged it down the list for me. Co-witnessing with iron sights felt a bit restricted, which might not be a deal-breaker for many, but it’s worth considering if you heavily rely on iron sights in your setup.

Another aspect worth noting is the turret adjustments. They work well, but the use of plastic caps on the reverse side can be fiddly, especially in situations where dexterity might be compromised, like when wearing gloves or operating in cold conditions.

Despite these minor drawbacks, the Comp M5b screams reliability. Its consistency across different rifles over several months of use was impressive. The build quality inspires confidence—it’s a tool that can handle the demands of field use without breaking a sweat.

I do appreciate the thoughtful additions, like the flip-down lens covers. They not only protect the lens but also add to the optic’s readiness. And speaking of readiness, the wide range of brightness settings and the inclusion of night vision-compatible options are fantastic for adapting to various lighting conditions.

Sure it’s not one of the cheap red dot sights, but when it comes to premium rifles like my go-to SHTF gun, skimping on the red dots isn’t an option. If you’re looking for an optic that can handle extreme conditions and deliver consistent results, the Aimpoint Comp M5b is a solid choice. It might not be the absolute top pick due to some minor limitations, but it’s definitely one to consider for your high-end setups. You can read my full review of the optic here.

Aimpoint Comp M5 Pros and Cons

  • Innovative BDC turrets
  • Bombproof design
  • Ultra-long battery life.
  • Expensive

3. Trijicon ACOG 4×32 BAC

Trijicon ACOG 4x32 BAC

Trijicon ACOG 4×32 BAC

The ACOG is a compact, lightweight optic that is specifically designed around the M-16/M4/AR 15 platform. It offers excellent clarity, unbeatable durability, and it’s been more than proven in combat.

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  • Clarity A+
  • Shootability B+
  • Reliability A+
  • Features B+

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A

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Trijicon ACOG 4×32 Specs

  • Magnification 4x
  • Objective Lens 32 mm
  • Tube Diameter N/A
  • Eye Relief 1.5 inches
  • Weight 15.1 ounces

Trijicon ACOG 4×32 Review

The Trijicon ACOG 4×32 holds a special place in the world of AR 15 optics. It’s an icon, having been the go-to optic for the USMC throughout most of the Global War on Terror. This optic is purpose-built for the M-16/M4/AR 15 platform, offering exceptional clarity and unmatched durability—qualities that have been proven time and again in combat scenarios.

When I first experienced the ACOG, it was like witnessing a new level of optical brilliance. The clarity and crispness of the sight picture were unparalleled. It’s like having the finest HDTV for your rifle. The optic’s ability to gather light ensures adaptability across various lighting conditions, but I must mention, that its shorter eye relief might be a drawback for some. As someone who wears glasses for distance vision, I found that with them on, the reticle is astonishingly clear. However, without my glasses, there’s a slight loss of that crispness. Yet, when on the range, where I always have my glasses on, this actually turns into an advantage. Unlike other scopes, I don’t need to fuss with adjustments to achieve a clear reticle with my glasses on. This enhanced clarity has significantly amped up my shooting precision—a testament to the ACOG’s quality.

The ACOG lives up to its reputation for quick target acquisition. Its design, emphasizing both eyes open shooting, allows for heightened situational awareness while maintaining a clear sight picture—a game-changer in high-stress situations. Nevertheless, the fixed 4x magnification might not be optimal for close-quarters combat, where lower magnification optics shine. But for intermediate distances, the ACOG truly shines, aiding in ranging targets and consistently hitting them.

Its reliability is where the ACOG truly outshines many other optics. Battle-tested and proven in extreme environments, this optic is a paragon of reliability. The use of tritium for low-light visibility and fiber optic for daytime use ensures consistent performance without relying on batteries or getting hindered by fogged-up lenses. When you’re out in the field, reliability is paramount, and the ACOG eliminates those worries. Its rugged design makes it not just a combat optic but a trusted companion for hunters, especially in low-light conditions.

There’s an array of ACOG models, each tailored to different needs with slight variations in field of view and eye relief. The reticle patterns cater to various applications, from the classic chevron to BDC reticles. But here’s the kicker: the ACOG’s premium features come at a cost. Some might find it expensive, especially compared to civilian optics like NightForce or Swarovski. Also, the tritium’s 12-year half-life, responsible for the reticle’s glow, isn’t covered by Trijicon’s “lifetime warranty,” an aspect to consider for the long run.

So, why does it rank third in my list of best AR 15 optics? The ACOG is stellar in clarity, shootability, and reliability, but its high price and combat-centric design position it slightly lower for civilian and budget-conscious users. However, its unparalleled performance in adverse conditions makes it a worthy contender. If you’re seeking a premium optic that can endure the toughest conditions, the Trijicon ACOG 4×32 undoubtedly fits the bill. You can read the full review of this optic here.

Trijicon ACOG 4×32 Pros and Cons

  • Unbeatable durability
  • Versatile for close and moderate range shooting
  • Lightweight and compact
  • Expensive

4. Eotech XPS3

Eotech XPS3

The XPS3 is Eotech’s current flagship holographic optic designed for duty use. It’s a favorite of special operations and delivers excellent performance for close-range shooting.

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  • Clarity B+
  • Shootability A
  • Reliability B+
  • Features B

Our Grade

B+

Reader’s Grade

A+

Based on 1 Reviews

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Eotech XPS3 Specs

  • Magnification 1x
  • Objective Lens N/A
  • Tube Diameter N/A
  • Eye Relief Unlimited
  • Weight 9 ounces

Eotech XPS3 Review

I’ve spent quite a bit of time with the EOTech XPS3-0, and let me tell you, this optic is a game-changer. It’s earned its place among the top-tier red dot sights out there. Now, why did I slot it in fourth among the best AR-15 optics? Well, it’s like this: the XPS3 is an absolute champ when it comes to close-range shooting, quick target acquisition, and versatility. But its Achilles’ heel is its battery life, clocking in at 600 hours, lagging a bit behind the marathon runners of the optics world.

First off, let’s talk about the glass quality. The clarity of the lens is like upgrading from standard definition to 4K. Sure, some reviews mention a touch of reflectivity, but in practical terms, it’s like having crystal-clear vision through a top-notch optic. Whether I’m at the range or shifting between indoor and outdoor settings, the clarity of the XPS3’s glass is unmatched. It’s like seeing targets with an unprecedented level of detail, a game-changer in precision shooting.

Now, the 1 MOA dot in the center of that 65 MOA circle—it’s not just a dot, it’s a precision tool. It transforms your AR-15 into a precision instrument, making quick target acquisition feel like second nature. The square lens offers an incredible field of view, a major edge over round lenses on other models. Pair it with a magnifier, and suddenly, you’ve got yourself a rifle scope.

That 65 MOA ring? It’s not just for looks; it’s like having a spotlight guiding your aim. It elevates every shooting session, turning it into a masterclass in marksmanship. Zeroing in was a breeze when I first took it to the range, and transitioning between targets felt like a whole new experience, like my rifle had evolved into something beyond just a firearm.

Durability? This thing can take a hit and still hold zero like a pro. The design choice of tucking the battery and electronics close to the rifle is a smart move. It’s not just for aesthetics; it shields the delicate components, ensuring they stay protected and ready to perform even in the heat of the action.

But that battery life, sitting at 600 hours, is its weak spot. In a world where marathon runners are pushing way beyond that mark, it falls a bit short. And that’s why, despite its incredible performance, it earned the fourth spot in my lineup of AR-15 optics. Yet, in the real world, where adaptability, precision, and speed reign supreme, the XPS3 shines. It’s a reliable companion that turns your AR-15 into a precision instrument, always ready for the task at hand. If you’ve got a ready stash of batteries, this holographic sight is your key to tactical supremacy. Read our full review here.

Eotech XPS3 Pros and Cons

  • Versatile
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Well Proven
  • Poor battery life

5. Trijicon Credo 1-4X

Trijicon Credo 1-4X

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  • Clarity B+
  • Shootability A
  • Reliability A
  • Features B+

Our Grade

A-

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Trijicon Credo 1-4X Specs

  • Magnification 1-4x
  • Objective Lens 24 mm
  • Tube Diameter 30 mm
  • Eye Relief 2.6 – 3.9 inches
  • Weight 17.1 ounces

Trijicon Credo 1-4X Review

From the moment I laid eyes on Trijicon Credo 1-4X, the glass quality blew me away. It was like switching from standard to high-definition TV—a crispness that transforms your view entirely. This optic boasts a generous eye box that feels like a gateway to a sharper reality.

The 1-4x magnification range hit a sweet spot for me. It’s that perfect balance, offering versatility without overwhelming magnification. And that BDC reticle? It’s practically GPS for your bullets—a guiding light for those longer shots. Even when I zoomed in with the circular illuminated reticle on the 1-6x version, the clarity remained intact, ensuring my aim stayed true, no matter the distance.

Some might debate this, but the concept of aiming with both eyes open is a stroke of genius. Sure, it takes a bit of getting used to, a bit like learning a new dance step. But once you’ve got the hang of it, the situational awareness it brings is a complete game-changer, especially in real-world shooting scenarios where awareness is as crucial as accuracy.

I must admit, though—it’s not as forgiving as a red dot in various shooting positions. But think of it as a new skill to master. Initially, it might feel a bit tricky, but soon enough, you adapt. And the weight—or rather, the lack of it—keeps your setup agile and responsive, which is always a plus.

Speaking of construction, the Credo’s build quality exceeded my expectations. Housed in a 30mm tube, it’s a blend of durability and sleek design. Crafted from 6061 aircraft-grade aluminum, this scope isn’t just about looks—it’s a rugged tool designed to brave the harshest conditions.

Mounted on my 450 Bushmaster, I put it through a serious recoil test—5,000 rounds later, it remained steadfast, no compromises, no shifts. This reassured me of Trijicon’s legacy of reliability and durability.

Features-wise, the BDC reticle steals the show, guiding shots with pinpoint precision. Although the illumination can be a tad finicky in direct sunlight, it shines like a beacon in low-light conditions or indoors.

Now, why did I rank the Credo 5th in my Best AR 15 Optics article? Well, the high price, the learning curve for newcomers, and the finicky illumination in sunlight factored into this decision. It’s a top-tier optic, no doubt, but these considerations nudged it down in the list.

However, if you find yourself often operating in low-light situations or prioritizing fast target acquisition, the Credo might just steal your heart. You can read our full Trijicon Credo review here.

Trijicon Credo 1-4X Pros and Cons

  • Brilliant clarity
  • Versatile reticle
  • Bulk free design
  • 1-4X limits your effective range slightly

6. Vortex Spitfire 1X

Vortex Spitfire 1X

Vortex Spitfire 1X

The Spitfire is a lightweight little optic that’s well suited for home defense or competition use. The little Spitfire is lightweight and does offer a generous eye box and eye relief.

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  • Clarity A
  • Shootability B+
  • Reliability B+
  • Features B+

Our Grade

A-

Reader’s Grade

A+

Based on 2 Reviews

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Vortex Spitfire 1x Specs

  • Magnification 1x
  • Objective Lens 300 mm
  • Tube Diameter N/A
  • Eye Relief 3.7 inches
  • Weight 11.2 ounces

Vortex Spitfire 1x Review

I’ve had the chance to put the Vortex Spitfire 1X through its paces, and it’s a standout reflex sight, especially for those dealing with astigmatism. Placing it sixth in my lineup wasn’t a knock on its quality—it’s more about how it fits my specific preferences.

The Spitfire’s astigmatism-friendly design caught my attention from the get-go. Unlike many red dot sights, its etched reticle delivers a crisp sight picture, a boon for shooters with astigmatism. While I don’t face this issue personally, a friend who does consistently achieves impressive 1.5MOA 5-shot groups with this optic—a testament to its precision.

What stands out prominently is its clarity, whether the reticle is illuminated or not. The reticle remains sharp and distinct, devoid of the bluish tint often seen in similarly priced red dot sights. When the red or green illumination kicks in, especially in broad daylight, it’s akin to switching on a spotlight. I’ve cranked up the brightness settings without any flickering or compromise in different lighting conditions—it’s reliable.

For close-range shooting, the Spitfire excels. Its dual ring tactical reticle offers instinctive and reactive shooting, perfect for those quick target acquisitions. And here’s the kicker: it’s an etched reticle, ensuring functionality even if the batteries decide to call it quits.

Regarding its build, it’s no slouch. The Spitfire boasts a durable single-piece chassis with an anodized finish and O-ring seals. My range sessions only solidified its reliability—zero held firm without any surprises.

Battery-wise, it’s powered by AAA batteries, a practical choice for many, though I personally lean towards CR123. Nevertheless, the longevity of the batteries is notable, with a 3000-hour rating on the lowest setting. It’s reliable, and that reliability spans across casual shooting to more serious marksmanship.

In the grand scheme of AR-15 optics, the Spitfire earns its sixth spot due to its specific design and features. It doesn’t align perfectly with my current needs, hence the ranking, but its support for astigmatism, crystal-clear aim, and robust design are commendable. It’s not about doing something extraordinary; rather, it’s about being a reliable workhorse.

For those dealing with astigmatism, this optic is a game-changer. And while it might not perfectly suit my present needs, its value is undeniable. Optics are a deeply personal choice, and the Spitfire certainly deserves a trial run for anyone seeking a reliable, astigmatism-friendly AR-15 optic. Read our full Spitfire review here.

Vortex Spitfire 1x Pros and Cons

  • Affordable
  • Versatile, eye-catching reticle
  • Easy to use
  • Eyebox and eye relief are not as fast as a traditional red dot.

REVIEWS OF OUR BUDGET AR-15 OPTICS

We have compiled the individual reviews of our suggested budget AR-15 optics below.
The pros and cons are listed for each product so you can make an informed decision on which one will work best with your shooting style!

The downside for my favorite optics on the list above is the fact they all come with a high price tag. You might not need an optic to perform to the extreme circumstances of the ACOG, the Aimpoint, or the Razor. You might need something simpler but with a more attractive price tag. Here are a few budget-friendly picks that perform well above their price points.

1. SIG Romeo5

Sig Romeo 5 Featured Image

SIG Romeo5

The Romeo5 is remarkably affordable, especially when it comes to durability. The Romeo5 series can take a decent beating and won’t fail, lose zero, and can take a little water exposure.

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  • Clarity A-
  • Shootability B+
  • Reliability B+
  • Features A-

Our Grade

A-

Reader’s Grade

TBD

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SIG Romeo5 Specs

  • Magnification 1x
  • Objective Lens 20 mm
  • Tube Diameter N/A
  • Eye Relief Unlimited
  • Weight 5.6 ounces

SIG Romeo5 Review

As someone who’s spent extensive time firing rifles across varying conditions, the SIG Romeo5 has been a pleasant surprise in the realm of cheap red dot sights. Let me delve into why it clinches the title of the best budget red dot among its counterparts.

The Romeo5 doesn’t just fit the bill; it excels in embodying what a quality red dot should be: compact, user-friendly, and surprisingly durable considering its price. It can handle a fair share of rough handling without compromising zero or performance, even managing a decent encounter with water exposure. What sets it apart is its adaptability—offering mounts that seamlessly align with AR height iron sights for co-witnessing.

Now, let’s talk about the heart of any red dot: the reticle. The 2 MOA reticle on the Romeo5 is a standout feature. It’s crisp, offering a clear sight picture, with ten brightness settings catering from glaring daylight to compatible night vision optics. All this for well under 200 bucks—making it an attractive option for those seeking reliability without breaking the bank. Moreover, if durability is a concern, the X and XDR variants offer added resilience for a slightly higher price.

During my trials, the Romeo5’s performance was commendable. Its 2 MOA dot reticle ensures precise aiming, facilitating quick target acquisition and accurate shots even at extended ranges once zeroed in correctly. Clarity-wise, it competes shoulder-to-shoulder with more expensive counterparts, making it a top contender among budget red dot sights.

One feature that deserves applause is its compatibility with night vision devices, offering settings specifically for such use. While I personally haven’t tested it with night vision, feedback from others suggests it functions seamlessly in that capacity.

Durability-wise, the Romeo5 is a tough cookie. Constructed from sturdy aluminum and boasting an IPX-7 rating, it’s built to endure harsh conditions without flinching. From my own drop tests to witnessing torture tests online, this sight handles abuse like a champ, withstanding various terrains and maintaining its functionality, albeit with a few scuff marks.

Battery life is where it truly shines. With a staggering 50,000 hours of life and the Motion Activated Illumination (MOTAC) system, which intelligently conserves energy by activating the sight upon detecting motion and switching off during inactivity, it’s a standout feature in the realm of budget-friendly red dots.

Included accessories and mounting options are also noteworthy. The sight comes with a CR2032 battery and two mounts, ensuring adaptability across firearms. The design facilitates quick battery replacements, minimizing downtime during use. However, while the provided mount serves its purpose, it might not be as refined as some higher-end alternatives.

Adjustments are straightforward and user-friendly, enabling easy windage, elevation, and brightness tweaks. The sight’s simplicity in these adjustments caters to both novice and experienced shooters, adding to its universal appeal.

In comparison to other red dots in its price bracket, the Romeo5 holds its ground remarkably well. While it might not match the extreme durability or feature-packed nature of some competitors, its clear reticle, exceptional battery life, and overall reliability make it a solid choice for anyone seeking an affordable yet dependable red dot sight.

In conclusion, the SIG Romeo5 stands tall as a testament to quality optics within a budget. For shooters prioritizing reliability and performance without burning a hole in their wallets, this red dot unquestionably earns its spot at the top of the list. Read our full SIG Romeo5 review here.

SIG Romeo5 Pros and Cons

  • Affordable
  • Lightweight and Compact
  • Easy to use
  • Noticeable blue tint

2. Athlon Optics Midas TSP3

Athlon Optics Midas TSP3

Athlon Optics Midas TSP3

The simple design of the Athlon Optics Midas TSP3 makes shooting at longer ranges with drop compensation easy, and the massive circle reticle is perfect for close range.

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  • Clarity B+
  • Shootability A
  • Reliability A
  • Features B+

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Athlon Optics Midas TSP3 Specs

  • Magnification 3x
  • Objective Lens 30 mm
  • Tube Diameter N/A
  • Eye Relief 3.2 inches
  • Weight 16 ounces

Athlon Optics Midas TSP3 Review

You know, when I delve into optics, I strive to strike that balance between quality and cost. I get it, expectations must be in line with what you’re investing, especially with optics. The Midas TSP3 by Athlon Optics, nestled snugly in the budget category, surprised me in more ways than one. Sure, it’s not going toe-to-toe with top-tier brands like Vortex or Trijicon, but for its price? It’s a game-changer.

Let’s start with the standout feature—the glass clarity. I’ve used a range of optics, and the Midas TSP3’s clarity genuinely impressed me. The glass holds its own in challenging conditions, offering a clear, vivid picture that’s surprising given its price tag. The fully multicoated optics certainly contribute to this, making target acquisition a breeze in varying environments. Whether it’s bright daylight or a dimly lit scenario, this optic delivers.

Now, when it comes to shootability, this thing shines. I took it through a tactical response rifle class, and boy, did it perform! Quick target acquisition, thanks to that 1MOA dot and the 20MOA circle—it’s a game-changer in dynamic shooting situations. Plus, the design is well thought out; that inward sloped body? Perfect for a close mount to iron backup sights, adding to its versatility.

Reliability is a non-negotiable factor, and I intentionally pushed the TSP3 during a range session. It held zero even after extensive rounds. Long-range shooting? Check. Close quarters? Double check. It’s robust and reliable, and Athlon’s reputation for durability holds true here.

Sure, it’s a bit on the heavier side, thanks to its prism-based design, but that’s where its durability comes from. It’s shockproof and fog-proof, built to handle adverse conditions like a champ. And the selectable red/green illuminated reticle with multiple intensity levels? Super handy in low-light situations.

Now, is it perfect? No. The adjustment turrets could have more distinct clicks, and the absence of a “go back to zero” feature might bug some. But here’s the kicker—the TSP3 compensates with consistent zero-holding performance.

So, why did I rank it second in the budget category among AR 15 optics? Because while it may not match the longevity or performance of pro-grade optics, it’s a game-changer if you’re working with a tight budget. It holds its own and then some, making it a valuable addition, especially if you’re after reliability without burning a hole in your pocket.

In a market flooded with options promising the moon, the Athlon Optics Midas TSP3 holds its ground. It’s not the pro-grade lifetime investment, but it’s a trusty companion that gets the job done. For someone like me, valuing quality without emptying the bank account, the TSP3’s earned its spot in my collection. If you’re eyeing a prism optic that delivers without breaking the bank, this one deserves a serious look. Trust me, it’s worth considering. Check out our complete review on the Midas TSP3.

Athlon Optics Midas TSP3 Pros and Cons

  • Versatile prism design
  • Excellent reticle
  • Low price point
  • Smaller than average field of view

3. Swampfox Tomahawk

Swampfox Tomahawk

Swampfox Tomahawk

The Tomahawk is an excellent example of a budget grease LPVO that packs pro-grade features. The Tomahawk 1-6X packs clear glass, a Guerilla Dot BDC reticle, a throw lever, fingertip adjustable turrets, and a durable design. 

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  • Clarity B+
  • Shootability A-
  • Reliability B+
  • Features B+

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Swampfox Tomahawk Specs

  • Magnification 1-6x
  • Objective Lens 24 mm
  • Tube Diameter 30 mm
  • Eye Relief 3.7 inches
  • Weight 18.6 ounces

Swampfox Tomahawk Review

The Tomahawk embodies the sweet spot between price and quality, offering an impressive array of features without breaking the bank. Its optical clarity is a standout feature, providing edge-to-edge sharpness that’s crucial, especially in dynamic shooting scenarios. I’ve found minimal distortion and a forgiving eye box, which truly enhances the shooting experience. This optic delivers crisp images consistently, regardless of whether I’m quickly engaging targets at close range or engaging in precision shooting at 100 yards.

The 1-6x magnification range paired with the throw lever is a game-changer for quick and precise target acquisition. It feels like an extension of my shooting style, facilitating seamless adjustments on the go. Whether navigating tactical situations or competing in 3-gun matches, the Tomahawk’s shootability is undeniably impressive.

In terms of reliability, this optic holds its ground remarkably well. It maintains zero across various calibers and even shrugged off a double drop test. Although there have been reports of mount-related issues causing slight impact shifts, these concerns seem more associated with the mount than the optic itself. The manufacturer’s 50,000-round warranty, while not a lifetime warranty, adds a reassuring touch to its durability.

Feature-wise, the Tomahawk excels as a versatile companion. Its illuminated reticle with 11 brightness levels ensures visibility in diverse lighting conditions. The turrets might feel a bit mushy, but they get the job done effectively. Moreover, the inclusion of flip-up lens caps and a quick throw lever straight out of the box adds to its feature-rich profile. The second focal plane design might be subjective, but in my experience, it doesn’t compromise performance, maintaining consistency across magnification levels.

The Guerrilla Cross MOA Reticle offers swift and precise aiming, catering to various shooting styles. Even those loyal to other brands, like my Vortex-enthusiast brother, have found merit in the Tomahawk for their rifle/shotgun setup. Admittedly, the absence of an unconditional warranty might raise some concerns, but time will truly test the Tomahawk’s durability.

While it’s an exceptional optic, its rank as the 3rd best in the budget category within my review stems from the absence of a lifetime warranty compared to competitors like the Midas TSP3 and Sig ROMEO5. While the 50,000-round warranty is commendable, I place value on the assurance of a lifetime warranty, even if it means paying a bit extra.

However, for those deeply immersed in dynamic shooting scenarios or eyeing competitive events like 3-gun competitions, the Tomahawk surpasses a cursory glance. Its blend of affordability, quality features, and remarkable performance makes it a noteworthy contender in the sub-$300 category. Read our complete review here.

Swampfox Tomahawk Pros and Cons

  • Simple but versatile reticle
  • Lightweight design
  • Feature-filled
  • Reticle could be brighter

Best AR-15 Optics Buying Guide

Here’s all you need to know when buying your Ar-15 an optic.

Purpose – Before you even consider an optic, you need to consider what the actual purpose of your rifle is. An optic can truly change how a weapon handles and performs. Different rifles serve different purposes, and different optics do the same. 

  • Home Defense – Home defense is all about close-quarters fighting, and in that scenario, the red dot rules. It’s an optic that encourages instinctive shooting, and red dots are ultra-easy to see and utilize. There is no eyebox to contend with, no scope shadow, just a red dot you put on your target and let the symphony of lead begin. 
  • Hunting – Hunting optics can vary a lot depending on where you are hunting. An LPVO certainly gives you the versatility to hunt over fields, in brush conditions, up and down hills, and beyond. The various magnification levels power through every conceivable humane hunting range. Even something as small as a 1-6X is plenty capable of both reaching to some slightly farther distances and shooting up close. 
  • Competing – Competition also seems to be the home of the LPVO, at least when it comes to action shooting. However, red dots and magnifiers are a close second. In the USPSA PCC competition, red dots rule, but 1X prisms are also becoming the choice of champions. 
  • Duty – For duty use, there is no real right choice. Red dots are popular, prisms rule the USMC, but LPVOs seem to be taking over in the duty realm. The Marine Corps is adopting an LPVO, SOCOM adopted two of them, and numerous police forces seem to be using both LPVOs and red dots depending on the mission. 

Caliber  – The AR 15 comes in numerous calibers these days. The 223 Rem/5.56 might be the most common, but 300 Blackout, 224 Valkyrie, and the various 6.5 and 6.8 loads all have their place. They all also offer different ballistics and different effective max ranges. You can pair your caliber with your optic to maximize effectiveness. 

For example, what’s the point of a 224 Valkyrie with a red dot? The round is made for long-range performance, so a standard variable optic or an LPVO makes a good bit more sense. A 300 Blackout might be best served with a low powered prism or a red dot magnifier. 

The 5.56 being the versatile minx that it is, can use pretty much any optic and take on nearly any task you choose. However, a 10.5 inch barreled AR 15 isn’t going to give you the 500-yard performance a 20-inch barrel would. So figure out how your round performs from your chosen barrel length and consider those ballistics as well. 

Know your caliber, it’s ballistics, and what you intend to use it for. Start there and work your way to the right optic. 

The 100 Yard Line – The 100-yard line is a fictional boundary in which I believe separates the need for a magnified optic from a non-magnified optic. Inside of 100 yards, I don’t see a lot of purpose for a magnified optic. If your shooting is going to be inside of 100 yards, go with a non-magnified optic; beyond 100 yards or so, you can start considering magnification. 

Optical Clarity – Good glass is a must-have in a high-performance optic, especially in an optic with magnification. The higher the level of magnification, the better glass you need. Good glass often comes with a high price tag and from well-known and well-reputed scope manufacturers. Good glass and high optical clarity ensure your sight picture is crystal clear, and you can easily see the target you are engaging. Better yet, they allow you to see the world around them vividly and in high definition. As a hunter, I’ve seen the difference good glass can make when I’m scoping a deer. Good glass allows me to see the brown deer against the often brown background that is the fall hunting season. Low-quality glass can make that same task a muddy mess. 

Durability – Durability is a major concern for me when I choose optics. Modern optics are a combination of glass, electronics, and aluminum tubes. It’s amazing to see the difference in durability between companies using that combination of parts. Some optics are made to go to war and back, and others are barely made for a 22LR. 

Durability is one of the big factors in the price of an optic, and when you see the big price attached to something like the Vortex 1-10X or a NightForce scope, then you have to understand that those optics are made to last. That old phrase ‘You get what you pay for’ applies to optics. In fact, it likely applies to optics more than any other object out there. 

Do you need a 2,000-dollar optic? Maybe you do, but maybe you don’t. There is no shame in spending less than 500 dollars on an optic as long as you have a relatively clear expectation of what it can do. For your average shooter, a SIG Romeo5 will likely last the life of the gun, but if you plan to invade Fallujah or walk a beat, then the Aimpoint or EOTech upgrade is well worth it. 

At a minimum, you want an optic that is water, shock, and fog proof. Beyond that, you’ll need to do individual research on who uses an optic and how it’s used. Some companies have spotless reputations, like Aimpoint, and that reputation is a good signifier of quality optics. 

Warranty – Another big deal breaker to me is a limited warranty. If the warranty lasts a year, you might as well assume that the company doesn’t stand behind their optic. Aimpoint offers a ten-year warranty, some Leupold optics give you a lifetime warranty, and some a lifetime warranty that transfers from owner to owner. Knowing that a company backs their product gives me a sense of comfort when I’m putting down hundreds to thousands of dollars. 

Remember, the best AR-15 optics depend on your specific shooting preferences, whether for quick target acquisition at close range or precision shooting at longer distances. Consider factors like magnification range, reticle type, and overall build quality to find the perfect optic for your needs. Now that you know what to look for when buying your scope, here’s how you mount it on your gun.

Mounting your Scope

When you find the right scope for your AR-15, you’ll want to mount it correctly. Don’t stress–here’s a walkthrough based on my experience mounting rifle scopes for precise shooting.

Step 1: Gather Necessary Equipment Before diving in, I ensure I have all the tools required: the rifle, the chosen scope, suitable scope rings or mounts (considering factors like absolute co-witness or riser mounts), specific screwdrivers or torque wrenches, a level for precise adjustments, and the necessary Allen wrenches.

Step 2: Prepare the Rifle Safety first—I securely place the unloaded rifle in a gunsmithing vise or on a stable shooting bench, ensuring the chamber is clear and the rifle is safely positioned for the mounting process.

Step 3: Prepare the Scope and Rings I meticulously separate and position the bottom halves of the scope rings or mounts onto the rifle’s rail or picatinny, mindful of factors like eye relief and magnification ring compatibility.

Step 4: Attach the Bottom Rings With precision in mind, I loosely attach the bottom rings to allow for easy adjustments. This initial stage is critical for achieving an ideal fit before tightening.

Step 5: Place the Scope Carefully positioning the scope into the bottom rings, aligning the eyepiece and objective lens properly, ensures a proper sight picture and accommodates the desired eye relief.

Step 6: Adjust Eye Relief Achieving the optimal eye relief is key for comfort and accuracy. I take time to adjust the scope’s position within the rings to achieve the desired eye relief for a clear sight picture.

Step 7: Level the Scope Maintaining accuracy demands a level scope. Using a reliable bubble level or scope leveling tool, I meticulously ensure the rifle and scope are perfectly aligned.

Step 8: Tighten Bottom Rings Gradually tightening the screws or bolts on the bottom rings while maintaining alignment is crucial. I apply balanced pressure to achieve a snug fit without over-tightening.

Step 9: Install the Top Rings Ensuring stability is paramount when installing the top halves of the rings. Proper alignment and a secure fit guarantee stability, especially for magnified scopes or red dot magnifiers.

Step 10: Tighten Top Rings Similar to the bottom rings, I meticulously tighten the screws or bolts on the top rings, ensuring the scope remains aligned and level for precise shooting.

Step 11: Check Alignment and Adjustments Paying attention to detail, I double-check the alignment and make any necessary adjustments to ensure the reticle is perfectly aligned, utilizing features like bullet drop compensators for enhanced accuracy.

Step 12: Final Tightening I progressively tighten the screws or bolts on the top rings, applying the manufacturer’s recommended torque specifications if available, ensuring a secure and aligned setup.

Step 13: Verify and Test Before calling it a job well done, I conduct a thorough visual inspection, looking for any signs of misalignment or instability. The final test involves taking the rifle to the range for a comprehensive test-fire to confirm accuracy and functionality across various ranges.

This step-by-step process, honed through experience and hands-on practice, ensures a meticulously mounted scope for optimal shooting performance. If you are more of a visual learner, I’ve got you covered. Below we found a video that goes through a step-by-step process in doing this process well and things to consider while mounting your scope.

Shots Fired

Optics are likely one of the biggest upgrades you can make to your rifle. It completely changes how the rifle handles, how it functions, and where it’s most effective. It’s an important choice, and in a world where optics are everywhere, you have more than a few choices. We’ve done some of the legwork for you and hopefully given you the tools to pick your own optics. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask below.

FAQs

Are there budget-friendly red dot sights suitable for close-range shooting?

Yes, there are budget red dot options that cater well to close-range shooting. Brands like Primary Arms and Vortex Optics offer quality red dots at competitive prices.

Can I mount optics on an AR-15 using a Picatinny rail?

Absolutely. The Picatinny rail on an AR-15 allows for easy mounting of optics such as scopes, red dot sights, or holographic sights using compatible mounts designed for the Picatinny system.

Which optics are suitable for longer range shooting on an AR-15?

For longer range shooting, magnified optics like low power variable optics (LPVOs) or prism optics come into play. LPVOs offer variable magnification, making them versatile for different shooting distances.

Are there optics with etched reticles and clear glass for enhanced clarity?

Certainly, optics like Vortex Spitfire come equipped with etched reticles and clear glass, ensuring a crisp sight picture for precise shooting.

What considerations are essential for choosing the best AR-15 scopes?

Factors like reticle focus, eye relief, and the ability to handle longer range shots are crucial when selecting the best AR-15 scopes. Optics like Vortex Strike Eagle or Primary Arms SLx are well-regarded for these features.

Can prism optics be utilized effectively for both close and longer ranges?

Prism optics, with etched reticles and illuminated options, serve well for both close-range and longer range shots due to their durability and clarity.

Are there budget red dot options with illuminated reticles for close-range shooting?

Certainly, budget red dot sights offer illuminated reticles ideal for close-range shooting without compromising on quality. While they are not the best red dot sights you can get, they will do their job well.

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About Travis Pike

Travis is a former United States Marine Corps Infantryman and currently a firearms writer, instructor, and works in Emergency Management.

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