Best AR-15 Optics [2022]: Which Optic is Right for you?

by Travis Pike

January 2, 2022

0 comments

5
(1)

The AR 15 is America’s favorite rifle, and why not? It’s easy to handle, ergonomic, affordable, easy to use, accurate, and incredibly versatile. Like any good rifle, the AR 15 is well-served by the presence of an optic. With the AR 15, the sky’s the limit optic’s wise. You can shove basically anything on there, and that can make this selection process somewhat confusing. 

Why does the AR 15 work so well with so many different categories of optics? Well, the AR 15 is a versatile rifle. It’s an incredible design that can be effective for extreme close quarters, moderate ranges, and even out to 500 yards. Add in the various different calibers outside of the 5.56, and you can shoot even further. 

That kind of versatility opens up the world of optics. Most AR 15 optics fall into three categories, Red Dots, Prism and LPVO’s.

Breaking Down AR-15 Optics

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. 

Best AR Optics

Budget AR Optics

Best AR Optics

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

Budget AR Optics

SIG Romeo5
  • Budget Red Dot
  • Elevation / Windage Adjustment
Check Price
Athlon Optics Midas TSP3
  • Budget Prism Sight
  • Adjustable illumination settings
Check Price
Swampfox Tomahawk
  • Budget LPVO
  • Guerrilla Dot BDC Reticle
Check Price

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 1-10x

Editor's Choice
Vortex Razor 1-10x

Vortex 1-10x

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

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

The Vortex Razor series represent Vortex’s top of the line optics. The new Razor Gen 3 1-10X has broken barriers in what an LPVO can be. The Vortex Razor 1-10X found a way to pack 10X magnification into a package that weighs the same as a 1-6X. The Razor provides you with both a wonderful field of view, top quality glass, and a very versatile reticle system. 

The reticle incorporates both a large illuminated circle with a Christmas tree like reticle. This provides you points for both drop and wind compensation. The reticle, combined with the 1-10X magnification, makes the Vortex Razor incredibly versatile. While it’s not as fast a red dot for close-range shooting, it’s dang close. The clarity, magnification, and reticle give you long-range performance well beyond 500 yards. 

Vortex Razor 1-10x Pros and Cons

  • Incredible Versatility
  • Brilliant Clarity
  • Outstanding reticle
  • Expensive

2. Aimpoint Comp M5B

Aimpoint Comp M5b

Aimpoint Comp M5B

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.

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

Aimpoint created the modern red dot optic in 1975 and has continued to master and innovate the red dot market. Aimpoint produces the M68 CCO for the US Army, and they’ve long been the red dot choice for professionals. 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. 

Users simply twist the turret to the appropriate range to allow the user to elevate the reticle for ballistic drop compensation. The Comp 5b is ultra-durable and made to last. The 2 MOA reticle is simple but reliable, and the Aimpoint Comp 5b is perfectly paired with a magnifier for extra range. The Comp 5b lasts 5 years on a single AAA battery. 

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.

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 is the optic that started it all. The ACOG was the USMC’s general issue optic during almost the entirety of the Global War on Terror and served with all four branches in some capacity or another. 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. 

The reticle is powered by the sun and radioactive isotopes. The future is now y’all! The reticle is a bullet drop compensating design topped with a brightly illuminated chevron. The reticle and BDC make the ACOG versatile for both quick two-eye open close-range shooting and long-range performance out to 500 yards or so. 

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.

Eotech XPS3 Specs

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

Eotech XPS3 Review

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. The XPS3’s reticle is a 65 MOA circle with a 1 MOA dot in the center. This large reticle is easy to track, fast to get on target, and incredibly versatile. The optic can be used to estimate range, compensate for mechanical offset, and reach out to 50 to 200 yards with ease. When paired with a magnifier, the XPS3 becomes even more versatile. 

The XPS3 is superbly lightweight and compact. It takes up minimal room on your rifle and keeps things light and streamlined. The XPS3 is designed around the AR 15 and 5.56 round, so it’s obviously at home on your AR 15. The XPS3 is well suited for home defense, duty use, and even brush hunting. 

Eotech XPS3 Pros and Cons

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

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

The Vortex Razor 1-10X is a powerful optic, but it’s a little hefty. The Credo 1-4X shaves weight and bulk for a streamlined package. The Credo 1-4X is a very simple option that provides you with a versatile magnification range that’s capable out to 500 yards. The Credo is extremely clear and gives you a beautiful and vivid picture of the world in front of you. The Credo’s clarity goes from edge to edge and makes two-eyes open shooting clear and possible. 

The Credo is packed with a segmented circle reticle that’s illuminated for those close-range shooting situations and a bullet drop compensating reticle designed around the 5.56 round for longer range shooting. The Trijicon Credo packs the durability Trijicon optics are known for.

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.

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

The Vortex Spitfire 1X is the perfect reflex type optic for close-range shooting if you suffer from astigmatism. The Spitfire uses what Vortex calls a DRT, or dual ring tactical reticle, that works even more efficiently than a normal red dot. The DRT is a very simple design that allows for instinctive and reactive shooting at close ranges. The DRT is an etched reticle, so if your batteries die, you’re still capable of blasting away. 

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. The Vortex Spitfire is specifically designed around the AR series rifles and fits perfectly on any flat-top upper receiver. If you suffer from astigmatism, then this optic provides you with a clear and easy to use reticle. 

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 Romeo5

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.

SIG Romeo5 Specs

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

SIG Romeo5 Review

The SIG Romeo5 exemplifies everything that a red dot should be. It’s small, compact, easy to use, and very simple. It’s also 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. The Romeo5 comes with various height mounts to accommodate AR height iron sights for co witnessing. 

The Romeo5’s 2 MOA reticle is crisp and clear. It’s ten settings accommodate the brightest of days, and two settings will even function with night vision optics. The little Romeo5 is available for well under 200 bucks, and several other variants like the X and XDR offer even better durability for a slightly higher price. 

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.

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

The Athlon Optics Midas TSP3 might not be an ACOG, but at 1/5 of the price, it doesn’t need to be. This 3x prism optic comes outfitted with a 3/4 circle reticle for close-range use and an MOA ladder for bullet drop when things get a little further away from you. The simple design makes shooting at longer ranges with drop compensation easy, and the massive circle reticle is perfect for close range. 

The Midas TSP3 prism optic uses an etched reticle, so it stays usable regardless of the condition of the electronics. The TSP3 is surprisingly well made for the price, with the optic being shock, water, and fog proof. The one-piece aluminum construction is tough and plenty durable for long term use. 

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. 

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

Swampfox Optics have become some of my favorites. They produce some outstanding optics and do so at a price point that’s hard to beat. 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. 

The Guerilla Dot BDC reticle is designed for the 5.56 round and features a large 3/4 circle reticle for rapid close range use backed by a bullet drop compensator for long-range work. The Tomahawk is superbly simple and is an excellent optic for those just getting into moderate to semi-close range shooting. 

Swampfox Tomahawk Pros and Cons

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

Best AR-15 Optics Buying Guide

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. 

Understanding Ballistic Performance 

Caliber Matters – 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. 

Defining Features 

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. 

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.

Mounting your Scope

When you find the right scope for your AR-15, you’ll want to mount it correctly. Don’t stress! We have you covered. Below we found a video which goes through a step-by-step process in doing this process well and things to consider while mounting your scope.

Rate

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 5 / 5. Vote count: 1

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

About Travis Pike

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

Recent Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]