Low Power Variable Optic vs. Red Dot for AR-15

There is nothing that gun enthusiasts love more than choosing the right optics for their guns. What is the right system to accompany your rifle between a red dot and a low power variable optics, LPVO? Most AR-15 rifles seem to work well with a wide array of LPVOs. However, a red dot can also produce high accuracy on your rifle. The challenge for most shooters is deciding on the best optic for their rifles.

Modern shooting rifles require an excellent balance between speed and shooting accuracy. The aim of every shooter or hunter is to hit their target precisely as quickly as possible. While there are various accessories to help you achieve that, the LPVOs and red dots are the popular choices.

The optic industry has grown over the years. Fixed irons were the main optics on AR-15 rifles for over a decade. However, they are rarely used nowadays with red dots and low power variable optics taking over. Let’s have a look at them:

Low Power Variable Optics

Low power variable optics is optics with an etched reticle. Your eyes see these optics as a black shape in contrast against the field of view. Some of the advanced LPVOs feature battery power which produces illumination. The etched reticle in LPVOs is always present regardless of the light. This optics combines a 1x scope with an intermediate power of 4x, 6x, or 8x.

Lower power optics are extremely popular and can dominate anything on your muzzle in the range of 500-600 yards. However, this is dependent on the shooter’s ammo and skill. The scope can be quite effective in short ranges. At 1x using a quality LPVO, you will have a large eye box making it possible to shoot with both eyes open just like a red dot. However, the eye box gets small at higher magnifications. This makes your aim point more sensitive taking you more time to aim.

The biggest advantage of LPVOs over red dots is the variable power. You can shoot close range at 1x with both eyes open and increase magnification slowly to match your range. The optics can offer quick range changes where you can crank magnification up to 4, 6, or 8 bringing your target closer.

Red dots

A red dot is a non-magnifying sight for firearms that require aiming to give users a point of aim. Just as the name suggests, red dots form an illuminated red dot as the point of aim. Regardless of the eye position, the red dot stays in alignment with the weapon it is attached to. Red dot sights were first introduced in 1975 but have since evolved. They are now the standard tactical optics for the AR-15. Red dots are known for their fast acquisition of targets at close ranges.

Unlike traditional riflescopes, red dots don’t have an eye box, eye relief, and exit pupil. The red dot seen through the sight is not a projection but a reflection bouncing off a curved glass to your eye. The limit for the sight of the picture is usually the field of view. You can easily take a decent shot even when seeing just a fraction of the dot.

So, what is the best optic for your AR-15 when comparing the optics? Let’s compare the optics under different categories.

Shooting speed, ease of use, and accuracy

The first and most important things for every shooter are shooting speed and accuracy. Red dots are quite dominant at short ranges of easy and fast setup. They have no eye box, eye relief, or exit pupil to worry about. This optics also lacks any parallax inside the glass which is the epitome of all short-range optics.

The same cannot be said of LPVOs which have eye relief, eye box, and exit pupil. You cannot place your eye 1-inch behind LPVOs with an eye relief of 3.5 inches. This will result in unstable pictures. When you place your eyes 5 inches behind, there will be no image. This means taking time and lining your eyes to see the etched reticle correctly. In the end, more time is spent when setting up LPVOs leading to reduced shooting speed. Red dots at shot ranges will always be the winner when shooting close quarters.

When it comes to accuracy, both can offer accurate shots are short ranges. However, there is a limitation on the field of view for red dots at long ranges. When shooting at mid-ranges, advanced LPVOs offer the best precision. LPVOs with advanced combined sighting systems can compensate for bullet drop, wind holds, rage estimation, and moving targets.

Shooting ranges

LPVOs are quite flexible and offer both short and long-range shooting. You can quickly move from shooting at 100 yards to 600 yards in a matter of seconds. The variable magnification setting makes them a versatile option for hunters. You can hit targets at both short and long ranges.

However, red dots are only limited to short ranges. However, you can always add a magnifier when shooting at long ranges.

Battery life

Battery life is another great consideration when choosing the right optical. Red dots stand out as the best when you consider the battery lifespan. Some affordable micro red dots can have a battery life span of up to 50,000 hours. You cannot find the same battery lifespan for LPVOs at the same price. Most LPVOs have a short battery lifespan even at higher prices.

Final verdict

Deciding between a red dot and a suitable LPVO is never a hard decision when you know how they both work. Make sure you understand the main purpose of your rifle and choosing a matching optic. LPVOs offer the flexibility of shooting at short and long ranges. However, they take time to set up reducing shooting speed. Red dots are quite fast and easy to set up at short ranges. However, they lack the flexibility of long-range shooting. You might spend extra to add a magnifier for long-range shooting.

In conclusion, red dots are suitable for beginners who are less experienced. They are basic requiring a simple plug and play. LPVOs are ideal for versatile shooters that intend to shoot at short, medium, and long ranges.