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Red Dot vs Magnified Scope for AR 15: What’s Best?

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red dot vs magnified scope You’re torn between the red dot and the magnified scope, aren’t you? What is best? Which one is going to be right for you? With all the information online, it can be like chopping through the jungle with a butter knife. It’s possible, but it will take you forever. 

Here we have proved an overview of both to help you figure out which is going to be the right method for you. Each one has its perks and downfalls. Which one comes out on top, though? It really comes down to what you plan on using your rifle for. Look and find out which is the best one for you.

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Overview of Red Dot Optic

Vortex Optics Strikefire II Scope

What is a Red Dot Optic?

The simplest way to describe the red dot is that is an optic with a red or green dot in the center. It works with the same principle as an old magician’s trick with mirrors and light reflection. The idea is you use plates of glass and a light to get the red dot to appear.

There is a spherical mirror inside the optic that reflects the light emitted from an LED, and with the special coating it only allows the red light to be reflected. This is why it is crystal clear for you to see through it and only see the red or green dot.

Th size of the red dot is measured MOA, and the size is controlled by an aperture hole in the front of the LED. The bigger dots are easier to see but are mostly used for short ranged shots. The smaller dots are best for moderate distances.

When to Choose a Red Dot Scope

The best time to use a red dot scope is in close range. If you are shooting between 0-50 feet, then you can easily go for a red dot. These are best used in close range because of their ability to adjust easily and lighter weight.

With the ability to see, you have a range of options. The beauty if you use it with both eyes open. If you can see the red dot, then you can hit your target. That is the great thing with this kind of optic, you can use it from odd angles if you have to.

Issues to a Red Dot Optic

You can’t have all good things and no bad. That simply isn’t how things work.

One of the biggest flaws to this kind of optic is the astigmatism. Now, not everyone has this, as it is a biological issue with the eye. It makes the world look rounder than it really is. When using this kind of optic, it can make the red dot look oddly shaped. Some cases, the more server cases, the red dot isn’t even useable making this type of optic obsolete.

The next biggest downfall to this type of optic is the range. It simply wasn’t made for an extensive range. Despite being able to add on a magnifier, but that can add up in cost.

  • Can use with both eyes open
  • Eye relief is if you can see the dot you can use it
  • Lighter than magnification optics
  • Super easy to use for training
  • Not great for long range shooting
  • Those with astigmatisms can suffer
  • More expensive

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Overview of a Magnified Scope

Vortex Optics VMX-3T Magnifier

What is a Magnified Scope?

A magnified scope is exactly what the name says it is. It is a scope that magnifies what you can see with your naked eye. The number of the magnification is the determination of how many times better you can see an object with your naked eye.

For example, a 4×32 scope has a 4-power magnification, which means you can see 4 times better than you could with the naked eye. The magnification is going to be the first number you see when looking at a scope. The second number is going to explain the diameter of the objective lens. There are some scopes out on the market that have a range, meaning there are two numbers before the diameter of the lens. 

When to Choose a Magnified Scope

With choosing a magnified scope, you are going to be shooting at 100 yards or more. Shorter ranges will not do well with this kind of scope. There is no genuine need to magnify something that is less than 100 yards away.

The adjustment period for a shorter range can be the difference between getting a shot off and not. Since you have to adjust the magnification to see the image clearer, it can eat up valuable time. You wouldn’t be using this type of scope for defense, for example.

The best time to use this kind of optic is hunting bigger game items. These scopes are often heavier than the red dot ones as well, meaning a stand or support is a good thing to have.

Issues to a Magnified Optic

An issue that many have with this kind of optic is the speed of it. There is an adjustment period of having to adjust the clarity of the image when distance changes. Once you get the hang of it, though, it comes naturally and quickly. Because of the ability of the long range, it rarely takes many adjustments to get the image right. However, the closer something is, the longer it takes.

Eye relief is another issue. Most scopes have one of 3 inches or more, but that little setup time can eat into valuable time between getting a shot and missing it. Anyone who’s ever used a magnified scope can tell you that if you aren’t in the right spot, the image is skewed or even black. There is a sweet spot when using a scope and if you miss it, then the alignment of the shot can be off.

  • Best for long ranges
  • More freedom of choices on the market
  • Can be used with a red dot easily
  • Lower powered variable optics can do the same job as the red dot
  • Heavier than the red dot
  • Bulkier than the red dot
  • Eye relief is shorter

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Other Factors to Consider

While distance is a major deciding factor, there are other factors that come into play with the choice between a magnified scope and a red dot scope.

red dot sight and ammunition
Image credit: Sambulov Yevgeniy, Shutterstock

Battery Life

The red dot optic is going to use a battery to run. Often these batteries are rechargeable, but it can eat away time if you forget to charge them. It will also dictate how long you can use your optic before it needs a recharge. Ask yourself if you want to be responsible for remembering to charge your red dot optic before use or not.

Where a magnified optic is going to be ready for use no matter what. The only thing that is going to be needed is the adjusting the clarity of the image.

When to Use a Red Dot Optic

Red dot optics are great for short range shooting. That is what they are made to do. This could be useful in several scenarios. One of the best scenarios is that of training. When learning to use your AR-15, these comes in handy. Every gun is going to have a learning curb and your new one is no different. The red dot is going to allow you to get a feel for your weapon and know the ins and outs without worrying about focus.

Training isn’t the only thing it is good for, though. Short range shooting, like defense, is also a perfect. With many red dot optics, you can even use them at night. The brightness can be adjusted so you can see it even in low light settings. Which, with defending your property, can be the difference between the bear getting into your house and not.

When to Use a Magnified Scope

Long range shooting is when this type of device really shines. It is what they were intended for and they show up the red dot optic easily with distance. This type of optic is perfect for hunting. The long range allows you to be away from the game you are going after. That can easily be the difference between getting that big buck and spooking it.

With various magnification ranges, the distance of a shot can reach over 500 yards.

Watch for Weather

Now, most optics will include some weatherproofing aspects to it. However, a scope is going to have more features. With a scope not only is going to be fog proof, but it can often handle hot temperatures and well below freezing temperatures as well.

Image Credit: oleg_mit, Pixabay

With the red dot, worry about what the battery can handle. With electronics, water comes into the worry factor. Look at your climate and the location you are going to be using the device. If it is a wetter climate, then you may not like a red dot optic. Batteries are often going to either overheat if the weather is too hot or not work properly if the weather is too cold.

Red Dot vs Magnified Scope for AR-15 – Which is Best for You?

It is all going to come to personal preference. It also depends on what you are doing with your gun. Are you someone that hunts in longer ranges? Or are you going to be one that enjoys short range shooting? The range is going to be the biggest factor in deciding which is best.

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Hopefully, this made it easier to figure out if a red dot vs magnified scope for you AR-15 is going to be for you. The biggest take away that can be offered is knowing what range you are looking at. Once you know you can pick between the red dot and the magnified scope with ease.

Featured Image Credit: Ambrosia Studios, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.