How to pick the perfect optic for your AR

Versatile, powerful, and just plain fun, the AR is a true icon. But what optic can get you the most out of your rifle?

Near, far, or everywhere in between

In general, you’ve got three paths when it comes to AR optics: red dots, Low Power Variable Optics (LPVOs), and prism scopes

So which type is best for you?

Think of red dots as specialty pieces of equipment. Want something that can do fast, close quarters shooting? Need the lightest possible point of aim? A red dot is perfect: You get unlimited eye relief, ideal for fast target acquisition and a wide field of view. (Note: You can also run a magnifier behind a red dot to stretch your range.)

Prism scopes that rely on an etched reticle always provide a point of aim, even if your battery fails. They usually have a BDC-style reticle, ideal for precise holds at distance. They represent a middle ground between a red dot and a magnified optic, but they are fixed power. One final thing to note: prism scopes are a great solution for shooters with an astigmatism.

LPVOs can hang with the red dots when it comes to tight spaces, and then turn around and send rounds downrange next to the bigger, bulkier, and higher magnification optics.

With all the options available, you don’t have to sacrifice to get an optic that works for your AR.

Features to consider

Now that you’ve narrowed your choice down to a particular type of optic, here are three things you need to consider for each:

Red Dots

  • Dot Size: The dot will come in a variety of sizes, like 2 MOA or 6 MOA. A smaller dot allows for some more accuracy down range, while a larger dot can be easier to pick up quickly.
  • Body Style: Open top dots are as simple and small as it gets, offering you a point of aim with none of the frills. Fully-enclosed micro red dots offer excellent durability, and full-sized enclosed red dots—while bigger and bulkier—offer a bigger viewing window and more features.
  • Co-Witness: Co-witness means you can use your red dot and your iron sights at the same time. If your battery fails, you can rely on your irons without removing your red dot. If this is important, make sure your dot has the proper mounting options.


  • Illumination: If night vision compatibility is important, make sure your optic has compatible modes. If you plan on shooting in the daylight, make sure your optic has daylight bright illumination for clarity in bright sunlight.
  • Magnification Range: LPVOs can take you from 1x out to 10x and beyond. Decide if you will spend more time at long range or close quarters.
  • Focal Plane: First focal plane optics ensure the features on your reticle are usable at any magnification. A second focal plane reticle’s features will be accurate only at a particular magnification, usually the highest.

Prism Scopes

  • Magnification: A prism scope is always fixed power, so if you frequently need to stretch your effective range, you’ll need to reach for something like a 3x or 5x.
  • Illumination: Prism scopes including an etched reticle always provide a point of aim, even without power. But you still need to choose an optic that has the brightness you need to shoot effectively.
  • Reticle Features: Are you looking for a simple, clear point of aim, or do you want a more comprehensive reticle? While you’re not going to see complicated reticles in most prism scopes, you still have options.

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