The AR 15 Optics Buying Guide

The AR 15 is one of the most versatile weapons platforms available. It is used by military, law enforcement, and civilians everyday in countless different scenarios.

One of best things about AR’s is their ability to be configured in any different number of ways depending on a shooter’s preference or for a given situation. Look online and you’ll find upgrades for triggers, grips, stocks, and more that optimize the rifle for different capabilities.

Without doubt the most beneficial upgrade you can make is switching out iron sights for a good set of optics. Here we’ll provide AR 15 optics reviews of some of the best models on the market and discuss what types you should be considering.

Why Make The Upgrade to AR Optics

Simply put, this one upgrade ha the greatest impact where it counts the most; putting rounds on target. The right optic will increase the effective range, speed, and accuracy of your shooting.

Increased Range

magnificationWhile the AR is fully capable of hitting targets hundreds of yards out the challenge is making shots accurate at that distance. With your iron sights you’ll eventually find a limit of precision based on how small the target appears down range.

A magnifying optic provides the best way to increase the effective range of the rifle by allowing the shooter to see an enlarged image in the FOV. With the right magnification and zero distance the rifle can be taken out to distances you haven’t been able to hit before.

Faster Target Acquisition Speed

weightThe big advantage of optics is their utilization of aiming points, or reticles, that the shooter lines up on target. Reticles can take the form of crosshairs or simple dots superimposed in the objective window.

In either case you’ll find the act of overlaying the reticle on target much quicker than lining up both the front and rear sights. This, along with a more open sight picture that optics provide, reduce the time for shooters to get on target and fire. In situations where every second counts, this becomes a game changer.

Better Shot Accuracy

priceOptical reticles and magnification add to better shot placement in two ways: accuracy and consistency. Accuracy refers to the round actually hitting where you are aiming, which is easier with a reticle, typically adjustable by fractions of MOA.

Consistency refers to repeatedly hitting the same target spot, looking for tight shot groupings. Everyone from novices to advanced shooters can see the effect that the right AR optic has on accuracy. Put some range time in with one and you’ll see too.

Types of AR 15 Optics

There are a few different options when it comes to optical devices for AR 15s. Variations in weight, length, magnification, reticle pattern, and more make for a lot of different options. The most important factor to keep in mind is your particular shooting needs. Be it hunting, target shooting, or even self defense there are AR optics for each situation.

Telescopic Sights

When you hear shooters refer to ‘scopes’ they’re talking about telescopic sights. Best for mid-to-long range shots, scopes provide magnification paired with a crosshair  or dot reticle. They come as either a fixed or variable power – the latter allowing for on-the-fly zooming between magnification levels.

For an AR, a max magnification between 3x and 6x is well enough to hit targets out to the full effective range of the gun. There’s no need to go overboard with a larger scope whose weight and size is impractical for mounting.

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Nikon P223 3×32 BDC Carbine Scope

nikon_carbine_mainNikon has made their name in producing high quality optics. You may be familiar with their camera lenses but the same engineering goes behind their line of scopes. The P223 is a fixed, 3x scope with a 32mm objective lens, a good magnification out to a few hundred yards. With an eye relief of 3.4″ it make easy viewing on any AR rail.

What makes this scope unique is its ‘bullet drop compensation’ technology that helps to hit at distances you’re not specifically zeroed for. It works by having the shooter zero the rifle and scope to a known distance with a known ammunition type. Then, using Nikon’s online app, you can calculate the distances each of the reticle has marks represents for that setup. I

In theory this is like being zeroed into various distances at once when calibrated correctly. You can print out these distances and keep them handy when out in the field. Just take a look at it after you range your target and use the most appropriate marking as the aimpoint.

Barska 1-4×28 IR SWAT Riflescope

barska_swat_mainThe Barska Riflescope is a variable powered scope, meaning its magnification is adjustable on the fly buy turning one of the dials. In this case it varies between 1x and 4x.

The great thing about these types of scopes is they be useful for a variety of scenarios adjusting between close range and long range viewing.  Use the lower magnification to scan down range for the target the increase the magnification for a more accurate shot. 

Its 28mm objective lens and 4.5″ eye relief gives the shooter plenty of space for recoil. You won’t find many scopes with illuminated reticles but the Barska IR has a crosshair that can be colored either green or red, giving high contrast against wooded backgrounds that other reticles get lost it.

Trijicon 1-4×24 Accupoint

trijicon accupointAlthough its available in 1-4×24, 3-9×40, 2.5-10×56 and 5-20×50 options your best choice for the Accupoint is the 1-4x version. At 1x its great for CQC and can transition to 4x with the turn of a dial for distance shots.

Common between these different variations is a rugged construction featuring matte-black aluminum housing, long eye-reliefs, fog-proof internals, and quality, multi-coated lenses. This all adds up to make one of the most popular scopes on the market today.

The scope uses an illuminated reticle, either in triangular-post or crosshair pattern, which is powered by a combination of fiber optic and tritium technology. Both of these sources are completely passive and require no batteries to maintain constant illumination in any lighting condition. Read our full article on the Accupoint here.

Reflex Sights

Reflex sights have become common in recent years as the most basic upgrade to iron sights. These sights are non-magnifying but project an illuminated ‘red dot’ reticle into the FOV that can be line up on targets. Low end reflex sights can be cheap enough to slap on any new rifle and still have all the benefits of other AR optics.

There are a handful of factors that are comparable between reflex sights: objective size, reticle size, power source, battery life, weight, and length, to name a few. Overall, reflex’s are excellent for CQC and their compact size makes them easy to integrate onto any rifle.

Trijicon SRS

Trijictrijicon srson is know for making sights that utilize different methods of powering their illuminated reticles, and the SRS follows this trend. The ‘Sealed Reflex Sight’ uses a combination of AA battery and integrated photovoltaic cell to power its red dot in any lighting condition.

With sufficient ambient light the 1.75 MOA dot is completely powered by the small solar panel, which wraps around the outer tube housing, extending battery life up to 3 years.

With a 38mm objective lens the SRS allows for one of the largest field of views available when aiming down it. It minimizes the ‘tube’ effect seen in most other red dots and gives shooters the best situational awareness possible. Even with this increased size the optical design keeps its total lenth own to only 3.7 inches. Be sure to check out our full review of the SRS here.

Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 Red Dot Sight

bushnell_trs25_mainThe optics company Bushnell should be familiar to any hunters out there. They are one of the best known optics manufacturers out there. Their Trophy TRS-25 Red Dot Sight is a great sight at an inexpensive price point.

At less than 100$ its worth the advantages it gives you over traditional iron sights. This sight is a tube design that weights in a 3.7 oz at a length of 2.4 inches, a slim design that won’t take up too much room on the rail.

The TRS-25 has a 25mm objective lens that is coated in Bushnell’s patented Amber-Bright coating, providing high contrast between the FOV and the reticle. The reticle itself is a 3 MOA red dot which is a great size for close-to-mid range shots, good for target acquisition and speed.

Truglo Red-Dot 30mm Dual Color Sight

truglow_reddot_mainTruglo’s entry level red dot is shock-resistant, fog and water proof, and can be deployed under any weather conditions. Something to keep in mind for those shooters who plan to use and abuse their optic outdoors.

It is built with an integrated Weaver-style mount which should be compatible with most ARs. With its 3V lithium battery this optic has a running life of 6,000 hours, thats 250 days straight of illumination.

Its 30mm objective lens is on the larger side for a red dot sight and makes for a large sight picture. At 4″ tube length and 4.5 oz weight it won’t weigh down your setup. Unlike other ‘red dots’ which only have one reticle color, the Truglo is able to switch between red and green colored reticles. The reticle itself is 5 MOA, great for close targets but you might not get the tightest shot grouping at longer ranges.

Holographic Sights

These work in the same way that reflex sights do but use a different projection system to create the reticle, using a laser diode instead of an LED. The holographic reticle is superimposed onto a viewing window which does not require any other optical components, meaning that they are light weight and low profile.

EOTech XPS2-0 Holographic Weapon Sight

eotech xps2If you’re looking for a sight that is good enough for our soldiers to use then the EOTech XPS is it. This sight is military grade and equipped by soldiers who use it every day in combat actions.  It has become a standard as one of the main AR 15 optics utilized by the US Military. It’s fog proof and water proof and has proved itself to over the years to be a reliable sight that meets mil-spec standards. 

The EOTech XPS uses holographic projection that is unique to just a handful of sights in the world. Its internal laser diode shines through a holographic pattern that is etched in the rectangular viewing window.

The light illuminates the hologram, presenting a reticle to the shooter. Its high contrast makes it great for viewing in washed out backgrounds like the deserts of the middle east, and its low profile design gives it a tactical advantage over bulkier sights.

EOTech 512.A65 Tactical Weapon Sight

eotech 512a65 tacticalPossible EOTech’s most popular holographic sight, the 512 has made its name through consistent performance in some of toughest active duty scenarios going on right now. This version has been deployed on the ARs and M4s of service members since its debut, and has been getting rave reviews ever since.

This model uses AA batteries instead of the typical 3V batteries that are common on dot sights now. This adds a little weight to the sight but it is still considered light weight. Even with that power source it can get 1000 hours of continuous illumination.

With a 1.25″ x 0.85″ window to look through you’ll appreciate the large field of view. This particular sight has a ‘ring’ reticle, which is a 65 MOA circle that lies around a 1 MOA centered dot. This gives great target acquisition speed but also allows for a slower more concentrated aiming for precision shots.

Which AR Optic is Right For You

After the ar 15 optics reviews we’ve provided here you should be better informed about which upgrade you should be making. When trying to decide keep a few factors in mind. Most important is your intended shooting application. Self defense? Go for the the close-range reflex or holo sights. Hunting? You’ll need the range of a scope.

You’ll also want to consider how a given sight will operate alongside any other attachments you keep on your top rail to make sure everything will fit and it still performs as intended. Budget is also a factor here, you’ll definitely get better quality glass and durability out of some of the high-end sights, but there are plenty of budget options that can get the job done just as well. In the end its a mix of these factors that you’ll need to weigh to determine which optic to go with.

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