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Red Dot Sighs Vs Magnified Scopes – Pros and Cons

A red dot sight and a magnified scope, which is the best? You’re probably reading this because you’re torn between them. It’s normal to be confused about the best.

After all, adding any to your rifle will enhance your shooting. But the right one to choose is usually the biggest challenge facing shooters.

With all the information online, selecting the best can be confusing. It can take you ages. 

But you don’t have to worry! We are here to help.

The first step towards choosing the best optic is understanding the two, their strengths, weaknesses and much more.

Keep reading below as I break down these two optics and compare them in different categories.

What is a red dot optic?

A red dot sight, just as the name suggests, is an optic with a red dot at the center. The dot is sometimes green.

The red dot sight works similarly to light reflection and mirrors. Plates of glass are used with light to get a red or green dot to appear on a target.

The optic features spherical mirrors and a LED light-emitting source. The spherical glasses feature a special coating that reflects red light from the LED source.

Shooters can clearly see through the glasses but will only see the red dot. Red dot sights are parallax-free, lightweight and easy to use. They feature a pretty simple reticle.

A red dot size is measured in MOA (Minute of Angle), with the aperture hole in front of the glass controlling its size. Bigger dots are easier to see but best used for short distances.

Smaller dots are a little hard to see but work best for moderate distances. The best part of a red dot is that you can fire with both eyes open.

Shooters can also use iron sights along with red dot sights when shooting.

What is a magnified scope optic?

A magnified scope, on the other end, is an optic that magnifies or zooms images at a distance.

Magnified scopes are more advanced, with more power levels and reticles. They offer excellent long-distance accuracy as compared to red dot sights.

Magnified scopes feature magnification numbers which determine how many times the image is magnified. They usually exist in two types fixed and variable scopes.

For example, a fixed scope of 4X32 will magnify the image seen with your naked eye four times. 4 is the magnification number, while 32 is the objective lens diameter.

A good example of a variable scope is 4-12X32. Here the scope magnification varies from 4 to 12. You can adjust the magnification from 4 times to 12 times to suit your needs.

Red dot sighs vs magnified scopes comparison

Now that you know the difference between a red dot sight and a magnification scope, let’s dive deep and compare them under different categories.

Red dot sights and magnified scopes are both popular options for firearms, but they have different strengths and weaknesses.

  • Speed: Red dot sights are generally faster to acquire a target with, as the dot is always visible, and there is no need to adjust the magnification. Magnified scopes can be slower, as the shooter must adjust the magnification to match the distance to the target.
  • Accuracy: Magnified scopes offer a greater level of accuracy, as the shooter can see the target more clearly and make precise adjustments to the reticle. Red dot sights can still be accurate, but the dot can be harder to align with the target at longer distances.
  • Weight: Red dot sights are typically lighter than magnified scopes.
  • Reliability: Both red dot sights and magnified scopes can be reliable, but red dot sights have fewer moving parts and may be less likely to fail.

It ultimately depends on the intended use of the firearm and the personal preference of the shooter to decide which option is better for them.

Pros and cons of red dot sights


  • Quick target acquisition 
  • Allows for shooting with both eyes open 
  • Easier to use for beginners 
  • It can be more accurate at close range 
  • It can be used in low-light conditions


  • Battery life: Some red dot sights rely on batteries to power the illuminated reticle, which means they may need to be replaced periodically.
  • Durability: While many red dot sights are built to withstand recoil and rough handling, they may not be as durable as traditional iron sights.
  • Cost: Red dot sights can be more expensive than traditional iron sights.
  • Parallax: Red dot sight can have parallax issues, which can cause the point of impact to shift as the shooter’s eye moves behind the sight.
  • Limited Magnification: Red dot sight is typically not magnified, which can make it difficult to engage targets at long ranges.
  • Adaptation: Some users may find it difficult to adapt to the red dot sight’s unique sight picture and reticle.
  • Size and weight: Some red dot sights are larger and heavier than traditional iron sights.

Pros and cons of magnified scopes


  • Increased accuracy: Magnified scopes allow for more precise aiming, which can improve accuracy at longer distances.
  • Better target identification: Magnification allows for a better view of the target, making it easier to identify and distinguish between similar objects.
  • Enhanced target acquisition: A magnified scope can make it easier to find and track a target, especially in low-light conditions.
  • Increased confidence: A magnified scope can give the user a greater sense of confidence in their abilities, which can lead to improved performance.
  • Versatility: Magnified scopes can be used for a variety of different activities such as hunting, long-range shooting, tactical and more.


  • Increased weight and bulk: Magnified scopes are typically larger and heavier than non-magnified or red dot sights, which can make them less comfortable to use and more difficult to manoeuvre with.
  • Reduced field of view: Magnified scopes typically have a narrower field of view than non-magnified sights, which can make it more difficult to acquire targets quickly.
  • Higher cost: Magnified scopes are typically more expensive than non-magnified or red dot sights.
  • More complex to use: Magnified scopes often have multiple adjustments for windage, elevation, and focus, which can make them more difficult to use for inexperienced shooters.
  • Reduced flexibility: Magnified scopes are typically designed for longer-range shooting and may not be as versatile as non-magnified or red dot sights in close-quarters or fast-moving situations.
  • Parallax error: Magnified scopes may be prone to parallax error, particularly at high magnification levels. This can cause the point of impact to shift as the shooter’s head moves relative to the scope, which can be especially problematic at longer ranges.
  • Low-light performance: Magnified scopes may not perform as well as non-magnified or red dot sights in low-light conditions, which can make it difficult to acquire targets or make accurate shots.

When to use a red dot sights

Red dot sights are typically used for close-range shooting, such as in a home defense or CQB (close-quarters battle) scenario. Ideally, when using a red dot sight, consider ranges of 100 yards or less.

The red dot allows for quick target acquisition and can be used with both eyes open, which can be beneficial in high-stress situations. Furthermore, there is no need for magnification of targets less than 100 yards.

They are also popular for use on pistols and shotguns as well as on rifles. When hunting big game, the sight works pretty well, as you don’t have to shoot from long ranges.

When to use magnified scopes

Magnified scopes on the other hand are used when the target is at a distance and more precision is required for aiming. These scopes have adjustable magnification levels that allow the user to zoom in on a target, making it easier to aim at a specific spot on the target. 

They are commonly used in activities such as hunting, target shooting, and long-range tactical shooting. Magnified scopes are generally not recommended for close-range or fast-moving targets. 

This is because the magnification can make it difficult to quickly acquire the target and track its movement.

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

The choice between a red dot sight and a magnified scope for an AR-15 largely depends on the intended use of the rifle.

A red dot sight is best for close to medium-range engagements and is faster to acquire targets. They also do not require the use of both eyes, allowing for quicker target acquisition.

A magnified scope is better for long-range engagements and provides greater accuracy. However, they can be slower to acquire targets and require the use of both eyes.

If you plan on using your AR-15 primarily for close-range engagements, such as home defense or CQC, a red dot sight is likely the better choice. If you plan on using your AR-15 for long-range shooting, a magnified scope would be more suitable.

Final verdict

Hopefully, you can now choose a suitable scope between a red dot sight and a magnified scope. You need to consider your intended purpose when deciding on the best. Are you hunting at long ranges or short ranges?

In the end, it’s a matter of personal preference and intended use. It’s also possible to mount both sight options on the same rifle, so you can switch between them depending on the situation.

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