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  • Post last modified:December 14, 2023

The choice between a red dot magnifier and a low-power variable optic is a common question, and I'm here to provide some insights after using both setup for about 10 years.

A low-power variable optic serves its purpose well, particularly for engaging targets at distances ranging from about 200 to 400 yards.

On the other hand, a red dot sight is excellent for close-quarter shooting, where the advantages of unlimited eye relief outweigh the benefits of variable magnification, especially when shooting from improvised positions becomes necessary.

Both setups have their pros and cons, so let's take a closer look at them.

LPVO VS Red Dot Magnifier

Red Dot & Magnifier Combo

aimpoint 3x c magnifier scope unity tactical ftc
  • Target ranges from 0 to 200 yards
  • Shoot 1X at odd angles and positions
  • Urban environment
  • Removable when not needed

Most shooters will benefit from red dot and magnifier setup because they are practical and way more affordable than a LPVO setup.

Check Out: Best Red Dot/Holosight Magnifiers

Low Power Variable Optic

vortex razor 1-10x low power variable optic
  • Targets beyond 200 yards
  • Competition match with all long range targets
  • Less likely to shoot from awkward positions & angles

LPVO setup is great for users who frequently shoot long range. It's a very expensive setup compared to a red dot magnifier setup.

Check Out: Best Low Power Variable Optics

Unlimited Eye Relief VS Eye Box

aiming with one eye open

The unlimited eye relief offered by a red dot sight enables the shooter to rapidly position themselves behind the sight and take a shot as soon as the dot is on target.

In this case, the exact position of your eyeball behind the optic doesn't matter, as long as you can see the reticle.

Conversely, when using a variable magnification optic, the shooter must be mindful of the eye box, as it determines the precise eye position required for proper use.

The eye box is an imaginary dimension behind the scope defined by

• Exit pupil size
• Eye relief distance
• Field Of View
• Internal construction
The bigger the eye box, the better, but it's not always possible due to physical engineering limitations.

Using a low-power variable optic (LVPO) demands that the shooter align themselves within the optic's specific eye box for aiming. This can be quite challenging, especially when shooting from awkward positions, as illustrated in the image below:

In simpler terms, if your eye isn't perfectly positioned behind an LVPO, you'll likely encounter scope ring shadows that can disrupt your sight picture, making aiming very difficult when the optic is set to 1X magnification.

Red Dot 1X vs LPVO 1X

A low power variable optic at 1X isn't true 1X like a red dot, and there are some downsides when working with the eye box.

If your eyeball position isn't exactly where it needs to be within the eye box, the scope shadow will drive you crazy! But when using a red dot you don't have to deal with that problem at all.

Referenced Viking Tactical

If shooting at odd angles or any improvised positions, the 1X red dot is always better.

On a flat range, both of them are great for plinking, 3 gun and other fast action shooting.

Reticle Parallax


Most low-power variable optics set at 1X claim to be parallax-free at approximately 100 yards. However, despite manufacturers' marketing efforts suggesting zero parallax, there is still a minimal degree of parallax when you shift your head, although it's typically so negligible that it goes unnoticed.

This occurrence arises because not everything within the scope can be perfectly aligned, and it becomes more noticeable when you shift your head while aiming at targets within the range of 10 to 25 yards.

It's worth noting that this aspect also applies to red dot sights; while they are advertised as 100% parallax-free, in reality, there is usually a minimal degree of parallax, regardless of the manufacturer's claims.


In terms of weight, both configurations typically weigh around 20 to 25 ounces on average.

When you invest in a high-quality low-power variable optic (LPVO) paired with a good scope mount like the Geissele Precision or LaRue Tactical, the weight will be nearly equivalent to that of a red dot sight with a magnifier setup.

Ultimately, the choice comes down to personal preference for shooters.

One additional advantage of a red dot magnifier scope setup is that you can easily remove it whenever you need to save on weight or conserve space, especially when traveling. (I recommend using a quick-detach throw lever mount for added convenience.)

Glass & Reticle Clarity

Delta pro 5 with leupold mark5 HD scope

When comparing glass clarity, most variable magnification optics look better than a red dot magnifier.

The reticle is much sharper and the image appears much brighter and crisp.

When a holographic or a 2 MOA red dot is magnified, it always tends to look smeared in some ways, which can cause accuracy error for long-range shooting.

Some red dot magnifiers like the EOTech G33 have a bit of tint depending on where the sunlight is hitting the lens. but it's not a huge problem.

Target Acquisition Speed For CQB

vortex razor 1-10x lpvo at 1x engaging targets

On a flat range both LPVO and red dot are pretty fast, and depend on who is shooting the rifle, a LPVO can sometimes be even faster.


When shooting around corners, barricades, under a car, or through holes at the same size targets at relatively the same distance. The red dot is faster and more comfortable.

On a flat range, you just wouldn't differentiate the pros and cons of them until you try drills like this below:

In order to really see the difference between these two types of optics, the best thing we recommend is to shoot a round of barricade drill to see for yourself.

Be sure to check out our review of the Vortex Razor Gen 3 1-10X scope, which has the widest eye box that is perfect for CQB shooting.


One of the biggest difference between a LPVO setup and a red dot magnifier setup is the cost. For a budget friendly red dot magnifier setup, I can expect to spend around $600. On the other hand, a good LPVO setup plus a good mount will costs up to $1700 or more.

Since a low power variable optic is a very delicate optic system, the components you spend money on has to be high quality.

Of course, you can spend big money on a red dot magnifier setup, but overall they are much cheaper than LPVO. So for most shooters, the red dot magnifier setup is the go to.

Competition Stages

In 3-gun shooting competitions, many shooters prefer low-power variable optics (LPVOs) like 1-6X or 1-8X.

These competitions typically involve stages that are designed to encourage shooters to get behind their sights and stay there, sending rounds downrange without the need for elaborate tactical maneuvers.

In fast-action shooting matches, the stages are often set up with simplicity in mind, aiming for rapid sight acquisition and engagement of 1 to 4 targets before moving to the next stage.

Given that most targets in these competitions are at close ranges and due to the repetitive nature of reacquiring the sight, particularly in gun action ranch-style competitions, the time difference between using a red dot sight and an LPVO set to 1X can become quite significant. In general, using a red dot sight can be about 10% faster when it comes to acquiring and engaging targets in these scenarios.

Magnification Change Speed

vortex razor 1-10x24 gen 3 lpvo

The speed at which the shooter can change the magnification varies.

Generally speaking, flipping the magnifier scope back and forth on a spring-loaded mount feels faster than an LPVO even with a magnification throw lever.

Sometimes turning the magnification dial on the scope can feel stiff, and can slow you down.

scope zoom ring lever
Features Throw Lever Ring

Most well-built scopes will have that stiffness and its not a huge problem if you get used to it.

Note: Magnifier that flips to the side could catch carbon residue near the ejection port overtime.

Long Distance Shooting

For long-distance shooting beyond 150 to 500 yards, the LPVO wins significantly over a red dot magnifier scope.

• Better range estimation with ballistic reticle
• Way better reticle clarity
• Better holdover reference points
• Better accuracy for longer distances shots
• More magnification to see the target clearly

A first focal plane reticle is preferred so each reticle lines and subtensions are scaled relative to the magnification.

Check Out: Best Long Range Scopes Under $1000


In shooting events where the majority of targets are within 100 yards and only a few are situated at distances of 200 to 300 yards, it's advisable to opt for a reflex sight paired with a magnifier.

This combination of a red dot and magnifier proves to be a practical choice, especially since the red dot sight offers quicker target acquisition in a broader range of shooting scenarios compared to a variable power scope. User can also detach the magnifier scope and use it like a monoscular optic.

When the majority of targets are situated at distances of 200 yards and beyond, it's highly recommended to utilize a low-power variable optic (LPVO).

In such scenarios, you won't need the 1X setting, and it's not applicable. This is where the advantages of variable magnification become more significant than the benefits of unlimited eye relief, especially when dealing with long-range shooting applications.

Read More: Best Red Dot Magnifier Scopes