One of the more confusing topics when it comes to tactical gear and equipment – is to do with optics.
What are the best scope options for your firearms?
And in particular, the battle of LPVO vs red dot seems to always be on the table.
What are they exactly? What are they capable of? What does all the jargon mean?
In this article, we explore the pros and cons of each and help you find out which is the best for your setup.
Hopefully, you’ll be able to see things more clearly after this, so read on.
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LPVO or Red Dot – The Short Version
Without going into too much detail about the explanations, pros, and cons of each sight, here’s the answer to your LPVO or red dot decision:
Choose a low-powered variable optic if you’re in the wilderness, and expect any kind of short to medium range engagements.
Hunting is a prime example.
Choose a red dot sight for CQB (Close Quarter Battles) just about everywhere else – such as in the city, apartment block, or other such urban location.
Home defense is ideal.
Of course, there’s much more to it than that, and to learn more about each sight, including advantages and disadvantages, don’t touch that dial.
What is LPVO?
The acronym LPVO stands for Low Powered Variable Optic, and is a catch-all phrase for scopes that have an accurate X1 magnification level, and can be adjusted up to X10 power.
X6 is the most common.
They are variable scopes for short to medium-range engagement/targets, and in recent years, have become hugely popular for use on modern sporting rifles, such as the AR-15.
LVPOs are easy to identify by looking at the end that is furthest from the eyepiece.
This is known as the “objective lens,” contained in the “objective bell.” An LPVO optic will have a small objective lens, the same diameter (or not much larger) as the scope’s main tube.
For more information on LVPOs, take a look at the video, below.
LPVO Pros and Cons
LPVO sights have one significant advantage over red dots, and that is the ability to magnify the target.
Sure, it’s not going to come close to a high-powered optic for crazy distances, but it’s still going to give you a nice option if you need it.
Take a look at this article for more information on how to choose a rifle scope, including a handy breakdown of scope terminology and jargon-busting.
And go here if you are shooting over greater distances, and could do with a long-distance range finder.
LPVOs that use batteries are still able to function even if that battery dies, given the fact that the reticle will remain, regardless.
You can’t say the same for an illuminated red dot sight, which will shut down when the battery fails.
LVPOs do have some negative points.
The main problem is that you’re still going to get “scope shadow” to some degree.
This is that annoying swatch of black you can sometimes get in your field of view when lining up a shot with a magnified scope.
It happens most frequently when your line-of-sight isn’t lined up perfectly, or if you’re too close or too far away from the eyepiece.
This means that your vision will be impaired when attempting to view the target through the scope at an odd angle. That’s not ideal if you’re shooting from cover, for example.
And when it comes to budget, LPVOs have more complex internals than red dots and are generally more expensive as a result.
This also makes them more susceptible to damage, and not as durable as their RDS counterparts.
What is Red Dot Sight?
A red dot sight (RDS) is exactly that, an optic that gives the user an aiming marker in the form of an illuminated red dot. The dot can also be green.
Call of Duty fanboys are squealing with glee.
This single point of reference gives it an advantage over iron sights, which uses two.
The first commercially available electronic red dot sight entered the market in 1975.
Typically, red dot sights aren’t magnified and are used in CQB (Close Quarters Battles) rather than long-range engagements.
As such, it’s often called a “non-magnifying reflector,” or “reflex” sight.
RDS are identified as compact optics that can be as small as three inches long and are predominantly used for the fast acquisition of multiple targets.
They would be highly effective on some of the more close-range airsoft rifles at that link, for example.
But how does a red dot sight work?
The answer to this is capable of melting my brain, so you should take a look at the sciency-instructional video, below:
Red Dot Sight Pros and Cons
There’s no eye-relief when it comes to red dot scopes, and, as a result, they are much easier to use.
You simply line up that illuminated dot reticle on your target and pull the trigger.
This makes them advantageous when shooting from unique locations in a CQB scenario, such as narrow hallways, in and around vehicles, on stairwells, etcetera.
It also makes them superior if speed is your goal when it comes to target acquisition. If you’re running speed drills down the range, red dot sights are the better option.
(Although, having said that, some experienced shooters have noted there is little difference in speed between red dots and LPVOs if you’re willing to put the hours in with training.)
Red dot sights are much more suitable for pistol use, and they can be extremely effective when used in conjunction with such sidearms.
As can a mounted flashlight, and you can check out this article on handheld vs mounted flashlights for more information.
Red dot sights don’t suffer from scope shadow, and what you see is what you get when looking through the sights at any angle.
Your eye doesn’t need to be perfectly in line with the dot to see the best field-of-view, which makes shooting from odd angles much easier.
It also allows you to be much more aware of your surroundings, with an overall wider field-of-view when engaging targets.
As for durability, red dot sights are likely to take significantly more punishment than LPVOs, given that their internals are not as complex, with less glass to break.
This also makes the red dot sight market more affordable, and RDS are generally cheaper than LPVOs.
But there are some downsides.
And RDS is all but useless if the battery dies, given the fact that you’ll be just left with a little blank window to look through.
However, the illuminated sight does make this option better for low light conditions, and with today’s technology, these batteries can pretty much last for as long as you’ll actually be using the weapon.
Red Dot Magnifier vs LPVO
Magnifiers that are compatible with red dot sights are available, allowing you to zero in on targets at a greater range, and offering the best of both worlds.
They’re easily identified as more compact versions of traditional scopes, many not be much longer than 5-8 inches.
Typically, they’re positioned behind your red dot optic/reflex, on the railing system at the top of your rifle.
But while they do give you an extra bit of power when it comes to magnification and a cool-looking loadout, they’re just not as effective as a dedicated LPVO and have a more limited field of view.
They also add more weight to your weapon, as well as increase the profile.
Having said that, it comes into its own in close quarters, should you ever feel the need to take a slightly longer shot.
As such, a red dot magnifier is a great addition to a red dot sight CQB loadout – perfect for urban environments.
And it goes both ways, as there are LPVOs with red dot capabilities – but you’re looking at $1000+ for something decent.
Right, now we’ve got all that out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks.
Which of the two sights is more accurate?
Well, it generally depends on many variables, such as the gun used, the ammo, the conditions, the environment, the target, and the skills of the shooter.
But if you’re looking for a straight-up answer – it’s got to be the LPVO. Going head-to-head at the range – where speed isn’t a factor, I’d go with the variable every single time.
Size and Weight
There’s not much in it when it comes to these two factors, although red dot sights typically tend to have more compact profiles, and are lighter as a result.
Again, you’re barely going to notice the difference, though, so it’s something of a moot point.
Of course, this is going to change if you run a red dot sight and magnifier, which is why, all things being equal, this round is more or less a draw.
At the end of the day, when it comes to LPVO sights vs red dots, both scopes have a balance of plus points and their fair share of limitations.
The right choice will depend on the tactical situation/scenario you most commonly find yourself in.
Go with an LPVO.
Speed drills at the range?
Choose the RDS.
Unwanted dude in your house?
Call the police.
(Red dot sight.)
And while they’re not necessarily part of a list of range bag essentials, if you have the room and the budget, I’d consider having both in your locker.
Do red dot sights work at night?
Yes, they do. In fact, this is one of their advantages over a traditional reticle, as you will be able to see the target dot on a dark background.
However, the target itself isn’t going to be illuminated, unless you’re wearing a night vision device. Follow that link for more information.
What sights do I need for airsoft?
Great question – but again, it’s going to depend on your mission parameters. Most notably – the airsoft role you’re playing.
Snipers should choose an LPVO or even a more high-powered long-range scope.
For CQB, a red dot sight is a preferable choice.
The fascinating thing is that real steel scopes are compatible with airsoft and replica weapons, so you can have military-grade hardware for combat sports.
This article on the differences between military and airsoft gear will tell you more.
When it comes to rifle scopes and optics, the market is filled with so many options, things can get confusing.
Particularly if you’re a beginner just getting into target shooting/hunting/home defense when the products in question are essentially quite similar.
I hope this article has shed a little light on LPVO vs red dot sights, and you’re in a better position to choose the one that’s right for you. Let me know your decision in the comments – and why.
Stay safe out there, and happy shooting!