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AR-15 Upgrades: Choosing an optic

By Erik Rodriguez

Tags: AR-15 optics, AR scopes, EOtech XPS2, co-witness, AR-15 iron sites, eye-relief, 1x magnification, aimpoint compM4

This article provides information about the choosing an optic for your AR-15. Various aspects are discussed including methodology, reliabilty, common problems, and more.


The sections below contain my experience as a novice with the AR platform. I discuss things I like and dislike, mistakes I made, and other things to consider when purchasing your first AR-15. I am not a gunsmith, expert, or anything close. I welcome all comments and please correct me if anything I have here is not accurate. I also have some content posted about other firearms.


So you just purchased your fancy new AR-15. You take it to the range and see everyone else shooting theirs will all kinds of optics, lasers, flashlights, and a ton of other accessories. It's like being the only kid at school without a super hero lunchbox. Where do you start with choosing an optic? Let me tell you from personal experience, I didn't do enough research and ended up buying twice. Follow the tips below and you will be satisfied the first time with your purchase. The first question you should ask yourself is where will I be shooting my AR-15? This is a legitimate question. Do you live in a rural area where there is open land as far as the eye can see? Are you are city rat stuck at shooting in small indoor ranges that are only 25-50 yards? That will determine which type of optic is best for you.

CQB vs. mid/long distance

Close quarters battle (CQB) and mid/long distance optics are very different. CQB optics come in the form of a "red dot" or holographic sites. They are not magnified and the idea behind them is that you can engage a target with both eyes open. This allows you to be more alert in a CQB situation. Such optics have what is referred to as "unlimited eye relief."

Eye relief is amount of distance your eyes must be from the scope before you cannot view the target completely. Think of this like using binoculars. You must put your eyes very close to the lenses or it seems to look like tunnel vision. Unlimited eye relief allows you to acquire your target quickly and accurately from different body positions such as extended or crouched. CQB optics are accurate out to 200 yards. These type of optics can also be equiped with an external magnifier. They often flip over on a latch that allows you to use them or not use them depending on your needs.

Middle to long distance optics are magnified. They come in the form a fixed or variable magnification such as 4x32 or 4-8x32. This optics have limited eye relief usually around 1.5" to 3". They are not suitable for CQB.

Depending on the type of optic, they range from dirt cheap (~$15) for a cheap red dot, to over $10,000 for night vision and/or heat detection. Even some of the "basic" middle range scopes from Trijicon are several $1000 dollars. The top CQB optics are products from Aimpoint, EO Tech, and Bushnell. All of their optics are rugged and can withstand the impact of large caliber recoil. They are waterproof and completely submergible to certain depths. They don't fog up, glare, or scratch easily. The same companies produce equally great mid/long range optics.

Cheap vs. Expensive I have owned some of the cheap scopes. A mid range scope with an integrated laser from NC star set me back about $175. It was not a very good optic. The reticule illuminated blue and was a variable 4-8x32 variable optic. After shooting 100 rounds or so, the blue illumination would fade in and out. The laser had the same problem, and at the end of the day, I couldn't use the illumination or laser features. The rest of the optic worked fine. Fast forward 3 months, I decided to bite the bullet (no pun intended) and buy an EOTech XPS 2. I ended up shelling out about $470 for this. It works wonders and I have never had any problems with it nearly 1000 rounds later. Was it expensive? Absolutely. Was it worth the money? Absolutely. Take my advice, save up and buy a decent optic. I essentially wasted the $175 I spent on the first optic.

These optics are top notch, used by military, law enforcement, and competition shooters:

More AR-15 related content:

Ammunition: .223 vs. 5.56
AR-15 Upgrades: Choosing an optic
AR-15 Upgrades: Stock, Hand Guard, and Vertical Grip
AR-15 Upgrades: Uppers and Bolt Carrier Groups (BCG)
AR-15 Upgrades: Sights, Ejector Door, and Pins
AR-15 Upgrades: Triggers, Breaks, Supressors, Sling Adapter

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