One of my biggest issues when I was a beginner was dark images and poor light conditions.
There were times when I would go outside on a sunny day, but my scope only showed me dim images.
So what was the issue?
Regardless of how long you’ve been using your trusty rifle scope, one of the most important factors to consider is the exit pupil size and quality.
Keep reading to learn more about the functions of an exit pupil!
- What Is Exit Pupil on a Scope?
- How Is Exit Pupil Measured and Calculated?
- Why Is Exit Pupil Important in Rifle Scopes?
- How Does the Exit Pupil Impact Shooting?
- What Is a Good Exit Pupil for a Rifle Scope?
- What Is the Function of a Large Exit Pupil?
- What Is the Function of a Small Exit Pupil?
- How to Choose an Exit Pupil for Your Scope
- What About the Binoculars Exit Pupil?
- Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Exit Pupil on a Scope?
To help explain it a little better, here’s a little exercise I learned.
Try adjusting the scope’s magnification to full, then direct it towards the sky. Position your eye around 10 inches from the eyepiece and along the optical axis.
You’ll see a bright disc or a bright circle of light in the center — that’s when I learned that that disc is the exit pupil.
When you look through the ocular lens, the exit pupil shows the diameter of light that leaves the eyepiece.
The size of the exit pupil is ALWAYS smaller than the eyepiece and is measured in millimeters (mm).
Entrance Pupil vs. Exit Pupil
Try imagining an optical system that contains various optical apertures that limit the light rays that can pass through.
- The effect of an optical aperture can be changed because of other optical elements
- The position of an optical aperture can affect the opening angle
How do you take all of these aspects into consideration? Here’s where the ENTRANCE pupil and EXIT pupil come in.
Imagine an imaging system with various apertures positioned differently in the beam path. The system is focused on an object plane, and rays start from the center of the object plane.
To solve this, I identify the entrance pupil as the optical image of the aperture. This is seen through the front of the lens system.
The exit pupil (also referred to as a virtual aperture) is the optical image of the virtual aperture. This is seen through the back of the lens system.
How Is Exit Pupil Measured and Calculated?
If I told you that the exit pupil should be calculated on your own, you’d probably be quite hesitant.
But the good news is that you only need to know the magnification and diameter of your lens!
After identifying these, use this simple formula:
(Objective lens diameter in millimeters) / (magnification)
This will get you the estimated size of the scope’s exit pupil. Trust me, it’s simple mathematics!
Let’s say that we’re looking at a 4 x 32 mm rifle scope, and you want to measure the exit pupil’s diameter.
The objective lens is 32 mm, and the magnification is 4x. To calculate the scope’s exit pupil, we’d use the previous formula to get
32/4 = 8 mm
This means that the size of the exit pupil calculated would be 8 mm. I use this formula anytime you want to calculate the size of the exit pupil.
Why Is Exit Pupil Important in Rifle Scopes?
There are various reasons why the exit pupil is one of the most important parts of a rifle scope. These include the following:
- Better image magnification
- Lessens eye strain/protects our naked eyes
- Can make a difference in bright and dark areas
- Takes emergent light into account
Imagine walking out of a dark area into a bright area. You’d automatically raise your hand to protect your eyes, right?
This is because the human eye isn’t accustomed to so much light or so many light rays.
When you find yourself in bright light, your eye’s pupil SHRINKS so that you can see a clearer image.
When you find yourself in low light conditions, your pupil expands. In the same sense, the exit pupil on rifle scopes serves the same function.
How Does the Exit Pupil Impact Shooting?
When you’re in the center of the woods looking for your next target, you need to have the BEST resources at hand to shoot well.
An important consideration is the objective lens diameter of the exit pupil.
As seen in the formula for the pupil’s diameter, the magnification power of the lens is connected to its size.
A LARGE pupil diameter helps produce a good image in low light conditions.
Meanwhile, a SMALL pupil diameter helps produce a good image in bright conditions.
If your naked eyes are about the same size as the exit pupil, you’d be able to see clear images.
What Is a Good Exit Pupil for a Rifle Scope?
Objectively speaking, a good exit pupil for a scope has the ideal exit pupil diameter.
You may be wondering why the diameter of the exit pupil is important. An effective diameter takes into account two main concepts:
- Personal hunting style
For instance, if you have bad eyesight and prefer hunting in low light conditions, you should choose a large objective lens or a large exit pupil.
I have a buying guide on low light scopes if you’re interested in some options.
Conversely, if you have great eyesight and prefer to hunt in brighter areas, choosing a small objective lens or a smaller exit pupil would be best.
In my case, it’s the latter.
I prefer hunting in the daytime and my eyesight isn’t terrible, so a smaller exit pupil is best for me.
What Is the Function of a Large Exit Pupil?
I made the mistake of assuming that a larger exit pupil diameter is better than a smaller exit pupil and is directly proportional to shooting better.
This would be the case if you have low light conditions but a large exit pupil doesn’t work as well in very bright conditions, like on a sunny day.
Take the human eye, for instance.
In typical daytime, your eye’s pupil can be as small as 2 mm in diameter because of the bright light present.
When you use a large exit pupil, over half the light that goes through the scope falls on your iris rather than your pupil.
The iris is the part of the human eye that controls how much light enters the eye.
It does this by changing the size of the human eye more specifically, the pupil. Your eye’s pupil can be larger (dilated) or smaller (constricted)
Since a large exit pupil allows MORE light to pass through, it forms a brighter image in low light conditions or during the night.
However, the maximum pupil size is 10 mm, which is based on the diameter of light that the human eye pupil can see.
- Ensures that you get to see a clear image when it's dark/at night
- Can ensure flexibility in regards to eye relief
- Doesn't work as well in a bright area
What Is the Function of a Small Exit Pupil?
Conversely, a smaller exit pupil works best during the daytime.
In brightly illuminated light conditions, the small exit pupil would help you see more focused light.
This means that a higher magnification is present.
This exit pupil wouldn’t work as well in nighttime conditions because you wouldn’t be able to see the image as clearly in the dark.
- Gives you a clearer image in bright conditions/during the daytime
- Doesn't work well in low light conditions/at night
How to Choose an Exit Pupil for Your Scope
You now know that a larger exit pupil is for low-light situations, while a smaller one is best for daytime sessions.
What else do I need to look for?
I’m glad you asked! There are a bit more considerations to consider when choosing the right exit pupil.
Since the exit pupil is directly related to the magnification, it is important to choose one that suits your needs best.
A HIGHER magnification will give you a SMALLER exit pupil and vice versa.
Let’s say you choose a scope with a maximum magnification of 20x, you will likely have a very small exit pupil.
Objective Lens Diameter
The objective lens diameter is another variable that directly affects your exit pupil.
The exit pupil is directly proportional to the objective diameter; as one goes up, the other goes up as well.
Since the objective lens is where light passes through, a larger diameter lets in more light.
You really have to find that sweet spot between the magnification and objective lens diameter to give you the PERFECT exit pupil.
What About the Binoculars Exit Pupil?
Did you know that the exit pupil is a concept that’s also present in various optical instruments?
If you’ve heard of these instruments before, the first thing to pop into your mind might be an astronomical telescope.
However, you can also find any optical device in fields beyond astronomical observation.
In the context of binoculars, an exit pupil is the diameter of an image that is shown outside of the eyepiece.
Just like rifle scopes with a large exit pupil, binoculars with large exit pupils work best in low light because it produces a clearer image.
The formula for the size of the pupils in binoculars also goes as follows:
(Diameter of the lens) / (magnification of the binoculars)
If you have 7 x 50 binoculars, the diameter of your lens would be 50 mm, and the magnification would be 7x.
This means that the diameter of the exit pupil calculated is 7 mm.
- The larger the lens of your binoculars, the larger the diameter of the exit pupil.
- The larger the magnifying power of your binoculars, the smaller the pupil diameter.
Determining the best exit pupil for binoculars means that you’d have to consider which light conditions you’d use them for.
I often prefer using 4 mm binoculars for the daytime and 5mm (or more) binoculars for the night.
However, in my experience, 4 mm binoculars can work well for the day/twilight/night.
Take note that the maximum size of a binoculars’ exit pupil differs, as multiple GIANT binoculars have exit pupils that are smaller than the ideal size.
Regardless, these binoculars are still able to produce clear images.
TRIVIA: If the human pupil is about the same size as the exit pupil size in binoculars, the images would be as clear as if you were looking at them with the human eye!
Choosing the best binoculars for you would entail determining the preferred size of your binoculars, the exit pupil’s maximum size or pupil diameter, and how much emergent light is present.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Exit Pupil the Same as Eye Relief?
No, they are not the same.
Exit pupil refers to the little circle that controls the amount of light that enters the scope.
Eye relief is the distance between the eyepiece and your eye.
A longer eye relief will help you shoot more comfortable and protect your eye from recoil.
Are Exit Pupil Scopes Only for Hunting and Shooting Sports?
Nope! You can use exit pupil scopes for other things unrelated to shooting!
For example, you can exit pupil scopes for birdwatching or just to look at nature and its surroundings. You can use binoculars too!
Exit pupil is also applied in telescopes which you can use to look at the stars. You can apply what you learned about the exit pupil in any optical instrument!
What’s the Ideal Exit Pupil?
There is no ideal exit pupil as it greatly depends on the shooter and their purpose.
However, I can give you a very rough guide on which exit pupils work best for certain scenarios.
- 7mm-9mm – Low-light/nighttime shooting
- 5mm-7mm – General hunting and shooting
- 3mm-5mm – Precision shooting and target shooting in the daytime
When choosing a good exit pupil for a rifle scope (or even for binoculars), you have to consider the best exit pupil diameter for you.
You can do so by taking note of:
- Its image quality in certain lighting conditions
- The best objective lens size
- Your personal limitations
Taking all of these into account will help you ensure that you can use your rifle scope to its maximum capability!
FINAL TIP: Now that you know more about scopes, you may be interested in our buying guide on the top options for scopes under $500.