LPVOs and red dots were some of my first optics when I was a beginner, and both are GREAT for practicing and developing your skills.
If you are a first-time user who can only afford one, you’re probably wondering which to use as well.
I’ve got you covered with this LPVO vs red dot comparison guide so you can decide which optic is better for you to use!
- What is a Low Power Variable Optic?
- What is a Red Dot Sight?
- Let’s Compare: LPVO vs Red Dot
- What About Red Dot Magnifiers?
- Can You Use a Magnifier With an LPVO?
- Can I Replace an LPVO With a Red Dot?
- Do You Shoot an LPVO With Both Eyes Open?
- Should I Buy a First or Second Focal Plane LPVO Scope?
- Are Red Dot Sights and Magnifier Combos More Expensive than LPVOs?
- Do LPVOs Have Reticle Illumination?
- Can Red Dot Sights Have Different Reticles?
- Do Red Dot Scopes Work Well at Night?
- How Can I Use Iron Sights and My LPVO at the Same Time?
- Can I Use Both an LPVO and a Red Dot?
- Final Verdict: Should I Use LPVO or Red Dot and Magnifier?
What is a Low Power Variable Optic?
A Low Power Variable Optic (LPVO) is a sight that can be used in short distances, mid-range distances, and longer distances.
As the name suggests, the optic is variable, so you can easily change the zoom level from 1X to 6X or 8X.
Many LPVO sights also include wind and bullet drop compensation, making shooting at longer ranges more effective and accurate.
Since the scope body is similar to a traditional rifle scope, it also has the same drawbacks.
One that I experienced was the different zoom levels can only be viewed if you’re within the eye box.
The eye box or eye relief zone is the distance your eye has to be from the rear opening of the scope to view the complete sight picture.
Being too close or too far to the scope will cause blockages and black rings around the LPVO sights.
I primarily use these low-power variable optics on my AR-15s. I can also use them on rifles with enough bullet velocity and range to hit long-range shots.
- Variable magnification
- Works in different ranges
- Highly accurate even with wind and distance
- Etched reticle works even when the battery dies
- Reticle illumination for low light conditions
- Heavyweight like a traditional scope
- Slow target acquisition
- More expensive than other optics
- Eye box restrictions
What is a Red Dot Sight?
A red dot sight is a reflex sight optic with a simple dot aiming point in the middle.
This is done by illuminating a small light into a curved glass that the shooter looks through.
Its primary use is in close-range situations like home defense, as its maximum magnification level is 1x.
It’s been one of my go-to optics because of the simplicity of the sight picture, eye relief, fast target acquisition, and general ease of use.
Red dot sights allow me to open both eyes while aiming, which is a considerable benefit in close quarters situations.
For example, in home defense situations, having your gun ready while simultaneously looking for the intruder is more beneficial than aiming in and out through every corner.
However, a red dot sight isn’t as versatile when trying to knock down targets past 200 yards.
It doesn’t account for bullet trajectory or wind speed and direction.
Additionally, if the battery dies, the reticle disappears, and the scope becomes useless.
Thankfully, battery life typically lasts for years, so you’ll have plenty of time to replace them.
- Affordable price
- Near unlimited eye relief
- Long battery life
- Peripheral vision while aiming
- Compatible with night vision devices
- It doesn't work when batteries fail
- Limited to use in close ranges
- Eyes with astigmatism can't see the red dot properly
- No advanced reticle features
Let’s Compare: LPVO vs Red Dot
Now that you know what both sights are, let’s compare LPVO vs. red dot sights.
Both have different strengths and weaknesses, and you’ll discover which one fits better for you.
A low-power variable optic is always better in magnification compared to red dots. The former can reach up to 8x!
Additionally, LPVOs can dial in zoom levels between 1 and 8 smoothly.
Even if you use a magnifier combo red dot sight, you’ll be stuck on only two different zoom levels.
However, if 1x is all you need, the red dot has a more natural field of view than the LPVO, as it’s just a piece of glass with an illuminated dot.
The LPVO, on the other hand, is a full-on scope with multiple lenses that light has to pass through.
I personally like using LPVOs for their wider magnification range and without the hassle of buying and installing a magnifier.
Close quarters shooting favors the red dot sight.
There’s a significant difference in peripheral vision, which helps in target identification at close range.
Seeing targets clearer around you in close quarters situations will also increase your shooting speed.
I’ve never lost time scoping in and out like I would with LPVO sights.
Fixing your eye position and cheek weld to fit in an eye box like you would with an LPVO sight isn’t necessary with red dots.
Red dot sight is flexible at various angles, which can help in tight spaces.
Doing the same using an LPVO scope will result in inaccurate shots or an inability to see the reticle.
The much lighter and less bulky red dot sights also help you get your gun up quicker than if you use an LPVO sight.
Additionally, you can have co-witnessing iron sights with a red dot sight for maximum close-quarters accuracy.
This is why red dot sights are perfect for use in home defense!
Winner: Red dot sight
The battle between LPVO vs. red dot sights heats up when you engage targets at longer ranges.
So far, the red dots have beat out the LPVO sights in closer range use.
However, the Low Power Variable Optic hits back with its EXCELLENT performance when trying to hit targets at long distances!
The etched reticle on LPVOs has a more precise sight picture than the one on the red dot optic.
It also doesn’t have the blurriness issue that red dots have for people with astigmatism.
Additionally, LPVOs have features on the scope that allow for bullet drop compensation and wind correction.
These things will allow you to shoot targets even in these conditions.
Red dot sights can also be attached with magnification extensions, but they still don’t compare to what Low Power Variable Optic sights offer.
Magnifiers that attach to your red dot can give more zoom level but don’t have the extra features, clearer reticle, and variable magnification that LPVOs have.
Some things need to be considered before I talk about focusing on LPVO vs. red dot sights.
Red dots only have one zoom level at 1x, while LPVOs have MULTIPLE, usually until 6x or 8x.
Red dot sights at 1x don’t have issues focusing, as they are optimized for only one zoom level.
However, LPVOs have many zoom levels to optimize for, so either the 1x or the maximum zoom may seem like they have a fishbowl or parallax effect.
Luckily, most LPVOs have a side focus adjuster, so this isn’t an issue.
There is a wide variety of reticle options for a red dot optic.
One option is the standard red dot with a small dot size, and another is the holographic chevron-type reticle.
A red dot sight’s advantage is that the red dot reticle is illuminated brighter than the etched reticle on an LPVO.
However, the red dot pros end there.
LPVOs don’t rely on battery life as they have an etched reticle. Say goodbye to any accurate shooting if your battery runs out!
Even though some older red dots use fiber optics, which have unlimited battery life, they are scarce and outdated.
They also rely on how much light is around!
Low Power Variable Optic scopes have more accurate reticles that compensate for bullet drop and wind direction while not requiring batteries.
Eye relief is the distance from the scope your eye has to be to see through the scope correctly.
LPVOs and red dot sights significantly differ in eye relief or eye box size.
On the one hand, LPVOs will often have the proper distance listed on the instruction manual.
Looking through the scope outside this range will make the reticle blurry, off-center, or just all black.
On the other hand, red dot sights have unlimited eye relief. You can look at it from almost any angle and distance and see the reticle well.
It’s like aiming using my naked eye without any rifle scope silhouette blocking me.
Winner: Red dot sight
Size and Weight
The last category in our LPVO vs. red dot comparison is size and weight.
These are important when attaching to any gun, as extra weight slows your target identification.
The apparent winner for weight is the red dot sight.
The red dot only has a frame, glass, battery, wiring, and the enclosure that connects it to the gun.
Even if you attach a colossal magnifier, they are usually as heavy if not lighter than LPVOs.
Meanwhile, an LPVO is far more complex in its build. It’s usually constructed of metal, multiple glass lenses, adjustment dials, and other materials.
For size, the red dot wins again. The frame is usually shorter, slimmer, and shallower than an LPVO, which is essentially a full-size rifle sight.
The red dot is the way to go if you want a lightweight build.
Winner: Red dot sight
Field of View
Since red dots don’t have variable magnifications, you don’t have to worry about your field of view being decreased as you zoom in.
You have the advantage of seeing your entire surroundings AND you can see with both eyes open!
Meanwhile, LPVOs have variable magnifications. As you zoom in, your field of view decreases, restricting your view.
Winner: Red dot sight
Low Light Capabilities
The main factor that affects the amount of light entering the scope is the objective lens diameter. The larger it is, the more light enters.
Red dots have an average objective diameter of around 20mm while LPVOs can go up to 24mm.
With LPVOs, the catch is that the light has MORE GLASS to hit before reaching your eye, so the light you see is actually less.
Meanwhile, red dots have less lenses and glass to go through.
It is also important to consider the exit pupil size, which you can get by dividing the objective diameter by the magnification.
LPVOs are more flexible when it comes to adjusting for light because of their variable magnification.
For example, in my experience, an LPVO at 3x with a diameter of 24mm gives me an 8mm exit pupil, which is a good amount to have.
What About Red Dot Magnifiers?
The battle between LPVO vs. red dot sights has another variable thrown into the mix – magnifiers.
Red dot sights aren’t strictly stuck to 1x magnification. Magnifiers attached to, behind, or in front of the sight are available.
Since red dot sights aren’t as bulky as Low Power Variable Optics, they don’t take up as much space on your gun’s Picatinny rail system.
You have the extra space needed for a magnifier! Magnifiers work by adding one extra zoom level to the 1x of the red dot.
The way they attach differs, but you should consider the ones that flip away to the side.
A screw-on magnifier can damage your red dot sight if you constantly screw it on and off. It also won’t be as fast to change between them in emergencies.
Flip magnifiers are more versatile because you can instantly flip between two zoom levels with one flick of your wrist.
However, using magnifiers on your red dot sight isn’t perfect.
One downside is that magnifiers have a limited eye relief zone, just like LPVOs. This negates the advantage red dot sights usually have.
Another downside is that some flip magnifiers can obscure part of your vision, slowing down your target acquisition when off to the side.
The flip magnifier can also be tricky in tight spaces because it may snag on curtains or doorways.
- It gives an extra zoom level other than 1x
- Maintains bright red dot illumination
- It doesn't negate any benefits of red dot sights when off to the side
- It doesn't affect the gun's zero
- Adds extra bulk and weight to the gun
- Limited field of view and eye box when using the magnifier
- You may need to buy a second mount for flip magnifiers
Before I give my final verdict and recommendations, I’ve answered the most commonly asked questions about LPVOs vs. red dot sights.
Can You Use a Magnifier With an LPVO?
No, you CANNOT use a magnifier with a Low Power Variable Optic.
This is because it has its own system for magnifying the sight from 1-6x, 1-8x, or 1-10x. The mechanisms are internally found inside the scope.
I tried it just for fun, but it was just not possible. It made the scope look distorted and unusable.
Can I Replace an LPVO With a Red Dot?
Yes, as long as the LPVO is attached using a Picatinny rail or M-LOK system. These scopes are interchangeable if your gun has the necessary attachment system.
However, consider the advantages of the LPVO you will lose before switching.
Do You Shoot an LPVO With Both Eyes Open?
Generally, it’s NOT RECOMMENDED to shoot with both eyes open, especially if the zoom level is cranked up.
Doing this will make your long-range shots inaccurate and might give you a headache.
The LPVO scope is optimized for total clarity at the zoom level you’re at, not at 1x all the time.
A red dot scope doesn’t have this issue because there is no distortion of the field of view through the simple reflex sight aiming point.
Should I Buy a First or Second Focal Plane LPVO Scope?
It depends on your intended usage of the gun.
If you’re primarily using it at short distances, a second focal LPVO is preferred.
The reticle size doesn’t get bigger or smaller with different zoom levels, so you get a consistent sight picture.
On the other hand, you would need to adjust for and calculate wind and bullet trajectory at higher zoom levels for longer ranges.
This is because the scope is optimized for closer range use.
If you’re shooting primarily at long range, a first focal LPVO should be your pick. The wind and bullet trajectory correction work on all zoom levels without calculation.
However, the reticle may seem thin and small at shorter ranges and lower zoom. This may result in you losing a target or missing.
Even if you’ve made the difficult choice between LPVOs and red dot sights, you still have more options.
Are Red Dot Sights and Magnifier Combos More Expensive than LPVOs?
Budget red dot and magnifier combos are much CHEAPER than a budget LPVO.
This is because there’s less complicated technology in red dot sights and magnifiers than a full-on variable scope.
LPVOs have dials to adjust for wind and bullet trajectory and more lenses in the scope.
They’re manufactured with tighter allowances as they’re used for target identification at longer ranges.
Do LPVOs Have Reticle Illumination?
Yes, both the LPVO and red dot have reticles that can be lit up.
However, the illumination on the more expensive LPVOs isn’t as bright as cheaper red dot reticles.
Unfortunately, they don’t have batteries that last as long as red dot ones.
However, the reticle still works when the battery dies, which is something the red dot can’t do.
If you’re fine with changing the batteries more often on your LPVO for the illuminated reticle, it will come in handy, especially in low-light situations.
PRO TIP: If you want to maximize value but have budget constraints, a red dot and magnifier will be higher quality than a similarly priced LPVO.
Can Red Dot Sights Have Different Reticles?
Yes, they can have different reticles other than the standard dot. The green dot, star, cross, and dot plus crosshair are popular options.
You’ve probably seen the dot plus crosshair reticle on holographic sights, an alternative construction of a red dot.
Some reticles are made for people with impaired vision, as the simple dot can be too small for them.
Do Red Dot Scopes Work Well at Night?
Yes, red dot scopes work well at night because of the reticle brightness.
Constraining your eye to an eye box isn’t ideal when it’s dark, as you may get disoriented scoping in and out.
A red dot optic makes shooting with night vision goggles or similar equipment EASY because of the unlimited eye relief that the red dot has.
How Can I Use Iron Sights and My LPVO at the Same Time?
Canted sights are popular for those who want more than one sighting system on their weapon.
Furthermore, a canted iron sight is slightly tilted towards either the left or right of the main sight, depending on which hand the person uses to shoot.
When I want to use the iron sight, I have to tilt the weapon slightly and use the irons.
This is great in emergencies where switching from a high zoom to 1x on your LPVO would be slow.
The best part about canted sights is that you can use other sights other than irons. Many even attach a simple reflex sight canted on an LPVO!
REMEMBER: Adding another sight also adds bulk and weight to your weapon, so customize with caution.
Can I Use Both an LPVO and a Red Dot?
It actually makes sense to combine both as it increases your speed and accuracy, regardless of the distance.
You can use an offset red dot sight mount to place a red dot on your scope.
It takes to to master switching between short and long ranges, but the benefits are worth it!
Final Verdict: Should I Use LPVO or Red Dot and Magnifier?
Now I come to my final verdict in the LPVO vs. red dot square-off. I’ll detail which one you should get based on your preferences, needs, and budget.
Use LPVO If…
- You want a flexible scope that can reach targets at all ranges
- You need a scope to correct for bullet trajectory dip and wind direction
- You have astigmatism
- You want an etched reticle that doesn’t rely on battery life to work
- You are OK with adjusting for limited eye relief
- You can see yourself using more than one or two magnification levels
- You are OK with taking more time to shoot at a 1x zoom range
- You don’t mind spending more on a quality scope
- You’re planning to attach it to longer weapons like rifles
Use a Red Dot and Magnifier If…
- You need more light or illumination in your reticle
- You want a more affordable scope setup
- You want to see your surroundings better with both eyes open
- You want to have unlimited eye relief
- You aren’t shooting targets at longer distances
- You need a lightweight scope
- You only need 1-2 zoom levels
- Your gun has a shorter or non-conventional barrel length
- You’ll be using the weapon in tight spaces where eye relief adjustment is difficult
At the end of the day, only you can decide which of these best suits your needs.
If you’re a new shooter and work with primarily close-range targets, go with the red dot.
If you’re more experienced and love shooting long range, go for the LPVO.
I personally like sticking with LPVO because of the versatile magnification levels. The scope as a whole is good for shooting all distances!
I hope this guide has made the options, pros and cons, and other quirks of using these optics more distinct.
As many shooters recommend, getting a better optic is the first step toward accurate marksmanship.
Go out and get your preferred optic!