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Buying Your First Optic - Budget Edition
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Buying Your First Optic - Budget Edition

Budget Optic Buyer's Guide

So, you just bought your first AR and you're trying to figure out what optic to toss up on top. You checked Amazon and saw some really cool MONSTRUM scope - BRRT, wrong answer. Don't buy that. Let me help guide you to what I would consider the bare minimum for your AR15 to be "range ready" at a good price. Budget, in this instance, is sub-$300 or so, though prices may lower and rise over time depending on sales, MAP increases, inflation, etc. For the sake of this article, since many brands have multiple budget options that I would consider acceptable, I will divide this guide into brands, and then the options that I believe are "good enough". I wouldn't consider this to be in any rank order, just that these are all solid enough options to give you the confidence you can pick up your rifle and know your optic should be ready to rock. 

1. Primary Arms: Known for their three separate lines of optics, the SLx, GLx, and PLx, being the low, mid, and high tier optics (which is reflected in price as well). As with most optics lines, the cheaper glass is made in China, second cheapest (GLx) is made in the Philippines I believe, and the top of the line is Japanese glass. The budget mentions for this guide are as follows: 

  • Primary Arms SLx 1x Microprism - Incredibly compact, has 13 illuminations as well as a few night vision settings. Out of the box there is 8 different mounting heights and configurations, so you won't waste an extra $100-200 on a mount. All in for this optic you will be around $250 or less. 
  • Primary Arms SLx 3X Microprism - The size of a microdot while providing fixed 3x magnification for improved precision out at moderate distances. Same illumination and NV settings as the 1x model, and same mounting solutions. Marked at $320, though you can often times find them for under $300 on sales. 
  • Primary Arms SLx 1-6x24 - The only LPVO I would recommend from Primary Arms at the ~$300 price point, the SLx glass is "good enough" but can lose some clarity at max magnification. There's multiple different reticle options to choose from, so there shouldn't be an issue finding one that works for you. Occasional package deals will show up to get this and a mount for right around $300.  

2. Holosun: Holosun's reputation is somewhat divided in the community, among the folks who vehemently refuse to support a Chinese company (and one that directly benefits the Chinese military), and the others who are happy with the innovation and competitiveness that Holosun has brought to the American market in recent years. I tend to fall somewhere in the middle here, namely because bloated U.S. companies with military contract money shouldn't be charging $500 for a Trijicon RMR that hasn't been updated in 12 years, Holosun jumping onto the scene and taking a large market share from competitors can influence them to innovate and drive prices down. 

  • Holosun AEMS (on sales): One of Holosun's cooler optics for sure, and a very common one - enclosed housing, wide FOA, different reticle options, and comes standard on a 1/3 co-witness mount, with a hefty aftermarket available. Sits right under $300 for the CORE model, and a bit above that for the standards AEMS. 
  • Holosun 403B/C/R: The 403 line by Holosun is all pretty standard, using the same Aimpoint Micro footprint as many other dots. I'd say it is a solid step up from a Vortex Sparc II or Romeo5, albeit right about twice the price of both. All of the 403 models sit around low to mid $200s, depending on reticle options, solar powered capabilities, etc.! 
  • Holosun 503C/G/R: The 503 line by Holosun is a slight upgrade from the 403 line, offering the popular dot + circle pattern, along with many of the same offerings from the 403. Pricing for these are all right at or around $300, though with deals you can find them a bit lower. 
  • Holosun 510C: Another one of the very popular optics among people lately, the Holosun 510C. The 510C has a super-wide field of view in a lightweight package, a protective hood, and integrated QD mounting. Priced right around $300 or lower, depending on sales. 
  • Holosun SCRS: The SCRS is probably the smallest of the Holosun optics mentioned, being in an ultra compact and lightweight package. Utilizing the 509T footprint (because many people run these offset), this would probably be more at home in something where weight is definitely a concern, like a little PCC or shorty. 

3. Sig Sauer: You probably have heard of Sig from their many many handguns, rifles, and optics, as well as their recent success in the military contracts world. Did you know, they also have a handful of budget optic options? 

  • Sig Sauer Romeo5 Red Dot: The Sig Romeo5, Vortex Sparc II, and Sig MSR are the three cheapest on this list by a bit, all sitting around the low $100 range, usually selling somewhere around $120-140 depending on which you're looking for. I think the ROMEO5 is an okay optic, for the price it will work, but don't expect anything fancy out of it. You'll get a dot, it will hold zero, and it will run! 
  • Sig Sauer MSR 1-6x24 (and variants): The second LPVO listed on this guide, I'd say it is probably a tad above the SLx 1-6, though that may just be personal preference. Prices vary with these optics, some are as low as $275 or so, ranging up to about $400 so a bit out of the "budget" optic range set for the purposes of this. 
  • Sig Sauer Romeo MSR: The Sig Sauer Romeo MSR, MSR meaning modern sporting rifle of course. I would make the argument that this is probably the worst recommendation on this list, maybe edging out the Vortex Sparc II. It does it's job, but it's borderline "probably wouldn't trust this in a serious situation", but made the cut because of how cheap it is, how many are out there, and I don't have anything overly negative to say about them.

4. Vortex: Known as being the gold standard for warranty's, Vortex's quality and standards, they make a range of lower to high tier optics, and everything in-between. With Vortex, know that if there is ever any issues with your optic, even if you bought used, Vortex will take care of it. 

  • Vortex Strike Eagle 1-6x24: Probably one of the most common LPVO's I see out at the range and classes, just due to it's price (and it's usually combined with an optic mount), and is ALWAYS on sale at Palmetto State Armory. This is one of their standard 24/7 "daily deals" being run around $300 for the optic and mount, and sometimes bundled with other stuff as well. Having shot with one a few times, they are fine - it's around the SLx level of quality. 
  • Vortex Sparc II: The Vortex Sparc II was actually my first "non-Amazon optic", the first one that I decided to spend over $100 on. It's a serviceable little dot, my only real complaint is the battery compartment using a flimsy wired attachment point that frays and degrades over time. It's an okay dot. 
  • Vortex Strikefire II: Aesthetically, I think this is probably the ugliest optic on the market, especially sitting in the cantilever mount it comes with. It's just an odd size/footprint, but setting aesthetics aside, it's a small step up "quality wise" from the Sparc II. 

Honorable mentions: 

  • Trijicon MRO: Along with the LP-1, this is placed into the honorable mentions category because of pricing. Most of the time, these are a bit out of the $300 range unless you're searching the used market. I have used an MRO in the past and thought it was a nice little dot, though the internet seems to think otherwise. They are not without their early issues, but what optic hasn't had some? 
  • Lead & Steel Promethean LP-1: I wrote a more expansive blog about this optic last year, I'm putting it into the honorable mentions category because it is a little outside of the budget listed. This is a perfectly serviceable optic from my experiences so far, though I do need to push it a little harder and really see what it's capable of. 

I hope this short little guide was useful to a few of you, I tried not to get too into the nitty-gritty of each individual optic, just a little blurb on the price and my short thoughts/comparisons. If you're ever having trouble deciding on an optic, always feel free to reach out to me and I will give you my professional non-professional opinion. 

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