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Prism Scope vs Red Dot Sight: Which to Choose? 

L.p. Brezny | Updated May 6, 2023 | Why You Should Trust Us | How We Earn Money
Prism optics and red dot sight side by side

Red dots are popular scopes for hunting rifles and are loved for their simplicity without compromising performance. However, modern designs like prism scopes give shooters more control over the bullet’s trajectory.

To clear up any confusion between the two scopes, read on to find out everything you need to know and which is better for your purposes.

Best Budget Prism Optic of 2024

After this article, I’d highly suggest that you take a look at write up on the best budget prism optics of 2024, where we recommend specific scopes for each reader.

Prism Scope: Overview

Prism sight system mounted on a gun

A prism scope is nothing like your typical traditional scope. 

This scope features a function similar to a classic telescope but has a fixed magnification and includes adjustment of other aiming elements. It achieves proper focus on your target by collecting lots of light and focusing it on a particular point.

Now, how this optic works is that its objective lens allows light to pass through to an ocular lens, your scope’s focus point. It uses prisms to focus the light, hence the name prismatic sight. 

If you’re an experienced rifle hunter, it’s high time you consider upgrading to a prism scope. These scopes offer a durable solution and feature an etched reticle, an eye box, magnification power, eye relief, and adjustments to account for astigmatism.

Here are the pros and cons of using a prism scope on your rifle:

Pros

  • Compact
  • Handles parallax best
  • Provides incredible brightness
  • Perfect for fast target acquisition
  • Uses multi-coated lenses
  • Perfect for users with astigmatism

Cons

  • Fixed magnification
  • Narrow eye relief and eye box
  • No co-witnessing

Red Dots: Overview

Red dot with unlimited eye relief on a rail

Another popular and effective scope for rifles is a red dot sight. 

So, these sights guarantee consistent, accurate shots at your targets without digging too deep into your pockets. The dot refers to the reticle’s shape and aiming point, while red is its color.

It would help to note that ‘red dot’ is more of an umbrella term. Firearm enthusiasts use the term often to explain sighting systems using a red dot sight to help aim. It qualifies as a red dot sight if it projects a red reticle on the target. (Reference: Red Dot Sight)

Here are the pros and cons of having red dot sights on your rifle:

Pros

  • Provides a wider Field of View
  • Energy efficient
  • Compact size
  • Great speed advantage
  • Adjustable windage and elevation
  • Perfect for short distances

Cons

  • Lacks magnification power
  • The reticles available are not advanced

Prism Scope vs Red Dot Sight: Differences

The prism scope and red dot sight serve a common function – providing visual support when aiming for fast target acquisition. They also enhance your overall shooting experience and increase your chances of making accurate shots on all attempts.

Now, there are several similarities between a prism scope vs red dot sight. A prominent similarity is that they’re available in identical lens types (anti-reflective coating) and characteristics.

However, despite these similarities, the differences between the two scopes are too significant to ignore. Let’s dive into the details of a prism vs red dot sight:

Reticle

5x prism acss reticle with green and red illumination examples

The reticles are the primary difference when comparing a red dot sight and a prism scope. Reticles refer to the fine lines, dots, or markings in your scope’s eyepiece design to guide your aiming.

For a red dot, its reticle forms the light source directly onto the optic lens and sends it back to the shooter’s eye. You must find the perfect reticle design when browsing scopes to guarantee a great shooting experience.

Prism scopes facilitate light transmission to the shooter’s eye by using prisms. Its design includes a glass-etched reticle, meaning light gets refracted by the prism before entering your eyes. 

In fact, prism optics offer superior brightness than a red dot sight, making them more efficient in light transmission.

Magnification

Another aspect we can use to compare the prism scope to the red dot sight is focusing on the magnification provided by each. Prisms are superior to most red dot optics regarding magnification since the latter offers no zoom.

In contrast, most prism scopes operate at 1x to 5x magnification, with some models featuring advanced features to help aim over long distances. Before purchasing, it’s best to understand a prismatic scope’s magnification capabilities to confirm it matches your needs.

Some may need one that can spot an animal 1000 yards away, while others find this power too much. Also, note that a prism scope doesn’t offer variable magnification generally. (Reference: Prism Scope)

Battery Power and Size

As you might already know, most scopes operate using a battery. 

Before deciding on your ideal rifle sight, you must pay close attention to how long your scope can run on a full charge. The prism scope proves more reliable in battery life and longevity than the red dot optic.

The reason is that a prismatic scope uses batteries effectively as they feature an etched reticle on their glass lens. It means the reticle will remain visible even when the scope is on standby or the battery dies. 

Conversely, the illuminated reticle on a red dot automatically disappears after its battery dies, leaving it a blank scope.

That said, the batteries featured in the red dot sight can last many hours without draining. These sights include energy-conserving technology like sleeping after several hours of being idle. Generally, many high-quality hunting scopes have a remarkable battery life lasting at least a year.

Red dot sights in a pile

Prism Scope vs Red Dot vs Holographic

All non-magnified optics can fall under one classification, red dots. However, if you’re comparing prism vs red dot vs holographic scopes, they still have some differences you should know before picking your best option.

Red dot scopes can get confusing as reflex sights fall under its category and are what everyone pictures when they hear of a red dot scope. 

So, these red dot sights can feature a simple, effective design with a tube or, in the case of a reflex sight, a single glass/ plastic pane and a small red LED. The front lens’s backside is reflective, allowing you to see a small red dot through the optic by returning the LED’s reflection.

On the other hand, prismatic sights reflect light using prisms and fold the reflected light transmission before reaching the eyepiece. They’re slightly compact and shorter than other rifle scope models but larger than traditional red dots. 

If you’re also deciding between a prism scope vs LPVO, take a look at this comprehensive video:

Not many shooters can successfully operate a holographic sight because of its complexity. In fact, the sighting device leverages advanced technology to guarantee you accurate shots in every attempt.

Holographic sights use a laser projecting over a series of lenses and reflectors to produce a hologram within the sight system. They are sometimes considered far superior to red dots and prisms as their design allows them to put the reticle on the target itself and provides a larger field of view, especially a prism scope with magnifier.

Prism and Red Dot Sights for Astigmatism

It’s common to find experienced shooters with astigmatism, a trait that can significantly affect their shooting. 

This eye condition occurs when the cornea or the eye lens is irregularly shaped. It prevents light from being processed correctly in the shooter’s eye because of the imperfect curvature, causing lights to look distorted, smeared, or indistinct.

Luckily, most scope models feature astigmatism-corrective technology in their functioning. So, individuals with astigmatism should consider a prism optic over a red dot sight as they produce the reticle using a lens and etched glass.

In a red dot sight, astigmatic shooters are more likely to see image distortions, as these scopes use a lens to reflect a red dot image to your eye. And unfortunately, astigmatism doesn’t go well with light reflection. Regarding green vs red dot for astigmatism, the former is best.

A prism red dot for pistol use is more astigmatism-friendly as it includes a lens and an etched reticle for target acquisition. This configuration effectively reduces distortion when aiming at distant objects and fixes the astigmatism issue.

So Which Is Better?

Hands holding a Vortex red dot sight

What scope to choose between, prism scopes and a red dot scope depends on your budget, personal preference, and firearm applications. 

Although red dots are affordable and adaptable, they lack some valuable features among the long-range shooting crowd. They don’t provide variable magnification; you only see a red dot sight on the target.

But despite these shortcomings, a red dot optic still does a number on a prism sight. They consume less energy, are more dependable, and guarantee exceptional short-distance performance. On the other hand, you can choose a prism sight for the magnification provided and astigmatism-correction advantages.

Whether you choose prism scope or red dot with magnifier, ensure it provides excellent value for your firearm. Instead of choosing scopes based on looks, focus more on the performance benefits delivered.

Red dot with magnifier on a Picatinny rail

For more reading take a look at our discussion to whether 3x magnification enough for 100 yards and our article on what is a prism sight?

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are prism scopes better for astigmatism?

Prism sights are better for astigmatism because they use lenses and etched reticles to configure the reticle and provide clear images. From this configuration, the device helps reduce distortion and other visual abnormalities.

Is a prism scope better than a red dot?

In the debate about whether a prism scope is better than a red dot, it depends on your needs and preferences to determine your best prospect.

A prism sight is perfect if you want a higher magnification and a more durable device, then a prism sight is perfect. The red dot is better if you prioritize speed and ease of use and prefer a more compact and lightweight optic.

What is the advantage of a prism scope?

There are several advantages to using prism scopes, from the etched reticles guaranteeing you a clear view to the high magnifications provided. Prismatic sights are also more reliable and durable than other optic types, able to withstand heavy recoils, and are more resistant to impact if engaging in tactical shooting.

What is the point of a 1x prism scope?

Shooters use the 1x prism sight to provide low magnification in the field. A prism sight with a 1x magnification doesn’t magnify the target. Instead, they give a clear and unobstructed red-dot-like view of the target. 

The primary advantage of a 1x prism vs red dot is you get more precise aiming from the etched reticle.

How far can you shoot with a prism scope?

How far you can shoot with a prism scope depends on several factors, including its magnification level, glass quality, and objective lens size.

Most prism scopes with lower magnifications are ideal for close to mid-range shooting, around 200 to 300 yards (182–275 meters). Higher magnifications can shoot up to 500 yards (around 450 meters), depending on the optic’s quality, the shooter’s skill level, and environmental factors like wind.

Why use a prism scope?

Prism scopes are very popular in the rifle community because of their advantages. The primary reasons many use these sights are because they’re versatile, provide a clear and consistent sight picture regardless of the lighting conditions, are available at varying magnification levels, durable, and include etched reticles.

References

  1. Sig Sauer, Red Dot Sight or Scope: What is the Best Optics for Your Rifle? Retrieved from https://www.sigsauer.com/blog/red-dot-sight-or-scope-what-is-the-best-optic-for-your-rifle
  2. Oleg Volk, The 1x Prism Scope Showdown. Retrieved from https://blog.cheaperthandirt.com/1x-prism-scope-showdown/

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