Home » Scopes and Optics » Best Prism Scope: Top Optics for AR-15s And More [2024]

Best Prism Scope: Top Optics for AR-15s And More [2024]

L.p. Brezny | Updated January 5, 2024 | Why You Should Trust Us | How We Earn Money
Man aiming with ACOG scope on a gun

Choosing the best prism scope for you means the difference between buying the perfect optic or spending countless hours (and $$) on something that just wasn’t right for you to begin with.

But don’t worry, our team’s 50+ years of firearms experience was pooled to bring you thins article.

Rest assured, you’re in good hands.

Best Prism Scope Options

1. Swampfox Blade Prism Scope 

Swampfox compact scope mounted on a grey gun

The Swampfox Blade prism scope is an excellent scope that carries 1x25mm for speed and accuracy so when everyone else is aiming, you’ve already nailed the target.

The sight makes use of a BDC reticle and the bullet-compensating optic sighting system. It’ll also light up with a shaking motion and turn off with the function of a timer. Perfect for a tactical situation or days out on the range.

The reticle system on this scope offers dead hold for ranges of 5,10, and 15 yards (4.5–9.1–13.7 meters). This is close-range shooting but common in a combat situation.

The other element associated with the reticle is the BDC sighting sub-tensions that allow ranging from 50 through 200 yards (45.7–182.8 meters) by simply selecting the hold-over mark required as observed through the scope’s reticle.

This combat ranging system is applied only to the use of the 7.62 NATO, but shooters can DOPE (data on previous engagements) out the exact impact points on a range offering some extension and multiple targets and then use them accordingly. 

I’ve used this one in a handful of shooting competitions including 3 gun. It’s light, fast and accurate, exactly what you want in a prism.

Not to mention…

This sight is excellent in the event the shooter has astigmatism and has an issue with some red dot sights.

Bottom line, this is the top all-around prism scope on the market today. Also the scope is currently on sale through our certified supplier until February 23, 2024, so make sure to use the bottom below to get this all time low price.

Positive review for the Swampfox Blade
Review Of The Swampfox Blade

2. Monstrum Raven Ultra-Compact 3x

Monstrum Raven scope with green illumination reticle

In this prism sight, we have an all aluminum-based product that uses an etched glass reticle, is illuminated in both red and green, and is visible with or without battery power. 

The sight has few parts to break down in the field, meaning the sight will hold zero under some difficult conditions if required.

At a weight of 15 ounces, the Monstrum Raven is an easy carry on a light or heavy rifle, and is a good choice among shooters overall. This sight makes use of its own integral mounting system too.

With a price point that is very reasonable and a full one-year warranty included in the glass sight package, there is little to lose when giving the product a try.

When I tested this one out I was particularly impressed with how well it preformed for the price. Though our certified supplier, it retails for about 50% that of the Swampfox Blade but gives you about 95% of the performance. If you’re looking for a budget pick I’d highly suggest the Raven.

3. Burris AR-536

Burris optic with red and green illumination

This prism sight is built around the AR-15 / M-16 .556 NATO cartridge. It can take a beating and come back for more year after year.

The Burris AR-536 carries a red and green ballistic reticle and LED illumination with five different brightness levels making this adjustable for all shooters. When you’re buddies are swapping out scopes, you have one optic to rule them all.

What’s more, the scope is parallax free to 100 yards (91.4 meters) and is designed as a close-range combat-type sight.

I shoot these types of sights on crossbow deer hunts because they fit the close-range needs of the bowhunter that wants one-shot clean kill events to take place. This standard can apply to rifles as well in the close-quarters combat event. 

The sight has a 5x zoom feature and is fully coated for weather-fighting abilities. It has a multi-sub tension system using dots, horseshoe, and the T crosshair. 

The unit carries a 70 MOA flexible adjustment for windage and elevation making it zero easy and very workable under field conditions. Bottom line, it’s extremely accurate.

Mounting system is integral with the main tube of the sight and it’s designed as a Weaver-style unit. Fast on and off the rifle using the Picatinny receiver rail. 

I’ve used Burris prims for years and they’ve never proved me wrong. They’re slightly on the pricy side, but if you don’t mind dropping another 100$, this thing is a Cadillac and will serve you well.

4. Athlon Optics Midas TSP4 Prism Scope

Athlon optic with black etched reticle

Here we have a combat-grade sight built by Anthlon that makes use of the etched reticle that stays visible even with the power turned off. This reticle is tough as nails and developed for rough field conditions. 

The lens system in this sight is fully multi-coated for weather resistance, uses a special six-hour timer system that brings the sight back to the original power setting with an on-off change, and will offer the shooter lighting adjustments depending on exterior light conditions.

Designed for fast target acquisition, the sight is a solid choice for closer-range shooters in heavy cover or when applied to military police settings. 

5. Monstrum S330P 3×30 Prism Scope

Monstrum S330P with etched and illuminated reticle for accurate target acquisition

This is a compact heavy duet sight with 3x magnification and a 40 mm tube objective housing.

The Monstrum S330P is designed for rapid target adjustments for close-quarter shooting and is built like the military-style ACOG. It uses a system that will not require power to observe the reticle in normal lighting conditions. 

At a weight of 15 ounces and five inches in length, it’s ideal for light rifles with short receivers (AR-15).

The unit is well made and the company backs the system for one full year through a written warranty service. Mounts are built into the sight and are quickly detachable on Weaver-style rails. 

6. Vortex Spitfire 1x Prism Scope DRT Reticle MOA

Vortex optics spitfire optics with reticle brightness settings

The Vortex Spitfire is built for speed and ultra-fast target selection and application. This sight is built for close to medium-range applications, and I tend to believe the close-range assignment fits the bill much better in this case. 

The ring-style tactical reticle makes bringing the target into the kill box a quick choice, and the scope is fully protected against weather and rough handling field applications.

The unit is well designed and would make for a good defensive sight such as close-quarter fighting or hunting hogs in heavy cover.

The sight makes use of 10 different intensity levels, so the system is workable in any lighting situation the shooter may encounter. And conveniently, the power source on this sight is a common AAA battery. 

Like many others in the industry, Vortex has taken to mounting this sight using the Weaver-style rail and integral sight base system. 

7. AT3 Tactical 3XP Prism Scope

AT3 Tactical sight for medium-range shooting

This tactical sight carries the BDC reticle system, which will allow holdover accuracy to 600 yards (548.6 meters) if required. Somewhat like the ACOG in a battle sight, the unit makes use of sub-tension printed ballistics as applied to the .223 Rem / 556 NATO round. 

The sight is also designed for combat-style weapons, which includes the many variants of the AR-15 / M-16 battle rifle. 

Using the Weaver rails, the scope is fast to attach to any rail system. Additionally, this sight is built field military tough and makes use of an aluminum housing that is a one-piece construction for weather fighting abilities.

The 3XP prism sight uses the single-point red dot for speed and is powered by a CR2032 battery.

The reticle system is pre-set (BDC) for shooting at impact ranges from 100 to 500 yards (91.4–457.2 meters). This makes this sighting a better choice for long range situations or general combat-style shooting, as well as being involved in hunting or target shooting events.

As a note, be very careful when buying optics on Amazon.

There has been an explosion of fake products appearing recently, so I normally suggest buying elsewhere. However I’ve confirmed in this case that the product on Amazon is genuine, and luckily the price is substantially lower at the link below. This goes for other Amazon links on this page as well.

8. Monstrum P330-B Marksman 3x Prism Scope

Monstrum P330-B with 30mm objective lens

Here is again a variant on the Monstrum sight that uses a 3x magnification on a large 30mm objective bell that allows wide viewing angles and is set up for basic target work versus hunting or military police operations.

The reticle on this scope is visible with or without the use of the power settings, and the whole housing is set into a brand-new design in the one-piece main unit that carries the core of the sights internals. Weather can be a deciding factor as to the performance level of any sight, and this unit is built to take on all conditions.

The mounting system is integrated with the unit and is of the Weaver style. Built to take recoil and carries a guarantee against failure, the sight offers a unique development as applied to the manufactures offerings. 

9. Bushnell Trophy TRS-25

Bushnell Trophy red dot sight

This sight is the jack of all trades in sighting systems and has been around for almost forever. Why do I know this? Because the sight is in-house here at Ballistics Research & Development and has been used on shotguns, crossbows, handguns, and short-receiver rifles for years.

The sight is simple to work with, offers good light transmission, and has a selection of up to 11 brightness settings.

The units are Weaver-style, and they are fast on and off. Zeroing is a snap with easy-to-work-with elevation and windage knobs.

The reticle is a simple red dot, and what you see is what you get. I have shot deer, coyotes, badgers, turkeys, and hogs with the sight, and I have found it to be just about all I really need in the field. 

Waterproof sealed and weather-tight, I have never had an issue with the sight.

The overall size of the unit is 5.4 X ¾ X 2.2 inches, and the reticle retains a 3 MOA dot and also retains more than enough windage and elevation adjustment for short range shooting. 

Priced for the average working guy or gal, this is a very solid performing sight system.

10. Bushnell TRS-25

Bushnell TRS-25 mounted for quick target acquisition

Here we have a newer Bushnell sight that is a high-rise system that makes use of a unit-designed riser block.

This sight is self-regulating in terms of lighting conditions, as it conserves battery life to a large degree. When the protective storage hood is installed, the power system turns itself off. 

The reticle retains a 3 MOA red dot that is simple to use and very effective on buns, bows, or muzzleloaders, by example.

The riser allows for a better heads up cheek weld against the comb of the stock or when shooting a handgun and wanting to stay level with the receiver of the wheel gun.

I have shot a scope much like this on my Ruger 44 Magnum Super Blackhawk Hunter and also a 454 Cass when running both of these calibers on the handgun performance testing and big game ammunition. The scope takes a licking and keeps on ticking. 

11. Trijicon ACOG 3.5×35

ACOG scope with fully multi-coated lenses

Without question, the king of the battlefield in terms of general use sights among troops.

In terms of research, I need not look at a thing in terms of understanding this outstanding glass sight and exactly what it can do in the field.

I have used the sight as applied to my AR-15 S&W M&P-T, Savage Prairie Hunter bolt action chambered in 224 Valkyrie, and also a custom-built Satterlee Mauser during some closer-range coyote calling events.

The sight has been with me for 20 years, and with its self-generated power source that never requires a battery, the ACOG military sub tensions that develop accurate range extension by a simple look at the numbers on the hash marks in yards, the sight has taken about everything less than elk here in western South Dakota. I mean everything that walks or crawls.

The unit is designed battery-free and works off sunlight that is stored for night use as well. No turn-on or off is involved here as the chevron reticle is always lighted and illustrates the exact range as applied to the AR-15 / M-16 rifle. 

Built of aircraft-grade aluminum and a one-piece construction design, this is the most used ACOG in the US Army’s inventory. Bullet drop recording for the shooter to 1000 meters.

12. Trijicon TA02 ACOG Battery illuminated LED 

Fog proof ACOG sight with multi coated lens

This is another Trijicon glass sight, but in this case, the function is battery-powered.

The LED illuminated reticle uses a single double-A battery, and the system can run for up to 12000 hours without a change out in power source.

The unit retains six brightness settings and an on/off feature between each setting. This on-and-off itself is a battery save of the first order. 

The sight, like other ACOG and related sights, is designed to be used with both eyes open if trained to that system. The bullet drop crosshairs are set for the .223 Remington round and will extend the correct bullet drop and hold over to 650 yards (600 meters). 

13. Sig Sauer Bravo 3 Battle Sight 3x24mm

Sig Sauer scope with horseshoe reticle illumination

Sig is military grade today and getting into everything from sights to ammo and weapons systems. This sight is their introduction into the battle sight world, and it retains a number of features as applied to its basic design makeup. 

This is a red dot holographic sight, carries a weight of 2 pounds mounted and is made in China. 

It has 3x magnification and uses a reticle system that is set up for the .223 Remington cartridge. The center of the reticle makes use of the horseshoe dot system and 0.5 MOA.

The power source on this sight is by battery, and that is a single hunt of the lithium-based type. Base rails on the unit are Weaver-style for a fast install or removal. 

14. Ronin P-12 1x20mm 2 MOA 

Ronin P-12 red dot scope mounted on gun

The Ronin P-12 is a battle sight design for the AR-15 and other short receiver design rifles.

This sight uses the basic red dot and will activate when the sight is moved. Auto shut-off makes for a long battery life of about 50,000 hours at the low light position. The battery system is basic, and the very simple CR2032 is available any place batteries are sold nowadays.

The target dot size is 2 MOA in coverage. Adjustments for windage and elevation are in ½ MOA clicks. The unit is built as a one-piece aircraft-grade aluminum body. The system is simple, watertight, and effective in harsh environments. 

The mount type is a Weaver/ Picatinny 1913 design. 

Prism Scope vs. Red Dot Sight

Since the best prism scopes have a fixed magnification setting, they’re often compared to red dot sights. However, as you may imagine, there are quite a few differences between the two. 

Let’s break down how to tell a prism scope from a red dot sight. 

  • Size – Red dots are lightweight and compact, making them suitable for virtually any weapon (including pistols). While prism scopes are also compact, they’re much heavier, making them ideal for tactical rifles only. 
  • Illumination – A red dot is an illuminated reticle, meaning it needs a battery to work. Prism scopes come with an etched reticle, so no battery is required. However, in low-light settings, not having illumination can be a disadvantage. 
  • Multiple Magnification Options – Red dots are almost always 1x magnification, while prism scopes can go up to 5x. 

What About ACOGs?

Soldier in camo aiming with ACOG refracting lens system

ACOG stands for Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight, and it refers to an exclusive line of prism scopes made by Trijicon. So, while not all prism scopes are ACOGs, all ACOGs are prismatic. 

There are a few unique attributes that make these scopes so appealing to the military, where they’re deployed in active combat situations. Here’s a quick overview: 

  • Tritium and Fiber Optic Illuminated Reticle – Instead of using a battery, an ACOG scope has a fiber optic cable on top that absorbs sunlight to illuminate an etched reticle. The brighter the sun, the brighter the image. At night, the tritium inside the reticle glows, making an ACOG scope night-vision compatible. 
  • Shock-Resistant – While the top prism scope options can handle average wear and tear, an ACOG scope is designed for active duty. So, it can withstand drops, vibrations, and other impacts that would break lesser prism sights. 
  • Eyes Open Design – Shooters can aim and pinpoint targets with both eyes open, which is why this scope is so valuable in the field. 

What Makes Prism Scopes Better?

Tan primary arms slx

When comparing prism scopes to red dot sights or other fixed-magnification models, there are some distinct advantages you can expect, such as: 

  • Rugged Housing – A prism sight will always be more durable than a traditional scope that uses glass lenses. So, if you’re looking for something tough for close-quarters combat, you can’t go wrong with a prism. 
  • Adjustable Diopter – Although you don’t have variable zoom settings with a prism scope, you can adjust the diopter to help compensate for visual impairments like astigmatism. So, if you’re struggling to see your reticle with a traditional scope, you might need to switch to a prism. 
  • Better Visual Clarity – If you look through a red dot and then a prism sight, you’ll notice a much sharper and clearer image. Since clarity is essential for fast targeting with modern tactical rifles, prism scopes are better suited for CQB and home defense. 
  • Etched Reticle – While some high-end prism scopes (like some ACOGs) come with adjustable brightness settings, a prism scope has an etched reticle, meaning it doesn’t need a battery. However, if you want night vision, you have to upgrade to a model that has red or green illumination at night. 

Prism Scopes and Astigmatism

Soldier with sunglasses and cigar holding gun with sight

If you’re unfamiliar with astigmatism, it’s a condition where one surface in the eye is curved differently than the others. The most common sign of astigmatism is blurry vision, which can be a huge problem when aiming in a traditional rifle scope. 

Part of the problem comes from illuminated reticles that are projected onto the objective lens. Because the reticle isn’t etched on the glass, it may appear blurry and out of focus. So, it’s much harder to pinpoint your target when you can’t see a sharp reticle. 

Fortunately, prism scopes help correct this issue by having an etched reticle, so it’s easier for the eye to see it in contrast to the background. Also, with an adjustable diopter, shooters can maneuver the prisms until the image is clear – something that’s impossible with a red dot or other fixed-magnification sights. 

What is a Prism (Prismatic) Scope?

If you’re looking for a more detailed description on what is a prism scope exactly, we have a full article on the topic.

But in short:

A prism scope is a rifle scope that uses a prism instead of a lens array to magnify the image. Because prisms naturally refract light, prism scopes are able to magnify the visible eye box with better clarity than a traditional scope. 

This setup also means prism sights almost always have fixed magnification. While you can find a few high-end models with adjustable zoom, they’re pretty rare. 

For this reason, a prism scope is often compared to a red dot sight. However, unlike most red dots, prism sights can come in higher magnification settings, such as 3x, 4x, and 5x. 

The inspiration for prism scopes came from binoculars, which use similar components to magnify an image from far away. The advantage of using prismatic glass instead of a traditional scope lens is that the entire thing is more rugged and can be shorter overall (although not lighter). 

Prism Scopes: Pros and Cons

Before we dive into the best prism scope models, it’s important to understand their benefits and limitations. However, given the continued popularity of prism scopes compared to traditional scopes, it’s safe to say that this kind of eyepiece works well for many shooting applications. 

Pros

  • No Battery Needed – Unlike a red dot sight, a prism scope has an etched reticle, meaning it doesn’t need a battery to be visible. Since the best prism scopes don’t require illuminated reticles, your firearm is always ready to go (except in low-light or nighttime conditions). 
  • Shorter, More Durable Frame – Overall, prism scopes are designed for tactical rifles, given their limited range. However, the other reason for using a prism scope on something like an AR-15 is that it’s short and durable. Because prisms are thicker than lenses, they don’t break as easily. 
  • Clearer Image – Compared to a traditional scope, a prism scope has a far sharper image with better contrast. Plus, with an etched reticle, it’s much easier to pinpoint your target. A regular illuminated reticle can sometimes get in the way. 
  • Better Adjustment for Vision Impairments – Prism scopes are favored by shooters with astigmatism because you can adjust the prism with a diopter. So, even though you’re not zooming in or out, you can make the image clearer based on your visual acuity. 

Cons

  • Heavier Frame – Even though prism scopes are shorter than traditional models, they’re much heavier. So, you’ll notice a difference once you mount it to your gun. 
  • Short Eye Relief – Eye relief is how far your eye needs to be from the scope to see everything clearly. Prism scopes have a relatively short eye relief, so you have to mount them further back on the gun or push your face further forward. 

Things To Consider

As you’ve seen, a lot of the top prism scopes come with similar features and abilities. So, let’s break down the top components to pay attention to when comparing models. 

Purpose

First and foremost, how will you be using your scope? If you’re looking for close-range shooting and fast target acquisition, a 1x scope with durable housing makes the most sense. 

Also, will you be firing at night or at dusk? If so, you need a prism scope with an illuminated reticle. 

Vortex spitfire 3x sight mounted on gun outdoors

Magnification

As we’ve seen, most prism scopes are within the 1-5x magnification range. However, if you’re going to choose a higher magnification setting, you need to know why. Yes, 5x scopes are good for spotting targets further away, but what about a close-quarters battle (CQB)?

Overall, the magnification you choose will depend greatly on the purpose of the scope. If you’re just looking for a good all-around model, a 1x or 3x scope should be sufficient. 

Lens Coating and Optical Quality

Fortunately, prism scopes are already clearer and easier to see than red dots and other fixed sights. However, some scopes come with extra lens coatings to make it easier to see in different environmental conditions (i.e., in bright sunlight). 

When it comes to optical quality, you should also consider any visual impairments you may have, such as astigmatism. Some sights are better at compensating for these ailments than others. 

Reticle 

BDC reticle aiming at field

You can find virtually any reticle design for a prism scope, including bullet drop compensation (BDC), MOA, MIL-Rad, German, and much more. Overall, the reticle design is based on personal preference and how you’ll be using the scope. 

Eye Relief

Unfortunately, prism scopes come with relatively short eye reliefs no matter what. However, there are slight variations between models, and if you spring for a variable zoom scope, the eye relief will adjust accordingly. Just make sure the distance is suitable for the weapon on which you’ll be mounting the scope. 

Durability

Thankfully, prism scopes are already pretty rugged, but you can choose models with thicker and tougher housing units. Remember, while the prisms are harder to break, the objective lens and eyepiece are still made of glass. 

1x vs 3x vs 4x Prism Scopes

Two optics mounted on a gun

As we mentioned, picking the best magnification setting is crucial when comparing the best prism scopes. However, when is a 1x scope better than a 3x, or when should you buy a 4x scope? Here’s a quick overview of which scope is best for which situation: 

  • 1x Prism Scope (Better Than a Red Dot) – If you’re considering mounting a red dot to your tactical rifle, a prism scope is almost always better if you can afford it. This magnification range is only ideal for CQB and home defense
  • 3x Prism Scope – We’d recommend this magnification setting if you want something versatile but still easy to use at close ranges. With a 3x scope, you can target accurately at up to 400 or 500 yards (365.7–457.2 meters) but still spot a target less than 100 yards away (91.4 meters). 
  • 4x Prism Scope – This option is mostly suitable for long-range shooting and hunting since it’s harder to acquire close-up targets. 

My Personal Notes and Findings

me at gun range testing sights
Small but effective prism sights can do the deed in a subcompact package

As a general rule, when buying a scope, you need to know how you’re going to use it. For example, when big-game hunting, you need a long-distance scope that allows you to pinpoint your kill shot without spooking your prey. 

When it comes to close-range or mid-range scopes, I find that they’re mostly suitable for target practice or home defense. However, as I haven’t had to fend off any intruders, it’s hard to say how well a scope will serve me in that situation. 

me testing the Swampfox Blade
Prism sight on a military style shotgun during clays event SHOT SHOW 2019

Overall, prism scopes are built for close-quarters combat, which is why they’re so popular among active-duty soldiers. While you can potentially hunt with a prism scope, your options are pretty limited. Even if you get a scope with a decent magnification setting (i.e., 5x), it’s harder to spot your target when they’re much closer to you. 

So, I would highly recommend investing in a prism scope if you love shooting in target practice or you want something rugged for home defense. Since you won’t be seeing combat (or, at least, I hope not), these scopes aren’t great for much else beyond these situations. 

FAQs

Tan compact scope on a rail

Are prism scopes any good?

Yes, prism scopes are good for situations where you need a close or mid-range fixed scope. These products are mostly deployed in combat situations, but they also work well for home defense or target practice. 

What is a 3x prism scope good for?

A 3x prism scope is good for fast target acquisition at close and mid-range distances, so up to 200 or 300 yards (182.8–274.3 meters). At this range, a 3x scope works well for home defense or varmint hunting, where you have to spot targets quickly and accurately. 

AR-15 with optic and bullets on a black background

Which is better red dot or prism?

Overall, a prism scope is better because it offers a clearer (and adjustable) image and doesn’t require a battery. However, if you’re looking for something light and compact, a red dot is superior. 

Is the Trijicon ACOG a prism scope?

Yes, all ACOGs from Trijicon are prism scopes, which is partially why they’re so effective when deployed in active combat situations. 

Conclusion

Be advised that there is a wide variety of battle or red dot-style sights in this category.

Price will dictate to some level what you’re getting for your money. Actual combat-related sights are going to set you back a bit, but these sights are designed as field applied to save an infantrymen’s life. In the case of the average shooter or hunter, much less can do the deal, but it is always nice to have a better-grade product if one can afford the same. (1

Our Recommendation: Swampfox Blade

Swampfox blade mounted on a grey gun
Positive review for the Swampfox Blade prism

References

  1. Sig Sauer, Red Dot Sight or Scope: What is the Best Optic for Your Rifle?. Retrieved from https://www.sigsauer.com/blog/red-dot-sight-or-scope-what-is-the-best-optic-for-your-rifle

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