Red Dot + Magnifier versus LPVO — What’s the Difference?

Choosing an optic has always been on the challenging side. And nowadays, with so many different kinds of optics available on the market, it’s become even more daunting. If you’re in the market for an optic for closer-up work, you’ve probably checked out red dot sights (RDS) and lower power variable optics (LPVO). And if you’re trying to figure out which one is best suited to your needs, you’ll probably enjoy Garand Thumb’s informative video with a brief rundown on the differences between an RDS with a magnifier and an LPVO. 

What is the difference between having RDS and magnifier or an LPVO?


Thumb explains that LPVOs are full optics with good eye relief, compared to regular scopes. Magnification ranges anywhere from 1X to 6X magnification, which generally approximates when you would see from a red dot. “So, you’re kind of getting the best of both worlds. Kind of.” You get the magnification and you can also get back and closer to the red dot.

Steiner 1x5 LPVO
This one’s a Steiner 1X5 LPVO.

One issue you can run into is scope shadow, which is that black edge that bleeds into the sight picture, where the sight picture is too small or blown out, or even shifted down to the side. This happens when your eye isn’t perfectly lined up on the optic, or if you’re too close or too far from it.  When this happens, you can’t really see what you’re shooting at. Or, it’s kind of shiften

“Low powered variable optics are full optics and they have some good eye relief compared to regular scopes and go anywhere from 1X magnification, which generally approximates what you would see from a red dot, all the way up to 6X, so you’re kind of getting the best of both worlds…kind of…so you’re getting that magnification and you can also get back and kind of get closer to the red dot.

“Now, the thing about it is that you’re not really at a red dot type setup because it is a scope, so you do have scope shadow.

“So, what scope shadow is, is when my eye isn’t perfectly lined up on the optic, or if I’m getting too close or too far from it, I’m going to get that kind of black edge…bleeding over…where the sight picture is too small or kind of blown out, or it’s kind of shifted down to the side. That way I can’t really see what I’m shooting at.

He says this isn’t true of all low powered variable optics, but the point is that LPVOs don’t quite have all the benefits that a reflex sight or red dot has.

RDS with Magnifer

With a reflex sight or a red dot you don’t have any type of eye releif. That dot is just projected through infinity onto your target, which makes shooting from odd positions easier. 

Garand Thumb talks about RDS and LPVOs
 EoTech reflex sight with an EOTech G33 magnifier behind it. (Photo credit: Garand Thumb)

So the question is, which one would Garand Thumb choose?

He points out that there are limitations to both, depending on what you’re trying to do. The reflex sight with a magnifier is a cool set up, but the magnifiers don’t have the glass clarity or field of view that a dedicated LPVO has. Typically with these magnifiers you’re not getting the magnification that you can get with an LPVO. Aimpoint does have a 6X magnifier out, but he mostly has experience with 3x magnifiers., which don’t offer as much magnification as LPVOs.

Basically what it boils down to is engagement distance and mission, (what he’s planning on doing).

If he will be working out of and shooting around vehicles, with lots of barricades, and shooting under 200 meters for the most part, he’s going to go for a reflex sight with a magnifier. The reflex sight can work very well when shooting close distances from odd angles. If he needs to take a longer shot, say 200-300 meters, the magnifier allows him to do it somewhat easily.

On the other hand, if the environment requires long viewing distances with a lower chance of close engagement, then the LPVO would be a much better option. Likely he wont use the 1X near as much because he’ll be using the higher magnification. In this type of environment, too, he’s less likely to be firing from odd angles. 

Check out the video to find out more about LPVOs and RDS with magnifiers:


What Should I Consider When Choosing a Sight?

The most important thing to keep in mind when you’re choosing optics is what you’re going to use them for (well, you should also consider quality and performance, but this isn’t about the brands, it’s about types of optics).

If you’re putting one on a carbine meant for home defense it’s a different situation than mounting one to a carbine you’re going to use outdoors for somewhat longer shots. The same goes for hunting. In some situations you can use an RDS with or without a magnifier for hunting, but in others you need an optic capable of greater magnification and a different field of view.

Other things to consider when choosing a sight:

  • Durability
  • Reliability
  • Battery Power
  • How it charges
  • Whether it holds zero long-term
  • Temperatures it can withstand
  • Color of dot (not everyone can see a red dot well, so look for green)
  • Weight
  • Overall size
  • Field of vision
  • Clarity
  • Quality

Choosing a sight doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Take the time to watch informative videos like this one from Garand Thumb, do plenty of research, and make the most informed decision possible.

Garand Thumb using a magnified red dot sight
Garand Thumb using a magnified red dot sight.

Do you prefer RDS with magnifiers or LPVOs? Why? Let us know in the comments below.

Kat Ainsworth Stevens is a long-time outdoor writer, official OGC (Original Gun Cognoscenti), and author of Handgun Hunting: a Comprehensive Guide to Choosing and Using the Right Firearms for Big and Small Game. Der Teufel Katze has written for a number of industry publications (print and online) and edited some of the others, so chances are you've seen or read her work before, somewhere. A woman of eclectic background and habits, Kat has been carrying concealed for over two decades, used to be a farrier, and worked for a long time in emergency veterinary medicine. She prefers big bores, enjoys K9 Search & Rescue, and has a Master's Degree in Pitiless Snarkastic Delivery.

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