Unless you’re a name-brand buff, you probably like the term “budget optics.” Those high-end brands are great, but not all of us can afford to put one on every gun we own. This sends us lurking through the swamps trying to find that budget item that won’t break the bank or break the first time we use it. Sometimes that can be a tough assignment.
With a budget item, it could go either way if you don’t do your homework. I have found three great optics that are worthy of that high-quality rating at a budget-friendly price. I thought about giving you five optics to choose from, but why do that? Who says, “I want the fourth best optic?” So, top three it is.
If you have read any of my optic reviews before, I like to push them to the limit and see if they can hold up. I bake them in the oven, drown them, freeze them, and drop them over and over again. I have gotten used to the funny looks I get from the kids when I say, “Wait for the optic to get done cooking,” when they ask if they can bake cookies. Optics range in size from full, medium, small, and micro. Here are three great optics in the large category that will not disappoint.
1. Sig Romeo7
The Sig Sauer Romeo7 red dot is my favorite budget optic. In fact, it’s one of my favorite optics, period. I’ve used it for some time and have never been disappointed with its performance. Like the other two, it withstood the trials of fire, water, cold, and impact tests. Most of the reason I ranked it number one is just personal preference. But to me, there are some advantages with the Romeo7 the other two do not have.
I personally like the looks of the ROMEO7 better than most other optics. The looks are not why I gave it the number-one spot though. There are several things that rank this red dot above the other two. The first one is the simplicity of use. There is absolutely nothing you need to know about using this thing. If you can turn the dial, you can use it. The more you turn it, the brighter it gets. It does have a shake-awake setting, but it runs in the background and there is nothing you need to do for it to function. If you leave it turned on, it will turn off after 120 seconds and turn back on when you move it.
Battery & Accessories
The battery may be more of a personal preference, but the ROMEO7 uses an AA battery. Again, simple is better in my book. This is the easiest battery to find in America, so why use that battery to power your optic? This thing is supposed to run for more than 60,000 hours on one AA battery.
The next great thing about the ROMEO7 is the accessories that come with it. In the box, you get a kill-flash (a metal screen that screws over the end of the optic), flip-up covers, and two different mounts. One is a quick-release and the other a bolt-down mount. I still wonder how Sig manages to make an optic of this quality and include these accessories for under $200.
2. LEUPOLD Freedom RDS
LEUPOLD is one of those companies that is known for quality and durability, and they have been around long enough to earn their reputation. They are better known for their scopes than red dots, but they do make red dots. I wouldn’t say they have a lot to choose from, but the Freedom RDS carries the LEUPOLD name and durability.
The Freedom RDS is about the same length as the other two, but its just a little larger in diameter. It does resemble a short fat scope, but it’s also made by a famous scope manufacturer.
This thing doesn’t look the best, but it still earned second place for me. The first reason is the windage and elevation settings. LEUPOLD blew the others out of the water with their dials. They are manual turn dials, meaning you do not need a screwdriver or tool to adjust your red dot. The next reason it came in second is the activation switch. There is only one button that turns it on, off, and changes the brightness settings. You do have to hold it down for three seconds to turn it off. It has a motion activation feature so it turns off after five minutes if there is no movement.
Battery & Accessories
The battery on the Freedom RDS is a CR2032. These batteries are not hard to find, but not as easy as a AA battery. On the medium setting, the LEUPOLD says it will run for 1,000 hours. That’s some good run-time, but does not even come close to the 60,000 run time of the Sig. The Freedom RDS is the most expensive of the two and cost around $275. The only thing it comes with is the battery and an Allen wrench for installation. There are no lens cover or kill-flash. It a durable optic with a lifetime guarantee and the American-based company has a great reputation.
3. Vortex STRIKEFIRE II
Now for the third-place winner. The Vortex STRIKEFIRE II is a great optic, and it has been tested repeatedly. It’s accurate and costs about $200. The durability and accuracy are on par with the other two, but there are some features that I don’t like. The first one is the control buttons. I like simple and this one is the least simple. The two small control buttons on the side of the optic are hard to push. I can’t count the number of times I have tried to turn this optic on when running drills at the range and didn’t get it on because the button is too small and too hard to push.
One push of the “up” button will turn the optic on and then you can use the top button to turn the brightness up and the bottom “down” button to turn it down. You again hold the top button for five seconds to turn it off. The STRIKEFIRE II will shut down after 12 hours but does not have motion activation features. They offer a model that can switch between red and green which is a plus, but if you have multiple optics, you will forget how to change it, so write it down.
Battery & Accessories
The battery on the STRIKEFIRE II is another reason it gets bumped to third place. It uses a CR2 3V battery which is shorter than an AA, but much harder to find. Stores with battery stations may carry them or they can be ordered online. But why not just make the battery compartment a little longer and use an AA battery? On the minimum brightness setting, Vortex says the STRIKEFIRE II will run for about 7,000 hours. It comes with flip-up covers and a standard 1911 Picatinny rail mount. It does not come with a kill-flash, but those can be found for about $35.00.
Budget Optics — Summary
When it comes to quality, all three optics are fabulous for the price. Maybe if you start running over them with tanks or dropping them out of planes, they could be pushed beyond their limits. What separates them may be a matter of personal preference for each user. I have a career in law enforcement, and I have learned that when your adrenaline is high, things need to be simple to operate. The LEUPOLD and Vortex will turn on with one push of a button which is good, but I like a simple dial that can be turned.
The Sig ROMEO7 has the best bang for the buck and that earned it the top spot on my list. If there are features you like on the others, you won’t be disappointed, just make sure you are okay with the types of batteries they use. The quick-detach mount on the Sig is a feature I use a lot because I switch it back and forth between two rifles and it stays zeroed in at 100 yards on both. All three have lifetime warranties so I don’t think you will be disappointed with whichever one you choose.