Photos by Mark Fingar
There’s very little information out there on what nonmagnified prism sights do differently than red-dot sights, and none of it is useful. While the Bushnell Lil P seen here is about the same size and shape of many red-dot sights, the manner in which it’s made and what the differences mean to the shooter put it in a very different category.
Red-dot sights are popular for several reasons. They are small and lightweight, so putting one on a carbine makes a lot of sense. Red-dot sights are simple to use and very durable. Once zeroed, put the illuminated red dot on the target and pull the trigger. Red-dot sights also have very long battery life.
The downsides to red-dot sights are the complexity involved in making a good one that shows no discoloration and is useable in poor lighting conditions. A red dot is either going to be expensive or it’s going to struggle to see targets in shadow or limited light.
It’s hard to make a good red-dot sight because the concept involves shooting a red light at an angled piece of glass and bouncing the beam back to the shooter’s eye. It’s hard to do that without distorting or discoloring the image.
Done well, the dot is very bright, the battery lasts a long time and there is no discoloration or distortion visible when looking through the sight. Very few red dots meet all of these criteria because most folks shop based on price, and cheap optics will always struggle.
The prism sight has a few advantages over the red-dot sight, and the big one is price. The Lil P seen here costs about half as much as a competing red-dot sight. Since a nonmagnified prism sight only uses a flat lens with (in this case) an etched and illuminated reticle, it is more image-friendly.
Looking through the Lil P is like looking through a clear piece of glass. The lack of angled lenses means the Lil P is distortion-free. There is also no need to bounce a light beam back to the shooter’s eye, so the internal lens coatings are pretty common and aid in light transmission while using nothing exotic that can degrade image quality.
The Lil P has an illuminated reticle and uses a traditional illumination system to make that happen. The reticle is etched onto the lens, and then the system projects a red LED light across the entire lens. Reflective material sits in the reticle etching, so any light that hits it bounces back to the shooter’s eye.
There are a total of 12 brightness levels settings on the Lil P that ensure the reticle is visible under almost all lighting conditions. Etched reticles with the red LED illumination system can be hit or miss if you have bright, direct sunlight hitting you in the face. It is possible to find very bright conditions where the illumination is not visible.
The Lil P has an etched reticle. That means there is a circle surrounded by a dot and some floating crosshairs physically engraved onto the lens. This is one of the advantages the Lil P has over any and all red-dot sights: It doesn’t need a battery to work.
The reticle in the Lil P is a 3-MOA dot surrounded by a 50-MOA circle. There are floating crosshairs at the 12-, 3-, 6- and 9-o’clock positions. The sight illuminates when the system is turned on, but the reticle is still visible when it is not illuminated. In dim light, I would use the first few illuminations settings. In regular daylight, I would move towards the top end. If I had very bright light hitting my face, I would turn the illumination off. The reticle is big and visible any way you look at it.
One of the best features of the Lil P is the price: retail is listed at $300.
Each sight comes with two mounts: one that puts the sight close to the firearm and one that elevates it about 1¼ inches. This means you can put it on pretty much any carbine, rifle or shotgun.