August 19, 2020
By Ilya Koshkin
When researching any type of riflescope, binocular or spotter, the name Vortex pops up just about everywhere you look. All optics they make, even electronic sights, have a lifetime warranty, and they have one of the best service departments in the business backing that up.
I first ran into Vortex when they were just starting out. I remember thinking, “They seem like nice folks, but this is a tough business. I hope they do well.” They indeed did do well. They made a good product for a good price, and they supported it exceptionally well from the start.
Most common of electronic sights are the “red dots,” and if you visit the Vortex web page and click on the “Red Dots” tab, you’ll see a good assortment of them. Some are not technically red-dot sights, but they are used in a similar manner.
At the top of the Vortex lineup is the Razor AMG UH-1 holographic sight. That is what sits on my home-defense rifle, and that’s the best recommendation I can give.
UH-1 has virtually no measurable parallax shift and no forward light signature. It is tough as nails and compatible with common CR123 and rechargeable batteries that can be topped off without removing the unit from the gun. UH-1s qualify as full-size sights by today’s standards of red dots and holographics, but it is still not that big.
In actual use, it is probably the fastest of all sights I have tried to date. I know that highly skilled shooters are similarly fast with almost any good quality sight, but my weapon presentation is not nearly as perfect, and the UH-1 is quite forgiving of that. I also like the fact AMG products are either entirely or almost entirely U.S.-made in their factory in Wisconsin.
The AMG UH-1 can be found for $400 to $450, but for what it is and can do, the unit is worth every penny.
The other Vortex red-dot sights aimed at the rifle/carbine market are their StrikeFire II, SPARC AR and Crossfire. They all went through an upgrade at the very end of 2019. The new LED emitters extend their battery life from suitably long to ridiculously long.
The StrikeFire II is easily the largest of the three and also their first reflex sight. It worked pretty well, but the designers weren’t satisfied, so they made some internal improvements. Now there’s the Gen 2 version, but shooters will still see they kept the overall formula largely unchanged. It works with any 30mm mounting ring and uses the same CR2 battery that is quite common with laser rangefinders. The dot is either green or red and subtends 4 MOA. It has been in the field for quite some time, but despite the modest price ($275), I’m only aware of a few these failing.
If you’re looking for a simple, nimble and affordable dot optic for your AR, the SPARC AR is a decidedly a good pick selling for $275. Roughly the same size as Aimpoint’s Micro, its mount has an integrated AAA battery compartment, so it can’t be mounted very low. It comes with a spacer installed for a lower-third co-witness setup or for an absolute co-witness without it.
A few years ago, I got three of these and spent a significant amount of time taking classes with them and taking out my general frustrations on them. At the time, they were considered budget sights, but reflex sights are fairly simple devices to build. I was out to see if there is some sort of an anecdotal durability compromise and then do some forensics. At some point, I gave up. They looked like they went through hell, but they never stopped working and never lost zero.
The Crossfire is the same size as the SPARC AR, but it works off of a coin-style 2032 battery. Because of that, it is compatible with Aimpoint Micro-style mounts, which adds to its flexibility.
Battery life is supposed to be a little shorter than on the SPARC AR because the battery is smaller. However, its life is still measured in tens of thousands of hours, so I would not be terribly concerned. The dot size is the same on the Crossfire and SPARC AR at 2 MOA. If I were looking for a tube-style reflex sight, this would definitely be on my list. The Crossfire can be mounted as an offset sight if I so choose, while the SPARC can’t. It is a little cheaper ($219), too, which always helps.
Tube-style red-dot sights like the StrikeFire, SPARC AR and Crossfire work well with magnifiers, and Vortex markets one of the better compact magnifiers out there with the Micro3X. I have spent a lot of time with the now discontinued VMX3 magnifier, but as soon as the Micro became available, I switched over. It is a noticeable step up in both performance and compactness. You can find them for around $300.
Mini Red Dots
Vortex makes three reflex sights that are of a tiny “open” design. This is the type most commonly used on handguns, but I see these on lightweight carbines both as primary and offset secondary sights. Miniature red-dot sights like these can work with magnifiers, but that is not their ideal application. They are at their best where space is at a premium.
Vortex reserves the Razor name for their higher-end products, and that is exactly what this Japanese-made 3-MOA red-dot sight is. I tested one when it first came out, and it easily had one of the better-defined dots I have seen in a compact reflex sight.
I have a mild astigmatism, so I can immediately pick up which sights have better collimation quality than others because the dots look rounder. Like most sights of this type, the Razor uses a coin-type 2032 battery that sits in a pull-out battery tray. This design does not require a rezero when it is time to swap the battery out.
The dot illumination is manually adjustable, but unlike most sights out there, the control buttons are on the top of the sight and slightly recessed so that they are virtually impossible to bump accidentally. The Razor retails for $500.
Their Viper red dot is a Chinese-made sight with the bottom-mounted 2032 battery. So you have to remove the whole sight from the gun to change the battery. That’s the price to pay for having a very low-profile sight.
This is the lowest profile of all the red-dot sights Vortex makes. That makes a big difference on handguns when you are looking to co-witness your iron sights. Like the Razor, it also has manual illumination adjustments with both buttons being on the left side of the housing. It retails for $350.
The Philippine-made Venom is marginally larger than the Razor but still tiny. It has a top-loading battery compartment necessitating a smaller 1632 battery, so the battery life is a little less than on the Viper but still respectable. Both the Venom and the Viper utilize the same Docter-type mounting pattern, so there is no shortage of available mounts and slide adapters. Glock MOS slides natively support this mounting pattern as do many AR mount manufacturers. On ARs, these are commonly used as offset sights. The Venom retails for $350.
Lastly, Vortex has two prismatic scopes. While they are technically not red-dot sights, they look alike and are frequently bundled together. Both the Spitfire 3X ($450) and Spitfire AR 1X ($350) come with tall integrated mounts, so they are definitely designed for AR-pattern rifles. Unlike with traditional reflex or holographic sights, prismatic scopes have etched reticles, so they are still functional without a battery.
Because these are proper telescopic sights, they work quite a bit better than red dots do for those who have an astigmatism. The downside is that they are a little heavier than reflex sights and are marginally less forgiving in terms of eye position. When I really have to go fast, a red-dot sight gets me a little more speed (and the holographic UH-1 is faster yet), but if I am looking for a little more precision, prismatic scopes usually give me a better aiming point.
If you’re considering a red dot or looking for a new one, here are some specific recommendations on what I would choose for different usages. If it is within your budget, give the Razor AMG UH-1 a shot. If you want some extra precision, throw the Micro 3X magnifier behind it. It is a nice, compact combination that hasn’t failed me yet.
If you are looking for a red-dot sight on a budget that gives you the most mounting flexibility, I would take a closer look at the Crossfire. It is compact, reliable and inexpensive. The Razor red dot is another good option if you want to go as light as possible.
For handgun use, the low-profile Viper is really compelling. If your astigmatism is a couple of steps beyond minor, red-dot sights may not be for you, so take a look at prismatic scopes. I was a little surprised with how quick I was with a Spitfire AR 1X, so it is worth trying.
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