AR Optics

AR optics are essential to having a complete AR build. In this article, we go over seven types of sights and optics meant for an AR build. These vary from your close-range shooting sights to long-range optics and everything in between.

There are many different types of AR sights and optics available, each with its unique benefits and uses. Choosing the right sight for your AR build will depend on your specific shooting needs and preferences.

We are fans of the Trijicon ACOG and more specifically the Trijicon ACOG with an RMR attached to it. This could be because we were brainwashed by the Marine Corps to default to this optic, but it meets every need a shooter wants. Being able to push it out to 500+ yards, while also having a close-range sight mounted atop the RMR.

When it comes to a sight/optic it is all about what your needs and preferences are as a shooter though. How can this piece of equipment best serve you?

We hope this guide gives you all a quick rundown on what to look for when making that decision to make your AR build complete.

Types of AR Sights/Optics

  1. Iron Sights
  2. Red Dot Sight
  3. Holographic Sight
  4. Reflex Sight
  5. Prism Sight
  6. LPVO (low-power variable optic)
  7. Telescopic Sight

These seven types of optics are what this guide will briefly cover.

There is a plethora of information about each of these types, but we want to cover some prominent features, pros, and cons of the different sights you’ll find on an AR build.

Iron Sights

AR Optics

Iron sights were the original sights used for the AR/M16 rifles, still commonly found on ARs.

It is important to have in case a primary optic breaks, runs out of batteries, or malfunctions in an emergency.

Backup irons are essential for all types of AR builds. From SBRs made for CQB to longer barrel versions made for engaging at distance. 

For an extra ounce or two of weight and a little rail space, you get a reliable backup option that will keep you from shooting blind.

Iron sights are a no-brainer to have on your build.


  • Affordable
  • Versatile
  • Incredibly Durable


  • Difficult to use at long ranges without practice
  • Poor low-light performance
  • Slower target acquisition

Red Dot Sight

AR Optics

Red dot sights are great for close-range shooting due to their benefits and can be effective at distance with practice and familiarity.

The military quickly saw the benefits of an optic that allowed for immediate target acquisition and the ability to easily track moving targets at typical engagement distances.

The civilian market began to open as the military’s specialized units began to utilize these more.

A red dot sight lets you shoot with both eyes open and see more of your surroundings, making it ideal for combat, self-defense, and tactical training.

They are designed to be parallax-free at certain distances, so even if the reticle isn’t centered, your rounds will likely land where you want them.


  • Fast target acquisition
  • Ability to shoot with both eyes open
  • Easy to track moving targets


  • Can obscure targets at longer ranges
  • Budget-friendly options can be not as durable

Holographic Sight

AR Optics

A quick glance at a holographic sight’s internals reveals that it is much more complex than a red dot or reflex sight, despite the fact that it initially resembles those devices.

The target area and reticle are projected using a laser diode, a folding mirror, a collimating reflector, and a holographic grating in holo sights rather than an LED being bounced off of a single curved lens.

That extra complexity results in additional bulk and a significantly higher price, as you might anticipate.


  • Excellent balance of short and mid-range performance
  • Extremely durable


  • Shorter battery life
  • Bulkier than other close-range optics

Reflex Sight

AR Optics

Reflex sights are lighter and have a larger field of view than red dot sights, making them useful in close quarters.

Reflex sights are lighter but less durable.

Reflex sights and red dots have unlimited eye relief, no parallax distortion, and the ability to shoot with both eyes open using the Bindon Aiming Concept to focus on the reticle and target without sacrificing situational awareness.

These sights are more commonly used as secondary sights on most AR builds (ACOG w/ RMR, canted reflex with LPVO, etc.). 


  • Wider field of view than most other optics
  • Fast target acquisition at close range
  • Reticle style and color variety


  • Higher risk of damage to the lens
  • Incompatible with many optic accessories

Prism Sight

AR Optics

Roof prisms create images in prismatic sights.

This design allows the shooter to see the reticle even if the active illumination system fails or is turned off because the reticle can be etched directly into the prism.

The Trijicon ACOG is the most famous prism sight.

The ACOG is a great example of prism sights and one of the most battle-tested M16/AR-15 sights.

The tritium and fiber optic light pipe provide excellent performance in both bright daylight and low light conditions, the etched reticle provides some built-in redundancy and allows for bullet drop compensator markings, and the telescopic design prevents blurriness or double vision in astigmatic shooters.

Prism sights have slightly less eye relief than red dots, reflex sights, or holo sights, but they’re still generous enough for most shooters.


  • Excellent for shooters with astigmatism or cross-eye dominance
  • High-end options are nearly indestructible


  • Can’t be used with a magnifier
  • More expensive than other options

LPVO (Low-Power Variable Optic)

AR Optics

Designed to bridge the gap between an unmagnified optic and a rifle scope, especially in tactical situations where target ranges change frequently and unexpectedly.

LPVOs address this need for versatility by offering both 1x magnification and the ability to quickly increase magnification, often with a throw lever that allows the shooter to quickly move through the entire magnification range while maintaining line of sight on the target.

LPVOs are popular in competitive shooting because of their versatility.

LPVOs won’t outperform red dots, holo sights at close ranges, or dedicated variable-power rifle scopes at long ranges (think 4X ACOG).

Great jack-of-all-trades option if you frequently shoot at different distances and don’t want to swap and re-zero optics.


  • Versatile; quickly adjusts to different target ranges
  • An affordable option for competitive shooting


  • Not as fast as a red dot or as crisp as a traditional rifle scope
  • Lacks true 1x magnification
  • A small amount of parallax distortion

Telescopic Sight

AR Optics

A telescopic sight is made for an AR intended for hunting, or long-range shooting on targets.

There are many scopes, both fixed and variable, made specifically for the AR platform. These scopes have bullet drop compensator hash marks for quick and precise holdover adjustments in the field.

Telescopic sights can be quite heavy, which is why they are frequently mounted on top of ARs with longer barrels that aren’t meant to be moved around a lot, along with other accessories like fixed stocks, bipods, and cheek risers that trade weight for increased stability and long-range performance.

Ideal for ARs that can reliably fire long-range.


  • Ideal choice for long-range shooting
  • Extreme precision


  • High-power scopes add significant weight
  • Requires alternative AR-15 chamberings to maximize potential

Be sure to read our other guides here!