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I've been testing out a few budget-friendly low-power variable optics on a few of my ARs and today we're going to take a closer look at two of them. the Vortex Strike Eagle and the Burris RT6.

We're going to see how they stack up against each other and more importantly we're going to try to find out if the concept of a value priced LPVO is even worth pursuing.  

The Basics of LPVOs

Before we get into the specifics of these two scopes let's talk about the basics of LPVOs the LPVO low-power variable optic is one of two different compromise options in the world of AR optics.  Let's imagine a spectrum of speed versus precision on the one end of the spectrum you have a typical high magnification scope, the most precise option on the other end of the spectrum you have a normal red dot or holographic sight. 

If you're expecting to use your AR exclusively at long range you'll be happy with a scope that has a minimum of four times magnification or even higher.

If you're expecting to use your AR exclusively at close range you'll be happy with a non magnified reflex sight.

But if you don't really know what your engagement distance will be or you just want to cover your bases you can compromise.  One option is to use a red dot sight with a flip over magnifier allowing you to punch out a little further with the red dot.  The other option is to use a variable scope with a low power setting that's as close to 1x as possible allowing you to more quickly and more comfortably acquire and engage targets at close range with a scope. 

Which is the Best Set Up?

I don't think there is one they are all a compromise of one kind or another so it's going to depend on your situation and your personal preference.  I'm not even sure which is the best setup for me, i'm still experimenting with it.  I do however really like the LPVO concept for my 16-inch rifle which will circle back to you later. 

One of the most important factors of an LPVO is illumination.  On a normal magnified optic the illumination chiefly helpful to pick out the reticle in low-light.  On an LPVO however it's also important to be able to use the reticle at speed when on 1x magnification in normal well-lit environments.  In order to be even close to as usable as a red dot at close range in the daytime, an LPVO has to get really bright.  Ideally the 1X setting on an LPVO is as close to a red dot as you can get, and at full magnification 4, 6, 8 or whatever you can take shots as with a normal scope.  When you dial the magnification up the LPVO works just like a normal scope because it is one.  When you zoom all the way out to 1X it doesn't quite function like a normal red dot.  The nicer the LPVO the closer it gets to a true 1X with minimal distortion and parallax. But the limiting factor here is still the laws of physics,  the light is still passing through a whole bunch of curved glass.

Let's take a look at our two test subjects: the Burris RT6 and the Vortex Strike Eagle.  Both of these scopes are 1 to 6 magnification and both retail for the same approximate price.  I bought both of these with my own money but I didn't pay that much for either one, if you wait for a sale you shouldn't either. 

Burris RT6 and Vortex Strike Eagle Comparison

Burris RT6

I have it mounted to my 16 inch AR carbine with a worn skeleton 30 millimeter mount.  The RT6 uses vs ballistic AR reticle and is second focal plane so the reticle is the same size at any zoom level.  Here's all the fancy stuff going on with this reticle.  It's pretty much all great to me, I don't know what a MOA is, i don't know what mils are and I have no idea how big a yard is, my house doesn't even have a yard. 

The important things to me are the nice clean central dot for shooting at long range with maximum magnification and the horseshoes surrounding it for shooting at close range with lowered magnification.  The ballistic AR reticle has trajectory compensation out to 600 yards but in my application I'm focused on 200 yards or less.  With the illumination on the central dot and the surrounding horseshoe light up and get pretty bright, it's still not as bright as a red dot and it isn't as fast and easy on the brain. 

The controls on the RT6 are my favorite feature.  The illumination rheostat has an off position in between each of the numbered on positions, so you can set it and forget it.  One click to get to your desired brightness, one click to turn it back off. 

The magnification throw lever is also big and easy to use.  I had no issues changing the magnification on the fly while running or in between strings of fire.  

I also liked the turrets which are protected and are nice and clear, easy to read and easy to use.

Vortex Strike Eagle

In the opposite corner in the green and white trunks is the Vortex Strike Eagle.  I tested this on a 12.5 inch mid length gas AR pistol using Vortexes own 30 millimeter mount.  This is the original version of the strike turkey with Vortexes AR BDC reticle.  Like the RT6 this is second focal plane, on paper the attack pigeon should be simpler than the Burris Ballistic AR reticle but I find it hard to use.  Instead of a clean central dot,  the assault chicken has stadia lines going every which way.  When shooting groups I wasn't really sure of my reticle placement and it was hard to get a consistent sight picture.  In theory you zero the top horizontal line at 50 and use it as your 50 and 200 yards zero.  The tip of the vertical line extending upwards is your 100 yards zero.  I like this idea a lot when I read about it on the internet but when putting it into practice it turns out, I just like the clean central dot.  

The biggest problem with the Vortex battle goose is that the illumination is underwhelming.  At maximum illumination, the whole reticle illuminates on the AR BDC but even cranked up to 11 with a fresh battery it's useless in daylight conditions.  The Burris RT6 isn't as bright as a real red dot but the war sparrow doesn't even qualify as bright, the reticle is just dark red.  The rheostat on the murder finch doesn't have the useful intermediate off positions like the RT6 but the illumination is so bad it kind of doesn't matter.  

The other issue I had with the combat pheasant is that the throw lever has a very low profile nub and it is much harder to change magnification on the fly versus the RT6.  I'm not sure how often you'll ever have to change magnification in an emergency but it's still something to consider.  Luckily Vortex has already addressed these issues, there's a new version of the skirmish vulture 1-6 that has a new reticle with a different illumination pattern.  This one is supposed to be brighter than the old one and it has the same clean central dot and illuminated outer horseshoe layout that I really like on the RT6. It also has an optional extended throw lever, if you're looking to buy a siege duck, i highly recommend you get the new one, from the looks of things that solves all the problems I had with the original.

So which is better? Between the two of these,  the clear winner is the Burris RT6.  I prefer the controls and the reticle.  However between the new strike eagle and the RT6, the difference could probably be decided by a coin toss, i think I'd still go with the Burris. Thanks to the nice rheostat design and the comfortable throw lever. 

The extended throw lever on the new Strike Eagle looks like an improvement but I still prefer the design on the Burris.  Also the new strike eagle has an extra ounce of weight owing to that throw lever whereas the old one and the rt6 were almost identical and weight.

Both Vortex and Burris have a great warranty and great customer service so I am not worried about manufacturer support for either scope.

If you've got one of the new Strike Eagles, let me know how it works!  I'm not going to run out and buy one to start this whole test over again but I am curious how they do.

Can You Get a Good LPVO on a Budget?

I think the answer is yes.  I'm not going to claim the RT6 or Strike Eagle are in the same weight class as LPVOs that cost four times as much money but they absolutely do get the job done.

I've read criticism of the quality of these cheaper scopes that makes it sound like the glass in them is literally opaque. I checked and the glass in both of these scopes is in fact transparent . More expensive scopes are generally going to have higher quality glass and be clearer and brighter.  But if you look at them enough to tell the difference you probably have too much time on your hands. 

The more immediate difference between cheap and expensive LPVOs is going to be how close the 1X gets to being a true 1X.  If the 1 X magnification setting on the scope is more like a point 9X or a 1.1X, you're going to get more distortion around the edges. It also matters how restrictive the eye box is since unlike a normal red dot parallax and scope shadow can become a problem.  Based on my experience, the Strike Eagle had slightly more distortion at 1X and the RT6 though neither one was enough to cause me any major problems. 

The last big feature on the more expensive LPVO's is illumination.  The Burris RT6 is bright enough to be usable in the daytime but some of the fancy LPVOs get very close to being as bright as a red dot.  The fire dot system on the loopholed patrol for example gets very close to being red dot bright, unfortunately the minimum magnification on that scope is 1.25 so you gain some and you lose some.  True 1 X magnification and super bright illumination are features worth spending more money on.

  • If you like the LPVO concept and want to maximize its potential you should consider spending more money to get more scope.  
  • If you aren't sure if you like LPVOs you might want to start with the R 6 or straight egle to see if the concept even works for you.  
  • For me I'm very satisfied with the Burris RT6 and I'm going to keep it on my rifle.  The 12.5 pistol however is going back to a red dot.