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If you’re into AR-15s or tactical shooting in general, chances are you’ve heard of LPVOs and how they are the newest and hottest trend in tactical rifle optics.
Learn what an LPVO is, what they can do, why they’re different from other rifle scopes, and why you might want one if you own an AR-15, AR-10, or similar modern rifle.
If you’re asking yourself, “What is an LPVO?” or “What does that mean,” LPVO stands for Low-Power Variable Optic.
At the most basic, an LPVO is nothing more than a type of variable-power rifle scope.
The main difference between LPVOs and traditional variable scopes is the magnification range; all LPVOs start at 1x power.
In contrast, a typical low-powered variable rifle scope tends to have a minimum magnification of 1.5x, 2x, or more. In other words, if the minimum power isn’t 1x, it’s not an LPVO.
Typical LPVOs have a magnification range of 1-4x or 1-6x, but some models go as high as 1-8x or 1-10x.
Now that you have the answer to “What is an LPVO?” your next question is probably “What are LPVOs good for?”
One of the oldest dilemmas when outfitting a fighting or tactical rifle is choosing suitable optics.
Different optics fit different missions and purposes, but the task (and corresponding engagement distances) can change unexpectedly, forcing a previously ideal setup into a less-than-adequate job.
A tactical carbine fitted with a red dot sight or a holographic sight is an ideal close-quarters weapon, but taking accurate shots at medium or long ranges (beyond 150 yards) becomes a significant challenge.
Inversely, a rifle equipped with a fixed-power or standard variable-power scope allows the shooter to reach targets beyond 300 yards easily. Still, the optic adds weight and makes it less than adequate in tighter situations.
Optics manufacturers have attempted to bridge the gap with various potential solutions.
For example, newer holographic sights may feature bullet drop compensation (BDC) marks to improve accuracy at long ranges. In contrast, some fixed-power optics feature a large circle around the crosshair to make them more viable in close quarters.
Specific units serve as dual optics, featuring both an optical sight and a red dot sight. However, these solutions tend to be heavy and suffer from a high height over bore.
Although some of these solutions are net improvements over older optics, they did not offer the versatility needed by operators in need of a capable rifle for both short-range and medium-range engagements.
The need for versatility
In response to this need, optics manufacturers developed the LPVO, a new category of variable-power optics, capable of true 1x magnification at the lowest setting, but with the option to increase power, extending the rifle’s effective range.
The role of the LPVO is to perform as well as both the red dot sight (in 1x power mode) and the fixed-power scope (at higher settings), eliminating the need to use dual-optics setups or inadequate solutions.
There is no such thing as an ideal firearm configuration; everything is a matter of compromises, and LPVOs are no different. These optics are not replacements for the red dot or the fixed-power scope. A red dot will always work better than an LPVO at 1x, and a true fixed-power scope will always have a sharper and clearer image than an LPVO at max setting.
So why are LPVOs so popular? The answer is simple: LPVOs don’t need to be as good as a red dot or a traditional scope; they only need to be good enough to allow for satisfactory accuracy at the intended ranges.
The primary purpose of an LPVO is to build a “do-it-all” gun, although that definition varies depending on the caliber, magnification range, and shooter skill.
As a rule of thumb:
- A 1-4x LPVO is ideal for 0-300 yards, typically mounted on short-barreled 5.56mm or .300 Blackout carbines.
- 1-5x and 1-6x are suitable for 0-500 yard carbines and rifles, usually 5.56mm or .308.
- 1-8x and 1-10x allow shooters to reach targets from 0-800 yards. They are ideally suited for rifles chambered in .308, .260 Remington, or 6.5mm Creedmoor.
Pros and cons
As with every firearm attachment, LPVOs offer both advantages and drawbacks that shooters must be aware of when using them.
- Most LPVOs possess illuminated reticles, and many feature full illumination with multiple brightness levels, making them ideal in low-light environments. These are modern scopes, making full use of current technology and rifle optics developments.
- LPVOs are relatively compact and lightweight. Although not as light as the most compact red dot sights, you can expect 17.5 to 22 oz. of added weight to your rifle.
- The vast majority of LPVOs feature a short parallax, typically 50 yards. Short parallaxes introduce minimal crosshair wandering at close ranges, allowing for good performance in close quarters. In contrast, typical hunting scopes feature 100-yard or even 150-yard parallaxes.
- LPVOs are ideal for competition shooting. LPVOs have become the dominant choice in disciplines such as 2-gun, 3-gun, IPSC rifle, and more.
- You don’t need the most powerful models to make the most out of an LPVO. For example, if your primary platform is a 5.56mm AR-15 and you don’t expect to shoot beyond 300-400 yards, you likely don’t need more than a 1-4x or 1-5x.
- The 1x setting is not a 100% replacement for a red dot sight. Most “1x” settings on optical sights are not true-1x. Although the more expensive models make the difference less and less visible, it will always feel slightly different from a red dot or a holo sight.
- The higher the maximum magnification at a given price point, the more likely 1x performance will suffer. The only way to get the benefits of both high magnification and sharp 1x image is to buy a more expensive model.
- LPVOs are generally inadequate for home defense. Unless you live on a ranch with several acres of land to defend, the vast majority of home defense situations are pure close-quarters, for which magnification is unnecessary.
LPVOs are among the most popular rifle optics currently available, enjoyed by shooters of all categories; civilians, law enforcement, or military.
If you believe that an LPVO is suitable for you, do your due research on currently available products. Optics manufacturers constantly introduce new models and new features, making it essential to have the most up-to-date information.
Remember that the very best LPVOs are also the most expensive.
If you absolutely cannot compromise on quality, don’t settle for a lesser-priced model; you may be better off installing a red dot sight while waiting to purchase the right LPVO for you.
Be patient, save up, buy the very best you can for your budget, and you won’t be disappointed.