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6 Best Prism Scopes [2020 Hands-On]

What’s a prism scope and do you need one?

All of the Prism Scopes
All of the Prism Scopes

Long story short…they are fixed magnification optics that use a prism (whoa) instead of the two objective and ocular lenses of a traditional scope.

The basics of a standard rifle scope.

I’ll go over some of the pros and cons of prism scopes vs red dots and low power variable optics.

Then dive into 6 popular models that we’ve been testing out in the desert a couple trips.

Back out on Tattooine like always.

By the end you’ll know if prism scopes are right for you (there’s especially one big reason). And which one to get.

And of course, we have a full video review with tons of view-through footage.

We upload new review videos ever week on our YouTube Channel so be sure to subscribe!

Table of Contents

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Pros & Cons of Prism Scopes

Hard truth: you’re not going to replace a dedicated long range optic with a prism.

9 Tested Long Range Scopes
Long Range Time

But you can get close. Here’s some of our pros and cons.

Pros

  • Some level of magnification
  • Usually smaller package compared to a traditional scope
  • Increased durability due to no moving optical parts
  • Illuminated reticles are the norm
  • Don’t need batteries like a red dot since the reticle is etched into the glass
  • Possibly better for astigmatism

In our opinion, this makes prisms ideal as a battlesight for carbines, as their flexibility means that they can generally be used at both close, mid, and occasionally longer ranges quite comfortably.

As for astigmatism…here’s a nice illustration from AT3 Tactical.

A visual representation of what a red dot sight might look like to folks who suffer from astigmatism

Cons

  • Magnification tops out at around 5x
  • Heavy compared to red dots
  • Not as forgiving parallax and eye relief compared to red dots
  • Illuminated reticles aren’t all day light bright
  • Price point of “nice” ones are around $250 and in the ballpark of low power variable optics (LPVOs)
PA 1-6x vs Strike Eagle 1-6x
PA 1-6x vs Strike Eagle 1-6x

Prism optics definitely have their own cheering section online but keep in mind of these negatives as we go into the hands-on testing section.

Best Prism Optics

We had the opportunity to take some of the most popular models of prism optics from a ton of different price brackets and square them up with each other, and boyyyyyyyy do we have some thoughts. 

1. Primary Arms ACSS Cyclops 1x Prism Scope

I’ll begin this by admitting that I’m probably a bit biased when it comes to optics of this nature.

I personally don’t really see the point in having 1x glass on your gun if it’s not a red dot.

CQB ready? Read on…

Again, I understand that prisms may be useful for folks with severe astigmatism – but my eyes are fine outside of whatever damage I’ve done to them as a result of being extremely online.

The Primary Arms Cyclops isn’t a bad optic per se – the build quality is actually great, and is nothing short of what you’d expect from primary arms.

It looks and feels fantastic with the anodized FDE finish, and it’s nice that the cover for the elevation and windage adjustment turrets are attached to the body of the optic with steel cable… even despite the fact that it can make adjusting them on the fly a pain.

The cyclops features Primary Arms’ signature ACSS reticle, which we’ve quite enjoyed when we’ve used it on some of their other magnified optics, but on this 1x prism scope, it leaves a bit to be desired.

ACSS Reticle
ACSS Reticle

I’ll explain. 

A 1x optic that still requires you to find the right eye relief standoff point feels wonky as all hell.

I assume probably the majority of you watching have some sort of experience with a red dot or holosight but imagine having to be lined up perfectly with the optic in order to attain your sight picture, while still having no extra magnification to speak of. 

Why is this a thing?

I’m unsure, but I absolutely do not care for it.

The illumination is unfortunately pretty underwhelming as well. Even on the highest setting, I was struggling to pickup the ACSS reticle in the admittedly bright conditions we were shooting in. 

Unfortunately, our backstop is pointed directly in the direction of the afternoon sun.

In fairness, the optic isn’t advertised as being daylight bright, and the illumination is visible in dim conditions if you plan on hunting Draculas or whatever.

ie, it’s reasonably visible indoors.

I feel about the same with regards to the Cyclops as I did with our 1.5x ACOG we reviewed a little while back.

Both optics bill themselves as being geared specifically for fast target engagement in CQB environments, but I’m struggling to understand why you’d choose something like this over a normal red dot unless you’re afflicted with the previously mentioned astigmatism issues.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the 1x ACOG either, FWIW.

It’s sort of hard to objectively review an optic when the primary reason you might want to use it is if you’ve got a medical condition that I… dont have, so keep that in mind and maybe take my opinion with a grain of salt

240
at Primary Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

But with an MSRP of around $240, it’s gonna be a hard pass from me, dawg.

2. Monstrum 2x Prism Scope

Up next we’ve got a 2x illuminated prism from Monstrum.

Now, I’m not generally one to hate on entry level optics as I think they can be a useful way for entry level shooters to ease into the world of glass without breaking the bank, and the Monstrum has some pretty solid reviews on Amazon.

HOWEVER, that being said, I’m not sure the Monstrum is what you’re going to be looking for if that sounds like an accurate description of you.

My thumb winds up sitting in my FOV a lot of the time with the Monstrum.

The optic features a 2x magnification, which is obviously a higher mag than the 1x from primary arms, but it still sort of suffers from the same symptoms as the cyclops.

It’s also worth noting that we ordered the 3x from Amazon and were sent the 2x instead, which we were able to verify because the two have completely different reticles.

The Monstrum 2x’s distinctive ‘nipple’ reticle.

The optic’s mount is actually a bit lower profile than everything else in the prism lineup, and I suspect that’s the core root of the issue here.

Assuming you’re throwing this thing on a standard AR-15, the height of the mount is going to ensure that the front of your rail and your weakside hand are going to blurrily occupy the lower third of your field of view.

Which just feels obnoxious and distracting, and may not cowitness with your irons either.

A bit obvious when they’re side by side.

As you’d probably expect, the illumination here is also next to worthless in bright conditions, but it does have 5 levels of adjustable brightness in both red and green flavors that might be okay if you’re shooting in overcast or more dim conditions.

The reticle itself is a simple circle with a dot at the center – with the outer ring being 24moa at 100 yards.

Again, it seems okay indoors.

We have no real complaints about the glass itself, but there do appear to be tiny blemishes inside the optic if you really look for them.

It’s kinda nitpicky and you likely won’t notice unless you knew about them beforehand, but we did pick them up when while scrutinizing the Monstrum for review – but again this is an $80 optic.

What we did have an issue with, however, was the fact that the windage and elevation turrets are inexplicably reversed.

While zeroing the optic, we fired at our steel target and noticed that our rounds were hitting off to the right. As one does, we followed the indicated arrows and began turning the windage turret such as to bring our reticle over to the right and get our point of aim to match up with our point of impact.

How does this happen? 🤔

However, despite the fact that we were adjusting the optic correctly, our point of impact continued to shift even further rightwards, and we figured out shortly after that the turrets are actually mislabeled.

We began walking the reticle back the other way and eventually got the Monstrum zeroed – but how the hell does that happen? Some damn fine QC work there, gents.

Again, you can make the argument that this is a $80 budget optic and maybe you should expect some wonkiness, but I guess my main issue with it is that the scope is mainly geared towards beginners who might not realize right away what’s going on, and that just seems sort of shitty.

We’ve also found similar concerns echoed on the review comments for the optic on Monstrum’s own page, lest ye think the issue just stemmed from us being dumbasses.

👀

Sub $100 is relatively cheap all things considered, and if you don’t mind any of the weirdness I mentioned above, maybe you’ll be happier with this thing than i was, but all things considered…. Ehhhh??

80
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

3. Vortex Spitfire 3x Prism Scope

Up next we’ve got Vortex’s 3x Spitfire!

Vortex Spitfire 3x

A proper 3x prism optic that boasts 5 levels of red and green illumination, a reticle with built in BDC hashmarks out to 500 meters, and slanted picatinny rail segments set at 45 degrees to either side of the optic for the addition of micro red dots.

The pic rails are also removable in the event you find that feature unnecessary.  

The Spitfire is honestly the first prism in the review that I actually enjoyed using.

Even though the illumination still leaves a bit to be desired, the 3x mag and the quality of the glass itself meant that I wasn’t struggling to see past my own thumb in my FOV.

And nothing really drives home how much glass quality matters like using optics that aren’t quite as clear before moving on to one that is. 

I continually find the dumbest pieces of desert trash to shoot off of.

Also featured on the Spitfire is more wire cable tetherings for the turret adjustment caps.

Again, a cool feature just like on the PA 1x, but introducing dirt and dust into this system can occasionally mean that you’ve got to wrestle the cables out of locking the turrets up.

A minor gripe as you’ll likely only have to play with it while zeroing, but something to note nonetheless. 

Not my favorite solution, but oh well.

Battery life is reasonable, clocking in at about 250 hours on the highest power and 3k on the lowest setting – but like I said, the illumination isn’t really a selling point for me here in sun land.

For me personally, I don’t particularly see the point in running a magnified optic below 3x, so the Spitfire is just about the minimum that makes sense for utilizing on a rifle if you’re specifically looking for prism optics.

The overall build quality is what you’d expect from Vortex, ie, it’s pretty damn solid, and you can rest assured that the optic is backed up by Vortex’s famous lifetime warranty.

A bit more of a streamlined reticle for the magnification, comparitively.

Although a pretty big jump up in price at about $349 on the street, if you’re seriously considering a prism optic, this is probably about the general price ballpark you should be considering to snag something that’s actually worth it IMO.

Best Fixed Magnification
301
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

The Spitfire gets a thumbs up from me. 

4. Primary Arms SLx 3 Prism Scope

Moving on and standing as an almost direct competitor to the Vortex Spitfire is the Primary Arms SLx 3 Prism optic.

Primary Arms SLx 3

When I say that these two prisms are similar, I really mean it.

*suspicion grows*

That being said, I’m going to say that the Primary Arms SLx slightly edges out the Vortex Spitfire, for a few reasons.

The SLx features the ACSS reticle that’s standard on a lot of Primary Arms’ offerings, this time in a CQB configuration with an outer ring that surrounds the familiar horse shoe in the center.

And while we won’t get into the nitty gritty of what all the ACSS does from a features standpoint, we do quite enjoy the fact that it’s got BDC calculations out to 600 meters and includes hold marks for both wind and engaging moving targets. 

Up close, you’re essentially going to use the entire reticle similar to an EOTech halo.

The reticle itself should be accurate for the vast majority of 5.56 cartridges on the market, and can also be used for .308 and 5.45×39 as well, though we haven’t had the opportunity to test that.

Additionally, the mount includes a removable spacer to ensure you’ve got a comfortable cheek weld on both AR-15 and AK type platforms.

The piece between the optic itself and its mount is removable to adjust height depending on your gun.

We’re also not quite sure where to mention this, but ever prism we’ve touched on so far includes these really terrible flip up covers that you can safely just toss in the trash bin.

No.

The SLx 3 is also the first prism out of those we tested with actual, functional illumination. Even in our bright ass Californian meth desert conditions, we were able to pickup the reticle easily on the highest setting.

This does makes us wonder why this is such a difficult thing to nail for other manufacturers.

What specifically is so hard about making sure your reticle is actually visible on a bright day? We may never know.

And even brighter indoors, obviously.

The SLx has got a small pic rail section just forward of the elevation adjustment turret, and both turret caps are held in place by a rubbery polymer piece that we feel is a bit better of a solution than the steel wires we’ve addressed previously.

290
at Primary Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Considering the fact that the PA SLx is sitting at a comfortable $289 MSRP, and I think it’s fair to say that the SLx is the better optic, if only slightly.

What’s your take on the SLx3?

Readers' Ratings

4.96/5 (48)

Your Rating?

5. Primary Arms SLx 5 Prism Scope

If you’re sold on the SLx 3 but maybe want a bit more magnification, you’re in luck!

Primary Arms also makes the SLx 5 – a 5x mag prism optic that still features the ACSS reticle with a slightly larger objective lens to boot. 

Essentially the same optic, but with a bit more magnification.

The SLx5 ditches the CQB reticle and gives you the straight forward ACSS horseshoe you might be familiar with if you’ve used a PA optic before or watched our review of their 1-6x low power variable optic.

Still super bright in the daytime.

Outside of the higher magnification and slightly larger lens, the reticle of the SLx5 features selective illumination that only lights up the horseshoe itself.

Considering you likely don’t need the CQB-oriented setup where the entire reticle is illuminated.

It works great, and at just $330 or so, is only slightly more expensive than the SLx3.

The traditional ACSS reticle

If you’re looking for something a bit more long range oriented and don’t need the CQB reticle of the SLx3, the SLx5 is likely a great choice for you.

330
at Primary Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

6. Sig Sauer Bravo 5 Prism Scope

Mounted on our BCM Recce 16.

Last but certainly not least, we’ve got the Sig Sauer Bravo 5.

Straight away, the Bravo 5 takes the cake for the hottest Prism on this list. 

The Bravo 5 features 5x magnification and an absurdly large fov due to some dark arts that Sig has taken to calling MegaView™ which by the way is trademarked.

As if anyone on the planet was going to steal that combination of words.

THE VIEW IS LARGE.

I won’t pretend to understand the science behind Megaview™, but the optic boasts a roughly 40% larger field of view than competing prism optics – and it definitely shows after using all of them in one day.

The quality of the glass on the Bravo 5 is also fantastic – not that any of the previous optics we tested out were bad by any means, but compared to the clarity Sig puts forward, they all pale a tiny bit in comparison. 

The reticle itself is another horseshoe type, this time with bullet drop markings all the way out to 800m, and with some windage hashmarks as well.

The illumination on the Bravo 5, for once, is bright – like really bright, and good lord do we appreciate that. The optic’s got 8 levels of brightness indicated by the size of the red square on the illumination knob, in addition to having 3 levels of brightness specifically for night vision compatibility.

Sig notes that the Bravo 5 is purpose-built so that the centerline of the optical axis sits at exactly 1.535” above the top of a standard Picatinny rail for night vision compatibility.

Insert NODS here.

Although we don’t currently have the means to test this, we’re assuming that the bravo 5 should sit at the perfect height on your rifle to peer through something like a PVS14 if you’ve got it mounted to the gun itself.

Up towards the front you’ve got 3 Picatinny rail segments on the 12, 3, and 9 o clock positions of the optic for mounting, well, whatever you’d like to.

Probably the only other optic in a similar category that we’ve reviewed is the larger 6x ACOG from a few months back, and honestly? I’d say the Bravo 5 beats it.

You won’t be struggling to operate your charging handle here, either.

The slightly higher profile of the mount means you’re not going to struggle with accessing your charging handle as I did on the larger ACOG.

Sig’s illumination blows the ACOG’s out of the water on the highest setting, and I’d hazard to say that the field of view on the Bravo 5 is a bit larger as well – if not just about even.

The size difference is obvious side-by-side

I know this is probably starting to sound like an ad for the Bravo 5, but this is just me legitimately being stoked on an optic that I can’t really find a lot of negatives for, outside of perhaps it’s slightly chunky weight of about 23oz.

At a current street price of $399, the Bravo 5 certainly isn’t inexpensive, but in our opinions, it definitely punches above its weight for the price point and is easily one of the nicest optics we’ve ever had the pleasure of toying around with.

Obviously, if price is no concern for you, we have no issues with giving it our full recommendation over all of the other optics on this list.

blap.

But What About ACOGs?

Probably the OGs of bombproof prism scopes are Trijicon ACOGs.

Trijicon-ACOG-Models-Top-Down-View
Tested ACOG Models

We’ve got an review article and video just for them…for when you want to spend $1400 on a super battle-proven optic.

Conclusion

Hopefully, we’ve given you enough information to help you make your own informed purchase – as none of these optics on the list are bad by any means, even if I didn’t personally jive with them.

And if you still haven’t checked out the video…

The bottom line is that, depending on your individual needs and ability to spend cash on gun glass, we’re positive you’ll find something in here that works for you – even if I think the idea of a 1x sight that isn’t a red dot is fundamentally stupid.

You knew we were going to do this.

Our go-to entry for getting started in the prism world is to get the Primary Arms SLx3.

290
at Primary Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

It’s just the right amount of magnification with a nice reticle, daylight bright illumination, and a decent price.

Want to ball it out with one of the nicest views/glass we’ve witnessed? Check out the Sig Sauer Bravo 5.

What are your thoughts on Prism optics? Do you run a 1x? Or are you like us and prefer Low Power Variable Optics? Also check out our all-encompassing Best AR-15 Optics.

A Couple AR-15 Optics
A Couple AR-15 Optics

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11 Leave a Reply

  • Brian

    Let me expand on your "grain of salt" I am 70+ and have astigmatism. I have tries all kinds of red dots I can take a sub MOA rifle and get 4-5 inch groups because even on the lowest intensity the "dot" is a smear. Find me a red dot I can use ill buy it. I have the vortex 1X good glass but heavy and the center dot is almost invisible but at least its a dot when I adjust the diaopter. So yeah your right those without astigmatism have no real way to review a prism scope for those that do.

    1 second ago
  • Bull o' the Woods

    I thought Monstrum only made stuff for paintball.

    7 hours ago
  • Joey C

    I’ve had the Vortex Spitfire 3x and the Burris AR536. I didn’t like them. For me the eye relief was way to short. I sold them both to a guy that loves them, they seem to work very well for him. That tells me these are something you need to try first to find out if they will work for you or not, and not just depend on someone else’s recommendation.

    3 days ago
  • EF

    Even with an astigmatism I can shoot red dots just fine. I see an exaggerated comma, but it doesn't seem to affect anything. I just center the "comma" on the target and pull the trigger. Granted seeing two dots would be frustrating..

    3 days ago
  • Joe

    Cool article. I'm amazed their isn't a prism 1 power that is any good, just cause I don't know many people who struggle with red dot optics. These offerings were fairly weak, the sig is impressive indeed, but also rather bulky looking, but it's a cool piece of kit and the clear highlight of this piece. Thanks for another great article as always.

    4 days ago
  • Georg Schiffer

    Great article, thanks! Comes very timely for me because I’m just taking a really hard look at prism scopes for my 10 inch AR... Would you have an opinion on Sightmark‘s Wolfhound 3x24 prism scope? Got one offered and would be interested in your take

    5 days ago
  • victor castle

    I take it by your infamous Vortex warranty statement , that the Vortex warranty is not what they claim or full of holes ? In the market for another scope or maybe two and was considering a Vortex . I enjoyed your article because I am not that familiar with red dot scopes. I totally agree with your take on 1 power scopes and would include even 2 power, being a die hard Peep sight fan. A old Nam combat Vet, that never used peep sights until basic training. When I got back home after a S.E. Asia tour ( married and drafted ) I put them on every thing, even my 12 gauge Ithaca Model 37 featherweight . The best repeating shotgun I ever owned . Like a dumb arse I traded it in on a Rem 870 which came with a slug barrel , which is required in this state for Deer hunting. The 870 did not group slugs any better that the Ithaca . I do not think I ever traded or sold another gun since. Old to early and smart to late

    5 days ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      Vortex's warranty is awesome and highly reliable! They have one of the best customer service departments in the industry and really go out of their way to take care of people. Highly recommend them!

      4 days ago
  • Craig Hudson

    Thanks again for the work put in. I bought the Burris 3x combo with the burris fastfire 3. I wasn't positive if I would have liked it but I wanted something that could take a beating and put the fastfire on a pistol. The combo was on sale for $300. I decided I actually liked it because it allowed me to have a better field of view while looking through the fastfire. I have looked through the vortex and Primary Arms and my eyes like the Burris noticeably better. I'm sure the Sig is superior than all simply because even their Whiskey 3 scopes are by far best in class with glass. At least that's what my eyes tell me. I personally have a lot of Burris because of the warranty and I catch them on super sale. If price was equal, I'd prefer Sig glass. Just my 2 cents.

    5 days ago
  • Dave Kornfeind

    Thanks for another great article!! Any experience/opinion with the Burris line of prism scopes?

    5 days ago
  • Ray Williams

    No love for Primary's 2.5 prism?

    5 days ago
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