Looking for a high quality, compact rifle scope can pose a bit of a challenge. There’s a wealth of different types of optics available out there. The different brands and designs available all vary pretty widely in terms of quality, too. So if you don’t know what to look out for, you could find yourself wasting money on an unsatisfactory product.
If you’re looking to narrow things down considerably, a solid contender for a compact scope is a prism scope. Prism scopes are an ideal alternative to many of the more expensive conventional styles of scopes available on the market.
How Does A Prism Scope Work?
For starters, these scopes don’t obtain their magnification through the use of conventional design principles. Alternatively, they use a glass prism, instead of using a series of various lenses to obtain their magnification. The use of a glass prism means that the space requirements for these scopes are much smaller.
This means that you can achieve a similar level of magnification to other conventional scopes. All whilst occupying a much smaller surface area on your rifle. If you’re looking for the best compact rifle scope, you’ll probably end up purchasing a prism scope.
They aren’t often manufactured for extremely long range encounters. But it is common to see prismatic scopes in variations ranging from 1x to 5x magnification.
The reticle commonly featured in prism scopes is normally illuminated or etched in some manner. Which isn’t found as commonly in other traditional sights. Higher quality variants will also have multiple markings to provide the operator with a handful of high quality targeting information. Allowing them to adjust their shots on the fly.
Also, those who suffer with astigmatism will often gravitate towards prismatic scopes. This is due to the great level of eye relief they offer versus traditional optics.
The brightness provided by the prism helps keep the images clear. This allows for quick target acquisition even in relatively close quarters. This is one of the staple reasons these sights are so particularly popular.
Top Prism Scopes For 2020
Primary Arms SL x 2.5 x 32 Compact Prism Scope
The primary arms compact prism scope has a really nice design. It has a sleak, sharp and compact design. It’s complimented well by the stylish matte black color scheme.
This coloration comes from the type 2 anodized hard coat finish that’s used. This finish provides a great deal of protection against both abrasion (scratching) and corrosion. It’s also worth nothing that type 2 anodized finishes are compliant with mil spec Mil-A-8625.
It’s manufactured by a company called Primary Arms. This is a fairly reputable company who have put out a great deal of high quality optics in the past. They also manufacture locally in Houston, Texas.
US based manufacturing is generally a good indicator of quality. It’s hard to get details on the exact metal used to manufacture this optic. Primary arms have used 6063 aluminum in the past for their scopes. So i’d imagine it’s a metal of at least comparable quality.
In terms of raw functionality, this is an outstanding compact scope. It has a magnification level of 2.5x. This is ideal for mid range accuracy and is great up to about 600 yards. The objective diameter of the lens is about 32mm.
This sight is perfect for 5.56/.223 ammunition. You can also use it with 5.45 and .308 rounds without encountering accuracy issues. You should be able to put countless round downrange with this optic without worrying about zeroing.
The etched reticle can be used with or without illumination. There is 11 different illumination settings to be experimented with. This is powered by a lithium coin-battery (CR2032). One of these batteries is normally provided with the purchase of a scope.
You can also expect to receive a pair of flip up lens covers. One manual and a lens cloth is also provided, too.
In terms of value for money, this is a great choice. It’s priced fairly moderately but it’s built to last. It’s also an excellent quality scope for where it sits in the price range.
Monstrum S330P 3x Prism Scope
The monstrum S330P is has a solid, compact design. It comes in both full dark earth and black coloration. The dark earth variant would look great on a rifle with a hand-guard and shoulder rest in the same color.
It’s manufactured by Monstrum. They are a reliable brand who have been operating for over a decade. Since setting up shop in 2008, they’ve sold thousands of units and managed to grow their range to include over 180 different items.
The quality of their manufacturing speaks for itself. The 3x magnification of this scope, coupled with its 30mm objective lens makes for great target acquisition. especially at mid range. You can expect to put targets down range up to 600 yards with this optic.
The etched reticle is black and employs a variant of the circle-dot design. This means you don’t need to utilize the illumination settings to be able to make full use of the reticle. If you do choose to illumination, you’ll have the choice between red and green reticles. You’ll also have a wide variety of illumination intensity settings to choose from.
The lens is coated in a special material across multiple layers. This helps prevent chromatic aberration and other visual issues which could potentially lead to a decrease in accuracy.
It’s produced using a strong, 6061 aircraft aluminium. This allows it to have a great deal of structural integrity without comprising too heavily on weight. It’s also shock, water and fogproof. This is pretty much standard for optics of this caliber. But it doesn’t hurt to have some reassurance.
It’s fairly compact, at only 5 inches in length. It’s also about 15 ounces, which is nearly 1 full pound in weight.
UTG Compact Prismatic 4×32 T-Dot Scope
The UTG Compact prism scope is another great choice. The first impression alone on this thing was fairly impressive due to the sheer volume of information provided with it.
It has a sleak black aesthetic. Some effort has definitely been put in to ensuring that the profile isn’t too extravagant.
It’s manufactured by UTG. Since 1992, they’ve been manufacturing a diverse array of hunting and outdoor supplies. Including shooting gear. So you’re in fairly experience hands as far as the brand is concerned.
This optic features a 4x magnification lens with a 32mm objective diameter. It also has a return spring system to ensure you can maintain a zero, even with intense recoil.
In order to grant you a bit more freedom over how you mount your optic, some changes have been made. Namely the inclusion of a bidirectional double-twist mounting system.
The reticle is etched in the T-dot style. This style of reticle has been designed to allow quick acquisition of center mass. The adjacent lines help you frame your target incredibly quickly whilst the small dot in the center allows you to take more accurate shots.
This etched reticle can also be illuminated. Illumination is simple and easy with the inclusion of the low profile “EZ-Tap” button. This button grants you access to the red/green dual color mode. But you can also access the 36 color multi-color setting. This setting is absolutely invaluable. It effectively guarantees your ability to get a bead on a target across a huge variety of weather and lighting conditions.
The illumination system uses standard CR1632 batteries. You, however, don’t need any power to make use of the simple etched reticle.
As you’ve likely come to expect from scopes at this level, it’s fully proofed. It’s fogproof, rainproof and shockproof. It has also been nitrogen purged on the interior to prevent internal fog buildup.
It’s manufactured at home in Michigan, USA. They’ve utilized their true strength design method to guarantee this optic is incredibly durable. It’s compact, at only about 3.6 inches in length. It’s also relatively lightweight, weighing in at just over a pound.
Steiner S-Series 3x32MM Battle Sight
As far as compact battle sights go, Steiner have pretty much hit a home-run. This is a next generation sight that’s designed to set itself miles ahead of most of the competition.
It has everything you could possibly want from a sight of this size. With a powerful field of view to ensure target acquisition is as easy and as fast as possible. The FOV spans about 14.1 meters at 100 yards, which is great.
It also has a solid level of eye relief and a large eye box to ensure using the sight doesn’t cause you any significant fatigue.
This is the S-Series, meaning it’s been specifically manufactured to be as small as possible whilst still ensuring you get all of the functionality of a full sized optic.
It has 3x magnification. So those with a reasonable level of skill with a rifle should find that they’re able to hit targets up to 700 meters out before the optics become a limiting factor.
Vortex Spitfire 1x Prism Scope
If you sparingly glanced at this product, you’d see a well put together scope with integrated dust caps to protect both lenses. But it’s so much more than that.
It’s manufactured by vortex optics.
Buying from random manufacturers is generally a gamble when it comes to product quality. Which is why I tend to gravitate towards vortex products if I have the choice.
Vortex optics have been in production since 1986. They’re a family owned business ran by veterans. They also manufacture locally in the US.
On top of this, they also operate a stringent returns policy. This covers all forms of accidental damages and defects at absolutely no cost to customers. So if you’re worried about your scope becoming damaged, this might put you at ease.
Vortex have previously replaced products that have been damaged in house fires, chewed up by bears and a whole host of other issues you probably wouldn’t imagine could happen to your item. All product manuals are also provided in PDF form on their website too, which is really handy if you lose your own.
So we know the brand is solid, but what about the product? Well, in terms of functionality, it has a 1x magnification level. Meaning no magnification. This is ideal for closer to mid range target acquisition.
This is complimented fairly well by the etched DRT reticle. If you’re unfamiliar with a DRT reticle, it stands for Dual Ring Tactical. This reticle is specifically designed for firing in quick succession at close range.
This reticle can also be illuminated in either green or red. There’s a choice of up to 5 different brightness settings to ensure you get a clear target regardless of environmental conditions.
It has a field of view of about 100 yards and about 3.7 inches of eye relief.
Both lenses have been covered in multiple layers of special anti-reflective coating. This helps reduce glare which can seriously throw off your accuracy.
As usual, this is fogproof, rainproof and shockproof.
Weighing in at about 0.7 pounds, it’s unlikely you’ll even notice a difference in weight on your rifle. It’s nice and compact too at 4 inches in length.
Vortex Optics Spitfire 3x Prism Scope
This is another variant of the spitfire listed above. Except in 3x magnification.
This prism scope has been designed specifically for an upper AR-15 receiver. This prism scope provides an outstanding 3x level of magnification whilst still providing you with a clear image and a compact product. Despite the magnification this optic will grant you rapid target acquisition across a variety of different ranges.
You can choose between both red and green reticle illumination. There’s also fiver separate different intensity modes to allow you to appropriately select the right level of intensity depending on your local lighting levels.
All reticles are also etched to ensure that you can consistently use this scope regardless of whether or not you have enabled illumination.
Burris AR-536 5x36MM Prism
The Burris AR-536 is a solid choice for anyone looking for a compact sight that packs a punch. Despite its small size, you’re provided with a magnification level of 5x. This means all targets will appear 5x closer when looking through the lense.
The lense itself has a 36MM objective, this allows you to soak in a reasonable amount of light so that you can still operate under lower light conditions. Lower light shooting is also made easy by the adjustable reticle settings.
The reticle can be switched between black, red and green to ensure you can still clearly distinguish your reticle regardless of the background image.
The red and green settings have 5 different levels of intensity too.
It uses a picatinny rail base so it’s compatible with any rifle provided you’ve installed a picatinny adapter. This is particularly easy with M-LOK handguards.
Other Compact Optic Solutions
If you’re looking for a compact sight with magnification, you’re not necessarily restricted just to prism scopes. If it’s a matter of saving space whilst packing up, you might consider purchasing a small magnification lense. These are lenses that do not function as sights, they simply magnify the image in front of them. You can use them in conjunction with iron sights or unmagnified holographic sights/red dot sights to provide you with an enhanced image.
They’re generally much smaller than other alternatives to achieving magnification on a rifle.
Vortex Micro 3×22 Magnifier
This is a great example of a magnifier. It’s manufactured from a sturdy aluminium material. It has a magnification level of 3x with a 22mm objective lense.
Placing this behind a red dot or holosight will allow you to quickly obtain magnification if and when you need it. The best thing about this is that it’s optional. If you feel the magnification isn’t necessary you can simply uninstall the magnifier and continue using your old optics as normal.
It has all of the same levels of versatility you’d expect from a traditional sight too. It’s waterproof and fogproof to ensure environmental conditions don’t throw off your shot. It has been nitrogen purged on the inside to ensure there’s no build up of condensation on the inside over time too.
Prism Scope Vs Red Dot Scope
Red dot scopes have reigned supreme for a long time in the world of CQB. Even among the most opinionated of enthusiasts will admit to this. But in recent years, prism scopes have also been making strides in terms of their functionality as a CQB optic.
Red dot sights are popular largely due to how easy they are to use. It’s not particularly hard to line up a red dot with your target. You can even aim with both eyes open (much like with an ACOG). Both of these factors combine to ensure you can identify and mark targets efficiently.
But prism scopes do not necessarily fall far behind here. Are they as quick as red dot sights? perhaps not. But they are still much faster than many of the other alternatives on the market. They’re also generally much more compact and more lightweight than red dot sights.
Buyers Guide For The Best Compact Rifle Scope
Let’s say you’re not entirely sold on some of the products above, that’s fine. I also prefer to have a look for myself and weigh up my options. If that’s the case you should probably know what to look out for.
We’ve compiled an advisory list below. This list details some of the key things you should look out for when trying to purchase rifle optics online. We’ve made zero recommendations on where to shop to ensure this guide is as universal as possible.
This may seem painfully obvious, but the manufacturer is probably the first thing you should take into consideration. Reliable, long running manufacturers are always worth the investment. I try to focus on businesses that are operated out of the United States. This isn’t exactly an act of selfless patriotism, though. The “MADE IN U.S.A” stamp tends to be a generally pretty good stamp of quality when it comes to firearms.
Furthermore, good manufacturers will generally offer a solid warranty. Some will offer lifetime warranties for accidental functional damage. Others will offer warranties for manufacturer defaults. All of these are great to have, even if just for the peace of mind.
Type Of Scope
As we’ve already established at this point, you’re probably going to want a prism sight. That’s not to say other alternatives don’t exist. It’s just that these scopes will provide you the best “bang for your buck” in terms of quality versus surface area occupied.
This is particularly important. Consider carefully what kind of distance you’re planning on shooting at. If you’re into close range target shooting, perhaps competitively, you might consider a 1x scope. Planning on putting rounds further downrange? Anywhere up to 4x/5x is a practical choice. 2x and 3x are great options to ensure you get the best of both worlds.
Eye relief is sort of tossed out of the window when you settle on a prism scope. There’s not much room for eye relief in these compact sights, unfortunately. 3 inches or slightly above is something you’ll likely have to settle on.
This is another incredibly important thing to consider when shopping around for a prism scope. The build quality will determine just how long you’re able to keep using your scope for.
What type of metal is it manufactured from? Structural metals are always a good choice.
Aircraft alloys are also another good sign of build quality. These alloys help ensure durability whilst keeping your optic fairly lightweight.
Has the metal been treated in any way? Will this prevent corrosion? Will it guarantee scratch resistance? These are all questions you should be asking.
Has the interior of your optic been nitrogen purged? this is vital to preventing internal fog build up internally. Even if it’s fogproof, is it rainproof?
What about shockproof? There’s really not much point in purchasing a scope that’s going to lose accuracy after you’ve put a handful of rounds downrange.
This may sound dumb, but it’s a deciding factor for a lot of people. An optic with a sleak, low profile and perhaps some variety in color choices can go a long way.
It’s obviously not the most important factor in the world, but you should keep it in mind before committing to a purchase. There’s nothing worse than buyers remorse, even if it’s over a minuscule issue.