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Caption: Variable power scopes are great for longer-range shooting and when targets are at different distances.
The fixed power vs variable power rifle scope debate has been going on for a long time. So, let’s settle it.
Is one better than the other? Which one should you buy? Before you go on and regret buying the wrong scope, find out which option is better for your shooting situation.
Caption: Fixed power scopes are much easier to use, hence ideal for beginners.
In simple terms, a fixed power scope is a type of rifle scope in which you can't adjust the magnification. Whatever magnification is offered is what you get. That means if you have a 6X scope, you'll only be able to magnify your target up to six times.
You'll find that this factor makes fixed scopes cheaper and lighter than variable scopes. They're also not as complex. As such, you don't need much knowledge of scopes to learn how to use them.
In most cases, a fixed power scope comes with a preset parallax, meaning the scope's eye box has a more forgiving window, making it easier to acquire your target. Because of this, a fixed rifle scope is ideal for someone who’s just started using hunting optics.
This type of scope is much easier to use, hence ideal for beginners. In addition, if you're spotting a target or plinking, it makes sense to work with a fixed power scope. After all, you don't want to keep adjusting and readjusting your scope.
When deciding whether or not to buy fixed scopes, here are some benefits you should keep in mind.
Because of their simple construction, fixed power scopes tend to be more affordable and cheaper than variable scopes.
Just attach them to your hunting rifle, use the adjustable turrets to sight the scope, and you're good to go. Thanks to the fixed magnification, you don't have to adjust the magnification.
Another benefit of a fixed power scope is clear vision. Since it's limited to one magnification setting, the preset you get your scope in ensures you have a clean line of vision, and so improving your shooting experience.
If you like keeping your luggage light when you go hunting, then you'll love a fixed power scope. It doesn't have the extra dials you'll find in a variable scope, and since its internal design isn’t as complex, its weight is also lighter.
As much as we appreciate fixed power scopes for their benefits, they also have a couple of drawbacks that may make some people choose not to work with them.
The first downside of a fixed power scope is the fact that you only get a single magnification setting. If your target goes too far or comes near you, your chances of hitting it decrease significantly.
You have to move around a lot if you have a moving target. Most people find it annoying having to constantly move around to get the perfect view of their targets.
Caption: A variable power rifle scope allows you to tailor your magnification based on your circumstances.
Variable scopes allow you to adjust the lens depending on your proximity to your prey and the type of animal you're hunting. These scopes are great because you can adjust the magnification you see through the scope before firing a shot.
Keep in mind range won't always determine magnification. Most of us assume that the further our target is, the more magnification we need. This isn't always true.
However, if you're hunting a small animal, such as a rabbit or squirrel, from a long distance, you will definitely need the higher magnification.
A variable power rifle scope is great because you can tailor your magnification based on your circumstances. For example, if your target appears closer than you were expecting, you can just lower the magnification and continue on.
That said, this scope may be a little complicated to use at first. You need some practice to be able to sight in. Variable rifle scopes are also heavier and need a lot of parallax adjustment.
In fact, it's not uncommon for someone to miss out on a great shot while trying to sight in their scope on a target.
Variable power scopes are great for longer-range shooting and when targets are at different distances. You can make adjustments and get on target, no matter if it’s 50 yards or 500 yards away.
In addition, many hunters who hunt a large variety of game will find this scope useful.
Competition shooters also find this kind of scope valuable because they often need to switch from one magnification to another, and for this reason, an entire subset of tactical LPVO scopes has emerged on the market in recent years.
As much as a variable scope may sound complex or hard to use, it has some advantages that give it an edge.
One of the benefits of a variable power rifle scope is that it's quite versatile. You can use it in various shooting situations, whether that be hunting, self-defense, or target shooting.
When you’re at various ranges or encounter various lighting conditions, all you have to do is adjust the magnification to the correct setting, and you’re good to go. It’s why this scope is so popular among many shooters and hunters.
If you adjust your variable scope to lower magnifications, you'll get a wider FOV than fixed power scopes. As a result, it becomes easier to acquire your target, especially if it's moving.
Caption: Variable power scopes are usually heavier, especially if they have large objective lenses.
Here are a few drawbacks you should keep in mind when purchasing variable power scopes.
This type of scope can be a bit tricky to use, especially for a beginner hunter. You must be familiar with scope adjustment mechanisms to apply the right power setting based on the shooting situation.
Experienced hunters may have no issue with this scope, but if you don't fall into that category when you’re choosing your scope, you’d be better off starting with a fixed power.
Variable power scopes are often costlier than a fixed scope, especially if they have a large objective lens. If your rifle scope budget is small, getting a decent fixed scope rather than a cheap variable scope that can fail may be better.
Variable power scopes are usually heavier, especially if they have large objective lenses. Mounting them is also more difficult and may affect your rifle's balance.
Caption: Fixed power scopes tend to be faster than variable power scopes as there isn’t as much fiddling of the knobs involved.
Most people wonder what to pick when it comes to fixed vs variable scopes. The fact is that both are effective, and it all boils down to personal preference. That said, here are some of their differences in various categories.
Both these scopes are quite accurate as long as they're well-mounted and zeroed in. However, a variable magnification scope offers more precision because you can adjust the magnification to suit the target and distance. At high magnification levels, variable scopes will increase your ability to aim at distant or small targets, how much you need depends on the type of shooting you plan on doing.
When it comes to fixed vs variable scopes in terms of size and weight, fixed scopes are more compact. Their lighter weight means you'll have a lighter rifle and can move quickly.
If you prefer a more streamlined setup, then you'll like fixed power scopes. Variable scopes tend to be bulkier and heavier because of their complex construction.
Variable power scopes are usually more costly than fixed scopes because they have more features and a complex design.
Remember that aspects like quality of construction, brand, and level of durability will likely affect the scope's price, too. But generally, a variable magnification scope is more expensive than a fixed scope.
Fixed power scopes tend to be faster than variable power scopes as there isn’t as much fiddling of the knobs involved. On variable scopes, you might spend a minute or two on the adjustable turrets sighting in on your target. Whereas with fixed scopes, you simply pick up your gun, aim at the target, and shoot.
Some hunters like fixed scopes because of their simplicity and durability. That said, focal planes are more relevant in variable magnification scopes.
A first focal plane scope is just as effective as a second focal plane scope. It will simply depend on your needs and shooting preferences.
Go with a second focal plane if you plan to hunt at short range. Since the reticle size maintains its size despite the magnification setting, an SFP rifle scope will be perfect for quick shots or in low light conditions.
A variable power scope is a rifle scope with multiple magnification levels that you can adjust according to your needs.
The benefits of a fixed power scope are that it’s more affordable, lightweight, and easy to use.
Fixed power scopes aren't necessarily better. The right scope will depend on your preference.
Oscar Taylor is the owner of BarrettRifles.com, a world-leading blog for all things scopes and firearms. He has been an avid outdoorsman all his life. He’s hunted and fished most of the Eastern United States for over three decades. During his tenure as a hunter, he has hunted almost every North American game animal with either a rifle or a bow. He’s taken down more smaller game animals than you can count. He hunts, ducks, rabbits, birds, squirrels, and the occasional coyote.