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Today, I am going to compare three red dot scopes that would be used on a Tactical style rifle.  These scopes are not the top of the line, premium models.  These are “Blue collar, dirty fingernail, gotta buy shoes and diapers but still want an optic for my SHTF gun” scopes.

Here’s a picture of the three scopes we’re comparing, the Barska, the Bushnell, and the Vortex on the left.  On the right, I’ve placed the ‘Gold Standard’ Acog(top) and Aimpoint M4.



The three scopes we are reviewing are on the left, top to bottom:

  1. Barska 1x30 M16 sight
  2. Bushnell Trophy 1x32
  3. Vortex Strikefire SFRD-AR15

The intent of this review is to compare and contrast these three scopes in Clarity, Ease of Install, Ease of Use, Features, Warranty, and Bang for the Buck value.
Let’s get the brass tacks out of the way.  As of this writing, the Vortex and the Bushnell cost the same at $169, with the Barska lowballing the herd with a price of $99.   You can find a detailed review of each of these scopes on the Tech Talk Page.

All three of these scopes were sent to me by Webyshops.com, with no special preparation.   These units arrived just as you would receive them if you ordered them.
Initial impressions and uncrating:


The Barska and the Bushnell were neatly nestled in a custom cut foam support, while the Vortex was wrapped in bubble wrap.  The foam support seemed more secure and protective than the bubblewrap, so the packaging win is a tie between the Barska and the Bushnell.

The Barska came with an extra battery, where the Vortex and the Bushnell only came equipped with the battery that was factory installed in the sight, so value bonus points go to Barska.

The Bushnell and the Vortex came with lens covers of sorts, while the Barska was bare, so we’ll take away those battery points for Barska.

Mounting and Initial Use:


The Barska and the Bushnell were ready to mount up right out of the box.  The Vortex had a separate mount that needed to be assembled and leveled to the sight.  Vortex did provide the correct Torx Wrench to tighten the Torx screws on the scope ring. Ease of install points go to the Bushnell and the Barska. 

The controls on the Barska and the Bushnell were simple and intuitive.  On the Bushnell, you simply rotate the large knob on the left one way for a progressively brighter green cross dot reticle, and rotate it past ‘off’ the other way to get a progressively brighter green cross dot reticle.  On the Barska, you simply turn the knob on the left, and it either goes to a full bright red crosshair if you went the wrong way, or a dim crosshair if you went the right way, and you turn it until you like the intensity.  There is no stop on either, you can turn them ‘round and ‘round to your hearts content. 

The controls on the Vortex were simple, but less intuitive.  There is a power button on the left side of the scope, which you press and hold to turn the scope on.  Repeat short presses of this power button change the dot from red to green and back.  Three buttons face the shooter’s eye on the left side, one Labeled ‘NV’, and an up arrow and a down arrow.  Predictably, the up arrow increases the intensity of the red or green dot, and the down button decreases the intensity of the dot.  The ‘NV’ button makes the dot invisible.  WHAT??  Yup.  The NV button is for Night Vision mode, and makes the dot dim enough to be invisible to the naked eye, but visible if one is using night vision goggles.  I found the controls to be easy to use once I was fully familiar with their locations and functions, but initially, the Bushnell and Vortex were more intuitive to use.

I was able to use backup sights with the Vortex and the Barska mounted on the rifle.  The Bushnell takes up too much rail real estate on an AR to use a backup rear sight.  A nod to the Barska and the Vortex in this regard.



Features:

The Barska has the least features of the three.  It’s pretty simple and sparse, with a simple red crosshair.

The Bushnell seems to be laden with features out of the box.  It has bungee scope covers, back up sights built in on top, and easily selectable red or green crossdot reticle.  However, In actual use, I found the bungee scope covers had no retention strap, so once you popped them off, they were quite prone to get lost.  I found the backup sights were cast in place with no adjustment, and my rifle’s point of impact was a country mile from my point of aim at 40’. The crossdot reticle that was my initial favorite because of its clarity and visibility became fuzzy and doubled after a few dozen rounds.  A battery change did not fix this.

The Vortex has a nice list of features.  It comes with usable flip up scope covers,  selectable red or green dot reticle, an Auto Shutoff feature that activates after six hours, and a screw in ‘2x’ magnifier.  In actual use, I found all of these to be useful, except for the 2x magnifier.  You have to remove the rear scope cover to use it, the magnification value is definitely short of 2x, and the field of view and eye relief are decimated by the use of the ‘magnifier.’  However, this worthless trinket in the box is easily overlooked when one considers the intrinsic value of the auto shutoff feature.

Clarity:

The Vortex and the Bushnell infuse the sight picture with a slight bronze hue, while the Barska imbibes the sight picture with a greenish tint.  I have no preference either way.

All three of these sights have a significant ‘Donut’ of clutter around the sight picture with battery pods, adjustment knobs, and backup sights obscuring the sight picture with an opaque halo of black stuff.  The visual ‘tube’ the shooter looks through is noticeably larger and clearer on the Vortex, the dot reticle is the clearest and sharpest of the three, and the lack of clutter in the sight picture with crosshairs gives the Vortex a clear advantage in my opinion.

Field use impressions:

The Barska performed well, without honor or dishonor.  It did the job.  The crosshair reticle became fuzzier and blurrier as I used it, but never to the point of being annoying…just less than perfect.

The Bushnell reticle blinked out on me many times and the reticle became doubled up and blurry after a while.  I changed the 2032 battery to attempt to correct this, but it did no good. 

The Vortex, which was the most cumbersome to install and initially use, became more endearing the more I shot and used it.  The controls became more familiar, and its superior clarity began to set it apart from the other two.

Warranty:

The Bushnell has a limited lifetime warranty; with the requirement the user send the scope with proof of purchase, $10, in a prepaid return shipping box to their return center in Kansas.  The verbage in the manual is unclear, as it says the $10 is to cover shipping, and then they request you ship it ‘with return postage prepaid.’

The Barska has a one year limited warranty, according to the box.  It comes with no additional literature that gives the user a clue on how to pursue that warranty.

The Vortex has a limited lifetime warranty against manufacturer defects for the life of the product, and the manual gives clear instructions on how to contact Vortex for warranty issues.

The warranty nod goes to Bushnell and Vortex.

In conclusion, a clear winner rose in this scope shootout, and the Victor is the Vortex.  The clarity, the option of using backup irons, the reliability, and the value of having an auto shutoff makes this unit a clear winner in my mind.  The Barska would be the runner up, and would be a good choice if you were limited to a hard budget of $100.  I think the additional clarity, better sight picture, better warranty and the auto shutoff feature make the added $70 investment to obtain the Strikefire a no-brainer, though.  The Bushnell….well…I really liked it when I took it out of the box.  It proved hard to live with though, and I think your money would be better spent on the Barska or the Vortex.

Mark Spreadborough writes from his family homestead in Kalama, Washington, where he lives with his wife, son, daughter, dog and cat. When not writing, shooting, hunting, fishing or working on his property, he goes to his day job as a HVAC repair mechanic.