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Medium-Powered Variable Optic (MPVO) – The Optic You Don’t Know You Need


By Dave Merrill and Tom Marshall

American manufacturing is better and more accessible than it has ever been. Our collective knowledge and understanding of the AR-15 means mid-market rifles in 2021 have more accuracy potential than the premiums of the past. The modern AR-15 is the most accurate and reliable mass-produced rifle in all of human history. In fact, there's a strong argument to be made that ARs are now mechanically out-classing the optics being made for them. That's not to say the optics industry is lagging or resting on its laurels – simply not true.

What is happening is that the mechanical accuracy of ARs is evolving in a specific way that will require a new class of scope optimized for them. It's not that ARs are getting more accurate–it's that those more accurate rifles are getting shorter. During recent testing of a prototype 5.56mm barrel, we made an 880-yard hit on steel with a 12.5-inch barrel, running a 1-10x LPVO. Similarly, while testing an 11.5-inch AR chambered in 6mm ARC, we hit 1,000 yards, and only stopped there because the range didn't go any farther. In that instance, we also used a 1-10x. What we realized in both cases is that, in that 800-yard-plus arena, it wasn't the barrel or the ammo holding us back.

It was having just-barely-enough magnification to get a good clean look at the target.

In parallel, we'd argue, optics development in recent years has focused on two primary efforts:
-Making high magnification optics smaller (in the case of EOtech's 5-25x VUDU)
-Making already-smaller Low-Powered Variable Optics (LPVOs) higher-powered

So what do you do when 5-25x is too much glass but 1-10x isn't quite enough? This is our pitch (if not our plea) to the optics market: the next generation of optics should be the Medium-Powered Variable Optic (MPVO). Essentially, an MPVO is a mid-range variable stuffed into an LPVO shell, while addressing the downsides of each. There's more nuance and consideration to it than that, but there's your broad stroke.


The MPVO would not be the one-optic-to-rule-them-all. This category would be tailored specifically to shorter rifles capable of longer ranges. Bridging the gap between big tubes on big rifles and low power on little rifles, the MPVO is for any situation where you'd otherwise want to use a traditional scope, except that the rifle needs to stay handy and retain an immediate close-quarters capability through the use of an MRDS.

If you're already humping a 20-inch+ barreled rifle you can stay with what you have. But if you have a smaller recce rifle like our short SCAR Mk20, or an SBR with much greater precision potential like the aforementioned short-barreled Lantac 6ARC, you'll want an MPVO. 6mm arc cover lpvo These are guns whose users may find themselves shooting at any distance from 1-1000 yards depending on the situation. Their rifle is short enough to clear rooms but accurate enough to place accurate fire at a kilometer. Whether your rifle is a professional tool, self-defense tool, game-getter, match-winner, or any combination thereof, if you're currently using an LPVO + red dot, you could probably be better served by the MPVO concept. Which would retain the dirty close speed of an MRDS while amplifying your long-range capability by providing magnification more appropriate to the max effective range of your weapon.


As Dan Brokos discussed in dept in his Evolution of the Combat Optic article,  there have been several transitional stages. The ideal GP optic should maximize the capabilities of your rifle from mere feet away to beyond the effective range, and there have been many approaches. It may seem strange given how ubiquitous optics are now but it wasn't until very recent history that optics were accepted on defensive rifles by the public at large. Traditionally, optics were mounted on special-purpose weapons like hunting rifles in the civilian world and sniper rifles in the military realm.

Red Dot Sights (RDS) were the first to amass widespread public use during the aughts, with many Luddites complaining (they can still be found bemoaning dots on pistols). The Marine Corps was the first branch of service to make the leap of equipping their forces en masse with a magnified optic in the form of the Trijicon ACOG. Designated Marksmen with semiautomatic rifles received variable optics, and Big Army filled in all the rest of the optic gaps.

First made use by competitive shooters, the Low-Powered Variable Optic (LPVO) is now mounted on seemingly every carbine. It's not hard to see why. A 1-6x+ LPVO brings a tremendous amount of flexibility and capability to the table. You'll see staff members with them on all manner of short rifles previously relegated to red dot sights. It's simply the latest-best solution we have to a general-purpose optic. The ACOG, now a bit long in the tooth, remains a viable combat optic because it does a lot of things “pretty OK” with minimal additional training time. The fixed 4x power of issued ACOGs gifts the ability of a higher level of accuracy at medium range, a better-than-zero chance of hitting a target at the effective maximum range, and can be made workable up-close with Bindon Aiming Concept (BAC).

A different method is to pair a magnifier with a red dot sight for fast up-close work and magnification for medium-range engagements (see our piece on LPVOs vs Magnifiers). Bonus points for a red dot with a BDC. Leupold tried something out of the box with their eccentric-mounted D-EVO system. And now the LPVO and all its variations. We’ve seen 1-4x, 1-6x, 1-8x, and a limited number of 1-10x models, with even higher numbers on the horizon. They have some warts, however.

For the last several years, we’ve increasingly seen miniature red dot sights paired with LPVOs. Here's why:


An LPVO on 1x is just as fast as a red dot” is a refrain we often hear repeated by well-meaning internet commentators, but when the rubber meets the road it falls short. Eye relief and viewing angle are more limited with LPVOs; and sure, with a steep learning curve and a ton of rounds downrange, one can get pretty close to an RDS in perfect conditions; heaven help you if you have to shoot from an unconventional or awkward position.

Chances are you aren’t an extreme outlier like Daniel Horner, but you shouldn’t need to be in order to put fast and effective rounds into target. Using an MPVO We heard the same thing phrase concerning speed about the Bindon Aiming Concept and the Trijicon ACOG way back in OIF II. What did we do with the ACOG? Piggybacked an MRDS to it. First, it was Doctor Optic sights on top. Later on, protective wings were added. Finally, Aimpoint Micros were put in offset mounts in front of ACOGs for that speed, at the price of literal cost and weight. Eventually, Trijicon filled it's own gap by mounting RMRs atop the ACOG, which helped reduce weight and bulk while providing increased durability. MPVO ACOG Concept

The LPVO, just like the ACOG, is more often now seen with a secondary MRDS aiming system for many of the exact same reasons. It's easier, faster, and more flexible.


We used to make fun of the Soviet Union for having extremely high optics on their rifles. The USSR required such high optics on rifles with low-bore capabilities like AK-74's for equipment reasons. Namely, it's difficult and sometimes impossible to use low-slung optics in conjunction with riot shields and gas masks. These days, skyscraper optic mounts are used by Americans for use with night vision and gas masks; the Russians weren't stupid, we just didn't have the proper context of use before we started pointing fingers.

Of course there are problems. Not only can looking through a tube with a tube turn into an exercise in frustration, unless you have a consistent cheek weld (which many high mounts prevent!) you can induce enough parallax error to make the difference between a hit and a miss (we found a 45% reduction in accuracy when viewing a reticle from the edge on maximum power).

Yet again, the answer to this issue is the addition of an MRDS. It's easier, faster, and more flexible.


As Alex Hartmann said in RECOIL #51’s article, Everything Wrong With LPVOs,As awesome as LPVOs are at the low end, red dot optics are almost always faster—so why not just use both”. We agree wholeheartedly and take this a step further: don't bother with a 1x low end on an LPVO at all.

Yes, there are already optics like this: we call them regular scopes. What makes an MPVO is more than just the magnification factor is the form factor.

Imagine fitting 2-12x, or even 3-15x, magnification into a tube the size of a current 1-6x LPVO. Yes, we understand some manufacturing compromises will have to be made, in the same way priorities are different for an LPVO vs a precision optic. An MPVO is: -A variable mid-range magnified optic -The same size as LPVOs -FFP -Designed with Dots in mind


An MPVO should have a top-end of at least 10x (12-15x preferred) with a low magnification level between 2-4x.

Even though you don't need a lot of magnification to make good hits (Marine Corps sniper rifles famously used a fixed 10x scope for decades), optics can be for more than just shooting.

Higher magnifications allow you to make closer observations and better conduct reconnaissance, and it sure doesn't hurt on smaller limited probability targets if the rifle and shooter are capable. With a low end between 2-4x, in a pinch you'll still be able to use the Bindon Aiming Concept if your offset red dot were to malfunction or get damaged.


Size and weight are relative parameters, and between the two, length is more important here. Current LPVO offerings are relatively compact vs their higher-powered brethren. On the larger end of the scale (in terms of dimensions and magnification) both the Vortex 1-10x and the Atibal X are just over 10-inches long and right above 21-ounces naked. Compare this to the Steiner T5Xi seen here, which is 29 ounces and change naked. Also, equivalent 3-12x FFP variables can be significantly longer. MPVO combination The T5Xi is 13 inches compared to the Razor's 10, which takes up valuable real estate on short rifles, get in the way of slings and controls, and are harder to maneuver in tight quarters.

To cite a specific example, Tom's personal mini-recce rifle seen here features an 11.7-inch handguard mated to a 12.5-inch barrel. From the charging handle to barrel threads, we measured a total of 17.25 inches of usable mounting space on the top of the gun. Giving up 13 inches of that for just the scope is pretty significant, especially when you factor in the need for lights, lasers, switching and (of course) your support hand. This is why the size requirement of a prospective MPVO is so critical.

The trade-off of an MPVO would mean smaller objective bells and correspondingly reduced light gathering, but we already do that with LPVOs for the sake of footprint. An MPVO doesn’t necessarily have to follow the straight-tube-in-rings factor of current scopes and instead could be a one-piece design like the Trijicon VCOG, Elcan, or many of the assorted prismatics.


Second Focal Plane (SFP), in practical terms, means that the functionality of the reticle (accurate milling or use of BDC marks) is fixed to a certain magnification (typically the highest) regardless of the ability to adjust said magnification across a spectrum.

First (or Front) Focal Plane (FFP) optics have a reticle that scales relative to the magnification. SFP optics are typically less expensive to manufacture, lighter in weight, and “daylight bright” illumination is easier to accomplish.

Though SFP versus FFP often comes down to personal choice and style of shooting, when magnifications enter the realm of 8x and up we have a heavy preference for FFP; you’re more likely to find yourself in situations where you don’t want to max out magnification but still want a properly scaled reticle.


Whether it's a short Picatinny rail or direct-mount footprint, on the optic itself or the mount…or even on a separate standalone mount…one of the key features of the MPVO is that it's designed from the outset with ‘in-conjunction' in mind.

Those who already have an LPVO with a piggybacked or offset MRDS for use in CQB, unconventional shooting positions, or for night vision the usefulness of that 1x low end on your LPVO is just about zero.

This is part of the core of our MPVO theory – since 1x functionality is very quickly being supplanted by an in-conjunction red dot, eliminate it altogether to push the high-end magnification higher while still maintaining a form factor friendly to the growing number of distance capable small rifles.

This is our argument for the next class of optics, the MPVO. We'd really love to be using them.

More on Optics, Sights, and Scopes

One response to “Medium-Powered Variable Optic (MPVO) – The Optic You Don’t Know You Need”

  1. Jim says:

    I use a Swampfox Arrowhead 1x – 10x with a green-lighted reticle on an 11.5 inch .458 SOCOM that works extremely well and will not break the bank. Optic Planit has them for under $400. It’s a hell of a thumper out to about 250 yards. The Arrowhead gives me fast target acquisition and the .458 is like a sledgehammer on hogs. When my .46 caliber can is ready, it will be far more practical.

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  • I use a Swampfox Arrowhead 1x - 10x with a green-lighted reticle on an 11.5 inch .458 SOCOM that works extremely well and will not break the bank. Optic Planit has them for under $400. It's a hell of a thumper out to about 250 yards. The Arrowhead gives me fast target acquisition and the .458 is like a sledgehammer on hogs. When my .46 caliber can is ready, it will be far more practical.

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