From snipers to designated marksmen, from hunters to competitive shooters, a good scope can be worth its weight in gold, letting their users place tighter shots from longer distances.
In airsoft, scopes can be very useful optical accessories, as well.
Aside from looking awesome on an airsoft rifle, when properly used they can give their users a better overall view of the field, identify targets of interest and can help place BBs a little more accurately downrange.
If you’re wondering if a scope might be right for your next airsoft game, then read on as we discuss them in more depth, exploring their usefulness on the field, the different types out there and some pros and cons of scope use in airsoft.
Why use an airsoft scope?
Scopes look cool and, to be brutally honest, with airsoft that alone is a big part of their attraction.
But beyond that, airsoft scopes can be a great accessory to outdoor games, particularly when used at medium to long distance shooting (70-100 meters+)
They can, for example, allow you to see, and thus more accurately hit, targets at greater distance than with iron, red dot or reflex sights.
Airsoft scopes can also better let you track your BBs dropping over longer distances, which can let you adjust your hop up and aim a little more easily at range, letting you walk your shots to your target more effectively.
Finally, as part of a team or in outdoor games, scopes can make an effective scouting tool, letting you spot and relay information about potential targets to your teammates.
As a result, scopes can be a popular and ideal accessory for snipers or designed marksmen with DMR builds, as well as Milsim in certain situations
So, when is it a bad idea to use a scope for airsoft?
Due to their magnification, most scopes can become a liability in close range games. Objects can become so magnified (over magnified) and blurry that the scope effectively becomes useless.
Similarly, scopes can be a bad idea for fast paced games like speedsoft or CQB, where effective airsoft game play revolves around rapid target acquisition and firing rather than precision shooting.
Players who are more concerned with suppressive fire and violence of action, that is favoring a fast-paced or close in approach to airsoft, and are loaded out accordingly with submachine guns, carbines and light machine guns will probably want to avoid scopes in favor of red dots, reflex and even holographic sights (if they have the money).
Know Your Airsoft Scope Parts
Whether you’re using a real steel scope or an airsoft replica, scopes do have a few different components to them that you should be aware of that are generally found on most models.
From back to front the most common of these are:
Ocular lens – Also known as the eyepiece of a scope, this is the part you look through and are closest to your eye.
There is typically a ring (called the focus ring) around it that allows users to adjust the clarity of the image they see.
Power ring – this is a little adjustment wheel that, on variable scopes, let you control the magnification of an image.
Windage turret – A little knob usually found on the side of the scope that, when turned, moves the reticle left or right in small increments to adjust for the effect of wind on your BBs
Elevation turret – A little knob usually found on the top of a scope that, when turned, moves the reticle up or down to account for the drop of a BB when shooting over a distance.
Parallax turret – A little knob usually found on the side opposite the windage turret (although it can be a ring on some models) that, when turned, moves the image of the target in the scope closer to or further away from the focal plane of the reticle to account for the parallax effect (explained below).
Objective Lens – The objective lens of a scope is, simply put, the lens on a scope that is farthest away from your stock and the one closer to your target, i.e. the one you’re not looking through and that light enters.
As a general rule, the wider the objective lens the more light it gathers, giving you a brighter image.
Difference Between An Airsoft Scope And An Airsoft Red Dot Or Reflex Sight
While the terms scope and red dot/reflex sight are often used interchangeably, there are actually some significant differences between them.
Magnification and shooting speed
The most obvious difference is that scopes are magnified and are designed for long range, precision shooting.
Red dot and reflex sights do not magnify an image and are designed to help airsoft players get on target as quickly and as easily as possible.
All things being equal, if your play style is more about taking your time and trying for headshots from 80-100 yards or 70-90 meters out, you might want a scope.
If you prefer your airsoft game to be hard and fast, on the other hand, at say less than 75 yards or 70 meters, you’re probably more in the market for a red dot.
Field of view
Another difference is that red dots tend to have a greater field of view, have unlimited eye relief and tend to be (or are close to) parallax free.
As a result, users can more freely move their head around and look through the sight from different angles without losing any field of view.
Scopes, on the other hand, require the user’s head to be closer to the aperture, and often in a particular position or range of positions, in order to get a clear view of the target.
Size and weight
When it comes to weight and size, scopes also tend to be bigger and heavier than red dot sights on average.
Where red dot sights might be around 4 -6 oz (113-170 g) (even less for a micro red dot), a scope can be anywhere from 11 oz (312 g) to 30 oz (850 g) or more.
Not only can this make them a pain to carry around their extra weight can, in turn, can change the handling characteristics of the airsoft gun to which they are mounted, making them harder to hold over time.
Another difference is that scopes don’t always require batteries to operate.
While some do have illumination functions, being “lit scopes,” others have their reticles etched into them and aren’t illuminated, meaning they can run potentially forever without as much upkeep.
Airsoft scopes vs red dot sights: Astigmatism
Finally, one thing that is kind of interesting and that can affect a lot of airsoft players is the fact that red dot sights can be a problem for those with astigmatism.
For those with astigmatism, because they use a lens to direct a red LED-generated image back into a players eye, which in those with astigmatism has an irregularly shaped cornea or lens, the reticle on a red dot sight can appear blurry, smeared or even doubled.
This, in turn, affects the usefulness of the device altogether for these users.
Because most reticles in scopes are etched into the glass and don’t involve beaming an image back into the eye, they are ultimately more astigmatism friendly.
Key Scope Vocabulary Terms You Should Know
Scopes are precision instruments and they do make use of quite a few terms that come from the field of optics.
As a result, when reading your airsoft scope’s manual (or interacting with the community of…enthusiasts…that discuss airsoft scopes), you may come across several terms that might be unfamiliar and that we’ve explained below.
Magnification – Magnification of a scope refers to its ability to make objects seem as if they are a lot closer than they are by enlarging their apparent size.
A pretty simple concept, the magnification rating of a scope (3X, 4X) tells you how much closer an object will seem when you look at it through the scope. A 4X scope will make an object seem four times closer than it actually is, for example, making an object at 100 meters out look like it’s only 25 meters out.
Field of View (FOV) – Refers to the total area that you can see when you look through your scope usually measured in feet at a standard 100 yards.
As you can imagine, a scope’s field of view at any time depends on its current magnification. The more you zoom in, the lower your overall field of view (they are inversely proportional, if you remember your math or physics lessons).
Reticle – The reticle is the little set of lines or markings built into a scope that you (hopefully) will put on your target when aiming.
In general, reticles are used for aiming but often come with even finer lines (or dots) and numbers that can be used for measurement and distance estimation, such as can be seen in the picture below.
Airsoft scopes can come with a variety of different reticle styles to suit different tastes and purposes, from those with a simple crosshair to those with target dots in the center to those with integrated range finding graphs and many many more.
Keep in mind that if you are trying to aim at small targets at distance, thicker lines, dots and markings can interfere with your ability to see where you’re aiming.
Similarly, reticle set ups with lots of different graphical information, while cool, can be very distracting.
Eye relief – Eye relief is sort of a weird term that refers to how much distance you can put between your eye and the rear lens of your scope and still be able to see a full picture.
More of an issue with using scopes on real steel firearms (as putting your eye too close to a scope can lead to a real steel gun smashing you pretty good in the eye due to their recoil), most scopes typically have something like a 3.5 inch eye relief on low power, meaning you can set the scope to about 3.5 inches away from where your eye would be while still having a nice, clear and bright field of view.
In general, cranking up a scopes magnification reduces the scope’s eye relief and the manual for your scope will probably have two eye relief measurements – one for low power and one for full power.
Parallax – Parallax is a somewhat complicated phenomenon (an optical illusion, really) where the position of an object seems to change when you change your line of sight, like when you shift your eye or head around a scope.
In other words, where you see the reticle placed in your scope may not exactly reflect where your airsoft gun is pointed – as you shift your head while looking through your airsoft scope, it can seem as if the reticle is moving around the target even if the gun and scope are steady.
In general, the higher the magnification the greater the parallax effect, and it is usually most noticeable in 8x or greater scopes.
Without getting into the physics of it, in general this is due to the distance between the projected image inside the scope and the reticle etched into it.
By changing the focal point using a parallax adjustment ring, this parallax error can be corrected and the reticle will seem to be “fixed” on the target when looking through the scope no matter how much you move your head around.
Because the parallax effect is really only a concern for precision/distance shooters (being most noticeable after 250 yards/220 meters or so), it doesn’t have as much of an impact or should be that much of a concern for most airsofters.
Turrets – These are the names for the adjustment knobs on a scope, so called because they tend to stick up or outwards.
The most important of these are windage and elevation, and there is likely to be one for parallax adjustment, often installed across from the windage turret.
Airsoft Scope Magnification Numbers – What Do They Mean?
If you look at any scope, you’ll often see some numbers etched into or printed onto its frame.
You may, for example, see something like the following on this Leupold Mark 6.
While perhaps a bit cryptic at first, the numbers on a scope actually convey basic, but important, information about its use and construction.
The first two numbers (3-18x, in this case) are a range of the device’s magnification capabilities.
The first number (3) is its lowest setting, in this case 3X magnification. At its lowest setting, this scope will make something seem three times closer than it would otherwise appear with the naked eye (an object 200 yards away would seem like it’s 67 yards away).
The second number (18) is the scopes maximum magnification. In this case, the scope is quite powerful and can be set to 18X magnification, making an object seem like it’s eighteen times closer than with the naked eye (an object at 200 yards would seem like it’s just 11 yards away).
The third number (44mm) is actually diameter in millimeters.
This number refers to the diameter of the objective lens (the lens gathering light, i.e. that you’re not looking into).
In general, the wider the objective lens the more light it lets in, which results in a brighter picture for the shooter.
In this case, the Leupold is on the larger side of things, with most riflescopes being between 32mm to 44mm in diameter.
Now you know how to read a scope’s numbers and, if you had to describe your scope to someone in the know, you might say that this is a “three to eighteen by forty” scope.
Types of Scopes
Scopes are a pretty old invention, dating back to the mid 19th century at least, and there have been quite a few technological developments since.
As a result, there are a few different types of scopes out there with different capabilities and offered at different price points.
The oldest type of scope out there, as the name might imply fixed power scopes (or simply fixed scopes) offer users a set amount of magnification – look through the scope and the object you’re looking at will seem closer to you by whatever the scope’s in-built magnification is.
Fixed scopes are usually fairly inexpensive compared to other scope types, are simple to use, and have a lot less that can go wrong with them.
The downsides to a fixed scope are pretty obvious.
Being fixed means you’re stuck with the scope’s magnification no matter what.
If things seem too close or you think you’d like a closer view…well, too bad. Either move farther back or closer in.
Variable scopes allow a user to adjust the lens and therefore the level of magnification.
A little more expensive than fixed scopes, due to their increased sophistication and parts, variable scopes allow users a greater amount of flexibility.
If they find the apparent image of their target is too close or still too far, (or is moving towards/away from them) they can turn the magnification up or down as needed with the simple turn of a turret.
On the downside, variable scopes involve more lenses, which can lower the overall clarity of image.
They are also more complex to use, have more things that can go wrong and break, they are heavier on average and, as we mentioned, they are more expensive.
Prismatic Scopes (Prism optics)
Prismatic scopes are a more recent development, made famous by the classic Trijicon ACOGs.
These are a type of scope that have a prism inside, rather than a set of magnifying lenses and related mechanisms.
This means they can be built in a way that makes them smaller, more durable, less finicky and more lightweight than a conventional scope.
Prismatic scopes tend to offer fixed magnification (3-4x usually), but much like red dot sights they can have an etched and illuminated reticle to help with aiming.
Unlike red dots, however, they do magnify the image and because their reticles are etched like a scope, rather than reflecting light into a user’s eyes, people with astigmatism tend not to have an issue using them.
Low-Power Variable Optic Scopes (LPVOs)
A favorite of shooting instructors, law enforcement and the military, low power variable scopes are variable scopes whose magnification starts at a lower-than-normal range, often 1X.
This low bottom-end magnification provides these scopes and their airsoft users with greater practical versatility in game.
Those moving in or out of close range, for example, won’t be stuck with a magnified image – they can turn things down to 1x and get a more true to life view of what’s going on while still being able to use a reticle for faster target acquisition.
It’s important to note that even 1x magnification still doesn’t really give a true image as your naked eye or a red dot might, but it is certainly better than nothing.
What Do I Need To Consider When Buying An Airsoft Scope?
Your play style
Scopes are good for seeing (and targeting) things at range.
To use them effectively, users need to be willing to hang back, take their time and make adjustments if necessary.
So while they are cool to add to any gun, they may not fit certain playstyles.
If you enjoy running and gunning in CQB, playing in a support role or just spraying BBs at your opponents, then you might be better served with a red dot or reflex sight, which can help you get on target more quickly without any of the problems that come with magnification.
For the same reasons, if you’re planning on doing some speedsofting, where the name of the game is speed, close range engagement and aggressive fire, scopes can actually be something of a liability.
Your airsoft gun
In the real steel world, scopes can be (and frequently are) mounted to just about anything.
There are scopes for rifles, carbines, shotguns, pistols and even the occasional SMG for some reason.
Other than looking cool, this is because many of these guns can be used in precision shooting.
Airsoft guns, on the other hand, aren’t really all that precise to begin with and don’t shoot as hard or as far as real steel guns.
Consequently, most don’t really lend themselves to using a scope.
Airsoft pistols, SMGs and shotguns in particular, aren’t notoriously very accurate at range and aren’t really the type of airsoft guns that will be used for precision, distance shooting.
There is a reason, after all, that they’re not the first choice as a base for building out an airsoft DMR or sniper loadout.
As a result, it can be a little pointless, or even counterproductive, to outfit these guns with a proper scope since being able to see something at 160 feet out more clearly doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll stand a chance of hitting it.
Ultimately, you’re free to mount a scope on whatever you’d like, but we would mainly save our money and keep them for well-built airsoft rifles and carbines whose construction and capabilities lend themselves to longer distance shooting.
Risers and mounting
In a similar vein, depending on your gun you may need to attach a rail riser.
When shouldering your airsoft gun you may find it sits a bit lower than your natural eye line. As a result, you might need to lift the scope up a bit so you can see through it comfortably and clearly.
Co-witnessing (lining the scope up with iron sights) is less of a concern with airsoft (in particular with scopes that won’t run out of batteries suddenly), but for those interested in it, this is also a function of rail risers.
Some airsoft enthusiasts treat scopes like FPS – the more magnification the better, right?
Too much magnification can make a scope basically unusable in an airsoft field, zooming in so closely to objects that users often can’t make heads or tails of them.
Too little, on the other hand, means you won’t be able to get as much out of your scope as you would like.
Given the inherent limitations of airsoft guns and their range (yes, even sniper rifles), and the fact that airsoft often involves moving in and out of different ranges and aiming at fairly large targets (people), most users will probably want to go with an airsoft scope with 4X magnification.
We feel this gives users a good balance between price, magnification and practicality, especially if its a 1-4x variable scope.
That said, if you have access to a large outdoors field or play area and really want to sharpen your sniper or scouting skills (and you have the ready cash, of course), then by all means go for a scope capable of higher magnification.
Some scopes are heavy and can add a considerable amount of weight to a comparably light airsoft gun.
This is particularly true of many real steel scopes, designed as they are to cope with heavier recoil.
This added weight and durability can be a good thing, allowing a scope to better withstand the running and gunning (and bumps and drops) that an airsoft game can put it through.
It can also add a bit more realism to the game, making the scope feel more like the real thing and making a light airsoft gun feel more substantial.
On the other hand, you will have to carry your scope-equipped airsoft gun for extended periods of time, which can become quite tiring.
Unlike a hunter or competition shooter, an airsoft scope will have to stand up to a little more…enthusiastic handling and dynamic conditions as the user runs around a field and engages with other users.
In short, your scope will need to take a licking and keep on ticking.
While it may be tempting to save a couple bucks with a plastic airsoft scope replica, users should probably look for one made of lightweight aircraft quality aluminum or (at least) nylon-reinforced polymer.
Similarly, and something that a lot of people don’t take into consideration with scopes is the quality of the glass they use.
Good quality glass won’t break as easily and will help give airsoft players a better, clearer picture.
Most airsoft scopes are generally relatively inexpensive glass with anti-glare or other coatings, but the better quality ones (and real steel versions) can have much more durable sapphire or gorilla glass lenses.
Some scopes are simple magnifiers, while more expensive scopes (particularly real steel versions), can have a variety of electronic features integrated into them, such as IR illuminators (for use with night vision), illuminated reticles, lasers, navigational lights and much, much more.
While these features are very cool and can be a lot of fun to use, they are of questionable value in an airsoft game and will mean that your scope will require batteries to operate properly
They also mean that there are more things that can go wrong.
What Are Lens Protectors And Why Do I Need One?
If you buy a scope to use in an airsoft game, you’re going to want to use a lens protector.
This is a little shield of sorts that goes in front of your scope and can protect your $50 to $200+ investment from errant BBs, as well as bumps, dirt, pebbles and more.
Some people chose to make their own out of household goods, but you can easily find ready made and mountable versions online or in stores pretty cheaply (under 20 bucks or so).
Real Steel Rifle Scopes Vs Airsoft Scopes – Which Should I Pick?
One thing that seems to be an endless debate with not just scopes but pretty much any other type of optic or accessory in airsoft is the use of real steel parts.
Like anything else, when it comes to airsoft real steel scopes have their advantages and disadvantages compared to replicas specifically designed for airsoft.
Real Steel Scope Pros
Overall Build Quality
On the plus side, real steel scopes tend to be far more durable and well made.
Aimed at hunters and sports shooters, they have to be built to adequately withstand the recoil of an actual firearm, as well as general outdoor weather conditions, including cold, altitude, heat, rain, mud, dirt and more.
Compared to many lower-cost airsoft clones, they can more easily stand up to the typical bumps and knocks that an airsoft game can throw at them and will consequently last longer without breaking.
Similarly, good real steel scopes are designed to hold their zero under more extreme conditions, and so do so quite well in a typical airsoft game where cheaper optics may not.
Real steel optics, being expensive and critical accessories for shooters, tend to come with extensive warranties and guarantees, something which airsoft manufacturers may not include.
Although more of a concern for long distance and precision shooting past 100 yards or so, many replica scopes don’t feature (or feature poorly done) parallax correction, which can affect accuracy at range since the reticle will seem to move around the target, depending on the position of your head.
In general, real steel firearms have far better eye relief, allowing users to more freely move away from the scope to see through it and get a decent field of view.
Less expensive airsoft replicas tend to save money by not factoring in very much eye relief, knowing that users can safely put their face closer to their essentially recoilless airsoft gun.
Lenses on real steel scopes tend to be better made and can feature a wide variety of helpful coatings, such as anti-glare, anti-scratch, anti-fog, anti-reflex and more, that can make them a lot easier and less annoying to use in-game.
It’s important to keep in mind that the term “coated,” as with other marketing terms, can have different meanings.
Coated – generally means at least one lens is coated in one layer
Fully coated – all lenses are coated in one layer
Multicoated – at least one lens has been coated several times
Fully multicoated – all lenses have been coated several times
Generally speaking, the more lenses that are coated (and the more coatings per lens) the more expensive the optic.
Advanced and Specialized Functionality
Real steel optics manufacturers tend to invest far more into R&D than their airsoft counterparts, and so there are far more real steel scopes on the market with very cool and advanced functions.
Real steel scopes can be offered with in-built lasers, video recording functions, range finders, smartphone connection, different colored illuminated reticles, and even night vision and thermal vision capabilities.
For those who love their gadgets, and have the money to afford it, there is simply no beating real steel scopes.
Real Steel Scope Cons
They are usually more expensive
Real steel quality commands a real steel cost, and scopes are no exception.
While you can get a decent enough airsoft replica scope online for under $50, a real steel optic will generally cost upwards of $100, with good quality versions coming in well over $500 and precision models in the thousands.
Accidentally breaking a $50 optic may not be the most pleasant experience, but damaging a $1000 optic might just about ruin your month.
Plastic airsoft rifles may come with plastic picatinny rails, and while these may fit compatible scopes, they may not be the most secure and solid way of attaching a real steel scope with a metal securing system.
As a result, the scope may become loose, fall off or even damage the gun.
How to maintain and clean your airsoft scope
Note: Always read your scope’s manual and carefully follow its directions for specific maintenance instructions to prevent potentially catastrophic damage, device failure or voiding the warranty.
Maintaining and cleaning your scope is actually pretty easy – there’s nothing to lube or disassemble, after all.
In general, you’ll want to periodically wipe the lens gently with a soft, clean and dry cloth (flannel, for example).
The important thing is not to use your fingers or anything that might scratch or smudge your lens and to avoid chemicals, acids, bases or anything that might corrode or damage the lens or its coatings.
When storing the scope or when not in use, make sure you keep any protective lenses on and make sure that you keep it in a cool, dry area at home.
Scopes are cool, there’s no doubt about that, and when used correctly they can be a great asset to an airsoft game.
But they are also precision devices that can cost quite a bit of money to buy and so users should make sure that they understand the pros and cons of scope use, where they fit within airsoft, and what to look for so that they can buy one that will last.
Ted Clark– Hailing from Florida, Ted has been an avid airsoft enthusiast since he was in middle school. When he’s not checking out and reviewing airsoft guns, he enjoys picking off his enemies one by one on the field as a sniper.