Low light scopes enhance available light and can be used until the sun sets for good — or even until it rises again. While most scopes start being less effective (and some downright unusable) as the day starts transitioning into night, low light scopes under $500 remain functional and can be the deciding factor on whether you hit your target or not.
The problem is that most low light scopes with special glass and high-technology components can easily cost you thousands of dollars. However, it is also possible to buy less advanced scopes that are still very effective in low light scenarios.
You see, not everyone has thousands of dollars to spend on a single scope — and often buyers on a budget need to hit those shots in the dark as well.
That is why in this article I am going to focus on the best low light scopes under 500 dollars. While these might not be the best scopes you could possibly get, they offer an excellent compromise in the price to performance department. Not only that, but they also excel at what they set out to do — being great low light scopes at a budget price.
That being said, let’s get down to it and review the best low light scopes under $500.
Best Low Light Scope Under $500 Product Review
As you probably know, when shopping for a sub-500-dollar scope you have to cut some corners. Good scopes have complex optical elements and high-quality glass, and those things are rarely cheap. So, Vortex did have to cut some corners to make this budget scope — but, luckily, they didn’t cut corners where it actually matters to us: in the Crossfire II low light visibility.
Before we get to where Vortex did cut some corners, I want to talk about the Crossfire’s II build. I really do love Vortex's deer hunting scopes. This is a solid and relatively well-built scope. It probably won’t win any craftsmanship prize, but it does not feel nor look like a toy. Although I did not drop it, it looks like it could survive at least a couple of harsh falls — whether that is true or not… well, I try not to break my equipment on purpose.
This scope is made from T6 aircraft-grade aluminum, which is unsurprising. Most scopes, budget or not, choose this material because of its durability and low manufacturing cost. However, the Crossfire’s attention to detail is a bit lackluster, which I guess its acceptable given its price.
The glass, however, is very good. It is not the best glass you will find on a scope, but it still is surprising given the price of the Crossfire II. The image is clear and there is no blurriness at the lower magnification levels. At the higher levels there are a few smudges, but nothing that hinders your ability to use it too much.
Low light visibility is great. Maybe it is not as good as the low light visibility of a 2000-dollar scope, but it still gets the job done. However, there is no illuminated reticle, which is disappointing, but, again, understandable. The classic SFP reticle can be seen at every magnification level and allows you to accurately estimate range, which is always a plus.
The turrets are somewhat disappointing, but they work. They feel mushy and rarely, if ever, offer those satisfying clicks that we love so much. At least, they offer accurate readings and allow you to adjust windage and elevation to your needs. Sadly, it isn’t possible to adjust the parallax — it is set to a distance of 100 yards.
While this is far from being a perfect scope, the truth is the Vortex Crossfire II offers a lot of scope for its low price. In fact, I also rated Vortex as one of the best scope for hunting that I've tested! If you are on an extreme budget and would like a cheap scope that let’s you acquire your targets at dusk, then the Crossfire II is an excellent choice.
Is there a sunshade included with the Crossfire II?
No. Vortex only includes sunshades in their more expensive models. You will need to buy one separately.
Does the Vortex Crossfire II have an illuminated reticle?
No. Although there are budget low light scopes with illuminated reticles (such as the Athlon Argos BTR), most budget scopes do not have this feature.
Does Vortex include scope mounts? If so, what is the ring height?
Vortex does not include scope mounts. You will need to buy scope mounts separately, preferably medium sized, although the recommended height will vary depending on your rifle.
For less than 500 dollars it is almost impossible to achieve the features of the Athlon Optics Argos BTRhttps://athlonoptics.com/about/. Sure, it might not have the glass of an actually expensive scope, but at this price range FFP and illuminated reticles are almost entirely unheard of.
Just like the Crossfire II, the Argos BTR is also made from T6 aluminum. It is a sturdy scope which is built to handle the harshest conditions, but it doesn’t feel exactly like a premium scope. However, the Argos BTR definitely has some heft to it, and a lot of weight — this scope weighs a stunning 29 ounces.
The turrets are better than the ones on the Crossfire II, but they are still far from feeling like premium turrets. They get the job done well, but don’t go expecting something akin to the Razer HD turrets. The turret lock function is appreciated and works well, but sadly there is no return to zero function.
The best part about the Argos BTR is the fact that this is an FFP scope. First focal plane reticles change their size depending on your magnification level and allow you to use the radicals on the reticle with more precision than you could on an SFP scope.
The second great thing about this scope is the fact that it has illuminated radicals. Simply flick a button and the red light shines through the reticle, allowing you to make those shots in the dark. Brightness is controlled by a dial and reticle is powered by a regular watch battery.
But not everything is perfect. First of all, you are bound to hit the turrets when removing the lens caps. Unless you are extremely careful and attentive every single time you remove the caps, you will hit the dial. This can be a mild nuisance or a real PITA, depending on what you are doing.
The included lens caps are also disappointing. I know, I know… maybe it’s a bit too much to ask for good lens caps, but the fact is that the ones on the Argos BTR are not very good and won’t last very long. Thankfully, lens caps are aplenty and easy to come by.
The glass on this scope is good, but it isn’t great. In fact, it is comparable to the other Long-Range Rifle Scopes Under $300 that I've used. It doesn’t quite compare to the glass on the premium scopes, which usually have crisper and more colorful glass. There is one issue with the glass which I didn’t like: as you increase the magnification level, the bottom part of the glass tends to get progressively blurrier, but one can learn to live with it, I suppose.
For a sub-500-dollar scope, the Athlon Argos BTR offers a lot. If you are looking for an FFP scope with illuminated reticles and want to make a budget-conscious decision, then the Argos BTR might just be the scope for you. Many shooters also ask, where are athlon scopes made? These optics are made overseas!
What type of illumination does the Athlon Argos BTR have?
The Athlon Argos BTR has red-illuminated radicals.
Where are the batteries located?
The batteries are located in the battery compartment near the eye piece. You will need to screw off the module to be able to replace the standard coin battery.
Does this scope come with lens caps?
Yes. Athlon includes lens caps with the Argos BTR.
Leupold’s VX line is one of the most popular scope lines out there. And for good reason: it offers something for everyone. The VX line has extremely cheap scopes that leave little to be desired. Conversely, on the opposite end of the spectrum, they also have really expensive premium scopes. The VX-3i sits nicely in the middle, making it one of the best offerings in Leupold’s VX range.
While it doesn’t have such a nice build as the premium VX scopes, the VX-3i is sturdy and built to be just as durable as the premium stuff. The VX-3i can withstand 5,000 punisher impacts — Leupold’s proprietary recoil simulation machine, which simulates 3-times the recoil of a .308 rifle with each impact.
Another great feature that is constant throughout Leupold’s VX line is the glass. Now, do not buy this scope thinking the glass is as good as the glass on the premium stuff, because it is not. However, it is still better than most of the glass on its competition and excellent in low light situations.
The performance in low light simulations is not exactly surprising. For a while now, Leupold has bragged about its “Twilight Light Management System”, a proprietary technology which enhances those last sun rays to give you some noticeable extra light on your scope. With the VX-3i, Leupold goes a bit further and offers the next step up in its system, “Twilight Light Management Max”, which increases visibility for up to 10 minutes.
The reticle on the VX-3i is a duplex reticle without any type of illumination. I love the reticle design, which is why I also rated it the best Tactical Scopes for AR-10 308 SHTF that I've tested! This is a SFP scope built to function from -40ºF to 160ºF and waterproof up to a depth of 33 feet.
Once again, Leupold does not disappoint. When you consider its price, the Leupold VX-3i is one of the best low light scopes for hunting and definitely a worthwhile buy.
Does Leupold include mounting rings?
No. Leupold recommends you buy medium height rings for 1-inch tubes and does not include any type of mounting accessory with the scope.
Are lens covers included?
They are not. If you want to buy aftermarket lens covers, you’re going to need a size 16 for the eyepiece and size 19 for the objective.
The Fullfield is one of the most popular Burris scopes, and one that has been used since the 70shttps://www.burrisoptics.com/customer-service/manuals. Its popularity led to several iterations and the Fullfield II isn’t exactly a new scope. If you have the money to spend, you can already get the Fullfield IV. However, while this is an old school scope, it offers great reliability and low light performance for a very acceptable price. There are also a few Problems With Burris Scopes to be aware of.
The solid aluminum body feels sturdy and very resistant. Burris claims that this scope can withstand the recoil of even the largest calibers, and by picking up the scope I do not doubt it. However, and while this does seem like a solid piece of equipment, there is nothing that jumps out and sets the Fullfield II build apart from the other scopes.
The best thing about this scope is the glass. The large 50mm lens captures a lot of light and lets you hunt when the sun begins to set, or even when it rises. The glass is clear and the image is very bright — it almost feels like you should be paying more for this much clarity.
The Mil-Dot reticle is great if you are a varmint long-range hunter, but it is also good for other calibers. Sadly, the reticle is not illuminated, but it almost doesn’t need to be thanks to the amount of light that the Fullfield II lets in.
The turrets are good and there is no discernible mush. There is a parallax adjustment turret, which is also somewhat surprising, but more than welcome. It is more than I can say was present on the best Scopes for CMP Service Rifle that I've tested. Parallax can be adjusted to a maximum distance of 10 yards, which will surely be of use to medium and short-range hunters.
To be honest, besides the great glass, the Fullfield II is somewhat forgettable. It will give you a solid performance, but there will be no passion. It gets the job done, but for the price you could probably get something a bit more engaging and fun to use. Still, if you find a great deal, this is a great scope that will not let you down.
Arguably one of the weaker scopes on this list, the Bushnell Engage is still a very capable scope that sits nicely in the middle of the pack of the budget low light scopes.
The build of the Bushnell Engage is nothing more than you would expect. It looks and feels like a scope… which isn’t a bad thing. Bushnell plays it safe with the Engage, which has a standard and somewhat lackluster aluminum body. Still, the body is sturdy and doesn’t seem like it will break if you look at it wrong — which is always a plus.
The turrets are okay. They are not what you would define as good turrets, but they are not exactly bad either. I have a suspicion, that seems to hold true: at this price segment there are very few scopes with a return to zero function. The Bushnell Engage does not have it either, but it does have a nice turret lock feature, which makes it all a bit more manageable.
The glass on the engage is what really surprised me. While the scope seems to scream mediocrity, the glass is better than the glass on its competition. It is clear and very bright, without any reflections whatsoever — probably due to the special coating that Bushnell applies to its lenses.
Besides the anti-reflective coating, Bushnell also applies a protective layer to the glass. The so-called “Exo Barrier” protects the lens from water, oils, and small debris, guaranteeing its longevity.
The SFP “Deploy MOA” reticle feels nice to use and offers plenty of markings that allow you to adjust your shots with ease. Unfortunately, you don't get illumination with this model.
For the price, this is a good scope. Are there better scopes out there for the same amount of money? Quite assuredly. Is this a bad scope? Not at all. If the Bushnell Engage speaks to you or if you find a great deal, don’t be afraid to go for it.
Where is the Bushnell Engage made?
The Bushnell Engage is made in China but checked religiously by Bushnell’s Quality Control department.
Does Bushnell include a mount with the package?
No. You will need to buy a mount for these Types of Scopes separately. Preferably medium 30mm rings.
Best Low Light Scope Under $500 Buyer’s Guide
How to choose a scope for low light conditions
Buying a scope that performs optimally in low light conditions is not always an easy task. Especially if you are buying on a relatively tight budget.
Most scopes at the lower end of the price range do not offer good low light performances. That is why I made this list, so you’re able to have some information regarding budget scopes that are actually good in low light situations.
Once you consider your needs, you can start browsing for a low light scope. First you will need to consider things such as “do you need an illuminated reticle?” or “do I prefer an SFP or FFP scope?”https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Mag-Patrol-Scopes-MSR_1013-508.pdf
These are questions only you can answer. Once you've answered that question and have a budget in mind, following our list will make shopping for a low-light scope easy.
Why does my lighted scope glare inside when lit in low light conditions?
Glare is not normal in low light conditions. Expect some glare when you are shooting against shining sunlight. But in low light conditions, it can be due to a malfunction of your illuminated reticle.
You should check with your manufacturer to see if it is normal on your scope.
Frequently Asked Questions
As you can see, it is possible to buy a great low light scope at a relatively low price. Sure, 500 dollars is not exactly cheap. But it is quite cheaper than 2,000 dollars — a regular price for premium scopes.
If you are looking for a generally great all-rounder, then the Vortex Crossfire II behaves beautifully and has a very accessible price. Expect a few drawbacks because you aren't going to get everything you want at this price point. Enjoy it though because not getting everything you want builds character.
If you want to feel like you have a premium scope (feature-wise, at least) the Athlon Optics Argos BTR is the right choice for you. Not only is the Argo BTR a FFP scope, but it also has an illuminated reticle. This is very uncommon at this end of the budget.
For the hunters, the Leupold VX-3i is also an easy recommendation. This scope has an excellent low light performance and is very good for its price.
And if you prefer crossbow hunting, check out our article on The Best Night Vision Scope for Crossbows. There really is something for everyone, even at the lower price point. A tight budget will not prevent you from having fun with your weapon, even when the sun refuses to come out. Which low light scope do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below.
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