Accessory Review: Vortex Optics Sparc AR Red Dot Sight

My journey into the world of mid-priced optics actually started out not with a Vortex, but with a Holosun HS403C. During my review, I jokingly compared a few optic businesses to a deck of cards… I mentioned that The Jack was the card that best symbolised Vortex Optics.

It’ might not an Ace or King, but it’s quickly earning its place and power as a face card. Not an easy task in this small but highly critical “glass” market, where the bar is always being raised and the feature list is always being added to.

So why did I choose Vortex Optics for my next red dot sight and in particular, why did I choose the Sparc AR? Well… I’d recently purchased the Strikefire II Red Dot Sight for my older styled build, and I’d bought it with the intention to stand in for an Aimpoint Comp M2/M68 CCO. I was (and still am) very happy with the sight’s quality and features, but I’m a slave to my desires and I desired something a little sleeker.

A change in the direction I was heading in with that particular rifle meant that I wanted to look at lower profile modern designs, something a little more in keeping with FDE, M-LOK and modern ergonomics and design. I also wanted something that would offer NVG compatibility, whilst at the same time keep the same fantastic warranty to act as a safety blanket in case of any issues or damage.

So off the Strikefire went, from my Airsoft gun and onto the rifle of a friend who enjoys a bit of plinking with his Smith & Wesson M&P15/22.

So, starting with the key unique selling point of Vortex Optics… Their lifetime, Worldwide VIP Warranty.

If you’re not already familiar with the Vortex VIP warranty, it covers practically every scenario outside of theft, loss, cosmetic and malicious damage.

Dropped the sight on a concrete floor? Don’t panic… Vortex will repair or replace your sight.

House caught on fire and everything is destroyed? Don’t panic… Pull the smoking ruins of your optic our of the ashes and Vortex will swap it for a new one.

Battery life suddenly dropping right down due to an electronic fault? Send it back and they’ll sort you out.

So why is this warranty important to me? Well, my usual pastime of Airsoft is inherently dangerous for optics. It’s a common occurrence for an optic to be shot out, from cheapo £15 RMRs to genuine £1500 AN/PEQ15 lasers, nothing is immune to the wrath of a well placed shot.

Vortex have taken the incredible decision to class Airsoft shot damage as accidental, and therefore accepted under the terms of their cover. Its a massive reason to purchase Vortex above other manufacturers, having one of their optics on my replica means not having to worry about lens protectors or other preventative measures. But as important, is its quality and ability to do the task at hand… What does the Vortex Optics Sparc AR actually bring to the table? Let’s have a look.

The Sparc AR is a relatively wallet friendly red dot sight at £185, offering a good overall level of quality, whilst offering you features you’d find on a much more expensive sight. I say relatively inexpensive because we’re all on different incomes and this might be the cheapest or most expensive item in your optic budget.

The first thing you’ll probably notice about this sight, is that it’s AAA battery power source is housed directly below the sight itself. Using a standard and readily available battery is obviously good when it comes to replacements but it does mean that the mounting plate at the bottom has to compensate for the sight’s taller profile. I wish that the Strikefire had utilised a AAA cell, I think Vortex missed a trick by choosing the relatively obscure CR2 cell.

The battery compartment being below the optic means that whilst the Sparc AR is compatible with Aimpoint Micro pattern mounts, you’ll end up with a taller overall sight picture. Unless you buy something specifically developed for the Sparc AR, such as the Midwest Industries Sparc AR QD Mount (see below pic).

The taller profile of the sight might actually work better for you, depending on your requirements… A number of solutions have been used in the past to create a taller sight picture for red dot sights, from traditional risers to newer designs such as Unity Tactical’s FAST mounts. Using this optic on a co-witness or 1/3 co-witness would give you a slightly taller profile and the same functionality as a tall mount, but it will look top heavy!

It appears the lower 1/3 co-witness might be on the decline. Certainly when irons are discarded completely, it could be considered that co-allignment is relevant anyway.

The mount that is supplied with the sight gives you the option of absolute or lower 1/3 co-witness with standard AR15 pattern iron sights, simply place or remove the riser piece from the mount to choose between the two.

The mount is attached to your rail via a sprung Torx cross bolt clamp, there is a lack of dedicated anti-recoil lugs on the bottom of the mount which is a little surprising. But as long as your mount is securely bolted in placed, it probably makes little difference either way unless using this sight on high power cartridges such as .308 or .300 blackout.

The controls for the sight are placed just below the ocular lens, this has the twin benefit of being easy to locate and also keeping the sight ambidextrous. The “up” (left) and “down” (right) buttons control ten levels of brightness, the lowest two being suitable for use with light gathering night vision devices such as helmet mounted NVGs or rifle mounted night vision optics.

There is no green dot option on this, unlike the Strikefire it’s been seen as unnecessary and in my opinion it’s a good call. The actual dot size is also more in line with a precision rifle optic, sized at a smaller 2MOA dot than the Strikefire’s 4MOA reticule. This relatively small dot allows pinpoint accuracy, whilst offering enough of a dot to quickly acquire it and place it on target.

The sight is adjusted via two turrets, both covered with threaded metal caps. Each click will move the point of aim 1 MOA in either windage (left to right) or elevation (up and down), with a total amount of travel of 90MOA, which equates to 45 inches (four feet, nine inches) in any direction at 100yds. The Strikefire is adjusted in 1/2MOA increments which seems a little odd, I’m sure there’s a reason for this difference between the two sights, but I’m scratching my head as to why they chose to decrease the dot size but increase the adjustment increments.

The adjustment caps are reversible, this gives the user a tool to actually change the point of aim. It also gives you a reason to keep it in your hand and not put it down, potentially losing it.

The upper portion of the sight is encased with a rough rubberised material, this mitigates the shock of any knocks or bumps that might befall your rifle. The cover also incorporates the lens covers, which also clips together beside the optic when not in use.

The both turrets are protected even further, a raised fin for each turret rises from the front in a similar fashion to Aimpoint’s T2 and Vortex’s budget Crossfire red dots. This offers a little extra protection, and lessens the risk of it becoming damaged against a vehicle bulkhead or doorframe.

The glass, arguably the key feature of any optic. I’d say that it’s certainly good enough for the majority of users needs out there, even looking through the sight under night vision, it allows enough light to be transmitted through the sight to be usable. I’m sure that next to an Aimpoint or one of the other “tier one” optics it’d show itself to be outmatched, but it’s certainly as good as than anything I’ve owned before. The multi-coated lens keep reflections and ghosting to a bare minimum, meaning that even in low light your target picture remains as it should.

The sight is specified as “Parallax Free”, which effectively means that you should be able to move your eye around the sight and the dot will remain on target. In truth though you’ll find a small degree of parallax in practically all red dot sights at very short ranges, hence why a correct and consistent cheek weld is so important.

The other fantastic thing this sight offers, is a 50’000 hour battery life. Aimpoint can make this boast and so could Holosun… well until recently anyway. For some reason my old HS403C only lasts about 10 hours, after that I have to swap out to a fresh and relatively costly CR123a. If it was a Vortex, I’d probably be getting my hands on another one under that excellent VIP warranty.

So, balancing this all out with some negatives? Well, It is a relatively heavy optic at 7.5oz (212 grams) which makes it over twice the weight of an Aimpoint T2’s 3.7oz (105 grams).

I’d have also liked to see the same 1/2 MOA adjustment that is seen on the Strikefire, having a smaller dot indicates this sight is able to be used at range, doubling the increments that its adjusted by will potentially mean not being able to dial in to your point of impact as close as you’d like to.

But these are mostly petty and inconsequential issues, the weight is a necessary byproduct of its rugged design and the inclusion of a AAA power source, the adjustment? I bloody wish I could get that accurate for it to matter. Getting sub MOA groups with a precision rifle with magnified optics is tough enough, doing it with a red dot? Way above my ability.

The truth is that I struggled to think of negatives regarding this sight, the weight is manageable and the accuracy is far beyond my capability. Overall, the Sparc AR is a great little performer. It’s given me most of the capabilities and benefits of a £600 Aimpoint at a third of the cost.

Can I recommend it? Honestly, How can I not? Although there is the obvious question of “Do I buy the Sparc AR or the Crossfire?”, that decision though will probably fall down to whether you like the aesthetics of one or the other, both have the majority of features you’d want in a red dot sight.

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