Plan on doing some shooting in the evening or other low-light conditions? Then you’ll need a scope designed to maximize available light. In this article, we review what makes a low light scope worth your money and round up the best of the best available today.
Best Low Light Scopes Comparison Chart
Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn Multi-X Reticle Objective Riflescope
Vortex Optics Crossfire II Second Focal Plane
Best Low Light Rifle Scope
Nikon Buckmasters II, 4-12x40mm, BDC, Riflescope
Best Low Light Hunting Scope
Nikon MONARCH 3 BDC Riflescope, Black, 4-16x42
Best Low Light Scope Under $500
ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Day/Night Rifle Scope
Best Low Light Scope for the Money
What Makes a Good Low Light Scope?
Just because a scope claims to be geared towards low light conditions doesn’t mean they’re automatically good. A good low light scope has:
Good Glass Quality
A good scope not only has durable glass that can withstand abuse, but glass that offers a clear view of your target without unwanted distortion, and also resists oils and dirt.
Large Objective Diameter
The wider the objective diameter, the more light that comes into the scope and is transmitted to your eye. That said, a larger size can also mean more scope clearance is required and interference with your mounting position is possible. The best scopes take this into account, featuring wide diameters but design features to help the scope stay out of the way.
Fully Multi-coated Optics
Optical coating refers to minerals that are deposited into the lens. They help to reduce unwanted reflections and refractions, meaning you get all the advantages of extra light without the light causing unwanted distortions and getting in the way.
Quick Take - The Best Low Light Scopes
These are our recommendations for the best low light scopes:
Review of the Best Low Light Scopes
Now that you have a solid understanding of what makes a great low light scope, let’s take a look at the products on the market today that truly stand out. We’ll look at the best scopes for a variety of use cases, but be sure to keep in mind your preferences as well.
Demonstrating that an excellent low light scope does not need to cost an arm and a leg, the Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn Scope provides excellent optics and durability at a great price, making it our top choice.
You’ll enjoy multicoated lenses that enhance clarity and brightness, making your viewing picture through a 40mm objective lens beautifully transparent. Magnification runs from 4 to 12x, which is an excellent range for most applications, and should satisfy most hunters.
Additionally, you’ll enjoy a precise multi-x reticle, a duplex featuring thick crosshairs interlaced with a crisp set of thinner lines in the center. Parallax, or depth of field, is fully adjustable, as is MOA and elevation, courtesy of fingertip windage with precise ¼ MOA adjustments within easy reach at the top and side of the unit.
You have a comfortable 3.3 inches of eye relief, making finding your view natural and comfortable. Should your environmental conditions be less comfortable, at least you know your scope will be safe and reliable thanks to full waterproofing and fog-proof construction.
We find this scope works beautifully both day and night—importantly, you want to know that a scope specialized for dawn and dusk is just as capable during bright conditions, and this scope checks out.
Overall, it is an excellent unit that should satisfy most gun owners with reliability, great performance, and the features you need most, all at an affordable price.
You would be hard-pressed to find a scope that provides such great quality and this wide of a range of features for this price point, making it our top pick.
Best Low Light Rifle Scope:
Vortex Optics Crossfire II
If you’re looking for a lot of options, the Vortex Optics Crossfire II Second Focal Plane offers the ability to customize many aspects of your scope, from your magnification levels down to your reticle. Notably, the magnification levels on offer range from 2x up to 12x depending on which model you choose. At the same time, you get a durable scope that’s full-featured and priced very well.
You get an ample 9.45” eye relief which is quick and accessible, while the eyepiece is also quite comfortable and allows for efficient reticle focus. Most of the reticle options are V-plex, which is an excellent option for a range of shooting distances. The fully multi-coated lenses ensure optimum clarity, while the long, single-piece aluminum tube ensures exceptional brightness.
You also receive capped reset turrets, allowing you to adjust to zero quickly after you sight in. Adjustments also produce an audible click, which is always nice.
In addition to the aluminum constriction, it is waterproof, shockproof, and fog-proof. It is further O-ring sealed and nitrogen-purged to ensure optimum environmental ruggedness.
To top everything off, Vortex Optics provides a lifetime warranty, which we will never turn down. If you’re looking for a great value, a range of options, and a solid construction, this is certainly worth your attention.
If you liked our top choice but wanted to customize your magnification or other features, Vortex Optics offers a solid alternative that’s dependable, durable, and also a great value.
Best Low Light Hunting Scope:
Nikon Buckmasters II, 4-12x40mm
Nikon might be best known for their cameras, but they’ve been producing excellent scopes for quite a while now, and you’d better believe they know a thing or two about top-notch optics. Plus, their manufacturing process is highly efficient and their name is big enough and covers enough consumer goods that they’re capable of offering their scopes at very low prices.
For starters, you’ll enjoy exceptional brightness in even some of the darkest of conditions. While it won’t brighten pitch dark environments, you’d think it does. That’s thanks to its extra wide objective diameter, utilizing a full inch in width and a 14” barrel length. It’s for this reason that Nikon’s scopes have begun to catch on in law enforcement and military applications worldwide, as well as among hunters.
Of course, the lenses are fully multi-coated to provide a gorgeously crisp and vivid picture, which is only further enhanced by the exceptional clarity.
Nikon also has their own patented reticle, which we adore, called the BDC. Combining several types of reticles, most predominately, a classic crosshair, with vertical dots and varying line thickness, it provides excellent target setting, no matter the range.
You also get audible-click with your ¼-inch, 100-yard reticle adjustments as well as for elevation, all accessible from capped turrets easily within reach.
Lastly, the unit is O-ring sealed and nitrogen-purged, allowing for total protection from water, fog, and shock. Nikon does offer a warranty, although consumers have reported that it is a cumbersome process. Still, for a value unit that provides such great features, it’s certainly welcome.
Nikon provides high-class optics at a great price, making this scope perfect for when you need the absolute best in lightness enhancement.
Best Low Light Scope Under $500:
Nikon MONARCH 3 BDC Riflescope, Black, 4-16x42
Another excellent option from Nikon, the MONARCH 3 is perfect for those with a bit of a bigger budget who really want a premium hunting experience in any condition. You will certainly get your money’s worth and much, much more.
First, you can enjoy 4x to 16x magnification, which is clear at any level thanks to the absolute best multicoating around in this price class. Additionally, the 30mm main tube filters light for maximum brightness in any conditions.
You also get a locking side focus parallax adjustment, which produces audible clicks, as well as adjustable MOA and elevation, also with audible clicks, all within easy reach on capped turrets.
You’ll love the fact that you can choose from four reticles, including the aforementioned BDC, which we find to be excellent on its own. Additionally, you get a traditional Nikoplex, mildot, and German #4, which is a thin crosshair with a thicker outer line.
Of course, construction is incredible, as the tube is made from a single piece of aircraft quality aluminum, and treated for water, fog, and shock, with lenses that fully resist oils and debris.
If your budget allows it, you certainly owe it to yourself to consider this fine piece of equipment. Like the previous Nikon product, it also includes a lifetime warranty.
Nikon has produced a low light scope that is absolutely worth the money and then some, with a rugged scope that utilizes the best in light and picture enhancing technology.
Best Low Light Scope for the Money:
ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Day/Night Rifle Scope
Lastly, if you truly are ready to invest in your lifetime scope and have set aside the appropriate budget, your best bet is absolutely, bar none, the ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Smart Day/Night Rifle Scope. This is a scope that, as you can probably tell from the name, utilizes the absolute best of modern technology to bring you an experience unlike any other in low light conditions.
It’s not every day that you see a scope with a dual processor but here it is. Using computed filtration, you’ll receive a brilliant 4K picture that is simply beyond what any traditional low light scope can do.
Other digital scopes often introduce problems like pixelation when zoomed or lag in the display, but that is absolutely not the case here, as it is a full-featured analog scope mechanically, equipped with a speedy processor to dynamically reinterpret the image.
The result is simply breathtaking, but the suite of features doesn’t end there. You also get a ballistic calculator that tracks every aspect in play from range, wind, temperature—you name it—to display an expected trajectory of your bullet and believe it or not, it actually works incredibly well. That’s because there is some serious technology at play, including an invisible laser range finder that tracks distance. You also get a remote control to adjust the calculator as well as other features like elevation or parallax without taking your vision from the display.
Of less practical use, but still of interest, is the ability to stream your video directly to a WiFi-capable device at a 4K resolution to capture your kill. You may also record to an internal SD card.
All of this said, you have to be concerned about what sort of drain all these features will put on a battery. We were as shocked as you will be to learn that the included 20,000 mAh battery lasts for 22 hours of continuous use on a single charge. Not only is this life incredible but we truly wish recharging was a feature for more battery-operated components.
Simply, the only downside is that it is clearly cost-prohibitive for some of our readers. That said, the features offered here are so beyond what other scopes offer that, should you have the funds, we think investing in this scope is one of the best things you could do for your hunting.
If you can afford it, this is hands-down the best scope for any lighting condition, day or night. The features go far beyond what other scopes offer, and at the end of the day, the asking price is more than fair.
Other Aspects to Consider When Buying a Low Light Scope
While a low light scope is designed to excel in all lighting conditions, this alone will not make it a great scope. Bear in mind the following details when looking for the perfect scope for you:
Whether a scope offers magnification at all, or to what levels, matters as much as its low light performance. If you intend to see at specific distances but cannot, it matters little whether you can see in low light conditions.
Quality of Picture
How a scope handles light is a key aspect of the viewing picture, but having a clear picture is about many other factors. The quality of the optics matters to ensure you have a crisp view in day or night.
With all the focus on low light conditions, it’s important to ensure that your scope still works well in the daytime, too. This is a more common problem than you would think, which is why going cheap without consulting our list may be a problem.
Not all scopes give you an option for your reticle, so be sure you’re getting one that you find functional.
Pros and Cons of Low Light Scopes
Before investing in a scope, remember some pros and cons of using a scope so you can either be prepared or try to mitigate them with your chosen purchase.
- Dark Hunting: Do you want to hunt at dawn or dusk? You simply cannot do it any reasonable way without a scope that enhances available light.
- Magnification: Most low light scopes add magnification, which is an excellent feature to have regardless of light conditions.
- Digital Enhancements: Not every scope has them, but an improved picture or even displaying your anticipated bullet trajectory are all possible.
- Battery Life: If you’re purchasing a low light scope that utilizes electronics, you’ll need to be concerned about when the battery will fail, although our only scope featuring a battery on our list offers exceptional life.
- Daytime Shooting: The scopes on our list are excellent in bright conditions but be wary of others that offer a great price tag, as they may not perform so well in the daytime.
A low light scope is a requisite for any serious hunting in compromised lighting conditions but can also introduce many other benefits. Review the products we’ve rounded up for not only their performance in darker environments but also features that will enhance your hunting.
People Also Ask
Since most shooters don’t have a physics or engineering degree, it’s natural to have questions about how scopes operate, especially when you’re spending your hard-earned money on such equipment. Let’s look at some common questions.
What Makes a Scope Gather Light?
If you put your ear up to a seashell, you can hear the sound of your own blood rushing through your body (no, sorry, it’s not the beach). You’ll also notice that some symphonies use giant shells on stage.
Why? And what the heck does it have to do with a scope? Well, the same principles of physics are at play. A shell works by funneling sound, which is energy, from all directions into one smaller area. Light is also energy, and scopes utilize special materials to reflect light inward, tunneling it from the big picture—everything you see without a scope—into a tiny picture that you can look through with one eye.
Is a Low Light Scope a Must?
If you plan on hunting both effectively and responsibly in darker conditions, yes. Not only will you be able to better see and ultimately bag your target, but shooting in particularly dark atmospheres can be dangerous. You should never shoot what you cannot see clearly.
Further, seeing optimally will enable you to not only shoot effectively but responsibly, downing your target with minimal effort and precision, just as you strive to do during bright conditions.