Understanding Variable Optics: LPVO vs. MPVO

By Joe Kriz


Even if you’re new to firearms, you likely know of two types of optics: red dots and riflescopes. Though both broad categories, dot sights are most associated with handguns for short distance engagements and scopes with rifles for long-range precision. But what about for distances in between, or for both close and long-range shooting? Enter low power variable optics.

Truthfully, most riflescopes are variable optics. “Variable” simply refers to an optic’s ability to vary, or switch, between multiple magnifications (e.g. Swampfox Warhorse 1-6x LPVO), while “fixed” optics – typically red dots, holographic sights, and prism scopes – are set at one magnification level (e.g., Swampfox Trihawk 3x Prism). However, variable optics can be further segmented by their magnification range.


Low Power Variable Optics

Relative to traditional riflescopes, low power variable optics (LPVOs) feature a lower power magnification range. While no formal definition exists, LPVOs are typically defined as having 1x low power with high-end magnification up to 10x.

Primarily mounted on AR15 rifles and carbines, LPVOs offer versatility unmatched by red dots and fixed optics alone, able to keep up with close quarters, fast-moving shooting at 1x while also providing ample precision for mid-range (500-800 yards) engagements. From law enforcement and military to hunters and 3-gunners, LPVOs are do-it-all optics that fill the distance gap.

Quick Facts

LPVO Magnification Range

  • Low Power: 1x
  • High Power: 4x–10x

Common LPVO Ranges

  • 1–4x
  • 1–6x
  • 1–8x
  • 1–10x

LPVO Applications

  • Recreational shooting
  • Close-quarters combat
  • Competitive shooting
  • Spot-and-stalk hunting

Medium Power Variable Optics

Of course, not all variable riflescopes start at 1x power. These optics, with low-end magnification greater than 1x and less than 4x, are nothing new to shooters but have only recently been referred to as medium power variable optics (MPVOs). Defined by their low-end power, upper magnifications can range from 5x to 20x.

Mounted on similar platforms as LPVOs, medium power variable optics offer greater magnification in similar size footprints for better target identification and precision at extended range (>1,000 yards), especially when shooting larger calibers. And while MPVOs lack 1x magnification for close quarters shooting, they are often paired with red dots to achieve the same effect.

Quick Facts

MPVO Magnification Range

  • Low Power: 1.5x–3x
  • High Power: 5x–20x

Common MPVO Ranges

  • 2.5–10x
  • 3–9x
  • 3–12x
  • 3–18x

MPVO Applications

  • Target identification
  • Tactical shooting
  • Competitive shooting
  • Stand hunting

Red Dots

Whether running an LPVO or MPVO, many shooters will run a secondary dot sight to maximize versatility. Not only do offset and piggyback red dots provide as close to “true” 1x magnification as possible with unlimited eye relief and parallax, but also allow variable optics to remain at a set magnification for transitions between distances.

Rather than range at 300 yards and magnify down to 1x to engage up close targets, an LPVO or MPVO can be set at 2x, 3x, or greater magnification for longer-range shooting, leaving the red dot for short distance work.

Swampfox Optics

Swampfox offers a wide-ranging lineup of variable optics, including LPVOs, MPVOs, and high power precision riflescopes, with first and second focal plane reticles. We also have versatile dot sights and solid offset mounts that pair perfectly with our scopes for complete optic solutions.

  • Arrowhead 1–6x SFP
  • Arrowhead 1–8x SFP
  • Arrowhead 1–10x SFP
  • Tomahawk 1–4x SFP (Legacy)
  • Tomahawk 1–6x SFP (Legacy)
  • Tomahawk 1–8x SFP (Legacy)
  • Warhorse 1–6x FFP

Shop Swampfox LPVOs

  • Kentucky Long 2–12x FFP
  • Kentucky Long 3–18x FFP
  • Warhawk 2–10x FFP
  • Warhawk 3–15x FFP

Shop Swampfox MPVOs

Offset Dot Sights
  • Liberty II
  • Justice II
  • Kraken

Shop Swampfox Dot Sights