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The Difference Between A Traditional And Illuminated Rifle Scope

Riflescopes are important for shooters and hunters because they help to enhance accuracy and target acquisition. When choosing a riflescope, one key decision is whether to opt for a traditional scope or an illuminated riflescope. Traditional scopes are the classic choice, while illuminated riflescopes offer added features with illuminated reticles for enhanced visibility in low light conditions. 

The Difference Between A Traditional And Illuminated Rifle Scope

This article will explore the differences between traditional and illuminated scopes, including their components, features, performance, and considerations for choosing the right one based on individual preferences. Understanding the distinctions between these two types of scopes can help shooters make an informed decision when selecting a scope.

When it comes to reticle illumination in shooting sights, we have different types. We can simply classify all scopes into two; traditional scope and red dot sight. A traditional scope may come with an illuminated or non illuminated reticle option. A Red dot sight is usually illuminated. The most common red dots are reflex sight, holographic sight, and prism scope. A reflex sight can be an open or closed tube. A holographic sight is usually great for people with astigmatism. And a prism scope is made with prisms instead of lenses.

Let’s get back to our discussion on the traditional and illuminated scope!

Traditional Rifle Scope

The traditional scope is a telescopic sight and the conventional choice for many shooters and hunters. They typically consist of a tube-like structure with a series of lenses and optical components that magnify the target image and provide aiming points or reticles for precise shot placement. They also have an adjustable magnification setting that allows users to zoom in or out to achieve the desired level of target magnification.

Traditional scopes are often designed to be rugged and durable, capable of withstanding various weather conditions and recoil from the firearm. They may also offer different coating options on lenses to reduce glare, improve light transmission, and provide a clearer image.

Basic Components of Traditional Rifle Scopes

Main Tube

The main tube is the cylindrical body of the scope that houses the lenses and optical system. It is typically made of aluminum or other durable materials and serves as the foundation for the other components of the rifle scope.


Traditional rifle scopes have multiple lenses that work together to gather light, focus the image, and magnify the target. The lenses may include an objective lens at the front of the scope that gathers light into the optic, an ocular lens at the rear for viewing the targets, and additional lenses in between to transmit and manipulate the light.


The reticle, also known as the crosshairs or the aiming point, is an important component of a traditional scope. These reticles help shooters aim at their targets accurately by providing reference points for holdovers, windage, and elevation adjustments.

Etched or Wire-Based Reticles

Traditional scopes have reticles that are etched or made of wire. These reticles provide reference points for aiming at the target. The reticles may be located in the first or second focal plane of the scope, affecting their size and visibility.

Reticle Options

Traditional scopes offer various reticle options, allowing shooters to choose a reticle that best fits their shooting style and application. For example, duplex reticles are simple and popular for general shooting, mildot reticles provide additional range estimation and windage holdover options, and BDC reticles are designed for specific bullet trajectories and distances.

Reticle Illumination (Optional)

Some traditional scopes may also come with optional reticle illumination, which provides a glowing or illuminated effect on the reticle for enhanced visibility in low-light conditions. However, the illumination may be limited to specific reticle styles or may require a separate power source.

Windage and Elevation Turrets

Traditional scopes often have windage and elevation turrets, which are knobs or dials that allow users to make precise adjustments to the point of impact of the bullet. These turrets are typically located on the top and sides of the scope. The adjustments are usually made in minutes of angle (MOA) or milliradians (MRAD) and may require the use of tools like screwdrivers or coins for fine-tuning.

The click-value of windage and elevation turrets on traditional scopes determines the amount of adjustment per click. It can vary among different models and may impact the ease and precision of adjustments. Common click-values are 1/4 MOA or 1/10 MRAD, but other options may be available.

Parallax Adjustment

Some scopes may also have a parallax adjustment feature, which helps to eliminate parallax error, a phenomenon that causes the reticle to shift when the eye is not perfectly aligned with the optical axis. Parallax adjustment is typically located on the side or objective bell of the scope and allows for more precise shot placement.


The eyepiece is the part of the scope that the user looks through to view the target. It may have an adjustable diopter setting to focus the reticle for individual eyesight.

Features of Traditional Scopes


These scopes offer adjustable magnification settings, allowing users to zoom in or out to achieve the desired level of target magnification. Magnification options vary depending on the model and can range from 2x to 20x or even higher, providing versatility for different shooting distances and environments.

Field of View (FOV)

The field of view refers to the width of the observable area when looking through the scope. Traditional riflescopes may have a narrower field of view compared to illuminated scopes, which could impact situational awareness and target tracking.


Lenses in traditional scopes may be coated with anti-glare, anti-reflective, or other specialized coatings to reduce glare, improve light transmission, and provide a clearer image. These coatings can vary in quality and may affect the overall performance of the scope.


These scopes are designed to be rugged and durable, capable of withstanding various weather conditions and recoil from the firearm. They are typically built to last and can withstand harsh environments, making them reliable choices for outdoor shooting activities.

Pros of traditional scopes

Versatile Magnification

Traditional scopes offer adjustable magnification settings, allowing shooters to adapt to different shooting distances and environments. This versatility makes them suitable for a wide range of shooting applications, from close range to long range shooting.

Multiple Reticle Options

Traditional scopes come with a wide variety of reticle options, allowing shooters to choose a reticle that best fits their shooting style and application. This customization can enhance accuracy and shot placement.


Traditional scopes have been used for decades and are familiar to many shooters. Users who are accustomed to traditional scopes may find them easy to use and navigate, as they are widely available and have a standardized design across different models.

Cons of traditional scopes

Limited Low-Light Performance

Traditional scopes can come without illumination and may have limited visibility in low-light conditions, as the reticle may not be easily distinguishable against a dark background. This can make aiming and target acquisition challenging in dimly lit environments.

Parallax Error

These scopes may also have parallax error, which can cause the reticle to shift when the eye is not perfectly aligned with the optical axis. This can impact shot placement and accuracy, especially at longer distances.

Limited Long Range Features

While traditional scopes are suitable for most shooting distances, they may lack advanced features such as built-in range finders, ballistic compensators, or automated adjustments, which are commonly found in illuminated scopes.

Illuminated scopes

Basic Components of Illuminated Scopes

Just like traditional scopes, illuminated scopes are made up of components like tubes, lenses, adjustment mechanisms, and different reticles. In addition, they have an illumination system. This system consists of a light source, usually powered by batteries, and a mechanism to control the intensity and color of the illumination.


Illuminated Reticle

Illuminated scopes feature a reticle that is illuminated with a light source, typically powered by batteries or other power sources. This illumination can enhance target acquisition and aiming in low-light conditions, making illuminated scopes ideal for dawn, dusk, or nighttime shooting.

Different Reticle Styles

Illuminated scopes also come with various reticle styles, including duplex, mildot, BDC, and other specialized reticles, similar to traditional scopes. However, the illuminated reticles can provide improved visibility and aiming accuracy, especially in low-light conditions.

Variable Illumination Intensity

Illuminated scopes often offers adjustable illumination intensity settings, allowing the shooter to adjust the brightness of the reticle to match the ambient lighting conditions. This can range from dim to bright illumination levels, depending on the model. This customization can provide optimal reticle visibility in various lighting environments. Some scopes have up to 12 brightness settings or more. 

Illumination Color Options

Some illuminated scopes may offer multiple illumination color options, such as red, green, or blue, to suit the shooter’s preference or shooting situation.

Dual Illumination

Some illuminated scopes may also offer dual illumination options, where the reticle can be illuminated both by battery-powered light source and by ambient light, such as natural sunlight. This can provide versatility and extended battery life.

On/Off Switch

Illuminated scopes have an on/off switch to control the illumination. This switch allows the shooter to activate or deactivate the illumination feature as needed, conserving battery life and adjusting to changing lighting conditions.

Automatic Shutoff

Some illuminated riflescopes may also have an automatic shutoff feature that turns off the illumination after a certain period of inactivity, helping to conserve battery power and prevent unintentional illumination during storage or transport.

Magnification Range

Illuminated optics may offer different magnification ranges, ranging from low to high power, to adapt to different shooting distances and scenarios.

Additional Features

Some illuminated sights may come with additional features, such as built-in range finders, ballistic compensators, or automated adjustments, providing advanced tools for precise aiming and shot placement. These features can enhance accuracy and convenience, especially for long range shooting.

Advantages of Illuminated Sights

Enhanced Low-Light Performance

The illumination feature of riflescopes can greatly improve target acquisition and aiming accuracy in low-light conditions, making illuminated scopes ideal for hunting or shooting in low-light environments.

Better Reticle Visibility

The illuminated reticle can be easily distinguished against dark backgrounds, providing better visibility and aiming precision, even in challenging conditions.

Customizable Illumination

The adjustable illumination settings allow shooters to change the reticle’s brightness to their preference or the ambient lighting conditions, providing optimal visibility for their shooting needs.

Disadvantages of Illuminated Sights

Battery Dependence

Illuminated scopes require a power source, usually batteries, to operate the illumination feature. This can be a disadvantage as the battery may need to be replaced or recharged regularly, and illumination may not be available if the battery runs out.

Higher Cost

Illuminated optics tend to be more expensive compared to traditional riflescopes due to the added illumination feature and other advanced features that may be included.

Durability Concerns

The additional electronic components in illuminated scopes may raise concerns about durability and reliability, as they can be susceptible to damage from rough handling, moisture, or extreme environmental conditions.

Key Differences between Traditional and Illuminated Rifle Scopes

Reticle Visibility

One of the main differences between traditional and illuminated scopes is the reticle visibility. Traditional scopes rely on ambient light for reticle visibility, while illuminated sights have an additional illumination feature that enhances reticle visibility, especially in low light conditions.

Customization Options

Illuminated optics offer more customization options compared to traditional scopes. With variable illumination intensity settings and color options, shooters can adjust the brightness and appearance of the reticle to their liking or shooting situation, providing increased flexibility and adaptability.

Battery Dependency

Illuminated scopes require batteries to power the illumination feature, while traditional sights do not. This means that illuminated sights may need frequent battery replacements and can lose reticle visibility if the batteries are drained or not available, whereas traditional scopes do not have this dependency.


Illuminated scopes tend to be more expensive due to the additional components and features required for the illumination system. Traditional riflescopes are generally more affordable, making them a cost-effective option for shooters on a budget.


Illuminated scopes may require additional maintenance, such as battery replacements, to ensure continuous functionality, whereas traditional scopes do not have this requirement. This can add to the overall effort of maintaining an illuminated scope.

Shooting Conditions

Illuminated rifle scopes are particularly advantageous in low-light shooting conditions, where reticle visibility may be challenging with traditional scopes. 

It’s important to consider these key differences between traditional and illuminated scopes when making a decision on which type of riflescope to choose based on your shooting needs, preferences, and budget. Properly evaluating these differences can help you make an informed decision and select the right scope for your shooting.

Comparison Table:

Traditional Rifle Scope Illuminated Rifle Scope
Design Non-electronic Incorporates electronics
Reticles Various options Illuminated reticle
Low-light Performance Limited Excellent
Brightness Adjustment Not applicable Adjustable
Battery Requirement Not required Requires batteries
Cost More affordable More expensive
Versatility Limited in low-light Excellent for low-light
Target Acquisition May be more challenging Enhanced visibility
Comparison table highlighting the key differences between a traditional rifle scope and an illuminated rifle scope

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