Airsoft Basics: What is a Scope?
What is a Scope?
The term "scope" is the commonly used term for an Optical Sight, which is an aiming device which uses lenses to either magnify the objective (i.e the thing you are aiming at) or project a reticle (crosshair) on the objective for faster and more precise aiming.
In broad terms, there are two types of scope; Magnified Optics and Reflex Optics. The scope you choose depends on your playstyle and role on the Airsoft battlefield.
Magnified optics provide a "zoom" function which is either fixed in power or variable, and a reflex optic generally does not have magnification, instead being designed for close range engagements and ultra-fast aiming.
The reticle of a magnified optic is generally the typical crosshair we see in movies and video games and often includes what are known as "stadia lines" which allow for quick compensation for windage, range and target movement on the fly.
Most reflex optics use a much more basic reticle, often a simple red or green dot. The well known "red dot sight" and "holographic sight" are both types of reflex optics, and these terms are generally used interchangeably in Airsoft as they usually rely on the same technology inside, and are different shapes to match the looks of real-world optical sights.
Magnified optics are generally named for their magnification level and their objective lens diameter. For example, a scope with a range of magnification from 3x to 9x and a 40mm objective lens would be known as a "3-9x40mm Scope".
Reflex sights follow the same naming format, but are almost always 1x magnification. An optical sight named "1x30 Red Dot Sight" is a red dot reflex sight with 1x magnification (i.e no magnification) and a 30mm objective lens diameter.
Types of Scope
Let's go into a little more depth and take a look at the differences between Reflex Optics and Magnified Optics.
Reflex optics are designed to promote fast target acquisition, and are by far the most popular kind of scope used in Airsoft skirmishing. This is partially due to their relatively compact size, simple and often integral mounting system as well as their ability to be used for any range of engagement an Airsoft gun can reach.
The reticle of a reflex optic can range from a simple red or green dot which is projected onto the lens over the target to a more complex ringed dot or crosshair which can obscure the shooters' view of the target at long range but is better suited to engaging moving targets or snap shooting at extremely close range.
The prolific "holographic sight" which appears in numerous TV shows and Video games uses a ringed dot reticle, and is well suited to engaging man-sized targets at very close range. These sights are based on the real-world Eotech holographic sight in looks, but most commonly use simple red dot sight technology.
The equally common and currently most fashionable red dot sight, the T1/T2 uses a simple dot which makes it easier to aim at longer-range targets at the cost of the reticle being slightly slower to acquire than a "holographic" style ringed dot reticle due to its smaller and more precise reticle.
Magnified optics are intended to provide the shooter with a better view of the target and its surroundings, and are most well suited to long-range engagements and target identification.
These scopes are also very popular in Airsoft, especially for outdoors skirmishes, and are a great choice for those with trouble seeing targets at long distances with the MK1 human eyeball.
The two types of magnified optic which are most prevalent amongst Airsofters are the fixed power rifle scopes such as the famous ACOG, and the variable rifle scope which is commonly seen on sniper rifles and DMRs.
Fixed power rifle scopes generally offer either 3.5x or 4x magnification, and are a lot smaller and lighter than a traditional variable rifle scope which makes them well suited to use on an assault rifle, where saving space and weight are a priority to keep the rifle manoeuvrable.
Variable power rifle scopes tend to find themselves mounted on DMR and Sniper rifles, though there is nothing stopping you from mounting one to an assault rifle, and many Airsofters do.
The advantage of a variable scope is that you can use the lower power settings for engaging targets and the high power settings to spot targets at far longer range than you can shoot them, allowing you to locate the enemy and position yourself for an ambush when they get within firing range, or pass their positions on to friendly players.
Obviously, these advantages don't come without a trade-off. Variable magnification scopes are often quite heavy and are very large when compared to a red dot sight or fixed power rifle scope, making them more suitable for less mobile playstyles, longer primary weapons and for use on outdoors skirmish sites with enough space to make the most of their long-range specialisation.
Mounting a Scope
Mounting a scope to your Airsoft rifle has thankfully never been easier thanks to the prevalence of the 20mm Picatinny rail.
Picatinny rails can be found on the vast majority of Airsoft rifles, but some older designs don't have one out of the box, so if you are buying a rifle with the intention to mount a scope make sure you get one with a 20mm Picatinny rail on the receiver.
The Picatinny rail attachment method consists of a rail with a hexagonal profile and "teeth" to allow for the mounting bolt present on scope mounts to attach firmly.
Most Reflex Optics and Fixed power rifle scopes come with a built-in 20mm Picatinny mount, or come with a 20mm Picatinny mount included in the box. These sights are easy to mount and usually come with everything you will need to get shooting.
Variable rifle scopes tend to include a pair of 20mm Picatinny scope rings in the box, but rarely have an integral mount as these scopes are often intended to also be used with Air Rifles which generally use the older 11mm Dovetail style rail.
If your variable rifle scope doesn't include scope rings you will need to get the correct scope rings for the "monotube" diameter of your scope. Scope monotube diameters usually range from 20mm to 1-inch/25mm up to 30mm at the top end for larger optics.
The monotube diameter is usually different to the objective lens diameter, so make sure you do your research. Here on PB, we will always quote the monotube diameter of our scopes in the "Specification" section of the product description.
When installing your scope rings it is important that you do not overtighten their screws as this can cause issues with the delicate optics inside the scope. The best method we have found is to first attach the rings without the upper segment to your rail, position your scope so you can see through it clearly, and then install the upper segment of the rings and the screws, tightening each of the screws in turn in increments of 90 degrees until all of the screws are hand tight.
Why use a Scope?
On the whole, scopes are much easier to use than the standard iron sights that come with most Airsoft guns, and many Airsofters see a scope of some kind as the first thing they want to buy to kit out their new gun.
Reflex scopes make aiming far faster by using only a single index point which needs to be aligned with the target instead of the usual procedure of aligning the front and rear sight together with the target, as you would when using iron sights.
You can make good use of a Reflex Optic in practically any environment, but they play to their greatest strengths at close range. That said, Reflex Optics are usually more than adequate to engage targets up to the maximum range of most Airsoft rifles.
Magnified scopes are generally favoured by Airsoft snipers, DMR users and those with a long range leaning, and are a great way to give a long rifle the potent look of a real world marksman's rifle. Users who struggle to see targets at longer ranges can also benefit from a magnified scope, and some even choose to use a red dot sight with a magnifier mounted behind it.
Magnified scopes are a strong choice for outdoors skirmishing, particularly on larger sites, but their weight, size and high magnification will probably hinder the user if they keep the same scope mounted for some up close and personal work at a CQB skirmish!
And of course, there are plenty of Airsofters who mount a scope they think looks cool, simply for that reason. Building a replica rifle that matches a real rifle used by professionals is a big draw for some skirmishers, and often the choice of optic comes down to what looks cool, and what is issued to a certain Military or Police unit.
Now you know a bit more about scopes, and hopefully, we have helped you decide the type of scope that suits you and your needs best.
If you want to do a bit more reading on scopes and learn some more specific details, check out our Optical Sights Buying Guide.
If you are ready to zoom in and take the shot, click the button below to see our range of scopes!