Lets be honest, the term "Poor Man's ACOG" gets thrown around WAY too much in the firearms industry. It still confounds me that an old military optic is still the golden measuring stick to which all fixed low power modern optics are measured against today. I blame video games like Call of Duty and others for introducing a whole generation to not only firearms, but optics as well. I don't mean that in a terribly bad way, as I can be lumped in with that bunch as well. The biggest hurdle preventing most rifle owners from purchasing one of America's most iconic battle rifle optics is its tremendous price tag. AR-15 owners often want a 3 or 4 power fixed optic with some sort of etched ballistic compensating reticle, without dropping a grand or more.
No one worth their salt in the industry will call the ACOG overpriced, but the stiff cost has given rise to many imitators and knock-offs over the years, that for lack of a better word... suck. If you just want to cosplay or throw together an airsoft rifle that looks like the real deal with a Chinese facsimile, go ahead. For those who are seeking a range/self defense worthy optic in the same category as the ACOG but at a much more affordable price, there are a few options available today that will definitely fit the bill.
Of course being a huge Vortex fan, I had to give the Spitfire a go. If you haven't already read my other reviews of Vortex optics (here and here) then let me reiterate that Vortex is kicking ass in "best bang for your buck" category. Their glass is on par with many of the top tier competitors, and their no B.S. VIP warranty means if you break it, you are not screwed. You basically get many of the features of more expensive scopes but at a more enticing price point. Thats more cash for ammo, training, or guns for that matter!
Vortex's prism-based Spitfire line share a lot in common with ACOG scopes like the TA33, but at less than 50% the street price. Starting with the magnification and reticle, the Spitfire comes into two flavors: a 1x with a halo/dot reticle, and a 3x with a "EBR-556B" reticle with hold overs to cover 0-500 yards. The EBR-556B shares similarities with most ACOG reticles, giving a minimalist bullet drop compensation system while leaving a lot of uncluttered space in the remainder of the shooter's view. In my testing on an 16 in. AR-15 precision build as well as a TAR-21 Tavor Bullpup, the subtensions were consistent and very usable.
The feature of the Spitfire I found most favorable was the reticle that remains usable with or without illumination. Red dots are great, but ultimately depend on a battery to provide a point of aim. Hence the emphasis on cowitnessing back up iron sights as a failsafe against such an inevitable failure. With the Spitfire Prism optics however, you always have that black reticle on the glass. The red/green illumination is great in low light or no light scenarios, and the 5 brightness settings help with tuning that glowing reticle to your specific needs. But when that little 2032 battery expires, the ever present reticle will ensure you can keep shooting.
Speaking of illumination, that brings me to my next big point. Does the Spitfire have dual illumination like the ACOG? My short answer is no, it doesn't... and if thats something you want/need, shut up and fork out the $1,000 - $1,400 for an optic like the Trijicon ACOG or AccuPoint. Its as simple as that. If you want the same gear the big boys use in the military, buy the same gear. If you are a civilian owner of the AR-15, SCAR, a bullpup or other modular sporting rifle in 5.56x54mm who wants a fantastic 3x prism optic for the range as well as self defense and home/property defense, keep reading friend, we're in the same boat.
I'll admit, the dual illumination feature (using internal tritium vials or a light gathering fiber optic rod as a backup to battery power) is an attractive and distinctive feature of the ACOG that is great for our armed forces who perform many low light and night operations with their rifles. As a part of the average AR-15 owning civilian populous, I am satisfied with the trade-off that is spending under $500 and just carrying extra 2032 batteries as part of my essential gear.
The windage and elevation adjustment is pretty standard, with coin-slotted turrets with marked increments for tracking your rotations. What really shines, is the decent tension to the adjustment rotation and the actual "click" you can feel and hear. Tack on the tethered, knurled caps with integrated ledges incase you have no tools or lose change... and thats about everything you could ask for in the adjustment controls department.
The Spitfire uses a base clamp with two cross bolts for mounting to picatinny rail. There is a mount riser between the base and the optic that contributes to the 40.4mm height off the rail. If you needed a shorter height, just unscrew the two mount screws, remove the mount riser, and install the shorter mount screws included in the box. This should give you 30mm height over the rail. I guess this would be handy if mounting to a non-AR-15 rifle with a different rail to comb height ratio... like a tavor with a taller aftermarket rail, an AK with a railed dust cover, etc. OR I had a bright idea: since the base clamp isn't quick detaching at all, you might use a scope riser like a Kinetic Development universal SIDELOK scope riser and convert your Spitfire to a QD mount, hoping the end result isn't too tall for your purpose. OR just buy a QD mount from American Defense MFG.
The factory height is about what is needed to cowitness with back up iron sights... but theres no way you can focus on the front sight through the prism lens. It just doesn't work that way. However, if you find you need a secondary way of aiming without magnification, the Spitfire has two offset rails on the top, one on each side. This way you could run a micro red dot like the Vortex Viper, Venom or other optics in that category. Then all you'd have to do is cant the rifle and lift your eye level to meet the auxiliary red dot optic.
Needless to say, the Spitfire is waterproof, fogproof, and shockproof (what Vortex product isn't?). The tube is sealed with an O-ring to prevent moisture, dust and debris from getting in, while keeping the nitrogen gas purging on the inside. These features make an optic suitable for actual use out in the elements, and I honestly don't buy any optics without them.
Did I mention the included scope caps? Well, I hate them. After awhile these style of caps get worn or stretched out, and the lens caps don't want to stay retained in the close position. I typically leave them in the box, and instead use a bikini style cover when in transport or storage.
Overall, the Spitfire 3x is an optic worthy of being mounted on your home defense / range AR-15. Its got all the features I would expect from a $300-400 prism scope, and the VIP warranty from Vortex really can't be beat. I mean, you could beat the optic to hell, but the manufacturer will just fix or replace it for you any how. My Spitfire pretty much rotates between my AR-15s and the IWI SAR-21 Tavor, and I've enjoyed the results on whatever it gets mounted on.
FIREARMS INSIDER REVIEWS – 8 KEY POINTS
Claim to Fame: Designed specifically for the AR platform, the 3x Spitfire™ combines an impressive array of high-performance features into a rugged, ultra-compact package.
Target Market: AR-15 (and other modular sporting rifles) owners
FNBs (Features & Benefits of this product):
Includes 2 picatinny offset rails
Includes 2 Flip Caps
T-15 Torx Wrench and 2mm Hex wrench included
Red/Greem Illumination with 5 levels of brightness intensity for each color
CR2032 battery life is 250 hours at max brightness and 3,000 hours at min. brightness
Multi-Coated with anti-reflective coatings to increase light transmission
Waterproof, Fogproof, Shockproof
Hard Anodized Finish
Operating Temperature -22 degrees to +122 degrees Fahrenheit.
Variable Mount Heights for lower 1/3 or absolute cowitness height (BUT WHY?)
Eye Relief is 2.8 inches
Field of View is 31.5 feet/100 yards
Adjustment Graduation of 1/2 MOA
120 MOA Max Elevation Adjustment
120 MOA Max Windage Adjustment
Parallax Setting preset to 100 yards
Length is 5.5 inches
Weight is 15.4*
What other aesthetic options or finishes are available?: Black Only. 1X Prism available
What others are saying?: "This is a really good optic. In fact, it is pretty much perfect. I like Red Dots because they are fast and allow a gun to be used when its dark out. The vortex has all the benefits of a red dot and all the benefits of a small fixed power scope. Most red dots, aren't magnified which means that if your vision isn't perfect it can be hard to hit small targets or targets that are farther away. Since I am a civilian and spend most of my shooting time on the range (not clearing houses in Afghanistan), I'll trade the little extra speed that comes with having a zero magnification red dot in exchange for being able to shoot more accurately. Because this is a low power scope you can see objects clearly at across the room distances (less than 10 feet isn't the greatest) and very clearly from 10 feet out to a few hundred yards. Of course you could buy a flip up magnifier for an eotech or aimpoint, but they cost twice as much, take up your entire rail, unbalance your rifle and are generally just bulky. Besides 3x seems to work fine at close range and distance so there is no need to switch back and forth.
As a red dot and a magnified scope the vortex is a perfect compromise. However, this setup isn't perfect if you want your back up iron sights to co-witness. First, the magnification is sufficiently high to mostly obscure the front sight to the point where it is barely visible, and 2nd, the eye relief on this scope isn't infinite, your eye must be no more than 2 inches or so away for the site to work properly... Because I'm pretty big, I had to remove the flip ups so that the scope could sit further back and be used more naturally. However, because of the etched reticle, having no backup irons is not at all problematic they way it would be on most red dots because if your battery dies or the lights stop working you can continue using your optic just as you would a normal scope... it doesn't disappear into oblivion.
I considered buying an ACOG, but simply couldn't justify the price. Furthermore, in many ways the vortex is actually better. The light is brighter because it uses batteries and there is no tritium that slowly dims until it dies out entirely in ten years or so requiring a costly replacement. Besides, you can buy 10 years worth of batteries for no more than 10 bucks. After all, the batteries are available everywhere and I stock them for a whole host of other equipment.
I also love the fact that I didn't have to mount the scope on a base... which is much more of a pain than most people realize. Another extremely positive feature of this scope is the picatinny rails. My AR is a basic model (no fancy hand guards)... So this scope provides a place for me to put a flashlight (just by attaching scope rings to it) and a laser (if needed) without crazy Frankenstein mounts. Finally with the life time warranty you really just can't go wrong. 1/4th the price of an ACOG with equal functionality." Amazon User Review
- Bright light transmission
- Rock solid mount
- Ambidextrous pic rail for offset micro red dot mounting
- Lower Third and Absolute cowitness compatible (again, WHY?)
- Lens caps
- No QD mount available
- Reticle can be small/thin for older eyes
- No custom reticle systems for non 5.56/223 calibers (Why not 300blk, 7.62x39, 6.5, 458 Socom)
- Lens caps suck, will wear and loose retention over time with use
Score: 8.0 Great