Shooting doesn’t always happen in perfect lighting conditions, especially if you’re a big game hunter. To make an ethical shot on an animal when the sun is beginning to rise, or just about to set, takes a special kind of scope. After all, you can’t hit what you can’t see.
The best low light scope will provide bright, clear images, even when the sun begins to fade. However, knowing which scope to choose can be hard, especially when you’re shopping under the bright fluorescent lights of a showroom floor.
If you aren’t sure what to look for, we’ve got you covered. This article will explain what makes some scopes seem brighter in low light. We even share a list of our favorite low light models.
If you don't have time for the details, check out the list below for the best rated low light scope:
- 1Leupold Mark 5HD 5-25x56mm
- 2Vortex Optics Diamondback Tactical FFP 4-16x44mm
- 3Trijicon AccuPower 4.5X-30X-45mm
- 4Nightforce Optics NXS 5.5-22x56mm
- 5Nikon Buckmasters II 3-9x40mm
- 6Zeiss Conquest V6 5-30x50mm
- 7Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn 3-9x40mm
- 8EOTECH Vudu 1-6x24mm Riflescope
- 9Swarovski Z3 3-10x42 Riflescope
- 10TenPoint HCA-09811 RangeMaster Pro 1.5-5x30 Crossbow Scope
Table of Contents
- What Makes a Good Low Light Scope?
- Best Low Light Scope on the Market Reviews
- 1 Leupold Mark 5HD 5-25x56mm
- 2 Vortex Optics Diamondback Tactical FFP 4-16x44mm
- 3 Trijicon AccuPower 4.5X-30X-45mm
- 4 Nightforce Optics NXS 5.5-22x56mm
- 5 Nikon Buckmasters II 3-9x40mm
- 6 Zeiss Conquest V6 5-30x50mm
- 7 Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn 3-9x40mm
- 8 EOTECH Vudu 1-6x24mm Riflescope
- 9 Swarovski Z3 3-10x42 Riflescope
- 10 TenPoint HCA-09811 RangeMaster Pro 1.5-5x30 Crossbow Scope
- Final Thoughts
What Makes a Good Low Light Scope?
When it comes to low light performance, not all scopes are created equal. Here are a few key features that help some scopes seem brighter in murky light.
The job of the objective lens is to let light into the scope. It works in much the same way that a window lets light into a room. Generally speaking, a room with larger windows will be brighter than one with small windows. The same is true of a scope with a larger objective lens. In the world of riflescopes, the larger the objective lens, the brighter the images will be (usually).
However, the objective lens doesn’t do all that work alone. Other features come into play that help the objective lens do its job. A scope with a small 44mm objective may be brighter than one with a massive 55mm objective lens, especially if that smaller scope is made with premium glass and multiple anti-reflective coatings.
A massive objective lens can be a hindrance in the field. A riflescope with a large objective lens will be heavy and bulky, which can be a major hindrance when hunting thick woods or remote backcountry locations. The key to successful shooting is to choose a scope with an objective lens that is large enough to provide a bright sight picture, but not so large that it inhibits your ability to move in the woods.
Anti-reflection coatings work like magic when it comes to brightness. The right coatings can almost double the scope’s brightness, and unlike large objective lenses, lens coatings add zero weight or bulk to your optic.
These thin coatings are made from rare earth minerals and reduce reflection through wave phase cancellation. If that sounds complicated and “science-y” that’s because it is.
Here is a basic explanation of how anti-reflective coatings work for us non-sciency shooters.
When light hits glass, only about 96 percent of it passes through. The other 4 percent gets bounced around off the surface. While 4 percent may not sound like a whole lot, consider the fact that some scopes have 6 to 10 glass lenses. You lose at least 4 percent each time the light hits a piece of glass. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to realize you can lose a lot of light as it makes its way through those glass surfaces before it reaches your eye.
Each layer of anti-reflective coating can cut the amount of light that bounces off the glass by half. Multiple layers can reduce reflective light loss to less than 1/10th of a percent. For the best low light performance, you’ll want an optic with fully multi-coated lenses.
Higher magnification levels can make a scope appear brighter. When you look at a distant object through a scope, the magnified image will appear brighter than it does when you look at it with the naked eye. However, this isn’t the scope working magic. If you moved closer to an object in dim light, it would naturally appear brighter due to your physical proximity. The scope works the same way by taking you visually closer to the object rather than physically closer.
Best Low Light Scope on the Market Reviews
1 Leupold Mark 5HD 5-25x56mm
The Leupold Mark 5HD delivers some of the clearest, brightest images you’ll ever see through a scope. It features premium quality glass and a massive 56mm objective lens that both excel in low light shooting conditions. The housing of the Mark 5HD is also filled with a proprietary blend of inert gases which helps prevent fogging and reduces internal image distortion.
Featuring Leupold’s Twilight Max HD Light Management System, the Mark 5HD combines glass quality and patented anti-reflective coatings to reduce glare by up to 90 percent. This scope has stunning low light brightness and clarity, which can add valuable minutes of shooting time, particularly around dawn and dusk when deer are most active.
The Mark 5HD also has an illuminated FFP reticle. It stays true through the optic’s entire magnification range and remains clearly visible in every lighting condition.
2 Vortex Optics Diamondback Tactical FFP 4-16x44mm
This awesome riflescope from Vortex provides hunters and tactical shooters with a quality low light optic for under $500.
The Diamondback Tactical FFP features extra-low dispersion (ED) glass and fully multi-coated lenses. The result is maximized light transmission, crisp color fidelity, and razor sharp clarity, even in dim light.
Long range shooters will love the EBR-2C glass-etched reticle (in your choice of MOA or MRAD). This highly detailed reticle allows you to make easy and accurate windage and holdover corrections.
The Diamondback is built with a single piece 30mm tube and is o-ring sealed. This construction allows the scope to reliably withstand harsh recoil, making it a great option for hard-hitting calibers or your favorite muzzleloader.
3 Trijicon AccuPower 4.5X-30X-45mm
Like most Trijicon optics, the AccuPower riflescope is insanely durable. Constructed with a rugged, aircraft grade aluminum housing, this scope is built for harsh and demanding shooting environments.
The AccuPower features a high-quality lens system with full multilayer coatings and a generous 45mm objective lens. These features combine to provide a nice, clear sight picture, even at twilight.
Shooters will also love the electronic illuminated reticle that is perfect for low-light and no-light conditions. Powered by a single lithium battery, the AccuPower has an easy-to-use brightness adjustment dial that allows you to choose between eleven different brightness settings. It even has a convenient off setting between each brightness level for easier adjustment.
4 Nightforce Optics NXS 5.5-22x56mm
NightForce Optics defines low light shooting, and their NXS riflescope is one of the company’s top models. This one is built for extended long range shooting, and with the right shooting skills, ammo, and rifle, this scope is completely capable of reaching out beyond 2000 yards.
The NightForce NXS has impeccable glass quality and full multilayer coatings. It also has a substantial 56mm objective lens. These features combine to produce outstanding image clarity and sharp color contrast. The NXS has amazing brightness and performs like a rock star in low light.
The NXS features a full 100 MOA of elevation adjustment, an easy 50-yard parallax adjustment, and a helpful ZeroStop elevation feature.
5 Nikon Buckmasters II 3-9x40mm
You can probably tell by the name that this riflescope from Nikon was designed for serious deer hunting. Perfect for the budget conscious shooter, the Buckmasters II comes in at just under $200 and provides a ton of low light performance for the money.
The Nikon Buckmasters II features fully multi-coated lenses and a respectable 40mm objective lens. Nikon uses their own proprietary coatings to deliver 92 percent light transmission for an impressively bright image, even in dusky light.
Hunters will also appreciate the scope’s generous eye relief, positive-click turrets, and reliable fogproof performance. The scope also features Nikon’s exclusive BDC reticle designed with mil-dot, see-through circles. The open design of the BDC marks provide a full sight picture at short ranges while still allowing you to adjust for holdover on those longer shots.
6 Zeiss Conquest V6 5-30x50mm
Zeiss is famous for producing some of the best optical equipment in the world, and when you look through their Conquest V6 riflescope, it’s easy to understand why. This high end scope features cutting-edge fluoride lenses. All glass surfaces are covered with six layers of Zeiss’s patented T Star coatings. The result is 92 percent light transmission and superior bright, clear images, even in low light.
The Conquest V6 is made to endure serious weather conditions. It is built with both a hard outer shell and a hard core. It also has a high-quality seal to protect the interior of your scope from rain, snow, and ice.
The Zeiss Conquest V6 works well as a varmint scope, although it works just as well for target shooting and hog hunting.
7 Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn 3-9x40mm
The Bushnell Banner Dusk & Dawn riflescope was designed to add precious minutes of shooting time at the start and end of the hunting day. With DDB (Dusk & Dawn Brightness) multi-coated lenses, this scope provides impressive clarity and brightness at times when trophy game are more likely to be on the move.
All optics in the Bushnell Banner series feature fast-focus eyepieces and 1/4-MOA fingertip windage and elevation adjustments. Turrets provide audible clicks, allowing for the most precise adjustments possible.
Built for rugged use in the great outdoors, the Banner Dusk & Dawn scope is built with quality materials and is 100 percent fogproof and waterproof. Best of all, with a price tag well under $300, this scope provides low light performance that won’t break the bank.
8 EOTECH Vudu 1-6x24mm Riflescope
If you’re a fan of the popular AR-15 rifle, you’re probably familiar with EOTech’s high-quality holographic sights. However, if you want to maximize the low light shooting capabilities of your modern sporting rifle, but don’t want to rely on an NVD (night vision device), EOTech’s Vudu is the better tool for the job.
The Vudu variable power riflescope features crystal clear XC high-density glass. The glass is fully multi coated for glare reduction, incredible light transmission, and a surprisingly bright sight picture, even in low light.
The Vudu also features EOTech’s patented Speed Ring reticle, which is highly useful for both CQB and long range shooting. The reticle is illuminated for better visibility in near dark conditions.
Built to handle rough use and harsh environments, this 1-6x scope is as tough as your AR. Constructed from a single piece of aircraft-grade aluminum with a hard anodized exterior finish, the Vudu can handle bumps, thumps, and drops without batting an eyelash.
9 Swarovski Z3 3-10x42 Riflescope
Swarovski Optik is known for its incredible glass quality. The Z3 is one of their most affordable options, however, even this budget scope (priced well under $1000) has image quality that will completely knock your socks off.
The anti-reflective lens coatings on high-quality glass provide maximum light transfer (an impressive 90 percent) for clear images in low light. For daytime shooting, the scope has an internal microstructure surface which prevents residual reflections and provides better clarity in bright sunlight.
The Z3 features a lightweight, streamlined body design that makes it easy to maneuver in thick woods or the limited space of a ground blind or treestand. Hunters will also appreciate the scope’s generous field of view, ample eye relief, and simple Plex second focal plane (SFP) reticle.
10 TenPoint HCA-09811 RangeMaster Pro 1.5-5x30 Crossbow Scope
Rifles aren’t the only weapons used for low light shooting. If a crossbow is more your speed, this awesome scope from TenPoint makes the perfect hunting partner.
The TenPoint RangeMaster Pro crossbow scope features fully multi-coated lenses designed to maximize light transmission. This makes it a great option for crossbow hunting during the hours when whitetails are most likely to wander.
This high-quality optic has an etched-glass illuminated reticle for maximum visibility in any lighting condition. You can choose from five different brightness intensities and red or green illumination to suit your needs. The reticle is designed with three duplex crosshairs, four dots, and a triangle, all calibrated for arrow drop compensation.
If you need to make accurate shots in low light conditions, any of the optics on our list will help you achieve that goal. However, there is more on the line than accuracy when shooting in darker conditions. If you can’t see clearly, making that shot can be dangerous. You should never shoot what you can’t see. The best low light scope allows you to shoot responsibly (as well as accurately) when darkness falls.