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Vortex SPARC

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I like Aimpoints.

They are always my first choice in a red dot sight (RDS).

Sometimes, however, I don't need a $600 RDS. A $50 one won't do it either. That was the gap most of the time. You had the Chinese throwaways at around $30, recently the Bushnell TRS25 at around $50-75, then a big jump up to an Aimpoint at around $400 and up. I don't mind spending $400-600 on an Aimpoint I might need to defend my family with, but it seems a bit much to throw on a .22 or a fun gun. Putting a really cheap one on a fun gun ends up being expensive if they need replaced.

What I think we needed was a RDS for the middle ground. One that worked, held zero, and lasted a long time, but didn't need to be waterproof to 10 meters or literally bombproof like Aimpoints. A decent $200 one.

I had been hearing about the Vortex SPARC for a couple of years. It is Chinese made, but carried and backed by a US company. They had been getting a heck of a reputation, as have some of their higher end tactical scopes like the 1-4X Razor. The SPARC is roughly the size of an Aimpoint Micro (T1/H1) but not a direct copy. It's right at 3" long.

It costs around $200, although I've seen them on sale for around $175-180.


When I got the AUG, I ordered one. I wasn't sure if the AUG would stick around. If it did, it would get an Aimpoint or Leupold Prismatic. In the meantime, I'd use the SPARC. Whether the AUG stayed or left, the SPARC could go on a .22 rifle I shoot a lot. It's strange looking back now that I wasn't sure about the AUG, but I wasn't, and I wanted to use a sight to give it a fair evaluation without spending a lot then not needing it if the rifle left.

It comes with a few extras, so it's a full box. It has a base with three spacers that can be swapped out to get the height wanted. The manual and ads say it has three height combinations, but there is actually four. The base has a hex cross screw- it's not a QD type- and hex wrenches are inclded for this and the base-to-sight screws. Any base that fits an Aimpoint Micro will fit the SPARC, so if the factory base isn't what you want, a QD or fixed base of your preference is easy to find. The box also has a spare battery, cleaning cloth, various length screws to match the base spacers, a 2X magnifier, and lens caps.

The bikini-style rubber lens caps are junk. Mine snapped before I got them on the sight. No big deal- I'm out 3 cents for the caps and a bike inner tube works better anyway.

This magnifier is a mix. I guess it's OK, but it doesn't seem very useful to me and that makes it seem like a bonus trinket. It works, and seems to be of pretty good quality, but I look at it and hear a TV voice saying "But wait! That's not all! Order now and get this deee-lux 2x magnifier ab-so-loot-lee free!". I used it once at the range, and I admit it's little 2X magnification helped some when testing ammo. It screws into the back, and has a fine focus ring.

But even though small, it nearly doubles the length. In my particular use, it interferes with a sling attach point I have there. I wouldn't think about leaving it in place, because it takes an eyes-wide-open RDS and turns it into a small-tubed 2X scope with a coarse reticle. It's just not something I'd use much.

Therefore, my biggest problem with the magnifier is storage. What do I do with the thing? It's not useful enough to keep handy, like in a swing-away mount. It's tempting to drop it in a pocket, but the lenses will surely get scratched up. Mine stays in the box, where it does no good.

It's OK, but truthfully, I'd rather they kept it and knocked a few dollars off.

Mounting is pretty straightforward. Pick the height, screw the base to the sight with LocTite (the screws have drops of blue threadlocker, but I use red, and more than a drop), and if the battery is not in, put it in.

The battery is perhaps it's biggest negative for most people. It uses one CR2354 battery. Got any of those? Didn't think so. It looks like a slightly thicker CR2032. Why they couldn't use a CR2032 like most things of this type, I don't know. The CR2354s are not impossible to find, but they sure aren't very common. I have found them in one store locally- a Batteries Plus- and they are available through Amazon and other places. All I've seen are Panasonic brand, but I don't know if they are the only manufacturer. The price is right around $5 per battery, which isn't terrible, but I wish they were a more common type.

If the battery lasted five years like an Aimpoint, maybe it wouldn't be too bad. Vortex claims a battery life at 3400-4600 hours (20 weeks or so if left on), depending on the setting. I've heard people say they do better, and heard they do worse. If using it for serious defense use, I'd like more, but that's OK for a fun gun.

They claim an Auto Shut-off feature that will power it off after six hours. I have not checked this. It could be good or bad depending on how it worked. Again, for serious use, I'd like to be able to leave it on and change the battery every year or two or five.

Note: If you buy one and it quits working or doesn't work at first- tighten the battery cover. Really tighten it. Not with a quarter in your fingers. I read that is the most common "failure". When prepping for return, the user is told this, tightens it, and it works. Sure enough, I tightened mine really tight by hand, then found I could get a full turn more by gripping the quarter with pliers and I didn't try that hard. I think it compresses a springy contact.

The switching system is slightly different from the norm.

Instead of using a knob, or two (increase/decrease) buttons, it uses a switch "pod" for lack of a better term, with four buttons. The one on the top/side is the power button. On the face of the pod is three more buttons. The top one increases dot intensity, the bottom one lowers the intensity, and the one of the left is a Night Vision setting.

This switch pod is my least favorite part of the sight. I don't think I like anything about it.

To turn it on, one needs to merely touch the power button. It's location is perfect to be bumped accidentally, and that is exactly what happens. Gun case sides, gun racks, safe sides, all turn that thing on when bumped. Turning it off requires one to press and hold the button for five seconds, which is good so it doesn't get turned off by accident when a carbine is slung for example, but it means these little bumps that turn it on won't turn it off. Another owner told me he thinks his has been "on" every time he's pulled the gun from it's case. I have found it "on" maybe 20% of the time I uncase it.

The NV button and up/down buttons are close, so it's easy to hit the NV button when going for either of the others. When the NV gets pushed, the dot is gone. It's still there, but too dim for the naked eye to see. I did this early on and fiddled around and even replaced the battery- then it hit me to check that button. I looked online, and it appears this is a rite of passage with the SPARC.

Even though I'm well aware of it now, if I hit that button while making an intensity adjustment, I'll lose the dot. Even if it's half a second, it still sucks to happen and I'd have been better off leaving it alone.

While I hate to cry about extras, I have to pose the question: Are there that many people who need and buy expensive night vision gear, then buy a budget RDS?

The up and down buttons themselves are OK I guess, but I don't care too much for scrolling through settings.

There are ten intensity settings.

I would prefer a knob instead of buttons. It puts everything in one control, so nothing can get mixed up. Grabbing and turning a knob is a gross movement that is very unlikely to happen in a gun case, especially if it has a detent at "off" or is a push-and-turn type. The SPARC returns to the last setting when switched on, but I can go right to where I want with a knob too. Combine it with the battery cover, and it adds little to no bulk.

Perhaps my biggest gripe about this switch pod is it's location. A RDS works by looking through/past it. Both eyes open. Raise weapon and look at target. The dot should be there, from the dominant side eye looking through the RDS and the other eye looking past it.

The SPARC has the switch pod on the left side- right in my line of vision. With it as far down the rail as I normally go, I see that switch pod in front of my left eye and it makes me want to close that eye. That kills off most of the RDS advantage.

I had to mount it closer to my face than usual to bring the switch pod more toward the edge my left eye's cone of vision. It works, but isn't where I'd like it.

I have seen several RDS that look a lot like the SPARC but with small changes. All I've seen use a different switch system and location.

The dot itself is pretty crisp and round... I guess. I'm not the best to judge this because my astigmatism makes all dots look odd. This one does look better than many, if not most. It is definitely a sharper looking dot to my eye than any sub-$100 RDS I've used.

The optics seem good. Really good, actually. Some RDS will tint everything enough to make what you see through them appear darker so it's distracting. The SPARC doesn't tint much, so isn't much darker than normal vision.

I know some people don't like the smaller RDSs because they "have a smaller field of view" but if that's what they are getting in use, then they are using them wrong. You don't close one eye and sight through the tube on a RDS, you look at your target and catch the dot through your own field of view. The field of view of any RDS is your eye's field of view.

It can be harder to pick up the dot in less than ideal positions using a small RDS. Some unconventional positions make it impossible to get a normal cheek weld, so your eye won't be behind the sight like usual. Obviously in these cases, a larger tube works better. If you can see through any part of it you can see the dot, and it's easier to see through part of a bigger sight.

The zeroing adjustments are 1 MOA clicks, which are probably precise enough, though I'd like 1/2 MOA. That may be asking a lot for the space on the tiny sight. It seems to hold zero. Like the Aimpoint Micros, the caps come off then get reversed to act as screwdrivers/knobs to turn the adjustment screws. The caps are secured to the sight by a cable. It gets a little cramped turning the windage cap around and making the adjustments, but it's a small sight, so things will be cramped.

There was a problem. A real problem, not just nuisance things like inconvenient switch layouts.

It quit working after about two weeks.

New battery (2X) no help. Tighten battery cover, no help. Cleaned contacts, no help.

With a lifetime warranty, it was going back.

Vortex USA, based in WI, has heck of a reputation for service. On the one hand, it's too bad they have any reputation for service, but if you have to have one, good is best. They have a fillable return form online. I filled it out, printed it off, boxed it up, stuck the form inside, and sent it off.

That was on a Tuesday. Regular mail. It came back the next Tuesday, fixed.

I think they actually fixed it instead of replacing it, but I'm not sure because I didn't think to record the serial number before sending it.

I'd rather it didn't have to go back, but if it had to, it couldn't have gone any better. It's a bargain RDS from a company most don't know exists, but when comparing that service with my Nikon failure/return earlier last year it's top notch.

I don't know if this was the cause, but that switch pod I complain about had a wiggle to it. The sight body is aluminum and this rubber pod is bonded to the side somehow, and it didn't feel like a solid bond to me. When returned, it was solid as a rock.

The return box had another spare battery. By gaining one of those goofy batteries, I guess it covered my shipping costs.

Since the repair/replacement in early October, it has been trouble-free. I have not had to replace the battery it came back with, even though I've found it "on" a few times. The rifle probably averaged two range trips a week between then and late December, plus more sporadic use since and the at-home playing around.

Other SPARC owners have said they wished the brightness settings had one or two selections lower. I would agree that I could often use one spot lower on the brightness scale to sharpen it up for careful shooting. It has a 2 MOA dot, which many prefer for it's finer aiming point over a 4 MOA or larger. While the brightness range is fine for it's intended quick shooting use, the addition of one more lower setting would take advantage of the 2 MOA dot and add to it's versatility.

It's not perfect, but I didn't expect it to be perfect for $200 or less. I'd like to see the switch changed in a few ways, and I'd just as soon the 2X magnifier and NV selection were deleted for a lower price. The choice of battery used is odd, but they are out there. But it is nice and compact, gives a nice sharp dot in clear optics, holds adjustments, and the mount spacers give a variety of height options.

It works, and it's under $200. I still wouldn't choose one for any serious life and death use, but have no problem using one on a fun gun or match gun.

I'll replace it on the AUG with an Aimpoint PRO or Leupold Prismatic, but I DO have a need for it so am glad I got it.

An Aimpoint PRO can be found for $400 with mount, and the more size-equal Aimpoint T1/H1 runs $550-600. Bushnell TRS25s are $50-75, and Tascos as low as $29.

I think you get exactly what you pay for with each. It just depends on what you need.

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I talked to a Vortex rep at the NRA Convention this weekend, and I'm glad to say two of my biggest complaints have been addressed on the SPARC II.

1-They have changed the switch so the on/off button is not sticking out where it can be so easily turned on by accident.

2-They have gone to a more standard CR2032 battery.

They've also added lens caps.

I think the 2x magnifier is gone. I'd use the caps more than the magnifier.

MSRP remains the same. Real world price????

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