Magnification should be the first feature you look at on any riflescope or optic. After all, the whole point of a scope is to enhance your sight by magnifying your surroundings. But understanding what magnification is and how to read the numbers can be confusing. If you don’t know where to start, this article will give you the facts you need to purchase a scope with confidence.


Let’s start by answering two big questions. What exactly is magnification, and what does it do? Magnification is a process and a measurement. It's the process of enlarging an object's apparent size, and in the context of a riflescope, it determines how many times closer a target appears compared to what your naked eye sees. So, if a scope has 3x magnification, it will make whatever you’re looking at appear three times larger and closer.

There are two types of magnification, variable and fixed. Fixed scopes come with a single magnification power that cannot be changed, so they don’t have much flexibility to help you shoot from a wide range of distances. They do, however, offer a sharper image and a lower price tag. You’ll typically see these scopes in a 2.5x, 4x, or 6x power. If you already know how far you’ll be shooting and you don’t need the flexibility of a variable scope, a fixed scope’s simple design could be just what you’re looking for.

Variable scopes, on the other hand, have a range of magnification powers, allowing you the flexibility to shoot from various distances in different situations. These scopes have magnification ranges like 3-9 or 4-12, and you can set their power anywhere within those ranges.

But zoom ratios determine how broad those ranges can be. For example, with a 3:1 zoom ratio, the top-end magnification can only be three times higher than the low-end magnification. That means any scope with a 3-9, 4-12, or 5-15 magnification range operates on a 3:1 zoom ratio.


Understanding what level of magnification to use in different situations is also incredibly important. Think about the distances you shoot at, the sizes of your targets, and whether they’re moving. These factors will help you determine how much power you’ll need.

Having the most powerful magnification is not always a good thing. The higher the magnification goes, the smaller the field of view becomes. The weight of the scope and its sensitivity to movement also go up with higher magnification. So, it’s best to get a scope with just enough power for your specific circumstances.

A scope built for 1,000 yards, for instance, would not be suitable for 100 yards because the scope’s field of view would be too small to find targets, especially if they’re moving.

For most people who hunt between 50 and 500 yards, a 3-15 magnification range will be more than enough. Whether you need a large field of view for hunting dangerous game, or powerful zoom when you’re making long-range shots, a variable scope like our 3-15 VX-5HD will give you the versatility you need to land more hits.

Precision rifle competitions and other long-range shooting situations require higher magnification. That’s because it can be difficult to accurately place your rounds when you’re shooting long ranges at small targets. A bump in magnification will help you out, although it’ll also intensify your movements. Shooting from a benchrest will alleviate some of that, so you can use more magnification without having your reticle sway. Our 5-25 Mark 5HD is the scope you want if long-range precision shooting is what you’re into.

By using this basic information, you’ll be able to purchase the best scope for you, knowing it’ll live up to your needs every time. Head over to our Understanding the Numbers article if you're interested in learning more about riflescopes and their numbers.

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