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Reticle Illumination | Optics Trade Debates

Welcome to Optics Trade debates. In each episode, we talk about a different topic and try to answer the most common questions we receive about it. Today, we are going to discuss reticle illumination.

In the past, all riflescopes were without reticle illumination. That was problematic; if the reticle wasn’t really thick it couldn’t be seen in low light situations. Scopes that had a really thick reticle were usable in low-light situations but were very unpractical in daylight because they covered too much of the target.

The solution to the problem was to illuminate a small part of the reticle with a really fine light.

The majority of all riflescopes used today have reticle illumination. But there are different types of reticle illumination.

On riflescopes that are meant for low-light use, the reticle illumination is really fine and the intensity is very low. If the illumination is too strong, only the reticle will be visible. This type is called twilight illumination.

On wide angle scopes, the reticle illumination has a different purpose. They feature a daytime bright dot inside the center of the reticle. While you’re doing the target acquisition, you immediately focus on the red dot because it’s that bright.

The illuminated dot on low-light riflescopes is really small and dim, while the dot on wide angle rifle scopes is really bright and big.

Twilight illuminated reticles are divided into two groups. The hunting illuminated reticles where only a small dot in the center is illuminated and first focal plane reticles that are entirely illuminated.

It’s an advantage for advanced tactical reticles to be illuminated so that it can be used to its full potential, but on the other side, it is also a disadvantage, because the bigger the illuminated surface is the harder it is to see something behind the reticle.

There are still some unilluminated scopes in use today, most of them are old hunting scopes and new lower-priced hunting scopes. Manufacturers that exclude the reticle illumination can make a cheap scope with good optical properties.

In the future, all riflescopes will have illuminated reticles, with the exception of target scopes.

Target scopes have no use for illumination, and the reticle needs to be as thin as possible. Illuminated reticles aren’t as thin as their nonilluminated counterparts.

The illumination is usually controlled with a side turret or with a knob or a switch on the eyepiece.

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Explanation of the term on our website:

Reticle illumination is the possibility to illuminate the rifle scope reticle with light. Some rifle scopes use reticle with illumination possibilities. There are two main types of reticle illumination on the market:

– illuminated point in the middle of the reticle,

– illumination option to light up the whole reticle.

For hunting, the reticle with central light point (dot) is more recommended. Riflescopes that use illumination of the whole reticle are more recommended for tactical and sports use. The power of illumination light can be either day strong or visible only in the lowest light situations (in dark). For the driven hunts, IPSC or tactical CQB daytime strong illumination is more usable. Illumination option only visible in low light conditions is better for hunting in low light conditions or even in the dark. Riflescopes that use as many different intensity levels as possible are better because they offer more possibilities to find a perfect view of the reticle in different lighting conditions.

The most advanced riflescopes use optical fibers built in the middle of the reticle as a light dot. In high-quality riflescopes, these illuminated dots are of the smallest size. For example, if the illumination is set to OFF, you don`t see this illuminated dot at all and when you turn the illumination ON, the light dot is visible. High-quality rifle scopes enable the user to fine-tune illumination intensity. This way the reticle is always illuminated just right in accordance with the ambient light condition. Very dim in low light and extremely bright in the daytime. Newer rifle scopes have built-in automatic turn off electronics that turns off illumination of the reticle when you don’t use your rifle scope for some time the illumination of reticle goes automatically to OFF. Such scopes have a built-in motion sensor to determine when the scope is not in use. This preserves battery life.

Reticle illumination option provides you a better accuracy at night and in low light situations. With non-illuminated reticles, you could have problems in low light situations, when you can see the target but not the reticle. The type of illumination for low light usage only is mostly meant for raised hide hunting.

Daytime bright illumination is the best option for driven hunting, IPSC, and tactical shooting.

reticle illumination

Source: Nikon

Products mentioned:
Riflescopes with illuminated reticle:



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