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Posted: 9/17/2009 10:34:28 PM EDT
"Oh no, I spent all my money on the rifle and don't have any money left over for an Aimpoint or EOTech!"

This has probably happened once or twice to members here.

Alternately, you might simply decide that your intended use doesn't call for the durability and/or additional features of a more expensive optic.

You might want to recreate your duty rifle with a dedicated .22 upper, but don't feel like spending another $400-500 to do so.

There are many reasons why one might look at cheaper optics. I might come across as a snooty ass sometimes, but that's because I feel that everyone is better off if they buy the best possible equipment from the start. However, I understand budget issues, so...I decided to do a comparison of two of the most popular budget red dots, the Vortex Strikefire and the Primary Arms M3 Clone.

I purchased both. In the interests of openness, I was previously provided with a Bobro Aimpoint mount by Primary Arms for T&E purposes. However, as I said, neither optic used in this comparison was provided for free or at a discount, nor was either manufacturer notified of the test beforehand. As always, I do my best to provide an honest opinion. Neither optic was used with their respective provided mounts, partially because I wanted to compare the optics only and partially because if there was an issue with the mount, it would take time and ammunition to determine that. I decided that it was better to do a thorough comparison of the optics themselves vs. chase down possible mount problems. As time permits, I'll switch them back to their original mounts.

I won't bother going into detail with features, because you could simply visit each manufacturer's website for such things. Both optics have 30mm tubes and are compatible with every aftermarket optic mount that I tried them with (Bobro, LaRue, ADM).

However, I will describe them briefly:

1. Primary Arms M3 Clone

This model has only one reticle, a 4MOA red dot. It is patterned after the Aimpoint M3, but has internal and external differences, obviously. Most notably, battery life is much shorter and the brightness switch continuously rotates. The price is approximately $70, though a high mount for AR cowitness is an extra $10.

I have been using this optic for several weeks now on both .22 and centerfire ARs. I mounted it in the aforementioned Bobro 180 mount. I have not experienced any loss of zero since my testing began.

The only real complaints I have are that if you have the brightness way too high, you'll see a reflection at around 1:30...also the switch shouldn't, in my opinion, continuously rotate. That reflection isn't visible outdoors, and is only visible when you've got the dot too bright anyway. So, it doesn't affect performance.

Here it is mounted on the rifle I used for testing purposes today, which is a Spikes Tactical CHF upper with a Daniel Defense 12.0 M4 rail on a no-name lower with TangoDown and Vltor furniture. Yes, there is no front sight. I've got one around here somewhere...



2. Vortex Strikefire

This model offers two reticles, a red and a green dot. The power switch is on the left side of the optic, and brightness is controlled on the rear. It is night vision compatible. To cycle modes, you simply hit the power button.

I have only been using this optic for several days, but have about 8 range hours with it since starting the test. I mounted it in an Aimpoint QRP mount. I figured that if I had zero shift I would move it to another optic mount. I didn't have any problems with that, so it's still in the Aimpoint mount.

It is provided with a 2x magnifier, which I found that I did not prefer due to the limited FOV. It's a nice benefit, but I think it'd be better as an option. As a pocket spotting scope, it's pretty handy, though not super compact.

Here it is on the rifle.



And here they are side by side - Vortex right, PA clone left.



Now, the actual test...

The M3 clone isn't as bright than a real Aimpoint, but it's usable in bright sunlight. It's not ideal, but it's fine for a training rifle.

The Vortex Strikefire is significantly dimmer than the M3 clone and is not what I would consider usable in bright sunlight.

The green dot is a little better, but still hard to pick up.

I spent about 4 hours at the range and fired around 900 rounds today, mostly 22. I practiced shooting from behind cover, strong side/weak side transitions, shooting on the move, etc alongside two other shooters who are local LEOs. They both agreed that while neither was optimal in the sunlight, the M3 clone was much more usable.

The shortcomings of the Vortex in sunlight became even more apparent. I didn't need a timer to know that I was having problems with picking up that dot, no matter what color it was. Also, an unlucky bump while shooting from behind cover shut the optic off. I would prefer to have the green dot switch on first, because it is more usable, and if the optic's power switch was bumped, you'd simply switch to red instead of having nothing. It's easy to turn the optic back on if you have a free hand, but it isn't something you really want to do unless you have to.

Horrible pic, but here's a shot with both dots visible. I'll get something better tomorrow, including a comparison of the green and red dots - didn't have my SLR at the range. The M3 clone's dot is high and to the right, the Vortex's red dot is low and left.



Final Thoughts

At this point, the clear choice for me is the PA M3 clone. It's brighter and cheaper. If you're going with a budget optic, this is a good thing. You'll have more money later on for a "real" Aimpoint, if you so desire. Also, with the money you save, you might be able to find a used ADM or LT mount on the EE.

If I wasn't in such a sunny climate, I might give a few more points to the Vortex Strikefire. If the brightness and switch issues were addressed, this would be a killer optic for the money.

Neither optic is perfect, but luckily both companies are very responsive to customer needs and desires. I think I've outlined my thoughts on improvements for both.

Now, that said, I would not use either optic on a duty rifle or for combat operations. I highly recommend that you spend the $400 or so for a genuine combat ready optic if you are going in harm's way, and I think both manufacturers would say the same thing. However, if you determine that one of these two optics fits your needs and budget, you probably won't be disappointed with either one.
Link Posted: 9/18/2009 5:59:26 AM EDT
Good review. I totally expected the results to be the opposite. This was an eye opener for sure.
Link Posted: 9/18/2009 7:56:55 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 9/18/2009 8:43:55 PM EDT by Daisycutter123]
As you see I am in FL and had the same results as you did. The vortex was not bright enough for sunny day use and the FOV on the magnifier is narrow. Too many buttons/options on it in case my wife had to pick it up and use it, liked the simplicity of the PA. I thought the Vortex was made as well as the PA and it comes w/ a lifetime warrenty but the brightness was a deal breaker for me. The 2 reticles, brightness button and NV button slowed my wife down too much on getting on target from scratch, it was not a problem for me at all but I try to keep everything wife friendly because under stress it's going to be 10x. Some people will like the options and if you don't live in a bright, sunny climate the Vortex will be fine. Thanks for the review 87.
Link Posted: 9/18/2009 10:00:02 AM EDT
87GN,
i always love reading your posts of your own personal reviews of products. i actually bought the primary arms while i was home on leave. when i first saw your topic here, i thought, oh crap, he is gonna find something wrong and im gonna regret having bought it, (i have had only had it at the range one day) but after reading this, i feel very confident in my purchase. thank you for doin this little review. very informative for those of us on a tighter budget.

i look forward to more reviews. maybe an MI handguard related one?
Link Posted: 9/18/2009 2:18:59 PM EDT
Link Posted: 9/18/2009 4:44:39 PM EDT
Good review. I started out with a strikefire on my .22 upper, but switched it to my .223 upper for a carbine class. I liked it so much I decided to keep it there. I just bought a primary arms m3 to go on the .22 upper. I'm very impressed with it for the money. If I could have checked out both in person I would have gone with the primary arms to begin with. I'm still very happy with the vortex strikefire though. Its bright enough for summer day in Ohio. It made it through a rainy two day class. Its earned my trust for now, but I can't wait to try out the m3 clone. Out of curiosity, did you replace the battery in the vortex sight? I changed the factory battery and it seemed to be a little brighter.
Link Posted: 9/18/2009 4:45:30 PM EDT
Thanks for the write up
I have been looking at these two sights and flip flopping on them.
As a single dad with a son just starting high school, this write made up my mind for me I just ordered the PA with highrise mount to hold me over until my next build, that will not be a "budget AR" even though my first from PK firearms has been flawless for 400+ rounds

will give a update when it gets here

Link Posted: 9/18/2009 6:00:11 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 9/18/2009 6:01:42 PM EDT by 87GN]
Originally Posted By skatz11:
Good review. I started out with a strikefire on my .22 upper, but switched it to my .223 upper for a carbine class. I liked it so much I decided to keep it there. I just bought a primary arms m3 to go on the .22 upper. I'm very impressed with it for the money. If I could have checked out both in person I would have gone with the primary arms to begin with. I'm still very happy with the vortex strikefire though. Its bright enough for summer day in Ohio. It made it through a rainy two day class. Its earned my trust for now, but I can't wait to try out the m3 clone. Out of curiosity, did you replace the battery in the vortex sight? I changed the factory battery and it seemed to be a little brighter.


I didn't mention that, but I did replace the battery - wanted to cover all the bases...

Thanks all for the compliments - I will have the promised photos soon - between my masters' program and SCUBA classes I am pretty busy.
Link Posted: 9/18/2009 6:51:09 PM EDT
Thanks for the write up. Makes me a little more confident about the PA I ordered 2 days ago.
Link Posted: 9/18/2009 7:24:17 PM EDT
Thanks for the writeup. I've been thinking about ordering one of these for a .22 build.
Link Posted: 9/18/2009 7:35:37 PM EDT
thanks for the review . I have a strike fire on my spare carbine and never had a problem with the brightness or malfunctions . Its nice having options and Im glad we have primary arms and strikefire as vendors on this site . since I doubt I will have to go hand to hand with a squirrel or face a coyotoe human wave attack these kind of sights are cool with me , but if I was going into combat or a cop I think I would drop alittle more change on a time proven optic.
Link Posted: 9/18/2009 7:42:59 PM EDT
Good write up.

Thanks,

- AG
Link Posted: 9/19/2009 6:51:54 AM EDT
Good information, thanks for posting.
Link Posted: 9/19/2009 5:25:47 PM EDT
Got my PA M3 clone today. I ordered it at about 1:10am on Wed. night/Thurs. Morning. That is some damn good customer service and fast shipping!!!!!!!! The only thing I do not like is it did not come with any form of instructions. Not a big deal for me but I know a few people that would have been confused when it came time to sight it in or change the batteries.

I hope to hit the range tomorrow to sight it in.

Link Posted: 9/20/2009 7:15:12 PM EDT
Originally Posted By orion251:
Got my PA M3 clone today. I ordered it at about 1:10am on Wed. night/Thurs. Morning. That is some damn good customer service and fast shipping!!!!!!!! The only thing I do not like is it did not come with any form of instructions. Not a big deal for me but I know a few people that would have been confused when it came time to sight it in or change the batteries.

I hope to hit the range tomorrow to sight it in.



Well, I think it's the same as an Aimpoint. I didn't have any issues.

My next plan is to mount the optic to a Saiga 308.
Link Posted: 9/20/2009 8:58:46 PM EDT
I have the M3 multi reticle. Pretty happy with it. Out of 7 brightness settings , I've only had it to 5. And that was on a very bright day. I wonder if the difference in batteries might be making a difference.
Link Posted: 9/21/2009 9:05:14 AM EDT
I ordered the PA M3 Clone this weekend, I had a Tasco Propoint but with my vision the dot looked like a 'bunch of grapes' unless I was cowitnessing thru the small aperature on my buis. I look forward to getting this one and seeing if the dot is sharp or if I continue to see grapes thru the optic
Link Posted: 9/21/2009 9:57:07 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 9/21/2009 9:59:22 AM EDT by getchevyn]
Originally Posted By JeffCsr:
I ordered the PA M3 Clone this weekend, I had a Tasco Propoint but with my vision the dot looked like a 'bunch of grapes' unless I was cowitnessing thru the small aperature on my buis. I look forward to getting this one and seeing if the dot is sharp or if I continue to see grapes thru the optic


That's a common problem for red-dot sights without perfect vision. Wearing corrective glasses should help.

My M3 clone still held zero after 600 rounds. I just got the new ACOG clone from Primary and should be here by Wed.
Link Posted: 9/21/2009 10:47:37 AM EDT
Originally Posted By slowmethinks:
87GN,
i always love reading your posts of your own personal reviews of products. i actually bought the primary arms while i was home on leave. when i first saw your topic here, i thought, oh crap, he is gonna find something wrong and im gonna regret having bought it, (i have had only had it at the range one day) but after reading this, i feel very confident in my purchase. thank you for doin this little review. very informative for those of us on a tighter budget.

i look forward to more reviews. maybe an MI handguard related one?


Thank you for the compliments. The problem with doing product reviews is as follows -

1. If you buy it, and like it, you don't want to sell it. But sometimes you buy it from the financial standpoint of needing to sell it, planning to sell it...it doesn't always work out that way.
2. If you buy it, and don't like it, when you try to sell it, nobody wants to buy it, because they figure it's horrible, when in reality it isn't all that bad and would serve the needs of a lot of people quite well..
3. If it's given to you, you won't sell it of course, but some folks see that as a sign of bias.
Link Posted: 9/23/2009 4:32:59 PM EDT
My critiquing of the M3 copy...

Got my M3 tonight, thought I had something wrong but I find you can't have the adjustment caps at a perfect 12:00 & 9/3:00 positions like a scope with the provided Cantilever mount. Not enough clearance for the battery cap.

Not a down gripe, still is functional and once I sight it in I'm not about to make elevation corrections anyway, I'll just lock it in for 50yd zero and keep it that way.

I find my vision problem follows this Optic too, when the light is turned up I see a cluster of lights. But when viewed thru the irons (Co-witnessing) with the small objective it's a perfectly round dot.

I don't know why I thought this optic was powered by a AA battery ?!? Where did I think that?

not complaining, just my observations.

Link Posted: 9/23/2009 4:43:55 PM EDT
Originally Posted By JeffCsr:
I don't know why I thought this optic was powered by a AA battery ?!? Where did I think that?


The M4 style model from PA is AA powered.
Link Posted: 9/23/2009 8:58:26 PM EDT
Link Posted: 9/24/2009 12:52:15 AM EDT
Originally Posted By MARSH1:
Originally Posted By JeffCsr:
My critiquing of the M3 copy...

Got my M3 tonight, thought I had something wrong but I find you can't have the adjustment caps at a perfect 12:00 & 9/3:00 positions like a scope with the provided Cantilever mount. Not enough clearance for the battery cap.
Not a down gripe, still is functional and once I sight it in I'm not about to make elevation corrections anyway, I'll just lock it in for 50yd zero and keep it that way.
I find my vision problem follows this Optic too, when the light is turned up I see a cluster of lights. But when viewed thru the irons (Co-witnessing) with the small objective it's a perfectly round dot.
I don't know why I thought this optic was powered by a AA battery ?!? Where did I think that?
not complaining, just my observations.


There is a problem with that mount, a replacement is going out tomorrow. We bought a small batch of mounts from a different supplier to tide us over. Won't do that again. Our own mounts are back in stock so this issue will not repeat itself.

99.9999999% of the time if you stop looking at the dot and focus on the target the multiple dots will go away. You might have to look away and go back to it a few times until you get the hang of it. In very rare cases a astigmatism or just the need for glasses is the culprit.



Marsh, not to hijack 87's thread, but is there a way to find out if the cantilever purchased was one of the said mounts? i have only had the opportunity to use mine once while i was home on leave. i know that after about 500 rounds, the nut to tighten the base loosened up just a hair. ill buy the new mount if mine is one of the defective ones. thanks!
Link Posted: 9/24/2009 5:39:44 AM EDT
Link Posted: 9/24/2009 6:00:34 AM EDT
Originally Posted By Aimless:
Nice write up, but save your money and buy an aimpoint, not a chinese scope made to look like an aimpoint. "Clone" ain't exactly the honest term, more like "kit car" Ferrari body with a dodge omni engine.



I do agree that for a go to gun , you should get a proven, high quality optic.

But you don't need a Formula 1 car just to go to the store to buy a loaf of bread.

Cheap sight do have their place if you accept and understand their shortcomings.

I've had a Tasco Propoint for the past ten years that's been on everything from a 22 caliber rifle to a 12 gauge shotgun shooting slugs that's been dead nuts reliable every single time it's been called on to do it's job.
Link Posted: 9/24/2009 6:37:19 AM EDT
Link Posted: 9/24/2009 6:47:22 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 9/24/2009 6:50:48 AM EDT by MARSH1]
Link Posted: 9/24/2009 6:47:41 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 9/24/2009 11:42:12 AM EDT by MARSH1]
Link Posted: 9/24/2009 8:18:35 AM EDT
I have noticed that Vortex is offering an ARD/Killflash for the Strikefire. Is it possible that they are using this to kill some of the environmental brightness to make the dot seem brighter?
Link Posted: 9/27/2009 9:06:43 PM EDT
I am one of those people who can afford and have a real ACOG as well as a real Aimpoint. I am also one of those people who likes to test stuff and see how well an inexpensive scope would hold zero . Results after 1000 rounds on one of my S&W MP15A.

Rifle used:



Target:



Link Posted: 9/28/2009 7:23:42 PM EDT
Originally Posted By Aimless:
Nice write up, but save your money and buy an aimpoint, not a chinese scope made to look like an aimpoint. "Clone" ain't exactly the honest term, more like "kit car" Ferrari body with a dodge omni engine.



Some of us just like shooting at paper targets (and soda cans and computer parts) instead of comparing brands with our buddies.
If you want to spend the money go right ahead but don't try to convince people that are looking for inexpensive red dots to save up for something 4x-5-x more than they can afford.

Though I'd like to know the number of people with Aimpoints/Acogs and Japaense or Korean cars's so I could convince them they should have saved up and gotten a 5 series BMW or Brabus Mercedes because they are higher quality.
Link Posted: 9/28/2009 7:38:25 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 9/28/2009 7:45:24 PM EDT by 87GN]
Originally Posted By SirSmapty:
Though I'd like to know the number of people with Aimpoints/Acogs and Japaense or Korean cars's so I could convince them they should have saved up and gotten a 5 series BMW or Brabus Mercedes because they are higher quality.


It all depends on need, as you touched on.

If you live in town and feel that a boringly reliable yet affordable Honda Civic will work for you as a mode of transportation, fine. Or if you live on a farm, a beat up Ford truck with an inline 6 might be a good choice. If you hit the track every weekend, you might want something designed for that.

If you have one of the needs I outlined in my first post in this thread, the Vortex and PA optics will work well for you - especially for duplicating a duty rifle on the cheap. If you feel that you need an optic that can survive an IED blast, or have batteries that last 65 million years, you should not look at the Vortex or PA optics.

I do not "compare brands with my buddies" for I know there are crucial differences between said optics and both manufacturers will tell you the same thing. And, frankly, there is NOTHING wrong with simply wanting the best optic your money can buy. Is it better to buy the quality part regardless of actual need or to buy the cheap part in spite of actual need?

FWIW, I don't own a Japanese or Korean car.
Link Posted: 9/29/2009 12:48:32 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 9/29/2009 12:52:24 PM EDT by getchevyn]
I have a TA31RCOM4 ACOG and a real Aimpoint M2. I also have a Primary Arms M3 clone. They are mounted on the 3 rifles I shoot the most. Nothing wrong with saving money to get quality sights. All or these three rifles are also mounted with Troy BUIS. They cost $250 a set so it's not about being cheap but it's about getting the most for your money.

Oh, almost forgot...I got an ACOG and drives a MAZDA 6s. Yes, it's a Jap car built in Detroit and not a Fearri or BMW. But like I said, "Getting the most for your money."

Posted Via AR15.Com Mobile
Link Posted: 9/30/2009 12:17:43 PM EDT
great thread and thanks for your writeups. I'll be watching for me.......
Link Posted: 9/30/2009 1:21:43 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 9/30/2009 1:23:17 PM EDT by VortexSam]
Link Posted: 12/30/2009 3:32:41 PM EDT
Originally Posted By 87GN:
Originally Posted By orion251:
Got my PA M3 clone today. I ordered it at about 1:10am on Wed. night/Thurs. Morning. That is some damn good customer service and fast shipping!!!!!!!! The only thing I do not like is it did not come with any form of instructions. Not a big deal for me but I know a few people that would have been confused when it came time to sight it in or change the batteries.

I hope to hit the range tomorrow to sight it in.



Well, I think it's the same as an Aimpoint. I didn't have any issues.

My next plan is to mount the optic to a Saiga 308.


Wondering if you ever got these tested out on the Saiga .308

Link Posted: 1/24/2010 10:24:33 AM EDT
TTT.
Link Posted: 1/24/2010 10:39:12 AM EDT
Originally Posted By barryrod:
Originally Posted By 87GN:
Originally Posted By orion251:
Got my PA M3 clone today. I ordered it at about 1:10am on Wed. night/Thurs. Morning. That is some damn good customer service and fast shipping!!!!!!!! The only thing I do not like is it did not come with any form of instructions. Not a big deal for me but I know a few people that would have been confused when it came time to sight it in or change the batteries.

I hope to hit the range tomorrow to sight it in.



Well, I think it's the same as an Aimpoint. I didn't have any issues.

My next plan is to mount the optic to a Saiga 308.


Wondering if you ever got these tested out on the Saiga .308



Waiting for the Ultimak rail to come out. Decided not to buy the Samson...yet.
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