I’ve been selling a few Daniel Defense M4s on Gunbroker lately, and choosing whether to equip them with a 30mm or 1-inch scope was a key decision in addition to my standard upgrades which typically include a Geissele SSA trigger, ambidextrous charging handle (AXTS Raptor or Geissele), and an AXTS Raptor 45°/90° ambi-safety. I wanted the optic to be world class, a great value, and American made. It’s probably no surprise that Leupold rose to the top.
I like scopes with the lowest power near zero magnification so the shooter can use them as quasi red-dots with both eyes open, and an illuminated reticle is a plus. I am reluctant to go with the highest-end Leupold optics, like the VX-6 or Mark 8 lines, because many can’t stomach paying that much for an optic, even though they’d really like to, and I prefer my Gunbroker auctions appeal to a broad audience. That helped me narrow the choice to the VX-R and Mark AR MOD1 models.
I narrowed it down to the Leupold Mark AR MOD 1 1.5-4x20mm Firedot G SPR (1 inch) and the Leupold VX-R Patrol 1.25-4x20mm Firedot SPR (30mm). The VX-R is DOUBLE the Mark AR’s price, so what’s the difference besides tube diameter? For that answer, I turned to Leupold’s 2016 product catalog and created the image below. You can check out the catalog for yourself here.
You can read about the differences between 30mm and 1″ tubes all over the Internet, and here are some differences specific to the VX-R and Mark AR MOD1:
- Light transmission is based on Exit Pupil and lens coatings not tube diameter. Exit pupil is a simple calculation where one divides the objective lens diameter by the maximum power to find the smallest diameter EP. For both of these scopes, EP is 20mm / 4 = 5mm. No difference. Exit pupils equal to or greater than 5mm are considered best since your eye’s pupil is rarely greater than 5mm in diameter.
- Usually, 30mm tubes offer greater windage and elevation adjustments because there’s more room for the internals to move (note that 1″ = 25.4mm). In this case, the VX-R has 15 MOA more adjustment with 140 vs. 125. Considering 4x is the maximum magnification for both scopes and one normally wouldn’t shoot a 5.56 NATO round beyond 600 yards, this difference is inconsequential, in my opinion. See Leupold’s view here.
- Because 30mm tubes are considered “higher end” you often find better lens coatings on lenses in 30mm tubes. Looking at the graphic above you will see that the lenses in both the VX-R and Mark AR MOD1 use Diamondcoat, are Index Matched, and are Edge Blackened. Note that both have a 20mm objective lens. To be fair, it’s probable that other coatings are in play, and the light transmission is 2-4% greater with the VX-R based on other research, here and here. This may provide an edge for the VX-R at early dawn or late dusk in difficult conditions, but it isn’t noticeable during daylight hours. Unfortunately, Leupold does not make it easy to compare lens coatings on its website or in its catalog.
- The VX-R has one additional icon next to it in the Leupold catalog that isn’t next to the Mark AR MOD1 indicating it can use the Custom Dial System, but this is misleading. The CDS means Leupold can customize a bullet-drop compensation or BDC cap for you at an additional cost of about $60. Read more here. However, the Mark AR MOD 1 comes with a CDS cap made for 55-gr. .223 ammo at 3,100 fps! Nice. If you don’t like that version, you can get another cap made for your favorite round. (Note: the “MOD 1” designation signifies use of this cap. Leupold sells another version of the Mark AR 1.5-4x20mm with standard caps shown here.)
- 30mm tubes are stronger than 1″ tubes. True, but how much stronger? And is that additional strength actually needed? The down side to stronger is that 30mm tubes weigh more than 1″ tubes because they are larger. If you’re trying to minimize weight, a 1″ tube may better suit your application.
- The Mark AR MOD1 is 1.2 oz. lighter than the VX-R. Less weight is generally a good thing.
- The Mark AR MOD1 SPR reticle comes with a green Firedot compared to the VX-R’s red Firedot. Personally, I prefer green dots as they tend to stand out more.
- Is the 1.25 better than 1.5 at the lower end for keeping both eyes open? Leupold’s table, above, showing Actual Magnification at the lowest level is 1.5 for both. I have no problem using the Mark AR MOD1 at 1.5x magnification with both eyes open.
The Leupold SPR is a great choice for AR platforms. Read more about the SPR here.
Either optic would be a great choice for your AR. The low-power magnification of each allows you to keep both eyes open with the Firedot on providing a quasi red-dot and a 4-power scope for longer ranges, and the SPR reticle is perfect for AR applications. It comes down to what is most important to you. If that’s weight, then the Mark AR has the advantage. If it’s strength, long-range (a 1.25-4 really isn’t made for that), or very low light applications, then the VX-R may be your choice. Don’t forget that the Mark AR MOD 1 comes standard with a CDS cap.
Bottom line, if you are concerned that you’re compromising quality by going with the less expensive Mark AR MOD 1 versus the “high end” VX-R, don’t be! There’s no doubt that the award-winning Mark AR’s value is greater for the money, and the differences are practically impossible to see, literally.
Additional information about and a review of the Leupold Mark AR MOD 1 1.5-4x20mm Firedot G SPR on The Truth About Guns website can be found here.