The budget red dot market is highly competitive. Even for the well-known Vortex Optics, there are multiple models in competition with one another. Thanks to the fact that a good sight lasts a lifetime, companies even end up competing with their deprecated models. This is exactly what’s happening in the question of the discontinued SPARC II and the alive and kicking SPARC AR.
SPARC is short for Speed Point Aiming for Rapid Combat, and the line succeeds as a whole at giving you exactly what it aims to: high-speed reflexive shooting that’s there at the drop of the hat. Vortex knows how to make solid sights and scopes, and this line is no exception - as we’ve covered in individual reviews of the sights.
But when it comes down to the SPARC AR and the SPARC II, which one should get your hard-earned money, and which one should you pass up? That’s the question we’re looking to answer here.
For your convenience, we've done a comparison of the specifications for the two sights.
As you can see pretty immediately, there is a large body of differences between the two sights, and to a degree, it’s surprising they even come from the same line. But they do! And the differences are very nuanced, so we’re going to crack into some of those and see what actually separates them from one another.
Let’s start with the thing that matters most: the optics. Both the SPARC AR and the SPARC Ii offer a great optical experience, with clear glass and well-defined fields of view, as well as easy eye relief. The thing that really is impressive is Vortex’s propensity for giving you high quality glass even at low price points, and as we’ll discuss, both of these are at impressive price points.
Red Dot Reticles
Now, let’s talk about the red dot. The SPARC II and the SPARC AR both offer a great 2 MOA red dot. On either model, the red dot is superbly crisp. I personally have come to prefer 2 MOA red dots, just because at short distances, they don’t impact your target acquisition, and at long distances, they make it easy to hit with precision where larger 3 to 6 MOA dots may obscure your target some. Both sights also make it easy to pair with a magnifier so that you can extend the usable range of the sights well past the 200 to 300 yard marker where they’re useful on their own.
Both offer numerous different brightness settings for the red dot to make it as usable as possible no matter the ambient light, as well as night vision settings for no-light situations.The SPARC AR, I think, has a better overall range of brightness settings that makes it slightly more usable in a greater variety of situations, but this comes at the unfortunate drawback of the light emitter for the red dot being a little visible.On the SPARC II, it’s well obscured, where some shooters using the SPARC AR might find it getting into their field of view. I found that the SPARC AR responds a little bit better to a wide range of ambient light conditions than the SPARC II does.
Battery and Battery Life
The SPARC AR is powered by a single AAA battery while the SPARC II is powered by the CR2032 battery. The former is super convenient and allows you to change out your battery pretty much anywhere that there’s a store, and it’s not uncommon for emergency kits to include AAA and AA batteries that also could be used. The latter requires you to more or less order online or at a specialty store.The ease of the SPARC AR’s battery situation is a set back a little by virtue of the fact that it does have around 1,000 hours less of battery life than the SPARC Ii even in ideal conditions. Both sights feature an auto-shutoff feature that ensures that your battery life isn’t drained even if you forget to turn them off.
Now, let’s talk a little bit about the overall design of the sights. They’re both nice looking sights overall. They definitely look cool, if that’s your thing. The SPARC AR is a bit bigger than the SPARC II is, which makes it bulkier overall.The controls for both are fairly intuitive. The SPARC AR’s adjustments seem to be a little bit more positive than the adjustments for the SPARC II. On that same note, the SPARC II has tethered adjustment caps while the SPARC AR doesn’t.Similarly, the SPARC AR’s lens covers are bikini-style and detachable, which means you’ll have to keep up with them; the SPARC II’s are simple, fully attached, and just flip up when you need them and down when you don’t. The SPARC AR has a relatively large rubber casing that can get in the way of left-handed shooters’ field of view, so be aware of this. Always try it out if you can, but it may not even bother you that much.
In terms of construction, the SPARC AR wins out a little bit. While both are insanely well built for the price, a feature which is more or less Vortex’s trademark, the SPARC AR is a little bit sturdier. It’s also submersible up to 20 meters.I couldn’t find any submersibility data for the SPARC II, but I’m not looking to take any chances, and my research into it turned up that while it is water resistant, it's not waterproof. In either case, though, you can really feel the craftsmanship and durability.
Setup and Zeroing
Both of them are fairly easy to set up. Either sight includes a mount, which spares you from an additional expense that not even all the higher-priced sights can spare you from. Once mounted, both sights zero in fairly quickly, under 5 rounds for each in my experience.When you have them sighted in, they hold zero miraculously well. That’s a testament to how shockproof both the SPARC AR and the SPARC II are built to be: regardless of how you bump them around or drag them about, they’ll hold up particularly well. Getting the SPARC AR off is a chore because of the fact that it uses torx screws.
Probably one of the best parts of buying from Vortex is the fact that you’re buying from Vortex. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times - and I’ll say it again. Some companies just set a standard for customer service, and Vortex is one of those.
Firstly, if you ever have a problem and you give Vortex a call, you’ll almost certainly have a nice experience with a courteous staff member.
Secondly, Vortex offers an incredible warranty. The Vortex VIP Warranty is a fully transferable lifetime warranty that covers any and all damage or defects to the sight with no questions asked. All you have to do is send it to them and they’ll either replace or repair it at no cost to you.
Either sight is intended to be used for pretty much any purposes that you would use a red dot sight for. Whether you’re shooting away at targets, trying to nab some game, or you’re in tactical situations where every nanosecond counts, both the SPARC AR and the SPARC II will have your back. I guess that a less cheesy way to say that would be that there is no set of uses for these. As we’ll discuss in a minute, there are only sets of buyers.
Both are affordably priced. The SPARC II has been discontinued, so you're primarily only going to be getting it either secondhand or as back-stock. Meanwhile, the SPARC AR is still available on Vortex's site, but you can get it secondhand or through optics wholesalers on sale fairly often. In either case you shouldn’t expect to spend any more than $200.
Ultimately, while these are both excellent sights, they’re simply built for different purposes. The SPARC AR is larger and is intended specifically for use by people with ARs or similarly sized sporting rifles. As a result, it’s built to cater to that niche. In our original review, we gave the SPARC AR a 9 owing to its substantially strong quality, great optics, the ease of the AAA batteries, accuracy, and pleasant controls.
On the other hand, we gave the SPARC II an 8.6, with points primarily docked because of the relatively short range of brightness levels and the somewhat mushy controls.
Now, that’s not to say that either sight is bad. If you have an AR, then you should probably go for the SPARC AR, just as a matter of it being still in development and having slightly better optics and ease of use. But if you don’t, you still can’t go wrong with the SPARC II for your weapon.