Scope Magnification Explained – Must Read

scope magnification
Laura Gangler

Beginners struggle to find the balance between optical quantity and optical quality, making them miss targets during matches. 

A common myth is that you need the most rifle scope magnification for higher accuracy. However, that’s not necessarily the case. 

Let’s put an end to this: scope magnification explained.

Scope magnification is the first number that you see when looking at the scope performance. A rifle scope’s main job is image magnification, making shooting at long range easier to see.

In a nutshell, it’s a multiplication of measurement in contrast to the average naked eye. The number on the scope is the deciding factor on how many times you will see the image better than with your eyes alone.

To put it simply, having a rifle scope with four power means the image will appear four times bigger than with a naked eye, while a rifle scope with three power only magnifies the target three times without the rifle scope.

scope magnification

What Do The Numbers Mean?

You will find two numbers on a power scope with variable power; these numbers are separated with a dash. The first number you see on any power scope is the lowest magnification, while the second one is the highest magnification.

If the scope showcases the numbers 3-9, this means the magnification power can be adjusted between 3 to 9 times. 

After the two numbers, there is a capital letter X on power scopes. The number that comes after that is the scope’s objective lens written in millimeters. Take note that the objective lens is farthest from you and nearest to the image.

Find out what minute of angle (MOA) means here

2 Types of Scope Magnification

fix vs variable


The lesser-known of the two types of scopes magnification is fixed. As the name suggests, your field of view is fixed to a specific distance. [1]

While they are more popular with binoculars, there are still rifle scopes with fixed magnification optics due to their lightweight build and high-quality optics.

Having lesser lenses and smaller size plays a significant factor in having a lower weight than the variable power scopes. 

What’s more, this power scope has higher light transmission as it has lesser glass lens elements. 

These are optically brighter and give you a lower loss of light for your field of view, which delivers eye relief. A lot cheaper, too.

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Variable power scopes give you a versatile magnification power for your rifle scope. It enables you to zoom in, changing the magnification of a specific area for target shooting. 

The more you zoom in, the more the image changes. The light becomes dimmer to see at a higher setting.

Variable scope magnification lens showcases a narrower viewing angle at a greater distance and a wide viewing angle at a shorter distance when shooting. 

Flexible scopes are usable in multiple applications, including close-range, long-range, observing menial details, and freehand shooting.

Scopes with higher magnification in this type are pricier, bigger, and heavier. However, you’re paying for a versatile magnification scope, which may save you more money on scopes in the future.

What Are Its Uses?



Scopes with lower magnification lens provide you with a wider field of view, allowing you to engage with moving targets at close distance.

Even when using the highest scope magnification, it still allows you to accurately lock the target at a distance without sacrificing field of view.

A 1-5x magnification optic is ideal for recreational shooting, a serious three-gun competition, and hunting. You can also get these for modern sport rifles, such as the AR-15.

Read: How Do You Use a Rifle Bore Sight?


Avid hunters choose these scopes to allow minimal adjustment required for close-range shots, while the higher end delivers optimal view for longer distances.

Famous for hunting rifles. Amateurs are using the 3-9x scope hunting bigger game sizes.

Hunters utilize its power magnification to take down deers, moose, bears, and boars. A 3-9x scope has a 50-yard parallax.


For shooters who prefer hunting on open landscapes, over 200 yards, you’re going to benefit from a 9-12x scope. Professional hunters work with this on deserts and fields. 

This does not provide much specification flexibility, it won’t do well for modern sport rifles or a three-gun competitions due to its narrower and dimmer field of view. 

Like the 3-9x, you can apply this to hunt larger game as well, such as wild moose and boars, by adjusting your eyepiece accordingly, focusing on the reticle, and pulling the trigger.


Typically, a 3x scope is enough for 100 yards for fixed scopes. However, you have to take into consideration the target size. If your target is pea-sized, a scope with decent magnification is a must. A 3-9x scope is good, or you can go for the 4-12x models.

A rifle scope with 4×32 magnifies the target four times closer than the naked eye. It’s the right scope specification for shooters who like to hunt in a variety of distances.

Hunters who carry rifles a lot prefer using this, especially when shooting moving targets that range 10 yards to 300 yards.

Most snipers apply 4-6x in an urban setting. Professional snipers working for law enforcement do not need a scope higher than 6x. This is because riflemen are prohibited from pulling the trigger further than 100 yards.

Final Thoughts - Riflescope Magnification Discussed

You don’t need to have the highest magnification scope to shoot at the image. The best magnification power ultimately depends on your shooting requirements – environment, game, and application, for example. 

Finding the right magnification that fits your shooting application benefits you the most, giving you a higher accuracy rate than you would with your naked eye. We also suggest you learn the difference between MOA and MRAD


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