TORTURING THE LATEST RED DOT FROM AN OPTICS GIANT
By Mitch Hardin
UNBOXING THE SPARC AR
The search for a high quality “budget” optic has been a long standing debate among firearms owners. We always hear about how great brand A, T, or E are. While there aren’t many arguments regarding their quality, what about more budget friendly optics? We don’t really hear much about the quality of some of the imported, less costly optics and red dots on the market. Enter the Vortex Sparc AR as one of the latest red dot offering from Vortex Optics. It’s a 2 MOA red dot with an MSRP of $259.00, however, many retailers have their own specials that bring the price down to $200.00 or under from my findings. The Sparc AR Provides 10 variable illumination settings with the lowest two settings being night-vision compatible. Battery life is from a common AAA battery providing 300 hours on max setting and 5000 hours at the lowest setting. The illumination controls are conveniently located in the front of the unit. A couple of really nice features are the auto shut off after 12 hours of not being used, and upon powering the unit powering on, it returns to the last setting used. Vortex decided to offer up this model with their “rubber armor clad package” at no extra cost. Let me tell ya, that rubber armor really does work, but more on that in a bit…. Included in the box was their “Multi-Height Mount System.” That is simply a spacer shim to add to the factory mount to achieve an absolute co-witness or a 1/3rd co-witness without it.
WINTER CRAB FISHING WITH OPTICS
With the specs and statistics out of the way, let’s get on with how loud this thing screamed during my torture test. First order of business was to take the Sparc AR to the range and establish a 100 yard zero. Then it was “FISH ON”! in the cold waters of the Puget Sound. I attached a lanyard of roughly 50 foot of 550 cord and pitched it out into the cold deep. The tide was in, it was cold and wet out, and the water was roughly 25 or so feet deep. I allowed a longer lanyard this time as I wanted to drag it on the bottom of the ocean floor and play with the Dungeness Crabs that are pretty much everywhere around the dock during this crabbing season.
This test lasted for just over 60 minutes. As I figured, when I reeled in the Sparc AR, I heard the faintest sound of laughter. I don’t know, perhaps it wasn’t the Sparc AR laughing at me but instead, the other fishermen laughing at the idiot throwing fancy electronics into the cold salt water. The Sparc AR didn’t disappoint as after its baptism, it fired right up and displayed a nice, crisp, 2 MOA dot. After a quick range trip to check the pre-established zero, it was still spot on.
Next was to drop this guy into my deep freezer for a few hours and see how it would hold up to freezing cold temperatures. I think it should be mentioned that prior to placing it in the freezer, I got it good and wet and then threw it in with the meat’s and veggies. This is in hopes that the seals will swell and allow moisture to creep into the tube and fry out the internal electronics. It made sense to me, but I’m no engineer either. Of course, as soon as I pulled the Sparc AR out of my freezer, it powered right up with a crisp dot. A follow up range trip showed no shift in zero.
TRYING TO BREAK IT
Now comes the shock and awe testing portion to see just how much physical abuse the Sparc AR could handle before being dispatched to the sweet hereafter. I usually like to have the range to myself, but on testing day I ended up sharing it with a couple of others. I’m pretty sure they thought I was off my rocker as I was throwing the Sparc AR all over the concrete base of the rifle line ( I was on the partitioned side so as to not interfere with the other shooters). I actually paused when I heard no more gunfire and saw the other shooters down the line just staring at me like I had a “male appendage” growing out of my forehead. Then came all the questions of why I would intentionally attempt to break a “nice looking optic.” Well, my answer is simply “Why Not”? One should not depend upon any tool with their life until they have fully vetted and tested its capabilities. Or at least, allow someone like me to incur the expense and bring you the results, good, bad, or ugly. It certainly appeared that the other shooters were more interested in my testing than their shooting.
That old saying about red headed step-children would not do this test justice. My standard is to drop the optic from a height of between six and seven feet on each side and onto each lens. It may sound a tad goofy, but this served to really check what type of serious abuse it will absorb before giving up the ghost. Well, the Sparc AR again did not disappoint. The pre-established zero was not affected in the least.
At this point, the shooting had stopped and the couple of guys left were watching me attempt to utterly destroy this thing. Since I couldn’t get the zero to shift, I decided to pitch the optic approximately 25ish feet, all down a concrete pad. I almost felt its pain when my aim was a smidge off and the Sparc AR bounced off a thick metal table leg before bouncing around and coming to a stop on the concrete. The pre-established zero would not budge. Funny noteworthy mention is that on almost all the vertical drop tests, after bouncing the optic came to rest face up on the side that says “SPARC AR.” It was like it was laughing at me while saying “hold my beer and watch this.” The damage done to the optic was cosmetic at this point as best as I could tell. Again, a shift in zero was not detected. That “rubber armor clad package” really showed its stuff in these tests.
ON THE ROCKS
Since the previous cold test had no effect on this guy, I decided to go full on stupid with the testing and drop the Sparc AR into a plastic container filled with H20 and leave it in the deep freezer for just over 24 hours. This is where I started noticing problems. Upon breaking open the icy tomb that encapsulated the Sparc AR, I noticed quite a bit of water in the tube. It was hard to see anything with all the condensation bubbles on the inside lenses, but its heart would not stop. Upon hitting the power up button, it projected a blurry dot.
At this point in the testing, it’s pretty much over as I cannot check zero since I can’t see clearly through the tube. But I can continue on with some forms of testing simply out of morbid curiosity to see what it would take to send this beast into cardiac arrest.
BAKING WITH VORTEX
Given that the optic was cold and wet, I threw it onto a cookie sheet and into a 170 degree oven for roughly 30 minutes. I was hoping it would dry it out and fry the electronics. Well, that’s just not happening as it came out hot and sassy, cause the dot fired right up, despite the tube containing a fair amount of water. I was at a loss thinking that the heat would at least help dry out the tube.
If the oven doesn’t work, then my propane stove (wood burner wannabe) would have to suffice. The top of that thing gets HOT! The Sparc AR spent just over 48 hours on the top of the stove, blowing off steam….. It worked as the majority of the water had evacuated the tube somehow.
When I went to turn it on, there was no protest, it just wouldn’t respond. (In my best infomercial voice) “But wait, that’s not all.” I decided to change the battery and found all the water that had been previously been in the tube. The water just poured right out of the battery compartment. So, a hair dryer, a trusty dental pick, and some q-tips had the majority of the battery compartment corrosion removed. I put in a fresh battery and didn’t see anything at first. My better half looked at it and she saw the faintest glow of a dot. It wasn’t strong enough to project an image on the front lens, but it was still powered up. It just refused to give up the ghost. Since it wanted to protest, it’s off to the range we go.
To be fair, I’m not quite sure how the water got into the battery compartment as it was sealed good and tight. My only thought is it leaked down from the tube itself. But, that’s a matter for the engineers who designed the Sparc AR. This should not be a problem for the average user as they are not being sadistic with their optics like I was. However, I felt that it was worth mentioning as I like to be thorough in my testing AND reporting.
DELIVERING THE DEATH BLOW
Using a custom 10/22 that I had previously built and hi-velocity .22lr, it was now time to send the Vortex Sparc AR into the great hereafter. The first two shots were low and on the mount from about 10 yards. It was still holding on though, it just wouldn’t die. The third shot landed straight into the tube. I didn’t know where my shot landed at first as the rubber armor had a very tiny hole in it, nowhere big enough for a bullet. Upon looking though the front lens and seeing bullet fragments, I peeled back the rubber armor and had a good laugh. There was a nice size hole straight through the heart of it. The Vortex Sparc AR was finally dead.
OBSERVATIONS AND BOTTOM LINE
Now, some might think that this battery of tests are a bit on the extreme side, and I’d be inclined to agree. However, I wanted to push the Vortex Sparc AR to its limits, much further than the manufacturer ever intended. Knowing the limits of what our equipment can endure before failure is paramount. In the real world, depending upon one’s geographical location, we could find ourselves in extreme cold weather, desert heat, and high humidity and heavy rain. What happens if we accidentally drop or lose grip on our rifle and the optic smashes on hard ground, or on some rocks? What happens if you’re in a frigid, cold, artic type environment, your optic gets wet somehow, and then is exposed to the elements? Wouldn’t it be nice to know what your chosen red dot is capable of handling? By pushing a piece of equipment to failure, we can get a good solid grasp on just how much punishment it will take before giving up the ghost.
The Vortex Sparc AR is a shining example of a high quality “budget” optic. As noted in the aforementioned tests, it’s proven that it will stand up to the rigors of some serious abuse. I would have no problem recommending this red dot to anyone. It is probably worth mentioning that Vortex’s VIP Warranty doesn’t cover this type of “intentional” abuse to their optics, but that’s what I’m here for. In any other case, their VIP Warranty will cover pretty much any other type of damage that their product suffers. One can’t ask for a more comprehensive warranty as a good, solid piece of mind when shopping for a red dot. If you give the Sparc AR a chance, I’m sure that you won’t be disappointed.
Specifications: Vortex Sparc AR
Magnification 1 x
Objective Lens Diameter 22 mm
Eye Relief Unlimited
Adjustment Graduation 1 MOA
Max Elevation Adjustment 90 MOA
Max Windage Adjustment 90 MOA
Parallax Setting Parallax Free
Length 2.9 inches
Weight 7.5 oz