magnification level & transitions featured

Magnification Level & Target Transitions

In Blog by Rich2 Comments

So this week I wanted to talk a little about magnification level and target transitions. In other words, what magnification levels are conducive to shooting and how does it affect your ability to transition between targets? I also wanted to discuss magnification levels in general as it’s often misunderstood. Plenty of people think that the higher the magnification level the more detail you can see and the better off you are. That isn’t always the case! Especially if you are in some sort of dynamic shooting environment and need to transition between targets or have to change positions or firing points!

Magnification Level

This is easy and we all know what it is. How much bigger do things look through the scope? The higher the magnification, the bigger the images through the scope appear! That’s all fine and well, but it’s not the only consideration. In general, the higher your magnification level, the lower your field of view becomes. Field of view being the maximum distance from one side of the image to the other that you can see at one time. It makes sense that the higher the level of magnification and the more of the image that is dominated by a single object or area the less you can see around it. That field of view becomes important for target transitions and general awareness. We’ll discuss that in a bit.

magnification level & target transitions berms

If you had multiple targets on multiple berms or hillsides and had to transition between them, your magnification level becomes very important!

Another often overlooked issue of magnification level settings is mirage. Depending on weather conditions it can be harder or easier to actually see heat waves in the air as you dial your magnification level up. So you generally see two issues with a higher magnification level. You lose your wide field of view and increase the chances of mirage looking worse and distorting the image of the target through the scope. You can just as easily reverse the effects by dialing your magnification level back down. So the question then moves towards what is the optimal magnification level?

I would try to look at the optimum magnification level as the point where you have the magnification low enough to reduce mirage and to maximize your field of view while still having enough detail of the target to make your shot and transitions smoothly. You don’t need to fill the scope with the image of the target. In fact, I advise against that. If you dial the magnification all the way up and lose that field of view how can you see the dirt kick up if you miss to one side or the other? If it’s a hot day and the mirage is bad you may have a real hard time telling where in the wavy image the target actually is…so don’t go crazy!

Target Transitions

This is pretty important for the dynamic shooters. Guys shooting competitively on the clock, MIL/LEO, even hunters need to be wary of this. If you’re zoomed all the way in on an animal and miss how can you follow the animal for a possible follow up if it’s already out of the scope as soon as it moves? Likewise, I’ve found in competitive environments that it’s easy to get lost in the target field if your magnification level is too high. You get all sighted in on a target and pull the trigger only to miss way high or low. Chances are you’ve got the correct DOPE dialed into your scope but when you moved from one target to the next you actually sighted in on the wrong target at the wrong distance! It’s doubly frustrating when the dirt kicks up high or low but dead center meaning your wind call was dead nuts and you just left a point on the table if you hadn’t fired at the wrong target.

magnification level & target transitions throw lever

A power throw lever or cat tail installed on the magnification ring of the scope makes changing the magnification faster and smoother

First Focal Plane scopes can lose some detail with the reticle as you power down the magnification level and the reticle shrinks with the image. So try to figure out where that sweet spot is that lets you see all the reticle detail you need and the target and surrounding area. You might also consider swapping to a different scope and reticle setup if it’s not well designed for the kind of shooting you do! Don’t be afraid to tailor the gun and the optics to the type of shooting you typically engage in. What works well for the hunting crowd may not work well in competition. What works in a competitive environment may not work so well for people on a two way range. Try different things and use what works for you!

Wrapping Up

Remember the key to picking the proper magnification level is your ability to multitask. If you’re shooting at something where you have to discriminate between multiple small targets with lots of detail you’ll need a lot more magnification. So you have to be adaptable! The lower you can keep the magnification level the better able to keep an eye on what’s going on around the target and in the general vicinity. That’s important because it will give you feedback on your wind calls if you happen to be wrong. It will also keep you from getting lost if you have to transition to another target after engaging the first one!

I find I tend to run my magnification level around the 8x-18x area for most of my shooting. Rarely do I go lower and occasionally I will go higher but the vast majority of my time is spent between 8x-18x. You don’t need to be able to read the manufacturer of the bolts holding a steel target up in order to hit it. Typically the advantages are outweighed by the negative effects of a higher magnification level. So don’t reach for that power ring just because you have more to use, try to use only what you need! Have any opinion on the matter? Drop it below in the comments!

Owner and Proprietor of AccuracyTech, LLC. Rich is a Firearms Enthusiast, Precision Rifle Competitor, and Writer. He is committed to bringing readers quality reviews and articles related to the Precision Shooting Sports. If you have any questions for him, please use the contact form on the site.


  1. Great article, thanks for that. At match last week I was at 14-15x and had a hard time locating 1st target on two stages, transitioned well after that 1st, but slow out the gate. Bought Vortex venom red dot and 45 deg picatinny mount yesterday, based on article you wrote on mini reflex sights aiding in target acquisition. Turning magnification back to 10x and using red dot to locate first target more quickly should assist. Eager to find out. The balance as you suggest is a wide FOV, but also being able to view tree reticle in my Razor for holdovers.

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