If you look at the photo of the two Vortex red dot scopes and find yourself drawn to the Viper on the right - you are not alone. It is very sleek and sits beautifully atop a pistol.
Make no mistake, we sell three comparable Venoms for every Viper, and there are good reasons for that, but the Viper still has considerable market share, given that it is a much more specialised optic. Obviously it has market share - otherwise Vortex would not produce two similar optics at exactly the same price point.
The Viper is designed for one reason only - to sit on top of your pistol slide. The fact that it is available with the larger, 6 MOA dot only can attest to that. And the fact that it is as low and sleek as it is, is the result thereof.
The lower height of the Viper is significant. It not only brings your aiming point closer to the bore axis, but it also co-witness with lower sights. To achieve this, though, they've sacrificed the top-loading battery compartment of the Venom. To understand the implications thereof, let's look at battery life first.
Vortex indicates a battery life of between 30 000 hours (at the lowest setting) and 150 hours (at the highest setting) for both optics. 150 hours is about a week and 30 000 is... Wait. I need to explain a couple of things first. Firstly, the power consumption of the LED increases exponentially with brightness. So the battery life at the middle setting will be much closer to the short (150 hours) end than to the long (30 000 hours) end of the range.
Secondly, the Venom has an auto-adjust setting which the Viper doesn't have. (Remember, the Viper is the one where you have to remove the whole optic to replace the battery.) An auto-adjust is quite the battery saving feature because it adjusts the brightness down when it is dark. Down is towards the 30 000 hours side of the spectrum, and dark is what it is like when you are carrying it concealed. So auto-adjust increases the battery life when carrying concealed. Lacking an auto function, you'll need to manually adjust the Viper throughout the day. You can't fiddle with your gear every time you go inside or outside, and you'd much rather have a too bright dot than a too dim one, so you'll want to err to the brighter side of the range. That will severely shorten battery life. But that is not an automatic (excuse the pun) win for the auto-adjustable Venom. Since both optics have a 14-hour auto-shutdown and our days are typically longer than 14 yours, you'll find yourself fiddling with it anyway, to keep it active. And a lot of people just don't like the auto function. So when Danie tested the Venom for Jizni, he reverted to the manual function. The result was that he had to replace the batteries almost monthly. That's probably the punchline: monthly battery changes on both. Sorry to have made such a long story of it.
So, let's look at what you'll need to do when changing the batteries, starting with the Viper. You obviously have to remove the optic completely to get to the battery compartment underneath. This presents two challenges. Firstly, the screws. Thread locker (Loctite) is an absolute must, so you'll have to struggle it loose, re-apply afterwards and allow a full 24 hours to settle before shooting the gun. Hopefully, that doesn't result in stripped screws or the like. Secondly, you may, or may not, have to adjust your zero after removing the optic. Oddly, the two locking screws on the Viper's adjustment mechanism are located at the back - right where you will not be able to reach them if you have co-witness sights installed. I know: This is the purpose-designed pistol optic. Don't ask me.
The Venom's top-loading battery compartment circumvents all those issues. Some people have reported struggling a bit with it, but we found it fine. The Viper uses a 2032 battery, which is cheaper and more easily available than the Venom's 1632, but at R15 a go, it won't make any real difference in your life.
Other than that, neither we nor most other reviewers could find much difference between the two. Both are what you would expect from Vortex: Good quality optics with excellent after-sale service.
By the looks of it, the sleek design of the Viper really counts in its favour in a Concealed Carry role, but in reality, it makes more sense in a Sport Shooting role. Battery changes are much less of an issue if the optic doesn't need to stay on all day every day and if there is no backup sight to worry about. And the lower design might just make it that little bit faster.
No wonder that some of our Viper clients are really, really good sport shooters.
Me? I'm the type of sucker who would sacrifice the utility of a bakkie for the single-minded purposefulness of a sports car. So I'll choose the Viper. And work on my get-stuck-screws-unstuck skills.