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Red Dot Sights Comparisons and Reviews

Red Dot Sights or Reflex Sights as they are also known are popular with a wide variety of shooters because they are so versatile, small, and lightweight; but like everything else there are both advantages and disadvantages to using red dot sights.

Red Dot Scope on AR-15

Red Dot Sight Basics

Two Styles of Red Dot Optics

Red Dot sights come in two basic types and while there is no universal agreement on the name of these two groups we simply refer to the larger scope like models as red dot sights and refer to the small single lens units as mini red dot sights. Even though they may look quite different, both work by projecting a red dot from the rear of the unit onto a forward lens. The larger red dot sights have found favor with tactical shooters for use on carbines at close to intermediate ranges; while the mini red dots are often found on pistols, shotguns, or as in use as a secondary backup sights.

Holosun Red Dot Sight                       Vortex Venom

Red Dot Sights vs. Laser Sights

While red dot sights use a LED to project a red dot onto the objective lens of the optic they do not project a laser onto the target. For example, in the movies when the red dot appears on someone's chest those are laser sights like those often found on pistols which do not have any optical screen(s) to look through and are essentially laser pointers calibrated to a firearms point of aim at a certain distance. Laser sights are also available in small detachable units that can easily attach to a section of Picatinny rail to mount on rifles as well as pistols.

Truglo Laser Sight
Laser Sight

 

Red Dot Sights vs. Rifle Scopes

Red Dot optics generally have windage and elevation adjustments like a regular scope that can be used to sight in the optic. However, unlike traditional rifle scopes, red dots usually feature no magnification and depend on electronics to produce the reticle. The upside is red dots are usually smaller, lighter, and better suited for use at close distances. Also, it is important not to confuse riflescopes with an illuminated reticle with red dot sights.

Vortex Crossfire II Illuminated Reticle
Illuminated Rifle Scope

 

Red Dot Sights vs. Holographic Sights

Red dot sight is sometimes used as a catch all term to cover an array of illuminated optics. Holographic sights like EOTechs use an entirely different technique to produce their reticles; and while red dots and holographic sights are often used for the same applications there are some important differences to consider. See our Aimpoint vs. EOTech write up for key differences.  

EOTech 552 Holographic Sight
Holographic Sight

 

Red Dot Sight Advantages

Eye Relief

One of the biggest advantages of a red dot sight is unlimited or non critical eye relief. Unlike a traditional riflescope that requires the shooter to have their eye generally 3.5" to 4" inches away to get a full sight picture; red dots can be mounted very close to the shooter's eye or very far forward. This is especially useful for unique mounting situations like on the top of handguard on a AK-47, or to allow for room to run night vision behind the optic.

 

Night Vision Settings

Many red dot sights have low power settings that are not detectable to the human eye under normal lighting conditions. However these low power settings allow the user to mount a night vision device behind the red dot and when looking though this combination of night vision device and red dot, the dot shows up and can be used as a night vision scope. It is important to note that not all red dots have night vision settings and the ones that do require the purchase of a  separate night vision device to use those settings.

 

Quick Targeting

Placing an illuminated dot on a target and pulling the trigger is about as fast an aiming method as there is, and is why you see competitors in a wide variety shooting sports using red dot sights especially when shooting for speed at close range targets.  A quick note on red dot sights, despite being a little counterintuitive you want to use the higher brightness setting in bright light and the lower settings in low light for the best sight picture.

 

Situational Awareness

Many optics are hard to efficiently operate with both eyes open. Because of the combination of no magnification, non critical eye relief, and an easy to see illuminated reticle; most shooters can operate a red dot sight with both eyes open thus greatly improving their peripheral vision. Obviously being aware of your surroundings and of any threats while aiming your weapon is extremely important to those that might have to use their weapon to defend their life.

 

Lightweight and Compact

In general red dot sights are often considerably lighter and shorter than most traditional rifle scopes, and while an 8 or 10oz savings on an optic might not sound like a lot it makes a difference when trying to keep the overall weight of a firearm manageable. Also, many red dots are less than three inches long while many traditional scopes are a foot on longer which can be a factor when mounting on some platforms.

 

Red Dot Sight Disadvantages

Optic & Electronic

Unlike many traditional optics, red dots are both an optic and a battery powered electronic. The downside of this is using a battery and circuitry to create the reticle creates additional failure points. This is important to keep in mind when selecting a red dot for serious applications as a dead battery or failed circuitry means no aiming point to use. Bad as it sounds there are several work arounds which include: buying a premium proven brand, co-witnessing with iron sights, quick release mounts for removal, or using a secondary mini red dot sights as back up.

 

Cost for Quality         

Red dot sight have came a long way in the past several years and shooters now have a wide variety of options and prices to select from. However, if you are looking for an optic that has to be dependable and reliable expect to pay for it. Aimpoint used to be the only game in town for serious use red dot sights and while there is getting to be more options Aimpoint is as of now still the dominant player.

 

Precision at Distance

There is know such thing as a free lunch and the things that make red dots so well suited for quick shooting at close range start to hinder them as the distance increases out past 100 yards. Fortunately, most manufactures are making reticles with 2 MOA dots which are better suited for taking longer shots than some of the larger 4 MOA+ dots on earlier models. However, lack of magnification, and dot style reticles start to hinder performance especially on small targets as distance increases past 100 - 200 yards.

 

Clarity

Red Dots often used curved or tilted objective lens in combination with special lens coatings to help reflect the red dot. This often leads to a sight picture that has a tinge of a various color to it.  Usually the higher end models have better coating and glass and thus a clearer view. Also worth noting, when a red dot reticle is pictured in an ad or on a manufacture's website those pictures are almost always a graphical representation that is perfectly round; however, various factors ranging from the intensity of the brightness setting to the shooter's eye sight can cause the dot to seem less than perfectly round.

 

Considerations

Red dot sights definitely have a lot to offer but like any other optic they are not without their disadvantages as well. The key is to make sure you understand how they work, and both their advantages and disadvantages. Thus you will be able to select a red dot sight for an  application that suits its strengths such as shooting at close ranges quickly and avoiding applications where they are not well suited like precision or long range shooting. Below are some models that would be a good place to start your search for a red dot sight.

 

Red Dot Sight Comparisons

Model

Bushnell
TRS-25

Vortex
SPARC II
Aimpoint
PRO
Trijicon
MRO
Aimpoint
T2
Picture

Bushnell TRS 25 Red Dot Sight
Buy Now at Amazon.com

Vortex SPARC II Red Dot Sight
Buy Now at Amazon.com

Aimpoint PRO Red Dot Sight
Buy Now at Amazon.com

Trijicon MRO Red Dot Sight
Buy Now at Amazon.com

Aimpoint T2 Red Dot Sight
Buy Now at Amazon.com

Est. Price $79 $199 $459 $525 $750
Dot Size 3 MOA 2 MOA 2 MOA 2 MOA 2 MOA
Weight 3.7oz 5.9oz 11.6oz 4.1oz w/o mount 4.6 oz
Length 2.4" 3.1" 5.2" 2.6" 3.1"
Battery
Life
N/A 300 hrs Max.
5000 hrs Min.
3 Years Med. 5 Years Med. 5 years Med.
Battery CR2032 CR2032 DL1/3N CR2032 CR2032
 

 

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