For regular readers, you know we’ve covered a lot of ground when it comes to optics. From arguing the benefits of iron sights to helping you choose the right scope, and even how to set up a co-witness sight picture, we’ve discussed the topic in-depth.
However, red dot sights and optics continue to be a source of fascination for AR-15 owners. It’s probably the combination of practicality and “cool” factor that means they are one of the most popular AR accessories on the market.
But buying an optic just because it looks cool doesn’t mean it improves your aim or is even what you need for your rifle. So let’s take a look at some of the most common red dot sights and what they have to offer you.
When we say “red dot sight,” chances are, you’re imagining something very different from what we are. That’s because sight isn’t just one sight, it’s actually several. The term “red dot sight” is just a catchall for this class of optic. Basically, any optic that uses a red dot as an aim point can be described as red dot sight. Of course, the dot doesn’t have to be red, but now we’re just getting into minutiae.
So, what does the red dot sight class consist of? Good question. Typically, you’ll find three different kinds of red dot sights are available to you on the market.
If you can think of a scoped long gun, you’re already thinking about what a prism sight looks like, and how it works. Like rifle scopes, prism sights use lenses to focus the image. In a prism sight, the red dot is either projected onto the lens, or is etched into the glass and then illuminated. Like more powerful scopes, prism sights will make use of more detailed reticles, including things like range information.
Prism sights can also be found with low levels of magnification. That means it offers some level of “zoom,” allowing you to more precisely pick out your targets. But because their main purpose is to simply act as an aiming aid, they do not have high levels of magnification. This also helps to keep their size quite small.
Of course, a smaller optic means a smaller sight picture. The prism sight suffers from small eye relief, meaning you have to bring your eye closer to the optic in order to get a clear and accurate sight picture. While it’s unlikely to happen while using an AR chambered in .223, keeping your eye close to a scope could mean a recipe for a black eye if the recoil is pronounced enough. Prism sights tend to be more expensive than other kinds of red dot sights.
If you’re one to hit the range on occasion and are really only interested in leaving ragged holes in paper, a prism sight might be a great choice for you. The extra magnification means extra fun at the range because you can take your time between shots. This also makes the prism sight ideal for distance shooters.
However, if you’re looking for a sight that can help you “run and gun” at your next shooting competition, this likely isn’t the right sight for you.
It might sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but holographic sights are another common type of red dot sight. While not as popular as other types, holographic sights are very popular with certain AR shooters.
Holographic diffraction sights use a laser to transmit the hologram of a reticle onto a film. They offer no magnification. Holographic sights work by taking in the light reflected off of something, like your target, decoding that recording, and then reconstructing the light field in the sight itself. Yes, it’s as complicated as it sounds, and that’s why the only manufacturer of holo sights is EOTech.
EOTech holographic sights are compact, offering a rectangular sight picture that makes it easy to acquire a target and aim quickly. Holographic sights are very precise, and very accurate, and can be used with both of your eyes open.
The downsides are largely the price. Since EOTech is the only manufacturer of holographic sights, they set the pricing, and it’s as much as 10 times higher than other similar sights in some cases.
The ability to acquire a target and then send rounds down range quickly and accurately is invaluable. This is made easier by shooting with both eyes open, which the EOTech allows you to do. Holographic sights are ideal for those who need extreme accuracy and speed. If you’re a competitive shooter, a holographic sight might be just the thing you need to up your game.
While it might sound like reflex are meant for those with sharp reflexes, it’s actually short for reflector sight. Reflex sights make use of an LED that projects the dot onto a lens that you look through. The lens is like a mirror, which darkens the image.
These sights have a distinct look to them, as they look like just a single pane of glass creating a small window. There are reflex sights that are tubular in shape and use two lenses. These sights reflect the dot from the rear lens onto the forward lens.
Reflex sights have some distinct advantages that other sights do not. For instance, unlike iron sights, which require you to carefully align the rear and front sights with the target perfectly in order to hit the target, you can look through the reflex sight from different angles without changing the point of aim. This makes them great for close-quarters drills.
However, reflex sights offer no level of magnification, and you’ll need a scope to be able to make highly precise shots.
As one of the more affordable red dot sights, and with battery-free options, reflex sights are an accessible optic for any kind of AR shooter. They can be used for self-defense, competition shooting, and even hunting. For weekend warriors, a reflex sight adds a “tacticool” element to your AR that also has some practical applications.
While red dot sights are a great addition to your AR, they can fail if not maintained or if they run out of batteries. That’s why it’s important to have a set of back up iron sights like the LEAF from RailScales. The LEAF integrates into your laser sight module, allowing you to save space on your AR handguard.