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Lead & Steel Pandora PB-3: Best New Enclosed Red Dot?



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A blessing and a curse on the optics market has been the rise of Chinese-manufactured optics that are available for white-label. This helps drive costs down for us consumers, but it doesn’t really grow innovation in the space.

A red dot that is actually designed by the brand that is bringing it to market is harder to find than it used to be. And for that company to be a small brand and not one of the huge names like SIG, Vortex, or Leupold is almost unheard of. 

But that won’t stop Lead & Steel.

L&S stands almost alone in the fact that they are a small brand that did their own design, their own prototype testing, and their own final product. While it is manufactured overseas (for now), the heavy lifting was entirely done by Lead & Steel.

This review took a lot of ammo in more ways than one. All of it was provided by AmmunitionToGo.com. Special thanks to them for the ammo!

SPECS

  • Make: Lead & Steel
  • Model: Pandora PB-3
  • Weight (ounces): 2.3
  • Footprint: ACRO
  • Dimensions (LxWxH): 2” x 1.1” x 1.18” (52.5mm x 28mm x 30mm)
  • Window: 21x17mm
  • Dot size: 3 MOA
  • Battery Type: CR2032 3V
  • Battery Life: 30,000+
  • MSRP: $600

PROLOGUE

A couple of months ago, I got to play with a pre-production version of Lead & Steel’s latest enclosed red dot, the Pandora PB-3. I put just under 1,000 rounds under that dot, and it worked wonderfully, but it had a couple of details that would be nice to see refined. Thankfully, those details were already on L&S’s list of things to change for the final production line units.

Pre-production Pandora

A few weeks ago, L&S sent me a production unit with the serial number B-R00022. I can’t say for sure this is truly #22 off the line, but I suspect it is. Since getting it, I’ve hit the range hard before and during Thanksgiving week and gotten to hammer the crap out of this little optic.

Production unit Pandora PB-3

Running it exclusively on my Bul Armory SAS II TAC 5” with a Strike Industries RMR-to-ACRO plate, this dot has shot USPSA, 2-gun, and more. 

Spoiler: I love it.

ON THE RANGE

With a 21x17mm window, the Pandora has one of the largest enclosed dot windows. This makes shooting with it a lot easier for dot tracking and acquisition. Going faster is always easier with a larger window red dot, and while the Pandora isn’t the largest, it is large for an enclosed dot since those tend to be on the smaller side of things.

Enclosed dots offer a lot more protection and durability but are heavier, add bulk, and normally have smaller windows.

The Pandora addresses one of those and at least mitigates the other two.

The window is large at 21x17mm compared to other enclosed dots like the Aimpoint ACRO, which is 15x15mm. But this is basically exactly the size of a Trijicon RMR Type 2 window, so it isn’t “large” by the overall standards of what is possible. For example, the open emitter Holosun 507 Comp is 28x22mm.

That is kind of apples and oranges since one is enclosed and the other open, but I think it helps put things in context. Enclosed dots are built for harder use. While open emitters can handle the rigors of duty use, CCW, and more — enclosed dots do it better and have fewer risks.

Pandora’s box size makes finding your dot and your target a lot easier. The glass is nearly perfect, and only a faint color shift or notch filter that I can perceive. And yet, the battery life is incredible at 30,000+ hours. 

Front and rear lens are attached with screwed-in plates as well as epoxy

Brightness ranges from NV settings to super uber mega bright. Even in the hell desert sun that I live under, the highest setting on the Pandora is burn-your-eyes bright. This is useful at high noon, but for actual shooting, I normally keep it a setting or two under max.

Durability has been outstanding. Everything from dropping the optic to using it to do one-handed reload drills has left some marks on the housing, but the glass, zero, and electronics kept ticking. 

CONTROLS AND HOLSTERS

Zeroing the Pandora is pretty easy with simple hex key adjustments. Everything is really well marked, and there is no mistaking how they work. 

Brightness control consists of two large buttons on the top. Both have a solid click when depressed. While the buttons are fairly exposed, being they are on top, it is unlikely they will be accidentally pressed. I actually like the placement because it makes it easy to adjust from the left or right, especially when I’m checking brightness before a stage.

The battery is mounted on the left side. If you’re carrying this in a holster on your right, that puts the battery compartment next to your body. The front of the housing has a nice slope to it to make holstering easier and help prevent snagging. 

For my Dara holster, the slopped housing worked really well, and with a firm hand, I could holster my Bul Armory double-stack 1911 just fine.

While it worked, I did trim the Kydex slightly to give a little more clearance just to make holstering a little easier since this is my competition rig. That doesn’t surprise me since I had to do some other trims to this holster for other parts. 

Mounting the Pandora on my SIG P320, I didn’t need to trim anything as the P320 Dara holster fit just fine. 

One of the downsides to larger optics is that you might run into these little details. But so far, the Pandora fits better than most.

FOOTPRINT AND FEATURES

The Pandora uses an ACRO footprint, thus my need for the RMR-to-ACRO plate from Strike Industries. While RMR has basically become the default standard for most optic cuts, I think ACRO is better. Not only is it super strong, but it’s also just one larger screw instead of two. That screw handles the shock and recoil better, and it’s harder to strip or break.

Mark my words, ACRO footprint is the future. And until we all have native ACRO cuts, there are plates we can use.

Big thanks to Strike Industries for sending out this plate

The housing is 7075-T6 Aluminum, strong enough and still lightweight. Sealing plates are used to sandwich the lens to the body. Instead of just relying on epoxy like some other optics, Lead & Steel uses the plates to keep it locked down.

Durability has been pretty impressive so far, so whatever L&S has done is working.

PROS & CONS

There are fundamental downsides to enclosed micro red dots. They weigh more, they add bulk, and they can make your recoil impulse feel different.

There are also fundamental downsides to open emitter micro red dots. Dust, dirt, mud, and snow can get in the way of the emitter; they are a bit more fragile, and you don’t get as many cool-guy points with them as you used to.

Personally, I view enclosed dots as more suitable for duty-style pistols where the added durability is useful and the added weight and bulk matter less.

For CCW, I prefer smaller dots.

With that in mind, the Pandora PB-3 isn’t an answer to every problem. While it is possible to carry this dot, it adds a lot to a gun, and it isn’t my idea of comfort to shove down my pants.

Outside of that, I think this is my new favorite enclosed emitter. It solves issues I’ve had with other dots, it has proven to be extremely durable so far, and the price is very nice.

This will stay on my gun for a while, and we’ll hopefully update this in a year or so with some long term thoughts.

LOOSE ROUNDS

So far, between this dot and the pre-production unit I got to use, I have almost 2,000 rounds between them. 

I really like the Pandora PB-3. The larger window, enclosed emitter, durability, brightness, and price point — this is a stand-out dot. 

While not my dot, I also got to shoot the Pandora PB-3 on a rifle using a KE Arms KP-9 dealer-sample submachinegun. More on that in an article soon, but 600 rounds of full auto fire 9mm and the Pandora proved to be a solid rifle optic as well.

I’ve heard that Lead & Steel plans on doing a green dot version of the Pandora, but that is down the line. They are also working on moving Pandora production from overseas to a US-based manufacturer.

The Pandora is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale market. It will be interesting to see what Lead & Steel does next.

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1 Comment

  • Fred says:

    I put mine as an offset dot on an AR. The 3 MOA dot is fine for close in work and I was hitting a small steel target at 100 yards every trigger pull. However at 200 yards with a low vis steel target I was having trouble. The dot was covering the target and a little too big for being able to fine tune my aim out that far on a low viz target. However, it’s not necessarily made for this and using as the offset dot was pretty easy. So far so good.

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  • I put mine as an offset dot on an AR. The 3 MOA dot is fine for close in work and I was hitting a small steel target at 100 yards every trigger pull. However at 200 yards with a low vis steel target I was having trouble. The dot was covering the target and a little too big for being able to fine tune my aim out that far on a low viz target. However, it’s not necessarily made for this and using as the offset dot was pretty easy. So far so good.

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