Reviews Red Dot Sight Buyer’s Guide  David Lane June 6, 2023 Join the Conversation THE BEST RED DOT FOR YOU, YOUR FIREARM, AND YOUR BUDGET The best red dot is a hot topic in the gun world; every answer will draw criticism from someone. If you’re looking for the best red dot within a reasonable price range, you’ll make even more people angry at you! Ignore the noise and the malcontents, ignore the villagers with their torches, ignore the Meal Team Sixers and their sticky fingers – we’ve got the down and dirty on the best red dots in every price range and for every style of shooting. DO YOU NEED A RED DOT? Every gun needs a way to aim it; from plastic backup sights to high-end 30x scopes, you need something. What kind of optic or sighting system is best for you depends on your situation and your budget. If you want to yeet rounds at a target 500 yards away, you’ll want a proper rifle scope or maybe a Lower Powered Variable Optic (LPVO). Barebones cheap and simple, iron sights are the way to go. But from 0 to 300-ish yards, nothing beats a good red dot for speed, accuracy, and ease of use. Red dot on a shotgun Personally, none of my modern weapons that can mount an optic fail to have one. For home defense, competition, or just messing around at the range – optics rule. Red dots are reasonably priced these days and fantastically reliable. They are better than the best night sights, easier to use than the largest iron sights, and allow you to focus on your target, thereby giving you better situational awareness than ever before. Frankly, red dots are awesome. That’s why special forces have been using them since the ‘90s, and the main military has used them since the early ‘00s. When it comes to optics on guns, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t have at least a red dot. ASTIGMATISM, RED DOTS, AND YOU Something to mention is dreaded astigmatism. If you’re not familiar, astigmatism is a fairly common eye problem that basically means your all-natural self-grown organic lenses are funny-shaped. Astigmatism has nothing to do with short-sighted or long-sightedness. Both are separate issues you may have with or without astigmatism. In fact, it’s entirely possible to have very mild astigmatism and still have 20/20 vision. The problem is astigmatism warps light a bit. While this might not be an issue or even something you notice in day-to-day life, when you look at a red dot sight, it will look “wrong” instead of being a nice little circle of light. How it looks depends entirely on your flavor of astigmatism. Sometimes it’s a starburst, sometimes it’s egg-shaped, sometimes it’s really weird. Many people have no idea they have astigmatism until they look at a red dot sight. And lots of people return their new sights believing they are “broken” when really it’s your wetware malfunctioning. If you have a red dot and the dot looks wrong, take a picture of it. If it looks like a clean circle in your picture but not to your eyes – congratulations! You probably should see an eye doctor. Speaking of, while I’m no doctor and I don’t play one on TV, if you do have astigmatism – talk to your doc. Glasses might help a lot. If you already know you have astigmatism and still want a red dot, you should just know you might have to return red dots until you find one that works for you. If you want to skip to something you know will work, try an etched reticle sight like an LPVO, prism optic, or fixed magnification scope such as an ACOG. RED DOT SIGHT VS. HOLOGRAPHIC SIGHT Just to clear up some confusion, let’s look at the difference between red dots and holographic sights. Effectively, they are used the same way. You mount it on the gun, you focus on your target, you put the red dot on the target, and pull the trigger. Mechanically, they are very different tools with different strengths and weaknesses. Red dots are simpler; an LED reflects off a lens, and that’s about it. Holographic sights use a laser and more lenses to achieve basically the same goal. Holographic Weapon Sight's function compared to a Red Dot. The nice thing about holographic sights is they provide a sharper aiming point and can function even if the front lens gets destroyed. But red dots win in basically every other category. Red dots start at a much lower price point, have massively longer battery life (20k-50k hours for red dots is common Vs. 800 hours for holographic sights), and durability is equal between the two if you get quality examples of each. So why would anyone want a holographic sight? It works better with magnifiers, for one thing, it sometimes works better for people with astigmatism, it is clone correct for a lot of current-use militaries, and basically, some people just like them better. Personally, I like red dots because of the battery life and price. I don’t shoot any better with a holographic sight, and I rather never care about my batteries and be able to afford 2-3x more red dots. RED DOT SIGHT (RDS) VS. MINI RED DOT SIGHT (MRDS) One is larger, the other is smaller. The end. Okay, red dot sights came first and are “normal” sized. Normally, these are designed for larger guns like rifles and shotguns. Mini red dot sights are newer to the market and are mostly designed for pistols or to be used alongside other optics on a rifle, such as mounted over an ACOG scope or used on a 45-degree offset mount to go with your magnified scope. Since this is a red dot buyer’s guide, I’ve only listed true red dots. These are designed to be your main or even only sighting system but can be used in other applications if you wish. For an article looking at MRDS options, take a look at Micro Red Dot Buyer's Guide. RED VS. GREEN These days not all red dots are actually red anymore. Green and rarely gold are also used, and both are often misunderstood. Red is the default color because it was first. It was first because it is the easiest to work with, our eyes can see it well, and it doesn’t take much energy to keep a red LED running making battery life much longer. But as technology has gotten better and batteries hold more juice, green has quickly become a popular option also. Trijicon MRO in green dot flavor Green dots use the same tech as normal red dots, the difference is simply the LED outputs a green light instead of red. And it uses a lot more energy to do it. But batteries have evened the field, at least. The incredibly simplified explanation is humans see green easier and better than we see other colors – this is pure human biology; this isn’t my opinion but an established medical fact. Because of that, green dots are easier and faster to pick up and aim with in theory. When I’ve tested it for myself running my own drills, my shot times are about 7-10% faster when I switch to green dots. What green Vs. red will do/mean for you is entirely dependent on you. Some people don’t see a difference; for some, it’s a decent boost. I doubt anyone, anywhere, will ever lose a gunfight because of the color of their dot – but if competition speed and split times matter to you, it’s something to think about. Downside to green? It's almost always more expensive than normal red dots, is offered in far fewer models, and is generally harder to find in stock. WHAT MAKES A GOOD RED DOT? These days the playing field is pretty even when it comes to features. Even cheap red dots can have 50,000+ hour battery life; some lower-cost options even have official IP ratings for dust and water resistance, while some high-end red dots won’t have “official” ratings for either. While most of us don’t have the ability to use it, even cheap options can have night vision settings – a feature that used to separate red dots by hundreds of dollars. Two things really drive the value of your red dot – durability and glass quality. Durability is easy to measure because something either works or it doesn’t. 100,000-hour battery life doesn’t mean much if it’s known to break the first time you drop it. Glass quality basically just comes with a price. While it’s not a 1:1 relationship between money and glass quality, you will almost always get better quality glass when you spend more money. However, these aren’t long-range scopes. Glass quality will only get you so far, and once you’re out of the super-budget red dots, glass quality won’t improve enough to make a massive difference. Overall – you want a red dot that will at least balance against what you plan to do with it. If this is an SHTF dot, don’t cheap out. If this is a twice-a-year range blaster, it’s okay to spend less than a steak dinner. While more battery life, night vision options, or solar panels are fun, I don’t think they should drive your choice too much. Let them be deciding factors that push you over the edge, but don’t let them control you. COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Where a red dot is made impacts the cost a lot. Anything from China is going to be a lot cheaper because that’s just the way things are these days. While some red dots are made or at least assembled in the USA, the list is pretty short, and you definitely pay for it. Others such as Aimpoint come from exotic places like Sweden, which with its free healthcare and advanced public education, also commands a higher price for its labor. As with anything else, if where your optic comes from is important to you – expect to pay more for something from the USA or a US ally. BEST RED DOT SIGHTS Aimpoint Duty RDS “Budget” and “Aimpoint” might not be something you think exists, but price is kind of relative, I guess. If you want the full-send version of what Aimpoint can deliver, it’ll cost you more than double what the Aimpoint Duty RDS bills for. But even still, this puppy is a cool $500 MSRP, but at least it comes with a mount. Aimpoint Duty RDS A 2-MOA dot, 30,000 hour battery life, 4 night vision, 6 daylight settings, and submersible to 80 feet – the Aimpoint Duty RDS is a tamer version of its legendary red dot series and is still overkill in durability for most people. If you want a duty-capable red dot, but don’t need tier-one, high-speed jumping out of airplanes level of “duty,” this is a cheaper option that still gives you one helluva a red dot. Aimpoint CompM5 The king daddy of red dots, the literally bomb-proof, combat-ready, tank of them all – the CompM5. 50,000 hours of battery life, 2-MOA dot, loads of mounting options, nearly impossible-to-break ruggedness, submersible 150 feet of water, and a long list of current military units employing it – this is the gold standard for red dots that might outlive you. CompM5 Of course, it comes at a price. The MSRP for the CompM5 is $850, and doesn’t come with a mount. Big oof. While the feature list isn’t much different, except for being able to go SCUBA diving with it than some red dots that cost 1/8th the price, what you’re really paying for is the fact the CompM5 is insanely over ruggedized. If you want a red dot that will never fail and you can 100 percent rely on in SHTF/end of the world, this is the one to get. SIG Sauer Romeo5 Before the pandemic, the Romeo5 was one of the least expansive and super durable red dots on the market, but since then, SIG has raised the price a little making it more like the second least expensive. Still, it’s a hugely great value, and I strongly recommend it for any rifle that needs a “good enough” red dot. SIG Sauer TREAD with a Romeo5 For home defense or training, a Romeo5 will do well for you. It’s not the largest window, but it’s large enough. The battery life is solid at 40,000 hours, and the adjustments are easy to work. If you’re new to red dots, not sure what to get, or just need a simple Goldilocks optic that won’t require a credit check to buy, this is my top pick. SIG Sauer Romeo MSR SIG’s new barebones cheap red dot is the MSR, and it’s… fine. I’ve run an MSR red dot for several months on my HD rifle, and while I don’t have anything really negative to say about it, it’s hard to find anything that stands out either. SIG Romeo MSR That might be a testament to how level a playing field there is right now between budget-priced red dots, but it is what it is. Battery life is 20,000 hours, it has 10-day and 2-night vision settings, and it comes with an IPX7 water resistance rating – this is actually the most impressive part of the MSR. And MSRP is $110. Oh, plus it comes with its own mount and lens covers. If you find it on sale (and you can do that pretty often), this is a solid buy based on price and durability. But if you’re looking at full price, maybe spend a little more for the Romeo5. SIG Sauer Romeo4T I’ve used a lot of SIG red dots over the years, and by far, the one I like the most is the Romeo4T. While kind of expensive compared to SIG’s lower-tier options, an MSRP of $580 isn’t as crazy as it might seem once you know the extra features this optic delivers. SIG Romeo4T The Romeo4T has a battery life of over 100,000 hours because of a solar panel on top that takes over when in sunlight, MOTAC (motion activated illumination) works flawlessly, IPX8 waterproof rated, submersible to more than 65 feet, comes with a mount plus a 1/3rd co-witness spacer, a super ruggedized design that makes it ready to take a real beating. All of this, and I haven’t hit the best part (for me) – the reticle. You can select from 4 different integrated reticle options (Dot, Circle-Dot, Dot with Holds, Circle-Dot with Holds). The holds are not perfect on their own and a little hard to see, but they are still useable with just the Romeo4T. What makes them awesome is when you combine this red dot with a magnifier and start reaching out on targets. Hold over dots at 5, 9, and 15 MOA give you a lot of ability to quickly and effectively hit targets at range. As an added bonus, the Romeo4T is assembled in the USA by SIG. Holosun 403 & 503 First thing to know about Holosun is that its red dots are made in China, but these are not the airsoft grade optics of old. While there is a lot that can be said about the low-quality standards many Chinese-made products have, Holosun is the exception. In every way, Holosun stands with some of the best in the world and has been one of the single driving sources of innovation in the red dot market for years. Holosun HS403C The other thing to know is Holosun has more models and versions of its red dots than there are vegan vendors at a LA farmer’s market. I’m going to recommend four I’ve condensed into two entries, but honestly, any Holosun red dot is good to go. Holosun’s HS403 and 503 series red dots are simple and pretty much what you see is what you get. These are fairly inexpensive, with an MSRP of only $205 and $295 and a street price much lower than either of those numbers. Both are made from 6061 T6 aluminum, IP67 rated for dust and water, and are perfectly acceptable for home defense use. The major difference is the 503 series has a 2-MOA dot and a 65-MOA circle reticle, while the 403 series only has the 2-MOA dot. Holosun circle and dot reticle With the dot and circle reticle, the 503 series has a 50,000-hour battery life, while both the 403 and 503 with dot only have 100,000-hour battery life. While these are the base models – Holosun also offers both lines with upgrades. Both are offered with green or gold dots, and the 503 series also offers solar backup so you’re not relying on the battery for power. Bottom line, Holosun has many options and features – I strongly recommend the brand and can confidently say its red dots are good to go. Holosun 510 & 512 I love my 510 and 512 Holosuns because they have a huge window, 23mm by 35mm is massive in the red dot world and gives you a lot of room to see with. Now you should be shooting with both eyes open to start with, but still, the larger window tends to help even when you’re in odd positions or shooting at off angles. Holosun HS510 Both series of red dot have a 50,000-hour battery life, IP67 rated for dust and water, 10-daylight settings and 2-night vision settings, and both have the 2-MOA dot with a 65-MOA circle reticle. The major difference between the 510 and 512 is the 510 is an open red dot, and the 512 is enclosed. The 510 has a hood made from aluminum and titanium and is crazy durable, while the 512 is made from only aluminum but has an enclosed design. So what is better? It just depends, really. If mud, dust, and rain are something you’re worried about obscuring your red dot, get the 512. If that isn’t a huge concern for you, the 510 will save some money and weight. Holosun HE512C Personally, I’ve never had the 510’s open design be an issue. Nothing has obscured it that wasn’t almost instantly cleared by recoil. Lead & Steel Promethean LP-1 This might be a brand you've never heard of, but I think you're going to be hearing a lot more about them in the future. Lead & Steel is a small brand and not long ago they didn't make anything. But when they did decide to make an optic, they went hard. Real hard. The Promethean LP-1 is the result of over 2 years of R&D, and frankly, this is amazing. The owners of Lead & Steel basically looked at the optic market and then designed a rifle red dot that was better than everything else, or at least that was their design goal. The main body is 7075-T6 Aluminum with a 6061-T6 “crumple” hood to protect it. Think of this like a car with crumple zones, the hood is designed to die so that the optic may live. That said, the hood is still pretty damn strong. A 2 MOA reticle with a 65 MOA CQB circle isn't something super new to the industry, but Lead & Steel's AuraWake is. In short, during testing, they found that a system like shakeawake can fail because the accelerometers used in the design are one of the more fragile parts of the system. When these fail, the whole optic fails. Instead of tying their accelerometer to the entire reticle, the Promethean only has the AuraWake tied to the 65 MOA CQB ring. After 5 minutes of not moving, it turns off. Move the optic and it turns back on. This saves you a lot of battery since the ring is taking up most of the power, but if the accelerometer ever fails or dies — you're not left without a reticle since the 2 MOA dot is always working. Speaking of the dot, it's crisp. Really crisp. And bright. Really bright. Max setting is honestly kind of blinding, like SUPER bright. This is wonderful for me since I live in a hell desert and am constantly baked under an angry sun god. For durability, I can only speak to what I've done. I've shot about 500 rounds with this optic so far and I have a lot more rounds coming. It worked perfectly, but that's pretty expected. So I also dropped the rifle on the optic from chest high onto a granite rock. The rifle is a PSA SABRE and the rock was a rock in my yard. The first drop didn't do anything except scuff the anodizing. So I dropped it two more times. Some marks on the housing, but no real damage. Plus, the crumple zone hood isn't crumpled at all. It took the full force of the hits and is still protecting the housing. I'm going to be using this optic a lot to give it more testing, but so far I'm very impressed. Bushnell TRS-26 The successor to the Bushnell TRS-25, the -26 is 1mm larger window and has a lot more features than the older -25 model. While the TRS-26 is still the cheapest model of red dot I would trust my life to on a home defense gun, the TRS-26 is better in literally every way, and I’m a big fan of it. Plus, it’s not a bad price either. Bushnell TRS-26 Bushnell has upped its game in recent years, and the TRS-26 is a perfect example. A 26mm lens gives you a nice amount of room to see and aim with, the dot is bright, and the optic itself is shockingly durable. I’ve personally dropped mine while on my rifle from chest high and had it survive the impact. For a budget red dot, that’s pretty good. Leupold Freedom RDS I’ll be honest; I don’t like the Freedom RDS. The design is outdated, the battery life sucks at only 1,000 hours, it’s heavy, weighing 2 ounces more without a mount than the Romeo5 does with a mount, and the MSRP is a crazy $300. So why is it on the list? Because, as far as I know, it is the least expensive truly American-made red dot. While others might be assembled in the USA, the Freedom RDS is actually fully made in the USA. Leupold Freedom RDS With supply chain concerns and where we source our products from isn’t something we should entirely ignore, I think it’s important to at least present an option that supports American labor and raw materials. That doesn’t make the Freedom RDS a better red dot, but it counts for something. And maybe by pointing out how sub-par this red dot is, Leupold or someone will finally come out with an American-made red dot that at least meets current-gen standards. But until then, here we are. The Freedom RDS might be outdated and overpriced, but it’s still a solid red dot you can trust. Vortex SPARC I love the Vortex SPARC because it’s made by Vortex, simple as that. Vortex made its name in the optics industry because of its unbeatable lifetime no-questions-asked warranty on everything it makes. It doesn’t matter if a bear ate it, if it was lost in a house fire, or if you dropped it from your tree stand; Vortex will take care of it. Vortex SPARC II If you’re trying to make every dollar count, this isn’t something you should ignore. The SPARC might not be my favorite red dot, but it is a good one. 50,000-hour battery life, 2-night vision settings, and an auto-off feature that will shut down the SPARC after 12 hours to save battery life; plus, it comes with both an absolute co-witness and a 1/3rd co-witness mount. Oh, and it runs off of a AAA battery – so that’s nice. Of those features, I don’t love the auto-off for red dots I want to trust my life to. If my red dot doesn’t turn on automatically when I pick up the rifle, I want the ability to leave it on. That’s a personal choice, though, so it’s up to you. MSRP is $275. LOOSE ROUNDS Red dots are the current standard and wave of the future. Optics will only improve, and learning how to use them effectively is a core part of modern firearm handling. Irons served us well for hundreds of years, but just like the covered wagon fell to the automobile, it’s long since past time to embrace the red dot way of life. READY FOR MORE? 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