Reflex Red Dots versus Scopes
Optics on firearms obviously improve accuracy. Scopes and red dots are both fantastic. Having said that, red dots have specific areas where they excel. Sometimes a scope is your best option. Beyond 300 yards, and magnification is great. Both for target acquisition and improved accuracy reasons, we recommend a scope at longer ranges over a reflex site.
However, when microseconds really count, red dot reflex sites are often your best option. This is usually in close quarters, like indoors at very short ranges, that these devices really shine. Anything less than 100 yards, and these are ideal. They will also get the job done out to about 300 yards without problem in terms of practical accuracy, but anything beyond and you’re generally better off using magnification. For self defense, a red dot is great since a self defense rifle is generally for quick target acquisition in close quarters.
Another great feature about red dot reflex sites is they are used with both eyes open, which in a defensive scenario is a benefit to help you maintain situational awareness. This is really obvious when both you and the target are moving and you need to snap into action.
We hope to provide you with the information you need in order to evaluate the best red dot sight option for your needs.
Considerations for buying a Reflex Site
- Magnification – While most reflex sights are unmagnified, if you think magnification is something you are interested in, be advised that often timed reflex sights can be paired with purpose-built magnifiers to increase effective range. With magnifiers, these optic systems usually become heavier than rifle scopes, but it can be an effective system, especially if you value versatility and need a rifle to flex into a variety of roles.
- Battery life – This is an important feature in a rifle, since having a battery fail when you are in a self defense scenario is something you want to desperately avoid. Look for an optic that has a battery life capability that will allow you to leave it on so that your rifle is always at the ready and replace the batteries at regular intervals.
- Weight – As the saying goes, ounces are pounds and pounds are pain. Even if this rifle is purely a self defense system that will stay stationary, weight affects swing weight and your agility with the rifle, so make sure you are adding weight intelligently to increase the features of the firearm. Also ensure that you can handle the firearm weight well.
- Field of View – To increase your situational awareness, a wider field of view is generally desired.
- Reticle type – This is subjective, but make sure the reticle is bright enough for you and matches your intended purpose, as reticles can range from simple dots to having multiple aiming points.
- Cost – Please be advised that with firearm optics, you get what you pay for. That being said, each firearm should be setup is, or at least should be, purpose built, so you are responsible for choosing what optic best fits your needs.
Aimpoint has an incredible reputation for being tougher than virtually any other optic company. That is exactly why the United States Army chose this optic as the standard issued Close Combat Optic (M68CCO). Both the Comp M4 and Comp M4s are terrific. This optic was made as a close quarter optic, so there is no magnification. The aiming dot is 2 MOA, which we like. It is a very good balance of precise and easily visible that make 2 MOA our favorite size aiming dot. Anything more, and your group may suffer at 100 yards, where this rifle is still effective. Also, the brightness of the dot is easily enough with the 2 MOA aiming dot to be seen in a sunny environment with no issues at all. In fact, the dot is so intense it can be seen on a background of up to 55,000 lx. This is our opinion and justification for preferring the 2 MOA model, but make whatever decision is best for you.
The build quality is amazingly high, as you would expect if you’re familiar with the Aimpoint brand. If you’ve seen the torture videos of Aimpoints on YouTube, you know what we’re talking about, just in case the mil-spec part didn’t convince you the Comp M4 has been through enough torture testing.
The 80,000 hour battery life (on the daylight mode, mind you) on a single CR2032 AA cell is amazing. It really makes this great for a home defense rifle, where you can throw in some batteries and leave the optic on and know your rifle will be ready to go at a moments notice. There are nine daylight settings and seven night vision settings, making finding the perfect setting for you a breeze. The manual rotary switch which adjusts the dot intensity has a nice tactile feel that clicks.
The picture quality of the optic is outstanding. The images are bright and clear thanks to the anti-reflex coating on all surfaces and multi-layer coating objective lens. As you would expect from the leading manufacturer of red dots, the Comp M4 is parallax-free with unlimited eye relief. The CompM4 sight can be used with all generations of night vision devices (NVDs), but is optimized for third generation night vision technology. The housing is matte black and made of anodized aluminum.
The riser comes with the rifle and was purpose designed to be great and durable. The integral mount eliminates the need for a separate ring, and can be customized with vertical and forward spacers to fit a variety of weapon systems and height preferences to jive with your iron sights. The release knob on the mount does stick out on the QRP2 model mount that comes with the optic, but it shouldn’t interfere too much unless you are really operating in close quarters all the time. If it is good for all the grunts in the army, it is probably good enough for you and will get the job done. After all, it is rated for an operating temperature range of -50 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit and is submersible to 150 feet.
The CompM4 sight is shipped complete with a standard AR15 spacer, as well as a kill-flash anti-reflection device and MILSPEC rubber lens covers.
Finally, Aimpoint also offers a limited manufacturer’s warranty of two years for professional or competitive use, and ten years for personal or recreational use, so buy once, cry once.
The HHS 1 package from EOTech is not cheap, but it is excellent. It is flexible and an adaptable system that gives the user a lot of functionality in a reflex site. The magnification on this option is the G33.STS, which is compatible with all EOTech holographic weapon sights. However, it is certainly not needed, and the EOTech is available without the magnification here. However, we felt compelled to mention the magnification option here since it is part of modular purpose built system that has been battle proven. In fact, it is what Mark Owen of SEAL Team 6’s recommended No Easy Day Rifle is equipped with. The magnification has a 2.2″ eye relief, so it will work fine for people who wear glasses. The magnification still provides a 7.3° field of view, and quickly lets you transition to a 3X magnification from the standard reflex site. The mount on the G33 magnification system is also built very well. It swings out of the way quickly when side mounted and can quickly transition back if your targeting medium range. However, even if you choose to not purchase the magnifier, the EOTech is terrific.
However, the real benefit of the EOTech is the massive field of view and terrific reticle. There’s 4 dots projected in the viewer, which correspond to different distances. This is without question our favorite reticle view. These ballistics are calibrated with .223 cal with 62 grain M855 FMJ at roughly 2,680 fps with a 14.5” barrel. Because that is what many people using the AR platform rifle will have for self defense, it provides four usable aiming points to great effect, but to really take advantage of the longer distances, you will need a magnifier, as hitting out to 600 yards with a 1X red dot sight is challenging.
The EOTech can handle 600 continuos hours on setting 12 on one CR123 lithium battery. Not too bad of a battery life, but certainly not up to par with the Aimpoint or Trijicon. The unit also has an automatic cut off switch after not being used for 6 hours. While that is okay if this is a range gun and even could make sense if you intend to use this as a hunting or class rifle and value the additional features, we do not recommend that for a home self defense gun, which has to be ready immediately. Also, it is not as water resistant as those options, and only submersible to 33 ft. That is still impressive, but if you are the rare breed that scuba dives with your rifle, it is something to consider.
The controls to the optic are located on the side and are relatively intuitive and easy to use. The brightness settings are east to adjust, and there are 20 daylight settings alone plus 10 night vision settings. Safe to say, you’ll find one perfect for your environment and there are no issues at all with brightness impeding visibility. The quick detach mount is also bulletproof and well designed. It can be operated quickly in the field and does a decent job at maintaining zero when being taken off and putting it back on.
The EXPS3 comes in a manageable package for the features it packs. The unit is 3.8” x 2.3” x 2.9” and weighs 11.2 ounces. Our biggest reservation with the EOTech is the weight when compared to the competition. For that reason, make sure that you are putting this rifle on a purpose-built firearm where you are okay with adding additional weight. This is especially true if you opt to add the magnifier as well, even if it does make longer shots possible. The EOTech makes a lot of sense if you are actually going to use the added functionality and medium range capability, but if you just want a simple dot site for close quarters, it is a heavy option to not use all it’s functionality.
But that is not to say that it is not a wonderful performer just in close quarters, especially if you will not be carrying the weight around too frequently. In fact, the EXPS3 was chosen by the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) as their primary optic for close-quarter engagements, so this is yet another high quality piece of equipment that has been thoroughly tested by tier 1 operators. If they have taken it through the ringer and put their seal of approval on it, you know it is a quality piece of kit that will not let you down.
Designed to compete with successful Aimpoint’s Micro T-1, the Trijicon Miniature Rifle Optic (MRO) brought some changes to the table that make it even more interesting to some users. The first and most obvious think you will notice is the ocular lens is larger than a micro, while still maintaining a relatively small package. The most obvious is the 25mm objective lens. The reason that is an advantage is because it reduces the feeling you are looking through a tube due to the tapered tube. It’s hard to overstate the difference in feel that a few millimeters make in terms of the objective lens. The wider field of vision makes the optic feel like you are looking through a tube and gives a much more open view.
The dot is simple, but incredibly bright and clear. There are 8 total illumination settings that are plenty to do the job and make sure the dot is bright enough to see, even midday in a bright environment. The MRO is constructed out of rugged 7075-T6 forged aluminum and ships in a plastic box from Trijicon with a battery and mount, of which you have the choice of riser mount heights between a low, 1/3 co-witness, and absolute co-witness options. To further elaborate on the build quality, the Trijicon is waterproof to 100 feet. We’re not sure we’ll ever use or test that functionality, but it is nice to know the construction can withstand it.
The Trijicon’s 2 MOA reticle looks like this. Simple, easy to use, and with an infinite eye relief that can be the best way to go.
The adjustment tower on top of the MRO is also convenient. There are two night vision compatible settings and six brightness settings for the naked eye. Windage and elevation adjustments are 1/2 MOA adjustments, and can be done with a coin or bullet casing at the range. One advantage we really like about the MRO over the Aimpoint micros is the fact that the weatherproofing is built right in to the optic rather than having to take off a cap cover and adjust it using the cap, like one has to with the Aimpoints. While we don’t anticipate that a lot of people need to be adjusting for elevation and windage, this is a red dot reflex optic after all and not intended for long range shooting, it is nice to know you are capable of adjusting it in the field if you had to, and that it can be done with common tools rather than relying on a proprietary cap. And speaking of adjustments, the controls will give the dot 70 MOA of total travel, so saying you should be able to dial it in for whatever your use is no exaggeration.
It did not impact our usage in the least, but some say there is a slight magnification on MRO and that it is blue tinted. The blue tint is noticeable, and the edges of the picture is not as clear as the Aimpoint, but making that trade for a wider field of view is fine with us for a red dot sight. It is powered from a CR2032 lithium battery. On setting 3, Trijicon says this thing will stay powered for 50,000 hours. Suffice it to say, this is a great option for people who want to turn on an optic and leave it on so it is ready to rock and roll at a moments notice. The MRO works great on rifles or shotguns.
The value of the MRO is very high. You are getting a high quality optic from a premium manufacturer with a reputation for excellence, all at a price point that is about 2/3 the cost of the Aimpoint T1 and T2. The MRO is also relatively small, coming in at 2.6 inches in length and only weighing 4.1 ounces with the battery (without the mount, which varies according to which riser option you choose).
While it isn’t cheap, if you want an amazing optic that is produced in the United States, this is undeniably one of the best red dots on the market today.
Vortex has been building its reputation and becoming increasingly popular lately in the tactical firearm world.
The StrikeFire II is a terrific value. The Vortex is not the same quality of the Aimpoint that it imitates, however, it is also no where near the price either. In fact, this does very well for the excellent value it offers for the relatively low price. In general, it is a bad idea to go too cheap with optics and buy from untested brands. That does not apply to Vortex. Vortex has a great reputation in the industry and despite not being 100% Mil-Spec, it is still a well made consumer optic. Also, do not confuse non-Mil-Spec with poorly made. The Vortex is waterproof optics are O-ring sealed to prevent moisture, dust and debris from getting inside. The internals are nitrogen purged to inhibit internal fogging.
One thing to mention is this is a 4 MOA diameter dot. While we prefer 2 MOA in general for added precision, this optic comes with the option to have a green dot in addition to the standard red dot.
The red seems to offer a highest contrast, but if you prefer a green reflex site, this is a good one. The optic weighs 7.2 ounces and is 5.6 inches long. The 30mm lens is great and offers a clear picture that is very sharp.
The optic comes with batteries and flip up covers, which is nice. The cantilever mount also is included in the purchase. Like we mentioned, the value on this option is high. Vortex also offers a 3X magnifier for an additional price if you are interested. The adjustment turrets are exactly where you would expect them and are adjustable with a flathead screwdriver.
Standard CR2 battery, which is easy to access. The battery will last about 300 hours on the brightest setting, and 3,000 on the lowest setting. Considering batteries are cheap and all the money you will save buying this site, we think that is not only reasonable, but impressive. The 10 brightness settings are certainly enough, and we would absolutely trust this optic to run on our personal defense rifle.
In summary, if you want an substitute to the Aimpoint at a lower price point, it is hard to beat the value offered by the StrikeForce2 from Vortex.
The Bushnell Trophy red dot is the undisputed best bang for the buck option on this list. Make no mistake, this optic is not employed by any commandos financed with tax payer dollars, but it is an amazing substitute for the higher end optics. This is not at all to suggest that this optic is not built well. On the contrary, the controls are very solid and easy to use.
The TRS-25 runs a CR2032 battery and has a 25mm objective lens. The lens does have a tint to it, but that does not bother us and we expect that on a red dot at this price point. The 3 MOA dot reticle is bright and provides easy target acquisition capabilities at close ranges. The dot does not feel as crisp as it could, but it more than gets the job done.
The sight is incredibly light, weighing in at 3.7 ounces without the battery. Not only is the sight lightweight, but it is compact in form factor as well. It is only 2.4 inches in length, so it really is low profile for an optic that adds the capability it does. It is listed as 3,000 hours of continuous use by the manufacturer.
In short, this is the only red dot optic we would recommend under $100. The Bushnell is raved about by thousands of people in reviews, and we completely understand why. The value cannot be beaten and Bushnell has experience making optics at all price points and levels. While it isn’t up to the quality that the premium brands are, the capabilities are very similar and the price is nothing short of amazing for this very well made optic.