A red dot, holographic and reflex sight is not the same thing. They’re often erroneously lumped together, and because of that, you could easily make a big mistake when purchasing these sights.
To clear all of this up, keep reading to find out the differences between these three sights and which one is right for you.
More Reading: Best Holographic Sight
Once you’ve taken a look at this, I’d suggest you take a look at our article on the best holographic sight on the market.
Red Dot vs Holographic vs Reflex
First, before diving in, you’ll need to know that these three sights usually contain a red reticle in the center (sometimes in green) for fast target acquisition. But that’s where most of the similarities end.
A holographic sight, often called a holo, uses a laser and a mirror to create a hologram reticle that bounces back to our eyes inside the scope. But the reticle will appear to be in front of the optic. That reticle can be a dot, a circle, a circle within a dot, or some other shape.
As the laser itself needs power, it operates on batteries. Because of this, it’s a good idea to carry a spare battery when using a holo.
The holographic sight first appeared when EOTech debuted its holo sight at the 1996 SHOT Show. A more recent company to join the game is Vortex, releasing their first holo in 2017.
So, the advantage of a holographic sight vs red dot is that the reticle will appear to be on the target in the distance, giving you a better field of view for target acquisition. And as it doesn’t need the same special coating found on a red dot, it can deliver a slightly clearer image (to be fair, only people with very good eyes can tell the difference).
Moreover, you can use a holographic sight with a magnifier or night vision device.
The major drawbacks to the holo sight are battery drain and cost. The holo will empty a battery faster than a red dot – that’s why carrying a backup battery is a good idea. The laser and electronics inside also drive the price up compared to a simpler red dot scope. (Reference 1: Holographic Sights)
The reflex sight is sometimes called a red dot. However, purists will say it’s not a red dot because a true red dot would be a reflex sight enclosed in a tube. A better way to describe it is that all reflex sights are red dots, but not all red dots are reflex sights.
Essentially, a reflex sight has a glass optical ‘window’ and uses batteries to function but can get by with a much smaller power source than a holo.
Because of this window, the shooter gets a sight picture almost as fast as a shotgun bead. It retains a wider field of view and unlimited eye relief, making it an excellent option for close-quarter combat.
So, how does a reflex sight work? Well, here’s how:
A tiny light, usually an LED, lights up. The light hits a semi-transparent mirror and reflects onto the primary lens as a reticle.
The glass in the reflex sight facing the shooter has a coating, making it partly reflective. That coating bounces the reticle image off the glass to your eye. The glass on the other side has an anti-reflection coating so you can see through the glass. (Reference 2: Reflex Sights)
Like holo, reflex sights can also be used with magnifiers and some night vision attachments.
Now, when it comes to the reflex sight’s reticle, it can be anything. The AIM Sports Tactical Dual IlI features a skull, smiley face, triangle, and arrow reticles.
History of the Reflex Sight
When were reflex sights invented? It was actually around 1900. The first reflex sight was used in fighter planes in WWI, and by WW2, they were in common use.
The fundamental idea is still part of the heads-up display soldiers and pilots use today. The use of the reflex sight in WW2 was primarily the purview of aircraft and artillery.
Red dot vs Reflex Sights
When comparing red dot and reflex sights, its best to consider red dot vs reflex vs holographic to get the full picture.
The main difference between a red dot and reflex sight is that the former is in a tube while the latter is in a window. The difference between those two and a holo sight is that the holo uses a laser to create the reticle. The others use a tiny light, usually an LED.
The reflex sight gives you the fastest sight picture, while the holo is next, and the red dot scope comes in at No. 3. In fact, a reflex sight on an AR15 is the best choice for rapid fire and immediate target acquisition.
Holographic vs Red Dot for Astigmatism
Essentially, astigmatism is a common eye condition where the curve of your eye is imperfect, which causes blurry and distorted vision. If you see a star, a smear, or maybe two dots in your red dot scope, you may have astigmatism.
Here’s a quick red dot astigmatism test you can do:
1) Take a picture through the sight. If the dot is blurry, but the frame is sharp, it’s a scope problem. If the dot is sharp, that means you have astigmatism.
2) Check with some friends who have a red dot and see if their scope does the same thing. If you have the same issues, you have astigmatism.
If you have astigmatism, a holo sight is your best bet for getting a quality shooting solution — the way the light works will give you a sharper image.
However, if you insist on a red dot, get one with a larger Minute of Angle (MOA) dot. An MOA is 1 inch at 100 yards. Red dots go up to 6 MOA.
Here are some more tips to reduce the problem:
- Lower the brightness setting
- Try a green dot instead of red (green light uses a different part of the eye than red)
- Try a magnifier
Red Dot vs Holographic vs Prism
If you want magnification but don’t want another optic on your gun, consider a prism sight. A prism has built-in magnification. It’s not a lot, but when you’re trying to find a coyote standing next to a brush pile at 100 yards, even a 2x magnification helps.
The prism has one distinct advantage over the holographic sight and a traditional red dot: the prism does not need batteries. It utilizes ambient light to illuminate the fiber optics to create the dot.
Looking at a prism sight vs red dot, another advantage is the clearer sight picture. You can tell the difference if you have very good eyes, especially on targets a ways off.
If you’re shooting 200 yards or more, the clear winner between a red dot with magnifier vs prism scope is the prism. Less stuff on your gun is better.
However, unfortunately, you cannot co-witness with a prism. Co-witness means you can see your iron sights through the scope, which is handy for very close shooting.
Red Dot vs Holographic vs ACOG Scopes
Are there any advantages to considering an ACOG vs red dot with magnifier?
The primary benefits of the ACOG scope are it does not use batteries and has a higher magnification than red dots or holos without using a magnifier. ACOGs are good past 200 yards because of this.
On the drawback side, the scope channels light through the fiber optic lines on top of the scope to create the illuminated dot seen inside the scope. So, in twilight conditions, you may not have enough light.
The real thing to keep in mind is the size. The ACOG is much bigger than a holographic sight or red dot sight. You may not want that bulky scope taking up space, especially on a close-quarters combat (CQB) carbine. However, this isn’t an issue on a rifle used past 200 yards.
Red Dot vs Holographic for CQB
In CQB, fast target acquisition is everything. In this arena, the (reflex) red dot sight reigns. The big window means you can see everything, and you can use both eyes instead of having to focus one eye down the short tube of the holographic sight.
In a CQB situation, monitoring the surroundings is critical, as a threat may come from anywhere.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is better holographic or reflex?
If you can’t decide which is better, a holographic or reflex, examine your shooting situation. If you need fast target alignment, get a reflex. If you’re shooting 50-100 yards and need as clear an image as possible, get a holo.
What is the difference between red dot reflex and holographic?
The biggest difference between a red dot reflex and a holographic sight is how the reticle is presented. The red dot projects the dot onto your eye by reflection. The holo projects the reticle forward, making it appear superimposed on the target.
Why is holographic sight better?
The holographic sight is better because it has a clearer view, albeit not by much, and projects the dot forward instead of onto your eye.
Which is better reflex or red dot?
Deciding which is better, reflex or red dot depends on you and your shooting situations. A true reflex gives you a faster sight picture than a true red dot. A red dot works better with a magnifier than a reflex.
- Military Wiki, Holographic weapon sight. Retrieved from https://military-history.fandom.com/wiki/Holographic_weapon_sight
- Military Wiki, Red dot sight. Retrieved from https://military-history.fandom.com/wiki/Red_dot_sight
Dakota Potts is a gunsmith, armorer and gun rights advocates. He enjoys learning about firearm history and technology. He has his own website at pottsprecision.com. You can also find more info on Barret Rifles here. Or follow Dakota Potts on Youtube.