If you’ve only recently come across a reflex scope, a red dot scope, and a holographic scope and are unsure of the difference, that’s fair. The distinction is partly in the physical housing of the lens and partly in the reticle.
But which is the better scope?
Up Next: Best Red Dot Sights Money Can Buy
Once you’ve taken a look at this article, I’d highly suggest our write up on the best red dot sights on the market. We explain which brands are worth it and which need to be avoided.
Red Dot vs Reflex Sights
A lot of people confuse red dot and reflex sights. The difference is that a red dot comes in a tube, while a reflex sight has a single glass pane, a lot like a window. The reflex gives you a faster sight picture and allows you to keep situational awareness.
Many shooters use the reflex sight AR15 combo because it’s a faster solution. In 3-gun competitions, where speed matters, that fraction of a second can be the difference between first and second place.
The red dot is like a short telescopic sight as it’s in a tube. It uses the same technology as a reflex sight. However, you have to look down the tube. This concentrates your view on whatever you aim at, and you lose situational awareness in your other eye. (Reference: Red Dot Sights)
Both sights provide the shooter with a better sight picture than traditional iron sights. With the red dot or reflex, you can focus on the target, and your reticle stays in focus too. With iron sights, you must choose to focus on the rear sight, front sight, or target.
You can also use a magnifier with a reflex or red dot for AR15.
Throw in the holographic sight, and things get even more confusing. The holo sight, as it’s often called, uses a laser to create a reticle.
The holo utilizes mirrors and is set up so that the reticle appears to be on the target, not the lens. It also goes through batteries far faster than red dot and reflex sights.
The holo sight provides a clearer image, especially at a distance. Reflex and red dot scopes have a semi-reflective coating on the lens to make them work. However, the holo does not have that reflective coating.
A holo can be used with a magnifier, and some come with built-in magnification. The drawback to the holo is that it’s also heavier than the others and has a much higher price tag.
If you are trying to decide on red dot vs reflex vs holographic for your gun, then consider these points:
- Battery life
If any of these three points are a significant factor for you, do not get a holographic sight.
Reflex vs Red Dot vs Holographic Sights
If you are looking at reflex, red dot, or holos, here are some additional factors to help you decide.
If immediate target acquisition is important, then get a reflex. A red dot retains a tube that you must look down. Conversely, a reflex is a single plane of glass. Looking through a single pane is preferable for faster target acquisition than looking down a tube. (Reference: Reflex Sight)
The easy way to remember the difference between a red dot vs reflex is: a reflex is immediate, just like a reflex action you have when the doctor hits your knee with that small rubber mallet.
The difference in reflex vs holographic is similar to reflex and red dot regarding getting on target fast, depending on your holo sight. If you get a holo with a longer frame for the lens, then sight acquisition is similar to a red dot.
Reflex vs Holographic Sights
In close-quarters combat (CQB) situations, a short-frame holo sight has no practical advantage over a reflex sight. Both get you on target fast. The big differences in red dot vs holographic for CQB are battery life and weight.
A holo will use up batteries much faster than a reflex. The holo also weighs a few ounces more, which may not seem like much until you have to carry the gun for hours and hours.
If you have astigmatism, then a reflex sight may not be your best choice, as the reticle dot may appear distorted. A holo sight will give you a much clearer reticle.
Expect to spend more for the holo sight, but just like buying glasses or contact lenses, if it is what you need, then you buy it. Find some friends with each type of optic and see the difference in reflex vs holographic astigmatism issues.
If you are interested in CQB training, then the difference in red dot vs holographic for CQB comes down to weight and battery life. Both work well in close-quarters conditions.
For more reading see our report on using scopes or red dots on your AR-15 rifle.
What is the difference between holographic, reflex and red dot?
The difference between holographic, reflex and red dot is reflex has the shortest frame to look through. The red dot has a tube to look through, while the holo comes in a tube but appears to project the reticle onto the target instead of the glass.
How accurate are reflex sights?
Reflex sights are just as accurate as any other optic you can put on your gun under 100 yards (91 meters). Past that, the size of the dot starts obscuring too much of the target.
Are red dot sights reflex sights?
Red dots are a category that reflex sights belong in. The red dot comes in a tube and offers a brighter dot because the tube blocks more ambient light than a reflex.
Which is better an AR-15 scope or red dot?
Deciding which is better, an AR-15 scope or a red dot, depends on your shooting style. A red dot is best if you only shoot to 100 yards (91 meters) or less. If you reach out to 200 yards (182 meters) and more, you need a full scope.
- Sig Sauer, The Advantages of Red Dot Sights and Pistol Mounted Optics. Retrieved from https://www.sigsauer.com/blog/the-advantages-of-red-dot-sights-and-pistol-mounted-optics
- Military Wiki, Reflector sight. Retrieved from https://military-history.fandom.com/wiki/Reflector_sight
I have been writing firearms and outdoor material for over 50 years to date. I have hunted across the world, including Russia, and a great deal of time professional hunting in Australia. I currently live in the American West and hunt all across the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Big Horn Mountains. I have specialized much of my work as a load developer in shotguns and rifles. I have run a small company that builds suppressor barrels of my design and load tests for writing purposes and consulting. My commercial names include Ballistics Research & Development / Metro Gun Systems TM.
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