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In the world of short to medium-range optics, there are two main categories you can pick from: holographic sights and red dot sights. Whether you’re kitting up a handgun, shotgun, or carbine, both of these types of sights are upgrades over traditional iron sights. By increasing your target acquisition speed, giving you a wider field of view, and providing an easy reticle for you to aim your weapon, you can instantly become more effective with your weapon of choice by attaching one of them. While some people refer to any non-magnified rifle scope as a “red dot sight,” this isn’t accurate, as holographic weapon sights work completely differently. If you’re unfamiliar with gearing up your weapons and how these optics work, it can be difficult to decide between holographic sights and red dot sights. Don’t worry, I’ll walk you through the basics of each type so that you can make an informed decision.
First, I’ll start with the basics, as it’s easier to make a decision when you fully understand how the optic you’re buying works. Red dot sights are the simplest to deal with. Essentially, a red dot sight just uses a small, powerful light (usually an LED emitter), that shines toward a reflective piece of glass, giving you a dot to aim your shots. This also means that the battery life for most red dot sights is impressively long, with some offering several thousand hours of uptime. Despite the name, a red dot sight can have either a red or green dot, and the reticle doesn’t have to be a dot at all. There are a variety of reticles available, including small crosshairs, circles with a dot in the middle, and other options.
On the other hand, we have holographic sights. Instead of reflecting an LED onto a clear piece of glass, they use a laser and a variety of mirrors to create a holographic reticle that appears ahead of the front lens. One downside to this compared to red dot sights is that the laser uses a lot more power, so the battery life is much lower.
Since red dot sights have only a few components and the technology is relatively simplistic, manufacturers have mastered making them as small and form-fitting as possible. There are micro red dot sights that mount cleanly and evenly on the slide of a handgun, as well as larger ones that are made to be durable and fit on the rails of an AR 15, carbine, or tactical shotgun.
Holographic sights are bigger than red dot sights, across the board. As mentioned, they have a lot more components, and manufacturers haven’t yet perfected making them as small as possible. While they function well, they weigh more and look chunkier than red dot sights. This is why holographic sights are primarily used on carbines and shotguns, as these weapons have large receivers that can easily accommodate the optics. Generally, they don’t look right or can’t fit on handguns, so this is a big problem if that’s what you’re looking for.
Which Should You Pick?
The best red dot sights or holographic sights depend entirely on your needs. Picking between them is tricky, even with all this info, as each type of sight has pros and cons. For a reliable, simple, and easy-to-use option, go with a red dot sight. This is especially recommended if you are looking to purchase your first close-quarters optic, as you can get an inexpensive option that lets you figure out what you do and don’t like.
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