Red dot sights

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is an experienced author from the field of sports optics. He writes articles and reviews about binoculars, spotting scopes, rifle scopes, long range shooting and other topics for magazines like Lovec and blog. Currently he is a member of Optics Trade team. More about Teodor Štimec on Google+.

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Commonly used expression “red dot” has in recent years adhered to all aiming devices, which allow for quick and instinctive aiming before firing a shot. Such optical aiming devices were originally mainly used by armed law enforcement and military units, however, their use later steadily spread among sport shooters and hunters. All products of this type usually share the absence of a conventional reticle, and instead use a strongly illuminated point for aiming, which is usually red. Because of this, these aiming devices got the name “red dot sights”.

Red Dot Sights

Red Dot Sights


The illumination of the aiming point should of course be strong enough to be visible even in the strongest daylight and even against very bright backgrounds such as the sky or snow. These sights are most commonly used during the daytime and rarely in the twilight or in the dark. The first devices of this type had a very wide viewing angle, but despite this magnified the image slightly and so had a certain level of magnification. Today, however, there is a rule on the market, which states that “red dot sights” must have a true 1x magnification (they do not magnify the image) and so allow aiming with both eyes open. High demand for such sights directed the development in two directions, namely, there are reflex sights and red dot sights in an enclosed housing present on the market today as “red dots”. In the last decade, due to the excellent usefulness of “red dot sights” most riflescope manufacturers also decided to produce variable power riflescopes with 1x magnification, which have thus become a third category of “red dot sights”. The following will describe the characteristics and individual types of “red dot sights”, as follows:



The usability of red dot sights


Especially among hunters, it is still possible to find many skeptics regarding the actual usefulness of “red dot sights“. Especially among those who haven’t yet tested this type of optical devices. Aiming at close-range targets with common rifle scopes is usually difficult due to the narrow field of view of the latter, and it is even more difficult, if the target is moving or the shooter finds himself in a stressful situation. Iron sights or “red dot sights” are practically the only options for this kind of aiming. Iron sights on a rifle usually offer the most reliable aiming method, but have several weaknesses, which high quality “red dot sights” do not.
The first problem of aiming with iron sights is the inability of our eyes, to focus on the rear and front sight and on the target all at the same time. Due to this, most people aim with iron sights in a manner, where they primarily focus on the target, leaving the sights somewhat blurry. This can be a serious problem for people with poor eyesight. An additional factor with such aiming is also reduced field of view, as most hunters close one eye, when aiming with iron sights. A red dot sight gets rid of both of these problems completely, as with its application a hunter uses one eye to look through the aiming device, while leaving the other open, and thus allowing both eyes to focus on the target, resulting in a sharper picture, as well as having a field of view, which is exactly the same as with a normal view. The image an eye sees when looking through an optical aiming device without magnification is of course different than it is when looking with a naked eye, as it contains a strong red dot, used for aiming. Our brains are able to skillfully combine the two images our eyes see into one, which means that when aiming, we freely observe the moving target, while moving the red dot, which appears as if it is projected onto the target, accordingly by aiming.

A shot is fired when the red dot is in an appropriate position in relation to the target, which significantly eases aiming in stressful situations and aiming at fast moving targets. “Red dot sights” are also especially useful for all people, who have their vision impaired. “Red dot sights” have no magnification. It is therefore possible to aim with both eyes open. Because there is no reduction of the field of view, it is easier to observe the surroundings and easier to decide whether a particular shot is ethical or not. When using a “red dot sight” on a driven hunt, it is possible to observe several animals in a row simultaneously and therefore easier to choose an animal to be shot ethically. Because of a superior overview of the surrounding area, there are noticeably fewer shots through or into trees when using a “red dot sight” than when using a riflescope or iron sights. Sports shooters also exploit the same advantages of “red dot sights” in dynamic disciplines. Despite the fact that red dots were primarily intended for use on rifles, they are, these days commonly used on shotguns as well. Because of this, some manufacturers began producing “red dot sights” which along with a single illuminated dot, also use an illuminated hollow circle. The diameter of this circle usually matches the spread of an average shotgun shot at 25m.


Red dot sights and parallax error


The quality of every optical aiming device is primarily dependent on its ability to correct parallax error at different distances form a target. The question “what exactly is parallax error” still often arises among hunters. This is simply the offset of the aiming point from the center of the target in relation to the offset of the eye from the centerline of the aiming device. With red dot sights, were the position of the shooter’s head often isn’t ideal due to fast aiming, good parallax correction is especially important. Typically, red dot sights have parallax correction set in a manner, where the parallax error equals zero at 50 meters. On the other hand, low power variable riflescopes with 1x magnification usually have zero parallax error at a distance of 100 meters. The quality of every optical device is so primarily determined through amount of parallax error at arbitrary distances. High quality red dot sights maintain the position of the aiming point fixed, at distances, greater than 15 meters, regardless of the position of the shooter’s head (they are parallax error free beyond 15m). Cheaper products usually have more shortcomings in this area.

Parallax free red dot sight

Parallax free red dot sight

Reflex sights

Reflex sights represent one of two dominating construction types of “red dot sight” and are the smallest and the lightest of all optical aiming devices. They essentially consist of a single glass element (a sight window), onto which a red aiming point is projected. Different manufacturers produce reflex sights with different sight window sizes, however, the most common size for hunting use is 25 x 20mm. Due to their small size, reflex sights can easily be mounted on all types of firearms, without adding a large amount of weight to the entire setup, as the weight of the sight itself is practically negligible. High quality products from this group of sights generally do not have major problems with correcting parallax error, and they also have a built in sensor for automatic adjustment of the aiming point brightness. Some state of the art models are also waterproof. Waterproofing was, for a long time, a big problem of older generations of reflex sights, since these sights were often used in the winter, when it is snowing or raining. This is still a problem and a major drawback of cheap, modern day Chinese products. The biggest advantage of reflex sights over other types of red dot sights is undoubtedly their instinctive use, as a human eye barely notices the small frame, surrounding a reflex sight’s sight window. A hunter can, with a bit of practice, aim with a reflex sigh as if he had a plain rifle. A drawback of reflex sights is mainly their robustness in snow. Because the small piece of glass in the sight window and the projector of the aiming point are separated, getting snow on the sight blocks the projection of the aiming point onto the sight window and thus renders it inoperable until the snow is cleared away. Cleaning can be especially tricky and time consuming, if snow gets into the projector area. 1x power riflescopes or enclosed red dot sights can be, in the same situation, cleaned much quicker, with a simple swipe of a cleaning cloth over both lenses. Due to this, reflex sights tend to be more appropriate for use on a stand during a driven hunt, rather than being used while walking in the snow over difficult terrain. Reflex sights can also be used on handguns.


Red dot sights with an enclosed housing

Red dot sights with an enclosed housing (or simply “tube” sights) were created as a riflescope with a fixed 1x magnification (no magnification) and an illuminated aiming point, which is bright enough, to be visible in the daylight. Through the development of newer generations, the size of these sights steadily decreased, making modern day “tube red dot sights” nearly as small as reflex sights. When compared to the latter, the advantage of tube sights is mainly in their robustness, and reliability of operation. Snow, rain and even the most extreme of situations are usually no match for a “tube red dot sight”. High quality sights of this type also have aiming points of a better, rounder, circle-like shape which unlike with reflex sights, glow less at high brightness settings. The only real drawback of this type of sights is their size and weight, as they often require similar mounts for mounting on a rifle, as a riflescope does, and despite this offer no magnification whatsoever. Nevertheless, for beaters on driven hunts, who tend to find themselves crossing rough terrain or in thick brush, a “tube red dot sight” is the first choice.


1x power riflescopes

Riflescopes began taking on the role of red dot sights with the development of very brightly illuminated reticles, which were also visible in the daylight. The second condition these riflescopes had to meet in order to be used as “red dot sights” was a 1x power level. Even today, only the more expensive riflescopes meet both of the conditions listed above. Because of this, many manufacturers of cheaper riflescopes resort to aggressive marketing techniques, and propagate their products as something they are not. Many cheaper low power riflescopes do not meet the conditions that would enable them to be used as red dot sights. Usually, despite being marked as having a 1x power magnification, their actual lowest power level is 1.1x or more. Only a handful of average hunters are able to aim with both eyes open, when using a magnification of 1.1x or more. The same applies to the illuminated reticles, as they are, in cheap riflescopes, rarely bright enough, to be visible in the daylight. When using a low power riflescope as a red dot sight, parallax error can also be an issue. Most riflescopes are set to have no parallax error at 100 meter. Because of this, the parallax error becomes more significant lower distances. Riflescopes, which have all of the described problems well resolved and can actually be used as red dot sight, have one major advantage over types of red dot sights; they allow for very easy and fast magnification adjustments, and consequentially make long range shots easier and more accurate. Modern day low-power riflescopes can have a power range form 1x, all the way to 10x, while a rule determines the front objective lens diameter to be 24mm. These riflescopes are as robust as tube red dot sights. Among their drawbacks, high price and size are often exposed. Low-power riflescopes are equally useful during a driven hunt, for both beaters, and hunters on stands.




From the written, it is possible to derive a reasonable conclusion; “red dot sights” are, these days, a very useful hunting accessory, which significantly increases hunting possibilities on driven hunts. They are also massively used by sporting shooters. Due to a better overview of the surroundings and the events before taking a shot at game in motion, and due to a much higher accuracy when compared to all other aiming devices in these kinds of situations, red dot sights allow for more ethical hunting. The possibility of a poorly placed shoot, when using a red dot sight, decreases dramatically. Choosing the appropriate red dot sight depends on each hunter individually. In the case, where the price of this kind of accessory isn’t an issue, low-power riflescopes, such as 1-4×24, 1-6×24 or even 1-10×24, represent the best choice. In the opposite case, it is worth considering an unwritten rule that reflex sights are more suitable for use on stands, while “tube red dots” are more appropriate for walking over difficult terrain.



The following two tabs change content below.
is an experienced author from the field of sports optics. He writes articles and reviews about binoculars, spotting scopes, rifle scopes, long range shooting and other topics for magazines like Lovec and blog. Currently he is a member of Optics Trade team. More about Teodor Štimec on Google+.

Latest posts by Teodor Štimec (see all)

Teodor Štimec

is an experienced author from the field of sports optics. He writes articles and reviews about binoculars, spotting scopes, rifle scopes, long range shooting and other topics for magazines like Lovec and blog. Currently he is a member of Optics Trade team. More about Teodor Štimec on Google+.

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3 Responses

  1. I can see the merrits of fast target aquasition from a red dot sight for low to mid-range engagement but would like to know how a red dot compares to a green dot sight? And also, in low-light red light doesnt disturb night vision, but will a green light?

  2. C says:

    Best explanation I have read. Especially the differences, and positive and negative attributes for the intended use of the shooter. Thanks!

  3. Billy Barber says:

    Great article Teodor. I have several red dot scopes which I use mainly for short range varmint hunting. They can be relatively inexpensive (depending on the options and mfg) however as one gets older the eye sight has a tendency to lose strength. If you haven’t used a red-dot I encourage the purchase of a lower end scope and experiment.

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