Reflex sights and red dot sights are both types of optical sights used to improve aim when shooting. But what is the difference between reflex and red dot? And when is one better than the other? And how do they compare to other methods for sighting your target?
The red dot vs reflex sight debate is confusing because unmagnified red dot sights are reflex sights. However, not all reflex sights are red dot sights. And reflex sights don’t have to use the classic red dot.
What are reflex sights?
Reflex sights are reflector sights. They are optical sights. You look through a partially reflecting glass element and see a projection of the aiming point.
A red dot reflex sight is simply a reflex sight that shows you a red dot. But not all red dot sights are reflex sights. The simplest ones just have a red dot instead of a classic iron sight on the end of the gun.
Are red dot sights the same thing as laser sights?
Any red dot sight will improve your targeting. That would be true even if you taped a laser pointer to the barrel of the gun. While a red dot sight is similar to that laser pointer taped to your gun, it is much more stable and designed with shooting in mind.
But what is a red dot sight? It generates a red dot that will show up on anything in the immediate line of sight. You know exactly where the bullets will hit if you pull the trigger. This reduces the odds of missing your target.
If you’re concerned about self-defense, the red dot lets you know if you’re going to hit the intruder or your dog, even though accuracy isn’t as much of a priority as it is in target shooting.
Are red dot sights better than laser sights?
Red dot sights are far better than red laser sights. The visible laser can be hard to quickly find during daylight conditions. This isn’t an issue with the red dot sight. This can increase both the accuracy and speed for sighting the target, and that’s invaluable if you’re hunting or concerned about self-defense.
Laser sights are practical on small handguns where you don’t have the space to mount a red dot sight. Since the laser sight gives you immediate target acquisition and you don’t have time in close encounters to raise the firearm to your line of sight, this is why pistols used for personal defense may need a laser sight over a red dot sight.
Are there other colors available?
The short answer is yes. There are green lasers as well as red lasers. The green laser is easier to see in daylight compared to a red laser. In fact, reflex sights may have both red and green dot options. This is why a reflex sight may not be advertised as a red dot sight even though it can create a red dot sight.
After all, you can switch from red to green, based on visibility conditions. Green dot sights are often better if you have astigmatism or blurred vision, too. But if the sight has only one color, it is almost always red. This is because green lasers are up to thirty times as expensive as red light sources.
How do red dot sights compare to iron sights?
Iron sights may be a small notch on the tip of the gun to help you confirm where it is aimed, or it may be a raised circle containing classic crosshairs to help you sight prey. The downside of iron sights is that you have to line up the front and back sights to make an accurate shot, and that can cost you precious seconds.
Red dot sights allow you to acquire a target faster, since you don’t need to get a perfect cheek weld. Red dot sights are ideal for close and mid-range shooting. If you need to shoot something at a greater distance, you can combine a red dot sight with a scope.
Note that iron sights can be used as a backup sight. It will work when optical equipment like a red dot sight stop working because the batteries died. Iron sights are also more durable, too. They’re not going to break because you dropped the gun, and they won’t stop working because they got wet. And iron sights can’t get out of alignment because the mounting hardware was knocked out of alignment.
What are the benefits of dot sights?
You can keep both eyes open while you sight the gun. This improves your peripheral vision relative to using a telescopic sight. This is invaluable if you are in danger. Dot sights can also speed up sighting, since you don’t have to close an eye and then sight the gun.
What are some other benefits of reflex and red dot sights?
Any lighted sight will increase visibility in low light conditions. However, it won’t give you the same visibility you’d get with a flashlight or infrared scope. But red dot sights are not precision long range optics.
They don’t help you get a better view or dramatically improved aim of a long distance target. That’s why magnified red dot sights exist. You get the benefits of a red dot sight and magnifiers. However, not all red dot sights are magnified. They’ll generally be advertised as red dot sight magnifiers. The magnification factor will be the first value listed in the product description.
For example a 3×22 mm red dot magnifier has triple magnification and a 22 mm diameter lens. A 1-3×22 mm red dot magnifier has one to three times magnification, a 22 mm diameter lens and a red dot to help you aim it. On the other hand, there are many magnifiers that are just magnifiers, so don’t assume a magnifier will come with a red dot to help you aim.
Can red dot sights be combined with flashlights?
With a picatinny rail, you could have both a flashlight and laser sight mounted on the gun. Or you may have a sight that has both a flashlight and red dot sight built into it. Depending on the model, it may have a laser built-in, too.
If the gun-mounted flashlight is on, you should turn the red dot up to the highest setting if you want to be able to see it. The laser may or may not be visible when it is turned on, if the flashlight is on.
On the other hand, there are shooting enthusiasts that recommend learning how to shoot while holding a high intensity flashlight. You can aim the flashlight at noise or sweep an area without having to aim the gun in that direction.
This eliminates the risk of being unable to return the gun to the area immediately in front of you when you shine the light at the noise coming to your left. You maintain your “ready” position as you sweep the area to determine if the noise downstairs is a dog, neighbor or prowler.
Flashlights have the side benefit of making it harder for the target to see you, since the bright light blinds them. If they have a weapon and aim for the flashlight, they aren’t aiming for your core. On the other hand, a laser can give away your location before you sight it on the target. They know you’re there and can track it back to where you are.
This is best exemplified by movie scenes where someone knows there are snipers aiming at them as the red laser beam or dot migrates across the floor before centering on their chest.
What are the alternatives to red dot sights and reflex sights?
We’ve already said that unmagnified red dot sights are a type of reflex sight, but not all reflex sights are red dot sights. There are holographic sights and non-electric sights, as well. But the first reflex sight was a red dot sight. It was a non-electric device.
It simply put a red dot on the end of the barrel. Whatever the dot was on would be what the shooter would have shot if they pulled the trigger.
How do I know which type of sight I’m buying?
Most scope manufacturers make both a red dot and reflex sight version of their gun sight. However, the product description should tell you what kind of sight it is just as a rifle scope should tell you what the magnification of the lenses are.
This is also why the red dot vs reflex sight debate can affect your purchase of a given product, even if you’ve decided on the brand you want to buy.
Note that there is no such confusion about iron sights. They may be built into the gun, or you may be buying and mounting it. But it is a physical piece of hardware that doesn’t generate any type of light beam.
Many reflex sights are red dot sights. However, red dot sights may not be reflex sights, and reflex sights may have a green light or holographic cross-hair instead. Yet red dot reflex sights are a common combination due to their benefits.