Best Red Dots [2019]: Under $200 Budget

Red dots have come a long way.

Now you can have a dependable red dot that runs 50,000 hours on for under $200.

Best Budget Red Dots
Best Budget Red Dots (L to R, Primary Arms, Holosun, Vortex Sparc)

We will cover three of the most popular budget red dots and rank them in reliability, clarity, mounting options, bang-for-the-buck-ness, and more.  Get ready for some torture testing too!

Red Dot Immersion
Red Dot Immersion

Models we’ll cover:

Red DotPriceWarranty
Holosun HS403A$1403 year, non-transferable
Vortex Sparc AR$199Lifetime, transferable
Primary Arms Advanced Micro Dot $1703 year, non-transferable

Table of Contents

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Why Red Dots Are Awesome

I’m an advocate for learning how to shoot with irons and then upgrading to red dots.  If only to understand how awesome they are compared to old school fixed sights.

Looking for other kinds of sights?  We cover them in our Ultimate AR-15 Optics Guide.

There are four main reasons why I love red dots.

1. Unlimited Eye Relief

Unlike other sights, unmagnified red dots have unlimited eye relief…which means there’s no set minimum/maximum distance you need to mount them from your eye.

2. Parallax Free

Red dots are essentially parallax free…this means when you move your head around, the red dot moves with you so you’re still pointed at the same target.  This way you don’t need a super precise position to get the shot.

3.  Co-witness

Co-Witness, Absolute vs Lower Third
Co-Witness, Absolute vs Lower Third

You can also choose the height of your red dot so you co-witness your irons.  This way in case the red dots go down…you still have your irons.  Absolute co-witness places the dot exactly on your irons while lower 1/3 gives you more room for the dot.

4. Keeping Both Eyes Open

Red dots are designed for you to keep both eyes open.  It’s much easier with red dots compared to iron sights and by using both eyes you get a nearly unlimited field of view while still superimposing the dot on your targets.

Now enough about red dots…let’s see our test subjects!

The Contestants

Budget Red Dots Side
Budget Red Dots Side

There’s going to be some red dot terms that aren’t self-explanatory, here’s a quick breakdown of what they mean:

  • Dot Size (MOA): means minute of angle and describes the dot’s size.  For example, a 2 MOA dot will cover 2 inches at 100 yards.
  • Night Vision Compatible: you will still be able to see the dot while using night vision equipment

Here’s what I chose for what I see as the three most popular red dots under $200 that come from well-known companies.  If you want to go a little cheaper…check out our Best Red Dots Under $100.

Primary Arms Advanced Micro Dot

130
at Primary Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

The PA Advanced Micro Dot is very well known in the budget optics space for being affordable yet reliable.  Here are some of the important specs:

  • 50,000 hour battery life (1x CR2032)
  • 3-year warranty
  • 2 MOA dot
  • Waterproof to 2m for 72 hours
  • Night vision compatible
  • -4 F to 158 F working temperature
  • Weight: 3.9 oz
  • Does not come with riser (Using Daniel Defense Mount)

Holosun HS403A

Best Red Dot Under $200
170
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

The Holosun HS403A is making a splash in the red dot world for really affordable sights with all the bells and whistles.  Rumor has it that Holosun is the manufacturer of Primary Arms’ red dots (to their specs).

  • 50,000 hour battery life (1x CR2032)
  • 2 MOA dot size
  • 3-year warranty
  • 8-hour auto shutoff
  • Waterproof to 1m
  • Night vision compatible
  • Weight: 4.2 oz w/riser
  • 14 F to 122 F working temperatures
  • Comes with risers for absolute/one-third co-witness

Vortex Sparc AR

199
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

The Vortex Sparc AR is a newcomer from the very well-known Vortex that is robust with clear glass.

  • 5,000 hours battery life (1x AAA)
  • 2 MOA dot size
  • Unlimited & transferable lifetime warranty
  • 12-hour auto shutoff
  • Waterproof to 1m
  • Night vision compatible
  • Weight: 8.5 oz w/ riser
  • -4 F to 158 F working temperatures
  • Comes with risers for both co-witness heights

Drop Testing

I bought these myself to test them out so this part hurt a little…but if something can’t survive three drops from around 3 feet onto concrete (without being attached to a rifle)…then I probably wouldn’t trust it later anyway.

All three survived but I found out later that the Primary Arms one had a crack on the rear window at 7 o’clock…

Holosun and Primary Arms
Holosun and Primary Arms (Cracked)

It didn’t affect function and it made it through the next test with flying colors.

Waterproof & Temperature Testing

I don’t have plans of swimming with my guns but in case I get caught in the rain, I’d like for it to survive.

Not Me and My Gun
Not Me and My Gun

I combined this test with the temperature test and loaded up a pot with some hot water.  I let it cool overnight for the lower end of the temperature spectrum.

Again, all three passed function testing in the morning.

BUT…

I made the error of not wiping them down.  Some time passed before I went shooting with them and I found a good amount of rust on the Primary Arms (rails, next picture) and Sparc AR (screws of the riser).

Vortex Sparc AR Rust
Vortex Sparc AR Rust

Battery Compartments & Risers

Budget Red Dot Batteries
Budget Red Dot Batteries (L to R, Holosun, Vortex, Primary Arms)

Here you can see the rust on the rails on the Primary Arms.

And how each red dot deals with its batteries.  The Sparc AR has the added benefit of using AAA batteries but weights almost 2x the weight of the others.

The Primary Arms’ battery is on the side for easy access while the Holosun is underneath and requires disassembly from the mount.

Holosun Mounting
Holosun Mounting

I was a little scared at the flimsy rubber housing but it held up during the water testing and there’s no rust on anything.

Ok…how about how the dots and glass look?

Dot & Glass Clarity

Budget Red Dots All On
Budget Red Dots All On (L to R, Holosun, Vortex, Primary Arms)

This picture is meant to showcase the glass clarity.  I focused on the body instead of the dots so the dots appear fuzzier than in real life.

You can see that the Holosun and Primary Arms’ glass is greener than the middle Vortex.  I’d say Holosun edges slightly over the Primary arms in terms of clarity.

However, the view box of the Vortex is noticeably smaller (this was the main thing people picked up on while I was at the range and asking randoms to check out all three dots).

Here are pics of how the red dots actually appear at around 3rd from the brightest setting.

Crisp Red Dot (Holosun)
Crisp Red Dot (Primary Arms)

The Holosun was just as crisp as the Primary Arms.  And here is the Sparc AR.

Crisp Sparc AR
Crisp Sparc AR

Fit, Feel, & Adjustments

Best Budget Red Dots
Best Budget Red Dots

All three felt fine in hands but the Sparc AR felt extra beefy…like I could have continued drop testing all day long and it would still keep on going.  The rubber cover also doesn’t hurt although overall it is much heavier and bulkier than the other two.

The adjustments were also in different places.  The Holosun and Primary Arms were on top while the Sparc AR is on the back.  I have no personal preference so they were all fine and dandy to me.

Red Dot Brightness Adjustments
Red Dot Brightness Adjustments

Keep in mind that the Primary Arms has no auto-shutoff while the Holosun is 8 hours while the Sparc AR is 12 hours auto-shutoff.  Some prefer to leave the red dot on so it is ready to go, while others want to conserve battery life if they accidentally leave it on.

Shootability

Lightweight Build Brigand Arms and Faxon Pencil 14.5 Pinned
Lightweight Build Brigand Arms and Faxon Pencil 14.5 Pinned

I used all three red dots on my lightweight build with my carbon fiber Brigand Arms handrail and Faxon 14.5 pencil barrel.

They all shot fine but there was a big difference of the Primary Arms and Holosun clarity & eyebox versus the Sparc AR.

The PA/Holosun had the slight bluish hue while the Sparc AR was much clearer.  But the Sparc AR had the smaller eyebox.

Zeroes held fine as well even after the drop testing.

Warranty

Primary Arms and Holosun both have 3-year warranties.  I used the Primary Arms warranty to fix the cracked rear glass.

It was very painless and after a quick call, email with attached pictures, and self-ship, they replied that they would be fixing it free of charge.  I received the fixed sight shortly after with tracking and everything.

Primary Arms Red Dot Fixed
Primary Arms Red Dot Fixed

Vortex, on the other hand, has an unlimited lifetime warranty that is completely transferable.  I had to show my receipt for Primary Arms so if you buy one second-hand…you might be out of luck.

Honorary Mentions

Yes…I couldn’t get my hands on all the red dots out there (especially since I’m buying them out of pocket).  But here are some other sub-$200 ones that seem to do very well.

Conclusion

So after all this stuff…what do I recommend?

Best Red Dot Under $200
170
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

For best bang-for-the-buck I’d have to go with the Holosun HS403A.  You get a great optic that passed all the tests, didn’t rust, and comes with a riser included in the price.  You’ll forego a little clarity on the glass and convenience in switching out batteries though.

Still working great almost a year since the initial testing.  What’s your take on the Holosun?

Readers' Ratings

4.99/5 (219)

Your Rating?

199
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

For robustness and ease of maintenance, I go with the Vortex Sparc AR.  If weight is not a deal-breaker, I’m pretty sure this red dot can survive almost anything.  Aside from passing all the tests (remember to wipe it dry), you get the ease of AAA batteries and the clearest glass of the bunch.  However, there’s reduced battery life, extra weight, and a smaller eyebox.

Unfortunately, since the Primary Arms Advanced Micro Dot ($170) did crack on me, I won’t be recommending it (great warranty service though).  Plus…it doesn’t come with a riser so you’ll have to get another one, which would raise its price above the Vortex.

Any other budget red dots you’d like to see?  What do you currently run on your AR?  Want to go cheaper?  We now have a Best Under $100 Red Dots article and video.

57 Leave a Reply

  • Andrew

    Any chance for a review for the updated Vortex Cross Fire and Sparc AR models?

    1 week ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      They're on our list!

      1 week ago
  • John

    The Holosun is no longer available from Amazon... maybe an updated Choice? Thank you!

    1 month ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      The Holosun 403B is the same red dot, with a very slightly different mount - but it's a more common mounting system so that is kind of a plus!

      1 month ago
  • HARRY BUGARIN

    Looking to get into a Rimfire Challenge with my 10/22 Take Down. Would any of these work? I am going for lightweight. Would the Burris Fastfire III be a better option?

    2 months ago
  • Dan

    I got the the Romeo 5 on sale for 100 bucks ans it rocks. Shake to turn on, turns off dropped 2 times so far and no damage. Love this dot and comes with riser. Absolutely awesome on 9mm ar pistol

    2 months ago
  • Roberto Sanchez

    I wonder if the 3 budget red dots are applicable to a 12g shotgun autoloader. Can they withstand the stress?

    4 months ago
  • MBZ

    Missing Sig Sauer Romeo 5.... Just saying for $128 is a pretty good deal.

    5 months ago
  • ryan lynch

    Do re dot sights need to be zerod?

    6 months ago
  • Sean

    Strike Fire II & Spitfire 1x for me

    6 months ago
  • Ryan M Staebler

    Any new players in this category post-shot show? Any updates on the Romeo 5... seems to be getting good reviews in comments and other places I've checked... and is coming in at 124 on Amazon today (02/07/2019).

    8 months ago
    • Craft

      From an ret-Operator, if given the Romeo5 I wouldn't have any concerns. It does not have the crisp dot as Aimpoint but it's really not far apart enough that I would be concerned. I think it gives those looking to purchase Eotech and Aimpoint another less expensive option. Why it was listed as Honorary Mention and was listed below Primary Arms is disturbing and am getting the feeling that those who perform these tests are shy of a novice level knowledgebase. .

      6 months ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      We have a DEEP dive review of the Romeo 5 in the works right now - major abuse tests and everything! Early reports are very positive though. You can find it for a bit cheaper from Palmetto State Armory than on Amazon, $119 shipped right now.

      8 months ago
  • Mark

    "Not recommending Primary Arms" because you dropped it on the edge of eye box and broke glass? Lol the holosun is the same optic lol minus a few features. I have all 3 and the PA is definitely the best of the bunch hands down

    9 months ago
  • Jake

    Many people seem to be bringing up the lack of an auto on feature for the vortex, however I don't see this as an issue. Whenever I pick up my rifle to go to the range I've made it habit to check the chamber, and turn on the sight. Even if I were to forget when I flip up the lense covers, the first time I attempt to get a sight picture I will instantly notice and it only takes a fraction of a second to flip it on. so I see that as a non issue

    10 months ago
    • John Gerry

      If you are using this for Home Defense you want the sight to come on when you grab the gun. Not saying the other sights are bad but I have 2 Holosun's.

      8 months ago
  • Joseph Walter Flowers

    IMPORTANT things you forgot to mention that make the HOLOSUN even more dominant. 1) HOLOSUN makes models, like PA, with batteries on the side. They also make SOLAR AND Battery models, which will work outside with a dead battery. 1) The HOLOSUN has an AUTO-ON feature that works very well (if a mouse farts within a foot of your gun, it'll come back on for you). This means you don't have to leave the dot on ALL the time (burning battery and shortening LED life). You mentioned the auto-off feature, but I didn't see the AUTO-ON mentioned (I have no idea if VORTEX has it). 2) The HOLOSUN offers a CIRCLE-DOT reticle (like EOtech) that many people prefer--it definitely can help you shoot faster, but it also allows you to just use the 2MOA dot if you want. I think HOLOSUN and PA may offer the PA designed ACSS reticle, but for a non-magnified lens, it's not a big help in my opinion. While PA says it's a 3 year warranty, they're so cool, I bet they'd replace anything that went bad within 5 years or more. Holosun also seems to do well with any warranty work. Vortex of course does. In my opinion, the HOLOSUN 503GU is tougher and I think the glass is less tinted than the old design of the 403 model you used here. While it is their BASE model, I've bought a 503GU for $199, so it should have been used in the testing in my opinion. ** I'd be interested in the $180 to $250 range, which would include the SIGs (which APPEAR to be made by the same company as HOLOSUN and PA, though I've heard they deny that), which seem to get good reports also (though maybe the extra price is JUST for the SIG name). You'd also get into the better Holosuns (assuming you couldn't find a 503GU on sale), and even the Holosun 510C model, which has a LOT more of an open viewing area design.

    1 year ago
  • Tom

    What about the Weaver Micro Red Dot? If you get it on sale its practically disposable.

    1 year ago
    • David L

      I've never laid hands on their micro dot, but the scopes I've had were really crummy.

      1 year ago
  • Mike

    Sig’s Romeo 5 takes the prize for me. Rugged, 2MOA, HUGE battery life, auto shut-off, and most importantly, motion sensitive auto-on! No fumbling for a switch = one less thing to think about. Includes both absolute and 1/3 co-witness options. Life time warranty.

    1 year ago
    • Mark

      Same as holosun and primary arms

      9 months ago
      • Yawn

        Provide actual evidence. Not your usual anecdotal bs, but actual proof. The glass is all the same factory, but everything else is assembled by each company. Plus both companies deny it.

        2 months ago
    • Charles Harvey

      ditto kiddo. Love mine too. One less thing to think about.

      1 year ago
  • Gary MacDonald

    I read your reports on the red dots and the holographic sights. Which do you prefer and why? Thanks

    1 year ago
  • Brian

    I just opened my Aimpoint PRO. Spent more $$ but I’m very impressed. It’s built like a lank and if you had to, throwing it at the enemy’s face would cause considerable damage.

    1 year ago
  • PTP

    how do you leave Bushnell TRS 25 off of this list? Solid competitor and a screaming value... Id be interested to know how it measures up to the next tier red dots

    1 year ago
    • Joseph Walter Flowers

      For the $45 I paid for one new, they're a great DEAL. However, the tint and battery life are pretty bad (days/weeks/or months, but not years), and mine has no auto-off....I think it just kills the battery when you leave it on (unless it's at like 3 or 4). Mine are usually on 6 or 7 UNLESS I'm shooting for accuracy, when I turn it way down.

      1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Peter, we cover it in our overall Best AR-15 Optics, but for this test it was more about red dots with high battery life I would trust on a defensive rifle.

      1 year ago
  • Jim M.

    I don't own a red dot yet, so this may be a dumb question, but, if running a red dot with both eyes open, wouldn't the size of the viewbox be somewhat irrelevant? I've read articles that say your eyes will reconcile the dot on target, even with the front lens cap on. What's your opinion? Thanks. P.S. I always look forward to your Pew Pew articles over that first cup of coffee in the morning. Keep 'em coming!

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      It gets a little distracting if the viewbox is very small since one eye is still behind it. And sometimes when you want to aim more precisely and close one eye, you're going to want the bigger viewbox.

      1 year ago
      • Banch

        ... and more importantly smaller viewbox = less light through the glass in low light situations.

        1 year ago
        • Eric Hung

          Good point!

          1 year ago
  • Brad

    What red dot would you use on a glock 19

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Brad, I'm using a Trijicon RMR Type 2 with 3.25 MOA.

      1 year ago
  • Louie

    I'll keep my Leupold 1-4X scope on my .300 Blackout. I have a vortex Viper on my racegun, but to me they have no place on a rifle. But that's just my opinion. If a red dot works for you I'm happy for you.

    1 year ago
    • Banch

      You do realize that the Army issues Aimpoint Red-Dots to all of their soldiers issued M-4's. I don't think your opinion is valid when compared to 243 years of combat experience.

      1 year ago
  • Brent

    Just found your site, and thanks for the info. In the 5 months since your publish date the Holosun link to Amazon now gives the price starting at $161.50. The Vortex still goes for $199. Does having the price difference basically cut in half change your Editor's Choice? I have to admit I was liking the Holosun while reading, but witt the pricing now I'd be leaning toward the Vortex due to the warranty.

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hey Brent, the Amazon prices for the Holosun seem to fluctuate a little bit. But my recommendation still stands especially the Vortex is still holding at $199.

      2 years ago
  • JohnL

    Ah ur article is very dated and Holo makes PA?

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hey, could you help me out with which part I should be updating? And as far as I know, they do.

      2 years ago
  • Felix

    What do you guys think about the AT3 Tactical LEOS red dot? I purchased one for my 300 blackout build, just wondering if anyone has used one. Grest info, you guys always have informative articles.

    2 years ago
    • Perry

      Felix what did you think of the AT3 red dot, i have the AT3™ LEOS™ Red Dot Sight with Integrated Laser Sight & Riser and wish the red dot was brighter at 50 yards, thanks

      1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hey Felix, no experience with that one...let us know how it goes for you. Might look at it for an update of this article.

      2 years ago
  • Mike

    What do you think about the Sig Romeo 5?

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hey Mike, I haven't had experience with it yet but it's on my short list of red dots to try out this year.

      2 years ago
      • Fred Lead

        I would suggest checking out the Romeo 5 and especially the Romeo 4. The Romeo 4 has an entire line with different options, but I got the 4A (only 2 moa dot option) for $155 on sale. The Romeo 4 has clearer glass than the 5 and is compatible with all the Aimpoint mounts while the 5 is stuck like the Vortex AR, although my Romeo 4A hangs slightly forward on the American Defense mount I use. It doesn't bother me, but it doesn't look identical to the Aimpoints. Sig has a lifetime warranty like Vortex, but there is some confusion over the 3-year electronics warranty. PA just rolled out it's warranty on some optics, but it is yet to be tested. I do like PA as a retailer overall. Holosun can be hit or miss depending on the exact model number. I bought an early model and researched the exact model number first and it held zero on my 12 gauge through hundreds of shells, so I like Holosun, but I like Sig's offering better.

        1 year ago
        • Eric Hung

          It's coming up a lot...I'll have to check them out when I update this article!

          1 year ago
  • Seth

    I'd sure like to see about what magnifiers will flip up and align with these out of the box. The Sparc AR seems just a tad lower. The problem is that manufacturers (and reviewers LOL) don't give the height to center info. On the flip side, the mag people don't give much either (except the UTG 3X).

    2 years ago
    • Nate

      I recently bought the Vortex Strikefire II with the VMX-3T magnifier. One of them came with a riser (sorry at the office and can't remember which). But after adding it they lined up completely level. Either purchase manufacturer to manufacturer or buy the appropriate riser for one of them. Just my 2 cents.

      2 years ago
  • Dave

    Well written and appears very concise and objective in testing these sights without the appearance of trying to promote or sell one brand over another...as so many 'reviews' on other sites seem to do. Good job.

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Thanks so much Dave!

      2 years ago
  • Viet Luu

    Good read here Eric, very informative. I just finished building my AR and I am currently on the hunt for some optics. Currently serving in the ARNG and when we go shoot, all our M4's are equipped with either ACOG or CCO red dot (pretty much the aimpoint compM4). I really like the red dot we use cause I am use to it and shoot it well, but i also dig the acog cause the magnifier. I do want to purchase an ACOG but damn the price. Looking into the vortex spitfire 3x. Any thoughts anyone? or is there a red dot somewhere out there with a magnifier?

    2 years ago
    • Fred Lead

      A 1-4x or 1-6x short dot scope could fill the gap. It gives you the option of a red-dot like experience with no magnification, but gives you the option to dial up the magnification to operate like an ACOG. The downsides are the weight, size, parallax, finicky eyebox especially while magnified, and loss of flip up sights/cowitness unless you use offsets. Entry level 1-4x or 1-6x scopes are around the $150-200 mark, like these red dots, while the next step up ranges from $300 to 600. Otherwise there are flip-to-the-side magnifiers for red dots or prism sights like the Vortex.

      1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      I like the Spitfire 3x and there's also a good amount of 1x optics (aimpoint, eotech, etc) that have flip-capable magnifiers.

      2 years ago
  • Justin

    Purchased the Vortex for $139/shipped from PSA and it seems pretty good thus far. I do admit that I like the look of the smaller sized red dots a tad better, but not too worried about it... If I would have done it over again, I would have still went with the Vortex, simply because of the AWESOME lifetime warranty. You may not need the warranty for many years, but if/when you do, it's always gonna be there for ya and it's fully transferable if you decide to sell it and upgrade to a better dot later on. Thanks 4 the review...

    2 years ago
  • Kevin

    Do you think the Vortex Sparc II would have fared better or worse? It's the one I got since it wasn't "AR specific". Also, keep up the great work, I really enjoy the content here. You guys have a lot of interesting information along with good explanations.

    2 years ago
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