Red dots or holographic sights…not sure which one is the best for you?
We’ll cover a lot of categories and choose the winner in each.
So by the end you’ll know which kind of sight is the best for your situation.
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Table of Contents
First of all…what’s the difference technology-wise between red dots and holographic sights?
For the longest time I thought it was that a red dot had a red dot reticle…and a holographic sight had the signature big ring and small dot reticle.
I was sorta right in that those are the big aesthetic differences. But once you look inside…
You’ll see that holographic sights are MUCH more complicated.
A red dot has an LED emitter which sends the beam towards the front glass which is coated so that the beam/dot is reflected back to your eyes.
While a holographic sight uses a laser and mirrors to send a hologram back to you (without using the front glass)…but which appears to be in front.
With complication…comes a more expensive price tag.
You can get an OK red dot for sub $50 bucks (my pick is the TRS-25)…
But I usually recommend going into the sub-$200 range for something more robust (Best Red Dots Under $200).
Like the Holosun…
Or my favorite bring-to-hell red dot is the Aimpoint PRO (our full review) which is around $400.
There’s also a bazillion companies that make red dots.
But only two that make true holographic sights…the behemoth EOTech and newcomer Vortex.
Vortex makes a ton of red dots and magnified scopes…but has only entered the holographic sight market.
And both start at around $400. Is it worth it…read on!
Winner in Price: Red Dots (wide range of pricing)
Does size matter?
If you want it small…you’ll go with red dots. Since the technology is easier there’s plenty of smaller options that can fit on both rifles and handguns.
You can see the whole gamut in our Best Pistol Red Dots article.
As for holographic sights…they aren’t HUGE but they currently aren’t available in tiny handgun-mountable versions.
Winner in Size: Red Dots
This one varies since both top-of-the-line models (Aimpoint & EOTech) in each category have awesome stories of surviving tons of abuse.
If you have the money…you can get literally bombproof optics that will withstand a huge range of temperatures, g-forces, water depths…and still keep on ticking.
While some cheaper red dots are rated only for airsoft.
And yes…EOTech did have the fiasco with thermal drift (zero shifted beyond specs when subjected to big temperature shifts).
But USSOCOM (special operations command) again chose EOTech as the optic of choice after the problem was fixed.
And remember when we mentioned that holographic sights didn’t need the front window to function? Here’s the proof…
Useful if you have frag coming at you from the front.
Or even if there’s mud or other residue…it will still work as long as there’s some partial window available.
Winner in Durability: Holographic
Red dots use power-saving LED while holographic sights require lasers to power their holograms.
That’s how a couple red dots have battery power of up to 50,000 hours. That’s leaving it on for 5+ years.
Compared with holographic sights that are usually in the 500-1000 hours battery life.
Winner in Power: Red Dot
Reticles (Color & Pattern)
You’re going to be staring at the reticle the most…let’s take a look at a couple angles.
Both red dots and holographic sights are usually red since it’s easy to be picked up by the eyes.
But now both have green versions which is even easier to be picked up by the eyes.
However, green isn’t as good when you move between differently lit areas…such as clearing a first floor room and then going into the basement.
I really like my green for competition since I pick it up easier and lighting outside is nearly constant.
Prices accurate at time of writing
Prices accurate at time of writing
My favorite green red dot is the Trijicon MRO.
I really like the large ring with small dot reticle of holographics. Here’s an example from Vortex’s holographic UH-1.
And the OG “Speed Ring” from EOTech.
Plus…something new I learned is that you can use it to range too…
EOTech’s center dot is 1 MOA while the smallest red dots only get to 2 MOA.
That means at 100 yards the dot will cover 1 inch compared to 2 inch…and at 200 yards it will cover 2 inch compared to 4 inch.
BUT…if the reticle is one thing you love…you can always opt for Holosun’s 510C which is technically a red dot and so runs for tens of thousands of hours.
What’s your take on the 510C which combines the awesome holographic reticle with red dot price and power consumption?
Winner in Reticle: Tie
If you have astigmatism…red dots will look like a starburst or a mishmash of squiggly lines.
Holographic sights will usually work better for those with astigmatism.
Both red dots and holographic sights have night vision compatible models.
These are ones with dimmer settings that won’t cause damage to night vision devices (Best Night Vision Goggles).
Both red dots and holographic sights can have magnifiers in front of them (Best 3x Magnifiers).
Remember that EOTech’s center dot is 1 MOA while red dots can only get down to 2 MOA?
When you put a magnifier in front of a 2 MOA red dot…it now becomes 6 MOA.
Here’s an example with a 4 MOA red dot that becomes 12 MOA when magnified. But you get the picture…it covers more of the target.
My real life test…
Which does show the holographic reticle a bit smaller than the red dot.
Now get ready to get your mind blown…when you magnify the EOTech…the 1 MOA dot stays the same.
The smallest light the human eye can see is 1 MOA. But with holographic technology the dot is actually super small (microns).
When you magnify something tiny…it’s still tiny. And so our eyes still see it as 1 MOA.
That’s why you can put any magnifier in front of a holographic sight and it still shows up 1 MOA.
Winner in Magnification: Holographic
Field of View
One big point of having an electronic sight is that you can have both eyes open.
But if the sight itself has a small window like on a pistol red dot…
You’re going to have to get behind it a little more on target.
Or there’s the very popular tubes of Aimpoints and others…
Versus the more rectangular view of holographics.
Overall…I’d say holographics get the win…but there’s also a wide range of FOV for red dots.
Winner in Field of View: Holographics
Our last one…and probably what you’ve been waiting for…
Both red dots and holographic sights are MUCH faster than traditional irons.
But remember the technology inside?
Red dots will focus the dot to your eyeball…so the focal distance is basically at the sight.
While holographic sights project the reticle hologram out in front of the sight.
Why’s this matter?
Your eye can only focus on one thing at a time…and if it’s choosing between something close at the sight (red dot) and the actual target…it can slow you down.
While holographic sights superimpose on your target. Watch as the reticle comes into focus when I focus on the targets.
Plus…the Speed Ring reticle makes it easier for quick closeup shots and the 1 MOA dot makes it easy for more accurate shots.
Winner in Acquisition: Holographic
Conclusion & Favorites
The perks of holographic sights are there…but they come at a much steeper price of entry (Best Holographic Sights).
If you’re just starting with electronic sights…I’d recommend a red dot (Best Red Dots).
You might be a little bit faster with a holographic or can shoot better at 300+ yards magnified.
But you have to make the decision if that’s worth it.
Let us know what you think…are holographics worth the price of admission? Looking for something magnified or the best irons…check out Best AR-15 Optics & Scopes.