Red Dots vs Holographic Sights: What’s Best For You?

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Red dots or holographic sights…not sure which one is the best for you?

Budget Red Dots All On
Red Dots All On

We’ll cover a lot of categories and choose the winner in each.

Top Holographic Sights
Top Holographic Sights

So by the end you’ll know which kind of sight is the best for your situation.

Table of Contents

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Technology

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.

EOTech EXPS2-0 Reticle
EOTech EXPS2-0 Reticle

I was sorta right in that those are the big aesthetic differences.  But once you look inside…

Holographic vs Red Dot, EOTech
Holographic vs Red Dot, EOTech

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.

Price

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).

Best Budget Red Dots
Best Budget Red Dots

Like the Holosun…

Editor's Pick
Holosun HS403A

Holosun HS403A

Prices accurate at time of writing

Or my favorite bring-to-hell red dot is the Aimpoint PRO (our full review) which is around $400.

PSA AR-15 10.5 Upper with Aimpoint PRO
PSA AR-15 10.5 Upper with Aimpoint PRO
The "Goldilocks" Red Dot
Aimpoint Patrol Rifle Optic (PRO)

Aimpoint Patrol Rifle Optic (PRO)

There’s also a bazillion companies that make red dots.

But only two that make true holographic sights…the behemoth EOTech and newcomer Vortex.

EOTech EXPS2-0
EOTech EXPS2-0

Vortex makes a ton of red dots and magnified scopes…but has only entered the holographic sight market.

Vortex AMG UH-1
Vortex AMG UH-1

And both start at around $400.  Is it worth it…read on!

Winner in Price: Red Dots (wide range of pricing)

Size

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.

Tested Pistol Red Dots
Tested Pistol Red Dots

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.

Three Mounted Holographic Sights
Three Mounted Holographic Sights

Winner in Size: Red Dots

Durability

This one varies since both top-of-the-line models (Aimpoint & EOTech) in each category have awesome stories of surviving tons of abuse.

Aimpoint PRO, Housefire Edition
Aimpoint PRO, Housefire Edition; Vickers Tactical

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.

EOTech Holographic Sites with US Troops
EOTech Holographic Sites with US Troops

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.

Mud Block, EOTech
Mud Block, EOTech

Winner in Durability: Holographic

Power

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.

Color

Both red dots and holographic sights are usually red since it’s easy to be picked up by the eyes.

EOTech EXPS2-0 Reticle
EOTech EXPS2-0 Reticle

But now both have green versions which is even easier to be picked up by the eyes.

EOTech Green Reticle
EOTech Green Reticle

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.

EOTech Holographic Sight (Green)

EOTech Holographic Sight (Green)

Prices accurate at time of writing

My favorite green red dot is the Trijicon MRO.

Reticle

I really like the large ring with small dot reticle of holographics.  Here’s an example from Vortex’s holographic UH-1.

Vortex UH-1 Reticle, 3x Zoom
Vortex UH-1 Reticle, 3x Zoom

And the OG “Speed Ring” from EOTech.

EOTech Reticle, 3x Zoom
EOTech Reticle, 3x Zoom

Plus…something new I learned is that you can use it to range too…

EOTech Speedring, EOTech
EOTech Speedring, EOTech

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.

Holosun 510C Reticle, 3x Zoom
Holosun 510C Reticle, 3x Zoom
Most Worth It Holographic Sight
Holosun 510c

Holosun 510c

What’s your take on the 510C which combines the awesome holographic reticle with red dot price and power consumption?

Readers' Ratings

5/5 (75)

Your Rating?

Winner in Reticle: Tie

Astigmatism

If you have astigmatism…red dots will look like a starburst or a mishmash of squiggly lines.

Astigmatism Examples
Astigmatism Examples, Allaboutvision

Holographic sights will usually work better for those with astigmatism.

Winner: Holographic

Night Vision

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).

Aimpoint PRO Night Vision Mode
Aimpoint PRO Night Vision Mode

Winner: Tie

Magnification

Both red dots and holographic sights can have magnifiers in front of them (Best 3x Magnifiers).

3x Magnifiers
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.

3x Magnification Red Dot vs Holographic
3x Magnification Red Dot vs Holographic

My real life test…

Holographic vs Red Dot 3x
Holographic vs Red Dot 3x

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…

Vortex Venom View
Vortex Venom View

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…

Aimpoint PRO View
Aimpoint PRO View

Versus the more rectangular view of holographics.

EOTech EXPS2-0 Reticle
EOTech EXPS2-0 Reticle

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

Acquisition Speed

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?

Holographic vs Red Dot, EOTech
Holographic vs Red Dot, EOTech

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).

Editor's Pick
Holosun HS403A

Holosun HS403A

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

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Eric HungRobert MccallumKyle PayneJohnGDavid, PPT Editor Recent comment authors
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Robert Mccallum
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Robert Mccallum

Question—— so although the holosun 510c has a circle dot reticle, will I still have an issue since I have astigmatism? It is an LED right?

Kyle Payne
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Kyle Payne

Great write up on the differences. It was very informative.

JohnG
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JohnG

And another GREAT article, this place is amazing.

Personally, I have a hard time mounting anything made in China on my AR. Aimpoint Pro or Trijicon MRO for me. I have never tried an holographic sight (briefly looked through an Eotech a while ago but I did not shoot with it).

Bill W.
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Bill W.

I have a hard time seeing the dot in my Holosun red dot on a bright sunny day with out the magnifer. Will pick up a EOtech when I can find one on sale.

Kyle Payne
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Kyle Payne

I just picked up one of these Demo units that EuroOptic is selling and it may as well have been new for all I could tell.
http://www.pewpewtactical.com/go/eurooptic/eurooptic-used-and-demo-sights-and-scopes/
Here is a link if you want to grab one.

Cymond
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Cymond

“When you put a magnifier in front of a 2 MOA red dot…it now becomes 6 MOA. Which means at 100 yards the dot covers 6 inches, 200 yards it covers 12 inches, 300 yards it covers 36 inches, etc.”

I don’t think that’s right. Yes, the 2 inch dot triples in size, but so does the target. The 2 inch dot will look like it’s 6 inches wide, but the 12 inch target will look like it’s 36 inches wide. The same amount of the target will be covered.

Bill
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Bill

Thanks, Cymond. I often learn as much from intelligent comments as I do from the article.