Crimson Trace Red Dot Sights

About the Red Dot Sight

The term "red dot sight" has become virtually ubiquitous, and not entirely correctly. Right or wrong, it has become a de facto category-wide term used for a wide range of optics  ̶  including some that aren't red at all (green, amber, etc.). Some red "dots" are red crosshairs or chevrons; some "red" dots are green...you get the idea.

In specific terms, an RDS (red dot sight) is a first focal plane, non-magnified aiming system. This may take the form of a reflex sight, prism sight, or holographic sight.


About Red Dot Sights


Colloquially speaking, "red dot sight" is often juxtaposed with "red dot scope", including some low powered variable optics (LPVOs) and other kinds of "glass." Red dots have been around for decades now and have been used very effectively on rifles, pistols, shotguns, and even crew-served HMGs. 

The red dot is not projected downrange. The dot (or reticle) is "held" within the window of your electronic sight. It's position within that window can then be adjusted to help determine where a round will hit - just like you'd zero traditional iron sights.

Types of Red Dot Sight

  • Reflex Sight

  • Prism Sight

  • Holographic Sight


How does a Red Dot Sight work?

Reflex sights are a first-focal plane red dot sight that uses a semi-reflective lens to function as a mirror. A colored LED dot (typically red or green) is projected onto the lens, which you can see through. A reflex sight's greatest advantages is that its dot, reticle, or other aiming point is virtually parallax-free. This means that unlike other aiming systems (including many traditional optics and low-powered variable optics), a change in eye relief, cheek weld, head position, etc. will not produce a corresponding change in point of aim/point of impact. Dot or reticle size preference from red dot sight to red dot sight and user to user. Smaller dots provide greater accuracy but are more difficult to "pick up" (i.e. acquire), particularly under stress. There are additional benefits, including the ability to “diagnose” an individual’s shooting problems (specifically with handguns), reduced eye fatigue, and others (see below).


How Holographic Sights Work


How does a Prism Sight work?

Prism sights are a type of red dot optic that use a prism to focus light (unlike a traditional scope, which uses a series of lenses). This typically results in a slight fixed-power magnification (typically up to approximately 3.5x) and requires a closer, consistent eye relief. They typically have a (chemical- or laser-) etched reticle, which means the optic can be used without power. Unlike reflex sights, a prism sight cannot be co-witnessed.


How Prism Sights Work


How does a Holographic Sight work?

A holographic sight uses a laser diode projecting from the front of the lens, illuminating a holographic reticle. Like reflective (reflex) sights, they are almost completely parallax free. Holographic sights often have reduced battery life when compared to other electronic sights (although they can still last for months at a time).


How Holographic Sights Work


What are the advantages of a Red Dot Sight?

Advantages include:

1. Single Focal Plane

When establishing sight picture and sight alignment with traditional sights, there are three focal points  ̶  the front sight (upon which the shooter typically focuses) and each side of the rear notch. When you add the target or opponent, that increases to four. A red dot has just a single focal point: the dot itself; the target is of course the second. Properly executed, this simplifies things dramatically, particularly for target acquisition.

This is the single greatest advantage of a red dot sight, factoring as it does into all the other benefits and electronic sight provides. It is also the reason many instructors and red dot proponents not contend that a new shooter should be taught on dot style optics first and only later introduced to "irons."  

Note that a standard 1x red dot sight is not magnified. It will improve efficiency and the ability to effectively engage the target. It does not inherently improve one's ability to quickly or identify the target (though this can be addressed with a magnified optic or a magnifier placed to augment a red dot sight).

2. Speed

The very nature of the red dot potentially increases the speed of target acquisition and accurate shot placement. It’s a matter of simplicity (when compared to irons), though the other fundamentals of shooting remain significant, from drawstroke (on a pistol) to grip, stance, etc. A red dot sights first focal plane presentation factors into this, but so too does the greater latitude in eye relief. Bottom line: there is a reason so many champion competition shooters us such optics (and have for decades).

3. Situational Awareness

Non-magnified optics like most reflex sights can be used with both eyes open. This can provide the shooter with better “field sense”, thanks in part to peripheral vision and a greater field of view. It will likely also improve the ability to transition from one target to another (if not locating a secondary or tertiary target in the first place). This applies to particularly to more distant or moving targets. This can be extrapolated to target focus. With an electronic sight a shooter is naturally left focusing on the target rather than the sights.


Red Dot Sights Situational Awareness


4. Target Transitions

A benefit for some people    Because it's single focal plane, the only thing required to hit the target where it needs to be hit consistently is to have the dot superimposed over the point where you want that bullet to hit as the fundamentals of shooting are performed. Recoil control, trigger control, grip, all of that remains necessary. This is true of rifles, pistols, and shotguns. Shooting position, range, zero, etc. are all going to affect the shot.

5. Eye Relief

Eye relief, in simplest terms, is the functional distance between the shooter’s eye and the optic. This provides substantial latitude in the placement of the optic on the weapon (type of weapon allowing, of course).

6. Easy on the Eyes

Optics like the red dot are an inarguable advantage for aging eyes or those of any age requiring corrective lenses. For similar reasons, the ability to shoot at greater ranges is improved. Virtually any “red” dot, of any color, will provide this advantage, but many aging shooters report green dots are particularly effective in this area. (Remember also the reduced eye strain many shooters report.)


Crimson Trace Red Dot Sights


7. Diagnosing and Self-Correction

Tracking the dot through recoil can help a shooter establish a solid cadence and to diagnose problems (particularly with, though not limited to, grip). A dot/reticle superimposed that way allows you to see all the way around it. Understanding how it works will allow you to fix the problems it reveals to you.

8. Improved Shooting with Iron Sights

This is not a hard and fast benefit experienced by every shooter, but many of those who’ve transitioned to red dot sights report an improvement in accuracy and consistency with their irons sight afterward (in comparison to their previous skill with irons, not in comparison to the red dot). This is at least in some part because after shooting with a dot/chevron/etc. you are more focused on the front sight.

9. Superior Night Shooting

Shooting at night with an electronic sight is significantly easier than with iron sights, though proper target identification may remain problematic and the brightness of the dot will likely require adjustment so as to not “glare out” the target. They are also far, far superior to iron sights when used with night vision devices.


Considerations for Red Dot Selection

Like magnified optics, low powered variable optics, and for that matter silencers and other weapon accessories, there are many factors to be considered when selecting the appropriate red dot sight. Features, intended use, and other attributes vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and model to model.

1. Intended Foundation Gun

What are you putting it on? A full size handgun you'll be using as a "nightstand gun"? A pocket pistol or mouse gun for concealed carry? A long gun for your patrol car, or a long gun for hunting? Many if not most handgun size red dot sights will function perfect well on a long gun, but the smaller size, smaller reticle, and (relatively) decreased battery life potential may make them a less suitable choice. A larger sight may give you additional reticle options.

Similarly, one must consider the available real estate for mounting. If the optic is to be mounted to a specifically configured fighting rifle, with a wide variety of other accessories (and cords and cables) aboard, there may be size constraints. If the only thing on top of the foundational carbine is to be an optic and a set of BUIS, size is not as significant.


Crimson Trace CTS-1000


2. Dot Size

What is your preference? What's your mission? Are you carrying it concealed, on duty, or hunting big, dangerous game? Smaller ones have the potential for greater accuracy, but can be correspondingly more difficult to find or control (more movement), particularly in high illumination conditions. Arguments abound that one or the other is faster/slower/more precision; others counter there is no perceivable difference. Others still make the point that you can bump the brightness up on a smaller dot to essentially make it bigger.

Larger dot can be tracked more easily during cycling, but at the same time can (conceivably) obscure a target or specific part of a target, particularly at greater distances.

3. Reticle Type

The proliferation of electronic sights has created a plethora of reticle types. Most, apropos to the name, are actual dots. However, many other kinds are available: crosshairs, dots within rings, chevrons, and some optics that provide a choice of reticle styles. Thus one may choose a “dot” type for preferred shooting style, distance, mission profiles, eye condition(s), or other variables.

4. Window Size

There are some who find it easier to "pick up the dot" on a larger window. Others posit the "aim small miss small" philosophy; as this may well vary from individual to individual (as well as training and instruction). The answer to this is to shoot more than one brand during the selection process if at all possible (though that may not be practical for many people). If not, proper due diligence performed ahead of time will ensure a better selection.

5. Battery Life and Battery Type

The need to consider battery type in an optic may sound counterintuitive, but it absolutely does not. There are many questions that can be used to “dial in” this desired feature.

  • Does your optic have an automatic shut off?
  • How long does the manufacturer claim the battery will last?
  • Are there any other accessories mounted to your weapon, and if so is there an advantage to battery commonality/consolidation?
  • What will you typically have the brightness set at, and will that impact your choice?
  • Do you have to pull the optic off to replace the battery (thus having to rezero) or can you replace with the optic in place (like Delta Point Pro and C-More Sights).
  • Where (what environment or even continent and country) will you be using it?
  • Are the types of batteries you need readily available there, and if so are they actually suitable for the operating conditions?

6. Ability to Adjust

Some optics are easier to zero than others; others are more tactile as you are making adjustments. Some questions to be asking here are, do you get a positive sensation when making adjustments, and are those adjustments lasting and reliable, i.e. will they adjust without intending to?


Crimson Trace CTS-1100


7. Adjustable Brightness

Some electronic sights are manually adjustable, others adjust automatically. Do you have a preference? Do you know enough to accurately gauge your preference, assuming you don’t have the opportunity to “test drive” the RDS on a gun before buying it. If you choose an optic with manual brightness adjustment, is the method intuitive, and can it be done efficiently under stress?

8. Height and Height Over Bore

Many shooters profess a preference for shorter optics, finding it easier to put the dot on the target than it is with a taller electronic sight. This is occasionally countered by an improvement some shooters experience with a larger window – which frequently comes with a taller optic that puts the dot higher above the bore axis. Are you familiar with height over bore, confident you can compensate for it and maintain accurate holdovers?

9. Mounting Intention

There are a number of ways to mount an RDS to the host foundation weapon. This is one of the most critical considerations to account for. It would be very easy to purchase a mismatched optic and mounting system, and one should remember that even switching from one manufacturer’s RDS to another can be problematic. There is little commonality between red dot optics of various manufacturers, and well-milled slides (if done properly, by a true craftsman) are often cut not just for a specific brand and style of optic, but for a specific optic (which might be ever so slightly different from another specimen of the same brand and style).

  • Are you going to mill your slide?
  • Do you intend to use a dovetail mount?
  • Are you choosing an optic to put on a pre-cut slide already in your possession?
  • Do you prefer to use a frame mount that holds the optic up off the weapon so it doesn't move with the slide as it cycles? (i.e. ALG 6-Second Mount, Tiger Shark, Tactical Practical UM3, and other examples.


Red Dot Sight Reviews

The opinions of the following publications and their respective contributors are their own, and are not the official stance of Crimson Trace. They are provided here to provide Crimson Trace users additional resources with which to make an informed decision.

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