In the world of optics red dots are newest to the scene. Iron sights on guns have been in use since the days of the musket and scopes since the mid 1800’s. While the invention of the red dot was in 1900 the popularity and mass manufacturing didn’t start till 1975 with Aimpoint. Nowadays red dot sights are used for everything from modern sporting rifles, shotguns, pistols, bows and even high end cameras. With the rise in popularity comes the improvement of manufacturing and price. What use to cost $1000 or more can be purchased for $200 or less.
During the years I worked in retail gun sales I fielded a lot of questions about these optics and the number 1 question was “Why is this red dot $50 and that one $500? Is it more accurate?” (Ok, that’s technically 2 questions but it’s always said at the same time.) To better determine these price differences and the best values we need to look at a how a red dot is used and what features to look for.
Many of my customers needed educating on the red dot’s use. A red dot is used for quick target acquisition, not target shooting. Because it is classified as an optic many people, new to the red dot world, think of red dots with the same perception as they would a scope. A red dot is simply a hologram projected onto a piece of glass. It is lit with either a red or green light to catch the human eye quickly and allows you to get on target without having to line up iron sights or steadying a magnified scope. The dots themselves cover between 1.5” to 4” of the target at 100 yards. This means you can’t tighten a target group smaller than the size of dot since you have no way of seeing where they hit or adjust the optic accordingly. Contrary, scopes in the same price range have an adjustment of ¼” at 100 yards allowing target groups to be adjusted with 1” or less. Most red dots can only be adjusted 1” per click. Simply put red dots won’t make you more accurate at the bench. What it will do is make you more accurate during speed drills and transitions. The quicker you are on target the quicker you can fire and with only 1 dot to line up you can trust to maintain that 1.5” to 4” group quickly versus lining up a front and rear sight or trying to focus and steady a scope.
Durability is a main feature and while it can’t be quantified it can definitely cost. One of my past coworkers was at an industry shoot and the Aimpoint rep happened to be on hand showing off their optics. This was when the Aimpoint Micro T1 was being introduced and they wanted to show the durability of the small optic. They shot an AR that had a zeroed T1 on it, then proceeded to take the red dot off. They threw it against a building, kicked it down the hill then put it back onto the gun. The Aimpoint kept it’s zero and held a group just as it did before. This was done to represent the battle field abuse the optic could withstand. Most of us are weekend warriors and enthusiast. We don’t need the reliability to be tortured to such extreme. This means we don’t need to spend the $500 - $600 on an Aimpoint to get a red dot that will hold up to our abuse. Something in the $200 range will all handle competition shooting, hunting or even just a day at the range. However, there are other features that we do need to look at.
Features to look for, and what constitutes other price differences, are things like battery life, auto shut off, shock proof, waterproof, parallax, eye relief, reticle type, illumination levels, color, size and weight. In an industry where you get what you pay for it can be difficult to determine what truly is the best bang for the buck. Let’s face it, as gun enthusiast, we don’t have a bunch of money. We keep spending it on gun products. So, we are always looking for a deal. We don’t want the cheapest we can find by some unknown manufacturer, but we also don’t want to spend a $1000 on a red dot either. What’s the happy medium? I’ve found 5 red dots’ for around $200 that have great features and a name brand that backs them up.
1. Vortex Crossfire
For close-in work and general shooting, it’s tough to beat a quality Red Dot Sight. The super-light, ultracompact, insanely-fast-on-target, incredibly durable, Crossfire Red Dot is exactly that. Not only does this sight absolutely rock, it does so at a price that’s hotter than a $ 2 pistol.
I remember first seeing a set of Vortex binoculars at a 3 gun match I was part of, when I worked for a manufacturer. I was very impressed with the quality and clarity of glass, then I found out the price. Shocked at how low the price was for the quality I began watching this company grow in offerings and popularity. Now they are my go-to for solid optics at a great price. My most current being a 1-4x24 scope for my lever action Marlin to improve one of my favorite deer rifles. They run the gambit of optics to cover everyone’s needs. They came out with red dots several years ago and really made some competition for the market. Their newest offering is the Crossfire red dot. This red dot is small (with a length of 2.5” and weight of 5.2 oz) and solidly built with great clarity of glass. It has 11 levels of brightness, a 2 MOA dot and boast 7,000 hours of run time at the level 5 setting. It is waterproof, shockproof, parallax free, and has unlimited eye relief. It comes with 2 different mounts to mount at the desired height and a lifetime warranty. The MSRP of this fine optic is $219, however, after a quick Google search I was able to find several outlets that sold this solid piece of glass for as low as $149. Because of their reputation for standing behind their products and my first-hand experience with this company’s optics, this is my #1 choice for a new red dot.
2. TruGlo Tru-Tec 20mm
The TruGlo Tru-Tec Red Dot Sight features a 2 MOA for quick acquisition of your target. The digital push-button controls make adjusting settings quick and easy while the quick-touch power on feature allows the user to tap anywhere on the optic to turn it on. Operating on one single CR2032, the TRU-TEC Red Dot will function with extra long battery life. Shock resistant to 1000g and waterproof/fogproof with unlimited eye relief.
TruGlo is big in the archery world and known for inexpensive red dots. Some of their optics in the $50 range would be great for a small caliber (like a .22) or low use firearm. However, if you want something that can take a lot more abuse but not break the budget, then they have options for you as well. The Tru-Tec 20mm Red Dot would definitely fall within this arena. It has a 2 MOA reticle, 20 mm objective lens and boast thousand of hours of battery life. One nice feature is this optic has an adjustable auto off feature (programmable for 2 – 8 hours). It also features a quick touch tap on power anywhere feature that allows you to touch the optic anywhere to turn it back on. It is small and lightweight, has unlimited eye relief, and includes 2 different height mounts. While I have never been overly impressed with the clarity of the TruGlo products or place them with the likes of Nikon or Leupold, I can tell you it isn’t bad either. They use multiple coats on their lenses for contrast and clarity which definitely works well, even in low light situations. A solid optic in its own right and with a ton of extra features. All for an MSRP of $221 and offered by many at $199 or less.
3. Bushnell Trophy TR25
The Bushnell Trophy 1x25mm TRS Red Dot Sight is an ultra-compact red dot gun sight for the committed shooter. For fast target acquisition and accuracy in dim conditions, there's nothing like Red Dot Sights from Bushnell. Each Bushnell Trophy TRS 1x25mm Reflex Sight is equipped with tactical turrets for rapid windage and elevation adjustment in the field. Whatever your tactical situation, trust your shot to the Bushnell Trophy TRS 3MOA Reflex Sight.
Bushnell has been around a long time and a favorite amongst sportsmen and competitors alike. They are known for reliability and durability. Their new red dot follows in that tradition. A small, sturdy red dot with a 3 MOA reticle, 25 mm objective lens, and 11 levels of brightness. It is waterproof, shockproof, and fog proof. It has unlimited eye relief and field of view along with a very low parallax. The glass has been multi-coated for clarity and is stated to have an extend battery life. The biggest plus on this optic is that the MSRP is $149 and runs for as low as $79 on many websites. A great value for a simple, solid built red dot that will run whether on a .22 or a shotgun.
4. Nikon P-Tactical Spur
With uncompromising performance that shrugs off weather, recoil-and is easy on batteries, the new P-TACTICAL SPUR might be the perfect optic for your carbine, pistol or shotgun. Its lightweight body is shockproof, waterproof (IPX7) and boasts 15,000 hours of continuous use on a single battery. An extra-wide field of view, 1x optics and unlimited eye relief aid in quick target acquisition, while Nikon's "TRUCOLOR" coating minimizes the bluish tint common to reflex sights. The P-TACTICAL SPUR's 3 MOA dot is adjustable to 10 levels of brightness-the initial two of which are night vision compatible. On virtually any platform you mount it on, P-TACTICAL SPUR will be ready to serve you well.
Nikon’s glass is internationally known for clarity and quality. Not only does Nikon sell scopes and binoculars for sportsmen but they also have an extensive line of cameras for photographers. It was only a matter of time before they entered the red dot market. The P-Tactical Spur is a great option for this category. With an overall length of 1.8” and weight of 1.1 ounce, it is definitely the smallest in this list. This makes the optic not only great for a long gun but also allows it to be used on a pistol. The quality is through the roof, like all Nikons. It has a 3 MOA dot, 10 brightness levels (the first 2 being compatible with night vison), and 15,000 hours of battery life. It has unlimited eye relief, extra wide field of view and Nikon’s TRUCOLOR coating on the lenses. The TRUCOLOR coating gives great clarity while minimizing the bluish tint that’s common with red dot optics. While small it is waterproof and shockproof, which will hold up to a serious beating and keep the gun balanced as well. Like all other Nikon products this optic comes with Nikons 5-year warranty, which I can tell you first hand is rarely needed but easy to use, should the need arise. With an MSRP of $219 (not much of a price difference elsewhere) it is a great optic for any firearm and at a great price.
5. Sig Sauer Romeo5
ROMEO5 compact red dot sights provide civilians and armed professionals a robust 1x aiming solution for any situation. Ultra-low parallax so point-of-aim is point-of-impact and the red dot remains parallel to the bore of your firearm, no matter what your viewing angle is relative to the optical axis of the sight. Unlimited eye-relief allows you to acquire the aiming point and the target regardless of the position of your eye behind the sight. The readily available CR2032 battery is side-loading, allowing for quick battery replacement (featuring 50,000+ hours or more of life). Dependable waterproof (IPX-7 rated for complete water immersion up to 1 atmosphere) and fog-proof performance.
Sig Sauer has a name that has been synonymous with quality and reliability for many years. While they are new to the optics world, their reputation for handguns and rifles made them a welcome addition. I can tell you too, their reputation is still very well intact after introducing their glass to the market. Good clarity and reliability would be my description of their optics. While their handguns have always been a bit on the high side of price to me, their optics have been right on the mark with value. The Romeo5 comes with a 2 MOA reticle with 10 brightness levels (2 for night vision and 8 for daytime). It is another compact and solid built red dot with a 20 mm objective lens. Main features for this optic are the battery life and auto off feature. The MOTAC (Motion Activated Illumination) is a great feature that turns the optic on when it senses motion then shuts down when that motion stops. This gives the optic a battery life of 40,000+ hours between changes. It is shockproof and waterproof (rated to be submerged up to 1 meter deep). It comes with 2 different height mounts and is able to be used on any picatinny rail. The current MSRP on this is $149 making it a great deal for a solid built optic with lots of features.
You don’t have to spend high dollars for a quality red dot anymore. Manufacturing and technology developments have brought the prices way down. While it is true that the big 3 is red dots are Trijicon, Aimpoint, and EOTech, we can’t all afford those names. If you can afford it, want something with all of the features and are bulletproof, then any of the big 3 would be my recommendation. If you are like me and have to balance your budget with family and financial responsibilities then take a look at these options. While you may be worried about durability being too much of a sacrifice, I can assure you, unless you are going into battle, these optics can take what you dish out. Whether it’s for hunting or competitive shooting; rifle, shotgun, or pistol; these optics will hold zero and keep working no matter how many times you drop or knock your gun around. In whatever conditions you can throw at them. Get the optic that meets your needs and enjoy your time at the range.
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Prices accurate at time of writing