Reflex vs Red Dot Sight – How to Choose

Many people wonder about the difference between a reflex vs red dot sight, but in truth, reflex sights are simply a type of red dot sight, so they are not mutually exclusive. We distinguish between three kinds of sights that are commonly used, all falling under the ‘red dot’ category. But what are the differences between them, and which one is appropriate for you? Let’s discuss the various sight types and their uses.

Red Dot Sight

There are three main types of red dot sights, called prism, holographic and reflex sights. Each of these offers slightly different advantages, but the common element is the fact that all red dot sights use an electronic image that’s illuminated to show you the aiming point. Contrary to the name, not all of them use a red dot, and they may feature either a green dot or even a completely different shape.

The big advantage of using this type of sight is that you have so many options to choose from and the illuminated image provides you with a very clear aiming point. Although some types can be very expensive, they are available for a variety of budgets. However, a potential downside is the small eye reliefs you can find on some red dot sights.

Reflex Sight

As mentioned above, reflex sight is one type of red dot sight. The name comes from the fact that the front lens of your scope reflects the light that is projected at the back and thereby creates the red dot you can aim for. Compared to other kinds of red dot sights, this is usually a low-cost option, providing you with a clear image with both eyes open and no matter how you hold your head, due to the lack of eye relief.

When you consider the fact that the LED light used can burn for up to 50,000 hours without being replaced, this type of sight becomes even more cost-effective. That’s like leaving it on for five years. However, the sights are not magnified, so they are usually most suitable for shooting in close quarters and not at a great distance. There are two types of reflex sight available, called tube sights and exposed sights.

Exposed Reflex Sight 

This type only comes with one lens at the front of your scope, which reflects the dot back to you. It is relatively easy to use and you can find your aiming point very quickly using this technology because it is wide open and there is no eye relief.

Tube Reflex Sight  

In contrast, tube reflex sight has two lenses, similar to a more traditional small scope, and the front lens reflects the light back to you. While it is slower than exposed reflex sight, acquiring your target is still quick and easy using this method, as there is also no eye relief.

Reflex vs Red Dot Sight: What are Your Options? 

Now that you know that reflex sight is a type of red dot sight, you may be wondering what the other two types are and which one is the most suitable for you. Prism sights and holographic sights are both excellent choices, and each of them has a different aim and purpose.

Prism Sights 

Prism sights generally come with a tube-style design and have the appearance of a small traditional rifle scope. Instead of using multiple lenses to show you the aiming point, they use prisms. Because it is very compact, this type of sight includes relatively low levels of magnification, and the eye relief is also very small. That’s why you have to be quite close to the prism sight in order to obtain a clear picture.

If you often shoot at moderate or great distances, prism sights could be perfect for you. But because they are much slower at acquiring your target than reflex sights, they are not suitable for shorter ranges.

Holographic Sights 

Anyone looking for a sight that enables very precise shooting and quick acquiring of the target can’t go wrong with holographic sights. They use laser diodes and mirrors to provide you with your aiming point. A key advantage of this type is that the reticule stays in focus even when you look outside of the scope so that you’ll be able to reacquire the target a lot faster than with any other sight. You can also adjust the brightness, so you can shoot even in full sunlight.

What’s more, holographic sights can still work even if the front lens has been damaged, which is not the case with other types of red dot sight. The one big disadvantage is that they are a lot more expensive because they are more complex and there are only two manufacturers capable of producing them. Holographic sights also use a lot of battery power, so you may need to switch out your battery within 600-1500 hours of use.

How to Choose

Before you decide which sight is the best option for you, it’s important to evaluate what you will be using it for. If you’re a casual shooter, you’re unlikely to need holographic sights, and if you tend to shoot at short range, you’ll want to avoid prism sights. For most people, the main considerations are the cost, the speed of target acquisition, and the range a sight is appropriate for.

A final consideration before choosing a specific sight to buy is the color of the dot. Although it’s called red dot sight, some of the dots are green. If you are looking for speed, it’s best to avoid these as red catches the eye much faster. Like holographic sights, using red dots may also be more appropriate in a variety of different lighting conditions.

While many shooters ask about the differences between reflex vs red dot sights, there are actually not two, but three types of sights to choose from. Whether you’re new to shooting or simply looking for a new type of sight, knowing the different advantages and disadvantages of reflex, prism and holographic sights is crucial to choosing an appropriate option. They are all excellent choices, but catering to different budgets and needs. 

Joseph Fox

Joseph Fox

Joseph Fox writes on a variety of topics ranging from reloading ammunition to gun cleaning. He has been featured on various publications like thetruthaboutguns, Sofrep & many more. Joseph is also the founder of Gunloading, where he reviews different types of reloading & firearm products available on the market.