If you’re confused about the differences in the reflex vs red dot sight debate, run a few rounds of Call of Duty, and you’ll find you’re even more confused. Thankfully, we’re here to clear that up for you. Once you understand the difference, you’ll probably find yourself on the way to your nearest firearms dealer.
Different optics are always awesome, and it’s a shame you have to be pretty selective on how many or which ones you mount on your firearm. People collect these things like candy, and for good reason.
Both red dot sights and reflex sights are actually both red dot sights. Reflex sights are a variation of red dot sights that function in a slightly different way. Each has its advantages, depending on which red dot sight you compare with a reflex.
Reflex vs Red Dots
Types of red dots
Since a reflex sight is a type of red dot sight, it’s fitting to start here, with the different variations.
- Reflex Sights
- Prism Sights
- Holographic Sights
Reflex sights are a subcategory of red dot sights, with prism and holographic belonging in their own subcategory. Each comes with its disadvantages and advantages.
Like so many things we try to compare in life (which one is better and which one is superior), none of the above are better than the others. They each have a specific focus. Within the constraints of that focus, there can be only one winner.
Reflex vs Red Dot – What’s the Difference?
Believe it or not, the reflex sight is what most people are thinking about when they refer to red dot sights. Reflex sights are pretty common, and many of the popular ones are designed for pistols because they can get that small while remaining functional.
There are tube reflex sights and compact reflex sights, the latter of which has a much wider field of view. Compact reflex sights are common on pistols or SBRs (short-barreled rifles). Tube sights and compact exposed reflex sights both reflect a red dot to your eye.
However, the tube reflex sights use two lenses, while the exposed only has one lens. The other two red dots are the prism and holographic sights. Prism red dot sights are like miniature rifle scopes and they have a small eye-relief window.
The difference between a prism red dot and a reflex red dot is that the prisms use, well, prisms. Prisms allow for a more compact nature in the tube designs. That’s why prism sights resemble small scopes.
Holographic red dot sights use lasers and mirrors to create the red dot reticule. Unlike prism and reflex sights, holographic sights are a wide enough field of view that allows shooters to leave both eyes open when firing.
The reticule in a holographic sight always remains in focus, regardless of where your focus is. This makes it the fastest of the three in terms of target acquisition.
Which is best to use
Each one has advantages and disadvantages. However, the holographic red dot sights have more advantages in various scenarios than either the reflex or the prism red dots. The holographic red dot has a wide eye relief and is easily the quickest target acquisition of the three.
It’s also good for long and medium ranges. Even if you view the scope from an angle, if the red dot on a holographic is on target, you’re on target. They are the most expensive, unfortunately, and are too bulky for widespread use with SBRs and pistols.
Prisms have a smaller, tubular shape and also have a lower level of magnification. Due to their size, they have limited eye relief, making them the slowest in terms of target acquisition.
Reflex sights come in compact and tube. While the compact variation is excellent for concealed carry, it’s open and exposed, making it easy to break. The tube design is too large for pistols and is very easy to zero and make adjustments.
The tube reflex sight has the second most rapid target acquisition capability and is considered one of the best options for harsh environments and combat scenarios.
As you can see, reflex sights have a good deal of versatility, thanks to the two separate designs. They are great as optics for either rifles or pistols. They are vulnerable to the elements, however, and easily damaged.
A prism red dot sight is great as an entry-level sight. It does a good job of giving new shooters an idea of the functionality of a basic red dot sight. They also tend to hold up a little better than compact reflex sights.
Holographic sights reign supreme among the three, mostly because of their rapid target acquisition, versatility, and nearly unlimited eye relief. The drawback is their cost, which far exceeds the other two. The good news is, no matter what your personal needs are, there is a specific red dot sight that’s got you covered.