I’ve used both red dots and holographic sights and have had success with both!
If you are a beginner and are wondering which is better for you to use, you’ve come to the right place.
Allow me to impart some knowledge on these two sights to help make your decision A LOT easier!
In this red dot vs holographic sight guide, I’ll dive deep into both optics and compare their features, pros, and cons.
- What Is a Red Dot Sight?
- Types of Red Dot Sights
- Pros of Red Dot Sights
- Cons of Red Dot Sights
- What Is a Holographic Sight?
- Pros of Holographic Sights
- Cons of Holographic Sights
- Red Dot vs Holographic Sights: Side-by-Side Comparison of Features
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Red Dots vs Holographic Sights: Which Is Better?
What Is a Red Dot Sight?
A red dot sight is an electronic sight that projects a small red dot onto the sight picture. Despite its name, however, red dot sights may also have a green dot option.
These illuminated reticles mark where the bullet will land and can be used on a variety of firearms, from rifles to handguns.
Red dot sights are perfect for new gun owners because they can automatically correct the target and sight image regardless of the angle you’re using it at.
The Trijicon MRO would be my personal pick for the best red dot sight on the market.
Types of Red Dot Sights
Apart from holographic sights, there are two other types of red dot sights: prism sights and reflex sights.
Let’s look at the differences between these two traditional red dot sights in several aspects:
A reflex sight uses traditional optical lenses to project the red dot reticle image.
On the other hand, prism sights, true to their name, use a prism to project the target image.
Reflex sights use an LED emitter to project the red dot reticle. If this LED is damaged for any reason, the scope is then rendered USELESS.
I remember my LED light getting damaged in the middle of a session. I figured it was pretty much pointless to stay outdoors for the day.
On the other hand, prism sights usually have an etched reticle in addition to the LED system. This makes them USABLE even in the event of LED damage.
A reflex sight usually has no magnification and requires a separate magnifier.
I’d recommend getting a side-flipping 3x magnifier scope if you really need to zoom in while using this type of red dot.
A prism red dot scope, on the other hand, typically has some magnification included.
Pros of Red Dot Sights
Some of the cheapest sights I’ve ever used are red dot sights. I’ve been able to save so much money choosing them.
This affordability makes them great for beginner shooters who don’t want to spend too much yet!
It also makes it easier to have multiple red dot sights for different purposes.
#2 Longer Battery Life
Red dot sights are known for their long battery life. Most red dot sights have a battery life measuring thousands of hours.
I’ve noticed that a red dot sight can even go as long as 50,000 hours on a single battery!
This longevity puts any worries of a failed battery at ease. In fact, many red dot sights can be left on without any worries.
I’ve forgotten to turn it off a couple of times and it didn’t eat through the battery life at all!
#3 Night Vision Capability
Most red dot sights are night-vision compatible.
Even cheaper red dots feature this huge advantage that allows for target acquisition even in low light.
I find red dots to be highly visible even through night vision goggles.
Red dot sights are offered by most rifle scope manufacturers, meaning that they come in a huge range of sizes, weights, and prices.
There are red dot scopes that are almost as big as traditional scopes, and some are small enough to be slide-mounted on semi-automatic pistols.
There are also selections for every price point, from the more affordable Sig Romeo 5 or Bushnell TRS-25 to the pricier Aimpoint PRO.
In short, there is a red dot scope for EVERY firearm and shooter.
Cons of Red Dot Sights
#1 Reticle Size
Most red dot reticles are 2 MOA in size, meaning that the dot can cover 2 inches at 100 yards.
2 MOA is quite small, so you’re better off using them for short ranges.
They may not be the best for longer ranges, as this red dot sight reticle focus can be blurry.
#2 Not Very Durable
Red dot scopes come with a fragile front lens. This front lens is the part that reflects the reticle image.
The red dots’ durability depends almost entirely on this front lens. Once the glass is damaged, the sight is rendered useless.
What Is a Holographic Sight?
Holographic sights are somewhat similar to red dot sights.
However, a holo sight uses an intricate setup of mirrors, lasers, and optical glass to project a reticle onto a target in its holographic image.
Its smaller build, which comes with glass protected by a thin metal frame, allows for quick acquisition and functionality even in extreme environments.
Take not that holographic sights also don’t have magnification.
However, they can be used with a magnifier and feature amazing depth perception that you won’t be able to find from any other sight.
At the moment, there are only two companies that offer true and real holographic sights: Vortex Optics and EOTech.
My personal pick for the best holographic sight would be the EOTech EXPS2.
Pros of Holographic Sights
#1 Down Range Focus
The further downrange your target is, the more likely it is for red dot sight reticles to get blurry, especially around the edges.
This can create problems with accuracy.
On the other hand, holographic sights have reticles that stay sharp and focused regardless of the target’s range, and as I found, head position.
#2 Reticle Size
Most holo sights offer a 1 MOA reticle.
This means that the holographic sight reticle will only cover 1″ of the target at 100 yards.
This smaller size of this reticle remains the same despite the magnification.
It will also stay clear and sharp, even at longer distances.
In addition to this, a holographic sight, especially an EOTech holo sight, can come in varying designs for the shooter’s convenience.
Unlike red dot sights that aren’t usable after the front glass is destroyed, holographic sights remain functional even if the front glass is broken, cracked, or even removed.
This is because holographic sights do not depend on the front glass to reflect the reticle image.
This durability makes holographic sights ideal for extreme situations and conditions.
I was surprised to find my holo sight still working despite the number of times I dropped it, especially outdoors.
#4 Faster & Easier Target Acquisition
Holographic sights can produce sharper reticle images at longer distances.
Because of this, I can acquire targets faster, easier AND with both eyes open!
Cons of Holographic Sights
The cheapest holographic sights on the market cost almost as much as the most expensive red dot sights available.
This puts them out of budget for most shooters, especially beginners.
#2 Heavy and Bulky
Holos tend to be bulkier due to the more complicated technology.
They require more internal structure and larger housing in order to protect the delicate parts inside the system.
That said, I’ve actually found the slight heft to be worth it for the clear sight picture.
#3 Short Battery Life
Holographic sights tend to eat up a lot of battery power due to the laser diode tech in its system, resulting in lower battery life.
Most holographic sights have battery lives that fall within the 500-hour range, compared to the red dots thousands.
#4 Limited Selection
At the moment, only two manufacturing companies create true holographic sights: EOTech and Vortex Optics.
This results in a limited selection of models, so you may not be able to find the right match for your budget, style, and preference.
Red Dot vs Holographic Sights: Side-by-Side Comparison of Features
Now that I’ve established the differences between red dot vs. holographic sights, let’s compare their individual features.
The main difference when comparing holographic sights and red dot sights is the technology that they utilize.
A red dot sight utilizes a pretty simple system wherein an LED beam is aimed towards the coated front glass.
The coating on this glass reflects the beam back towards the shooter’s eye, thus allowing them to see the red dot reticle.
Meanwhile, holographic sights use a more complicated system of mirrors and laser beam tech for the light path to project the holographic image.
Both technologies do their job, but I find holographic sights more precise and easier to focus on targets with.
WINNER: Holographic sight
Size and Weight
Thanks to the simple technology employed by red dot sights, it’s easy to produce them in various sizes.
They can be manufactured at smaller sizes, resulting even in pistol red dots. I’ve found that red dots can go as small or as large as your weapon dictates.
On the other hand, holographic sights have more complicated technology, making it more difficult to manufacture them in smaller sizes.
At the time of this writing, there are no holographic sights available that can fit pistols.
As such, holographic sights are often larger than red dot sights.
Looking at the added weight and size of red dot vs. holographic sights, the holographic sights weigh MORE.
- The Vortex Razor AMG UH-1, a holographic sight, weighs 11.8 oz.
- One of the most popular red dot sights on the market, the Trijicon MRO, weighs only 5.8 oz.
When these sights are mounted on a generic AR-15, the UH-1 will increase the weight of the firearm by ~12%.
The MRO, on the other hand, will increase the weight by only ~6%.
WINNER: Red dot sight
The biggest advantage that holographic sights have over red dots is their reticles.
Most red dot sights offer only a red or green 2 MOA dot, which can make it difficult to shoot at longer ranges as the dot covers much of your target.
Furthermore, the reticle has no versatility for various conditions and situations.
In contrast, the holographic reticle comes in different designs and options.
Most EOTech holographic weapon sights, for example, offer a red or green 1 MOA dot with a 68 MOA ring that has tick marks at the 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock positions.
This type of holographic sight reticle allows for faster target acquisition and improved precision for quick closeup shots.
Additionally, the smaller 1 MOA dot found in most holographic sights allows for more precision at larger distances.
I’ve gotten longer-range accuracy out of holographics than red dots!
Other EOTech holographic sights include more complex reticles that may even include an aiming point for various distances.
WINNER: Holographic sight
Neither optic has a magnification setting, so I settled for a magnifier. In my case, it worked better with a holographic sight.
The unique holographic technology means that the magnifier will keep the holographic reticle at the same size throughout various magnifications.
However, if a magnifier is used on a red dot sight, I found that the red dot is also magnified with the sight picture.
As the dot itself got larger, it covered more of the target, resulting in decreased accuracy and precision.
WINNER: Holographic sight
Both the red dot and holographic sight make use of batteries to run.
However, the intricate system found in holographic sights causes them to eat up battery power, resulting in a shorter battery life than a red dot sight.
Red dot sights, even the most affordable models, usually have 50,000+ hours (5+ years) of battery life.
On the other hand, holographic sights usually only have 600 – 1500 hours of battery life.
You may wonder why such a long battery life is necessary for a sight.
I say that there is nothing more inconvenient than losing power in the middle of the field when you need it the most. I wouldn’t recommend it.
WINNER: Red dot sight
Both holographic and red dot sights have been proven to be very durable on the field.
However, the main difference between the two sights is the durability of the front lens.
If the front glass on a red dot sight is cracked or broken, the sight proper can no longer be used.
However, if you get the holographic sight’s glass lens broken or cracked, you can STILL use the sight as normal!
Since the technology inside a holographic sight is more delicate, you will find that the casing for holographic sights is usually more robust and durable.
WINNER: Holographic sight
Ease of Use
Those with vision conditions such as astigmatism may find that holographic sights work better for them.
This is due to the tendency of a red dot sight to have blurry or fuzzy reticles, especially at longer distances.
A holographic sight is more likely to keep a clear and crisp reticle regardless of range.
That said, the simple red dot reticle makes it better for those who don’t want the fuss or need to hit multiple close-range targets.
WINNER: Holographic sight
It is worth noting that NOT ALL electronic sights are compatible with night vision goggles or other equipment.
Due to the wide range of available red dot sights, you can easily find red dot sights with night vision compatible settings.
However, there are limited options for holographic night vision compatible sights.
The EOTech EXPS3, for example, is an EOTech holographic sight that is night vision compatible.
The most popular holographic sight, the EOTech EXPS2, on the other hand, is not.
WINNER: Red dot sight
Due to the more complex technology that it has, a holographic sight is much more expensive than a red dot sight.
In fact, even the most low-end holographic sights are almost as expensive as high-end red dots:
- One of the most popular red dots, the Vortex UH-1, for example, falls in the $400 range.
- One of the most popular holographic sights, the EOTech EXPS2, on the other hand, falls in the $500 range.
As such, the big price difference between holographic and red dot sights is quite noticeable.
This may put it out of range for many shooters, which is why the more affordable red dots win this category.
WINNER: Red dot sight
Frequently Asked Questions
The Navy SEALs mostly use red dot sights.
Specifically, they mostly use Aimpoint and EOTech red dot sights for their long battery life.
The most popular red dot sight used by the US Military is the M668CCO Close Combat Optic from Aimpoint.
However, SEALs are also known to use EOTech holographic sights as well.
Due to the nature of their missions, the choice of which type of optics to use often comes down to the individual shooter.
Does the Military Use Holographic Sights?
YES, the military uses holographic sights, mostly for soldiers based in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The US Military values holographic sights for its incredible durability.
Being able to use the sight even if the glass breaks, as would be expected in a high-stress environment, makes all the difference between life and death.
Additionally, the greater versatility between reticle choices, especially being able to choose smaller MOA dots, make for a more precise shot that doesn’t cover your target.
Combined with the reticle ring, these precise dots allow for quick target acquisition at various distances.
The best part of holographic sights, too, is that they can keep their reticles crisp and clear even when used with a magnifier.
How Are Red Dot and Holographic Sights Different From Traditional Iron Sights?
To use iron sights, the shooter needs to line up the front sight with the rear sight.
The shooter then decides whether or not they can make their shot based on where the sight post is pointing.
In contrast to this, red dots and holographic sights superimpose the reticle directly onto the target.
Because the red dots of these electronic sights are focused at the shooter’s eyeball, the focal distance is practically at the sight.
This makes it a lot easier to aim compared to a traditional iron sight.
Another great thing about these sights is that they have virtually unlimited eye relief, which allows the shooter to keep both eyes open.
On the other hand, a traditional iron sight usually has less eye relief and may require the shooter to close one eye.
However, an iron sight is usually paired with a red dot or holographic sight as a co-witness in case of malfunction.
I personally keep a pair of flip-up iron sights whenever I run digital sights as my primary.
How Are Red Dots and Holographic Sights Different From Scopes?
The biggest difference between scopes vs. holographic and red dot sights is the magnification or lack thereof.
While many scopes use red dot reticles, scopes are unique for being able to magnify the sight picture without needing a separate magnifier.
Scopes often put their reticle on either the first or second focal plane:
- When the reticle is placed on the scope’s first focal plane, the resulting reticle can adjust in size with the magnification level.
- Placing the reticle on the scope’s second focal plane would result in a reticle that stays the same size throughout the various magnification levels.
A red dot or holographic sight, on the other hand, does not have this ability to magnify without a separate magnifier.
Red Dots vs Holographic Sights: Which Is Better?
Your preference for red dot, reflex sights or holographic sights really depends on your experience level and what you intend to use them for.
I’ve found that both red dots and holographic sights can be used with both eyes open, and they excel in close-quarters where you need to rapidly acquire multiple targets.
Personally, I find that holographic sights are better than red dot sights due to their having fewer parallax issues and better angle compensation.
However, red dot sights are lighter, more affordable, and can fit on more firearms.
Use a Holographic Sight If…
- You have the money for it and don’t mind the bulk and added weight.
- You are using the sight for hunting and tactical purposes.
- You want faster target acquisition.
- You want more focus at downrange.
Use a Red Dot Sight If…
- You want a more affordable option.
- You are using the sight for self-defense purposes.
- You want longer battery life.
- You want a lightweight option for long shooting sessions.
- You are using smaller firearms.
- You are looking for night vision-compatible models.