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Red Dot vs Scope Optics: Which Is Best for Your AR 15?

Red Dot vs Scope

You just got your AR15, but if you’re new to the gun community, you may be lost, confused, and wondering to yourself…

“Should I get a red dot or magnified scope?”

Sure, a red dot sight and magnified scope are both better and obviously an upgrade from iron sights.

Both the scope and the dot reticle are also more affordable and more versatile than a holographic sight scope.

BUT, which is better for you?

Between a red dot vs. magnified scope…

  • How different are they really?
  • And how do you choose exactly what you should get?
  • Is it all just a matter of personal preference?

In this article, we will answer your curious questions about these two options.

What features do they each uniquely have to offer?

Which huge benefit will you be able to maximize?

…and you get to choose which drawbacks with your scopes you can live with.

Let’s get started!

What Is a Red Dot Sight/Red Dot Scope?

What Is a Red Dot Sight/Red Dot Scope?

In technical terms, the word “sight” refers to an optic without magnification, while the word “scope” refers to a magnified optic. However, the scope is more commonly used than sight.

When you look through the optic, you will see a small red dot at the center.

QUICKER than iron sights, a red dot sight is basically any optic that uses a red (but sometimes green) dot as the aiming point.

The red dot sight lets you acquire your target EASILY. When you look at your sight picture through your scopes and see the red dot on your prey, you already know that you will be able to hit. 

You don’t even have to center the red dot on your target! (as long as you’re already zeroed in.)

It is very convenient that even law enforcement officers and the military use red dot sights and scopes.

A red dot sight does not have magnification, any kind of optical distortion, or the lasers found in holographic sights.

As it can be seen here in the Vortex Venom:

Vortex Venom

Vortex Venom Red Dot Reticle

Meanwhile, a Red Dot Scope is a magnified scope that basically works like a telescope:

Red Dot Scope

Let’s explore the scopes and reticle dots further…

Red Dot Optics

A modern version of the reflex sight, the red dot optic works by reflecting the light emitted from an LED using a spherical mirror.

A red dot reflector has a special coating that only reflects red light, letting you see through the crystal clear optic.

The Good

The red dots do not come in the same size. They can vary and fit into different guns, whether it’s a handgun, rifle, etc.

This means they are versatile and easy to use!

Red dot sights also come in two types:

  • A closed (tube) sight
  • An open reflex sight

The closed type is also known as a tube red dot because it is enclosed in a tube. It is BRIGHTER than open reflex sight and best for close to moderate distances.

Reflex Sights

Also known as the reflector sight, the reflex sight uses traditional reflective glass material and allows the red dot to stay on target no matter how much eye movement you make.

Check out the best reflex sights for under $100 here!

The Good

An open reflex sight is meant to be used when shooting with both eyes open. It gives you a wider field of view, unlimited eye relief, and faster target acquisition than the red dot tube.

Reflex sights are CONVENIENT if you want a compact option since the red dot tube scopes can be heavier.

The Bad

Without the tube, reflex sights are not protected by elements, and the light path can be blocked.

Holographic Sights

As you can see here in the EOTech Holographic Sight, what sets holographic sights apart from the red dots is that they use lasers instead of the traditional lenses and mirrors that red dots use.

EOTech Holographic Sights Diagram

Holographic sights project a holographic reticle that looks like the “sweet spot” is floating on your target when you look through it.

The Good

Unlike the red dot optic that makes you move one eye between your red dot reticles and your target, true holographic sights will let you see through both the reticle and target SIMULTANEOUSLY, with BOTH eyes open.

Holographic sights are also more durable than red dot sights. It can withstand more force and extreme weather and temperature conditions.

And in contrast with red dots that are subject to parallax distortion, a holographic sight is parallax-free.

The Bad

Holographic sights are also more EXPENSIVE, reliant on batteries, and can only be mounted on medium-sized weapons.

And speaking of battery reliance, a holographic sight can only last 500-1,000 hours at most. This is very low compared to the red sight of up to 50,000 hours.

Now that we got those covered…

What Is a Scope?

What Is a Scope?

A scope works like a telescope or a magnifying glass when you look through it.

It magnifies the mark and makes your aim larger in your field of view. It sometimes has no red dot or markings or optical guides of any kind.

The reticles in your scope can be placed in two different focal planes…

First Focal Plane Rifle Scopes

The reticles here in the FFP are placed in the front of the tube, putting it closer to the objective lens.

Doing this increases magnification and makes the lines look larger.

This is best for longer-range shooting.

Second Focal Plane Rifle Scopes

And in SFP, the reticles are placed at the back of the tube, meaning your reticles are now farther from the objective lens.

This placement puts it closer to the ocular lens and does not change the reticle size when adjusting the magnification.

We feature both FFP and SFP scopes in our Riflescopes Buying Guide Under 500 Dollars.

Red Dot vs Scope Optics: The Main Differences

Red Dot Optic

Red Dot Optic

Red dot sights are UNMATCHED for close-range shooting. Since red dots use electronic sights, adjustments are easier, and they’re more versatile.

The Good

Here are the advantages of the red dot sight worth checking out:

  • Optimum for large targets (like a person)
  • Highest speed. The red aim is highly capable of rapid shooting
  • No magnification which means no optical distortion either
  • Exceptional for low light conditions and even on no light
  • Best for self-defense and shooting for fun in your backyard
  • Powered variable settings for easier adjustments
  • Better eye relief. Also good for shooters who have astigmatism.

The Bad

And here are the disadvantages of a red dot vs. a scope:

  • Shot placement at longer ranges and large moving targets is not consistent
  • Also not ideal for small (especially moving) targets at long range
  • Maximum range is 200 to 300 yards on an unmoving target
  • Most red dots have no holdover markings
  • Not ideal for precision shooting, the reticle gets larger in longer distance range and is more difficult to see
  • Optic is reliant on batteries; you lose your sight if you run out of batteries

But wait!

Don’t be intimidated by the number of drawbacks just yet.

If you’re not someone targeting something in the longer range and do not have eye problems, most of these factors will have NO effect on you!

You can check out our Budget Buying Guide for Red Dots for some great options.

Scope Optics

Scope Optics

A big advantage of the scope optic is that some rifle scopes come in a low-powered variable optic (1 to 4x), which work ALMOST as good as red dots.

It’s kind of the middle ground between a standard magnified rifle scope and a red dot reticle.

Who needs the red dot vs. rifle scope discourse? Not this hybrid! It’s just right there in the middle of both.

The only downside of a dot rifle scope vs. red dot sight, basically being the same optic, is that it can only perform so much.

It can’t give you the best of what a standard magnified rifle scope has to offer, nor the best of the red sight.

It serves both scope level distance and short-range distance purposes well, but will NOT give you impressive performances of either one.

The Good

Check out the more irresistible factors of the magnified scopes…

  • Better for long range shooting
  • Can easily shoot small targets
  • Excellent for precision shooting
  • Consistent shot placement
  • Not reliant on batteries. Most rifle scopes use batteries to illuminate the reticle, so you only lose the illumination if the battery life dies but not the sight
  • Made for target shooting and hunting
  • Can cover extended distances thanks to its holdover marks
  • Easy to use and most rifle optics mount on almost anything
  • Lighter and more compact
  • Perfect for beginners!

The Bad

Some drawbacks about scope optics you might want to consider…

  • Not for close range, since magnification is high even on minimum setting
  • Not ideal for self-defense
  • Will not work well in low light or no illumination
  • Shorter eye relief
  • Not ideal for those with eye problems

But then again, if you will only use your rifle scope for hunting and competitions, you would not mind these downsides.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How Accurate Is a Red Dot Scope?

You can shoot accurately with a red dot optic until 100 yards.

But of course, a gun is only as good as its shooter. The accuracy depends more on your skill and technique, or even other outside factors like the make and brand of your red dot scope.

2. What Is the Advantage of a Red Dot Scope?

Speed and accuracy!

And as soon as you see the red circle aim at your prey, you already know you will hit it.

Reticle dots are just excellent for fast target acquisition and close combat.

3. Are Red Dot Sights Always On?

It depends on which model you buy.

Most shooters turn them off manually to preserve battery life, but others like to keep their red dot sights on all the time so they will be ready for emergencies.

Doing so is especially useful for home self-defense situations.

Because of this, many brands have incorporated an automatic turn-off feature when the rifle is not in use to conserve battery power.

This feature is motion-activated.

But there are also brands with products like the Aimpoint Pro that do not include this new feature, but boast long battery life that CAN LAST YOU FOR YEARS!

4. Which Is Better for Close-Range Targets?


It is simply unmatched for close combat.

Since it doesn’t have any magnification, it does not distort your sight and is made for rapid shooting.

5. Which Is Better for Longer Ranges?

Scope optics for sure.

A dot reticle only has your back for 100 yards at best, and up to 200 to 300 yards at most for an unmoving target.

Magnified scope optics have good shot placement, are perfect for precision shooting, and are great for shooting even small moving prey from longer distances.

It’s great whether you have a high-power magnified scope or a low-power variable optic scope!

Final Verdict: Which Is Right for You?

Okay. You still have not made your decision?

The major deciding factor between a red dot vs. scope would be what you’re going to use your gun for. And, of course, your own personal preference.

Is the Red Dot Sight for You?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it just for home defense and some target practice in your backyard?
  • Will you only use your gun in close quarters?
  • Are speed and accuracy the most important factors for you?

If your answer is YES, then the RED DOT reticle is your best bet.

Are Magnified Scopes for You?

You use your gun for long-range hunting or competitions, you need precision and consistency, and you have no need for speed, and therefore you need the magnification…

Then the MAGNIFIED OPTIC scope would win your internal optic vs. red dot sight discourse.


There is always the option to get the HYBRID SCOPE equipped with a low power option, so you get the adequate (not the best) of both worlds.

This is a great option if:

  • You actually want to get both types but just have the budget for one.
  • You want a two for the price of one deal, and you do not care about the best features each opposing side has to offer.

You can also try your hand at iron sights for your AR-15!


Red dot sights are better for close-up targets, home defense, and speed, while magnified scopes are better for extended distances, long-range hunting, and precision shooting.

That should help you decide confidently on one option!

We hope we have cleared some of your confusion, and you are no longer torn between the two choices!

FINAL TIP: To learn more about scopes, check out our list of the best scopes for 1000 yards!



August 25, 2022 - Added 1 new article link 
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May 12, 2022 - Made minor updates to content

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