Red dot and green dot sights are popular aiming systems used in firearms, airsoft guns, and crossbows.
They offer quick and accurate target acquisition, making them popular among hunters, competitive shooters, and law enforcement officers.
You can find many variations, but one of the chief differences is the color of the dot: either red or green.
It’s easy to assume that dot color is a matter of preference, but there are real performance differences that matter quite a bit.
In this article, we’ll explore the main differences between red and green dot sights, their details, pros and cons, and ultimately, which is better for you.
Red Dot vs. Green Dot: Main Differences
The main difference between red dot and green dot sights is the color of the dot that is projected onto the lens. Red dot sights use a red dot, while green dot sights use a green dot. It’s not just a question of color, though: the different wavelengths of light have different pros and cons, such as visibility, night vision compatibility, and energy usage.
Both red and green dot sights project a dot onto a lens that acts as a reticle.
Collectively these sights are called “reflex” sights because that’s the name of the technology they use to project the dot onto the lens. Holographic sights are a different technology with other benefits.
Red Dot Sights
The vast majority of red dot sights on the market have a range of brightness levels you can set the dot to get a proper amount of visibility based on your shooting conditions.
The issue with red dots is that in daylight, you have to crank up the brightness, sometimes all the way to maximum, just to see the dot.
Red dots perform best in low-light scenarios, where you have enough light to see, but the lighting is fairly dim.
It’s theoretically easier to get a red dot to be compatible with night vision devices than it is for a green dot, but that is no guarantee that a specific red dot will be night vision compatible.
If your red dot is night vision compatible, it will only be so if you set it specifically to one of the NV brightness settings. Feeding a bright red dot through your NVD is a good way to break it.
Night vision compatibility, in this case, refers specifically to infrared night vision. If you’re using some other kind of tech to see in the darkness, you’ll have to look up information specific for that tech.
Battery Life/Energy Usage
Red dots are energy efficient. It’s not uncommon for a red dot to advertise a battery life in the tens of thousands of hours at the lowest brightness setting.
Granted, the lowest brightness setting may be too hard to see unless it’s also too dark to even see what you’re shooting at, but even at the highest brightness, you’ll get hundreds of hours out of a little button battery.
This is a big reason why red dots are so popular on home defense weapons.
Considering that magnification can be a hindrance in CQB (close quarters battle) situations anyway, having a reticle that has a nearly-infinite battery life, practically speaking, is an important piece of the puzzle.
Green Dot Sights
At a given brightness level, green dots will be easier to see than red dots, particularly in daylight, when the light everywhere is closer to the warmer end of the spectrum.
At night, when the color of light gets bluer, red will often contrast better and be easier to see than green.
That said, if you’re in a house illuminated with warmer bulbs, you might still get better performance from green.
It all depends on the scenario that you’re in, but as a general rule of thumb, you can say that green dots have fantastic visibility in daylight and workable visibility in low light.
Green dots can be compatible with night vision devices, but they usually are not.
If compatibility with an IR NVD is a deal-breaker for you, then you should either be prepared to spend more on a green dot than you would have to otherwise, or stick with a red dot that has a few NVD settings on it.
Trying to force a non-NVD compatible green dot to work with an NVD is a good way to wreck your night vision device.
Battery Life/Energy Usage
The tricky thing about green dots is that they tend to have worse battery life. In some cases, the battery life can be a lot worse.
That has changed as technology has gotten better, so if you’re buying a relatively new green dot, you can actually expect somewhat similar battery life to a red dot. And since you won’t have to have the dot as bright, you can maximize the specs a bit more.
For the most part, between red dots and green dots, the brightness setting that you use most often will most likely play a larger role in how much battery life you get out of it than the color of the dot itself.
Red Dot vs. Green Dot: Which Is Better?
Deciding which is better between red dot and green dot sights depends on the shooter’s personal preferences, intended use, and shooting environment. Here are some pros and cons of each type of sight:
Pros of Red Dot Sights
Without getting too far into the technical weeds about the wavelengths of different colors of light, suffice it to say that it requires less energy to maintain a red light at a specific brightness than it does to maintain a green light at that same brightness.
This can translate into longer battery life, but you’ll want to check the specific model you’re looking at to get a real number.
The color green appears a lot more often in nature than the color red.
Because of this, in a lot of hunting situations, even though the green wavelength is theoretically easier to see, red dots offer higher contrast against the background, making it easier to quickly acquire your target and aim accurately.
Granted, you might have to crank up the brightness to see the red dot at all, but it’s still better than trying to see a green dot amongst a bunch of green leaves and grasses.
Better Night Vision Compatibility
Night vision is easier to do with a red dot than a green dot, which means you can find NVD-compatible red dots for a lot cheaper than NVD-compatible green dots.
I don’t claim to know ever single reflex sight on the market, but the only NVD-compatible green dots I’m aware of are significantly more expensive than some good red dot options.
Cons of Red Dot Sights
If you have astigmatism, it can cause an issue with red dots. I don’t have first-hand experience with this, but I’m told that the quality and sharpness of the red dot can play an important role with this.
If you can pay a more premium price for a sharp, clear red dot, that may be a way to get around this. That said, it’s hard to know until you try, and it’s hard to try without buying.
As mentioned above, if you want to use a red dot in the daylight, you’re looking at cranking the brightness level up a lot.
Granted, you’ll still get a fair amount of battery life and it’s not like replacement batteries cost all that much, so you can decide how big of a deal this is for you.
For a law enforcement officer, it might make sense to use a green dot at a lower setting. For a hunter, it’s probably worth sticking with red and going with a higher setting.
Pros of Green Dot Sights
Helps with Astigmatism
Again, no first-hand experience with this, but I’m told that green dots are less likely to exacerbate astigmatism compared to red dots.
There are a lot of anecdotes on various forums about shooters who couldn’t use a red dot because of astigmatism but were able to get great results out of using a green dot.
I would imagine the quality and sharpness of the dot would matter here as well, where a sharp dot would be better than a fuzzed, blurry one.
Your eyes see the color green more easily than red or blue, so theoretically you won’t have to have the brightness up as high on a green dot as you would with a red dot.
The target area has a not-insignificant impact on this, though, as I mentioned above. If you’re aiming in a forest area with lots of green, a green dot will be harder to see no matter how bright or dark it is.
One of the best things I’ve noticed about using a green dot is that it just seems like I acquire my target faster.
The difference is only a split-second, but that split-second can make all the difference. That’s been my personal experience even in low-light scenarios when a red dot would supposedly be superior.
Cons of Green Dot Sights
Green dots seem more expensive on average than red dots. Especially if you want a quality dot, or something night vision compatible, you tend to pay a bit of a premium to get it.
This could be because green dots aren’t in as high demand as red dots, or it could have something to do with the difficulty of manufacturing one.
More Likely to Blend With Background
If you’re out hunting or even out at the range, you’re more likely to encounter green in your target area than red.
This isn’t true of many other types of shooting, but this is also an important consideration for military personnel, forest rangers, and anyone else who carries a firearm out of the cities.
If you’re worried about this and can’t afford to buy one to test it out, just go with a red dot.
At the risk of repeating myself, yes, night vision compatibility would be considered a con of green dots.
If you want NVD compatibility you will have to pay more for a green dot than you would with a red dot.
Infrared night vision skews towards the red end of the color spectrum (shocker, I know), so red tends to play nicer with the systems than green.
There is no definitive answer to this question. In low light or against a green backdrop, red dots are often better.
If you’re using a night vision device, a red dot can be better. If you’ll be shooting in daylight but not against a green backdrop, then a green dot can be better.
If price is no object, a high quality green dot may be the best all-around choice, but that’s largely my personal opinion.
Laser sights are something very different from reflex sights. A laser sight shoots out a laser to your target.
Laser sights can be handy at close range but in my experience they don’t seem to offer any advantages over a reflex sight.
You can get lasers in either red or green colors, and there isn’t much difference between the two.
Yes, sometimes. The U.S. Military uses Aimpoint red dots, and they probably use a few other brands as well.
Different branches of the military and even different divisions within the branches have the authority to source different products to use, so it’s hard to know for sure which brands/models have and have not been used.
Some, not all of them do. You generally have to pay a more to get a green dot compatible with night vision than you have to pay to get a red dot compatible with night vision, but you can certainly find them.
Compatibility can be device-specific though, so comparing whatever night vision device you have with the green dot you’re looking at to make sure is best.
Red dot and green dot sights both offer quick and accurate target acquisition, but their main differences lie in the color of the dot, visibility, night vision compatibility, and energy usage.
Red dot sights are (generally) better suited for use in low light conditions, while green dot sights can be easier to see in bright light.
As with most things, there’s a certain amount of personal preference that goes into this decision along with the more objective considerations.
At the end of the day, as long as your intended use case is compatible with a reflex sight at all, you can find either a green or a red dot that will do what you need it to do with aplomb.