Red Dots vs Holographic Sights: Which One to Choose?

Red Dots vs Holographic Sights

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Many people often wonder about the difference between red dots and holographic sights. Which one is better and why?

They are different, even though many people call both sights a red dot. A true red dot is also called a reflex sight.

You may want to have both, depending on the gun you mount the scope to. Each one has some pros and cons, and in this article, we’re going to break it all down for you. 

Let’s dive right in. 

What is the Main Difference Between Red Dots and Holographic Sights?

Difference Between Red Dots and Holographic Sights

The main difference between a red dot and a holographic sight is twofold: How the reticle is created and how tough the sight is.

  1. Holographic uses a laser to create the aiming reticle. The red dot uses an LED to create the reticle.
  2. A holographic sight is not as tough as a red dot. For instance, this is why I do not put a holo on my 1911 in 10mm; the recoil is just too stout.

There are additional differences in the two that do matter and may be enough to make you choose one scope over the other. We will examine these differences in the rest of the article.

Two common questions people have are red dot vs holographic parallax and holographic vs red dot astigmatism. We discuss these later in the article as well.

Red Dots vs. Holographic Sights: Comparing Their Specifications

Red Dots vs. Holographic Sights - Specification

Comparing red dot scopes to holographic sights is a lot like comparing various kinds of apples to each other. Every apple is an apple. 

Here is an example that illustrates this point: some apple are better for eating right off the tree, while others are better for pies. Some are better baked, while others are better for applesauce.

In the end, they are all apples and you can use any for the above mentioned purposes. You will get the best results if you use an apple that is best suited for the purpose you have in mind. 

Therefore, a red dot and a holo sight are both gun sights. With this discussion, you will be able to choose the one that works best for you.

1. Durability

Heavy recoil can damage scopes not built to take that punishment. The red dot or reflex sight clearly wins in this category. Red dots that do not need batteries are even tougher than a battery-powered reflex scope.

Holographic scopes use a laser to create the reticle. Lasers are not as tough as an LED. Some LEDs can literally take a beating and keep working. When viewed a different way, the holographic sight is tougher.

If the lens breaks or cracks on a red dot, it is done until you get it replaced or repaired. A holographic sight will keep working if the front glass is cracked or broken.

If you can keep the fiber optics intact, a scope like the Trijicon is even more durable. Trijicon has the lines encased in a protective sheath. Fiber optic is pretty tough on its own.

2. Reticle

AIM Sports Tactical Dual Ill. 4 Different Reticles/Warfare Edition (Small, Black)

Reticle choices today are all over the place. For example, the Aim Sports Warfare edition offers you a choice of 4 reticles; the arrow dot, the Predator triangle, a smiley face and a skull.

While this is certainly on the fringe of reticle choices (and is hilarious), it just proves that red dot and holographic reticle choices are only limited by the manufacturer’s imagination. Typical reticle choices are a single dot, a big circle and dot or windage and elevation lines with a dot. 

The dot size can range from 1 to up to 6 MOA. An MOA is about 1 inch at 100 yards. A 6 MOA dot will hide small targets at 100 yards.

The 6 MOA dot gets you on target the fastest. In speed shooting competitions, a fraction of a second separates the winners from the losers.

Since the dot is so big, this 6 MOA is used on handguns where the target is less than 50 yards away. It is just not suitable for a rifle at 100 yards.

Small dots, like the 1 MOA, are a tad slower to get you on target. The benefit is you can be more precise with shot placement.

3. Price

Reflex sights are the cheapest. They have less electronics, less glass, and are simpler to make. ACOG-style scopes are the most expensive. 

Red dot scopes are in the middle of the pack. They can run from less than $100 to more than $500 for high end models.

4. Damage

Hunters have to consider scope damage. Guns and scopes can get banged around in a stand, hit by limbs and dropped. How well does the scope hold up to this?

The holographic scope is the least durable. The laser is pretty easy to damage and multiple glass panes increase the chances for one breaking after an impact.

On the other hand, the red dot reflex scopes have a single pane of glass. It can be thick and very tough.

Some reflex scopes in a tube, like the ACOG, also rely on a tough tube that houses everything.

5. Tube v. window

Holographic sights and some red dots come in a tube. This is neither good nor bad, it just is. You have to look through the tube; this limits your vision to what the tube is aimed at.

Reflex red dot scopes offer a single plane house in a frame. This is like looking out a window. You can see much more than what is within that single frame.

A holographic or red dot tube-style sight is fine if you have time to line up and find a shooting solution, but if you’re in a hurry, the reflex is better.

The reflex is also ideal if you have to keep an eye on your surrounding and target. 

If you train in very close quarters combat (CQB), then you want that single pane for situational awareness; being able to see clearly to each side is vital.

A reflex is also easier to use and faster than iron sights. You see the dot and put the dot on the target.

With iron sights, you have to see the target landline up the front sight through the rear sight while keeping an eye on the target.

Reflex sights are ideal for shotgunners who chase flying birds like dove, ducks and geese. Finding a sight picture after shouldering the gun is almost as fast as using the front barrel bead.

6. Waterproof

Waterproof Test

There is a difference between waterproof and water resistant.

Waterproofing follows an international standard. Where scopes are concerned the best rating is usually IPx7. The scope can be a meter underwater for at least 30 minutes and stay dry internally.

Water resistant means the scope will stand up to rain, but it cannot stand being submerged for more than a moment. Get waterproof sights where you can. Even though driving rain will not affect the scope, you still need to be good to go if you drop it in a creek.

7. Mounting

attach to a Picatinny rail

Mounting any of these scopes depends on the scope and what the manufacturer decided. The easiest mounts attach to a Picatinny rail. Some scopes even offer a quick detach to the rail.

Another is a dovetail mount on a handgun. In this case, the scope has a built-in dovetail base.

It is supposed to slide into a reversed cut on the top of the handgun. When done right, this is the most secure mount you can get. Depending on the fit, it is also the hardest to remove.

A third style mount is the RMR (Ruggedized Miniature Reflex). This is a plate that attaches to the scope. The plate then connects to a Pic rail.

Other scopes have a proprietary mounting system. You have to use what the manufacturer makes. This is neither good nor bad. It is just something you need to factor into your purchase.

8. Range

The range of a reflex and holographic sight is limited. They do not offer magnification. The dot size can obscure a target as it gets farther away.

If you are using a scope with a 4 MOA dot at 100 yards to shoot a small squirrel, you can see the head and neck and the tail. Even smaller targets may disappear completely behind the dot.

Depending on the dot size, the reasonable range of a red dot or holographic scope is 50-100 yards.

ACOG scopes have a much greater range because they are more akin to a traditional rifle scope. They can have built in magnification.

9. Magnifier

Magnifier - Holographic Sight

You can get a magnifier. These do not really increase the effective range of the scope, especially ones with a large dot. The magnifier just zooms in on the target.

They are handy, nonetheless. If you hunt deer with a red dot in a place with antler restrictions, the magnifier lets you get a better view of the buck. You can more easily tell if it is shootable or it should walk.

Better magnifiers flip to the side to get out of the way when you do not need them.

10. Night vision

Night vision

Many, not all, red dots and holographic sights are compatible with night vision devices.

Depending on the night vision clip on you get, you may need to move the red dot or holo sight forward or backward.

You may be able to leave the day sight in place, if you have sufficient eye relief on the rear to support the clip on.

Putting a night vision clip on will not affect the point or aim on your holo or red dot. It will add weight to the gun. Also, you may need a different set of batteries for the clip on.

11. Eye relief

Eye relief is the distance your eye needs to be from the scope for the best sight picture. The best holo and reflex sights offer unlimited eye relief.

You can use the same scope at arm’s length on a pistol or mount it closer for use on a shotgun or rifle.

The ACOG is an exception because it functions like a traditional scope and has a set eye-relief zone. The distance can vary within an inch or so.

12. Parallax

Parallax is how the reticle moves around in the scope as you move your head or the gun. Scopes with a parallax adjustment keep you on target at set distance as you or the gun move.

Parallax becomes more and more important as the target gets farther away. Where a red dot vs holographic parallax are concerned, there is little difference. Parallax is fixed.

Neither sight comes with a parallax adjustment. This is another reason these scopes are not useful at long ranges.

13. Astigmatism

When you have astigmatism and use a red dot or a holo sight, the dot may appear blurry, star-shaped, have a tail like a comet or a tiny dumbbell.

Whether a red dot or holographic site is better for astigmatism depends on you. I find bigger dots work best for me. 

Differences between Red Dots and Holographic Sights

Holographic Sights

The two main differences between a red dot and a holographic sight are the battery and how the dot is created.

1. Battery

Battery powered red dots and holo sights will vary in their power use. Regardless, a holographic sight will use a lot more power than a simple red dot. This is another big difference.

Holo sights often need bigger batteries as well. If you run a holographic sight, you get the least amount of battery life.

Depending on the scope’s power draw and battery size, you will get a few hundred to a few thousand hours of use.

A true red dot will get more than 10,000 hours from a single battery. Some promise up to 50,000 hours of use.

2. Reticle light

How the light that creates the reticle is the next major difference. This difference affects scope performance in two other ways, which we get to in the next section.


One version of the red dot uses an LED, light-emitting diode, to create the light that in turn creates the reticle. LEDs are very common now and are found even in household lights.

The LED in a red dot is tiny. Most are red or green. You decide which color you prefer. The critters I shoot with my .45-70 Government and red dot have yet to complain about my choice of red or green.

Rarely an LED will be yellow. Yellow is discouraged in hunting scopes because it can be harder to see in low light conditions and against a fall season background.

Fiber Optic

Some red dots use a fiber optic to channel light into the scope. The drawback here is you must have a light source, like the sun, to light it up.

For example, the Trijicon ACOG (Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight) is the most well-known of this type of red dot. Some people may say this is not a red dot scope.


Tritium is a radioactive version of helium. It glows. Some red dot sights use this to provide the reticle light without using a battery or external light.

The drawback is the tritium degrades over time and the glow fades. If you get 10 years from a tritium-based sight, that is good.


A holographic sight uses a laser to generate light and the reticle. The laser is reflected onto the sight pane with a mirror.

Pros and Cons of Red Dots and Holographic Sights

Red dots and holographic sights share some of the same pros and cons. At the same time, each has advantages and disadvantages the other does not.

Red Dot Pros

  • Battery: Very long life from a single battery
  • Targeting: Fast target acquisition and aiming
  • Damage: If the lens breaks, the scope is done
  • Unlimited eye relief: Works at regular scope distances out to the end of your arm
  • Brightness: Can adjust the brightness for the shooting conditions
  • Cross gun: Good on handguns, shotguns, rifles and crossbows
  • Easy: Super easy to use, even for a novice
  • Focus: Keep the target and dot in focus at the same time
  • Cost: Less than a holographic
  • Weight: Very lightweight
  • Choice: Made by a lot of different companies

Red Dot Cons

  • Battery: Batteries die
  • Concealment: Handguns harder to concealed carry than plain iron sights
  • Parallax: Unless the sight allows co-witness, parallax is hard to maintain
  • Dot size: Sometimes a red dot size is just too big

Holographic Sight Pros

  • Targeting: Fast target acquisition and aiming
  • Eye relief: Depending on the tube size, eye relief is less than a red dot
  • Brightness: You can adjust the brightness for the shooting conditions
  • Cross gun: Good on handguns, shotguns, rifles and crossbows
  • Reticle: Often offers greater reticle choice than a red dot
  • Parallax: Parallax is easier to correct because of the tube
  • Easy: Super easy to use, even for a novice
  • Focus: Keep the target and dot in focus at the same time
  • Damage: If the front glass breaks, the scope will keep working
  • Dot: Smaller dot sizes, down to 1 MOA
  • Image: In the best models, images at a distance are clearer than with a red dot

Holographic Sight Cons

  • Battery: Limited battery life compared to red dot; also, batteries die
  • Concealment: Handguns harder to concealed carry than plain iron sights
  • Cost: More expensive than a red dot
  • Weight: A bit more than a red dot, but not as much as a traditional scope
  • Choice: While the market is expanding, reliability holo sights are still made by a few companies

Do you wish to know the differences between Red Dots and Green Dots, Go through this Video Comparison


Are holographic sights red dots?

A holographic sight is a red dot in the sense that it uses light to create a reticle, usually a dot. Internally, the two are different.

Is holographic sight better than red dot?

A holographic sight is neither better nor worse than a red dot. Which is better depends on what you need.

Why are holo sights so expensive?

Holo sights are so expensive because of the electronics inside. Calibrating that laser costs money.

Can I use a regular scope with a red dot or holo?

Depending on how your rifle is set up, you can use a red dot or a holo with a regular scope. You need an offset rail to mount one optic to the side.


Which scope is better for you is really a choice you have to make. The smaller dot size in the holo is important if you are shooting past 100 yards. If speed is the issue, it is a draw.

I prefer a holo for precision shooting, such as a shotgun for turkey hunting. I do not have a holo on my big bore carbines because the electronics inside are too fragile.

Regardless of which one you get, batteries are important. Change the battery each year, whether you use the scope or not.

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