• GTW Author


There is an unmistakable trend for more and more handguns to be offered “optics-ready”. The top of the slide of an optics-ready pistol is machined to allow mounting of a miniature reflex sight, better known as a red dot. These aiming devices allow for faster, more accurate shooting as well as many more advantages.


Red dot sights are electro-optical aiming devices that feature a simple, bright, illuminated dot as aiming point. It has zero to low magnification and is parallax-free. Compared to scopes, often featuring a dozen lenses, the design of a red dot sight is quite straightforward.

In principle the dot is an LED (light-emitting diode) projected onto a single convex lens. This lens is partly reflective but only for the red spectrum of visible light, so around 670nm wavelength. As the lens will only reflect only this wavelength, all other wavelengths of visible light can pass through. This allows for the lens to give a perfect image as well as a bright red dot in the centre of the same image. Because it is a reflection, this also explains why the red dot in this type of devices will never be perfectly round.

For completeness, it is interesting to point out that there is yet another type of red dot technology. Here an image of a dot or a reticle is sandwiched between two lenses and illuminated by a laser diode. These aiming devices are known as holographic sights.

There are mainly two types of red dot sights on the market today. The first has a typical L-shaped sight and consists of one single lens. With the second type everything is contained in a box- or tube-shaped design, featuring multiple lenses. While the first type is more compact and lighter, because of its open design dirt, snow… could obstruct the sight. This isn’t the case with the second, fully-contained type.


One of the biggest advantages of red dot sights is that the shooter’s eyes only need to focus on the target. The red dot is present in the line of sight but doesn’t require any specific focus from your eyes. As you don’t have to line up a rear sight with a front sight, and then line both up with the target, this allows for superior target focus with both eyes open. What’s more, because these aiming devices are parallax-free, you don’t have to perfectly align your head directly behind the sight, and the red dot does not have to be in the centre of the sight window, for the shooter to hit what the dot is aimed on.

Low-light conditions are where red dot sights literally outshine iron sights. Also a red dot sight can still function in a bright, high light situation. Miniature red dots with light sensors can even adjust the brightness automatically, which is a huge advantage when transitioning from low light to bright situations and vice versa.

Last but not least, people with poor eyesight are better served with a dot sight than with iron sights. Although it takes some time and practice to readjust from iron sights to a red dot, you are far more flexible and can shoot faster as well as more accurate with a red dot sight. In the end you just have to put the red dot on the target and pull the trigger. As simple as that.

Compared to iron sights, there are some disadvantages related to red dot sights. Although they don’t make the handguns much heavier, they do make them bulkier. Secondly, when placed on a handgun with regular iron sights, the red dot will make these unusable because the line of sight is blocked. Ideally the handgun’s iron sights have to remain usable with the red dot in place. Which is why many optics-ready handguns are fitted with oversize rear and front sights. Should the aiming device become unusable, it is important to be able to rely on your iron sights as back-up.


Extremely important when selecting a red dot sight is the size of the dot. A dot that is too big can cover up your target at certain distances. A dot that is too small can be harder to spot at certain distances, hindering the fast and intuitive target acquisition red dots are known for.

Typically the dot size of most red dot sights is around 4 MOA which means the dot will cover four inches at 100 yards, or two inches at 50 yards or eight inches at 200 yards. Smaller dots, 2 to 3 MOA, covering two to three inches of the target at 100 yards and even less at shorter ranger, are better suited for longer range shooting with rifles.

For handguns, which are generally used at short(er) range, a bigger size red dot is advisable. Take care however that the bigger the dot size, the easier your eyes will spot it, yet the more the target will be covered. Competition shooters will favor smaller dot sizes for optimal precision. For personal protection though, mid to large sized dots are better suited. To hit the dot size sweet spot the shooter will have to take into account the application as well as the average distance at which he/she will mainly shoot.


Small is beautiful. While iron handgun sights are not going anywhere anytime soon, red dot sights are clearly opening up a whole new way forward for shooters. With the many advantages of these aiming devices, offering both speed, flexibility as well as improved accuracy, the demand for red dot sights in the pistol realm is growing rapidly.

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