Holographic vs. Red Dot – What to Know about Electro-Optical Sights

“The brain automatically superimposes the dot on the target. This provides for exceptional continued situational awareness as well as a very useful low-light targeting system something which iron sights lack.”

“Red dot sights are currently of two different types, “tube” and “open” like the modern electro-optical Mil-Spec Mepro RDS Pro V2 featuring red or green reticle, 16 brightness levels, auto on / off with motion sensor providing 1,000’s of hours of operational use.”

Modern electro-optical Red Dot or “Reflex” and holographic sights are just a technical improvement of the “Collimating-telescope Gun-Sight” first used a hundred and twenty years ago.

Developed from that concept, Armson marketed the Occluded Eye Gunsight or O.E.G. in the 1960’s that used a small fiber optic rod or small tritium source to illuminate a reticle inside a tube open on one end.

The O.E.G. works by using both eyes, one to view the target and the other, looking through the open end to view the illuminated dot. The result is the brain automatically superimposes the dot on the target. This provides for exceptional situational awareness as well as a very useful low-light targeting system something which iron sights lack.

The concept worked so well, both day and night, that the Normark Corp. SinglePoint weapons sight was selected to equip the shorty 5.56mm XM-177 and GAU-5 carbines used by Special Forces during the Son Tay raid into North Vietnam.

The mission was to free American P.O.W.’s and (as many think) also to shut down the pipeline that was taking selected American prisoners back to the USSR and/or China. Although no prisoners were found, after the raid, the North Vietnamese immediately improved the conditions of American captives, moved them all together and quickly changed their attitude about dragging out peace negotiations.

The Son Tay raid has been celebrated as one of the most impactful raids every conducted by Special Forces and was key for ending the war by destabilizing the North Vietnamese leadership by having American forces successfully operating 28 miles from Hanoi.

Understanding the Differences Between Red Dot and Holographic Sights

The modern electro-optical sights we use today operate on the same concept, and if you don’t believe me, close the cap on the muzzle end of your red dot sight and use both eyes. You will still see the red dot on the target and be able to make accurate hits.

Make no mistake, the red dot sighting optic is not only useful, but is rapidly replacing iron (or open) sights on both long-guns and pistols as their primary sighting system. It’s just going to happen.

But then again, what exactly is and what are the differences between Red Dot or Reflex and Holographic sights? Yes, they all use the basic O.E.G. concept and superimposes a targeting reticle on the target with no magnification, but HOW each projects that reticle is different.

What is a Holographic Sight?

A Holographic sight uses a LASER to project a hologram, so it is the most technically complex, larger in size and requires the most power. The reticle is a hologram mirrored on a glass screen by a laser diode and can be made with a variety of different reticles besides a simple red dot. If the screen gets broken, the sight cannot be used.

The reticles can be everything from circles, crosshairs or both that appears to be “floating” on your target. A holographic sight allows you to focus on both the target AND reticle making them much less susceptible to parallax distortion.

Holographic sights are inherently more costly and require being enclosed in tubes unlike the skeletonized reflex sights, making holographic sighting systems mostly unsuitable for pistols. The power requirement is also greater than red dot Light Emitting Diode (LED) sights, making battery life noticeably shorter, and unlike red dots, ALL holographic sights are battery powered.

What is a Red Dot Sight?

Red Dot sights that are also called “reflex” sights actually are offered in a variety of colors including red, green, and even yellow. The true red dot sight uses either a LED emitter or is self-powered by fiber optic and/or tritium (no batteries or on/off switch needed) to project a reticle onto glass which is then reflected to your eye, hence the other common name “reflex sight”.

The LED powered red dots use very little voltage so batteries can last for years, with some units claiming up to 50,000 hours of battery life. Also, unlike holographic sights, since LEDs are so small and lightweight, they allow for very simple and compact sight designs but are robust enough that installation on reciprocating pistol slides.

A big difference from Holographic sights, that if the glass the dot is projected on is shattered or even partially intact, but the image is visible, the shooter will still be able to place accurate shots on target.

Red dot sights are currently of two different types, “tube” and “open” like the modern electro-optical Mil-Spec Mepro RDS Pro V2 featuring red or green reticle,16 brightness levels, auto on / off with motion sensor providing 1,000’s of hours of operational use or the Mepro microRDS sights for handguns or even rifles and shotguns. (More on this later)

Tube red dots feature sealed optics that are protected from the elements within nitrogen-filled tubes that ensure a clean display of the dot. The minor down-side is that the large tube directly in the line of sight reduces visibility, but the optics are shielded from the elements, abuse or debris and are very water resistant.

What is becoming a common primary sight on carbines and pistols is the much smaller “open” red dot MRD sights that provide a minimal line-of-sight obstruction for exceptional situational awareness in any lighting condition. However, the “open” MRD LED-generating optics are not protected from the elements, and some can be ruined by water immersion and just like iron sights they can be compromised by debris or dirt degrading the shooter’s ability to use the sight.

The BEST thing of MRD’s is since they can be made so small, and getting smaller, they now are available from sizes appropriate for everything from long guns down to micro-compact pistols.

Holographic vs. Red Dot: Which is Better?

Personally, it’s red dots for me. I have red dot reflex sights on carbines, shotguns, and pistols, and probably will not purchase another firearm unless it is optic ready. I look for several things for selecting a red dot optic. Firstly, it must be robust and reliable from an established and supportive manufacturer that can and will provide assistance and useful accessories when needed like Meprolight.

The color of the dot is a personal and situational choice, as while red is common, a lot of folks swear the green provides for greater acuity, especially in bright conditions where contrasting the dot from the target is difficult. The size of the dot is also a consideration as a big dot is easier to pick up, it could obscure distant targets, while a small dot can be easily missed unless overly bright.

Another consideration is cost. Because of the LASER technology needed to project the reticle, holographic sights are much more expensive and less durable than most red dot sights while the line of combat proven Meprolight Red Dot sights like the Mepro M21, day/night self-illuminating Reflex sight is both a tactical and economic tack driver.

Unlike a telescopic sight that provides the shooter with only a few yards of visibility on and around the target, since the whole concept of the Collimating/O.E.G./Red dot sights is the shooter uses both eyes, the “field of view” for electro-optical sights is unlimited.

Reason being, the user maintains total binocular vision with a reflex sight, there’s no hindrance to maintain situational awareness or being able to maintain a clear field of view, which is a huge advantage in a crisis situation. However, both holographic and reflex sights can be used with a simple 3X magnifier like the Meprolight Mepro MX3 that provides for extended range but as with any telescopic sight, reduces the field of view, comes with an easy and quick hinged mount allowing the shooter to tilt the magnifier in or out of the line of sight, depending on the distance to the target.

Meprolight Red Dot Sights Hit the Mark.

Meprolight red dots are a great source for reasonable and reliable sighting systems. The Mepro microRDS brings the rapid target acquisition of a full-size red dot rifle optic to a compact pistol sight that comes in several very convenient options.

The first includes the Mepro microRDS sight, a patented quick-detach (QD) adaptor kit that easily mounts using the pistol’s existing rear sight dovetail slot with no drilling, tapping or need for a gunsmith, and a backup self-illuminated night sight set. Or you can select the optics ready kit with adaptor plates for the QD of the Mepro microRDS that is comparable with most major optic-ready pistol models.

The third option is the Mepro microRDS with a Picatinny adaptor. The advantages of the Mepro microRDS sight includes that the sight fits multiple firearms – handguns, rifles, and shotguns with a patented Quick Detach (QD) adaptor that keeps the sight zeroed at all times, has a clear aiming point for all light conditions, it mounts directly to Meprolight’s TruDot® self-illuminated pistol sights, includes a self-illuminated backup night sight and battery replacement does not require removal of sight from the firearm. For more information, please view