Reflex sights are a topic debated amongst both top marksmen and hobby shooters alike. And for good reason.
Many prefer their ease of use and set-up, while others prefer the more traditional scopes.
If you’re in the market for a new reflex sight and want to know which one is right for you, our firearms editor has your covered.
The Top 5 Reflex Sights Comparison Table
|1x||5.0 oz. / 141.7 g||5 Years of Continuous Use|
|1x||11.1 oz. / 312 g||Approximately 1,000 continuous hours|
|1x||9.31 oz. / 264 g||Up to 20,000 hours battery life for
Circle dot or 50,000 hours for dot only
|1.07x||0.9 oz. / 25 g||10000 hours|
|3x||6.1 oz. / 174 g||Does not use batteries.|
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Reflex Sights Explained
Reflex sights use an optical collimator, which is a series of curved lenses with an angled beam splitter, such as a thin transparent mirror layered in between glass lenses. The sight picture is produced by luminous collimated light which is usually in the form of an LED or laser diodes.
Since the generated light is nearly parallel with the bore axis of the weapon, there is little to no parallax, or displacement of the apparent position of an object, to account for.
Since reflex sights aren’t optical telescopes, the collimated reticle image can focus at distances up to infinity, to translate this into English, your reflex sight will always be in focus, sighted in with the weapon’s natural point of aim.
You don’t have to account for variables that you would with a rifle scope. However, maximum distances for reflector sights are maxed out at 200 yards, depending on the MOA of the optic you choose.
I know we discussed MOA in previous articles, but a refresher never hurts. MOA or Minutes of Angle is much more straightforward than it seems. One MOA accounts for bullet drop at 100 meters. So a one MOA scope will have up to an inch of fall at 100 meters, a two MOA scope will have a drop of an inch at 20 yards, and so on and so forth.
Now, let’s talk eye relief. Any marksman worth their salt will have their fair share of horror stories about troublesome optics that you just can’t sight in for the life of you. Trust me; I get it. Reflex sights don’t have these issues.
Depending on the design constraints of your optic, your naked point of view (eyesight), and the collimated beam splitter, you seldom have any malfunctions with the sight picture.
There have been some significant advancements in the designs and technology incorporated with reflector sights since it’s increasing popularity since 2003, for example, including a secondary optic to boost the magnification of the first sight.
In our case, companies like Leupold, EOTech, and Aimpoint have begun combining reflex sights with 1x-3x telescopic sights to enhance the shooters maximum distance. Sights like these are perfect for rifles that can reach extended ranges but may also need to be used to engage targets in close quarters.
Reflex Sight Reticles and Configurations
The beauty of modern reflex sights is the wide variety of patterns and illumination elements available to consumers. Conventional power sources for sights of this class utilize lithium batteries, fiber optic light reflectors, both of which often include tritium to accommodate night vision goggles and scopes.
The two most common reticle colors are amber and the class red due to the high visibility against target backgrounds, but I’ve seen several blue and green options available as well.
Triangular and chevron reticles are used in illuminated optics that require precision marksmanship factors, such as range estimation. Optical reflector sights come in two standard housing configurations, open sights and tube sights.
Open Sight Configurations
Open sights are often confused with “Red Dot Sights” which technically don’t exist in the sense of the word, take advantage of a single optical element, the sight window. Open windows don’t require a housing tube like tube sights.
The base of an open sight features a mini culminating beam splitter in a small window. The dots on open sight optics are a little smaller between 1 to 3 MOA
So if you’re after a low profile reflex sight that’s simple and get’s the job done, then an open reflex sight may be a great option to consider.
Tube Sight Configurations
To the untrained eye, a tube sight could be mistaken for its cousin, the rifle scope, due to the cylindrical housing configuration which contains the optic itself. Regarding optical physics, there isn’t much of a difference in terms of the design of the optics themselves.
Tube sights often give the marksman several configurations for the optic, such as haze reducing UV filters that absorb ultraviolet light and polarized lenses that diminish reflective transverse waves (glare from reflections on horizontal surfaces).
So, we’ve covered the history and science of these seeming science fiction optics; I have to say from personal experience there is nothing else like them, they’re quite the rush to use. We know reflector sights started as optics for heavy guns and worked their way into smaller, more simple scopes which are mounted on handguns, rifles, and shotguns alike.
It’s difficult to narrow down a specific application for reflex sights because they’re so versatile, but there a number of ways to utilize them in both short and long range engagements.
In the next section, we will discuss the top five reflex sights for the money; there are several variations, such as telescopic/reflex hybrid optics, red dots, and holographic sights. Let’s take a look.
1. Trijicon MRO Patrol
The Trijicon MRO stands for Miniature Rifle Optic, which is a 1x25mm sight. I have to say the MRO is hands down one of the best reflex sights on the market. The glass is very clear, and the housings can take whatever beating you throw at it.
In the last decade, Trijicon ACOG sights have been the standard issue of the United States Marine Corp and newer generation optics, such as the MRO Patrol, feature a simple design based on feedback from soldiers in battlefield conditions.
The MRO features a removable aluminum QR (Quick Release) mount, which is just a knob that can be turned too quickly remove the optic. I’ve observed MRO’s being removed then returned to the weapon and returning to zero with no problems.
You can remove the 1/3 co-witneness riser to mount for weapons that require sight pictures for weapons with a lower bore axis. The optic features waterproof, fog proof, shockproof multi layered glass, which is slightly curved, but this is standard in tube sight configurations.
The objective lens is huge for a tube sight configurations, Trijicon has stated it offers a 44% greater field of view than its counterparts.
The adjustable turret and brightness controls are situated on top of the optic which allows for greater ambidexterity control of the weapon.
Battery life is stated at 50K hours in setting three but is reduced when set at six. I have been told that setting four offers ideal brightness and gives the shooter around 10K hours of battery life.
- Durable 7075 aluminum tube housing designed from feedback back from battlefield conditions.
- ½ MOA adjustment turret.
- Large objective lens.
- Comes with some accessories such as flip-up lens covers, a kill flash, and a 1/3 co-witness riser mount.
- Lightweight, weighing in at just 5.88oz.
- Although not a big deal to some, shooters with astigmatisms like me may notice a little bit more eye strain than usual after looking through the MRO for prolonged periods of time.
- Due to the size of the objective lens, you may have to find your “Sweet Spot” with this optic, just play around with it until you find the configuration that works best for you.
2. EOTech Model 512 Holographic Sight
The EOTech 512 is hands down one of the most dependable and widely used reflex sights today. The housing sits very low to the weapon, with the beam collimator neatly tucked into its slim body.
You’ll notice the highest point of the optic is the lens and the hood, which still only has a profile of about two and a half inches. Overall the optics very low profile and doesn’t add bulk to your weapon.
Target acquisition holds true to the name of the optic, reflexive. The red beam collimator projects a large 1 MOA dot enclosed by a circular crosshair reticle. At first, it seems like the reticle could slightly obscure your sight picture but I can honestly say that aiming with this optic feels intuitive.
The 512 is parallax free so the reticle will “float” around the lens but will still be relative to your weapons point of aim, simply put, where ever you aim, rounds will go.
With over 20 brightness settings, the 512 is suitable for shooting in any number of lighting conditions, which if you’ve ever looked through a reflex sight on a sunny day or a well-lit room, having the option to adjust the brightness to any number of levels can be a saving grace.
Although this isn’t a determining factor more so than an observation, you often see the 512 co-witnessed with a flip up magnification optic, a rifle scope, or even shooters running flip up iron sights in conjunction with the sight. I haven’t tried it myself, but it’s worth noting in your search!
- Tried, tested, and trusted by many military, law enforcement, and civilian marksman for years.
- Two regular AA batteries power the optic.
- Streamlined, low profile design doesn’t and any harsh edges or bulk to the weapon.
- One MOA reticle dot with a large circular crosshair is by far one of my favorites and preferred for assault rifles.
- 11.5 oz. with batteries
- Nothing aside from the price, which is manageable
3. Holosun HS510C 2 MOA Holographic Sight
Budget optic producers, Holosun, released the HS510C to the market in mid-2016. Why does this matter? Well, I think the Holosun is fantastic for many reasons, but the coolest has to be the fact that the HS510Cs primary power source is solar power.
You’d never believe that green and renewable energy would find it’s way into the optics market but lone and behold, the HS510C runs on dual power system with a solar power cell and a CR2032 battery as a backup power source in low light conditions without any ambient light.
Speaking of battery power, the HS510C’s battery life is rated for 50K hours with the reticle and circle set at medium brightness and 20k hours with the single dot reticle set at medium intensity, but keep in mind, as long as you’re in the sun the optic is always on.
Much like the EOTech 512, the reticle features an MOA red dot with switchblade circular crosshair with the dot at the center. According to the HS510C infographic on Holosuns website, the relative size of the reticle will change depending on the relative distance to the target depending on the distance between your eye and the exit pupil.
The collimator and battery housing structure are a CNC machined T6061-T6 aluminum alloy housing with a titanium alloy protective hood that encapsulates the multilayer glass lenses, so no matter what rigors are put on the optic, you can count on it to perform.
- Duel battery and solar cell power source with a 20k-50k proprietary battery life with an always-on setting in solar light.
- Parallax free design with unlimited eye relief
- T6061-T6 aluminum housing and titanium alloy optical hood
- 2 MOA dot and switchblade circle sight with .5 MOA click adjustments
- Quick release mount and easy to access power tray
- Friendly for all budgets
- Requires a riser to mount on AR style rifles, which is included with the optic.
4. Burris 300235 Fast Fire III MOA Sight
If you’re after a quality reflex sight with a low price tag, the Burris Fast Fire III is a fantastic option. The optic comes in either 3 MOA, which is ideal for rifles and the 8 MOA version, which is best suited for weapons with a widespread, like a shotgun.
The housing durable and sturdy, machined in a CNC aluminum alloy, keeping the weight down and the reliability high. The lens is also protected by specially engineered upper wings that protect it.
The FastFire III can be mounted on some risers and mounts available from Burris so that it can be installed on a wide variety of weapons.
Mounting the optic is simple, just stick it on a Picatinny rail and tighten the mounting screw.
There are three brightness settings, the highest being highly visible even in sunlight, the middle setting ideal for indoors in artificial light, and the lowest setting is dim for use in dark environments.
There is also windage and elevation adjustment, which is an improvement over some of Burris’s previous optics. The adjustments are simple, but you will need a screwdriver, pocket knife, or even the rim of a cartridge to make changes but it’s still very user-friendly.
If you take a look at optic, you’ll notice a thick white vertical line painted on the back of the sight. The line acts as an additional visual indicator that leads up to the reticle without obscuring the sight picture.
In a side by side test with a higher priced optic, you may notice a slight difference in the clarity of the glass, but it’s very small if any. For a budget scope, it performs when you need it to and can take whatever beatings you can throw at it, more importantly, they hold their zero.
- High-quality optic at an affordable price
- Windage and elevation adjustments are simple
- Comes in both 3 MOA and 8 MOA variations
- Rugged enough for heavy use
- Three brightness settings
- The glass isn’t as clear as it is in higher priced optics
5. EOTech G33.STS 3x Magnifier
The last optic on our list isn’t a reflex sight in the strictest sense of the word, but an optical magnifier for reflex sights. Think about the genius in this, since reflex sights are limited and swapping optics can be a long, arduous task that can completely throw off your zero, so optics manufactures found a simple solution, the Flip Down Optical Magnifier.
Optical magnifiers are tandem optics which are often seated behind your primary optic. The magnifier allows the marksman to use their reflex sights at increasingly further distances. The process of the G33 is simple.
When the optic is in place, the shooter is viewing reticle and objective lens through the fixed 3x magnified view of the G33.
The G33 is designed to be mounted on Picatinny rails, and the length of 3.9 inches doesn’t take up much real estate on the weapon, especially when the shooter is in close range of targets and the sight is flipped down to the side. The G33 also features a quick release take down level that allows for simple tool-less removal of the optic at any time.
The STS (Switch to Side) Mount allows the optic to be switched to the side, away from the primary optic without obstructing the primary optics sight picture.
Sounds complicated but it’s straightforward to disengage the G33 by pushing the release button, and the optic moves off to the side on lateral hatches. As long as your reflex sight features a riser, you’ll be able to mount the G33 behind any optic you choose.
Tactical functionality is critical with this design, allowing shooters to seamlessly switch from long to mid ranges shots of up to 300 yards to close quarters up to 100 yards with the simple push of the button.
- The option to run a reflex sight accurately up to 300 yards but the option to quickly switch to close quarters shooting and vice versa.
- Fogproof internal optics and waterproof up to 10 meters
- Fixed 3x magnification
- No hash marks to account for bullet drop at longer distances
- Some optics will require a riser to work in conjunction with the G33
As I’m sure you can see, there’s a wide variety of reflex optics to choose from. I can recall a time when Trijicon and EOTech lead the way in electronic weapon sights, but those days have long past. Now, there are thousands of new optics on the market, and even more hitting the market as technology improves.
If I had to chose one optic on the list, I would run the EOTech 512 but only because I have a lot of range time with this optic, so I know it works. Combine the 512 with the G33 and you have a set up that can engage targets at 300+ yards with the MOA of the large circle, but this is my opinion of course.
I would choose every single one of these optics to take to battle, to the range, or mount them on a home defense weapon. We mainly covered reflex sights geared towards rifles, but they can also be mounted on other long guns, and even handguns as well
The Rich History of Reflex Sights
Reflex sights may seem like a modern invention due to the reasonably intricate design process, but you may be surprised by how old this design is. The design for the first reflector sight was first introduced by Irish telescope designer Howard Grubb in 1900.
Although a telescope designer by trade, Grubb’s design was intended to present an alternative to conventional iron sights and telescopic rifle sights, both of which require a significant amount of training to master, while the reflector sight didn’t have to compensate for parallax, limited fields of view, and faster target acquisition.
The reflector sight had modest success for surveyors, but it wasn’t until 1918 when the German Luftwaffe incorporated reflector sights in their fighter planes. Over time, more and more weapon systems, such as anti-tank rifles, naval guns, and anti-aircraft guns began using reflex sights as their primary aiming device.
After the WWII ended, several designs such as the Nydar sight and the Giese electric gunsight were designed for use on small arms rather than large ordinance, but it wasn’t adopted for military use until early 2000’s when the U.S. military issued Aimpoint ACOG sights to service members.
The world is changing, the newest, latest and greatest becomes the classic and something more advanced is released onto the market. Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to read about reflex sights! On closing, as always I encourage you to research and learn as much as you can and, as always, happy shooting!!!
Sources and References:
- Read more about Reflex sights, design, history and usage on Wikipedia – Reflector sights
- Read more about Trijicon products on manufacturers page – trijicon.com
- Read more about Holosun products here – holosun.com
- Read more about Burris products here – burrisoptics.com
- Read more about EO Tech products here – eotechinc.com