How to Select a Red Dot Sight that Won’t Disappoint You

Buying a random red dot sight or investing hours into reading reviews and tests (and then buying a random red dot sight anyway)? There is a third option: read this article and understand the principles that underlie really good red dot sights. Then simply purchase it.

What is a red dot sight, again?

A red dot sight is a type of optical aiming assistance device that projects an image of the red dot over the image of the target. Unlike iron sights where you need to put the target, the front sight, and the rear sight on the same line, the red dot indicates exactly where the shot will hit. Surely, this greatly speeds up acquiring the target, especially at close range, and this is one of the superior advantages of red dot sights over classics.

How does the red dot sight work?

The red dot sight is a very simple optical device. 

The LED emitter inside the sight projects a red dot image towards the semi-transparent lens. The light from LED is focused by this lens and is reflected to the eye. At the same time, the light from the target comes from the other side of the sight, goes through the semi-transparent lens and comes to the eye too. Hence, a shooter sees the image of the target combined with the image of the red dot over the target.

Due to optical characteristics of the lens, it always reflects the light from the LED so that the red dot always stays on the target, no matter at what angle you look through the sight.

Fun fact: if you think red dot sights are new, you are wrong. In fact, they were first patented in 1900! Of course, they were not using light-emitting diodes back then.

Also, despite the name, red dot sight can produce dots of varying colors: red, green or blue. 

What are the types of red dot optics?

Red dot sights are manufactured in two main designs. The open design looks like glass without any casing around it. The closed or tube type features a housing that is meant to protect the glass from dirt and dust. Also, such tube red dots can offer various filters a shooter can apply to improve aiming.

Other than that, there is not a significant difference between these two types of red dot sights.

Advantages and disadvantages of red dot sights

Let’s first take a look at the advantages:

Quick target acquiring. That’s what red dot sights are valued for the most! Whether you use a pistol or a rifle, with red dot sight you can aim almost instantly after some practice. No, it won’t make your shooting super accurate. But the aiming time is typically reduced.

Versatile. Due to simplicity and a lot of models on the market, you can find a red dot sight for practically any type of weapon, even a bow.

Affordable. Today, red dot sights are very affordable, so even if you do not plan to use them right now, it is still may be worth buying one just in case. 

Effective at closer range. The red dot sight is incredibly efficient at close distances, up to a few hundred yards. At longer range, the effectiveness drops, however, but still offers some aiming assistance.

Can be used with a magnifier. Red dots form a perfect combination with magnifiers. Although, you may need to play a bit with the reticle size.

What about the disadvantages? There are some.

Ineffective at long range. The size of the red dot at a close distance is tiny in comparison to the size of the target. But at long range the image of the target is small, so the red dot will overlap with it a lot, reducing the efficiency of aiming.

Require batteries. Well, not a big deal to replace the battery once a year, but still it could be an unpleasant surprise to find yourself with the non-working red dot sight all of a sudden.

How to choose a red dot sight?

Now, how do you select a red dot sight among hundreds of available models? Let’s highlight some crucial points you should take into account.


There is red dot optics in a closed design, and red dot sights are not enclosed in any housing. Functionally, there are the same. There is a notable difference, however – weight. Open-style sights are lighter and are more suitable for pistols where every ounce counts. Also, open red dot sights are less desirable when it comes to shooting in the real world where dust and dirt is everywhere. Whenever a particle comes on the line between the emitter and your eye, the red dot image gets distorted and your accuracy drops.

So, the overall principle here is to select less weighty open-style red dot optics, unless you plan to mount it on a rifle or if you will be using the sight in less-than-ideal conditions.

Reticle size (MOA)

The size of the reticle is measured in minutes of angle (MOA). The size determines what part of your viewing angle the red dot occupies. Depending on the shape of the red dot (see below), its size can vary from 1 MOA to 12 MOA.

Just like with everything else, the reticle size is a two-sided coin. A bigger reticle is easier to spot which speeds up target acquisition. At the same, the bigger red dot tends to overlap with the target which is bad, especially if at long distances when the red dot size can easily be compared with the image of the target. Accuracy, you say?

We recommend sticking between 2 MOA and 4 MOA for the dot reticle size. This is a good compromise between quick target acquiring and the visibility of the red dot on the target.

Color and shape

Red dot sights are called red for historical reasons mostly. Today, LEDs can be of any imaginable color, and optical sights are not an exclusion. While red is very common and is generally preferred over other colors due to higher visibility at longer ranges, other colors have some use too.

Green is better seen in daylight, while red and yellow are superior at night. This is because our eyes evolved to distinguish more shades of green, and have more green-sensitive cones. Also, green dots are less prone to distortion for users with astigmatism.

As for shape, it depends on your goals and the ways you shoot and moves around. The dot gives the highest precision. The crosshair also does not rule out the accuracy, by also allows for better centering of the point of aim. Circle reticle can be used to evaluate the distance to the target. Hashmark reticle offers a good reference point for distant targets.

The best option is to purchase a red dot sight that have multiple reticle shapes to choose from.

Magnifier compatibility

Some red dot sights come with a built-in magnifying capability, while others are zero power. Overall, almost all models of red dot sights are compatible with a magnifier. Mounting it behind the red dot sight offers a whole lot of details when you aim.

Although, there is a downside too: a magnifier also scales up the reticle image which may easily turn from a small dot to a huge star-shaped monster. Whether or not you would use a magnifier with your red dot sight depends on the situation and your job. However, being able to attach a magnifier when or if you need it is something you can easily afford.


Red dot sights apparently come into the category of devices everyone should have. Extremely functional and affordable, they help you improve your aim and – even more importantly – pace of shooting. Of course, it would be hard to reveal all the secrets of selecting and using red dot sights in just one article. So if you have questions left, please don’t hesitate to contact BattleSteel directly.