What’s the difference between red dots and holo sights?
Why are holographic sights so much more expensive?
Holographic and red dot sights work differently. Red dots use an LED to project an aiming point onto glass that is reflected back to the eye. Holographic sights use a laser diode to illuminate a hologram of an aiming point that is superimposed in the distance when looking through the FOV.
We compare both types of sights by feature and application to answer these questions and help you determine whether an RDS or holo sight is right for you.
Let’s dig in!
Red Dot VS Holographic Sights
To provide some context, “red dot sights” is typically used as a catch-all to include reflex, prism, and holographic sights. To provide further distinction to lay out a comparison, holographic sights will be their own category while reflex and prismatic sights will encompass the red dot sight (RDS) category.
Furthermore, what may work best for you may prove to be the opposite for the next person, so the following winner of each comparison is but a suggestion from our perception.
The limited manufacturers of holographic sights and the complexity of manufacturing makes them a great deal more expensive than red dot sights. With EOTech as the leading manufacturer and Vortex as a new competitor, there’s little incentive to move towards affordability.
Holo sights are expensive. The cheapest EOTech runs around $450 while some of the cheapest red dot sights come in under $150, although quality is not equal within the RDS market.
Even so, some of the best red dot sights can be comparable in price to an entry-level holographic sight. It then comes down to your budget, personal preference, application, and the firearm it will be mounted to.
|Red Dot Sight||Price Range||Holographic Sight||Price Range|
|Trijicon RMR Type 2||Under $500||EOTech EXPS4 + G33||Under $1200|
|Aimpoint Pro Patrol||Under $500||EOTech XPS3||Under $800|
|Holosun 510C||Under $350||Vortex AMG UH-1 Gen II||Under $600|
|Vortex Venom||Under $250||EOTech XPS2-0||Under $500|
|Sig Sauer Romeo 5||Under $150||EOTech HWS 512||Under $500|
Winner: Red dot sights
Do holographic sights have magnification? Like reflex red dot sights, holo sights are non-magnifying and therefore do not have power/magnification. Prism or prismatic sights, also in the red dot sight category, have fixed magnification in the low ranges such as 1.5x, 3x, and 5x.
Prismatic sights offer versatility to a setup where having an extra optic, such as a magnifier, is not desired or suitable but having just a little bit of power is. They can also be cheaper than purchasing a RDS and a magnifier separately.
However, with non-magnifying prismatic sights as the exception, there are inherent drawbacks such as a narrow FOV and limited eye relief.
Since prism scopes are red dot sights, they win.
|Prism RDS||Magnification||Price Range|
|Monstrum S330P||3x||Under $100|
|Monstrum P330-B Marksman||3x||Under $150|
|Primary Arms SLx 2.5x32 Compact||2.5x||Under $300|
|Sig Sauer Bravo3 Battle Sight||3x||Under $350|
|Vortex Spitfire HD Gen II||5x||Under $500|
Winner: Red dot sights
3. Reticle Size & Type
Most red dot sights will have a dot as the aiming point, though some may offer interchangeable reticles. However, many suited for rifles will have 2 MOA dots for precision and mid-range shooting. Red dot sights intended for use on pistols will be larger in size from 3-6 MOA for CQB engagements.
It’s rare to find an RDS with a 1 MOA dot, but they exist. To prove this point, the Leupold Freedom RDS and Trijicon RMR Type 2 have 1 MOA aiming dots.
EOTech’s holo sights are renowned for their 1 MOA dot and 68 MOA “ring of death” reticle. They also offer this reticle with additional dots, i.e., 2 dots and 4 dots. This provides versatility especially for engagements at a distance without compromising on CQB advantages, i.e., drawing your eye to the center for fast target acquisition.
|Red Dot Sight||Dot Size||Holographic Sight||Dot/Ring Size|
|Leupold Freedom||1 MOA||EOTech HWS 512||1 MOA/68 MOA|
|Aimpoint Pro Patrol||2 MOA||Vortex AMG UH-1 Gen II||1 MOA/65 MOA|
|Bushnell TRS-25||3 MOA||EOTech XPS2-1 (1 dot/no ring)||1 MOA|
|Vortex Venom||6 MOA||EOTech EXPS3-4 (4 dots)||1 MOA/68 MOA|
Winner: Holographic sights
In general, red dot sights are compact and lightweight gun sights versus larger, bulkier, and heavier holographic sights. Most compact red dots will come in under 10 oz with the mount included. Most holographic sights will weigh in around 9-15 oz with average weights around the 11 oz mark.
The same is true for size. Compact red dot sights are generally 2.5” in length with holographic sights ranging in length from 3.8-5.6”.
However, handgun red dot sights are even smaller, and holographic sights are too large and heavy for handguns. Sights designed for handguns are generally 1.8-1.9” and weigh as little as 1 oz.
Though the differences between an RDS and holosight may not seem like a huge deal on paper, it can be a big difference to a lightweight AR setup or if it’s going on a handgun.
|Red Dot Sight||Weight||Length||Holographic Sight||Weight||Length|
|EOTech EFLX||1.4 oz||1.9”||EOTech HWS 512||11.5 oz||5.6”|
|Vortex Venom||1.1 oz||1.9”||Vortex AMG UH-1 Gen II||11.6 oz||3.9”|
|Trijicon RMR Type 2||1.2 oz||1.8”||EOTech XPS2||9 oz||3.8”|
|Sig Sauer Romeo 5||5.1 oz||2.5”||EOTech XPS3||9 oz||3.8”|
|Vortex Strikefire II||7.2 oz||5.6”||EOTech EXPS3||11.2 oz||3.8”|
Winner: Red dot sights
5. Build Quality
Overall, holographic sights are known for their extreme durability in combat engagements. EOTechs can be relied on for continued performance even if the front lens is broken or is obstructed by debris. Since red dot sights vary widely in durability, it's difficult to generalize build integrity.
Cheap red dots under $100 generally have poor build quality observed in their poor turret systems and non-waterproof constructions. However, high-quality sights, like Aimpoints, are exceedingly dependable.
Aimpoint is also admirably transparent about environmental specifications such as submersible depths, vibration and shock resistances, and operating performance including temperature shock and humidity.
If this were an Aimpoint VS EOTech comparison analysis, the results would be interesting, and margins would be tight. But as it stands, Aimpoints can be considered the absolute best red dot sights in the industry, and few red dots are as rugged and reliable.
Holographic sights are generally more durable than red dots, and don’t forget about that functioning reticle even with a broken front lens. Though there was that legal debacle regarding thermal drift and moisture intrusion, USSOCOM went under contract with EOTech again in 2019. That says a lot.
|Red Dot||Submersion||Temperature Range||Holographic||Submersion||Temperature Range|
|Aimpoint Pro Patrol||45 m||-45 to 71°C||EOTech XPS3||3 m||-40 to 60°C|
|Aimpoint Duty RDS||25 m||-45 to 71°C||Vortex AMG UH-1 Gen II||1+ m||-40 to 60°C|
|Holosun HS403B||1 m (30 mins)||-30 to 60°C||EOTech HWS 512||3 m||-40 to 60°C|
Winner: Holographic sights
6. Battery Life
In short, red dot sights have much longer battery runtimes than holographic sights. Red LEDs can be powered off a single CR2032 battery for several thousands of hours with current industry-best runtimes of 50,000 hours. Holographic sights generally run from 1000-2500 hours.
Why is there a big difference?
It’s in the way they’re made. Red dots use LEDs that are not as power hungry as a holographic sight’s laser diode.
|Red Dot||Battery Type||Runtime||Holographic||Battery Type||Runtime|
|Aimpoint Pro Patrol||1/3N||30,000 hours||Vortex AMG UH-1 Gen II||CR123A||1500 hours|
|Sig Sauer MSR||CR1632||20,000 hours||EOTech HWS 512||2x AA||2500 hours|
|STNGR Axiom II||CR2032||50,000 hours||EOTech EXPS3||CR123||1000 hours|
Winner: Red dot sights
Overall, both red dot and holographic sights are designed for close-range engagements. Either can be appropriate for CQB such as in home defense, building searches, and military or LEO applications. The advantage that is desired from the optic is speed and target acquisition.
There’s a lot of scientific-ky rabbit holes we could dive into that includes parallax, collimating lenses, and the optical axis. But even with all that said, a large part of acquisition speed will depend on you (visual acuity, personal preferences, etc.), the conditions and circumstances, and your training.
For clarity’s sake, CQB is typically defined as inside 100 yards. Since both sights do excellent up to this range, we’ll take things further and say 15-50 yards.
This then begs the question, what are you shooting with? A CQB firearm is generally a compact, lightweight gun such as a pistol or carbine.
If you’re using a pistol, clearly the pistol red dot sight is the tool for the job as holographic sights are too big.
This chart shows handguns were utilized the most in OIS (Officer Involved Shooting) incidents in the LAPD in 2020 versus shotguns and rifles. Many armed citizens, whether concealed or open carrying, are also equipped with handguns.
More handguns (revolvers and semi-autos) are owned than rifles and shotguns. It’s clear that in unexpected engagements, a pistol is likely to be used in home/self-defense and law enforcement applications.
So, how close is close?
It's common knowledge that law enforcement and armed citizen shootings happen inside 5 yards but also can be as far away as 15-20 yards. 20 yards is quite the distance compared to 5 yards, and most LE agencies will train/qualify with a handgun for these distances. Though many engagements may occur closer than you think, you still want to be prepared for when it’s not.
So, hearing “sights don’t matter at these ranges” is a disservice. Having an aiming aid on a target increases the chances of stopping a threat versus not using any sights at all – even at close ranges.
According to the FBI-published LEOKA (Law Enforcement Officers Killed & Assaulted) informational database, 44 out of 48 officers were feloniously killed with firearms in 2019 with 14 killed inside 0-5 feet. Of the 48, only 15 officers knew beforehand that a weapon might be involved.
However, this one table for this one year for this one statistical measurement is but a fragment of the story shared among law enforcement agencies across the nation.
At the end of the day, it still provides an insight that putting distance between you and the attacker and training for greater distances can save lives.
“Fast is good, but accuracy is final.” Even though Wyatt Earp didn’t have an Aimpoint, putting a sight on your CQB firearm can help with accuracy in a faster frame of time versus iron sights and no sights at all.
|Red Dot Sight||For…||Holographic Sight||For…|
|EOTech EFLX||Handgun||EOTech HWS 512||Rifle|
|Trijicon RMR Type 2||Handgun||Vortex AMG UH-1 Gen II||Rifle|
|Aimpoint Duty RDS||Rifle||EOTech XPS2||Rifle|
Note: In this case, “rifle” is an all-inclusive term providing for AR pistols, SBR, carbines, etc. They are lumped this way to include platforms suitable for mounting holographic sights and to differentiate between compact handguns.
Winner: Red dot sights
Astigmatism is a refractive error vision condition and causes you to see the dot in different forms than a single, round dot. It can appear as a smear, double dots, or cluster of dots and is typically more common with reflex sights. Many have better experiences with a holographic or prismatic sight.
A magnified prism scope has a diopter that allows the user to compensate to some degree for near or far-sightedness. However, not much can be done to the optic itself to correct for astigmatism.
Your best options are to wear your corrective lenses (contacts or glasses), see if reducing illumination helps, or use a magnifier behind it.
Some concerns with moving to a holographic sight is more or less related to the fuzzy appearance of the reticle which is an effect of its optical design. For some, the reticle as a whole (ring and dot) is far clearer to see than a single dot when focusing downrange on the target - the fuzziness then becomes less of a concern as it appears to sharpen up.
However, others struggle with this and find that some red dot sights are better than others for their visual acuity. Prism sights use a different optical system than red dots and they seem to be a better option for astigmatism.
Because everyone’s eyes are different and experiences are not universal, only you’ll know how tolerable or sharp it will be once you get behind it
|Red Dot Sights for Astigmatism (Field-tested!)||Price Range|
|STNGR Axiom II||Under $120|
|Vortex Crossfire||Under $150|
|Sig Sauer Romeo MSR||Under $100|
Most sights claim to be parallax free, though none are as they are factory-set for a finite distance or to infinity. No one is shooting at infinity, so how much of a problem is parallax going to be? Parallax is going to be more pronounced at close-range distances.
Diving into parallax is a rabbit hole of its own, and a very insightful comparative study of red dot sight parallax yields some interesting results.
In total, the goal is to have confidence in your POI. With a proper zero, the sight is in line with the bore of your gun. But parallax is about the perceived relationship between the eye (weld position), the dot, and the target with an inherent relationship to distance.
The best way to eliminate parallax is to acquire a consistent weld through the center of the sight – looking down the optical axis.
But when you’re at an offset position, the dot is off the center of the FOV. How does this affect POI?
Essentially all optics are subject to parallax error if you’re at an offset position and the target is anywhere but at the distance set for zero parallax.
Red dot sights with smaller objectives or viewing windows are said to have smaller parallax margins. Yet, this isn’t always the case in real-life testing.
Holographic sights with larger viewing windows can experience a total of 14 MOA POI shift when your position puts that dot at the extreme outer edges of the viewing window. Though EOTech states this number, they’re not specific about models.
NOTE: The above photographs and gif show the directional (left and right) extremes of the dot as seen through the FOV but is still on target. It's not intended to be exact nor particularly precise due to digiscoping efforts, but it does provide an idea of the "parallax-free" concept (though there is no such thing as a parallax free optic).
Aimpoint markets parallax-free sights due to the way they design and make their red dots, however all sights are subject to parallax error depending on the way it’s used and the conditions.
After all of that, knowing that parallax causes significant POI shifts at worst (results in a miss) and negligible shifts at best, it just might be better to test it out for yourself. Get to know your sight and practice/train with it.
Since both Aimpoint and EOTech consistently perform well for most owners in this regard, it’s a tie.
|Product||Product Type||Manufacturer Parallax Claim|
|Holosun 510C||Red Dot||Parallax Free (<1 MOA at 100 yards)|
|Aimpoint Pro Patrol||Red Dot||Operationally Parallax Free – no centering required|
|Sig Sauer Romeo 5||Red Dot||Ultra-low parallax|
|Trijicon MRO||Red Dot||Parallax-free|
|Bushnell TRS-25||Red Dot||Parallax set at 50 yards|
|Vortex AMG UH-1 Gen II||Holographic||Small amount of parallax negligible|
|EOTech EXPS3||Holographic||Possible total of 14 MOA across the viewing window|
Overall, both red dot sights and holographic sights are used in the hunt. They’re excellent for taking into the field when prey is taken inside 100 yards. A red dot or holo sight can make for a valuable aiming aid to fill a tag or fulfill a coyote or hog hunting contract.
Not all red dot sights will perform equally in lowlight conditions. The issue is that illumination can be too bright causing starbursting, blooming, and washing out the FOV. However, there are red dot sights that do it better than others.
The illumination on a holosight is way more adjustable than a red dot sight giving it a significant edge for lowlight conditions. Though both types of sights are night vision compatible, the holographic sight has more night vision compatible settings than red dots.
You can put a magnifier behind both types for extra power and some reach. Even so, the reticle options available with a holographic sight and the ability to judge distance and bullet drop is easier done with the holographic.
So, while both have an advantage for close ranges, the red dot sight has the upper hand in simplicity, ease of use, and battery runtime. However, the versatility of a holographic sight for the hunt can outweigh the pros for a red dot.
|Product||Product Type||Daylight & NV Compatible Illumination Levels|
|EOTech EFLX||Red dot||20 daylight, 10 NV|
|Aimpoint Duty RDS||Red dot||6 daylight, 4 NV|
|Leupold Freedom||Red dot||8 daylight, non-night vision|
|Holosun 510C||Red dot||10 daylight, 2 NV|
|Vortex Razor||Red dot||9 daylight, non-night vision|
|Vortex AMG UH-1 Gen II||Holographic||15 daylight, 4 NV|
|EOTech HWS 512||Holographic||20 daylight, non-night vision|
|EOTech XPS3||Holographic||20 daylight, 10 NV|
Winner: Holographic sights
Red dot sights are equipped to shotguns all the time. They’re a popular optic for turkey hunting. When the budget allows for it, holographic sights are also mounted to shotguns. Though most are familiar with shotguns for hunting, it’s also a firearm used in tactical operations.
In a tactical shotgun, a small, lightweight RDS is king. They do better for over-the-top reloads and don’t get in the way of the side saddle – if you use one. The light weight is a potential benefit to a 7-8 lb shotgun.
For hunting shotguns, what are you hunting? Though you likely don’t need professional-grade build quality that a LEO or SWAT guy (or gal) may need to depend on, you still want something that can hold up and keep on giving for the season.
Some of the most common conundrums with using a sight on a shotgun are balancing, mounting problems and weld issues, but they can be addressed with choosing the right sight. The most concerning problems with using a RDS on a shotgun is power/connectivity issues due to recoil and the lens dislodging, falling out, or shattering.
There are obvious benefits of a holographic sight on a shotgun, such as the fast target acquisition reticle, even if it’s considered overkill. But better yet, they tend to have superior build integrity and can handle significant recoil more so than most red dot sights.
Some red dots like Trijicon or particularly Aimpoint have appreciable differences to holosights from physical to battery power and environmental specifications. But they’re at the top end for the RDS market as most red dot sights do not compare and can’t compete with these high-end models.
Since holographic sight manufacturers are limited and EOTech and Vortex strive to provide high-quality optics, they’re hard to compete with when considering build quality to handle the kick of a 3” magnum 12ga shell.
|Recommended Products||Product Type||Price Range|
|Bushnell TRS-25||Red dot sight||Under $100|
|Burris Fastfire||Red dot sight||Under $300|
|Holosun 510C||Red dot sight||Under $350|
|EOTech XPS2||Holographic sight||Under $500|
Winner: Holographic sights
12. Home Defense, SHTF & Law Enforcement
To be fair, home defense and law enforcement engagements can be comparisons of their own and are different encounters as a whole. However, the concept of having a sight to improve target acquisition, accuracy, and speed is desired by all in these applications.
Whether it’s putting down a home intruder, stopping a mob of marauders, or eliminating any kind of threat that requires immediate action and lethal force, the question must be asked, what are you shooting with?
The answer to that question will usually determine what type of sight you will choose. It comes down to personal preference and what best fits your setup, budget, and needs.
An RDS is going to fit the handgun and both red dot sights and holo sights will fit AR/MSRs, shotguns, and bolt and lever action rifles.
It’s not uncommon for law enforcement officers to put a RDS on their patrol/duty handgun but then equip their AR-15 with an EOTech. But depending on department-issued offerings, it might just be red dot sights that’s in the budget. It’s worth noting that EOTech’s can also be mounted to bean bag shotguns and even shoulder-mounted rocket launchers.
|Recommended Products||Product Type||Price Range|
|Holosun HS403B||Red dot sight||Under $150|
|EOTech EFLX||Red dot sight||Under $400|
|Trijicon RMR Type 2||Red dot sight||Under $500|
|Aimpoint Duty RDS||Red dot sight||Under $500|
|Vortex AMG UH-1 Gen II||Holographic sight||Under $600|
|EOTech EXPS3||Holographic sight||Under $700|
To get straight to the point, both red dot and holographic sights are well-suited to the AR-15. Between both types, various factors must be considered such as battery life, mounting options, reticles or dot sizes, size, and specialty features like motion activation and night vision compatibility.
Personal preference and application will determine which is best for you.
|Product||Product Type||Price Range||Special Features|
|EOTech EFLX||Red dot sight||Under $400||3 or 6 MOA dot, NV compatible, 30 total illumination settings, 20,000-25,000-hour runtime, Leupold Delta Point Pro footprint for pistols|
|Aimpoint Duty RDS||Red dot sight||Under $500||2 MOA dot, 30,0000-hour runtime, push-button operation, 25m water-resistant depth, flip-up caps, NV compatible|
|Leupold Freedom||Red dot sight||Under $300||1 MOA dot, ¼ MOA adjustments, push button operation, Motion Sensor Technology|
|Holosun HS403B||Red dot sight||Under $150||2 MOA dot, Shake Awake, 50,000-hour runtime, NV compatible, multi-height mounts|
|Vortex Crossfire||Red dot sight||Under $150||2 MOA dot, continuous-on RDS, 50,000-hour runtime, 11 total illumination settings, NV compatible, multi-height mounts|
|Vortex AMG UH-1 Gen II||Holographic sight||Under $600||1 MOA dot, ½ MOA adjustments, integrated QD mount, 19 total illumination settings, NV compatible|
|EOTech EXPS3||Holographic sight||Under $700||1 MOA dot, NV compatible, 30 total illumination settings, 10m water-resistant depth, integrated QD mount, Made in USA|
14. With Magnifier
There is a common misunderstanding that holographic sights do not increase in size with a magnifier while red dots do. This is a myth that is not quite understood correctly. All dots and reticles in front of a magnifier will grow larger in respect to the magnifying power of the magnifier.
This is an often-told myth with EOTech sights in particular. EOTech reticles do not stay the same size when in use with a magnifier. Just like a red dot sight, the entire reticle including the dot are magnified by the amount of magnification.
However, subtension which relates to how much is covered up by the dot or reticle remains the same. This is true of both red dot sights and holographic sights. It does not cover up any more of the target than it did without using a magnifier.
For example, a 2 MOA dot without a magnifier will still cover up 2” of a target at 100 yards behind a 3x magnifier.
Though the dot is larger at 6 MOA, you’re also seeing the target with 3x more magnification. It’s still a 2 MOA dot because subtension has not changed – the relationship between the physical, measured space of the reticle on a target at a specific distance.
To blow your mind – holographic sights behave the same way!
What is worth differentiating is that 2 MOA is the general standard for the smallest dot size in a red dot sight while holo sights feature a 1 MOA dot. Though there are red dot sights that are the exception and have 1 MOA dots (Leupold Freedom RDS and Trijicon RMR Type 2).
Given that holographics have the smallest aiming dots, it’s valuable if you’re after extreme accuracy or if you’re chasing groups with a magnifier behind it.
For example, a 1 MOA dot with a 3x magnifier is now 3 MOA in size – half the size of a 2 MOA dot RDS that is now 6 MOA with the same magnifier. That’s quite a difference.
|Bushnell Transition 3x||3x||Under $200|
|Holosun HM3X||3x||Under $200|
|Sig Sauer Juliet 4||4x||Under $400|
|Vortex Micro 6x||6x||Under $400|
|Trijicon 3x||3x||Under $400|
|EOTech G33||3x||Under $600|
|Aimpoint 6x-Mag-1||6x||Under $1000|
Winner: Holographic sights
Red Dot VS Holographic Sight Pros & Cons
Red Dot Pros & Cons
- Simple design
- Cheaper than holographic sights
- Long-lasting battery life
- Small design for both rifles and pistols
- Unusable if lens breaks
- Can be visible downrange
- Reflective glass and LED can give away your position
Holographic Sight Pros & Cons
- Operable if front lens breaks
- Excellent build quality (durability)
- 1 MOA dot with large ring reticle
- Larger viewing window
- Not visible downrange (from the front of the sight)
- More expensive than red dot sights
- Poor battery life compared to red dot sights
- Bulky and heavy for pistols
Holographic Sight VS Red Dot: Which is Better?
In general, red dot sights are more affordable and widely available due to their simple design. Holographic sights are more expensive due to their complex design and components needed to create a military-grade optic for both professional and civilian applications.
Though reflex, prism, and holographic sights are often huddled under the same “red dot sight” umbrella, holo sights are different beasts altogether to reflex and prismatic sights.
Both are excellent in providing improved accuracy, speed, and target acquisition for close quarters, yet they can be used out to 100-200 yards and more with training.
The real decision about which one is best for you will come down to factors such as application, budget, size, reticle and mounting options, and specialty features. If you have more than one gun to outfit, why not put one of each on them? You know we are!