July 10, 2023
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Love them or hate them, red-dot sights for handguns are here to stay. Manufacturers that introduce new handguns that are not optics-ready, or at least have an optics-ready model available, are simply going to get less attention than their optics-ready competition. Does that mean you have to mount a pistol red dot? No, but people like having the option.
If you’re new to pistol red dots, go try one out. You’ll quickly see why they’ve become so popular. However, one should always learn how to shoot a pistol with standard iron sights first and be well-versed in their use should your dot ever go down. If you’re going to put a red dot on a full-size handgun for defensive or duty use, then be sure to have solid irons as a backup, even better if they can co-witness through the sight.
Practically every optics company is getting into the pistol red dot game, but they are not all built equal. We’ve put together a list of our 10 favorite full-size pistol red dots that have been tested by Firearms News staff on many different pistols in various capacities to get you to a good starting point. Before we get to our favorites, let’s break down a few basic pistol red dot considerations.
Open vs. Enclosed Red Dots
Red-dot sights for pistols exist in two categories: open and enclosed. Open red dots have been around for some time. A laser set in the base of the housing emits a beam toward a glass objective to create an aiming point. Closed red dots for pistols have only been around for a few years, but they operate the same way as an open red dot. The difference is the emitter housing in completely encased and usually purged with nitrogen to prevent internal fogging.
While they serve the same purpose, a closed red dot has the advantage of being impervious to the elements, unless the housing is compromised. Open pistol red dots can be water- and debris-proof like a closed red dot, but the laser emitter and both sides of the objective can become obscured by dirt or water. The dot us usually fine, but it can be tricky to clean them properly. Dirt or debris on a closed dot can be quickly wiped away and back to business in no time.
Red Dot Consideration Checklist
Put 20 different pistol red dots in a line and it will be hard to see what sets them apart. Sure, there are some variances in shape and color, but they are remarkable similar for the most part. Features and what’s on the inside are what set them apart. Here are some of the more important considerations when selecting a dot.
- Dot Size: The aiming dot size on your sight is an important consideration. Most people want to go small, but a tiny 1-MOA dot at close range isn’t always your friend. Aiming dots can even go as high or higher than 10 MOA, but good luck cleaning a IDPA match quickly with such a large dot. Consider your primary application and choose accordingly. When in doubt, 3- to 5-MOA dots are the most common, and they work well in hybrid roles.
- Battery Life: Red dots are obviously battery powered, and pistol red dots almost always run on small coin batteries, usually a CR2032 or a CR1632. If you go to the range a lot, a short battery life shouldn’t be your biggest consideration. Coin batteries are cheap and easy to replace, and the return-to-zero on most red dots is solid. However, many people expect longer battery life now, which is understandable, but that often comes at a higher price point.
Water/Debris Resistance: We’ve already discussed the difference between open and closed dots, and while it sounds like the closed dot is the only way to go, open pistol red dots are well-proven in the field. Unless you completely submerge your dot in mud and water, it’s pretty rare for the emitter to be completely obscured. Still, if you’re in a situation where an obscured dot is never acceptable, a closed pistol red dot is the safest bet. All of the dots in this roundup are rated IPX7 waterproof, but I still don’t recommend you go swimming with one.
Mounting Interface: This is probably one of the most confusing parts to buying a pistol red dot. Mounting interfaces include the RMR pattern, Docter, DeltaPoint, SIG Sauer, ACRO and several others. There is nothing worse than buying a new dot and realizing it won’t fit your gun. Before you buy, confirm the mounting pattern of your dot and what your gun is set up with out of the box. If they’re not compatible, most pistol manufacturers offer conversion kits.
Cost: Pistol red dots can get expensive quickly, but like most things in life, you get what you pay for. With that in mind, don’t pay for features you don’t need. If you are trying a red dot for the first time on a general-purpose range gun, there’s no need to drop big money on a dot with all the features. Ask yourself what the primary purpose of your gun/dot combo will be and match it accordingly. Out list covers a nice spread of premium offerings to affordable but reliable red dot solutions.
Field of View Perception: The final important consideration is quite subjective. Generally, the bigger the field of view on a pistol red dot, the better. However, this mostly comes down to personal perception more than anything. Pistol dot objectives come in many different shapes, but if you take a caliper to them, they’re all quite close in size. This is why “try before you buy” is such a good idea with pistol red dots. If you get the chance, go to a range with rental guns and see which red dot give you the most favorable view of the target and your surroundings.
Enclosed Red-Dot Sights
Aimpoint ACRO P-2
Aimpoint has been a dominate force in the red-dot sight market for years, so it was surprising they were so “late” to introduce a pistol red dot. When they did, though, they went big, announcing the first closed red dot for handguns. The Advanced Compact Reflex Optic (ACRO) was a game-changer for pistol red dots, and since its inception, Aimpoint has improved the original design to the current ACRO P-2. The ACRO has a remarkable 50,000-hour battery life and 10 brightness settings, including four night vision settings. Despite its size, it only weighs 2.1 ounces, which is comparable to many open red dot sights, and the ACRO also mounts low to the slide. The aiming dot is 3.5 MOA, which is ideal for close and medium engagement distances. The ACRO P-2 is a true battle sight, designed to survive the toughest outdoor conditions, but it wouldn’t be the best choice for serious competition work. It’s one of the priciest pistol red dots you will find, but if you need a dot that will stand up for duty use and extreme conditions, the ACRO is hard to beat.
Steiner has a lot of experience with military optics, and its new Micro Pistol Sight (MPS) is their answer to a battle-ready closed pistol red-dot sight. It sits on the bulky side for a slide-mounted red dot, but its all-metal construction and completely sealed design make it one tough dot. The MPS uses the Aimpoint ACRO mounting interface, and it will fit in most optics-ready holsters. Battery life is on the shorter sight at 13,000 hours, but the top-mounted battery is easy to access for a battery swap. The MPS has eight brightness settings, two night vision, and uses a 3.3 MOA aiming dot. The MPS length is short to prevent any “tunnel vision” while aiming, and the brightness adjustments are easy to access and adjust due to their size. Like the ACRO, the Steiner MPS is a pistol red dot optimized for duty and defensive use and would not serve as well in competitions.
SIG Sauer ROMEO2
SIG Sauer has introduced a variety of pistol red-dot sights, but the new ROMEO2 brings true innovation to the table. The ROMEO2 is a hybrid design that gives the end-user the options to use the ROMEO2 as an open or enclosed red dot. It starts out as an open design, but it comes with two steel shrouds that can be attached to convert it to an enclosed dot. It’s a remarkable design that gives end-users the ability to convert the ROMEO2 to fit their needs in a given situation. The ROMEO2 has a solid 25,000-hour battery life, which is further extended with SIG’s motion-activated technology that powers the unit down when stationary and rapidly activates when motion is detected. The ROMEO2 is available with a 3- or 6-MOA aiming dot or a circle/dot dual reticle. One downside is that the ROMEO2 uses SIG’s mounting system, so it better optimized for SIG Sauer pistols. However, if you’re already a SIG pistol owner, then this would be an excellent dual-purpose duty/training dot. These features do come with an expensive price tag, though, but the SIG Sauer ROMEO2 is a unique red-dot option for your handgun.
Holosun HE509T-RD XT
Head to a gun range and there is a good chance you’ll see a Holosun red dot on a pistol. Holosun has built a solid reputation for affordable yet reliable red dots in the pistol space. The Holosun HE509T-RD XT is one of its newest offerings, a compact, enclosed red dot that’s excellent for general use. Battery life hits the 50,000-hour mark, which is remarkable of only a CR1632 battery. Usually you’d need at least a CR2032 to hit the 50K mark, but the integrated solar failsafe on top of the house helps get the sight to that level. The HE509T-RD XT also has built-in “shake-awake” technology that helps keep the unit powered only when necessary. Most red dots have one aiming dot to use, but the HE509T-RD XT offers a multi-reticle system to pick between a dot or circle/dot aiming point. Due to is short length, the perceived field of view is excellent, which makes target acquisition and transitions a speedy process. The HE509T-RD XT is compatible with most optics mounting systems and has multiple adapter kits available for most pistols. Finally, the HE509T-RD XT is the most affordable of all the true enclosed pistol red dots currently on the market.
Burris FastFire 4
The Burris FastFire 4 represents, wait for it, the fourth iteration of its FastFire red dot family. Previous models have built a reputation for affordability and reliability, but the FastFire 4 represents a substantial jump in innovation for Burris red dots. Like the SIG Sauer ROMEO2, the FastFire 4 is a hybrid design that starts with a well-built open red dot and includes a screw-on weather shield to convert it to an enclosed sight. The Burris FastFire 4 also includes a Picatinny-rail adapter, so it would serve well on handguns or as a great shotgun optic. Battery life sits at the 26,000-hour mark on the medium brightness setting, so you can probably cut that in half at the highest setting. The FastFire 4 has multiple included reticle options, and the reticle has an auto-adjust feature to automatically adjust to various lighting conditions. If you’re looking for a great general-purpose dot that would serve well on a handgun or shotgun, the Burris FastFire 4 is a great affordable and reliable option.
Open Pistol Red Dots
Leupold DeltaPoint Pro
Leupold has a somewhat limited assortment of pistol red dots compared to other manufacturers, but the DeltaPoint Pro is one of the most-desirable open red dots among military and law enforcement. Even though it’s an open red dot, it is completely water and fog proof, and it is remarkably durable against drops and general abuse. The DeltaPoint Pro has a large objective, giving it one of the widest fields of view you’ll see in a pistol red dot. Battery life is on the low side at only 1,000 hours on a medium setting, but Leupold’s motion sensor technology helps that 1,000 hours last a long time. Within the DeltaPoint Pro line, there are multiple color options and dot sizes available; the the DeltaPoint Pro Night Vision offers some of the best night vision settings you’ll see in a pistol red dot. If you’ve ever tried to shoot a red dot through night-vision goggles, you’ll quickly learn to appreciate a dot with true night vision settings. The battery is accessed from the side housing, and the DeltaPoint Pro has a reliable return-to-zero when the battery is swapped. The DeltaPoint Pro only has one illumination adjustment button, so you have to cycle through each brightness setting to adjust back and forth. It’s already a well-proved red dot on the battlefield and in law enforcement use, but it’s also a popular option in pistol competitions.
When people think of pistol red dots, the Trijicon RMR usually is one of the first dots that comes to mind. It has been and still is one of the most-popular red dots for law enforcement, military and competitors, if you can afford it. The one complaint people will have with the RMR, though, is that it has a smaller perceived field of view. Trijicon’s solution to this is the newer Specialized Reflex Optic (SRO), which has a massive field of view compared to the RMR. It’s circular design is unique amongst most of the square-shaped pistol red dots on the market, and it has quickly become a favorite for competitors. The top-loading 2032 battery provides around 30,000 hours of battery life at the middle illumination settings. The SRO mounts using the incredibly common RMR footprint, so it’s compatible with most pistols out of the gate, and most pistol manufacturers make RMR adapter kits if not already set up for RMR mounting. Trijicon is notoriously on the expensive side, but if you want one red dot that you can count on in any situation, it’s worth the cost.
The Vortex Venom is one of the best general-purpose pistol dots you’ll find. It’s a simple, no-frills design that has proven to be highly reliable in the field. It doesn’t have a shake-awake mode or 50,000-hour battery life, but that saves you a lot of money when you don’t need those features. The Vortex Venom has an MSRP of $350, but it usually goes out the door for around $250, making it one of the most affordable options in this roundup. Like most pistol dots, it uses a top-load, easy-access battery, using the common CR2032. The Venom is built from aluminum, and the glass lens is fully multi-coated for great scratch resistance. The 3-MOA aiming dot is crisp and easy to pick up, too. Finally, it’s hard to beat the Vortex Lifetime Warranty, which does cover the Venom red dot.
Hi-Lux is probably one of the more underrated optics manufactures on the market. They’re most famous for their vintage line of scopes for iconic historical firearms. However, they also have a nice lineup of modern scopes and red dots. The TD-3C featured here has a sharp look, and it’s well-designed for handgun use. Battery life hits the remarkable 50,000-hour mark of a CR2032 battery, which is side-mounted. It’s built from premium 7075-series aluminum, and it can take some hard knocks. The Hi-Lux TD-3C uses the common RMR mounting footprint, and it has a nice, clean 3-MOA aiming dot. The objective shape is an oval design, which gives it an outstanding field of view perception. The Hi-Lux also includes an optional Picatinny rail, giving you the option to mount it to a shotgun or rifle, too, perfect for end-users who need their optics to serve double duty. This is a high-quality dot, but it comes in at a fantastic price point, and it would be a great option for range training or home defense.
The Bushnell RXS-250 is another great, affordable red dot for those that need their optics to serve in multiple roles. The RXS-250 uses the standard CR2032 battery with a top-mount interface, and it gets 50,000 hours in battery life with 10 brightness settings and a 4-MOA dot. It does also have a user-adjustable auto-off timer, so no worries if you put it back in the gunsafe and forgot to turn it off. The RXS-250 has a compact layout, so it doesn’t extend over the side too far on most pistols, and the field of view is excellent for target acquisition and transitions. It comes out of the box with the common DeltaPoint mounting interface, and the unit is waterproof to include brief submersion. The Bushnell RXS-250 is a solid choice for general range work and even some pistol hunting applications. For those looking for their first dot, it will perform well without breaking the bank.
About the Author
Jack Oller is a U.S. Army veteran, having served in the Military Police with one deployment to the Camp VI Detention Facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He has extensive firearms training from military and civilian schools and is a passionate shotgun shooter and hunter. Jack has an English degree from Illinois State University, and he started his career in the outdoor industry as Associate Editor for Guns & Ammo magazine. After Gun & Ammo, he worked as Brand Manager for Crimson Trace and now is the Digital Editor for Firearms News.
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