A caution about red dot reflex sights for handguns...

A caution about red dot reflex sights for handguns...

This is a discussion on A caution about red dot reflex sights for handguns... within the Defensive Carry Guns forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; Let me begin by saying, yes, I'm aware that these things are 'all the rage'. I'm aware that some big names, big schools, gun mags ...

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Thread: A caution about red dot reflex sights for handguns...

  1. #1
    Senior Moderator
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    A caution about red dot reflex sights for handguns...

    Let me begin by saying, yes, I'm aware that these things are 'all the rage'. I'm aware that some big names, big schools, gun mags are touting these things as if one would be foolish to even attempt to shoot a gun wiithout them. Yes I'm aware of the claim that if we use a red dot on a carbine it should be natural on a handgun. One of my "heros", Kelly McCann, has a reflex sight on his G19 and says it's like cheating. Others claim red dot reflex sights will be on all LEO handguns. I read an article about a highly customized Hk .45 and most of the article was about the reflex sight and how great it was rather than the gun.

    Well, something is wrong somewhere. I've had a Optima reflex sight for I guess 10 years. I've had it off and on my G19 three times and every time took it off because of issues, not issues of failure, etc. but issues with using it.

    The Optima is almost indistingiushable from the Docter sight, and is as small and similar weight and size as the Leoupold Delta point and the Burris reflex, and smaller than the Trijicons.

    I wanted so badly to love this sight - it made a lot of sense to me - both eyes open, both eyes on the threat, a red dot superimposed on the threat, no three points of alignment, excellent night sight, what's not to like? Well, I'm glad you asked that. Let's start here:

    The price. These things are insanely expensive. I think I paid about $150 for my Optima and the Docter, when it was in production was upwards to twice that, but now a Leupold DeltaPoint goes for $379. A Trijicon starts at $412, a Burris FastFire goes for about $209. Now before you get your charge card out, let's see how people are rating these sights.

    I went to Amazon.com and did a search and for the most part, the ratings on all of them (that are rated) are about 3 out of 5 stars. But here are two things I discovered on my Optima and I'll compare that to reviews of the other newer sights.

    First, they all claim the dot intensity brightens or dims according to ambient light conditions. Blaaaatttt! Well, they do sort of. Theoretically a light sensor detects light and modifies the intensity. Here's the problem with all of them except the Burris FastFire - the sensor is pointed in the wrong direction!!! What does that mean?

    The idea of the dimming dot is to not over power a dimly lit threat with a big bright dot and the brightening is so a dim red dot won't be washed out with a brightly lit threat, say like sunlight. So what can happen?

    I saw this in my personal experience with my Optmia, it does have the dot intensity modulation. I was shooting out doors on a very bright day, but I was under a tin roof shooting pad. Guess what? The target was in the bright sunlight and the sensor on my Optima was looking upward at the tin roof, so it was seeing relatively subdued lighting, and as expected, it dimmed the dot. It was all but washed out on the threat. So how does that apply to SD?

    Let's say you're in a dimly light room shooting out a doorway at a threat that is outside in the sunlight - your sensor is looking upward a the ceiling of the room you're in and sees relatively dim, so it dims the dot.

    There's also just the opposite. You're in a bright light and the threat is in dimmed lighting. What happens? Your sensor sees the bright sky and brightens the dot. That may not sound serious, but wait till you see it. Here's another way that can happen. It's at night you get caught at a street light, but that may be good because you have the cover of the light pole, but guess what? That bright street light is shining right down into your sight's light sensor - it's gonna brighten the dot and it really needs to be dimmed.

    I want to point out the Burris FastFire has the light sensor at the front of the sight, pointed toward the threat. That should help a lot, but I haven't tried one to see if it really helps or seen any indications of it's effectiveness either good or bad.

    So maybe it's just me - well I'd think so but here's a snippet from a review or two:

    "The Burris FastFire II works as advertised. However, it does have some flaws. The red dot is simply too bright on other than very bright days. The instructions say not to do this, but I find that three layers of masking tape over the automatic eye is just about right on a cloudy day to get the dot brightness down to a useable level. If not for that I would put this unit in a drawer and not use it."

    The Leupold DeltaPoint:
    "- The intensity of the dot varies according to light conditions, though I have yet to notice much difference..."

    And the next addresses a concern I have personally experienced, except in my case, the sight was on the weapon, but what he is talking about is correct:

    "...One other concern: As I had NOT installed the sight on the weapon, I held the sight at arms length to look at the triangular sight picture. It seemed to me that the triangle was hard to find. Problem is, unless you get a proper (and solid) firing grip on the weapon, in your holster as you start your draw stroke, you will spend a couple of nano-seconds searching for your red triangle. I suspect that a poor grip will make finding the sight difficult, not unlike a poor grip makes using the iron sights difficult. This is NEVER a good thing if you are in a self defense scenario. To be fair, this concern is based on holding the sight in my fingers at arms length, NOT installed on the weapon. "

    When you draw your gun the relationship of your head to the gun is different than with iron sights, so first there is an adjustment to that that is not trivial. Worse, and this is what the reviewer was talking about, if you don't see the dot immediately, you have hunt. Unfortunately, you don't know which way to hunt - left, right, up or down. It's even worse in subdued lighting IF you don't see the dot immediately.

    You'd think all that training we've done with our sights would insure we'd get the dot immediately. I'm not so sure but what that's counterproductive.

    Then, let's say you've put in the time, effort, and money in ammo to master the red dot sight. You're in a life and death situation and either the sight goes out, or your primary gun goes down and you have to go to your BUG. Does it have a red dot on it too? Probably not and that introduces a different sighting method, a different head to gun relationship, and sight alignment as needed.

    Thing is these things work so well on shoulder weapons that I think it strongly suggests they'd be just as good on handguns. But the red dot sights we mostly see/use on long guns allow us to set the brightness manually, these small reflex sights do not allow us to adjust brightness manually. Plus, the red dots are far easier to find visually than they are with a red dot mounted on a handgun.

    There are also some mounting issues, battery life; some require the sight to be removed to replace the battery - there goes alignment.

    So before you plunk down the price of a gun for a red dot sight, you may want to consider this carefully. I'm not saying RDs on a handgun won't work, but they may not be the utopia they are touted to be either. That's a lot of money.

    Guess what I'm gonna do? Put my Optima back on my G19 when I get home.
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    VIP Member Array hogdaddy's Avatar
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    In most self deffence shootings by civilians, you be lucky to draw let alone use your sights. That's why I practice from the holster @ hip & half draw point shooting, On the move side to side & backwards. JMO ; ) PS I don't shot competition
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    Member Array ShadeAngel's Avatar
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    Well you could always get suppressor sights installed as well so you can co-witness both sights and "in theory" have the best of both words, which is what Gabe Suarez has be advocating.

    OneSourceTactical

    No personal experience myself, and while is might help with some of the problems... cost would definitely not be one of them.
    "You can't shake the devils hand and say you were only kidding"

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    Senior Member Array AlexHassin's Avatar
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    Hold the presses, there putting red dots on self defense pistols now? Like legit, not like that guy that wipes out two machine pistols with sights on them in the move and never uses them. where have I been? I mean I get it on hunting guns but that just seams odd…..
    Last edited by AlexHassin; January 24th, 2011 at 02:16 PM. Reason: clarity

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    VIP Member Array 10thmtn's Avatar
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    Ah, yes. This topic got me thrown off another forum.

    For the money (actually, MUCH less money), I'd rather have a laser - which has the advantage of not requiring you to line the weapon up to your eye level to get accurate hits.

    Lasers can also have a psychological impact that red dots just do not...there is something about seeing that red diode light up, and seeing the dot on your body that says "You are going to get shot RIGHT HERE" that makes a lot of BGs stand down. This isn't speculation - there are numerous documented cases of suspects being belligerent with officers, even when the officers had drawn weapons - but when one of the officers lights the suspect up with the laser...different story. When the suspect can no longer deny that he is about to get shot, and exactly where, the macho tends to go out the window.

    And let's not forget that a lot of the proponents of red dots on pistols are more than happy to sell you the equipment, and the gunsmithing services, to make that happen for you. Good ol' capitalism - create a "need," and then fill it.
    Last edited by 10thmtn; January 25th, 2011 at 08:57 AM.
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    Member Array 303british's Avatar
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    I agree with hogdaddy, the money would be better spent on ammo and practice from a self-defense standpoint.
    I suspect that competition shooting drives most of this.

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    New Member Array Tailgunny's Avatar
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    Great food for thought, thank you all!

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    I've never seen a red dot sight i liked. they all seem to wash out in the daylight,maybe I;m old fashioned but I guess i'll stick with ironsights.

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    VIP Member Array Guantes's Avatar
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    I've never figured out how to get my head down to my waist, where my first couple shots are fired from.
    "I do what I do." Cpl 'coach' Bowden, "Southern Comfort".

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    Distinguished Member Array kapnketel's Avatar
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    Even if I wanted one, how would I carry it? There are no holsters that I know of. I think your money is better spent on night sights.
    I'd rather be lucky than good any day

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    Quote Originally Posted by Guantes View Post
    I've never figured out how to get my head down to my waist, where my first couple shots are fired from.
    I had a really snide remark for that but figured you didn't deserve it.

    I imagine thse sights have a time and a place, just as lasers and night sights do. But regardless of sight style chosen, one needs to become proficient with it.
    Retired USAF E-8. Lighten up and enjoy life because:
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    VIP Member Array Guantes's Avatar
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    Thank you, I appreciate your consideration.

    To me the question would be if the cost and inconvenience outweighs the improved performance and likelyhood of use, for me it does. Others may feel differently.
    "I do what I do." Cpl 'coach' Bowden, "Southern Comfort".

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    Senior Member Array HK Dan's Avatar
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    I'm a hunter and a USPSA shooter, so I am no stranger to red dots on a hand gun. Try it. It's a "Wow" moment the first couple of times, that's for sure. They have several advantages--target focus being the first, lack of sight alignment required being the second. Disads--that's pretty easy. Do you keep it on all the time and replace batteries, or shout ali ali oxenfree when a self defense incident occurs so you can turn it on? Mine is always on, but turns off when the cover goes on, and THAT takes time. So, if something happens fast, I need to be a point shooter (I hate that). Aligning the sight can be problematic if you haven't practiced the draw enough. You just lose the dot.

    I don't see why Suarez is so hopped up about them; they've been around, on handguns, for years. They are a bit of an acquired taste, and I think the utility is limited by several serious concerns.
    "What does Marcellus Wallace LOOK like?"

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    Good read Tangle. I have been toying with the idea of having a FastFire II machined into an extra S&W Model 41 (.22 Rimfire) barrel that I have. The gun would pretty much just be be a casual plinker though.
    I've read some decently good things about the FastFire II.

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    Senior Member Array dnowell's Avatar
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    I shoot with a reddot for bullseye. Works great. Can't understand why anyone would use it on a self defense gun. Every bullseye guy I know has a very specific movement to "find the dot" while getting ready to fire. Follow up shots are quicker IF you stay on target enough not to lose the dot -- no problem with a 22, but in a self defense situation with a compact centerfire? No dice. Just don't understand.

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