Holographic Sight vs Red Dot Sight – What’s The Difference

Holographic Sight vs Red Dot Sight cover photo, deer with red dot, public domain from PixabayGone are the days when hunters relied on traditional iron sights to bag their prey. Aiming devices for firearms, crossbows and other sighting gadgets have improved in leaps and bounds over the years. A case in point is the invention of red dot and holographic sights. But when you consider holographic sight vs red dot sight, what’s the difference?

Both of these reflector sights are considered an improvement over simple iron sights. They are non-magnifying, rail-mounted optics that users look through to see an illuminated aiming point superimposed onto a target in the sight window. Both sights serve one core function, and that is to assist in accurate shot placement.

The Basics of These Sights

In general, reflector sights work on the basic premise that images at the focus of a curved mirror or lens will appear to be sitting at infinity before the viewer. Reflectors then image the reticle at infinity while the viewer looks through the lens. Although both red dot and holographic sights share this principle, they differ in various ways.

With that in mind, this guide will delve deeper into the differences between red dot and holographic sights. Read on to learn what you should choose when considering which optical sight would be best for your firearm.


How to Use a Red Dot Sight

When using a red dot sight, prepare to operate with little to no magnification.  They typically have a dot-style Reticle that allows the user to have maximum accuracy with minimal blockage of field of view.  Although it is possible to use a red dot sight that has a triangle or small circle reticle, the size of these is not much bigger than a standard dot and still allows for minimal blockage.  When using a red dot sight also understand that the batteries will need to be replaced at some point, but if you get one with high quality batteries then you should be good to go for quite a while.  The final point to consider when using a red dot vs holo is that a red dot may allow for some minor parallax issues, which we discuss further below.  They can be used on various weapons including most pistols (here is a further review of the top pistol scopes and 7 great red dot sights for comparison).


How to Use a Holographic Sight

The number one manufacturer for Holographic Sights is called EoTech.  The EoTech holographic Sight should be used with confidence although its price tag is usually quite a bit more than that of a red dot.  Then again like most things in life you get what you pay for.  So you do get a high tech holographic Sight with that higher price tag.  They also usually give you better speed to target as well.  Parallax goes almost completely to zero with the use of a holographic Sight.  They also offer low to no magnification typically.  So these are better used in close quarter situations, similar to the red dot sight options.  In order to maintain accuracy, a rangefinder would be recommended to accurately judge distance. You will find that a rangefinder is well worth the investment if you are going to be out there on the regular.

2 Red Dot Sight Options

How Do Holographic and Red Dot Sights Differ?

Perhaps the biggest difference between red dot and holographic sights is the way each projection system works. Also called reflex sights, red dot systems make use of an LED (light emitting diode) and objective lens to create a dot-style illuminated reticle etched into the viewing window. The objective lens in this case works more like a mirror by reflecting only the red wavelength of collimated light from the LED and directing it downrange into the shooter’s vision.

In contrast, holographic sights bounce laser light off reflectors to create an illuminated hologram of the reticle within the field of view. Usually, the holographic film records a 3-D reticle image at the time of manufacture. Collimated light from a built-in laser diode then illuminates the recorded hologram.


Simply put a holographic sight makes your typical
reticle 2d or 3d and projects it onto the target.  You
also can only see it through the actual sight lens.


Pixabay CC0 Public Domain holographic sight vs red dot sight

Reflex and holographic sights operate on batteries. Power draw for both weapon sights is not the same because each system uses a different light source.

For example, LEDs on a red dot typically use about 0.6mA (milliamps) of current. Such power consumption is quite low compared to the more powerful laser diodes on holographic sights, which can pull up to 200mA (milliamps) of current.


Holographic and red dot sights also differ in design. The layout of each projection system has a direct impact on how all the components fit together into an optical device that can be mounted onto a rifle.

Red dot sights tend to have a tube-like configuration. Much like magnified riflescopes, they have windage and elevation knobs but the cylindrical tube is a bit shorter.

Holographic sights on the other hand usually have square shaped viewing windows with a shallow depth. Due to their internal configuration of mirrors, they also have slimmer profiles and do not require the same focal length as red dot sights.


holographic sight vs red dot sight

The other aspect in which reflex and holographic sights differ is reticle design. Contrary to the name, red dot sights can have a green dot-style reticle or one shaped like a triangle, chevron or circle. Holographic sights in turn have a ring encircling the dot-like aiming point.

EOTech is the most well-known manufacturer of holographic sights and their design feature a 65 MOA (minute of angle) ring along with 1 MOA center dot. Red dots are manufactured by companies such as Aimpoint, Truglo, BSA and Bushnell, among others.


Drawbacks and Strengths of Holographic Sight vs Red Dot Sight

When it comes to pros and cons, holographic sights can’t be beaten in terms of performance.


Their biggest advantage over red dots is near immunity to parallax error. Since reflex sights put the dot and target on the same optical plane, the reticle remains stationary. As a result, shots can be off target if you do not maintain the specific cheek weld used to zero the optic. Unlike with reflex sights, the reticle in holographic sights appears to be floating downrange and moves with the eye position. Thus, this diminishes parallax distortion to zero at a set range.

Reticle Size and Field of View

The 68 MOA ring in EOTech sights provides faster target acquisition. To ensure precise shot placement, holosights have a 1 MOA reticle, which is the finest dot in any optic. On the other hand, most reflex sights have dots that subtend either 2, 3, or 4 minutes of angle. The red dots may be easy to find, but they offer less precision compared to the finer aiming point in holosights.

What’s more, holographic sights with rectangular heads-up viewing windows have the advantage of having a larger field of view. Red dot sights on the other hand tend to have blind spots and tunnel vision effects because their rounded windows offer less field of view. You can read more on Field of View in our articles on binoculars.

Magnification holographic vs red dot sight magnification Pixabay Public Domain image

Reflector sights typically don’t have magnification. However, some models can enlarge targets up to 3Xs. When an EOTech is used in such cases, the 1 MOA center dot remains the same in size, even as the target enlarges. This offers greater accuracy in the long run. With a red dot sight, reticle size increases by the same factor as the target. This creates a larger dot with diminished precision.  We offer a good breakdown of long range scope reviews also if you are interested in scopes that will increase your range.

Power and Size

One of the biggest disadvantages of holographic sights is that they have significantly less run time (typically 500-1000 hours depending on usage and model). Holosights can last longer if you turn them off when they are not in use. Some models are designed to automatically shut off after several hours of inactivity. However, the low powered LEDs on red dots can last up to 50,000 hours and you never have to turn them off.

In addition, reflex sights tend to be smaller than their bulkier EOTech counterparts.


Choosing Between Holographic Vs Red Dot


Holo vs Red Dot Comparison Chart

Pros and Cons of Holo vs Red Dot

Red dots and Holosights have inherent characteristics that make them ideal for different applications. For instance, the fact that reflex sights do not project reticles onto the target makes them ideal to use from any range because distance to the target won’t limit dot visibility. Thus, red dot sights are popular for use on pistols, in shooting sports like IPSC and even in military applications.

In comparison, holographic weapon sights can be used with extreme accuracy from distances of up to 300m. However, holosights perform best in closed quarter battle (CQB) environments where speed is critical. In such scenarios, they provide the operator with better peripheral vision for dealing with multiple-threat situations.

Now that you know what makes red dots different from holographic sights, making a decision on which optic to go for should be easier. Remember, it is prudent to always consider what kind of usage your reflector sight is going to be subjected to in order to make the right choice.

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