Holographic and red dot sights are the premier sighting devices for rapid target acquisition. But their technological configurations and how they work differ considerably. Here’s our in-depth discussion of holographic vs red dot to help you become more acquainted with their particularities and their best applications.
Table of Contents
- 1 Main Differences Between Holographic & Red Dot Sights
- 2 What’s A Holographic Sight?
- 3 What’s a Red Dot Sight?
- 4 How They Work
- 5 Red Dot & Holographic Sights - Key FEatures
- 6 Red Dot Sights vs Holographic Sights- Our Final Thoughts
Main Differences Between Holographic & Red Dot Sights
While holographic and red dot sights are both designed for close- to medium-range engagements, they differ in several ways.
A holographic sight uses a laser and mirrors to project a holographic image of the reticle onto the window. By contrast, a red dot sight utilizes a LED (light-emitting diode) emitter to send a beam towards the front glass so that the beam is reflected back to your eyes. The laser is then projected onto your target.
In holographic sights, the laser image surrounds your aim, whereas, in red dot sights, the reticle covers your aim. Red dot sight reticles appear brighter and crisper.
Red dots consume significantly less power than holo sights. The battery longevity of red dots could reach 50,000 hours. Meanwhile, holo sights can only last up to 500-1000 hours depending on use.
Generally, red dots are smaller, lighter, and cheaper than holo sights.
What’s A Holographic Sight?
A holographic sight doesn’t use LED light but a laser emitter diode to create an illuminated pattern in a dot or circular form that is projected onto the lens you’re looking through. The holographic image appears to float over the target from the perspective of the observer. Its center dot is 1 MOA.
When sighting through a holo sight, you’re looking at two things. One is the projected image of the aim area that changes in size as you move. The second is the projected reticle, which moves along with the axis of the gun. As long as you see both your aim and the reticle, you’re spot on.
Holographic sights are usually in a semi-square shape design but other models are in a rounder style. The square design offers a wider field of view than the round design. Thus, you will have more enhanced situational awareness and peripheral vision.
What’s a Red Dot Sight?
Any sighting device that uses a red dot as aiming technology can be termed as a red dot sight. Many electronic weapon sights use red and green reticles, which are under the red dots moniker.
A red dot sight uses an LED to produce the reticle that is projected onto the target. This will indicate where your bullets will exactly hit.
Red dot sights or reflex sights can be mounted on many firearm platforms in addition to iron sights. They are designed for close and medium-range shooting. They can be easily switched from weapon to weapon.
Red dots don’t feature a built-in magnification, but they are quite precise. As long as the dot points at the target regardless of your head position or has less than the reticle’s perfect alignment, you can still successfully acquire your aim.
How They Work
In holographic weapon sights, the laser diode will illuminate the pre-recorded three-dimensional image of the reticle on the viewing window. It then bounces that illumination around the optics’ mirrors until it is projected onto the front lens.
The laser beam of the holographic sight is projected along the same axis as your gun. Hence, when you move the gun’s muzzle in a specific direction, the reticle image will also move in that direction. If you see your target and the reticle on the same plane, you can be sure to hit your target accurately.
In red dot sights, the LED produces a beam of light onto a specially-coated angled piece of glass, which in turn reflects or bounces off the light to create the reticle. When your red or green dot is on target, and you’re also adequately zeroed, you’ll successfully hit that target.
Red Dot & Holographic Sights - Key FEatures
Red dot sights have straightforward construction. Thus, they are generally smaller and more compact than holo sights. They are often more lightweight and portable.
Holographic sights have more advanced optical technology hence, they are slightly heavier and larger than red dot sights.
Smaller optics are a practical option for handguns or pistols, such as red dot sights or reflex sights. Meanwhile, holographic sights are a good fit for larger firearm platforms such as rifles, shotguns, or muzzleloaders. With technological advancements, you can now find holographic sights that are small and lightweight.
The price range of a holo sight or a red dot sight varies depending on the brand, model, material composition, and built-in technological features.
High-end red dot sights from Trijicon and Aimpoint are usually expensive. But you can find budget-friendly options from Vortex and Holosun.
Real holographic sights are manufactured only by Eotech and Vortex as of this writing. They aren’t cheap but reasonably priced. Nevertheless, you can find affordably priced optics depending on the model. Even though Vortex UH-1 is considered cheaper than many EOTech models, it can deliver impressive quality and performance.
The durability of red dot sights and holographic sights is directly related to two factors: material composition and construction.
Housing materials that are made of aircraft-grade aluminum alloy or stainless steel are quite rugged, sturdy, and shockproof. Optical components that are specially coated are fog-proof, water-resistant, and dust-proof.
Manufacturers like EOTech, Trijicon, and Aimpoint Pro are reputable for producing optics that are exceptionally rugged, recoil-resistant, and bomb-proof.
Holographic sights will remain functional even when the front lens is partially shattered or obscured by dust and snow elements. By contrast, red dots cease to operate once they get damaged.
Red dots and holographic sights have electronically-powered reticles. These two sights use integrated batteries such as AA batteries, CR2032, or CR1632. However, there are some optics that use a solar panel as a primary or backup power source.
One of the impressive features of red dot sights is the LED, which is a power-efficient technology. Thus, they consume considerably less power even when continuously used. As such, they’re best for home defense.
On the other hand, holographic sights need a laser to produce holograms, and some models even have some extra advanced features which can drain battery life quickly.
Both sights require electricity to function. The LED emitter of red dot sights helps prolong battery life up to 50,000 hours. That is roughly more than five years of power supply.
Holographic sights use advanced laser technology that consumes a lot of power. Their battery life lasts between 500-1,000 hours only.
Even Vortex Razor AMG UH-1, which is the longest-running holographic sight, can only last up to 1,600 hours. You may need battery spares for extended shooting using holographic sights.
In terms of battery life, the sure winner for holographic vs red dot sight is the latter.
Field of View
One of the huge advantages of using an electronic optic is a wide field of view. This means that you can sight or shoot with both eyes open thereby enhancing your peripheral vision and awareness of your current environment.
Red dot sights often come in tube style, narrowing your field quite a bit but they can still get sight pictures quickly.
Holographic sights have a rectangular field of view and wider front windows than red dots or reflex sights. Therefore, you can get a better and faster sight picture of your aim and its environment with holo sights.
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Reticles could be a small dot, or it may include a ring, crosshairs, or some combinations of all three.
A sight reticle may also vary in size, depending on several factors such as the type of optic, range, and preference of the shooter. Some red dot sights have 2 MOA, 3 MOA, or 6 MOA. EOTech’s holographic reticle or center dot is 1 MOA, which is the smallest reticle size.
Holographic reticle and red dot sight reticle often use the red reticle because the eyes can easily detect it. However, there are also green reticles available.
Red dot sights and holographic sights are much faster than traditional iron sights and magnified scopes for detecting and acquiring targets.
A red dot sight requires you to move your eyes back and forth between the optical plane and your aim, which can take a bit of your time. Meanwhile, a holographic sight projects the reticle directly onto the aim so you can focus on both simultaneously. Therefore, a holographic sight is faster than a red dot sight.
Parallax distortion can slow down acquisition speed. Red dot sights are more prone to it than holographic sights.
When comparing red dot vs holographic sights, holo sights are much faster at acquisition speed.
Night vision devices allow hunters and shooters to see at nighttime or in poorly illuminated settings. They are quite helpful in hunting, surveillance, self and home defense, and tactical operations.
If you’re using a red dot sight or a holographic sight, you wouldn’t need a night vision accessory when shooting in a low light setting. You can still get a vision of your aim.
Red dot sights and holographic sights have night vision compatible settings. You can adjust the brightness levels to switch to day or night use. This aids greatly in locking in targets and identifying them accurately.
Red dots and holographic sights don’t have a built-in magnification system as compared to other optics. But you can attach a magnifier in front of them.
When you zoom in your aim in a red dot sight, the size of the dot will enlarge, which obscures the view. Your aim will appear closer but the dot will be larger, which may sometimes cover the entire aiming point.
When you zoom in on a holographic sight, the target will appear closer and larger but the dot will remain in size. Hence, you can still hit the aiming point with greater precision, even in changing lighting conditions.
When pitting holographic vs red dot sight in terms of magnification, the winner is holo sight.
One thing to consider when choosing an optic is your visual acuity.
If you have astigmatism, a red dot sight may not be your most practical option. Red dots tend to look like squiggly, blurry, or convoluted lines to some people with astigmatism. But if you have a good pair of correction eyeglasses, it may go just as fine. 
On the other hand, holographic sights work better for astigmatism people because there is less parallax distortion in these sights.
When comparing red dot vs holographic sight in terms of visual acuity, the latter optic is the winner.
Many red dot sights and holographic sights have extra technological features, which raise an optic cost, but you can get added benefits.
Some red dot sights, reflex sights, and holographic sights have a shake-wake technology that helps extend battery life. The sight will automatically turn off when not in use for a certain period and automatically turns on when you move your gun.
There are holographic sights that have an auto-brightness adjustment feature. The site will automatically adjust the brightness level of the reticle depending on the lighting condition.
Red Dot Sights vs Holographic Sights- Our Final Thoughts
We think that there isn’t a definite winner when it comes to red dot vs holographic sight. Each one has benefits and drawbacks. These two types of sights work well in 100 yards to 200 yards. They are both exceptional at aiming and acquiring targets in the shortest possible time.
If you prefer simplicity, portability, ultra-long battery life, a lightweight accessory, and a budget-friendly option, go with red dot sights. If you want versatility, durability, ease of use, much faster acquisition speed, smaller MOA, reduced parallax distortion, go with holographic sights.
For self and home defense, red dot sights are much better than holographic sights. However, for hunting and tactical operations, the latter is a more reliable choice.