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Gideon Optics Judge Reflex Sight mounted on a Canik

Comparing Reflex Sights vs Holographic Sights

When you want the right high-performance optic for your gun, you need to know what benefits reflex vs. holographic sights offer. While both are often referred to (sometimes incorrectly) as red dots, they use different technologies to produce a similar effect, each with its own limitations and price points. We’re going to take a close look at what each one brings to the table, as well as how to make sure you’re using the reflex sight or holographic optic best for your shooting needs. 

Pepper’s Ghost

In 1862, an English scientist, John Pepper, invited an audience to explore the visual effect that now bears his name in a crowded theatre. As viewers watched, a ghostly apparition took the stage, transparent and insubstantial compared to the live actors it appeared next to. In reality, a room off-stage was lit where the “ghost” stood while a glass plane on the dimly lit stage was angled to capture and reflect his room to the audience. This same principle is used in both types of sights, but how the science is applied is at the heart of the reflex vs. holographic sight decision.

How Reflex vs. Holographic Sights Work

Much like Pepper’s Ghost, a bright light is reflected to create an aiming reticle for the shooter, whether you’re using a reflex sight or holographic scope. How it’s reflected and the light source involved can create different effects and levels of precision when used in the field. 

View from red dot reflex sight pointing at a target

Reflex Sights

Reflex sights, whether they’re open or closed emitter optics, use bright LED emitters to project the reticle directly onto a lens in your sight. This lens has a reflective coating that makes it more efficient at transmitting the image to the shooter’s eye. The light may also pass through a specially cut diaphragm before hitting the reflective lens, changing the shape of the projection from a simple dot to a reticle, chevron, or circle. Compared to Iron sights with their three planes required for aiming, rear sight, front sight, and target, reflex sights provide faster target acquisition and improved accuracy.

Holographic Sights

Holographic sights use ultra-bright lasers reflected off multiple mirrors before finally sending the image back to your eye. The more efficient laser creates a tighter, more focused beam for improved precision, while the multiple lasers increase the apparent distance between your eye and the reticle, actually seeming to place the aiming aid out past your optic and onto the target itself, creating a single-plane aiming experience.

The Benefits of Reflex vs. Holographic Sights

  • Cost – If holographic sights sound more complex, it’s because they are. They have more and more advanced components, and that doesn’t come cheap. Expect to pay twice to three times more for a holographic sight than you would for a good reflex optic.
  • Size and Weight – More components need more space. While technology is always advancing, there’s still a significant difference between the svelte size and weight of an open-emitter reflex sight vs. a holographic sight’s larger chassis that houses the laser, mirror, lenses, and circuitry required to create a floating two or three-dimensional reticle in front of your gun.
  • Accuracy – Lasers create a more concentrated beam of light that lets optics engineers create reticles as small as 1 MOA. Most reflex sights offer nothing more precise than a 3MOA dot. This disparity means that at the same range with each of these optics, a 1” apparent dot from the holographic vs. a reflex sight’s 3” apparent dot shows a marked advantage. 
  • Range – The more precise nature of a holographic sight means it’s more accurate at farther ranges, out to around 300 yards. With magnification, the advantage becomes even more pronounced as the magnification power applies relative to the individual aiming planes. This means that with a holographic sight’s single aiming plane, the target appears three times larger, but the dot retains its relative 1 MOA precision. With the two aiming planes of a reflex sight, however, the target appears three times larger, but the precision is also multiplied, creating a 9 MOA dot.  
  • Durability – Both sights rely on modern technology, electronics, and precisely focused light. That being said, more parts and more complexity means more that can go wrong. Reflex sights vs. holographic sights often withstand the bumps and shocks of field conditions better. 
  • Parallax – An optical principle where a static image appears to be elsewhere, parallax can throw off your aim when you need it most. With both types of sights, centering the reticle gives you your best shot, but with holographic sights, which seem to move the reticle out in front of the gun, if you can see the reticle, it’s centered. Reflex sights, by comparison, can be thrown off by poor shooting fundamentals, especially at longer ranges. 
  • Battery Life – Reflex sights come in multiple colors, with red being the most energy efficient, while green, blue, and yellow take more juice to provide an equal brightness level. All of them, however, pale in comparison to the power needed to operate a laser. If you choose a holographic sight, expect to change the battery much more frequently.
  • Usability – Using a reflex sight or holographic sight is fairly intuitive. Overlay your target with the reticle and fire. While good fundamentals are necessary to get the most out of your reflex sight, they’re also the base-level skills you should be drilling anyway.

Reflex vs. Holographic Sights: Which is Best For You?

Whether you should choose a reflex or holographic sight depends largely on your budget and what kind of shooting you plan on doing. While both have their limitations and benefits, understanding how those work in the real world will help you make the right choice for your gun.

Gideon Optics reflex sight mounted to a pistol

When Reflex Sights Are the Best Choice

Pistols make great use of reflex sights. They’re small and compact, making them perfect for self-defense carry or range use. The engagement range for pistols, especially in a defensive situation, is usually very close, where the 3 MOA dot provides rapid target acquisition and sufficient accuracy while being well within the distance where parallax becomes a factor. This also makes them perfect for off-set secondary sights on tactical carbines or rifles, which may require speedy aiming at a moment’s notice.

When Holographic Sights Are the Best Choice

For short-to-mid-range rifles and carbines, holographic vs. reflex optics are the best choice. While neither option is suitable for long-range marksmanship, the 300-yard range of a holographic sight is perfect for a primary sight on a tactical or ranch rifle. The absence of a parallax makes aiming easier, while the single plane allows you to look past your weapon to the target, keeping both in focus the whole time. 

Performance Optics Built for the Real World

When you need high-quality optics that don’t break the bank, we have you covered with performance reflex optics that are packed with industry-leading features. We stand behind our sights with an unsurpassed warranty that covers almost anything short of intentional damage. Sign up for our emails to get the latest products and deals delivered to your inbox. Order your reflex sights from Gideon Optics today.

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