Precision optics can help improve your accuracy and the speed of target acquisition, but understanding the difference between red dot vs. green dot sights is vital to choosing the right sight for your weapon. While on the surface, it seems like no more than a matter of preference, the truth is both of these aiming systems offer different benefits to the shooter. We’re going to break down both the use cases that make one the best tactical sight over the other and the cons that might change your purchasing decision. Let’s take aim at the myths and facts surrounding these two popular reflex sight options.
A Sight of Another Color
While there is a wide range of reflex sights on the market, with different models offering a variety of features and technology, the difference between a red dot vs. a green dot sight comes down to one thing in model-to-model comparisons: the color of the reticle. Because that’s the only real difference, too many gun owners view them as interchangeable. They aren’t.
While the color of the reticle may be the only actual difference, that difference can have a massive impact on how they work with the shooter’s eye, the environment they’re being used in, and the limits of the sight itself. That means that while one may be the best reflex sight for one gun owner, it might actually make target acquisition or precision more difficult for another shooter. One of the most important tactical considerations you have–choosing the right equipment–happens long before you’re called on to make every shot count.
The Science of Color
When you look at the visible electromagnetic spectrum, you have red at one end of the spectrum and violet at the other. Green falls pretty close to the middle, nestled nicely between the yellow and blue wavelengths. Red is the final stop before we hit the non-visible infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum, meaning that, of visible light, it has the widest oscillation pattern and lowest frequency, whereas green light has a higher frequency, meaning the peaks and valleys of its oscillation wave come at you faster. Don’t worry–there’s no quiz at the end of this post, but it helps to understand these basics of how light waves move through space and are received and translated by our eyes.
The Difference Can Be Night and Day
As the sun rises, the outdoors is bathed in cool light temperatures moving from a dark blue toward the warm white, yellows, and reds of midday before cooling again towards the deep violet that preceded nightfall. As a warm color, it should come as no surprise that red is harder to see in bright daylight, often requiring high brightness settings that drain your battery. Green, meanwhile, is a cooler color that can become easily lost in cooler dawn/dusk lighting, and in rural green areas, the reticle can be almost impossible to pick out at all but the brightest settings.
Using normal vision after dark, the performance of red dot vs. green dot reticles diverges dramatically. While both can be adjusted for easy visibility to the naked eye, red can be easier to pick out while maintaining your natural night vision. In addition, the cooler red light is better compatible with infrared night vision systems, showing brightly without damaging the sensitive equipment. Make sure your optics mount is also designed to allow you to use your sight with your night vision equipment effectively.
More Waves Take More Power
Higher frequency colors take more energy to generate because the light source has to put out a wavelength that oscillates faster. This means that similar sights at similar brightness levels will use more energy to produce a green dot vs. a red dot reticle. The amount of variance depends on the sight and brightness levels, and the practical effect of needing battery replacement more often adds additional variables of the type of battery powering the system and the quality produced by the manufacturer. While the battery drain can be minimized by reducing your sight’s brightness and using energy-saving features, like our shake-to-awake power-saving mode, you’ll still see a difference in the service life of even the best reflex sights.
Because they are often perceived as dimmer, in part because their color sits so close to the non-visible spectrum of light, red dot sights create more eye strain vs. green dot sights in general use. This can be highly contextual. You can absolutely strain your eyes trying to pick out a green reticle against trees or brush. To minimize strain, use the right color of sight at a brightness that helps it stand out better against the background you’re using. You can also install your sight at a co-witness level to allow the use of iron sights when the conditions of your environment are not right for your reflex sight.
Astigmatism is an eye condition that involves the shape of the eye bending light improperly, potentially causing blurry images. Some red dot users with astigmatism have trouble with precision because the lower frequency of the light floods their eye, bent by the imperfect shape, blurring the reticle. The higher-frequency green light has less of a tendency to flood the cones in your eye, correcting the image for astigmatism in part.
Choosing Red Dot Vs. Green Dot for Your Gun
When it comes to choosing red dot vs. green dot to find the best reflex sights for your gun, consider how and where you’ll most likely be called on to use your weapon. Indoor ranges and their artificial light may be perfect for red dot sights, while your local outdoor range warrants a green dot so you can get some practice in during the day. If your pistol is used for home defense or it’s your duty weapon in the security field, a red dot will be a good choice for dark hallways or night vision. If you have the chance, ask around at your local range or gun club to see if another gun owner would be willing to help you with a “trial magazine” so you can get a feel for each one.
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