Close this search box.
A variety of Gideon Optics red dot sights lined up beside each other on a wooden table

The Differences Between Expensive vs Cheap Red Dots

When you want precision optics for your gun, you need a good red dot sight. That doesn’t always mean you need the most expensive optic, however. As the premium optics market expands, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find the best red dot sight for your money. One of the most common questions we get is whether our cost-effective sights are as good as the higher-priced models available from the premier brand names in the industry: Aimpoint, Holosun, and Trijicon. It seems like a simple question, but like most simple questions, there’s a lot that goes into giving you the correct answer.

Expensive vs. Cheap. Vs. Cost-Effective

Let’s start by looking at price tiers. If you’re shopping for a good red dot sight, you’ve read plenty of articles, started doing your research, and browsed online retailers and manufacturers. In the process, you’ve come across a wide range of prices, which is very likely how you ended up reading this blog and trying to figure out the best red dot for your money. Generally, these prices fall into one of three broad, ill-defined bands.

  • Expensive – Featuring price tags that would cover several car payments, these optics have all the bells and whistles and the right name printed on the side of the housing. You can expect them to be well-engineered, well-made, and feature innovations and fine-tuning touted to justify their price tag.
  • Cheap – Featuring questionable ads on websites that may or may not be there next week, these optics say they offer the same features, but at 1/20 the cost, that seems unlikely. Their product images look remarkably identical to the ones used by big-name brands, with a suspicious blur over where a brand name would be.
  • Cost-Effective – Usually offered at ½ to ⅓ the price of name-brand optics, they have similar features and specs, a consistent web presence, and online reviews from firearms influencers who are asking the same questions you are.

Is that twenty-dollar model from a Facebook ad really the same as the seven-hundred-dollar one down at the gun shop? Probably not, but it’s important to understand what goes into a good red dot sight.

Points of Quality

Man testing out the Gideon Optics Mediator at an outdoor shooting range

When evaluating red dot sights, it’s important to look at the major points that factor into making the best red dot sight for your money. In most cases, they will directly affect both the performance and the price of a given sight.


Your red dot’s design covers the construction of the housing, the selection of the electronic components within, and the engineering that goes into making it all work together. Reflex sights have been around for decades, so the basic technology is readily available, but more advanced systems are more complex, leading to higher prices. 


Better materials cost more money. Sights that rely on polymer housings or thin steel will run cheaper than units made with aircraft-grade aluminum. Top-end emitters cost money, and quality lenses need to be ground within precise tolerances.


A good red dot sight needs to be properly assembled, tested, and quality checked for it to be a reliable choice for the consumer. There are quite a few variables that go into manufacturing costs, including manpower, overhead, and automation. 

Quality Control 

In addition, you need to remember that quality control pulls any sight that doesn’t operate within a brand’s allowed tolerances, so in effect, you aren’t just paying for the sight you buy but the waste from out-of-spec sights destroyed.  


Reputation may not affect performance, but performance affects reputation. A good reputation can give you confidence that you’re getting a good red dot sight, but it won’t pull the trigger for you.

Military RFP vs. Civilian Market Red Dot Sights

Finally, let’s take a look at how design, materials, and manufacturing come together to make such a wide range of red dot sights and how to find the best red dot sight for your money. Premium red dot sights are often made to military-grade RFP standards. Requests for Procurement are issued by government agencies and branches of the armed forces to solicit contract bids to meet their needs for good red dot sights for their particular use case. 

These RFP contracts are big money, accounting for tens of thousands of sights in a single purchase. Of course, the big manufacturers are building to meet high standards. When you need a red dot sight sealed against the big pressure changes involved in jumping out of planes, diving under the water, moving through jungles, deserts, and mountains, or any number of extreme circumstances those outside the military will never encounter, your sight needs to be built differently. It has to be pressure rated, sealed better, feature any number of shock and environmental damage mitigation technologies built in, and there can be almost no tolerance for any deviation from the contract parameters. Each of these sights comes with a big price tag, and until recently, these military-grade models have been practically the only reputable red dot sights on the market.

Gideon Optics Advocate Prism Scope mounted to a firearm

Civilian red dot sights, on the other hand, have more leeway because they’re not meant to face the same level of environmental stress or hazards. A good civilian red dot sight needs to be sealed against rain, not plunging into the ocean. It’ll face the shocks of everyday carry and not jumping out of a plane to parachute into an active combat zone. Civilian use models also allow for more quality tolerance. For example, our Advocate 1X Prism Scope falls within our tolerances with up to a 2-degree reticle cant, which won’t be noticeable to most shooters. RFP models may not allow any deviation from zero. 

These lighter specs allow for a lower cost of manufacture and a more budget-friendly price tag that can be passed on to the consumer. 

Examples of Expensive Vs. Cheap Vs. Cost-Effective Red Dots 

Let’s look at a few examples of red dot sight price bands. These are broad generalities, and even within those bands, you have quite a few options to choose from when picking the best red dot sight for your money.

  • Expensive – At this price point, generally $600+ per sight, you’re paying for perfection. These industry leaders are churning out RFP-caliber optics with government contract specs, so they’re priced for big federal, state, and municipal budgets. They include the big names of reflex sights, like Aimpoint, Trijicon, and Holosun, all of which are innovators that make products a year or two ahead of the market curve.
  • Cheap – Made by unpronounceable companies you’ve never heard of–if a brand name is mentioned at all–these are the social media specials. Low cost, low quality, technically a red dot sight…sort of. If you’re on Temu, Ali Express, or a one-off website that just offers a single product you pay now for, you may be saving money, but it’s costing you any level of confidence in the product you’ll receive if it arrives.
  • Cost-Effective – This is our territory, and we’re proud of it. You’re getting a quality civilian-grade red dot sight for your gun. It’s engineered to work well, give you a long service life, and meet the needs of shooting hobbyists, competitors, and anyone who needs a reliable sight for self-defense. 

The Verdict: Get the Best Red Dot for Your Money

If you want to pay for perfection, an expensive red dot like the Aimpoint ACRO P2 may be right for you, but if you want a good red dot sight that doesn’t break the bank, we’ve got you covered with our Mediator ACRO-compatible optic. When it comes down to it, our 7075 aircraft-grade aluminum and type 3 hard coat anodizing is the same as the materials used by the big names. We source our components to give us the best balance between cost and performance, look for low-cost manufacturing providers for assembly, and keep our own internal operation lean and mean. You get a fully-featured sight like our Omega with a bright emitter, energy-saving features, and a rugged design, all backed by our lifetime warranty. We think that makes our optics the best red dot sights for your money.

At Shot Show, Ian McCollum from Forgotten Weapons caught up with our Head of Optics Division, Mike Branson, to talk in-depth about the difference between cheap and expensive red dots, what makes a good red dot sight, and the “sausage making” that goes into balancing cost and performance in optics. You can find that interview here

Shoot better and save more money for ammo. Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest product release information and special pricing notifications delivered to your email account. Order your red dot sights from Gideon Optics today.

Share this blog:

Shop Gideon Products: