In the 19th century, if you carried a revolver, your sights consisted of a front blade that you would place in a groove in the frame’s top strap. This aligned the weapon with the target, providing a rudimentary index of elevation and windage. When the M1911 was adopted, its low-profile fixed combat sights were not much better — the priority was not on carefully aimed fire but point shooting at close range.
Although handgun iron sights have evolved since then, the underlying principle remains the same. When aiming with traditional iron sights, you align the front sight, usually a blade, horizontally and vertically, with a rear V- or U-shaped notch. Adjustable rear sights and tritium and fiber-optics inserts to maximize visibility are the primary innovations.
The next step in the evolution of firearm sights, including handguns, is the red dot sight. Red dot sight refers to a broad category that includes reflector (reflex) sights, prismatic sights, and holographic sights.
Best Pistol Red Dots
1. Trijicon RMR
First on the list is the product of a company that has become famous in the world of both reflector and other optical sights. Trijicon is perhaps best known for the ACOG (Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight), but its product line isn’t limited to the sights you see on rifles. The company has taken full advantage of the rise in popularity of MRD (Miniature Red Dot) sights for handguns.
Several handgun manufacturers have launched optics-ready handgun models that accept adapter plates designed for specific sighting systems. The RMR is on the list and can be attached to the Glock MOS (Modular Optic Sight) and Springfield OSP (Optical Sight Pistol) systems, among others.
The RMR, or Ruggedized Miniature Reflex, sight is available in battery-powered and battery-free configurations. If you’d like an LED sight powered by a lithium-ion coin cell or a self-illuminated option that uses a combination of tritium and fiber optics, Trijicon accommodates both preferences.
Trijicon designed the uniquely shaped housing to divert the stress of impact away from the lens, increasing the durability beyond material strength alone and ensuring that the service life is extended, regardless of the environment or operation conditions under which it is used.
Designed to maximize light transmission and color integrity due to its wide-band multi-coated lens, the RMR
Elevation and windage adjustment is simple. There are two flush-fit adjustment dials that you can rotate with a flat-head screwdriver or coin. Each click adjusts the sight reticle 1 MOA.
After 16.5 hours of continuous use in the battery-powered variants, the sight will adjust its brightness to ambient lighting conditions, preserving battery life.
2. Leupold DeltaPoint Pro
Not merely a pistol red dot, the Leupold DeltaPoint Pro is a versatile optic suitable for use with long guns, including rifles and shotguns.
At only 1.3” in height and 1.8” long, Leupold keeps the mounting footprint to a minimum. For those worried whether the additional weight will interfere with the cycle of their weapon, this sight only weighs 1.95 ounces (with the 3V CR 2032 battery installed). For the sake of comparison, that’s less than four rounds of .45 ACP 230-grain FMJ ammunition.
While Leupold is confident in its design, no company can predict every accident or circumstance that may occur. If the DeltaPoint Pro becomes unusable in its standard configuration, it also includes a backup rear iron sight that you can deploy to use with the pistol’s front sight blade.
Leupold hasn’t skimped on the ruggedness of its construction. The aluminum housing has a steel sheath for added protection.
As with other Leupold products, the DeltaPoint Pro is tested in the company’s Punisher machine. This device simulates a recoil impulse equivalent to 3× that of a .308 Winchester rifle, and the sample product is subjected to that force 5,000 times. If the optic demonstrates any flaws or lapses in performance during the testing phase, Leupold’s team of engineers re-evaluates the design and re-tests it.
One notable advantage the DeltaPoint Pro has relative to the RMR is the location of the battery compartment. It’s accessible from the top, so you can replace the battery without removing the sight from the pistol.
3. Vortex Optics Venom
If you’re a competitive target shooter or you’re seeking a reflector sight for concealed carry, you may consider the Vortex Optics Venom. This sight is the lightest and most compact option on the list, which renders it a suitable choice for a wide variety of handguns, from .22-caliber target pistols to .45-caliber service weapons. The Venom is only 1.02” in height, 1.9” in length, and weighs 1.1 ounces. At this weight, the Venom is among the most versatile options on the market.
However, despite the ultra-lightweight construction, the Venom’s shockproof design can withstand the rigors of harsh use and heavy recoil — shotgun owners also use the Venom for competitive and tactical applications. If it can hold up to a 12-gauge shotgun, you can rest assured that this sight will be right at home on your 9mm or .45-caliber pistol.
A single CR 1632 battery powers this optic for 150 hours on the highest brightness setting and up to 30,000 hours on the lowest setting (almost 3.5 years). Regarding brightness, you have ten settings to choose from, ensuring that you have the optimum level to suit both your eyes and your environment.
The lenses are multi-coated using ArmorTek, which protects exterior surfaces against scratches, oil, and dirt. Further combating the ingress of moisture or dust, an O-ring seals the Venom.
To turn the device on, you’ll find two arrow buttons on the left side of the housing. Pressing the down arrow button and holding it will power the device down. As with the RMR, the elevation and windage dials are 1 MOA per click and rotated with a coin or other tool.
4. Holosun HS507C X2
Most reflector/reflex sights use either a battery alone or tritium and fiber optics to provide illumination by radioactive decay and the collection of ambient light. As part of the Holosun’s Solar Fail Safe system, the CR 1632 lithium battery pairs with a silicon solar cell, so that should the battery run dry or otherwise fail, the sight can rely on the sun for its illumination capability. Holosun also incorporates Shake Awake technology into this optic so that it will power up by movement. When the sight powers down, the setting recall will keep your custom settings intact.
Holosun’s Multi-Reticle System (MRS) provides three reticle options — a standalone 2.0-MOA dot, a 32-MOA ring alone, and the dot inside the ring. The same LED emits all three reticle types. You won’t have to re-zero the sight. The dot alone delivers the precision you need for longer distances, while the wide ring is perfect for close-range engagements, either on the range or in a defensive scenario.
Holosun has included a Lock Mode and redesigned the buttons’ placement to avoid mishaps and reduce the possibility of unintentionally activating the power buttons or adjustment settings.
For improved access, the battery compartment is a tray that can be removed from the sight while still attached to a pistol slide.
With a maximum battery life of 50,000 hours, the Holosun HS507C X2 is a red dot that will continue functioning for several years of rigorous use.
5. Aimpoint ACRO P-1
Aimpoint has been manufacturing reflector sights since the 1970s and was the first company to be awarded a contract by the U.S. military to supply such sighting systems. However, while the company’s products are most often seen on rifles, that doesn’t mean that Aimpoint has neglected the pistol market.
Most red-dot sights for handguns are the open type, where the lens, often enclosed in a metal housing or sheath, takes the form of a single pane of glass. The open sight offers a broader field of view and is often lighter in weight. However, exposed to the elements, the open sight is more susceptible to damage or environmental conditions.
Specifically designed for handguns and other compact weapons, the Aimpoint Acro P-1 is a fully enclosed red-dot sight that excels in durability. As the lenses and electronics are sealed inside a rectangular aluminum housing, they’re protected from the environment, shock, and moisture. Despite the closed aluminum housing, the weight is still only 2.1 ounces, including the battery. Featuring a 3.5 MOA reticle, the Acro P-1 dot is sufficiently small for precision aiming at longer ranges without sacrificing close-range sight acquisition.
Powered by a 3V CR 1225 lithium battery, the Acro P-1 has a battery compartment accessible from the side, so you don’t have to remove the pistol’s sight to replace the power cell.
Benefits Of a Red Dot
The principle of reflector sights is more than a hundred years old. Still, it was only beginning in the 1970s that this sight technology became commercially available and practical for many applications. Red-dot sights offer many advantages over iron sights. These include:
- Speed: When you raise the pistol to eye level, they will naturally draw your eye to the brightly colored red (or amber) reticle superimposed on the target.
- Precision: Unlike iron sights, where the radius — i.e., the distance between the front and rear sights — determines the geometric acuity, you can place the red dot as close or as far away from your eye as comfortable.
- Poor eyesight: For those with poor vision, focusing on the front sight may be difficult, let alone shifting the focus between three focal planes. The sight reticle of a red dot can be a highly effective alternative.
- Superior contrast: If you’re shooting in relatively low light, either on a target range or in a tactical or self-defense scenario, the red dot provides excellent contrast compared with even tritium night sights.
If you’re interested in competitive pistol shooting, concealed carry for self-defense, or upgrading your duty sidearm, a red dot is one of the best upgrades you can choose. Miniature red-dot sights allow you to acquire a sight picture more quickly, provide superior low-light contrast to iron sights, and are easier to learn how to use well. Optics manufacturers have been continuously striving to reduce these devices’ weight and bulk, increasing their viability for defensive applications.