“Budget” Red Dot Sight Comparison – Part 1

I am not a rich guy.  I’m not complaining by any means.  I’m comfortable with my income, but with 3 kids in school and an older house with a long list of home improvement projects, my disposable income just does not allow me to plunk down $400-1000, or more, for an optic for each of my rifles.  Having spoken with more than a few people recently who were also shopping for optics, I know I am not alone in that regard.  With that in mind, I had looked for an in depth comparison of some of the less expensive red dot sights on the market but have never really found one.  Thus, the idea for this article was hatched.

In the title of this article, I use the term “budget” when referring to these sights.  Please realize that I use that term loosely here, because even though these sights all have a street price under $200 (my price ceiling for this comparison), many of them are far from “cheap” in either construction or pricing.  However, when compared with even the least expensive options from Aimpoint, EOTech and the other big names, they are in a completely different price ballpark.

Optics

Before I get too far into this, I would like to start by saying thanks to a couple of the manufacturers for loaning me optics (SightMark and Lucid), and a big thank you to 3 Rivers Precision for providing me the Vortex Strikefire used in this test.  As for the rest of the optics tested, I either already owned or I purchased them for this test.  In total, I gathered together nine (9) different red dots.  Some of these optics were specifically requested by fans of the MAC Facebook page.

Also worth noting, both Vortex optics being tested have a Gen II version that will be available come Spring 2014.  I spoke to the Vortex folks both on the phone and at SHOT Show and confirmed that most of the important features (dot size, adjustments, weight, size, battery life, etc.) will be almost identical to the Gen I models.  The changes are with control locations and power sources.

RedDotsTestedThe optics being tested, and pictured to the left, are listed here in alphabetical order:  AIM Sports Red Dot Sight with 4 Reticles (8), Bushnell TRS-25 (9), Lucid HD7 Gen III (2), Lucid M7 (6), Primary Arms MD-06L (3), SightMark Ultra Shot Pro Spec NV QD (7), Truglo Red-Dot 30Mm Dual Color (4), Vortex SPARC (5) and the Vortex Strikefire Red/Green (1).  Also included in the picture for size reference is an Aimpoint PRO (10).

In the interest of providing more than just on person’s opinion of which one they like, I put together a group of seven shooters, all either current or retired law enforcement, all with plenty of trigger time on red dot optic equipped rifles.  To start, each shooter will be grabbing one of the rifles equipped with a freshly installed optic and zeroing it at 50 yards.  After that, each shooter will fire as many rounds as they feel necessary to get a good feel for the optic, and then complete a quick survey about that optic before moving to the next.

Specs

After all the optics have been evaluated by each the shooters, we will move on to the next step which is a bit of a durability test.  Each optic will be installed on my Mosin Nagant (same one I am using for my Mosin series) and 20 rounds of Albanian surplus ammo will be fired through it to see 1) if there are any electronics failures and 2) to see if there is any shift in point of impact, which will be measured and noted.  To really test their durability, I would have preferred to mount each on a 12 gauge slug gun, but neither my budget nor my shoulder could afford that much in one day.

BatteryLife
Part 2 can be found here: “Budget” Red Dot Sight Comparison – Part 2

Matt

Matt is a full time Deputy Sheriff that has been on the job for 17 years. During his time as a LEO he's attended countless training classes and is a court recognized firearms expert. Matt brings a unique perspective to TBS given his LEO experience and life time appreciation of firearms and our 2nd Amendment rights.

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  • 277Volt

    Thanks a million for this article and test! These optics fall squarely in my modest budget and I can’t wait for the results. I’m a daily reader here and your opinions carry a lot of weight with me.

    • Eric Stevenson

      Same for me. Because of my limited budget and lack of comparison reviews I had pretty much given up on owning optics. I look forward to the results.

  • Remy Kim

    I think the HD7 has an advertised battery life of 1000 hours but they claim to have gotten as much as 5000.

    • George H Hill

      I’ve not changed the Battery in mine (I put in one of those Advanced Lithiums) in over a year.

  • Tim Crosnoe

    I am very glad you’re doing this as well. I am interested in whether your test findings equal that of all of the reviews I’ve reviewed over the last year. After studying my butt off on red dots, I’m predicting that, for the money, you are not going to be able to beat the TRS-25. It’s half the cost of the Lucid red dots and the only down sides seem to be the objective lens size (maybe) and the additional 1 MOA dot size. Also, there is only one style of “dot.” I’ll be very interested in your findings.

  • pcman312

    Typo: Last table regarding battery life: Vortex Strikefire: “Green: 420 Hrs Low, 4700 Low” should be “Green: 420 Hrs High, 4700 Low”

  • Mike Hasel

    Wonderful timing, as Dad just bought a S&W M&P15-22 to keep the granddaughters in rifles and we are looking at optics! It’s a great rifle to transition into an AR-15, but optics are a challenge… thanks for the review!

  • The Binary Son

    VORTEX is coming out with new versions of the Strikefire and the SPARC – the Strikefire II and the SPARC II – in the next 2-3 months. I’d love you guys to review them!

  • David George Clark

    This is gonna be good!

  • Darrin

    Can’t wait to hear how the SightMark does. I’ve had good luck with mine.

  • Josh G

    As someone who just purchased their first AR, but doesn’t have a lot of money, I’m very much looking forward to part 2. Great writeup, and great lineup of sights!

  • Jackal81

    Looking forward to this. I’ve been interested in getting one of the more expensive reflex sites for my AR, but the high price tag always seems to weigh down the decision. A more affordable performing optic would be most welcome.

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  • Live2prep

    Thanks for the tests. There are 3 sights in the test that I’m thinking of getting. Your results will determine my decisions

  • Eric Blank

    Thanks for doing this Matt.

  • Mykel Baird

    Like many of the others here, I’m really glad to see this done by someone I trust and who is putting these optics side-by-side. Being a dad without $400+ to throw down on an optic for any rifle puts you with limited options, or at limited information. I had a Vortex on my short list, but this may leave me with more options.

  • Devatrap

    I think you should’ve picked a very cost effect Russian Optic too! PK-06 is less than $300 and made in Russia, not China! Review: http://russianoptics.net/PK06.html

  • Kalder Roel

    Very interested to see how the Truglo and the Sightmark do. I actually got the Truglo on my 12g Shotgun but due to lack of anywhere to shoot a shotgun until recently I havent tested it yet

  • Roger

    Matt,
    Lookin forward to part 2
    Sarge

  • Mark Andrew Edwards

    Aw man, this is just the kind of article I need. Thanks a ton to you and your testers for running this.

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  • Samuel Adams

    If you guys cant save $400 for an Aimpoint PRO, you need to prioritize your wants vs needs. Low quality optics are a poor investment.

    Maybe you dont need an optic on every rifle.

    Buy once cry once!

    • Matt

      Really? Thanks for the useful comment…

    • 277Volt

      You know skippy you’re exactly right. Those HALO jumps into the shooting range and those hours-long battles with the Taliban while plinking in the desert sure are hard on optics.

      • Samuel Adams

        Higher quality optics will typically far outlast lower quality ones. Just sayin.
        Some of you might be putting these on range toys, in which case quality isn’t of as much a concern, however if this is going on a serious weapon to defend yourself and your family, you should use an optic you can trust your life with.

        • 277Volt

          Geez, you’re right again. I had no idea an Aimpoint might really last longer than a Sightmark.

          For the record my “serious” weapons have zero optics – iron sights only.

          • Samuel Adams

            Now you know, and knowing is half the battle. :)

            • 277Volt

              You’re sarcasm detector might need replaced.

    • masorete7

      Word, Sam Adams. If it’s a serious use firearm, please don’t go lower budget than a PRO.

    • Eric Stevenson

      One of my kids needs speech and physical therapy, the other needs braces, my truck needs to visit the mechanic, we’re paying for a new car and we need to call a plumber to deal with a sewage leak. I let THOSE things take priority over optics. How silly of me.

    • John

      You are so far off dude. I own the following (all bought new), 2 Trijicon, 3 Aimpoints, 1 Eotech, and 1 Leupold.

      I also own 2 Vortex, 4 Airsoft and 1 Primary Arms red dots. Nothing can beat a $1,300 Trijicon TA31 or Leupold, but everything else is about the same. Really!! Optics snobs may think otherwise, but it’s not true.

    • Rick5555

      Samuel, that’s an excellent point of view. If a person was able to save enough for their gun…more than likely an AR. Since the optics being discussed are made for an AR or similar gun. Then they should get some decent iron sights. And while saving for an Aimpoint Pro or Eotech 512. You’ll get quite proficient with your irons. I happen to think that too many people rely on optics. And forego in leaning how to be good with your irons. Nonetheless. you made a good and quite valid comment. Like you said, Buy Once and Cry Once. If you get another rifle down the line. You can always switch between the two. I did this for a long time, while I was a poor college student. When I was in a better position, then I got different optics. I think I have 4-5 optics that aren’t even being used and not sitting on a gun.

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  • MixyDoodle

    Thanks for doing this, I’m really excited to read the next part. I was struggling with this decision a couple of months ago and after narrowing it down to the TRS-25 and the SPARC I went with the TRS-25. That being said, that only equipped 1 gun, so I’m excited to have a thorough comparison out there for the next time I look! Once you pick a favorite or two, I think it would be great to do a comparison to it’s high dollar counterpart (aimpoint, trijicon, eotech, etc.).

    • Matt

      Not a bad idea at all. I just might be able to pull that off.

  • Matt

    Tagged for interest… and thanks

  • RD

    Thanks Matt.

  • tsltrek

    more pictures of the optics lined up in order to show relative size would be a great addition to this. thanks for posted this info.

  • Dondgeon

    Good idea for an article, Matt.

    The only one of these I have experience with is the TRS-25 and its been fantastic.

  • Pingback: “Budget” Red Dot Sight Comparison – Part 2 | The Bang Switch

  • GearGeek

    Cool Test, I really was going to save for an aimpoint but when Cabelas had a sale for $120 on the Strikefire and I am on a student budget I had to jump on it and I am very pleased with it.

  • LeftThumb

    Matt, I didn’t see it noted but the weights for most of the micro’s do not include mounts while for example the HD7 does. You should figure anywhere from 2-4 ounces for a mount on the micro’s.

  • Marc Middleton

    I think some of the street prices are off, I can’t find some of them for that price

  • Jon Keuning

    Couldn’t come at a better time. I was just starting to look for optics that I can afford at this time. Thanks!!!

  • Drmaudio

    A very practical and useful article!

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  • ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ

    I have a suggestion for testing a sights ability to maintain zero. After the sight is zeroed move the elevation five clicks up and then 5 clicks back down. Test to see if POI changed. Then go the other direction and test again. Rinse and repeat with windage. This will clue you into any internal malfunctions on the sight. On typical durability tests we only test the sights ability to maintain zero under high recoil scenarios but just because it doesn’t drift doesn’t mean other defects do not exist.

    To be honest I’ve never done this with my Aimpoints (though I probably should). But with less expensive sights it can clue you in early on to potential issues. (hopefully while you still have the option to have the sight replaced.)

    Great article BTW. I needed this for my range toys. Thanks.

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  • Brian Diffenderfer

    Love my PA M4

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  • PSYCHOinME

    I’ve been following Primary Arms for 7+ years now, and I don’t ever remember paying more than $79.99 for a micro dot. Is the listed price in this comparison including the riser mount and if it is, why not add that extra cost as an annotation? The Bushnell is practically the same sight but doesn’t have a riser which would make the extra cost of the riser for the PA Micro Dot stand out as an even better value at $98.99. I’ve had my PA Micro Dot mount on every rifle and shotgun I’ve owned in the last 7+ years and it has yet to fail me. It is a first gen though. Fan Boy of PA? Yes I am.

  • Jdes

    I have a similar Sightmark sight (mine doesn’t come with the NV capability) and can say that I both love the reticles and brightness but hate the battery life and the fairly uncommon alkaline watch batteries it uses. I also would come back to the sight with dead batteries, but I don’t know if it was from some sort of parasitic drain or that the sight turned on while stowed on the rifle (in a soft case). In the end the troubles with battery life turned me off to it and I found something else.

    • Guido FL

      I have the same issue with my Sight mark Ultra shot DS, SM14000. Getting 20 min. of battery life is unacceptable and these shouldn’t even be sold !

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  • Mingo

    My evaluation of the Primary Arms MD-06:
    http://www.tacticalsandwich.com/?p=78

  • Mark Griffin

    I had bought Aimpoint PRO mount sometimes back from Optic Authority (http://www.opticauthority.com/) and am very happy with its performance. Amazing battery life and awesome accuracy. Great sights i tell you.

  • hal

    I have been hoping someone would perform similar tests on low cost optics by NC Star, Barska, and others. As one of limited means, I can hardly afford

    a thousand or more dollars for a rifle scope. As a collector/plinker and varmint hunter, I have no need for a mil grade optic, but do require an affordable but stable optical instrument. Perhaps affordable and stable cannot be had for less than I can afford.

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  • Guido FL

    Great, about time.

  • bestar15scopes

    Good set of sights to start with, a lot there that will fit into any shooter’s budget. Looking forward to seeing how each of them holds up in testing, this is the first time I’m seeing a heads up competition like this documented so well. I’ve done my own comparisons on different ‘budget’ sights and found that there is plenty out there that still perform like the high end ones.

  • reddotsights

    You don’t see many articles going this in depth, great to see you had access to all those sights. Looking forward to the next section. I’ve done similar before in my ‘cheap’ sight comparison guide where I take a look at different sights under $100.