night vision red dot sights

Do Red Dot Sights Work At Night?

More and more beginners, as well as professional shooters, are appreciating the benefits illuminated dot sights can give them. In particular, the appeal of red dot sights seems to be their simplistic operation, high target acquisition speed, and shot accuracy. 

Speed is the feature that shooters seem to appreciate the most – target acquisition with these types of optics is quicker and easier than with iron sights or magnified scopes. But can red dot sights offer these same advantages in the dark? Let’s try to understand how they work and answer that question.

What Are Red Dot Sights?

night vision povA red dot sight was a sight that projected an illuminated red dot as an aiming point onto an objective lens. Today, it is a generic term shooters use to describe a type of weapon sight that uses any illuminated color aiming dot or any other shape for the reticle. 

Some sights illuminate green and offer different reticle shapes other than a dot with an outer ring, but they are still called red dot sights.

The vast majority of red sight dots are tube-based designed and made for full-sized firearms. They often feature a 2 to 3 MOA red dot and are designed for close to moderate range shooting. These types of optics can be mixed with a magnifier to increase range.

There are also smaller red dot sights on the market, called miniature red dots. They are very tiny and designed to fit as pistol sights.

What all red dot sights have in common is that they allow quick and easy target acquisition, because they can reflect the reticle’s projection in parallel with sight optical axis, ensuring the point of aim and point of impact always coincide. 

They are designed so the reticle is always in focus when pointed at your target. There is no aligning of sights and no adjusting for different distances. The dot stays in focus no matter the distance of the target.

Wondering how is this all possible? Let’s see how red dot sights work in detail.

How Do Red Dot Sights Work?

There are different types of red dot sights: reflex, prismatic, and holographic. The difference is how the sight works to project the reticle.

Reflex Sights

Reflector sights, better known as reflex sights, use an LED to project an aiming point onto a lens that the shooter looks through. Since the lens acts like a mirror, the image that the shooter sees when looking through the sight appears slightly darker. Some reflex sights use a fiber optic system to collect ambient light to “power” the reticle. Nevertheless, no matter the way the light is generated, these sights don’t use lasers to actually project on to the target.

Unlike iron sights, in which the user must align their eye, rear sight, front sight, and target, reflex sights allow the shooter to look through the sight from different positions without affecting the point of aim. Also, they make it easier for the shooter to focus through the sight.

Prismatic Sights

Prismatic Sights look more like riflescopes, but they feature fewer lenses. Rather than projecting a dot reticle using an LED and a reflective lens (like reflex sights do), in prismatic sights, the reticle is etched onto the glass, which can also be illuminated. This is how this kind of sights can use more sophisticated reticles. A prism is used to flip the image, which otherwise would appear upside-down.

Compared to reflex sights, prismatic sights can offer magnification, providing a larger sight picture, but they have shorter and narrower eye relief.

Holographic Sights

The most well known holographic sights are manufactured by EOTech. They use a laser-transmitted hologram of a reticle recorded in 3D space onto a holographic film. Basically, they record the light reflected off a scene and reconstruct the light field in the sight viewing area. Holographic sights are not magnified and use a rectangular window instead of a tube-style sight offering an excellent field of view.

green night target

How Do Red Dot Sights Work in Bright Sunlight?

Can you see the red dot in your sight in bright sunlight? Or, in the worst scenario, when pointing your rifle (and sight) directly to the sun? There is no short answer to this question, and this is why we linger so much over the explanation of the different types of red dot sights. It depends on the type of red dot sight you’re using and its quality.

Holographic sights are the ones that work better in bright light: you could aim your sight directly to the sun and you would still be able to see a crisp red dot through it.

Not every reflex or prismatic sights can ensure you’ll be able to do the same. Keep in mind that when shooting in bright daylight you may need to adjust the dot brightness up to maximum intensity, that’s where the quality of your sight can make the difference. Plus, when you need to turn up brightness intensity on your RDS, you want your battery to support you. This is how sights with more powerful and long-lasting batteries work better in bright light.

Another problem that you can face when shooting in bright sunlight is that light beam reflected on your sight lenses could cause the image you see through the sight to look blurry. Manufacturers found a way to overcome this issue by providing their sight with coated and multi-coated lenses.

To sum up, the red dot sights that work better in bright sunlight would be those that feature adjustable brightness intensity, long-lasting batteries (removable ones would be the best, so you can have one fully charged battery at your disposal when needed) and fully multi-coated lenses.

Can You Use Red Dot Sights at Night?

There are many reasons why you may be interested in night shooting – Whether you’re an enthusiast who wants to experiment, or you’re a hunter who can legally hunt certain types of animals after dark in your region – whether you’re interested in self-defense or you’d like to test your air gun in a safe dark environment – would your red dot sight work in these cases?

To give a proper answer to this question, we should make a distinction.

WOULD YOUR RDS STILL WORK WITH LOW LIGHT CONDITIONS?

One more time, it depends on the red dot sight quality. When used in dawn or dusk-like conditions, red dot sight should be turned down to their lowest brightness-intensity setting. Anything brighter would wash out the target image. Also, red reticles would more visible and crisp than green ones. 

So, the proper answer to the question would be: yes, red dot sights that have red color dot and reticle and adjustable brightness settings (some more expensive red dot sights are also equipped with light sensors that can adjust the brightness automatically) can work in low light conditions.

target with holes in night vision

CAN YOU USE YOUR RDS WITH A NIGHT VISION DEVICE?

You don’t need a night vision device when shooting in low light condition – a red dot sight can be even easier to see than a night vision scope. But when you’re beyond poor light condition, and you’re in complete darkness, more than seeing the red dot you should worry about being able to see your target. This is why you should consider using a night vision device.

Night vision devices sense radiation on a wavelength that is not visible to the human eye and converts the image to one that is visible. Night vision devices come with different standards of quality and technical advancement that are known as generations. All of them provide a green image.

Whenever you need to shoot in complete darkness, you can pair your red dot sight with a night vision device. In this case, you must be sure that your red dot system is night vision compatible. In fact, if your red dot is too bright it’s possible for it to damage the night vision optic. Having lower brightness settings available on your RDS won’t be enough: you must check the manufacturer indications about the system compatibility with NVD to avoid making costly damages on your night vision device.

Conclusion

With this article, we gave a wide and detailed outline of red dot sights, and we somehow confirmed their versatility, which is the feature that makes them so popular among beginners and advanced shooters. When you purchase a good quality – night vision compatible red dot sight – with, at least, a long-lasting battery, coated lenses and adjustable brightness settings – you can be sure you will be able to use it in every circumstance, whether you’re shooting in bright daylight, dawn, dusk, or dead night.

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