Top 5 Red Dot Sights for Your Guns – Rifles & Shotguns

Top 5 Red Dot Optics
Top 5 Red Dot Optics

U.S.A.-(Ammoland.com)- For many, red dot sights have fallen in popular use within the recreational shooting realm in favor of low-power variable optics.  For defensive, military and law enforcement use, the venerable red dot sights are still seeing widespread use and success.  Today I'm going to break down my Top 5 Red Dot Sights.

Let's delineate our boundaries a little first.  I'm covering full-size red dots intended for rifle/shotgun use, not the Mini Red Dot Sights (MRDS) more commonly seen used on handguns.  This excludes such optics as the Trijicon RMR and Vortex Venom.  Some MRDS' are excellent performers and certainly have their place in the shooting world, just not in this article.

What criteria did I use?  I took a comprehensive approach and compared weight, battery life, Night Vision Device (NVD) compatibility, brightness settings, water resistance, battery type, stock mount option and dot size options.  We'll talk about price, but I'm looking at the top 5 red dot sights out there, not just the best within a certain budget.  I eliminated many other options on the market if they couldn't crack the top 5 in more than a couple categories.  Finally, no more than one entry per manufacturer.

Let's get a brief primer on each red dot sight, then discuss what the final hierarchy of domination looks like and why.

Red Dot Contenders

Vortex Razor AMG UH-1

Top 5 Red Dot Optics
UH-1. Photo by author

Vortex's husky holographic sight launched in a timely fashion, taking advantage of both Vortex's surging popularity and EOTech's public thermal shift stumble.  In the same fashion as EOTech offerings, the UH-1 (or Huey as known internally at Vortex) has a small dot surrounded by a large circle.  The massive ring helps to quickly center the shooters eye, providing rapid target acquisition and ocular orientation.  The UH-1 packs in a couple extra features above and beyond the standard: namely a mini-USB port for recharging the optic's battery.

Leupold LCO (LEUPOLD CARBINE OPTIC)

Top 5 Red Dot Optics
Author shooting with the LCO. Photo by Flint Traeger

Beaverton, Oregon's Leupold has been producing optics since 1907.  While better-known for their hunting and precision shooting optics, they've had a few successful red dot sights over the years as well.  While the Leupold Carbine Optic (LCO) has been out for about 4 years now, it entered into an incredibly crowded market segment.  Despite many positive reviews and shooter experiences shared, (including my own two years ago) it doesn't seem to have grabbed as much market share as some had predicted.

Trijicon MRO

Top 5 Red Dot Optics
Trijicon MRO

Trijicon is exceedingly well-known in military circles, primarily for the legendary toughness of their ACOG prismatic optics issued to many units.  In 2015 Trijicon added the Miniature Rifle Optic (MRO) to their line-up.  While no longer miniature by 2019's standards of red dots, the MRO's 4.1 oz weight is still far ahead of the curve.

Meprolight RDS PRO

Top 5 Red Dot Optics
Meprolight RDS PRO

Israel's Meprolight is a great deal younger than some of the competitors, having been founded in 1990.  Their end-users are no less demanding though, as the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) are one of the many regular abusers of Mepro's optics.  The RDS PRO/M5 is regularly issued to IDF fighters for use on their IWI Tavor and M4 rifles.

Aimpoint CompM5

Top 5 Red Dot Optics
Photo by author

Perhaps the best known brand of Red Dot Sights within the US civilian and military markets, Aimpoint has been sending various CompM series red dots to eastern conflict zones with US service members since at least as early as Operation: Gothic Serpent (Somalia), and almost certainly before.  The CompM5 is the latest in a long line of successful red dot sights from Aimpoint.  The Swedish manufacturer has been wringing out shocking battery longevity for years, which continues here.

Here's some details on the categories which the red dot sights were judged upon:

Weight

  1. Trijicon MRO – 4.1 oz
  2. Meprolight RDS – 4.6 oz
  3. Aimpoint CompM5 – 8.4 oz
  4. Leupold LCO – 9.5 oz
  5. Vortex UH-1 – 11.8 oz

Not too much surprise here, the LCO and UH-1 have larger, hooded bodies while the MRO and Mepro are both slimmer.  The CompM5 is definitely heavier than it looks though.

Battery Life

  1.  Aimpoint CompM5 – 50,000 hours
  2.  Trijicon MRO – “5 years”
  3.  Leupold LCO – “5 years”
  4.  Meprolight RDS – 2000 hours
  5.  Vortex UH-1 – 1500 hours

Aimpoint takes this one by a mile with 5 years constant-on life.  The LCO and MRO both advertise 5 years, but a little digging shows a difference.  The MRO says between 5 years and 25 days battery life depending on setting.  The LCO says 5 years, but the design engineer has been quoted that is more of an “average life cycle of a battery” with the auto-shut off feature.  Thus, the MRO wins the tie-breaker.  The Mepro and Vortex sights both come in significantly lower, but both also have an auto-off to save battery life.

Brightness Settings (total number)

  1.  Leupold LCO – 16 settings
  2.  Vortex UH-1 – 15 settings
  3.  Aimpoint CompM5 – 10 settings
  4. Trijicon MRO – 8 settings
  5. Meprolight RDS – 4 settings

It's worth mentioning up front that each of these red dot sights has some degree of Night Vision Device (NVD) compatibility.  All except the Vortex UH-1 have their adjustments done via knob, which is faster and easier than with buttons.  I haven't found any of these to be lacking in visibility of the brightest level, though I haven't had them all at the same time to test in the exact same environment.

Top 5 Red Dot Optics
LCO mid day, medium brightness

Water Resistance

  1.  Aimpoint CompM5 – 150 feet
  2. Trijicon MRO – 100 feet
  3. Vortex UH-1 – 80 feet
  4. TIE Leupold LCO and Meprolight RDS – 66 feet

Water resistance is viewed by many to be one of the key indicators of integral strength within an optic.  Not because any of us are likely to be drawing a bead on a sea cucumber at 60+ feet deep in the ocean, but because of the massive pressure imparted by the sheer weight of water at depth.  Underwater is harsh, so if your optic can survive there it shouldn't have much trouble on a landlocked op.

Battery Type

  1. TIE Aimpoint CompM5 and Meprolight RDS.  AAA and AA battery, respectively.
  2. Vortex UH-1 – CR123A (preferred), LFP123A (rechargeable version of CR123a, charged through mini-usb port), RCR123A (not recommended, shorter battery life but will not damage unit).
  3. Leupold LCO – CR123a
  4. Trijicon MRO – CR2032

The AA and AAA battery are some of the most common (and inexpensive) in the world, so the Aimpoint and Meprolight get top marks.  The Vortex has three options, so it gets the nod over the Trijicon and Leupold.  The CR123a is an effective battery, but remains far more expensive and less likely to be found in a drawer of stuff.  It is far from a rare battery though, and can be found at nearly any store these days.

Dot Size Options

  1.  Meprolight RDS – 3 sizes (1.8, 3, 5 MOA)
  2. TIE, everyone else, 1 size.  LCO, UH-1 1MOA.  MRO, CompM5, 2 MOA.

Everyone has a preference for dot size it seems.  While 1 or 2 MOA dots work best for me, some prefer a larger dot that their eyes can pick up faster without cranking the brightness setting.  Meprolight offers choices, thus appealing to some who are picky about dots.

Top 5 Red Dot Optics
CompM5 2 MOA dot

Stock Mount

  1.  TIE Vortex UH-1, Aimpoint CompM5 (LRP mount)
  2.  Meprolight RDS
  3. Leupold LCO
  4. Trijicon MRO

The UH-1 and CompM5 take first in the heat for having not only QD throw levers, but locks on those levers as well.  The Mepro RDS has a pair of throw levers, no locks.  The LCO has a screw-tighten base, with a big enough notch to use a quarter, backside of a knifes blade or fingers.  The MRO has a pair of hex screws to tighten.  Some might question my using the CompM5's LRP mount when it has a hex screw mount that is also factory.  I can only grade what they sent, but the score difference wouldn't be enough to drop the CompM5 below the next competitor.

Price as of 4/8/19 (not graded, for informational purposes)

  1.  Trijicon MRO – $400
  2. Vortex UH-1 – $499
  3. Meprolight RDS Pro – $610
  4. Leupold LCO – $700
  5. Aimpoint CompM5 – $981 (with LRP mount, $820 otherwise)

I took each score and evaluated them.  If an optic got first place, it added one point.  Fifth place adds five points and so on.  Points are bad, m'kay?

The grand winner of the Top 5 Red Dot Sights challenge is:

1st Place:  Aimpoint CompM5 with 12 points

2nd Place:  Trijicon MRO with 18 points

3rd Place:  Meprolight RDS Pro with 19 points

4th Place: TIED Leupold LCO and Vortex Razor AMG UH-1 with 20 points

While it appears you get what you pay for at the top of the pack with Aimpoint's CompM5, these are all very solid options with fantastic performance up and down the line.  Your use and preferences dictate your needs.

Any others you think should have been on the list instead of one of these options?  Have you used any of these and have experience to share?  Let me know in the comments below if you agree with the top 5 red dot sights!


About Rex NanorumJens Hammer

Rex Nanorum is an Alaskan Expatriate living in Oregon with his wife and kids. Growing up on commercial fishing vessels, he found his next adventure with the 2nd Bn, 75th Ranger Regt. After 5 tours to Afghanistan and Iraq, he adventured about the west coast becoming a commercial fisheries and salvage SCUBA diver, rated helicopter pilot instructor (CFII) and personal trainer, before becoming a gear reviewer and writer.”

  • 49 thoughts on “Top 5 Red Dot Sights for Your Guns – Rifles & Shotguns

    1. NVD capability is pointless unless you’re dumb enough to mount night vision on your rifle behind a red dot. It’s certainly pointless in a “tactical” use. You’re never getting a NVG behind a sight to get a sight picture.

      That’s what IR lasers are for.

      What I’m saying is, having that be one of your criteria was dumb.

      1. Valid point. Not entirely on the mark, but more often than not true. Most of my nvg time used IR lasers. I have used head mounted nvg’s and a capable red dot in a pinch. It’s not ideal, but it worked

    2. I think that perhaps the Aimpoint PRO would have been a better comparison, more in line with the price of the other optics tested. I have a PRO and I really like it.

      1. It’s a good little optic. I use one often on test builds when I need an optic and don’t want to break the zero on my hunting or HD guns. It’s not 100% reliable, but it’s pretty good considering it was ~$75

    3. Highly recommend the Sig Sauer Romeo 5 red dot. You’ll get the same reliability and performance as these “big name” brands for a fraction of the cost. It’s a Sig. It’s gonna work.

      1. Wish I could agree. I purchased the Romeo 1 for my pistol. I understand this article is about rifle optics. My problem with the Romeo 1 is the battery had to be replaced every week, regardless of settings the optic was on. As far as any other issues i had no other issues with it.

        1. The Romeo 5 has an auto off feature and claims the battery can last “50,000 hours or more” with a CR2032 battery. Battery life is not a problem with them. And a CR2032 is not that rare. I bought 6 of them and they should last me for the rest of my life.

    4. Hey, an Alaskan re-pat to Oregon, vs. the usual flake parade from Kalifornica. Welcome! Every one like us here is a vote for keeping this state sane. End of my political rant.
      .
      These kind of tech postings, reviews and discussions on Ammoland are refreshing, gives us a break from the AOC/Omar/morons BS. Not to mention, where we seem to be headed, some education on tactical optics is timely.
      .
      Old school Marine, VN was my clambake. So I still got first gen red dots in the safe: EOTech 512, CompML2. I swear, batteries in both still come up when checked. Using lower-priced Vortex, Holosun, Primary Arms on the AR/AK grab guns, ACOG ACSS on the battle gun. The market can be confusing now, so full of contenders. Looking forward to more tech reviews, and discussions.
      .
      Dry powder and situational awareness required.

    5. Great Review!
      My optics are on Work Guns I bet my life on every day. I like to save money but I also will invest in optics as life insurance.
      The Aimpoint is heavier than it looks because it is Grunt Proof. Sometimes the internals are more complicated than you can see which raised cost. The water depth explaination above goes back to buiding for life or death reliability. Also cost goes up when the more expensive clearer glass is used which is why the best binos and scopes used by military and law enforcement and get banged around every work day start at a thousand dollars. For fun guns I’ve heard only good things from people I listen to about both Holosun and Vortex. With Vortex even giving competition to the military grade companies.
      So before you diss what others do maybe you need to walk in their boots, have people try to kill you and have to shoot them to understand their perspective.
      My apologies if I melted any snowflakes out there.
      On another note ever notice a lot of vets with combat ribbons drive Toyota Tacomas or other Toyota trucks? Doesnt have the latest greatest interiors or electronics but will last for 200-400 thousand miles consistantly!

      1. I love Toyotas. If I could get a diesel hilux in town, i’d be on it in a heartbeat! I’ve seen them go where many Humvee’s failed.

        I’m right there with you on a few other points. Some of the guys in the comments below mention you can get 4-5x budget red dots for the cost of 1 Aimpoint Compm5. If you need 5 dots for 5 rifles, sure! Go get em. I need 1 optic that will not fail, not 5 that will probably be good most of the time.

        1. Rex when I typed the Toyota truck stuff I was thinking the same thing regarding the Hilux! I was gonna say that’s my dream truck then was wondering to myself if can legally get a crate Hilux engine and drop it in a Taco…
          Uncle Sam probably has some crate Helux engines in a warehouse somewhere thinking wtf are we gonna do with these. If you hear of the possibility of some going to auction I’d be all in!
          I even have an extra recipient Taco for the transplant but it only has 250k miles on it!

      1. RicksterAR-

        Totally concur! Got mine for $109.99 using a $10 off coupon and free shipping at Brownells. Has “shake awake” technology to shut off the RDS if not moved for 5 min, and turn it back on when you pick it up. Darn thing is tough, too!

    6. An excellent review. I’ve tried out several red dots, to include all those mentioned (accept for the Leupold). Ultimately my favorite is a tie between the venerable M68 CCO/CompM2 and the CompM4S,until you bring weight into play, and then it’s the CompM5. I really have a hard time picking which Aimpoint is best. They are all pretty solid performers. My only complaint on Aimpoint’s line, is on their NV compatible models, they put the NV modes first on the dial….. Which only makes sense if your ALWAYS and/or ONLY using the optic at low light conditions.

      1. I used the M68 in combat, and despite having access to the “newest and latest” still had to buy one for my service rifle clone. I have a soft spot for it, and always will.

        I agree with you on the NV settings. They are rarely used by most shooters, even in military use as peq-2, -4, -15’s and others are generally used instead. Once the sight becomes well broken in though, it becomes less of an issue as the brightness wheel slides easily with the side of your hand.

    7. Well done Rex and like Doug up above said the green dot is crisp and right on in this environment. My work area has red as a default in radios, radars, AIS and GPS units…the old eyes sure do tune into the green dot when available. Excellent article and hope to see more from you. It is easy ti read, and right on target. “Drawing a bead on a sea cucumber at 60’….” that’s funny!

    8. I think they shaved an ounce or two off the new UH1? Maybe not, but I recall the GenII model being listed as a lower weight. I would jump on the UH1 if it was not the better part of a pound. In today’s age I’m not looking for a red-dot optic that is anything but lightweight, and rugged as hell. That said I love the UH1 dot and circle, as the old trusty Eotech: I would stay with an Eotech or a Micro type until Vortex gets the weight down, and size also: it’s pretty freaking big.

    9. Admittedly being picky here……

      I have a problem with the simple point system. In more formal settings a weighted system is used because its more representative. The result of a multiplication of score and weighting is summed for each contestant is used.

      1. One of my favorite rifles…. was lucky to snag one in the brief moment after the Ghetto Blaster was released and the time when they renamed the line the “Gen 4 N4 PDW”.

        SBR’d it and changed from a 16″ 5.56 barrel to a 6″ .300 blackout

      1. I got one recently for $46. Great as a backup on a 45 degree mount when using a scope. Even better, the power wheel is offset by 45 degrees so on a 45 offset mount the power wheel is vertical, which just looks right.

      2. I have a TRS-25 as well, and like it! It definitely outperforms its price point. It certainly has a place in my collection, but it can’t hold up to objective scrutiny for “top 5 overall”. I don’t think it would be hard to make an argument for “Top 5 bang for your buck”.

        I’ve left the dot on a couple times, to find it dead only a couple days later. I can leave my Compm5 on until halfway into the next presidential term and it’ll still be running. I’ve had the dot short out a couple times, only to come back on shortly after. Is it junk? Hell no. It just isn’t on my go-to defensive rifle.

    10. Ever hear of Holosun? Battery/solar powered with shake awake tech makes replacing batteries a very rare occasion. I cant believe that they’re not in the conversation Rex

      1. I had a gen 2 Holosun and at the time only a couple model numbers out of eleven were well built, but I researched and got a good unit. While everyone else complained about the poor build quality and zero shift my unit functioned flawlessly on a 12 guage for years. Holosun has improved over the years, but that early stigma still hangs around. A better value optic is the Sig Sauer line if you can find one on sale. I picked up a 4A for $115 and it has better clarity and is also motion-activated.

    11. Great review all around!
      Like to add the MRO comes in a green reticle. some eyes prefer red, some green, me i like the green very much over the red. My astigmatism and old welders eyes see a much crisper dot with green.
      I run an Aimpint oatrol optic, a Trijicon reflex with the 12.5 moa triangle, a Trijicon Accupower 1-6 with a green triangle post, and a Primay Arms 1-6 KISS reticle red triangle reticle. They all work very well. But green, and a triangle reticle seem to be what works best for me.

      Thanks again for the excellent article!

    12. these five sights will never be on my guns. i use the same Holosun circle dot on ar, shotgun, and pcc, and a mini on my pistols. the same reticle and controls keeps things simple, and they are affordable.

    13. So what is the big difference between these (what I call expensive) red dots and for a quarter of the price get a Sig Romeo 5X. I am just a plinker but what makes them that more valuable?
      Thanks Don

        1. I call bullshit the Sig Romeo 5 you can freeze in a bucket of ice and shoot with a 12 gauge check out YouTube for a buck 20 parrot with a Juliet 3 magnifier and you’re set to go 3 feet to 500 yards

      1. The Sig Romeo5 is great, especially for $120. Search YouTube for the “sig romeo 5 torture test”. The guy eventually shoots it with a 12 guage, and it still works. My red dot is crisp. The only reason it doesn’t have a good resale value is because its so cheap to get a new one. I wouldn’t sell mine for less than 100$.

      2. The Sig Romeo 5 can be a good performer. There are just far too many reports of poor QC. Dots shutting off, mount bolts snapping etc. While every single manufacturer has the occasional lemon go out the door, those made in China seem to have a significantly higher failure rate.

        1. Let’s see Average Joe in Milwaukee 120 Romeo 5 that would be 8 Romeo 5 for the price of one AimPoint really $1,000 for a red.? Old saying a fool and his money are soon parted

          1. And I’m not brand-specific Ione Viper vortex Romeo 5 and a holosun all three work very well for me for what I asked of them all three can be had for the price of your AimPoint with about $350 to spare I mean really

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