This handgun optic buyer’s guide will give you a quick look at things you should consider when purchasing a red dot for your handgun. With the huge selection and ease of mounting pistols combined with a large number of optic-ready handguns, there has never been a better time to pick up a red dot pistol optic for your handgun. In case this is your first time, and you need help navigating the world of pistol optics, here are just a few general factors you may want to consider when shopping for a pistol optic which will work best for your needs!

One of the most important things to consider about your optic selection is going to be the mounting footprint. This will determine if your optic will be able to mount to your firearm or if additional mounting plates or adapters are required. The three most common footprints are the Docter/Noblex footprint, the RMR footprint and the RMSc/Deltapoint footprint. Between these three footprints, you will be able to mount a large number of the most popular models from Trijicon, Holosun, Vortex and Leupold. Just make sure your firearm has the appropriate footprint for the model you are looking to purchase, or can accommodate mounting plates.

An open emitter optic simply means that the LED or Laser emitter responsible for creating the red dot is open and exposed to the environment around the optic. Open emitter optics will typically be lighter and smaller, however the emitter could be covered by rain, dirt or other debris. Open emitter optics do well on firearms you plan to carry concealed as your cover garments will keep the emitter protected.

A closed emitter optic is pretty much the exact opposite, and the emitter will be housed in a protective cover built into the body of the optic. While not always true, closed emitter optics will tend to be heavier and bulkier than their open emitter counterparts. As the emitter on these optics is shielded from any foreign debris, they make a great choice for being carried outside the waistband, or on duty pistol used by police or military personnel.

Open Emitter Trijicon RMR Type 2
Closed Emitter Aimpoint ACRO P2

Protruding up from the slide, pistol optics are mounted in a very vulnerable place. That convenient placement also sees them used for manipulating the slide more frequently so you will want your optic to be as durable as possible. Open emitter optics are typically more fragile when compared to close emitter optics, but durability is also gained depending on the shape.

Optics with high round edges can be very fragile if dropped; for carrying concealed, it works great, but if there is a chance the gun and optic could end up dropped on the pavement, I would probably choose something else. Closed emitter optics will usually be better suited for duty use, owing to the increased durability provided by their protective housing.

The final part of the form factor we want to touch on is going to be the location of the battery compartment. While this isn’t as important of a factor, there are still a few things to consider. Due to design limitations stemming from the small size of these optics, they will sometimes have batteries installed at the bottom of the optic and held in place by the slide itself.

It can be inconvenient at times to remove and replace that battery since you will need to re-zero your optic every time you do this, however the battery life of many of these optics is measured in years so it will not be a frequent inconvenience. Additionally the number of optics with top of side battery compartments has increased dramatically so you will still have plenty of options should you wish you not deal with removing your optic.

Bottom Battery Compartment of a Trijicon RMR
Top Battery Compartment of a Trijicon SRO

These pistol optics were colloquially known as red dots because the aiming point was a simple red dot in the middle of your window. These have changed quite a bit since then however.  While you can still get the traditional “red dot”, optics now come in a few different colors with green being the most popular alternate color. Green has been found to be more easily picked up by the human eye and is a little bit more visible during brighter daytime hours, but this comes at the cost of less battery life when compared to red dot options.

Perhaps the most important thing to consider is going to be your dot size. The size of the dot will be expressed in MOA, or minute of angle, which can vary in size relative to the distance from your target. Two popular options are 1 MOA dots and 6.5 MOA dots.

1 MOA Dot
6.5 MOA Dot

To get an idea of the size difference, a 1 MOA dot will cover roughly 1 inches of your target at 100 yards, whereas a 6.5 MOA dot will cover 6.5 inches. As a general rule of thumb, you would want a smaller dot for more precise shooting, and a larger dot for quicker acquisition. 

Also breaking from tradition is going to be the reticles you have available. A simple dot is still going to be the most common option currently, center dots with larger circles are gaining in popularity. The center dot allows you to keep a precise aiming point, and the larger circle helps you pick up the reticle faster and keep the dot centered in your window.

Holosun 507C Reticle
Sig Romeo Zero Elite Reticle
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