What Is A Reflex Sight? [Optic Technology Explained]

Over the years, we have seen an increased demand for reflex sights because of their ability to enhance a shooter’s accuracy and target acquisition rate. Many military and law enforcement personnel use a reflex sight in close-quarters combat. Additionally, hunting and shooting enthusiasts, myself included, use reflex sights to enhance our shooting capabilities on the range and when hunting. But have you ever wondered what a reflex sight is, how it works, and the types of reflex sights you get? In this article, we answer all these questions and provide you with a list of the ten most popular reflex sights that we have also had the privilege of testing!

What Is A Reflex Sight?

image of 2 different reflex sights

A reflex sight, also known as a dot sight, is an optic used on firearms, such as pistols, rifles, and shotguns, to enhance your accuracy and fast target acquisition. Our list of the best shotgun reflex sights has been very popular with our readers!

A typical reflex sight has a reticle that is projected onto a transparent glass or polymer lens. This allows you to focus better on both the target and the reticle. These sights are compact and popular among shooters who want an aiming platform with better accuracy than iron sights but still retain peak maneuverability performance.

Common reflex sight examples include Red dot sights, green dot sights, and holographic sights.

How Does It Work – Technology Explained

A light-emitting diode (LED) projects a reticle image onto a multi-coated, transparent glass or polymer lens. The lens reflects the reticle image back to the shooter’s eye while still allowing a clear view of the target through the sight picture.

When the reflex sight like a SIG Sauer Romeo 5 is zeroed, the reticle’s position on the lens corresponds to the point of the bullet’s impact. A reflex sight offers unlimited eye relief and a parallax-free experience to the shooter.

When Were Reflex Sights Invented? [History Explained]

Contrary to belief, the first version of a red dot sight was invented at the start of the 20th century by the Irish optical designer and engineer Howard Grubb. He invented the collimator sight in 1900. A collimator sight is an optical sight that allows you to see an illuminated point aligned with the device the sight is attached to, regardless of eye position.

However, this reflector sight was not used for shooting. The first actual reflex sight was invented in the 1930s. Yet, reflex sights only took off in the 1970s with the start of the Swedish company Aimpoint. The company introduced the first red dot sight to the market in 1975.

Since then, the consensus for reflex sights has been overwhelmingly positive. Today, these reflex sights are used in various shooting applications.

What Is A Reflex Sight Used For?

image of a reflex sight mounted on a rifle

As already mentioned, reflex sights like the Aimpoint acro p2 vs c2 are used by shooters to enhance overall shooting capabilities over the traditional front and rear sight. Popular applications include:

  • Recreational and Competitive Shooting – I love using a red dot sight for plinking – it’s fun, and I can actually shoot accurately beyond 25 yards.
  • Hunting – I never leave on my hunting expedition without my trusty sidearm equipped with a reflex sight – not only does it enhance my accuracy, but it also gives me a chance to test new red dot sights in real-world scenarios.
  • Self-Defense – A reflex sight boosts your accuracy and target acquisition rate – two vital factors in a self-defense situation. Therefore, many people, myself included, mount a reflex sight on their personal defense weapon or concealed carry firearm.
  • Tactical, Military and Law Enforcement – Many military and law personnel employ a reflex sight to give them an edge when engaged in combat at short and medium distances.

What Is A Micro Reflex Sight?

Micro or mini reflex sights are a lighter, more compact version of the typical reflex sight. They are specifically designed for use on pistols and other concealed carry weapons. In fact, we have our own list of the Top Pistol Sights that contains some great choices! These mini-reflex sights tend to provide the shooter with higher maneuverability while minimizing the impact on their firearm’s profile.


A micro-reflex sight incorporates the same technology as standard reflex sights – an illuminated aiming point projected onto a transparent lens. These reflex sights also boost accuracy and target acquisition rate over a standard rear and front sight.

Two Different Housing Configurations

1) Tube sights

Characteristics of tube-style reflex sights include a cylindrical housing and a fully enclosed optic system. Popular examples of these types of reflex sights include the Aimpoint Comp M5 and T2.

The tube design allows for a buffed-up design and enhanced durability against the elements. I sometimes find the enclosed design to limit my overall field of view. However, quality tube reflex sights are designed to overcome this limitation. Tube sights are also bulkier and heavier than open or exposed reflex sights – making them a better option for shotguns or rifles.

2) Open sights

Open sights can be characterized by their minimalistic design – they have an open, frame-like housing. I find these sights perfect for concealed carry use or just the better option for mounting on your pistol because it is lighter and more compact than the tube-style reflex sights. Our post about red dot vs reflex sight explains these types of sights in even more detail!

Open sights have better agility characteristics but are more susceptible to durability flaws. However, I have yet to experience major issues with the durability of these scopes, and trust me, I have put them through some rigorous testing against the elements.

Most Popular Reflex Sights

Although there are a vast amount of reflex sights available on the market, the most popular sights are characterized by their impressive durability, quality design, and shooting performance. Here is a list of the 10 most popular reflex sights that we have also tested:

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a red dot sight and a reflex sight?

A red dot sight has a single dot reticle with a MOA size. In comparison, a reflex sight can also have shapes and lines for reticles in addition to a single dot.

What is the benefit of a reflex sight?

A reflex sight boosts the overall accuracy, range, and target acquisition rate of the shooter over an iron sight.

Which is better reflex or holographic sight?

Depends on your use case. A reflex sight can be better if its intended use is for close quarters and you need fast target acquisition. A holographic sight might be better for medium distances and outside use.

How far is a reflex sight accurate?

It varies with each individual, but a typical reflex sight is accurate up to a few hundred yards. However, it is mostly used for shooting within 100 yards.

Does the military use reflex sights?

Yes, special forces and specialized units employ the use of a reflex sight, such as the Aimpoint Pro and EOTech products.

The Bottom Line

A reflex sight is an illuminated dot aiming system that increases the overall performance and capabilities of the shooter. Popular reflex sights include products from Vortex, Leupold, Aimpoint, Holosun, and EOTech. However, when buying one, it is important to consider your use case and the value the sight offers. For more on how to decide what red dot sight to buy, you can follow one of our buying guides, typically found in our red dot sight review articles.

About the author

Patrick Howard

I have been working as a gunsmith for 20 years. Rain, fog, moisture, high temperature, or even snow are all the things a product must withstand in order to be recommended by me.

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