Types of Firearms Optics

Another ‘How-to’ video originally produced when I was still involved with the firearms industry.  This was designed to provide a very high-level overview to new, or aspiring gun owners on the different styles of optics available and what each is suited for.  Tragically shot in the age of standard definition!

Types of Firearms Optics

While most of us have at least seen, if not used, various examples of the different types of firearms optics, not everyone has an appreciation for the pros and cons of each, and thus when to pick one over another.  Optics tend to be a very personal thing; for this reason it’s not uncommon to see several of the same style of firearm each sporting a different type of optic, according to the user’s preferences.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the four categories of modern optics and what each of them has to offer.

Iron Sights

Easily the oldest type of firearms optic; iron sights offer a utilitarian, no-nonsense approach to aiming technology.  Hearkening back to the earliest gun designs, iron sights include everything from shotgun beads and post/peep sights to the more modern fiber-optic tube, and even tritium-illuminated versions.  While the window-dressing may have changed, at their heart iron sights still consist of a front and rear aiming component that provide a rough estimate of trajectory and point of aim.  Iron’s can be fixed, or windage/elevation adjustable, and while they may not offer the same accuracy as high-end telescopics, the fact remains that in the hands of a skilled marksman, iron sights can still be deadly accurate.  Iron sights also tend to be fairly rugged, and low profile, making them an excellent choice for tough conditions and cramped quarters.  Likewise irons are battery-free, making them ideal for guns in storage, or that need to be reliable in cold/hot temperatures and remote locations where batteries tend to fail, and replacements aren’t easy to come by.

Red Dot Sights

Though comparatively new relative to iron sights, red dots have still been with us for quite a while dating back as early as the 70’s.  Typically consisting of a tubular body with an objective and ocular lens, red dots use a single powered ‘dot’ seen only by the shooter to mark trajectory.  Red dots tend to be among the faster-to-acquire aiming systems, as they use only a single point of focus.  Red dots are also fairly rugged; their full body design makes them extremely resistant to elemental exposure as well as stiff recoil firearms– including notoriously-harsh spring-powered air rifles.  These features make red dots an attractive option for folks interested in competitive, short-range activities like paintball and airsoft, as well as hunters moving through dense brush and inhospitable terrain.

Holographic/Reflex Sights

Holographic sights represent the most recent addition to the firearms optics catalog.  Even if you’ve never held one in your hand before, the incredible popularity of these optics with military and law enforcement personnel has propelled them to such heights that you’ve undoubtedly seen them in your favorite movies, games and TV shows.  This style of optic builds on the classic red dot by maintaining the single point of focus, but replacing the ‘dot’ with a specially designed reticle. This allows for exceptional diversity as an optic can be tailored specifically to a particular caliber, weight or style of bullet.  Many holographic sights also offer further options in terms of brightness and even color, providing the shooter with an unparalleled level of customization.   Another major advantage of holographic sights is their ability to be used with both eyes open.  This feature permits the user to quickly acquire targets without sacrificing peripheral vision; a major asset in combat and competition scenarios.  The combination of these features plus their ability to couple well with tactical magnifiers has made holographic sights a major player in virtually every shooting discipline, from target practice to hunting.

Telescopic Sights

Lastly we have telescopic sights or ‘scopes’.  Even the most inexperienced shooter can recognize and identify a scope thanks to their ubiquity in the shooting sports industry.  Consisting of pair of lenses secured inside a metal tube, scopes work by magnifying light through a combination of objective and ocular lenses to make targets appear closer than they really are.  Long associated with snipers, when handled by a skilled marksman, a well-made scope can facilitate accurate shooting at distances over a mile long.  Though slower to acquire a target than other optics, the incredible accuracy made possible by this aiming technology makes telescopic optics an indispensable tool for military, law enforcement, competitive and hunting sport shooters.

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