Red Dots vs. Prism Optics

  • Jack Collins

While optics were once the domain of long-distance shooters, low-magnification optics have become commonplace. Today, you can find several types of low-powered optics to improve the accuracy of close-range firearms. Two of the most popular are prism scopes and red dots. While both of these optics share similar functionalities, they go about achieving their goals differently. We’ll outline some of the differences and similarities between red dots and optics here.

Prism Scope vs. Red Dot

What Are Red Dot Sights?


View through a Primary Arms 2.5X prism.


Red dots are the darlings of the low-powered optic world right now. There are several reasons for that. First, red dots don’t have any eye relief and are parallax-free. In other words, your eye can be close to the optic or far away, along with being directly behind it or slightly off to one side, and your point of aim will always be on target.

Second, red dot sights are extremely light and handy. As a result, you can slap a red dot on any type of firearm, including a pistol (you won’t be able to find a pistol-sized prism optic). You can even use them on shotguns.

Red dots do have some shortcomings, though. For one, red dots don’t have any natural magnification. If you want to zoom in at all, you’ll need some kind of separate magnifier. They also require batteries to function. While most red dots will last for thousands of hours on a single battery, it’s still something to consider.

What Is a Prism Sight?


View through a Primary Arms MD-25 red dot.


Unlike a red dot, a prism sight doesn’t project a reticle over a lens. Instead, the reticle is etched into the lens of the optic itself. This offers one huge advantage: you can use a prism without a battery (although many also feature a battery to illuminate the reticle in dark conditions).

One of the traits that differentiates a prism sight from red dots is magnification. As I mentioned earlier, if you want to magnify a red dot, you’ll need a separate magnifier. Not so with prisms. Prism sights can feature built-in magnification, but only on a single fixed level. That means you won’t be able to zoom a prism in and out like you would with an LPVO. Some common prism magnification levels are 1X, 3X, and 5X.

Prisms aren’t perfect, though. Unlike red dots, prisms don’t have infinite eye relief. In addition, some prisms aren’t really parallax-free like red dots. And since there’s more glass involved, they’re noticeably heavier than red dots are — just hold one in each hand to see what I mean. Still, when used correctly, prisms can be very effective sights for rifles and shotguns.

Learn More About Firearms and Accessories at SDI

Mounting an optic to a firearm is a fairly easy task with a little bit of gun know-how. And if you’re looking to expand your knowledge about the world of firearms, SDI is the place to do it. To check out the programs that SDI offers, click here.

Spread the love