Gun Gear

Comparing Inexpensive Red Dot Sights

Red dot sights on a shooting target with a Ruger rimfire pistol

Back in 1975, Aimpoint offered the first commercial red dot sight. Those initial sights were heavy, and good luck trying to find a replacement battery. Today, red dots are lighter and use batteries sold at convenience stores and gas stations, and as the weight decreased, so did the price.

Red dot sights on a shooting target with a Ruger rimfire pistol
The red dots we tested were, clockwise from top, the Bushnell TRS-25, Tasco BKRD30, BSA Model RD30, and the NcStar DBB130. The test gun was a Ruger 22/45 shot with Remington Thunderbolt .22 LR ammunition.

For the price of a state-of-the-art Aimpoint purchased in the 1980s, you could buy eight $50 red dot sights today. The question many of us have is, how good are these inexpensive red dots? To see for myself, I compared three sights costing under $50—BSA Model RD30 ($19.99), NcStar DBB130 ($28.35) and the Tasco BKRD30 ($30.30). In addition, I added a potential ringer—a Bushnell TRS-25 ($80.72) that cost nearly double the other sights, but is still affordable for most budgets.

Before starting any range work, I shock-tested the sights by dropping them on a wood floor from a height of four feet. Red dots tout their sturdiness for use on rifles, shotguns, and magnum revolvers and I thought this was a useful test. The jolt had no effect on the sights; dots remained illuminated and knobs turned.

Next on the torture test, the dots were activated with the turret covers left on and frozen at -4° F, then soaked in hot water. Some of the instruction manuals stated the battery and turret caps need to be secured when using the sights in “extreme conditions,” which translates into different meaning depending if you are a plinker or turkey hunter.

Close up view of the green-tinted lens on a red dot sight
A coating on the lenses of these optics creates a green tint that’s visible. The coating helps reflect the red dot within the sight body.

I followed the instruction manuals and left the turret caps on. All the sights had some type of pliable gasket on the turrets to seal out dust and moisture. So, too, did the battery compartments. There were no hiccups from the cold. In the water, all the sights released a few air bubbles from the rheostat knob, but again no hiccups. Dots remained illuminated, and I saw no sign of moisture.

Red dots are manufactured with a coating on the lens that creates a green tint when viewing. The coating helps reflect the red dot within the sight body. The green tint was slightly more pronounced on the NcStar. Also, a slight blueish ring can be seen around the edge of the lens. Neither of these impacted the use of the sight, since the green tint was subtle. The sight is also not designed for observation like spotting scopes and binoculars nor like riflescopes.

To my eyes, the brightest of the sights are the most expensive—the Bushnell, followed by the Tasco. The BSA and NcStar tied. I tried to coax parallax from all four sights, but could not. Moving my head left/right and up/down, the dots stayed on target.

All the sights use a knob to activate and adjust the red-dot intensity. The BSA, Tasco and NcStar knob is located on top of the sight; the Bushnell’s is at a 45-degree angle between the top and right side. The knobs take effort to turn, with the BSA knob rotating the easiest; the Bushnell requires the most effort. The knobs also house the battery. With the Tasco and Bushnell, you can use a coin to tighten the cover, and that is a good practice because with the Bushnell, I accidentally loosened the battery cover when turning and adjusting the dot. The NcStar’s battery cover has a ridged edge, and it loosened as I rotated the knob.

The sights have 11 intensity levels, except for the NcStar’s, which has seven. For viewing, I dialed in all the sights to the seven setting for consistency, and when tested in bright sunlight, all of the dots were clear points of red that were easy to place on target. In the dark, the dots seemed a bit fuzzier. At the highest setting, all the sights produced a signature from the objective end downrange.

Black red dot sight from BSA
The BSA RD30 comes in a matte-black finish and includes a Picatinny mount.

The sights then took their turn being mounted on a Ruger 22/45 for range testing. All use a Picatinny rail or Weaver-style base for mounting. The NcStar and BSA both have one-mount clamping that is adjustable. The Tasco’s mounts are fixed. The Bushnell has only one mounting clamp. All clamps are tightened with a flat screwdriver or coin; only the Bushnell requires a hex wrench, which is supplied with the sight.

These sights are made to be zeroed and left alone, but I cranked the windage and elevation while noting the number of clicks and returning to zero. I looked at each sight’s ability to pick up the dot with both eyes opened, consistency shot after shot, and ease of use.

The BSA RD30 with its larger objective, like the NcStar and Tasco, is easy to use with both eyes open. I felt the BSA and Tasco tied for ease of use and lightweight. The BSA gave the pistol good balance and offered fast follow-up ability.

The NcStar is the heaviest sight tested. If you are a precision shooter, you will like it because it helps steady the pistol. The NcStar’s weight was noticeable when mounted on a pistol, and it might be better suited for use on a rimfire rifle or on a shotgun for turkey hunting. The clear flip-up covers look like they would scratch easily, but the covers keep out dust, dirt and other assorted crud. I prefer to use the sight with the clear lens covers flipped up.

The Tasco definitely made me happy. Its controls were not too difficult or easy to turn, and the larger objective made two-eye aiming simple.

The ringer in the test was the Bushnell TRS-25, which is tiny in size and weight compared to the other red dots. The smaller objective and smaller dot are slightly harder to use until I acclimated to them. For younger or less experienced shooters, I would choose a sight with the larger objective diameter with the larger 5-MOA dot. I like that it uses only one mounting clamp that is easier to affix, affording it more mounting options. If small size matters, then the Bushnell is a good choice.

BSA RD30 NcStar DBB130 Tasco BKRD30 Bushnell TRS-25
Price $19.99 $27.23 $30.30 $80.72
Length 3.8” 3.6” 3.8” 2.4”
Objective Diameter 30mm 30mm 30mm 25mm
Reticle 5 MOA red dot 3 MOA red dot 5 MOA red dot 3 MOA red dot
Magnification 1x 1x 1x 1x
Parallax Setting 50 yds. 50 yds. 50 yds. 50 yds.
Weight 5 oz. 6.8 oz. 6 oz. 3.7 oz.
Eye Relief Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited
Click Value at 100 Yards 0.5” 1 MOA 1 MOA 0.5”
Activation Knob Knob Knob Knob
Dot Intensity Settings 11 7 11 11
Power Source 1 #CR2032 1 #CR2032 1 #CR2032 1 #CR2032
Battery Life at Medium Intensity 8 hours 8 hours 8 hours 8 hours
Housing Polymer Aluminum Aluminum Aluminum
Finish Matte black Matte black Matte black Matte black
Weather Resistance Waterproof and fogproof Waterproof and fogproof Waterproof and fogproof Waterproof and fogproof
Automatic Shut Off No No No No
Warranty 1 year limited Limited lifetime 1 year limited 2 year limited

 The red dots we tested were the Bushnell TRS-25, Tasco BKRD30, BSA Model RD30, and the NcStar DBB130. The test gun was a Ruger 22/45 shot with Remington Thunderbolt .22 LR ammunition.

 

Robert Sadowski has written about firearms and hunting for nearly 15 years. He’s authored four gun books and edited three and is a contributor to numerous gun-enthusiast magazines, including Combat Handguns, Black Guns, Tactical Weapons for Military and Police, Gun Tests, Personal and Home Defense, Gun Hunter, SHOT Business, and others. He has a personal affinity for large-caliber revolvers and the AR platform.

 

Out of the four red dots tested do you want to try? Tell us which one and why in the comment section.

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The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (45)

  1. I recall that not too long ago I read that the military was not going to put open sights on battle rifles. As I read about battery failures and breakage, I wonder if this was a good decision. I am 71 years old, had my glasses set for 28″ and have no problem seeing the front sight, although I am not quite as quick and accurate as when I was younger. Well, it is better to be shooting than sitting at a computer all day.

  2. The Bushnell TRS-25 is the one I would like to try. According to Bushnell all their red dots have been tested to work on a 44 mag. pistol. That is the pistol I want to put a red dot on.

    1. As are you….simply put, my posts are informational….ie… Batteries are unacceptable and MOA is unacceptable…for individuals unlike you, that care about dependability and accuracy.

  3. I really can’t believe what I am reading here. I posted earlier that I have no desire to own a scope of any kind that doesn’t function on it’s own (no batteries). Now I am seeing many post on accuracy…3,4,5 moa at 100yds… that is ludicrous. No wonder many post advocate much higher rifle calibers than are needed to drop game. If “Any” scope cannot attain 1moa or better, I am certainly not interested.

    1. Your point is off base. The items under discussion are not “scopes.” They are sights. They are meant to replace iron sights, no more or less, i.e., they are much easier for older eyes to see through. They will be as accurate as iron sights and you should not expect any sub-moa groups, any more than you would with iron.

    2. All of my rifles save one and all of my handguns are ironsited. I am a NBA certified expert with my 45acp.and my M1A. Ones focus is on the tip of the front site blade. If the shooter cannot see that far then, as many of my fellow shooters have done is to purchase eye ware the focuses their vision at the proper distance for the front site blade. As in my original post…if the site cannot function on it own (no batteries) then it could fail at a critical time to disastrous results.
      Technology is grand but plane know how is better.

  4. I believe that you will find that the earliest Aimpoint sights did not use a battery. They used a fiber optic light source I still have one somewhere.

  5. I’ve had several different red dot sights on crossbows, they all worked great….until you needed them. They may claim 8 hrs battery life, but I never had one make it even half that long, even shutting them off between shots.

    They are fine for plinking at the range, but can’t be trusted to work for hunting. When that dot goes dead they are worthless.

    Take this test with your red dot sight…

    Sight it in on your target until you are shooting good with it. Then leave it turned off and see how close you can get by just centering your target up in the lens. It seems like you’d be close but you’ll be off a mile, and that is exactly what you will have when the battery goes dead when you need it most.

    Another thing I noticed was you can’t see the dot very well in bright sunlight. They might be fine if you put a new battery in every time you go out, but I hunt too many days a year for that.

  6. I mounted a Bushnell TRS-25 on a Ruger SR-22 and another one on a Colt LE6920 SOCOMII…NO COMPLAINTS! Dead on precise accuracy. My only regret being that as I approach the end of my 50’s now my vision is dwindling, I wish I would have went to a red dot reflex sight years ago.

  7. I have had the Tasco on an AR for about 3 years, and have to say
    I’m impressed with it. No doubt, the 5 MOA kinda wipes out the bullseye at 100 yards, but still good enough to punch holes in paper or send a tin can flying. No regrets.

  8. I would like to see them tested on a heavier recoiling rifle such as M1A over a few hundred rounds, not limited to .22 LR. Thanks.

  9. I have the Bushnell TRS25. I’ve been very impressed with the sight. I have it an AR15 and it holds zero after hundreds of rounds. I can shoot 6 inch groups at 100 yards consistently.

  10. I have used the Tasco red dot on my competition “open” pistol for about 20 years. It has given me excellent service with absolutely no problems, except to change batteries. An excellent scope at a very reasonable price.

  11. Friends,
    Save yourself a lot of time, energy, & Money! I’ve been through chasing my tail with these cheap Red Dots. Buy an EOTech or equivalent, set it and forget it! Go to the Range and have some fun.

  12. I do not know, I bought a Leopold scope for 300 bucks 25 yrs ago and it is 1000 dollars now, (you get what you pay for), but it is right on. I can hit a fly on a deers ear at 200+ yards, I am not sure I could see the fly w/the red dot at 200 yards. but I can see the deers front shoulder, and that is what matters. but if you want to shoot a squirrels head at 100+ yards, I would want a good scope. the cheap scopes start to move around inside after a while or if you drop it. So ….

  13. I would like to try to the BSA RD30. It is lighter than two of the other three, less expensive, and seems to give equal results. I have a red dot sight (not “site” – that’s a place!) on one of my 22 rifles, and am thinking about one for my AR-15. Thanks for a good article, as always.

  14. I understand the eyesight going-(me too), but the question I have is the generic Chinese duplicates of the American models. I am an American and I support American products, but when I can get the generic red dot for 18 dollars, and the American brands are usually much more expensive. I have a generic, but when sighting it in I tapped it and it moved 1-2 feet at 100 yards, So I just purchased a Bushnell and hope I can compete.

  15. I think almost anything will be reliable on a light recoiling .22 pistol. The real rest would have been to put them on the slide of a 1911 or mount them on a .44 magnum. Unless the manufacturers restrict their sights to plinkers, you should have tested them for real recoil sensitivity and the ability to hold zero.
    Thanks

  16. The drop test would have been more showing if they were mounted to a firearm at that time. Then you could have been able to tell if the drop changed the zero of the sight. Without it being mounted, who knows if the dot moved? Or if the mount held securely?

  17. After reading the reviews and the comments from the various other readers I’ve come to the conclusion that the one for me would be the TRS25 Bushnell also. Like poor ol’ MacII my left swing man “rattle battle” eyesight has slipped significantly over the years (65 now). But I shor did like Camp Perry. Got to go 6 times. I believe the lite weight, single mountup, smaller dot with it’s less flare unlimited eye relief, and 50 yards parallex will help old tired eyes. I have macular pucker in my left (shooting) eye and that necessitates OPEN EYE shooting now. Have been practicing some with right eye but it sure is clumsy ! I shoot M-1A/14 and I don’t see how those right handers could even run that automatic much less a bolt shifter !! LOL LOL ! TANGO YANKEE, THE LEFT HANDED GUNNEY

  18. I’m looking for a Mini Red Dot that will fit on my new Glock 34-MOS. It comes with 4 mounting plates for various high end (expensive) Red Dots. Any idea if any of the tested Red Dots could be mounted on 1 of the MOS plates?

  19. Was thinking of putting a BSA 20mm crosshairs scope on my 1970 H&R 999 top-break .22 revolver. But this article sets me considering red-dot instead. Occasionally shoot squirrel at 200′ and more often rabbit up to 300′. Would 3 or 5 moa be small enough for head shots? Adj. of 0.5″ or 1 moa per click? How are RDs shooting at say 45° angle; reg scopes get tricky.

    1. Patrick, a 5 MOA at 100 yards would cover a large area (~5 inch circle) and be tough for head shots. As for high angle shooting it’s not the sight but the physics of it. Gravity effects the drop of a bullet based on horizontal distance traveled not the total distance. If you are shooting at squirrel in a tree your bullet drop would be calculated by the distance from you to the base of the tree rather than the target. A magnified scope is better for small targets at distance.

  20. I think you should include the Chinese sights because they are cheap and flooding the market. I have one and when sighting it in if I tap it , it moves a foot or more at 100 yards. I think you should address that. and do not get greedy when it comes to ammo, just because there is a scare from the gov. do not try to rape us, keep your low prices; and when you take someones money send their ammo, not a “sorry we sold out” e-mail
    Michael

  21. I bought an Aimpoint knockoff from aliexpress.com. it was $30 shipped from china and comes with a seriously stout mount. It’s on my AR and I was able to zero it easily. It holds zero, has a 3moa dot and is both red and green dot with 2 intensities for each color. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy another one.

  22. Bushnell TRS-25! I’m 70 years old. I love to hunt with 22lR and peep sights. Eye sight is somewhat less than when I was younger. The red dot may be the answer for me and my hunting buddies. I like this sight because of small size, the 3 moa dot, the single clamp and the .5 adjustments. I hunt with a Sako Finnlight and Eley ammo. With this sight this should be a second to none combo. Thanks!

  23. 1 that i have on my desert eagle 44 is a Q R with a solar charger for the battery so i can use it in field or for plinking and a plug in charger ,the solar panel that came with it clicks right on like a usb port in side of sight it has 11 diff reticals and 8 brightness levels reticlesincluding the dot in red and green. and charges for about 7 hours continuous work for up to 12 hours in about 5 minutes on the solar charger in the field ,all goes in the carrying case the pistol came in from magnum research .It is from Omega tactical it is not a small sight has weight helps control the front of the 44 mag pistol on the rail come on the mk x1x 44 dersert eagle.Holds up to vicious recoil on rapid fire from this 44 magipstol and is a very nice sight but was not cheap .Price was 120.00 and change but it is a great working sight for magnum pistols or rifles .IT is a quick release system so if they batt were to go dead i can remove the dot in 2 seconds and be back into action this is a great red and green weapons sight with a solar charger for field use cant be beaten to me for the price and practical field use or long term use in field. i give it a 10 out of 10 . The vector optics extreme system is what it is called. Great dot type sight for magnums.

  24. I have a hard time justifying the expensive dot sights unless I am deploying to a combat AOR so I only have ever bought one high-end which is an EOTech EXPS3-0 which I’ve mounted on my M&P AR-15. However, of the remaining 9 sights, 2 are mentioned in this article and one other was mentioned in an a CTD article last week.

    One being the Bushnell TRS-25 which came free as an included optic mounted on my Bushmaster AR-15 Optics Ready Carbine (ORC). This is a quality made compact dot sight. I hate bikini style lens covers, but couldn’t find aftermarket flip-covers that fit this fantastically small sight. Eventually I bought the closest matching sized Butler Creek covers and used epoxy (JB Welded) around the rims to mount them permanently to the scope edges. It turned out very nice and looks great.

    I also own the Tasco mentioned in this article. It seems decently made so I have no complaints; However, I find I do not use it often and so I rarely mount it on any of my guns. This sight is not bad at all, but I have a tendency to mount smaller dot sights on all my rifles.

  25. I am convinced all the sites mentioned are accurate and dependable…. The issue for me is “BATTERY”. I will personally, not own or encourage anyone to buy a device as important as a site that will not function on it’s own. Batteries expire…the when and where are critical, in my opinion. If I did nothing but plink or join competitive matches or hunt a day at a time then a battery is easily replaceable. I am accustomed to being in the wild for weeks at a time… NO “Battery Powered Anything” will work for me. With All Due Respect.

    1. that’s why many people co-witness their red-dot with their iron front sight lost.

      you don’t have to,choose between iron sights and red-dots, you can have both at the same time.

    2. @ aaron,

      I have many ARs, AKs, and a tactical shotgun. Each is equipped with a red dot and each is co-witnessed to the iron sights. Having a military and law enforcement background, I view this as a standard setup. But my background also makes it easy to forget not everyone possess the same knowledge. So it’s good that you brought up co-witnessing so that novices are made aware of the process.

      However, I have to say that larry’s case appears to be one of rejecting the technology and a refusal to learn about it based on his incorrect perceptions about this type of sight.

      Specifically his several posts show he clearly doesn’t trust such technology or any sight that uses a battery. Never mind that the military and law enforcement has successfully tested and depended on it for decades now; as used by millions of troops in conditions that far exceed anything larry would find himself in.

      Though not for military use, a budget Bushnell TRS-25 red dot has been tested to run continuously for 3000 hours (125 days straight). Even High-end military red dots like EOTechs that consume more battery still manage to run 600 continuous hours (25 days straight).

      Adding even more confidence in these systems – the middle and top tier red dots have a built in function to automatically shut down after a continuous 4 or 8 hours of use to save battery should you forget to turn it off. Note: This feature can be disabled in combat.

      So with all these features, incredible battery life, and the ability to co-witness to the iron sights, larry’s fears are rather warrantless and have sadly misled him into missing out on a rather impressive and combat tested technology.

      A footnote to those interested in co-witnessing their red dots: Do research on full (absolute) versus a lower 1/3 co-witness setup and the iron sights which dictate when to use each type. Also know there are many inexpensive riser solutions to get your red dot to the co-witness height you require. Some of the middle to high-end red dots come packaged with assorted risers to achieve this.

  26. I have used one of several Tasco PDP II’s 30mm red dot sight for more than 35 years on rifles and shotguns. I have never used them on pistols. I have used them in Oregon in the rain and Alaska in the snow. I have had dead batteries and that was my fault but other than that, I have no problems whatsoever.
    The one on my .338 Win Mag has bounced around the bottom of boats in Alaska for days on end, been wet and covered with sand, been handled by baggage manglers from the air lines and no problems. I shoot out to 400 yards with no problems lacking magnification. We shot open sights on the Navy teams and when shooting “rattle battle” with the army in 1967 we shot out to 1,000 measured yards with no magnification.
    For me, magnification is a crutch I do not need. I cannot make running shots on game with magnification because I shoot with both eyes open. Doesn’t work with magnification. I have made a few very nice shots with both eyes open and just letting my automatic computer in my head take over instinctively. I can’t do that with a scope with magnification and I have tried. But, with my Tasco, no problem.
    When my eyes got old, I switched exclusively to red dot sights without magnification and have not been disappointed. I am 73 and last year made a shot that amazed a much younger hunting partner. I have complete confidence in my red dot sights if I change the batteries.

  27. I have a Leapers on my shotgun and a no name generic on my Kel Tec… Both work fine, but I didn’t do a drop test… If I bought an EoTech, the first thing I would do is drop it…

  28. I’ve found that inexpensive red/green dots work quite well on my various rifles. I don’t tend to use them on my pistols because it makes them harder to carry for concealed carry.

    I will add that when it comes to the more sophisticated types of sights like holographic sights, you’re better to stick with the big boys like EoTech. I used one on my M4 in Iraq for two years of hard use with no problems. The cheaper holos just don’t keep a zero good for me. Of course, an EoTech costs as much as many guns, so it is a tradeoff.

    1. You are absolutely correct Mikial, when your life depends on it never skimp.

      I looked long and hard, for several years, before I decided to buy an inexpensive red dot, and only decided to because it was for a .22 LR.

      If you make a bad selection you may end up spending nearly as much as a high dollar sight trying to find a lightweight which works and goes the distance. I put a $200 Vortex Sparc on my AK–another nice piece of equipment.

      But the lessor name products have matured quite a bit in the last ten years. The UTG featured here recently is another great example of the plethora of today’s bargain optics for the sporting market.

  29. I own an EOTech XPS3-0, for my 5.56 rifle & recently purchased a Bushnell TRS-25 for my Ruger Mark III .22LR pistol. I am very impressed with the performance, size, weight and overall value of the TRS-25. It doesn’t have the armor of an expensive battle sight, but other users report good results on 12 gauge, 5.56 & 7.62 platforms.

    With sub zero temps, I’ve not had the opportunity to zero it at 50 yards, but will do so ASAP and then determine the drop or rise from a 5.5″ bbl over 25, 50 & 100 yds.

    When I mounted the Bushnell to the Ruger, I laser bore sighted it at 5 yds in my basement. First trip to an indoor range it placed a five shot off hand group within the ten ring at 18′, then with the butt bench rested, it place a 5 shot group within the diameter of a nickel, but about 2″ above the 5 yd’s zero at 50′.

    If you create a dope card for your weapon; with this Bushnell you will be well pleased with your results both in the field and at the range.

  30. Many thanks for the fine review. The deal killer for me is the 50 yard parallax that is non-adjustable. I want to zero my rifled slug gun at 150 yards and know that I will be on target every time without having to carefully center my eye. For three-gun competition, these will be fine.

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