Pistol Laser Vs. Red Dot: Which Is Right For Me?

The craziest use of a laser sight that I have ever seen is when my brother used to hunt damage-causing bush pigs, an indigenous pig species, to Africa. The tracking was done walking in pitch darkness through macadamia nut orchards, following the sound of the pigs crunching on fallen nuts. We stalked along barefooted to keep the noise down. He was armed with a pump-action shotgun fitted with a laser sight. He had to get really close, 15 feet or less, and use the laser aiming device to shoot when a silhouette had been identified. 

Target acquisition and engagement are super-fast when using both red dot and laser sights. For close-range defensive shooting up to 25 yards, the laser sight is for you. The red dot is the sight of choice when shooting in daylight at longer distances or competitively.

Choosing between a laser sight and Red dot comes down to what the pistol will be used for. Neither the laser nor red dot sight can fully replace the other. They both have pros and cons that you should consider. Let’s explore which is right for you. 

pistol laser vs red dot sight

What Is The Difference Between A Pistol Laser And Red Dot?

Pistol Laser

The pistol laser works on the same principle as a laser pointer that we all know so well. The only difference is that it has been designed to withstand the rigors of a pistols recoil and daily carry. 

The laser has also been fitted with an adjustable pistol mounting platform or bracket. Most are fitted with an on-off switch that is pressure activated and is attached to a wire cord. This allows the laser on-off switch to be attached to the pistol in a convenient position for easy activation by the shooter when needed.

Laser pointers are available with a red light or green. The design is such that the red laser is effective up to ten yards and the green laser up to twenty-five yards. The use of the laser is limited to low light, or nighttime use as bright light makes the dot difficult to see when projected onto a surface.

Red Dot

A red dot or reflex sight consists of a small upright unmagnified lens, screen, or window the shooter looks at when aiming. The sight is mounted in place of or in conjunction with a raised rear sight as a backup. 

The name ‘red dot’ sights refers to the red dot that you see inside the lens that serves as the reference point for the shooter to aim with when shooting.   

Red dot sights are well suited for use in both day and night situations. Technological advances have also led to the size of the sights reducing significantly. The mini red dots now only measuring an inch in height. 

Red dot pistol sights are relatively new on the market and are deemed the future of pistol sights by many. The cost has always been a barrier for the average shooter. Add to this the gunsmith work required to fit the sight. Fortunately, prices have come down over time, and their popularity is increasing.

A further cost-saving initiative by the pistol manufacturers is that many combat-type pistols are now made with pre-machined slides ready to accept the red dot type sight. This advance has reduced the fitment costs of the red dot sights significantly and boosted the sales of pistols offering this feature.

Many shooters who struggle to focus on their pistols’ traditional front visually and rear sights due to eyesight problems will welcome the single focal point offered by the red dot sight.   

Is A Red Dot The Same As A Laser?

The red dot and laser sights differ significantly in terms of design. 

The red dot sight, or reflex sight as it’s called, is a non-magnified telescopic sight, using a red dot as the aiming point instead of the traditional scope reticle. Reflex or red dot sights on rifles look like short compact scopes, whereas the pistol versions are a small lens attached to a compact base plate.  

A laser sight is basically a laser pointer that has been beefed up to withstand the pistol’s recoil and rigors that a pistol endures daily. The laser is attached to the frame or trigger guard of the pistol, depending on the mounting system, instead of the red dot sight that attaches to the pistol slide. 

The red dot sight is designed for use in day and night conditions where the laser excels in low light conditions. Interestingly, the laser and red dot sighting systems can be fitted onto a pistol simultaneously and complement each other very well.  

Pistol Laser Vs. Red Dot: Which Is Right For Me? 1

Which Is More Accurate, Red Dot Or Laser?

At close range, less than 10 yards, there’s no practical difference in the accuracy between the two options. The distance you’re shooting at, and lighting conditions play an important part in determining which is more accurate between a red dot and laser sight. 

Both sight options provide a reference point that assists you in placing your shots accurately. The shooter’s ability plays a large part in how accurate the pistol laser or red dot combination shoots. 

  • Laser sights make use of a laser beam that shines onto the target and indicates where the bullet will strike the target. 
  • Red dot sights utilize the same principle as a traditional telescopic sight. 
  • The difference is that the reticle is replaced with a red dot, and the physical size of the sight has been reduced significantly compared to a scope. Red dot sights are also not magnified.

Red dot sights are well suited to all practical pistol shooting distances. They work well in all lighting conditions in terms of being able to see the red dot clearly. The actual dot size can also be specified with most red dot sights to best suit your average shooting distance.  

Laser sights differ from red dot sights in that they are designed for use in low-light conditions to ensure the lasers are clearly visible. Given the laser light design itself, the effective distance to ensure accuracy is ten yards for the red laser light and twenty-five yards for the green laser option.

Manufacturers have integrated laser sights into some pistols by integrating a mini laser unit in the weapon’s frame or even molding them into the pistol grip’s panel. The laser is then activated by either a toggle switch, a pressure-activated switch, or by pressing a button to activate or deactivate the laser. These are, however, in the vast minority in the field.

At point-blank range, there’s nothing to choose between the sights. The red dot does, however, have the advantage when shooting distances are increased. The visibility of the laser is compromised in bright lighting conditions and when increasing the shooting distances, which does make it difficult to place the laser dot on the target precisely.    

The red dot holds the advantage over the laser sight, in my opinion, because lighting conditions do not affect the effectiveness of the sight. In addition, the dot of the sight lends itself better to long-distance shooting than the laser. Despite adding bulk to the pistol, as does the laser, this can be overcome by using the correct holster for carrying and then practicing shot placement with the sight to get familiar with its advantages and disadvantages.

One great advantage of the laser-sighted pistol is that the shot can be fired from basically any physical position, provided you can place the laser onto the target. So within reason, if you can see it, you can hit it. The red dot scope has to be aimed in the traditional manner, which practically is no disadvantage.  

Is A Laser On A Handgun Worth It?

Whether a laser sight would suit your needs comes down to your intended purpose for the handgun. Laser sights are suited for use on all types of handguns designed for close-distance shooting.

It can, of course, be argued that laser sight is not needed, given that most shooting incidents occur at point-blank range. Most folks who have had to fire rounds at close range in self-defense have no recollection of aiming or using their sights, often not even hearing the shots being fired due to the adrenalin rush and fear. In most instances, the weapon is pointed at the perpetrator’s center of mass and fired. Instinctive shooting and muscle memory come into their own in these situations.  

An upside and downside of a laser sight is the intimidation factor that goes along with a laser being pointed in your direction, which may well deter a perpetrator from following through on an attack. The downside is that the laser beam also gives away your position as the laser beam is highly visible in low light or dark situations. 

Given the design of a laser sight, all the shooter needs to do to aim and shoot is to point the lasers dot onto the spot that you need the bullet to hit and fire the shot. Aiming traditionally is not required, enabling shots to be fired at the target from virtually any physical position.

Some revolver shooters have reported an improvement in their shooting ability using a laser sight in combination with snub-nosed model revolvers. The theory here is that the short focal plane between the rear and front sight, combined with the relatively primitive sights often found on these revolvers, makes them difficult to aim accurately. Fitting a laser does away with this problem as you only have to focus on placing the laser point onto the target and firing.

Should you carry a pistol for personal protection, having a compact laser sight fitted does have its advantages, such as fast target acquisition and the ability to hit a target from virtually any physical position accurately. 

Be conscious, though, that laser sights efficiency is compromised in bright light. Distance is also a limiting factor, and also be aware that the laser is visible in low light conditions, giving away your position. Lastly, lasers are battery-powered, so always ensure that the battery is in good condition to ensure you’re not left in trouble when you most need it.     

Pistol Laser Vs. Red Dot: Which Is Right For Me? 2

Is A Red Dot On A Pistol Worth It?

Red dot or reflex sights are a great addition to your pistol. Red dot sights are available for most medium to full-size pistols, even shotguns, and rifles. 

The downside of red dot sights is that they add bulk to a pistol. Fortunately, very compact versions are available. Pistol holsters designed for use with the sights are readily available.

Red dot sights have the advantage that they are well suited to bright and dark areas. 

Shooters who have a problem focusing on traditional pistol sights will appreciate the single focal plane of the sight. 

Red dot sights are well suited to close and long-distance shots, giving the red dot sight an advantage over laser or normal pistol sights. Regular practice is, of course, the key to ensuring your shooting becomes instinctive when using the sight.

Lower priced red dot sights are only battery-powered, which is a consideration to keep in mind. The last thing you want is the battery to run flat and the red dot disappearing when a threat arises. However, the batteries do last for years.

Higher priced red dot sights utilize a light source that is tritium based to create the red dot, as used with night sights. This tritium ensures the dot is always available and lasts for more than a decade before needing replacement. Only the tritium “capsule” needs replacing, not the sight.     


Choosing between a red dot and laser sight comes down to the intended use. Laser sights are designed primarily for use at close range, a maximum of 25 yards, and in low light to ensure the laser is visible. Red dot sights are suited to all reasonable distances for which pistols are practical. The dot is visible in all lighting conditions. The downside is that the sight adds bulk to your pistol that you need to get accustomed to. 

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