Pistol optics or sights are more commonly known as devices that give a pistol shooter better aiming and accuracy.
They are mounted to the gun and align down the barrel. With a variety of products available, the question is which are worth getting and which are not.
There is no doubt that pistol optics can and will improve your aim and alignment when it comes to shooting but with so many options, which one would be right for you?
We’ll look at all of them so you can get a great idea of the best one for your pistol!
Why Do Pistols Have Sights?
To shoot accurately, pistols need to be ‘aligned’ or ‘aimed.’ To do this, you need points of reference, specifically the front and rear of the gun, to be aligned.
Pistol sights help to achieve the alignment between the back sight, front sight (Barrel), and the target so that you know where the round will hit once you pull the trigger.
Types of Pistol Optics
Essentially, there are five types of pistol sights available.
- Open sights
- Night Sights
- Micro Red-Dot Sights
- Laser Sights
Now, let’s look at each one of these in turn.
Open Sights Or Iron Sights
These are the sights that come with the gun from the factory. Referred to as ‘iron sights’ or ‘open sights,’ these usually have dots or lines on them so that the shooter can aim the gun properly.
For operation, these sights nestle the front sight evenly between the rear sight notch, creating a ‘V’ type shape to align on the target.
The front sight notch and rear sight should be level to ensure straight shooting.
When shooting using these sights, the shooter would usually have one eye closed and use their ‘stronger’ eye to aim the gun.
There is no cost to these as they are factory fitted.
These are often adjustable using just a screwdriver to set the windage and elevation.
Fans of the ‘point shooting technique use open sights when shooting as they use both eyes to align the gun to the target.
Unlike target shooting, where aiming is paramount, point-shooting is a self-defense skill-set where the shooter instinctively points the weapon at the intended point.
An advantage with open sights is that it’s unlikely to get hooked or snag on anything like clothing in the process upon drawing the weapon, as the sights are an integral part of the gun and not an external accessory.
For self-defense, training with this technique gives you speed and takes the reliance on a more advanced sight away, plus you can get the gun on general target faster and shoot faster as you aren’t waiting to first ‘aim’ using an external optic.
These types of optics collect the available light and appear to glow brightly, especially in bright daylight.
They are easy to see compared to iron sights and come in various colors like red, orange, green, and yellow, and they stand out clearly against the grey steel of the gun.
With Fibre-Optics, the shooter can quickly achieve alignment, almost like a game of ‘join-the-dots and get the gun on target fast!
Some fiber-optic sights have Tritium, and this allows them to be more visible in low-light environments.
Another good thing is that most fiber-optic makers offer sights for most brands of guns, and this makes fiber-optic a good option for pistol owners that want to improve their alignment without breaking the bank.
Because fiber-optics do not emit their own light as night-sights do, they are best used in bright light and daylight, so many competitive shooters have these on their pistols.
In addition, fiber-optic sights can also be used for hunting, and some sets have a ‘snag-proof design, eliminating the risk like Truglo’s 0.05 Pound product.
Brands like Tru-Glo, Trijicon, Meprolight, and Ameriglo all offer high-quality fiber-optics from $80 to around $130.
As a step up from iron sights, fiber-optics provide value for money and would be an excellent place to start with improved alignment on your pistol.
Fiber-optic sights work well under adequate light conditions and very well in bright light but don’t do very well indoors or under low light conditions.
These would not be suitable for self-defense situations as these often occur at night or in low-lit conditions.
If you are going to be doing competitive shooting or most of your shooting during the day, then fiber-optic is a good bet!
Using photoluminescent paint or self-illuminating Tritium, these optics’ glow in the dark, giving the shooter a super-fast reference point in low light conditions.
In daylight, they appear white and only take on their traditional green glow in the dark.
These sights contain small vials of radioactive chemicals that glow in the dark and last for quite a few years as well.
There is a considerable debate as to whether night-sights are helpful or not as many people ask,” Why would I shoot in the dark anyway?”
The real benefit of night sights is when you are in total darkness, but your target is in the light. Without a point of reference to your target, simply blazing away is super dangerous, not to mention careless and irresponsible!
Imagine a scenario where you need to engage a target standing in front of a car and illuminated by the headlights. You have retreated to the rear of the vehicle for cover, but you are in total darkness. Conventional open sights would be pretty useless here, as would turning on a flashlight to illuminate your sights!
With night sights and an illuminated target, you would be able to make accurate hits!
While night sights are a bit of a niche product, they are instrumental in this role.
If your pistol is primarily for self-defense, night sights would be a much better option than fiber-optics.
More expensive than fiber-optic, starting from around $120 to $180, night sights should be considered under these conditions but may not be suited for the everyday gun pistol owner.
Red-Dot Sights (RDS)
Believe it or not, the first reflector sight was built around 1900, and we also know that red dot sights were used on aircraft and small arms owners as early as 1945!
They work by using a battery-powered laser to project a red dot onto a concave lens and using a special coating; the dot becomes visible to your eyes.
Since it’s only on a single plane, there is no aiming required -simply put the dot on the target and shoot.
One of the most versatile products available, the red dot sight (not sights), allows for fast acquisition and use with both eyes open and gives a broader field of vision.
Up to distances of a few hundred yards, red dots are effective, and they’re also energy-efficient and relatively inexpensive.
Also, because they are unmagnified, they work very well at close quarters.
Red dot sights have some variations like reflex and holographic sights
Reflex sights are very simple and work by projecting a reticle or dot onto the concave lens and presents that to the shooter as a floating image.
In appearance, holographic sights look similar but work differently and are more expensive. They bounce a laser off a series of mirrors, which reduces the parallax distortion and gives much better performance with magnifiers.
Unlike fiber-optic sights, red dot sights work very well at night as they are illuminated. Red dot sights are great for self-defense since they don’t require alignment and are more a point-and-shoot system.
Another advantage with RDS is that they are always on. Unlike laser sights that have to be manually activated, this makes life simpler, especially under duress.
RDS are also ‘no trace,’ meaning that the dot is only visible to you and would not expose your position in a combat or self-defense situation.
Some disadvantages here are mounting an RDS system requires a slide cut or a mount attached to the rear sight dovetail.
A word on the color.
These sights also come in green. Many silhouette shooters find they experience less eye strain with the green dot than the red.
Once again (like most things with guns), it depends on what you will be using the sight for and the quality of training done to become proficient.
Adding a red dot sight to your pistol may also require a different holster, so consider this when making your choice.
From a price perspective, red dot sights are more costly than night sights, with prices from $169 to $599 or higher depending on the make and features.
Laser Sights For Pistols
A laser sight is rail-mounted, and many pistols available now either come with a rail or can be fitted with one quickly and cheaply.
A laser sight has quite a few advantages for the pistol owner.
It can de-escalate a situation quickly. Finding a green or red dot on your chest as an attacker may cause you to have some second thoughts about completing your dastardly deed.
Since the shooter simply has to pull the trigger without actually aiming, the chances of getting hit are high, which is a considerable deterrent to any attacker.
Plug-n-play attachment – as long as your gun has a rail, there is no need for milling or any other engineering – just mount and shoot!
With the laser, there is no reason to aim, and this means you can shoot effectively from positions that, without the laser, would be difficult, if not impossible, to put a shot on target.
Even shooting with your weaker hand would potentially result in a hit, as you can see where the laser is. You can hit that target by pulling the trigger!
Plus, it’s a great training tool as you can use it in simulated conditions at home and check whether there is anticipated recoil when you shoot.
If the laser dips just before firing, you know that you’ve reacted to the recoil before firing and can correct this to ensure you don’t do it when it matters.
A significant disadvantage is that the laser is a two-way show, meaning that your opponent can see where it’s coming from and identify your position, unlike the red dot sights.
Also, laser sights only work well at close range, with red lasers only having an effective range of about 10 yards and green lasers an effective range of about 25 yards.
Plus, lasers don’t work very well in sunlight or very bright light either.
Like the red-dot sights, laser sights are battery-operated, which means you’ll need to change them at some point.
When looking for a sight, try and find one that allows you to change the battery without removing the unit from the gun.
If you are shooting at mostly close range, the laser may be for you, but longer than 25 yards, go for the red dot.
From a price perspective, laser sights are cheaper than red dots coming in around the $200 to $300 mark, while red dot sights can be double that price.
Pistol Optics – What Works and What Doesn’t?
While some shooters never add an optic system throughout their lives, many start with night sights and gradually move to laser or RDS as they elect to become more proficient and efficient with their weapons.
These products offer some value and, depending on what you are using your gun for, could provide you with an edge in your chosen discipline.
The RDS system looks most favorable for self-defense purposes, offering the most benefit to installing one on your pistol. Fast acquisition, broader field views, and simplicity make RDS a top pick here not only because it’s simple, but it also doesn’t trace the attacker back to you.
From a cost perspective, it is the most expensive option out of all of these.
The laser sight also offers good value and advantage as it allows you to shoot from add angles without actual acquisition needed like the RDS, night sight, or open sights require.
Point and shoot is especially useful in high-stress environments. The ease of installation ranks it high on this list.
But, with limited range and traceability, the laser would come in 2nd best against the RDS.
Adding an optic system should not diminish reliance on shooting fundamentals, whether you are shooting for sport or carrying for protection. The emphasis is always on training and safety, and any optic system you add should be about making what you already have better.
No system discussed above can make you a better marksman if your fundamentals are poor, valid for any sport.
To Wrap it Up On Pistol Optics
The bottom line is they all work. Just some work better than others. With any accessory to your pistol, you need to be clear about your most common use and thereby determine which optic system would be better.
With any gun, it’s always about the person behind the trigger and how and where the firearm will be used.
Take your gun to the store and see if you can test out a few of these systems yourself and see what resonates with you.
What’s more accessible, lighter, and faster for you?
What adds value to your shooting and takes time or accuracy away?
Based on those results, you can then make an informed decision, and when it comes to firearms, that is ALWAYS the best way to go!