Have you ever sat down and thought about the different types of sights available? Did you even know there was a huge selection to pick from? Not just in brand and quality, but also functionality? Below is a list of the various types of rifle and pistol sights you can find. From iron sights to prism sights, there are plenty of options.

What Are Weapon Sights?

Sights are those things that sit on top of your rifle or handgun, but you already knew that. Some are fixed, while others are adjustable. For example, your rifle sights might adjust for windage and elevation. Unfortunately, and unlike a scope, sights don’t magnify anything. Instead, they help you line up your shot.

Adjustable vs. Fixed Sights

Since I just mentioned it, what’s the difference between your adjustable and fixed sights? It’s pretty obvious (the name kind of gives it away), but what does that mean for you and your aim?

Adjustable Sights

Pretty much what it sounds like, sights that are…you guessed it, adjustable. Depending on which sight you’re adjusting will depend on what you’re adjusting for. For example, if you’re adjusting the front sight, then you’re typically adjusting for elevation. Basically, if you’re consistently hitting low, you adjust the sight’s elevation so you are hitting center. However, if you’re adjusting the rear sight, you’re probably adjusting for windage. So if you’re consistently hitting far left, you would want to adjust your windage knob to the right, so you’re hitting center.

Fixed Sights

Again, pretty much what it sounds like…and you probably guessed this one too, sights that don’t adjust, they’re fixed to the weapon, and you don’t adjust them for windage, elevation, and the sorts. Basically, if you suck and find yourself consistently hitting low, you can’t adjust your sights to compensate. Fixed sights are typically factory set to a distance and type of ammo the company used. So, if you aren’t shooting at that particular distance or you aren’t using the same load, you might notice some undesired outcomes.

Different Types of Rifle Sights

Depending on what you want to shoot, where you’re shooting, and the conditions in which you’re shooting, some sights are better than others. Below are several different types of sights that might be referenced for rifles.

Iron Sights

Iron sights are about as basic as it gets, next to having no sights at all, that is. There’s nothing fancy about them (until you start adding phosphorescent or tritium to them—more on that soon)—no batteries, no magnification, and typically your cheapest option.

Iron Sights
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Mattes Sight picture through iron sights of an H&K MP5 submachine gun

Most rifles or pistols come with iron sights attached. However, there are some cases where they are not. For instance, if you’re purchasing a rifle where the seller knows you’re putting a scope on, they probably won’t even waste their money because they know the shooter won’t use the iron sights.

Iron sights are often used as a backup to battery-powered sights, such as an M68. They work as a “just in case” option, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get some quality practice with the basic tools.

Red Dot Sights

Red dot sights are pretty common, and most of you probably know about these. They simply place a red dot on your target. For the best results, your red dot should be at the smallest size possible so that you can see your target. You never want your red dot so big that it covers your entire target. Instead, make it so you can just see it; otherwise, you’re hindering your ability to see and hit your target’s center.

Advantages of a Red Dot Sight

If you’re looking for a basic optic to take to the range that won’t break the bank, this is probably your best bet.  But if you’re looking for something more versatile, consider a variable power red dot optic. 

Disadvantages of a Red Dot Sights

Because this type of optic has no magnification, they are not ideal for mid to long-range engagements.  As such, many units are moving away from these types of sights for use on standard service rifles because it keeps personnel from having the upper hand in longer-range engagements.

Reflex Sight

A reflex sight is an optic that uses a lens that functions as a mirror.   Basically, a red dot (in the form of an LED) is projected onto a semi reflecting lens that you can see through.  The biggest advantage of a reflex sight is that the point of aim of the red dot will not move as you move your eye’s location, making it parallax-free.

In other optics, if you move your head/eye side to side, you can actually change the aiming point of the optic.  In a reflex sight, the red dot shows the point of impact of the round (obviously not accounting for bullet drop).  This makes reflex sights an excellent CQB  optic.  Reflex sights can be battery-powered or powered by light through a tritium tube.

Another advantage of the optic is that very little power is required to show the red dot, so the optic’s batteries can last a lot longer than other types of red dot sights. 

Reflex vs. Red Dot Sight

As mentioned, a reflex sight is pretty much a red dot sight.  A red dot sight can be a reflex sight in the sense that the reflex sight uses a red dot as an aiming point.

Holographic Sight

A holographic sight is a sight that features a holographic image between two lenses.  Chances are you are most familiar with Eotech holographic sights, probably because Eotech has the patent on holographic sights, so they are the only ones making them.

Basically, it’s just a better version of the typical red dot sight.

The biggest advantage of a holographic sight is like a reflex sight; the sight picture doesn’t change based on your head’s location.  In general, holographic sights are very precise and accurate.  However, they do tend to be a lot more expensive. In addition, Eotech had a few issues over the years with the quality of their sights and reporting those issues to their end-users. 

Prism Sight

Prism sights are a red dot optic contained in a tube that uses a prism to show the image you’re looking at.  These types of sights are often used with a slight magnification (usually up to 3x power). Prism sights are great for both CQB and mid-range engagements; however, to acquire a proper sight picture, you need to have a closer eye relief than, say, a reflex sight.

In general, prism sights are more expensive than reflex sights, but they are becoming more popular, leading to a competitive price point.

Different Types of Pistol Sight

Like with a rifle, depending on what you want to shoot, where you’re shooting, and the conditions in which you’re doing such, will depend on the type of sights you want to put on your pistol. For instance, if you’re always working at night, you might want to get a set of tritium night sights.

Night Sights

There are a couple of different types of night sights, and one is better than the other, depending on your situation. For instance, if you’re looking to occasionally do some night shooting for about 10 minutes, phosphorescent sights would work. However, if you think you might be doing something more long-term, tritium sights might suit you better. Why? Because tritium sights have a glow lasting around 10 years, phosphorescent sights don’t last nearly as long (typically somewhere between 5-20 minutes).

Phosphorescent Sights vs. Tritium Sights

We’ve already brushed on it, but the big difference between the two night sights is in how long they’ll last you before you have to do something about it. Tritium is definitely a longer-lasting product, but it’s also pricier. Phosphorescent sights need a light source to charge them prior, while tritium sights “glow” all of the time.

Tritium Night Sights
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ROG5728. The tritium-illuminated fixed sights of the Five-seveN USG pistol, in normal lighting and dim lighting.

Difference Between Night Sights and Fiber Optic Sights

Fiber optic sights don’t bend light (refraction); instead, it bounces light (reflection). That means, for your fiber optic sights to work, there has to be light available.

However, night sights are intended to work when there’s no light available. Tritium night sights use radiation and are more expensive than fiber optic sights too.

RMR Sights

RMRs sights for pistols are becoming increasingly popular amongst shooting enthusiasts, police, and military personnel alike.  An RMR sight is essentially a reflex sight that mounts on a pistol and acts as a rapid aiming device.  In short, these are pistol red dot sights.

Trijicon RMR cc Red Dot Sight
Trijicon RMR cc Red Dot Sight

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Advantages of an RMR Sight

Using an RMR sight can help you acquire your target quickly and accurately.  After some training, you will most likely find it a lot easier than using traditional pistol sight.  The bright red dot is easy to find in the bright daylight and especially helps people with vision issues, such as those who struggle focusing on the front sight post.

Disadvantages of an RMR Sight

First and foremost, RMR sights are not cheap.  A good RMR will run you around $400+, and the costs can go up from there if you have to change your holster for the updated optic.  In addition, RMRs can be hard to use if you haven’t trained on them.  You should not use an RMR as a duty optic until you’ve spent plenty of time at the range.  Finally, RMRs require a battery that can go out over time; if your battery goes out while on a mission, there’s no backup sight available.

Laser Sights

Laser sights are pretty cool, and they come in different colors (we wrote an entire article on that). Green and red lasers are both highly debated because they are not created equal. Believe it or not, they both have their advantages and disadvantage.

Red Laser Sight

Red laser sights are probably the most popular. Not because they’re better, but because they’re cheaper than a green laser. Red lasers work great in low-light conditions and work well up to 25-30 yards in well-lit conditions (such as outside, during daylight hours, with no overcast).

Green Laser Sight

Green laser sights are generally more expensive than red lasers. This is because the technology behind a green laser is more advanced. Green lasers work better than red lasers in well-lit environments. For instance, if it’s during peak daylight hours and you’re outside, you’ll be able to see your laser for up to 100 yards.

In low-light conditions, the green and red lasers are about the same. However, green lasers are more powerful, which means the battery life isn’t as long as a red laser sight.
Did we miss anything? Do you have further recommendations? Please, comment below. We love hearing from our readers!

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