Rifle Optics: Holographic Sights

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Last Updated on March 30, 2021.
Rifle Optics Holographic Sights

When searching for a suitable rifle optic, you have a few choices — rifle scopes, red-dot sights, and holographic sights. Holographic sights are similar to red-dot sights in a few ways and different in others. It’s worth exploring the differences to see which system is right for you.


Why Upgrade Sights 

If you want to upgrade your rifle’s sights, a holographic sight offers an alternative to traditional rifle scopes, iron sights, and red-dot sights. If you want to use these sights to full effect, it’s worth understanding how they work and why they are different from red-dot sights.


Competing Systems

You need to understand how some of the competing systems function to appreciate a holographic sight’s functional differences. 

Iron sights

Iron sights, also called mechanical sights, are aiming markers that allow you to adjust the elevation and windage of the barrel relative to the target to achieve a direct hit with a projectile. Iron sights are typically composed of steel, hence the name, but may also be aluminum or plastic. 

These sighting systems are simple and reliable; however, mastering iron sights can require more training than developing a similar skill level with a holographic sight. 

Rifle scopes

The traditional rifle scope is a telescopic sight that provides magnification, either variable or fixed. A rifle scope can provide enhanced precision for medium- to long-range shooting, enabling you to identify targets reliably. However, they may be unsuitable for close-range engagements and limit situational awareness.


​What is a Holographic Sight?

A holographic sight functions in almost the same way as a reflector or reflex sight. Unlike a reflector sight, however, the reticle image in a holographic sight is integral to the viewing window — the manufacturer installs it at the factory. 

A laser diode projects a beam of light, which is reflected by mirrors. This light is then reflected by a holographic grating onto the built-in reticle image, illuminating it. 

When you look through the sight’s viewing window, you see the holographic reticle image superimposed on the viewing field. 

EOTech introduced this type of sighting system in the 1990s, and the company remains the primary manufacturer of this technology

There are several reasons to choose a holographic sight. These include:

Reduced training time

Mastering the use of iron sights can be difficult for those new to shooting. Holographic and reflector sights enable new shooters to hit targets by simply placing a brightly colored reticle, usually red or amber, on the target and squeezing the trigger. 

One focal plane

Holographic and reflector sights superimpose the reticle onto the target. As a result, the target and sight reticle occupy the same focal plane.

In iron-sighted systems, you have three objects to focus on that are different distances from each other: the front sight, rear sight, and the target. Your focus should be on the front sight, which means the target and rear sight are blurry. 

Increased sight acquisition

Whether for competitive shooting or tactical training, you’re able to quickly get a sight picture with a holographic sight. Your eye is able to instinctively place the target inside a ring-like reticle or place a bright dot on a target.

Improved contrast

For shooting under low-light conditions, whether dawn, dusk, or at night, a bright red, amber, blue, or green reticle is easier to see. Unlike some iron sights, a holographic sight reticle won’t disappear when you place it against a darkly colored or black background. 

Many holographic sights use a dual-MOA reticle. These designs consist of a wide ring (e.g., 68 MOA) and a center dot (1 or 2 MOA). This duality enables you to use the ring for relatively close-range engagements while switching to the dot for more precise shots at longer distances. 

Reticles featuring a ring of this type can also be used in conjunction with shotguns. The ring isn’t a perfect representation of the spreading pattern of buckshot, but you may be able to have them coincide, depending on the load and choke. 

A holographic sight is non-magnified by default. However, if you need magnification for target identification or long-range precision, magnifiers are available as accessories. 

Parallax Sight

Although manufacturers often advertise holographic and reflector sights as parallax-free, that’s not entirely accurate. Although a parallax sight has less distortion than most sights, there is still a perceptible deformity.  However, given that these types of sights are mostly intended for close- to medium-range shooting, the remaining parallax is not a significant detriment to precision.

Holographic Sight Design Features

In some holographic sights, the battery compartment is not accessible unless you detach the sight from the weapon. You should generally avoid this. The battery compartment should, ideally, be accessible regardless of where the sight is located. 

More expensive options include hardened steel or aluminum shrouds to protect the lens from impact. If you intend to use your holographic sight during rigorous military or tactical training programs, or fast-paced competitive matches, a tougher sight may be the better choice. 

Buttons for adjusting brightness or reticle intensity should be accessible but not easily activated. This also applies to other knobs or switches regarding power, and windage, and elevation adjustment. Ideally, these controls will either be protected or positioned so that hitting them by accident is unlikely.


​Reasons to Avoid Holographic Sights

Holographic sights, like other types of electronic sights, are prone to failure due to impact damage or other hazards. 

Holographic sights that rely on batteries are generally less reliable than iron sights. Iron sights will last as long as the gun can first. Electronic sights have a fixed shelf life. Batteries eventually fail also.

High-quality holographic sights are expensive — sometimes prohibitively so. 

Unlike the LED emitter of a red-dot (i.e., reflector/reflex) sight, the laser diodes that holographic sights use consume more power, so the sight’s battery life is generally shorter

You’ll also find that holographic sights are bulkier than their reflex counterparts. This tends to limit their use to long guns — rifles, shotguns, carbines. If you want to take advantage of an electronic sight for a handgun, you’ll have to stick with the red-dot variety

Understanding the differences between rifle optics types can help you choose the most appropriate option for your shooting needs. Holographic sights are less energy-efficient than their reflector/red-dot counterparts.


The Bottom Line

With a holographic sight, or holo sight, attached to your rifle or carbine, you’ll be able to acquire targets faster. Holographic sights tend to be bulkier and more expensive than red dots. But they’re also more durable.