Red Dot Sights: Open vs. Closed Emitters

Red Dot Sights: Open vs. Closed Emitters
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Red Dot Sights: Open vs. Closed Emitters

Which type of reflex sight is best for your pistol?

Putting red dots on pistols is the best idea the human race has had since putting peanut butter inside M&Ms. A red dot on a pistol is the smartest single step to take to shrink your pistol’s group sizes. Instead of focusing your eye on a straight edge (leaving the target blurry) and estimating where the center of that blur is, there is now a small, crisp red dot that shows exactly where the bullet will land. I’m not really interested in a pistol anymore if it can’t host a red dot, that’s how significant an advantage these optics offer. 

Open Emitter Red Dot Sights

Start shopping for a pistol red dot sight and one of the first branches in the decision tree that’ll need negotiation is choosing between an open emitter and a closed emitter. The open emitter is more common because it’s less expensive, easier to manufacture, and smaller. Open emitter red dot sights have been on pistols for years for all of these reasons and are certainly the most common.

Rise of the Closed Emitter Red Dot Sights

Closed emitter sights are the Johnny-come-lately of pistol red dots. There are only a handful of models and they’re bigger and more expensive. However, they have a couple of advantages that are difficult to overlook. Closed emitter sights are impervious to the weather, so there’s no chance of rain, dirt, ketchup, or anything else falling into the sight and blocking the emitter, rendering it useless. If you’ve ever shot an open emitter and been caught in the rain, it doesn’t take much to make an open emitter inoperable.

However, open emitter sights being disabled from foreign debris blocking the light emitting diode (LED) is a low probability. This is especially true if the pistol is carried inside the waistband, since it is protected from the elements until it’s drawn.

How You Carry Matters

The rule I like to live by for red dot sights on pistols is, if I’m carrying it inside the waistband, I think the open emitter is the best choice. Anything outside the waistband is probably better served by a closed emitter sight. Inside the waistband is crowded territory because daddy is thicc, so minimizing the size and bulk of the pistol becomes a planning consideration. I think just about every pistol needs a red dot sight, so taking advantage of the smaller size and footprint of the open emitter optics makes too much sense to ignore. There are a wide variety of these red dots out there, so the buyer can choose between low-cost models with plastic lenses and polymer housings or super-durable sights with glass lenses and aluminum bodies.

Closed Emitters in the Wild

Closed emitter red dot sights are my top pick for a pistol carried outside the waistband, especially on duty guns and backcountry pistols. The closed emitter puts a protective hood over the entire optic, so the weather to which the pistol is exposed ceases to be a risk. The housings on these optics are larger, thicker, and better-suited to getting knocked around in the great outdoors. The housings are also more visible when shooting the pistol, but that makes them feel like a large “ghost ring” sight that speeds dot acquisition.

Putting a red dot on a pistol is something everyone needs to at least try. Watching group sizes shrink instantaneously is reason enough to own one or a dozen. 

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