Red Dot Sights: Open vs. Closed Emitters

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

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.

Overview - Open vs Closed Red Dot Sights

Open Red Dot Sights
Open red dot sights, also known as reflex sights, have an open design with a single window through which the shooter views the reticle.

The reticle is typically a red dot or a similar illuminated aiming point that appears on the sight's lens.

Advantages of Open Red Dot Sights:

  1. Wide Field of View: The open design provides a wide field of view, allowing the shooter to have better situational awareness.
  2. Quick Target Acquisition: The simple reticle design allows for rapid target acquisition, as the shooter's eye can quickly align the dot with the target.
  3. Parallax-Free: Open red dot sights are designed to be parallax-free, meaning the reticle stays on target regardless of the shooter's eye position.

Considerations for Open Red Dot Sights:

  1. Durability: Open red dot sights may be more exposed to the elements, which could potentially affect their durability and resistance to dust, moisture, and impact.
  2. Lens Protection: The exposed lens may require additional protection, such as lens covers, to prevent scratches or damage during storage or transportation.

Closed Red Dot Sights
Closed red dot sights, also known as tube-style red dot sights, have an enclosed design with a tube-like housing that protects the lens and the internal components of the sight.

Advantages of Closed Red Dot Sights:

  1. Enhanced Durability: The enclosed design offers better protection against environmental factors like dust, moisture, and impact.
  2. Integrated Lens Protection: The housing provides inherent protection to the lens, reducing the need for additional lens covers.
  3. Mounting Options: The tube design often allows for more versatile mounting options, such as co-witnessing with iron sights or adding magnifiers.

Considerations for Closed Red Dot Sights:

  1. Slightly Limited Field of View: The tube design can slightly restrict the shooter's field of view compared to open red dot sights.
  2. Potentially Slower Target Acquisition: The more enclosed sight picture might require the shooter to spend a fraction more time aligning the reticle with the target.

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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