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Non-Magnified Optics Explained

What is an Optic?

Optics are sighting accessories added to firearms to increase accuracy. While optics themselves do not make guns more accurate, they make the act of aiming easier. Before optics came into common usage, iron sights were the predominate sighting system for firearms. 

Iron sights incorporate two parts of the firearm: typically, a post at the front and a notch at the rear that are aligned to ensure one aims a firearm straight at the target. Shooting with iron sights requires more skill because one must align both parts of the sights when making a shot. When optics came on the scene, firearms enthusiasts eagerly took advantage of this new technology. Optics make it easier on the shooter because they only require one aiming point, as compared to an iron sight’s two.

Optics fall into two major categories: magnified for extended range shooting and non-magnified for close-range shooting. While this article covers non-magnified optics, my article Magnified Optics Explained details magnified optics. Let's jump into non-magnified optics.

What are Non-Magnified Optics?

Non-magnified optics are any firearms optics with zero magnification. When one looks through a non-magnified optic, it appears as though you are viewing your target with a naked eye. A non-magnified optic does not have the ability to zoom in. You may be asking yourself… what’s the point of a non-magnified optic if I could just use the two eyes I was born with? Good question. The benefit of a non-magnified optic is that it aids in shooting rapidly at close range, especially with targets are on the move. 

There are several types of non-magnified optics most of which are called sights

What is a Red Dot Sight?

Red dot sights (RDS) are non-magnified electronic sights that reflect a reticle from a light-emitting diode (LED) on a lense inside the optic. Users look through the viewing window of the sight with both eyes open and line up the optic so the dot sits on the target. Most RDSes have a tubular design. Alternatively, some RDSes are boxier in shape with a square viewing window. While most RDSes use a simple red or green dot, some manufacturers incorporate a circle dot reticle where a center aiming dot sits inside of a larger outer ring. 

Most modern red dots are incredibly durable with battery life measured in years. Since battery life is so great, most red dots can be left turned on, making a red dot equipped firearm ready for use instantaneously. 

The impressively long battery life of red dot sights is handy for not having to change out batteries frequently. Not only are red dot sights more convenient (say goodbye to switching out batteries every week) but they also can be left on making for one less button to press. 

Manufacturers measure dot size (reticle) in Minute of Angle (MOA) which means one inch at 100 yards. Most red dots these days use a 2 MOA dot indicating the reticle covers 2 inches at 100 yards. Red dot sights offer fast target acquisition which makes them an ideal general-purpose sighting option. 

The Holosun HS403B is an electronic red dot sight.

What are Dual Illuminated Tritium/Fiberoptic Reflex Sights?

Dual illuminated tritium/fiberoptic reflex sight certainly is a mouthful. But don’t be intimidated by the long name. This type of optic is perfect for close-range shooting and relies on the two types of light sources, tritium and ambient light to function. These sights offer the same speed and fast target acquisition as RDSes and are ideal for folks that dislike the use of batteries.

Similar to a solar panel, the fiberoptic reflex component of the optic relies on sunlight, or ambient light, to function. During daylight, the fiberoptic elements present this type of sight with sunlight to project the reticle on the lens. 

As you can probably guess, the fiberoptic reflex mechanism is not helpful when it gets dark. Good thing these optics have a backup system utilizing luminous tritium lamps to ensure that your sight works just as well in the dark as it does in the light. For low-light conditions, luminous tritium lamps project the reticle. Tritium is a mildly radioactive gas that emits light when contained in a sealed glass vial. The optic automatically chooses the best light system depending on the light level. 

There are a couple of downsides to this type of non-magnified optic. In very bright environments, the reticle can wash out. The bad news is when this happens there is no way for the fiberoptic reflex to increase brightness. Also, the tritium used in the lamps for illumination dims over time. 

The Trijicon 800112 is a dual-illuminated reflex sight.

What are Holographic Sights? 

Holographic sights are non-magnified optics and while they may look similar to RDSes there are a few key differences. As its name implies, instead of utilizing a simple LED dot, holographic sights incorporate holograms and lasers to project more complex reticles. 

Holographic sights work by shooting a laser beam onto a hologram embedded in the lens which makes the reticle appear to float in mid-air. Holographic sights typically feature a large circle dot reticle. The precise center dot is usually 1 MOA, and the outer circle is 65 MOA. 

Since the outer portion of the reticle is so large and visible, it makes target acquisition faster and easier than with a red dot. Holographic sights feature a large square field of view which further increases speed to get onto the target. 

The advantages of holographic sights certainly come with a cost. The laser required to make the image appear is less efficient than the simple LED in red dots leading to shorter battery life compared to RDSes. However, folks needing the fastest target acquisition possible are often willing to live with this shortcoming. Holographic sights are ideal for anyone that prefers the largest field of view possible with an easy to pick up, large reticle. 

Eotech EXPS3 holographic sight.

What are Magnifiers? 

Magnifiers are optical add-on devices used alongside non-magnified optics when one needs to shoot and see at further distances. Magnifiers not only allow shooters to view targets at more extended ranges, but they also magnify the reticle itself. Most magnifiers are designed to swing out of the way or twist off when not in use.   

Eotech HHSIII holographic sight with magnifier.


For folks that need the maximum field of view for rapid shooting, it is hard to go wrong with a non-magnified optic. Modern red dot and holographic sights offer aiming solutions that were unthinkable in years past. Non-magnified optics allow one to shoot better, and shooting better is more fun! Browse our wide selection on non-magnified optics today. 

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