Back in 1975, Aimpoint offered the first commercial red dot sight. Those initial sights were heavy, and good luck trying to find a replacement battery. Today, red dots are lighter and use batteries sold at convenience stores and gas stations, and as the weight decreased, so did the price.
For the price of a state-of-the-art Aimpoint purchased in the 1980s, you could buy eight $50 red dot sights today. The question many of us have is, how good are these inexpensive red dots? To see for myself, I compared three sights costing under $50—BSA Model RD30 ($19.99), NcStar DBB130 ($28.35) and the Tasco BKRD30 ($30.30). In addition, I added a potential ringer—a Bushnell TRS-25 ($80.72) that cost nearly double the other sights, but is still affordable for most budgets.
Before starting any range work, I shock-tested the sights by dropping them on a wood floor from a height of four feet. Red dots tout their sturdiness for use on rifles, shotguns, and magnum revolvers and I thought this was a useful test. The jolt had no effect on the sights; dots remained illuminated and knobs turned.
Next on the torture test, the dots were activated with the turret covers left on and frozen at -4° F, then soaked in hot water. Some of the instruction manuals stated the battery and turret caps need to be secured when using the sights in “extreme conditions,” which translates into different meaning depending if you are a plinker or turkey hunter.
I followed the instruction manuals and left the turret caps on. All the sights had some type of pliable gasket on the turrets to seal out dust and moisture. So, too, did the battery compartments. There were no hiccups from the cold. In the water, all the sights released a few air bubbles from the rheostat knob, but again no hiccups. Dots remained illuminated, and I saw no sign of moisture.
Red dots are manufactured with a coating on the lens that creates a green tint when viewing. The coating helps reflect the red dot within the sight body. The green tint was slightly more pronounced on the NcStar. Also, a slight blueish ring can be seen around the edge of the lens. Neither of these impacted the use of the sight, since the green tint was subtle. The sight is also not designed for observation like spotting scopes and binoculars nor like riflescopes.
To my eyes, the brightest of the sights are the most expensive—the Bushnell, followed by the Tasco. The BSA and NcStar tied. I tried to coax parallax from all four sights, but could not. Moving my head left/right and up/down, the dots stayed on target.
All the sights use a knob to activate and adjust the red-dot intensity. The BSA, Tasco and NcStar knob is located on top of the sight; the Bushnell’s is at a 45-degree angle between the top and right side. The knobs take effort to turn, with the BSA knob rotating the easiest; the Bushnell requires the most effort. The knobs also house the battery. With the Tasco and Bushnell, you can use a coin to tighten the cover, and that is a good practice because with the Bushnell, I accidentally loosened the battery cover when turning and adjusting the dot. The NcStar’s battery cover has a ridged edge, and it loosened as I rotated the knob.
The sights have 11 intensity levels, except for the NcStar’s, which has seven. For viewing, I dialed in all the sights to the seven setting for consistency, and when tested in bright sunlight, all of the dots were clear points of red that were easy to place on target. In the dark, the dots seemed a bit fuzzier. At the highest setting, all the sights produced a signature from the objective end downrange.
The sights then took their turn being mounted on a Ruger 22/45 for range testing. All use a Picatinny rail or Weaver-style base for mounting. The NcStar and BSA both have one-mount clamping that is adjustable. The Tasco’s mounts are fixed. The Bushnell has only one mounting clamp. All clamps are tightened with a flat screwdriver or coin; only the Bushnell requires a hex wrench, which is supplied with the sight.
These sights are made to be zeroed and left alone, but I cranked the windage and elevation while noting the number of clicks and returning to zero. I looked at each sight’s ability to pick up the dot with both eyes opened, consistency shot after shot, and ease of use.
The BSA RD30 with its larger objective, like the NcStar and Tasco, is easy to use with both eyes open. I felt the BSA and Tasco tied for ease of use and lightweight. The BSA gave the pistol good balance and offered fast follow-up ability.
The NcStar is the heaviest sight tested. If you are a precision shooter, you will like it because it helps steady the pistol. The NcStar’s weight was noticeable when mounted on a pistol, and it might be better suited for use on a rimfire rifle or on a shotgun for turkey hunting. The clear flip-up covers look like they would scratch easily, but the covers keep out dust, dirt and other assorted crud. I prefer to use the sight with the clear lens covers flipped up.
The Tasco definitely made me happy. Its controls were not too difficult or easy to turn, and the larger objective made two-eye aiming simple.
The ringer in the test was the Bushnell TRS-25, which is tiny in size and weight compared to the other red dots. The smaller objective and smaller dot are slightly harder to use until I acclimated to them. For younger or less experienced shooters, I would choose a sight with the larger objective diameter with the larger 5-MOA dot. I like that it uses only one mounting clamp that is easier to affix, affording it more mounting options. If small size matters, then the Bushnell is a good choice.
|BSA RD30||NcStar DBB130||Tasco BKRD30||Bushnell TRS-25|
|Reticle||5 MOA red dot||3 MOA red dot||5 MOA red dot||3 MOA red dot|
|Parallax Setting||50 yds.||50 yds.||50 yds.||50 yds.|
|Weight||5 oz.||6.8 oz.||6 oz.||3.7 oz.|
|Click Value at 100 Yards||0.5”||1 MOA||1 MOA||0.5”|
|Dot Intensity Settings||11||7||11||11|
|Power Source||1 #CR2032||1 #CR2032||1 #CR2032||1 #CR2032|
|Battery Life at Medium Intensity||8 hours||8 hours||8 hours||8 hours|
|Finish||Matte black||Matte black||Matte black||Matte black|
|Weather Resistance||Waterproof and fogproof||Waterproof and fogproof||Waterproof and fogproof||Waterproof and fogproof|
|Automatic Shut Off||No||No||No||No|
|Warranty||1 year limited||Limited lifetime||1 year limited||2 year limited|
Robert Sadowski has written about firearms and hunting for nearly 15 years. He’s authored four gun books and edited three and is a contributor to numerous gun-enthusiast magazines, including Combat Handguns, Black Guns, Tactical Weapons for Military and Police, Gun Tests, Personal and Home Defense, Gun Hunter, SHOT Business, and others. He has a personal affinity for large-caliber revolvers and the AR platform.
Out of the four red dots tested do you want to try? Tell us which one and why in the comment section.