The Mini Reflex Sight

A Burris Fast Fire reflex sight mounted on a pistol.

The reflex sight may seem to be a modern invention, but it was created in 1900 as a better gunsight for pilots and anti-aircraft gunners.

Based on a visual collimator that reflects the image of a reticle on a pane of glass, it allows the shooter’s eye to move in relation to the reticle while maintaining the point of impact.

In the 1970s, when LEDs were refined, reflex sights pioneered by Aimpoint could be used in total darkness. By 1990, professional handgunner Doug Koenig began using them to eventually win 10 world titles.

“Red-dot sights are fast, superior in low light, and allow the shooter to simply focus on the target,” says Koenig. They also have virtually no parallax, a huge field of view, and long eye relief. And they allow aging shooters with presbyopia­—those who wear reading glasses—newfound accuracy. The downside has been their bulk and dismal battery life. Plus, they required custom mounts and were too bulky for routine carry.

But when circuitry was miniaturized, manufacturers could make the sights an inch tall. Most now have a battery life measuring in months.

Currently, Glock, Smith & Wesson, FN, Kahr, and Sig Sauer make guns that easily accept them. No special holsters are required.

Certainly the mini-reflex rage is here, and more products are sure to come. Here’s a sampling of what’s on the market today:

Reflex Sights

Burris makes the only sight listed here that uses a simple push-button on/off switch. The button selects three brightness settings and an auto-dimming function. I simply turn the unit on when I holster my gun and forget about it when I put the gun back in my safe. It’s also affordable. MSRP: $287.

Reflex Sights

Bushnell’s unit is heavier than some other models at 2 ounces (gasp!), but it works well and is the least expensive one here. It’s got a sensor that shuts the unit off when it’s covered and adjusts for brightness. As with most auto-regulating sights, however, the use of a flashlight at night can confuse it, making it too dim under some conditions. MSRP: $193.

Reflex Sights

The German firm’s sight weighs .875 ounce and auto-adjusts the dot’s brightness based on ambient light. I like it because it’s one of the smallest and simplest reflex sights available. A soft-rubber cover turns the unit off by blocking all light; when I attach it to my belt via a string, the cover comes off as I draw, turning it on. At dusk however, the dot appeared too bright. But it’s light, tough, and otherwise works great. MSRP: $282.

This model is probably the most advanced mini-reflex today. Leupold incorporated motion-sensing technology into the Pro to turn it on even before the sight picture can be acquired. (I doubt even Doc Holliday could beat it.) It has an auto-brightness setting and the ability to leave the dot at a pre-set intensity. MSRP: $749.

Reflex Sights

The RMR—for ruggedized mini reflex sight—features tritium that glows in the dark, plus a fiber-optic system that takes over in daytime. I love that it doesn’t have batteries to fail, but the fiber-optic system is not always bright enough at dawn and dusk. Machined from aluminum, all in all it’s exceptional. MSRP: $577.