Visual Clarity and Performance Under Adverse Conditions: How Do Red Dot Sights Fare

Chris G.

Have you ever considered that approximately 65% of tactical shooters use red dot sights? These shooters expose themselves, their firearms, and their optics in harsh conditions. Rain, blizzards, extreme summer heat—you name it. That’s not including accidental dropping, the recoil of firearms, and countless other forms of abuse the red dot optic is subjected to.  

How do these sights retain their visual clarity under challenging conditions?

Let’s check out the technology of these sights, and find out how they can endure such punishing conditions. 

How Red Dot Sights Obtain Their Lens Clarity

Here’s how a red dot sight works. A light-emitting diode (LED) generates a red beam of light that is controlled by a tiny aperture in front of the optic. The LED light is reflected off a specially coated spherical mirror, usually referred to as a lens, within the sight. This lens is designed to reflect only the light frequency of the red dot. As a result, you see a vivid, precise red dot against your target.

To maintain the integrity and the intensity of the red dot, the lens must be crystal clear. Several factors contribute to its exceptional clarity.

  1. Coating Technologies: High-quality red dot sights often feature advanced lens coatings that improve light transmission, maximize light throughput, reduce glare, and enhance clarity. M
  2. Anti-Reflective Coatings: Anti-reflective coatings on the lens surfaces help to eliminate reflections and minimize stray light, ensuring that the sight picture remains clear and bright. 
  3. Parallax-Free Design: Most red dot sights have a forgiving parallax at a specific distance. This design ensures that the reticle remains on the target regardless of the shooter’s eye position.
  4. Quality Materials: Red dot sight manufacturers use high-quality optical materials. Premium materials contribute to better light transmission, color accuracy, and overall optical clarity.
  5. Precision Manufacturing: The lenses of red dot sights are manufactured with precision to maintain optical integrity. Rigorous quality control measures ensure that each lens meets the specified standards, lessening optical distortions and aberrations.
  6. Durable Coatings: The lenses of red dot sights are treated with durable coatings to protect against scratches, smudges, and abrasions that impede clarity.
  7. Low Dispersion Glass: Some high-end red dot sights use low dispersion or extra-low dispersion glass in their lenses. This type of glass minimizes chromatic aberrations and color fringing, resulting in a clearer and more color-accurate sight picture.

Adverse Conditions That Are Harmful to Red Dot Sights

a pistol dropped in a rocky ground

As a rule of thumb, red dot sights are durable and rugged. They are engineered and designed to withstand harsh conditions. However, they are still electronic devices. Certain adverse conditions can affect the performance and constitution of red dot sight lenses. 

  1. Moisture and Humidity: Prolonged exposure to moisture, high humidity, or wet conditions can lead to fogging inside the lens, affecting visibility. It may also contribute to the growth of mold or fungus which can cause permanent damage.
  2. Extreme Temperatures: Exposure to extreme hot or cold temperatures can affect the performance of red dot sight lenses. Rapid temperature changes can lead to internal fogging or condensation.
  3. Dust and Debris: Dust, sand, and debris can scratch the lens surface, causing damage to the coatings and reducing optical clarity. 
  4. Chemical Exposure: Contact with harsh chemicals or solvents can damage the lens coatings and optical surfaces. 
  5. Impact or Shock: Strong and hard physical impacts or shocks can scratch, crack, or even break the lens. 
  6. Direct Sunlight: Continuous exposure to intense sunlight, especially without lens covers, can lead to overheating of the sight’s internal components. Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight may also cause the lens coatings to fade.
  7. Vibration and Recoil: A firearm’s recoil subjects the red dot sight to vibration and shock. While reputable sights are designed to withstand recoil, prolonged exposure to heavy recoil or constant vibration may impact performance.
  8. Corrosive Environments: Exposure to corrosive environments, such as saltwater or corrosive gases, can rapidly deteriorate the metal components and lens coatings. 
  9. Abrasive Cleaning Practices: Using abrasive materials or harsh cleaning methods can scratch or damage the lens coatings. 
  10. Poor Storage Conditions: Storing the red dot sight in unfavorable conditions such as in a damp or excessively hot environment can contribute to the growth of mold, fungus, or other contaminants that may affect the lens.

Impact of Adverse Conditions on Red Dot Sight’s Clarity and Performance

Adverse conditions can have a significant impact on the clarity and performance of red dot sights. 

  1. Fogging and Condensation: Moisture and humidity can lead to fogging or condensation inside the red dot sight. This occurs when the internal temperature of the sight is different from the external environment. Fogging may require the sight to be disassembled and dried.
  2. Reduced Light Transmission: Exposure to extreme temperatures, especially heat, can affect the optical coatings of the lens. This makes the reticle less visible and impacts overall image clarity.
  3. Lens Coating Damage: Any damage to the lens coatings can compromise the optical performance of the red dot sight, leading to reduced clarity and potentially affecting the reticle’s visibility.
  4. Corrosion and Rust: Corrosion and rust not only affect the aesthetics but can also impact the functionality of moving parts such as elevation and windage adjustments.
  5. Electronic Malfunctions: Harsh conditions can affect the electronic components of the red dot sight. This may lead to a lot of malfunctions.
  6. Impact on Zeroing: Prolonged exposure to adverse conditions may result in changes to the internal mechanisms of the sight, potentially impacting zeroing and accuracy. 
  7. Internal Moisture Retention: Moisture entering the sight can affect internal components. Over time, mold or fungus may grow, degrading the sight’s optical clarity and damaging its internal components.
  8. Battery Issues: Cold temperatures can reduce battery life, while heat can cause batteries to degrade more quickly. 
  9. Physical Damage: Impact, shock, or exposure to harsh conditions may cause physical damage to the red dot sight. 
  10. Compromised Durability: Adverse conditions can accelerate wear and tear on the sight’s components, compromising its overall durability. 

Protecting Your Red Dot Optic Against Harsh Conditions

a man cleaning a red dot

If you’re using your firearm regularly, chances are your red dot is going to be exposed to harsh conditions. Should you be concerned about these conditions? Yes—unless you follow these tips to protect your valuable optic.

  1. Use Lens Covers: Invest in quality lens covers to protect the lens against dust, debris, and scratches when the sight is not in use.
  2. Choose a Durable Housing: Select a red dot sight with a durable and rugged housing. A robust construction, often made from materials like aircraft-grade aluminum, helps protect the internal components from physical impact and environmental stress.
  3. Apply Lens Coatings: Apply anti-fog and anti-reflective lens coatings to help prevent fogging, reduce glare, and protect the lens from environmental elements.
  4. Keep the Sight Dry: Moisture can be harmful to optics. Make sure your red dot sight stays dry by using protective covers during rain or humid conditions. Store the sight in a dry environment and use moisture-absorbing desiccant packs if necessary.
  5. Store Properly: When not in use, store your red dot sight in a protective case or pouch. 
  6. Avoid Extreme Temperatures: Minimize exposure to extreme hot or cold temperatures. 
  7. Regularly Inspect and Clean: Regular inspections and maintenance are a must! Check for any signs of damage, wear, or debris on the lens and housing. Clean the lens using appropriate cleaning materials such as lens cloths and lens cleaning solutions designed for optics.
  8. Use Thread Locker Sparingly: If you use thread locker (e.g., Loctite) on mounting screws, apply it sparingly to prevent excess residue. Excessive thread locker can lead to difficulties in disassembly and may negatively impact the components.
  9. Protect Against Impact: Handle your firearm and optic with care to avoid accidental impacts. 
  10. Regularly Replace Batteries: Replace batteries regularly. Remove them if you’re not planning to use your red dot for quite some time.
  11. Follow Manufacturer Guidelines: Adhere to the manufacturer’s guidelines for maintenance, storage, and usage. This includes recommended cleaning procedures, torque specifications for mounting screws, and any specific considerations for adverse conditions.
  12. Seek Professional Maintenance: If you encounter issues or suspect damage to your red dot sight, consider seeking professional maintenance or inspection from a qualified gunsmith or the manufacturer’s service center.

Conclusion

Red dot sights certainly hold their own in challenging situations. Yet, they are not immune to the elements. They can succumb to severe weather, dirt, or insufficient lighting. However, with proper precautions and maintenance, you can protect your red dot optic to withstand a lot of abuse.

About the author

The name's Chris. Just a regular dude who loves firearms. I've been shooting since I was a kid. My old man taught me the ropes.

I'll never forget the first time I missed an easy shot on a buck, thanks to a bum scope. The image was fuzzier than my dog's butt. After that, I got obsessed with understanding scopes. What makes the good ones tick and the bad ones trash. After a few years and a few thousand bucks, I learned what separates the winners from the losers. Once I had a good stockpile of knowledge, I launched this site.

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