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Red Dot vs. Laser: Which is Better?

Image of Bryan Hill, Founder of Pistol Wizard Bryan Hill / October 02 2021

Unsure if a red dot or laser is right for you? Here's a comparison.

On This Page:

  1. Pistol Red Dot Strengths
  2. Pistol Laser Strengths
  3. Red Dot vs. Laser Advantages (2016)
  4. Comparison Summary

Pistol Red Dot Strengths

  • More precise at distance. If you want to shoot at 25 yards or more, pick a red dot.
  • (Compact and larger pistols) compatible with grip adjustments. Some lasers mount on the pistol's grip, and don't allow for changes to the side panels or backstrap.
  • (Pocket pistols, some larger pistols) opens up the rail slot for a pistol light.
  • Helps with racking the slide, if you have trouble racking it.
  • For expert shooters. If you put in the time and effort for training and practice, a red dot unlocks more performance on targets at 10 yds. or more.

Pistol Laser Strengths

  • Quick and easy to learn. If you don't have much time for training and practice, a laser is the right choice.
  • Perfect for pocket pistols. To enhance your aim and still pocket carry, a laser is the best choice.
  • Budget-friendly. Lasers cost much less to setup properly than a red dot.
    It costs at $100-150 just to make a gun compatible with red dots.
  • Shooting from awkward positions. If you know you can't get a perfect pistol presentation, a laser dominates.

Red Dot vs. Laser Advantages (2016)

This is a case study demonstration of red dot vs. laser on a rifle, featuring Bill Blowers , a SWAT officer of over 20 years and USPSA Master.

Bill wore a protective mask to prevent getting an ideal cheek weld. His rifle had a red dot and green laser. He fired two drills:

Drill 1
Present rifle, fire 1 shot on target 1, 2 on target 2, 3 on target 3, 4 on target 2, and 5 on target 1.
The laser was 1 second (18%) faster.

Drill 2
Present rifle, fire 2 shots on target 1. Lower rifle, present and fire 2 shots on target 2. Repeat 5 times.
The laser was 7.1 seconds (34%) faster.

Key Takeaways
  • On a rifle, when one can get an ideal cheek weld, red dots are fasters than lasers.
  • However, when wearing a gas mask, shooting around barriers, or other non-ideal situations, lasers are faster.
  • Why? Without an ideal cheek weld, it takes more time to acquire the red dot after presenting.
How does this apply to pistols?
  • The sloppier your pistol presentation, the slower your first shot.
  • This is especially true with red dots.
  • Mastering a consistent pistol presentation takes many hours of practice.
  • When shooting in non-ideal situations (around cover, one-handed, etc.), a laser is faster.
  • If you have both a laser and red dot, time yourself on drills to see which is fastest for you.

Comparison Summary

Trijicon RMR Type 2 Red Dot mounted on a Glock 34.
Red Dot
Crimson Trace LG-443G mounted on a Glock 43.
Cost $350-750 $200-350
Precise Shooting 10 yds. or more Red: up to 15 yds.
Green: up to 25 yds.
Helps Poor Eyes
Low-light shooting
Threat Focus
Shooting around Cover
Iron Sight Compatible Needs suppressor-height sights
Weapon Light Compatible If set to max brightness Laser Grips only
Grip Adjustment Compatible Some
Exposed in Darkness If set to max brightness In fog/smoke
Ideal Pistols Compact, Full-size Any
Learning Curve 3+ hours Minutes
Skill Level Intermediate, Advanced All

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