Holographic Weapon Sight vs. Red Dot

To the naked eye, the difference between a Holographic Weapon Sight (HWS) and red dot might seem negligible. However, there is more than meets the eye internally between the two popular systems. Many may think it’s just marketing speak and chalk it up to some higher-ups creating names to capture attention. Not exactly. Many differences exist, but first a little history behind today’s HWS.

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On paper, EOTech was created in 1995, but history took off for the company in 1946 when scientists from Willow Run Laboratories at the University of Michigan approached the U.S. Air Force. They proposed to create anti-ballistic missile systems, known today as ABM or “Star Wars.” That set into motion the 1986 Environmental Research Institute of Michigan (ERIM) presentation of the prototype holography-weapon sight to the Army for use in helicopter gunships and anti-aircraft artillery. From there, in 1993 ERIM formed Michigan Development Company to commercialize ERIM technology and create spin-off, for-profit subsidiaries.  

Arriving in 1995, EOTech began to apply wave-front reconstruction to small arms sights, and in 1996 the company introduced the first-gen HWS. If some of you were reflecting and thought it was Bushnell that launched the HoloSight, you’d be correct. In 1996, EOTech licensed the first HWS to Bushnell for a SHOThhw Show release. EOTech continued to make strides in 2001, introducing the military and law enforcement HWS, and in 2005 Spec Ops and the Marine Corps chose the HWS as their standard close combat optic. Another milestone for EOTech came in 2005, when L3 acquired the company. L3 is one of the world’s largest defense contractors. 

Fast forward to present day to examine the differences between HWS and red dot sights.

Holographic Weapon Sight (HWS)
A red dot in the screen is just a red dot in the screen, right? Far from it. The quick and dirty on the HWS. The HWS possesses some great attributes.

Extremely fast and easy for target acquisition
Both eyes open engagement. Shooters maintain peripheral sight
Anti-reflective coatings and flat front window. Minimizes image distortion
Optimal for off-axis usage where proper cheek weld or sight alignment isn’t possible

The red dot system engages quickly and also allows shooters the ability to leave both eyes open. As an additional benefit, the red dot sight transitions well into off-axis engagement.

Behind the Reticle
Much of the success behind the HWS boils down to how the image is projected. The EOTech HWS utilize a laser diode and a series of mirror, reflector and holographic grating to project the holographic reticle.

On standard red dot or reflex sights, an LED light source reflects off a lens with reflective surface to bounce damage 1the image back to the shooter’s eye. This is fine, that is, until the lens cracks or breaks.

Battery Life
Since HWS utilizes a laser diode to project the reticle, battery life is shortened. The red-dot systems on the other hand utilize an LED light source, which has an incredible run time.

Dot Size Through Magnification
The red dot in the HWS doesn’t change when magnification is applied. Most red dot sizes are 4 MOA, whereas the EOTech HWS dots are 1 MOA. The EOTech HWS maintains a 1-MOA dot even when magnified 3X. Traditional red dot size increases when enhanced. 

We’ve all heard the stories about EOTech HWS taking a beating while maintaining function. The holographic reticle continues to function even if broken or obscured. Red dots maintain function as long as nothing damages the front lens. Many red dot manufacturers today overbuild housings to prevent accidents from happening.damage 2

Reticle Availability
EOTech HWS reticles are numerous. The HWS allows for more complex reticle designs with minimal parallax error. Red dot sights, however, are limited to simple designs and complex reticles have more inherent parallax error.

Each reticle developed by EOTech goes beyond simple aiming points. Take the “speed ring” for example. The speed ring reticle provides range estimation. Using the reticle, the outside to outside of the circle equals a 5’9” man at 100 yards. At 200 yards, the center aiming point will be at the top of the head while his feet rest at the bottom of the circle. That’s just one of the cool ways EOTech is enhancing reticles for military and law enforcement use. There are many different reticle options, so finding one that fits your needs is simple.

Do red dot sights have a place within the shooting community? Absolutely. Both the EOTech HWS and red dot sights are quickly acquired, but when it comes to everything else, the two find themselves at different ends of the spectrum. Whichever you select, you’ll love how quick it is to acquire and ease of use. Go forth and take aim! ~ KJ

Kevin Jarnagin
Kevin Jarnagin (KJ) hails from Oklahoma, but quickly established Louisiana roots after joining the Gun Talk team. KJ grew up as a big game hunter, and knows his way around a bass boat. Whether it’s making his way to British Columbia for elk or training with pistols, Jarnagin always seems to find a gun in his hands and adventure on his mind.


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