For years, EOTech has been the king of the holographic sight industry. Today, they still make excellent sights, but newcomer Vortex has entered the market with a very high-quality alternative to EOTech. To date, they are still the only two optics makers that produce true holographic sights. We will take a look at their top 5 holographic AR-15 sights.
First, let’s look at exactly what a holographic optic is, and what makes it different from a red dot optic.
Why Holographic vs Red Dot?
On the outside, there’s little difference between a holographic sight and a red dot sight. They are both about the same size and weight. But there are some significant differences when you get down to the nitty-gritty.
First, the reticle in the Holographic Weapon Sight (HWS) is produced by a laser and reflected off of several mirrors to create a holograph of the reticle in the optic glass. In a typical red dot optic, an LED (light-emitting diode) shines its red dot directly onto the optic lens, with no refraction. There are several differences between lasers and LEDs that are notable. Lasers can transmit their image up to 2,000 times faster than LEDs.
Also, the laser reticles in HWS are typically 1 MOA in size, while most red dot reticles are 4 MOA. How does all of this information translate into a better optic? The result is a much faster, crisper reticle in HWS than in red dot sights. Also, the HWS uses what’s called a halo reticle. This is a 68 MOA circle around a 1 MOA dot.
The halo reticle is much easier for the eyes to pick up quickly when leveling your gun to fire. You can also use the halo reticle for rangefinding. A 68” person (5’ 8”, just slightly smaller than average) at 100 yards fills up the entire halo reticle. At 200 yards, they fill from the 1 MOA dot to the halo circle.
Durability is another main benefit of the HWS over the red dot. As long as you can see the holographic image in your optic’s glass, you can hit your target. Even if your glass is cracked or caked with mud. If your red dot optic gets caked with mud or the glass cracks, your optic is a paperweight and you’d better transition to back up sights. But with an HWS, as long as you have a sliver of visible space on your optics glass, you’re still in the fight.
Let’s take a look at some of the best AR-15 holographic sights on the market right now.
Like we said previously, EOTech is the king of the holographic sight market. Their newest model is the EXPS 2.0. All EOTech optics are designed and based on the square lens design that is so readily identifiable.
The predominant feature of the EXPS 2.0 is the quick detach system (QD). This allows you to quickly add or remove your EOTech to your rifle’s rail system. The EOTech EXPS 2.0 weighs in at just over 11 oz. This is thanks to the shorter overall length and the single, smaller CR123 battery.
The length of the EXPS 2.0 is dramatically shorter than the original 512 model because, in addition to switching from AA to CR123 batteries, they turned the battery compartment from lengthwise to horizontal. The original 512 model is 5.6 inches long, and the EXPS 2.0 is just 3.8 inches in length.
One often overlooked feature of EOTech HWS is the easily accessible controls. If anyone has tried to turn on an Aimpoint while wearing gloves, it can be difficult.
But all of the EOTech HWS optics have push-button controls for brightness with auto-off features. Pressing either brightness button turns the reticle on. On most EOTech models, the brightness / ON-OFF buttons are located on the back of the optic, right in front of your eyes when you are looking through your optic.
I liked that position because you can maintain a sight picture while adjusting your brightness. On the EXPS 2.0, the buttons are moved to the left-hand side, which allows for a more natural movement with the support hand (for right-handed firers).
On the opposite side from the controls are the zero turrets. They do not give a positive “click” when turned, which would be my only criticism of the EXPS 2.0 and EOTech in general. They are, however, still very easy to zero properly.
Overall, the EXPS 2.0 is everything that you love about EOTech Holographic Weapon Sights in a smaller package, with the added convenience of a Quick Detach lever.
The Vortex AMG UH-1 made its debut at SHOT Show in 2017. Vortex has been around since 1986 but has recently made huge moves in the optics world to compete with the big names like Nikon, Leupold, and Bushnell.
The AMG UH-1 is one of those huge moves. Until Vortex entered the game the only Holographic Weapon Sights that were on the market were produced by EOTech.
The AMG UH-1, affectionately nicknamed “Huey” for the UH-1 designator, is a legit HWS with the same laser and mirrors setup that EOTech uses. In fact, using Vortex’s proprietary Fusion Hologram with Quantum Well Light Control (FHQ) technology, they bring to market the first optic which combines the durability and energy efficiency of a red dot optic with the improved sight picture, zero-distortion and reticle pattern of the holographic sight.
At 3.8 inches in length and just over 11 oz, the Vortex AMG UH-1 is exactly as long and weighs the same as the EOTech EXPS 2.0. The Gen II version of the AMG UH-1 also has a Quick Detach lever, similar to the one found on the EOTech EXPS 2.0.
The reticle is also very similar, a halo style reticle with a 1 MOA center dot. The UH-1 also uses one CR123 battery.
The Vortex AMG UH-1 GEN II is an excellent alternative to an EOTech HWS. It is built with high-quality parts and performs as well as any EOTech model.
This is the original. The one that started it all. Introduced at SHOT Show in 1996, the 512 has been the optic of choice for Special Operations Command and the U.S. Marines.
Throughout all of the upgraded EOTech models, the technology has never changed from what it was in 1996. That goes to show how revolutionary it was back then and still is today. Despite its length, the Model 512 weighs nearly the same as the newer and shorter EXPS 2.0 model. 11.5 oz vs 11.2 oz, respectively.
The EOTech 512 has rear-facing power and brightness controls which allow you to adjust brightness while maintaining a sight picture, which is important in a danger zone. It has 20 brightness settings to maximize visibility in low light settings or bright daylight.
The EOTech XPS 2.0 is the smallest and lightest HWS ever produced. It weighs just 9.0 oz and measures a minuscule 3.8 inches long.
The only difference between the XPS 2.0 and EXPS 2.0 is that the EXPS has an integrated quick detach lever which allows for fast-on and -off attachment to your rail system. The quick detach lever adds several ounces to the EXPS 2.0, but other than that, they are identical.
If you plan to put the HWS on your rifle and leave it, a quick detach lever may not interest you. In that case, save yourself a few dollars and pick up an EOTech XPS 2.0. You won’t be disappointed.
If you’re looking for serious night vision capability, the EOTech XPS 3.0 is the optic that you’re looking for. The XPS 3.0 is the exact same as the 2.0 with the exception of also having night vision capability. That means that in addition to 20 brightness settings, it also has a super low power NV setting that allows for use with night vision devices.
The night vision switch is located on the rear of the device, located above and between the two brightness switches.
EOTech is still king of the Holographic Weapon Sight, with several different models available to suit every shooter. But relative newcomer Vortex is taking the optics world by storm, and their AMG UH-1 Gen II Holographic Weapon Sight is every bit as good as anything EOTech produces. You can’t go wrong if you choose from our list of holographic AR-15 sights.