A few years ago as I was wandering the halls of SHOT Show to check out what was new and what was cool. While perusing some optics at the Holosun booth, one of the company representatives handed me an optic to look through. What I saw caught me off guard. Glimmering, glittering and standing out in stunning fashion through the coated glass was a brilliant gold reticle.
My initial impressions at the show were that it was pretty brilliant looking and that I was excited to see how it actually operated at the range — particularly against the tried and true red dots and the more recent green dots (or reticles).
The green versus red debate has certainly been waged for a while now, not only in terms of reticles and dots for optics but when it comes to laser colors as well. And of course, with the firearms crowd, it always gets a bit scientific and of course, contentious, but perhaps for good reason – the science really does matter when determining the best reticle color for your optic, and the evidence of this fact is all around us each and every day in more ways than we might realize.
Red dot optics have been around since 1975 when the Swedish optics company Aimpoint AB marketed the first “electronic” red dot sight combining a reflecting curved mirror and a light-emitting diode.
The reason the color red was selected and also gained popularity amongst the firearms community is based on how the human eye processes wavelengths of light and color. Red has the longest wavelength of any color on the visible spectrum, meaning you can see it from a greater distance than other colors.
Then there is yellow, which is highly visible (and is second only to red in terms of visible wavelength). This is also why traffic lights, signs indicating caution and danger, and other signage like school zones and buses, crosswalks, and other important warnings are yellow today.
And then there’s green, which has a wavelength next to (and shorter than) yellow’s on the visible spectrum, meaning it’s still easier to see than any color other than red and yellow.
Understanding and researching this color science, it begged the question, how come yellow, or gold in this case, hasn’t taken the mantle alongside green and red reticles when yellow possess these easy-to-see properties? This may be because generally speaking, red is easier to see in low light and green is easier to see in daylight. Green may offer marginally better battery life in daylight than red since it doesn’t have to be as bright.
Also, gold may be more difficult to see during daylight — particularly when placed on lighter backgrounds or targets. And part of it may be because of manufacturing, battery life requirements for one color versus another, and other engineering considerations. The pros, cons, merits and detriments are to be considered when looking at the data in this way – but I’ve always found the best way to find out what works for me after doing research is practical application and trying out the gear for myself.
Holosun recently sent me out three models of their micro-optical sights, and although they all have similar housings and control sets, each had a different color of dot. The units sent out for a little range time testing included the HS403B with a red dot, the HE403C with a green dot, and the HE403R featuring GD Holosun’s Gold Super LED dot. All of them are 2 MOA dots with a lower ⅓ co-witness mount and low profile mount.
So, I hit the range with the three optics to put them through their paces and see if I could determine if there was a perfect color choice for reflex reticles. I ran each unit on my trusty SAINT Edge AR rifle and captured the visual perspective through a Sionyx Aurora color night vision capable weapons mounted camera so I could document the range time while running each.
What I was looking for was my ability to quickly acquire the sight, my ability to place multiple rounds on target with rapid re-acquisition and placement of follow up shots, and the quality of the dot in terms of brightness, vividness, and ease of operation when it came to use all when placed on the same weapons platform. I was also looking out for “blooming”, or dot distortion and flaring based on factors of brightness. Basically, did one color have to be turned up brighter than others on the dial to achieve the optimal visual setting or did they flare, glare and cause a visible distraction during such use?
First up was the red dot. It was crisp, easy to pick up, bright enough at ½ brightness and had no bloom. The window was crystal clear, snapping up the SAINT Edge, gaining sight of the dot on target and follow-up shots felt great. I had zero issues and it made shot placement very intuitive and easy.
Then moving on to the green dot, I really liked the controls on the HE403C unit. They were easy to manipulate, and the green dot was rich, saturated, bright and just popped. Although lighter in color than the red, it was easy to pick up against white rubber dummy targets, and against the sand-colored berm of the backstop in the desert range we were shooting at. I didn’t honestly come away from the green versus red showdown with a preference in terms of ease of use or comfort. They both worked excellently.
Then, it was time to test out the gold HE403R. My initial impression was… honestly, excitement. Shooting against the bright, light-colored dusty desert berm at the range had me expecting that the gold dot would be washed out if not totally lost and make the experience difficult to acquire the dot at all. The opposite was the case. The gold stood out against the berm and the steel I was shooting on really well, it was easy to acquire and I personally really liked the way the gold felt on my eyes.
I will say that brightness for me was most comfortable and easiest to see turned all the way up. There was no blooming, or optical glare or flares at full brightness, it just made it really stand out against my target and was easy to lock on to. It was genuinely a unique and new shooting experience, even if we are only talking about a coloration difference in the dot, seeing is truly believing.
So, my personal takeaways/conclusion: Is gold the best color when it comes to dots and reticles? Maybe — but it also may not be for everyone. I can’t tell if I love it because it’s “better” or because it just works equally as well for me and because I’m excited about something NEW.
As always, I recommend you run each for yourself and find your sweet spot because it will be different for every shooter. At the end of the day, it’s another option, and options are good to have so you can find out what your optimal loadout might be for when you hit the range. Personally, beyond this exciting first impression, I’m planning on leaving the gold on my SAINT Edge for a while and run it more often.
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