The term “combat-ready” does not just mean the latest ‘tacticool’ products gracing the shelves of your favourite outdoor store; it means serious gear made to high standards for use in situations where equipment failure can lead to mission failure. It means ensuring users make it home alive at the end of every shift. It means it just has to work.
This is a head-to-head test of the two leading players in combat-tested electronic weapons sights (EWS). Both are expensive, manufactured to mil-spec standards and made to be 100% reliable in real-life conditions.
If you are looking for the best EWS under $100 or want to put a sight on your airsoft gun, you should look elsewhere. This is a showdown between the two best sights on the market, period. Head over to the ‘sandbox’ and you will see both in common usage. Check out any good police tac team and they will very likely have one of them mounted on their rifles or shotguns.
After all, these are for real-life encounters. Out there isn’t a video game and there is no ‘reset’ button in life.
h3. Aimpoint versus EOTech
Aimpoint and EOTech run about 50/50 in surveys amongst military and law enforcement personnel. EOTech is slightly more popular in law enforcement while Aimpoint is used by more combat troops, but it is still a very even split.
Deciding which one is better is not easy. There have been few head-to-head comparison tests of EWS, mostly because not many people are insane enough to spend upwards of $700 on a combat weapon sight and then try to destroy it. Fewer still will take a brand-new electronic sight and drive over it with a truck.
Well, that’s where Blue Line Magazine comes in – we are and we will!
After all, this is not our first head-to-head comparison test. Long-time readers may recall the infamous triple-retention duty holster test back in December 2008. As part of our testing, we took three market-leading holsters into the nearest gym, strapped them to a test-dummy (me) and challenged the biggest guy we could find to rip out the rubber training gun in under 30 seconds (I still have the bruises).
To properly test these sights, we needed to see what they will stand up to and mail back the pieces. To this end, Blue Line constructed a series of tests to see how well they will stand up in typical law enforcement situations and measure their ultimate speed and accuracy. We actually used three different versions from the two companies: the EOTech 552 model from L-3 Communications and Aimpoint’s CompM4S and Micro T-1.
We mounted them on two semi-automatic shotguns and sighted them in using 12-gauge slugs, then removed them, dropped them, drove over them, left them in a bucket of water for a week and remounted them. We shot the sights without any further adjustments and examined how well they held their zero even after all that abuse.
h3. Speed test
Using an electronic range timer to measure the interval from a start signal to the sound of each gunshot (to a thousandth of a second), we began from a high ready position and fired two rounds into the center of a single silhouette target at seven metres.
This simple test actually says a lot about how quickly one can acquire a good sight picture on a target and reacquire it after the first shot. The opening salvo in the battle was a very close call but in the end, the simplicity of the single red dot of the two Aimpoint sights won the day. Advantage: Aimpoint.
h3. Accuracy test
Our second test measured the speed in firing two-shots dead centre on two different silhouette targets within 1.2 seconds. This time, we started with the shotgun in a low-ready position.
This is a tougher test of accuracy because one must bring the sight onto the target from below, rather than starting with it already aligned with the target. The lowready advantage is that one starts with the weapon already shouldered but the downside is that it takes longer to index the sight onto the target’s centre. Plus, there is always a tendency when raising the sight onto the target from below to swing slightly above the centre, meaning that your sight acquisition is a series of tiny imperceptible arcs above, then below, then above, etc. until the centre is finally nailed down.
Again, it was a very close race to call but in this case, the EOTech was able to put the hits closer to the centre in the given 1.2 second time limit. That was long enough to take a bit more care in the sight picture; its one minute-of-angle (MOA) centre aiming dot, surrounded by a 65 MOA target reticle with its four quadrant tick marks, was ideal for not only ensuring the round would be centered but also that the gun wasn’t canted to the side. Advantage: EOTech.
h3. Waterproof test
This one was simple. After testing all three sights for speed and accuracy, we removed them from the mounts and left them in a bucket of water for a week.
The EOTech is rated to be waterproof to a depth of 10 metres, the Aimpoint CompM4S is rated to 45 metres and the Micro T-1 to 25 metres, but honestly, unless you’re a U.S. Navy SEAL, you are not going scuba diving with your weapon. If they can sit in a bucket of water for a week, they can survive a day or two out in the woods in a heavy downpour. All three sights survived without the slightest sign of leakage.
h3. Drop test
This test made us nervous. We dropped all three sights three metres onto a concrete sidewalk, 20 times in a row.
Amazingly, all three survived with no more than a scratch or two. We needn’t have worried; the EOTech uses 1/8 inch of solid glass, backed up by 3/16 of an inch shatter-resistant laminate for its window; the Aimpoint models use a similar design for its hardened lenses.
h3. Impact test
Just for fun, we drove a nail through a 2x4 using the EOTech as a hammer. It survived, again without a scratch. The Aimpoints’ shapes ruled out using them as hammers so we instead threw them down onto concrete as hard as we could. Try as we might, we could not break anything.
h3. Crush test
This test probably had the least practical application – unless you’re prone to leaving weapons laying in the grass where trucks can drive over them. We placed each sight on grass, then slowly drove over them with a two tonne SUV.
Our conclusion? Your weapon would be pretty much destroyed long before your electronic sight.
After all this testing, we remounted each sight back onto a shotgun and, without any adjustments, shot it to see if the groups would remain where we left them. There was no variation noted on any of the three sights.
h3. Battery life
This is where the two manufacturers differ in their philosophy. The EOTech uses a series of tiny LED dots to form a holographic target reticle. The actual reticle is designed like the heads-up display in a fighter cockpit; it’s on an apparent plane of focus far out in front of the physical sight itself. This allows the shooter to have both eyes open and always stay focused on the threat.
The downside is that this multi-dot holographic image consumes a lot of battery power. For this reason, EOTech designed a very fast on/off switch; one press instantly turns the sight on and it defaults to brightness level 15 out of 20 possible settings (plus 10 more unique setting positions exclusively for night vision devices). If you don’t touch any more buttons, the EOTech will shut itself off after eight hours of use. Battery life itself is over 600 hours of continuous use with regular AA alkaline batteries and 1,000 hours with lithium AA cells.
While the EOTech is designed to be switched on quickly at the beginning of each mission or to be turned on with one quick thumb press when needed, the single dot of the two Aimpoint designs have continuous use battery life measured in years instead of hundreds of hours. The CompM4S can go nine years on one set of AA batteries, while the tiny Micro T-1 can go five years on a single 2032 button cell. One literally mounts it on a gun and just leaves it on its whole life, replacing the battery every five years or so.
While the EOTech turns on quickly, there is just something about a sight that you can mount and leave on constantly for years and years and not worry about replacing batteries. Advantage: Aimpoint.
h3. Speed AND accuracy
Testing for durability is one thing, testing for speed and accuracy is another – but life is not a competition or action movie. Out there in the real world, the fastest shot does not necessarily win the gunfight. Neither, for that matter, does the most accurate.
Gunfights are usually won by the fastest and most accurate shot. Basically, the person who connects first usually gets to walk away at the end of the day.
Real-life gunfights are short, dynamic, brutal events that are over before they begin – and are as individual as the participants involved in them. When the gun comes out, human life is immediately on the line and the best compromise between both speed and accuracy gains the practical advantage.
After all, police officers can never win an even fight. Officers react to an assailant’s actions so they are always behind the action/reaction curve and start each fight at a disadvantage.
This is why police (and soldiers) need to train hard, stay aware and try to gain every advantage they can. Modern electronic weapon sights are possibly the biggest single advancement in accuracy and speed since the invention of the rifled barrel and the modern metallic cartridge.
The revolution toward unity-power electronic sights happened long before they were widely adopted by police and military. They actually started with simple ‘point’ sights mounted on shotguns and evolved into battery-operated dot sights mounted on handguns for high-speed competitive pistol shooting events such as the practical pistol sports.
It was rare 25 years ago to see an electronic sight in pistol competition but today it is rare to not see one in open-class competition.
The modern electronic sight made the transition, first to shotguns in ‘combatstyle’ competitions and then rifles for police and military use. Today, virtually any firearm that can be designed or adapted with a Picatinny or Weaver-type rail system can accept an electronic sight. Shooters can keep both eyes open the entire time and remain focused on the threat. Unlike a telescopic sight, the dot or reticle does not even need to be in the centre of the scope; once properly installed and adjusted, wherever it appears on the glass is where the shot will impact.
Electronic sights are also getting smaller and lighter, making them suitable for supplementary mounting on top of optical scopes.
So the bottom line is, who wins?
Well, this will be the first Blue Line Magazine head-to-head comparison test in history where there were two winners and no losers. Each sight can be mounted on any conceivable firearm and are ideally suited for shortand intermediate-range shooting. They are amazingly accurate, blindingly fast and tough enough to survive almost anything. When mounting these types of sights, some shooters go to amazing lengths, with various heights and designs of mounts and rails, to get them to ‘co-witness’ to their factory iron sights in case they fail in mid-use. Basically, if the sight is mounted at the right height, you can still see your iron sights and ideally you can even use them through the glass of the electronic sight in an emergency.
With the quality (and price) of the Aimpoint and EOTech sights, you can almost forget worrying about using iron sights as a backup. In a real emergency, it would be quick to unbolt them and go with the iron sights at that point.
Maybe I am just getting old, but the older I get, the fewer the gadgets I want hanging from my firearms. I would be quite happy having nothing but electronic sights on my gun and a set of spare batteries in my gun case. I think this is also why I have always been a huge fan of the EOTech holographic weapons sight but I am really starting to like the lightweight simplicity of the Aimpoint Micro. In fact, if I had to spend my own money (which I actually do in most cases), I would buy the Aimpoint Micro.
The bottom line – the best sight you can possibly have is the one mounted on your firearm when you need it the most. If it says EOTech or Aimpoint on it, you can trust it with your life.