Introduced by EOTech in 1996, holographic sights are a relatively recent addition to the world of optics.
A novel approach to non-magnifying gunsights, they were soon adopted by elite and regular forces in the early years of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in the early 2000s.
In recent years they have even started making their way into the airsoft world.
If you’re an avid airsofter and are interested in buying something a little more unique than a standard red dot, read on as we discuss the ins and outs of holographic sights and their potential uses in airsoft.
What Is A Holographic Sight?
A Holographic sight (or holo sight) is a type of non-magnifying sight that is designed to help with aiming by improving target acquisition speed.
In other words, they can help you get your airsoft gun (or real gun) on target faster than you might with standard iron sights and without the magnification effect of scopes, which make them ideal for close quarters shooting and short to medium distance shooting (50-150m).
Holographic sights enable their users to shoot while still focusing on the target, rather than needing to switch focus between target and red point, keeping everything on one optical axis, as the lingo goes.
In other words, when the target is in focus the reticle is in focus.
This is better for quick sighting and allows users to keep both eyes open, letting them see more of what’s around them and preventing tunnel vision.
How do Holographic Sights Work?
Holographic sights essentially work by using in-built lasers, a series of mirrors and what’s called a diffraction grate to actually project a tiny hologram (an aiming reticle in this case).
The way it works is through the rather sophisticated science of holography.
When a holographic sight is built, the manufacturer creates a holographic image of the aiming reticle on a strip of holographic film that is then placed inside the device, almost like a piece of old-school camera film or like a video recording.
Unlike a recording or a strip of camera film, the holographic process records both the image of the reticle and all the light and light waves that illuminated it in the manufacturing facility at the time it was recorded.
Like other holograms, the magic happens when you turn the device on.
Unlike other red dot sights, built into the holographic sight is a small laser, or laser diode. When the light of the laser hits the holographic film, the 3D image of the reticle is reconstructed as a hologram and superimposed at a distance in front of the sights field of view.
The hologram appears as extremely tiny dot that is consistently perceived as 1 minute of arc (MOA), even when viewed under magnification
Range and windage are adjusted by tilting the holographic grating angle to adjust the holographic projection.
Airsoft Holographic Sights: Replicas or the Real Thing?
When it comes to airsoft, it’s important to realize that the vast majority of so-called holographic sights out there in the airsoft world aren’t actually holographic.
Like the guns themselves, most are replicas of holographic sights that actually work like conventional red dot sights, using LEDs or similar technologies to put a red dot in the field of vision.
The reasons for this are fairly simple.
First, there aren’t many companies that produce actual holographic sights, and they generally spend their time making sights for real steel firearms.
Secondly, the method of making them is pretty complex, which means they are expensive to produce and therefore very expensive to buy. A good holographic sight will cost upwards of $400-500 and can reach $1000 or more, depending on the brand.
Replica holographic sights, on the other hand, tend not to be all that much more expensive than regular red dot sights, despite the cool housing, usually coming in sub-$100.
While this means that most airsofters probably won’t get to experience a real holographic sight in game, it does mean that it is possible to replicate the loadout of a real life operator for relatively little money.
Should I use a real holographic sight on my airsoft gun?
Well, there’s nothing really stopping you, and if you have the money by all means.
In fact there are quite a few airsofters out there who do use actual versions.
After all, holographic sights look very cool on an airsoft gun, they are a lot of fun to use and to show off, tend to be shockproof and weather-resistant (fog-resistant) and are usually better built and have more features than replicas.
Plus, if you do have actual real steel firearms as well, you can obviously get a lot more use out of them.
Keep in mind, however, that many of the benefits of actual holographic sights are sort of rendered moot by the nature of airsoft and airsoft games.
Airsoft uses slow moving BBs that are easy enough to see and adjust for and the ranges of most games and the effective ranges of most airsoft guns, particularly where you would use an airsoft holographic sight (usually less than 250 yards or 230M).
This means that any parallax effects aren’t much of a concern or an issue.
Further, the glass lenses on holographic sights are prone to damage, particularly from BBs, walls, obstacles and the general rough and tumble nature of running and gunning in airsoft.
While it’s true that most non-iron sights are subject to the same potential for damage, the difference is you won’t often be several hundred dollars out of pocket if your authentic holographic sight needs to be replaced.
In contrast, replica holographic sights are fairly inexpensive, can have the cool look and trademarks of an EOTech or other Holographic sight and can be purchased for well under $100.
They can also provide the same benefits of a red dot sight (since that’s what they essentially are), including faster and more intuitive target acquisition and a more tactical look for your airsoft gun of choice, which makes them a better choice for airsoft in our opinion.
Mounting Issues With Airsoft Holographic Sights
Relatively compact, some holographic sights are quite long and somewhat bulky and their replicas often retain these definitions to keep their look.
This means that they can have a hard time being mounted on shorter barreled airsoft guns such as pistols, machine pistols and compact SMGs.
Features to look for in an Airsoft Holographic Sight
Actual holographic sights are usually offered with a variety of adjustments that can help their users in different conditions. For airsoft, the ones that are probably most critical are:
Reticle color adjustment
Not just a matter of taste and preference, being able to switch the reticle’s color can help with visibility and precision, allowing it to better contrast with the target it is centered on or the background.
Airsoft holographic sights should be able to brighten or dim the reticle, which can help when moving between bright and dark areas.
Windage and elevation adjustment
Although perhaps not as critical in airsoft as it is with real steel equivalents, for added precision and to help with zeroing sights should be able to be adjusted for windage and elevation.
As with other red dot sights airsoft holographic sights generally attach to a rail mount, usually 20mm picatinny.
Some sights do need to be screwed in while others are attached with clips or latches.
Since you don’t want to fiddle around with these too much and risk damaging or break something by accident, it’s always best to find something that’s easy to put on and take off and that you’re comfortable with using.
Durability and weather
Actual holographic sights are usually made out of relatively lightweight and durable materials, such as high-quality milled aluminum, so they can be knocked around a little bit without suffering catastrophic failure.
Airsoft holographic sight casings are often built a little more…affordably….in order to accommodate a more reasonable price point.
It’s important, therefore, to make sure that whatever you buy can withstand the demands of your play style.
Try to look for sights made of alloys or durable ABS plastics and make sure there is no annoying looseness and rattling, especially near the lenses, since you obviously don’t want them falling out.
Similarly, a common point of failure is at the rail mounts and fasteners, so be sure to check those for any looseness or poor construction.
As with other red dot sights, be aware that Airsoft holographic sights are prone to fogging in wet conditions.
There are some models that do offer fog proofing and, while there isn’t a whole lot you can do about that at this price point other than make sure there are no issues with seals, you can make sure that the sight comes with durable, rubber buttons and controls to prevent any water damage..
Although most are only replicas and don’t have the same laser/holographic mechanism of their real steel counterparts, in a sea of red dots and reflex sights, holographic sights can be an interesting and cool option for airsofters and may be well worth a look the next time you are in the market for optics.
Will Martin – Will has been into airsoft and paintball for well over 10 years, and has done it all – from upgrading and fixing gearboxes as a tech to building custom airsoft loadouts for his friends to supporting off those friends as a DM.