March 15, 2022
By Tom Beckstrand
Red-dot sights and mini-red-dot (MRD) sights are hugely popular — and for good reason. Manufacturing efficiencies have made them relatively inexpensive while still retaining excellent build quality. And there is no easier way to make a firearm fast and accurate than to drop one of these sights on top of it.
Iron sights used to be king for fast and accurate shooting at close distances. The problem with irons is that the shooter needs to have some training on their use to be reliably effective. The process of sight alignment and sight picture is simple to explain yet difficult to execute well.
Think about it, the shooter’s eye has to see the target, then focus on the front sight to put it on target, then focus briefly on the rear sight to check alignment before one last shift to the front sight before squeezing the trigger. It takes a fair amount of practice to get a new or mediocre shooter to stop looking at the target and really focus on that front sight.
Using a red-dot sight is like hitting the Easy Button, and for that reason alone, some folks will hate them. That’s OK. The rest of us can enjoy just how simple they are to use and how easy it is to make huge accuracy gains!
The firing sequence when using a red dot is to look at the target while moving the red dot onto the target and then squeeze the trigger. There is no need to shift the eye’s focus to multiple locations.
Under stress, the red dot has the advantage because those unfamiliar with highly stressful situations will focus solely on the threat and will likely never see their sights. A red dot doesn’t fight this phenomenon because a red-dot sight wants you to always be looking at your target anyway. (It’s similar to using a laser-aiming device.)
Red-dot sights are also a boon to aging eyes. Those with seasoned eyes have difficulty focusing on iron sights due the sight’s close proximity. Bifocals can also cause problems. However, a red-dot sight allows you to shoot accurately at anything you can see clearly. It eliminates the eyeball gymnastics required when using iron sights.
Enter Crimson Trace
The latest red dots to hit the market are from Crimson Trace. Their MRD family consists of the CTS-1200, CTS-1300 and CTS-1400 sights.
MRD sights are in demand, but it can be hard to tell what makes one different from another without seeing the options in person. Unlike magnified optics with lengthy specification charts, there is little quantifiable information to compare when considering various sights. For me, the hands-on assessment provided some valuable insight into these new optics.
An easy way to spot a cheap MRD is by examining the housing that surrounds the viewing window. All Crimson Trace sights have aluminum housings. There is no plastic anywhere in the sight’s exterior, which is a good indicator that the viewing window won’t crush, dislodge or crack the first time you drop the optic.
Crimson Trace CTS-1200
The CTS-1200 was designed to be a pistol sight, and its solid-aluminum housing wraps entirely around the viewing window. The CTS-1200 is very narrow from top to bottom, so it’ll sit low on a handgun. No MRD sits low enough to allow use of standard iron sights as back up, so suppressor-height sights will be needed if the shooter desires concurrent use of both sighting types.
Image quality through these sights is on par with the high-quality competitors we’re used to seeing. (Seriously.) I observed a slight blue tint when looking through the sight, which is the result of the coating put on the screen to make the projected beam as visible as possible.
A quick way to assess the manufacturer’s window construction and coatings selection is to watch the red dot while manipulating the illumination settings. All of these Crimson Trace MRDs have user-adjustable illumination, and all three had very little so-called “blooming” at the brightest settings.
Blooming is what happens when a red dot has high enough intensity that the reflection fragments, making the dot appear like a star, which is problematic. The cheaper the window and the looser the manufacturing tolerances, the sooner the red dot blooms into a star. While not overly destructive to fast shooting, a star-shaped red dot makes precision shooting almost impossible. The lack of blooming indicates good beam discipline, properly collimated laser diodes, excellent use of materials and quality construction of the window and the coatings on it.
Crimson Trace CTS-1300
- Power: 1X
- Elevation Adjustment: 1 MOA
- Windage: 1 MOA
- Reticle: 3.5 MOA, illuminated dot
- Length: 2 in.
- Width: 1.3 in.
- Height: 1.7 in.
- Weight: 2.7 oz.
- Mount: Picatinny rail
- Price: Check the price and purchase the CTS-1300
Crimson Trace’s CTS-1200 and 1300 sights are similar in size, but the CTS-1300 is intended for use on a rifle or carbine. The 1200’s window is slightly taller, but the entire aluminum housing around the window and the components of the 1300 is thicker. This is evidence that it was engineered to brush off abuse.
The CTS-1400 is meant for rifles and shotguns and provides a slightly larger option versus the CTS-1300. There is a noticeable difference in viewing screen size with the 1400 being quite a bit bigger in both height and width. But the 1400 still qualifies as an MRD. The large viewing screen makes it my top pick of these new models for any shoulder-fired firearm. It has an even thicker aluminum housing than on the CTS-1300.
Crimson Trace CTS-1400
- Power: 1X
- Elevation Adjustment: 1 MOA
- Windage: 1 MOA
- Reticle: 3.25 MOA illuminated dot
- Length: 2.3 in.
- Width: 1.5 in.
- Height: 1.6 in.
- Weight: 2.9 oz.
- Mount: Picatinny rail
- Price: Check the price and purchase the CTS-1400
Crimson Trace’s red-dot sight that breaks away from the rest of the pack is the CTS-1000. This sight is intended for use on a rifle or carbine and comes with a quick-detach, throw-lever mount that takes all the pain out of mounting or dismounting the optic.
Sights like this have an enclosed emitter that projects the red dot onto a tilted piece of glass. The angle of the tilt and the coating on the glass are what bounces the red dot back to the shooter’s eye. If manufactured correctly, the dot has no discernable parallax shift when the shooter moves his head around while looking through the sight. Beam divergence and lens coating will also determine the dot’s shape across the entire illumination range.
Crimson Trace CTS-1000
The CTS-1000 has excellent build quality, and the dot has almost no perceptible blooming, even at the highest illumination settings. There are 10 illumination settings, with the dimmest being usable with night vision equipment.
I did the standard parallax check by looking through the sight and moving my head around to see if the dot shifted my point of aim. The CTS-1000 did so well that I brought out a number of other red-dot sights of similar size and shape and did a head-to-head assessment. The 1000’s performance was identical to the top-tier optics in this category. (And it only retails for $330!)
Checking for parallax is a worthwhile assessment that any customer can do in any gun shop, and I highly recommend it. A dot that has a parallax shift isn’t manufactured correctly and will have almost no chance of holding a zero — even at 50 yards. The best you could hope for when this happens is what I call a “near-o.” Fortunately, the CTS-1000 doesn’t suffer from this problem.
It’s too early to tell what the long-term durability of these Crimson Trace red-dot sights will look like, but if they stay true to Crimson Trace form (think about the quality of their Lasergrips), these sights will be among the best.
Crimson Trace has been making top-of-the-line laser sights for decades, so they have a ton of tribal knowledge on how to make small circuits and other electronics recoil-proof. I expect these red-dot sights will benefit from that experience.
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