June 23, 2020
The red-dot market is saturated. Every major optics company offers one; some offer many. Choosing what’s best for you will depend on the task at hand. For personal defense, a small red dot will do. For hunting, glass clarity and toughness become important. For jumping out of helicopters and swimming through alligator-infested swamps, you’ll want a red dot that can withstand punishment and be waterproof. Leupold’s Freedom Red Dot Sight (RDS) is made for those who expect their red dot to withstand rough and tumble conditions.
Leupold introduced the RDS sight earlier this year in two models: one with standard-MOA adjustments and one with a bullet-drop-compensator (BDC) turret. Receiving a sample for evaluation, it’s weight and robustness stood out. The RDS is made of 6061 T6 aluminum and has a beefy 34mm main tube. It comes mounted in Leupold’s own AR mount, which has a substantially thick base. The underside of the base has three ribs machined into it to mate like a puzzle to a Picatinny rail. This thing is designed to be knocked around and stay in place.
Looking through the RDS will give you a true 1X view. The 1-MOA red dot is just the right size for accuracy at longer distances where a larger red dot could obscure a target. I found at the right illumination setting for the environment, the red dot was very crisp.
The red dot is also daylight bright and can be dimmed by pushing on the Leupold logo located on the battery housing. If you start with a dim dot and push the button repeatedly, the brightness will increase. When it reaches its maximum brightness, the red dot flashes. Cycle backwards from bright to dim with repeated pushes. I typically like a dial with numbers representing the power of the illumination and having an offsetting position in between, but I quickly got used to Leupold’s design.
Powering off the RDS is like many electronic items. Press the illumination button for several seconds, and the sight goes off. If you’re concerned about battery life, don’t fret. The RDS includes a motion detector, which will put the red dot to sleep after five minutes. I tested this feature, and at five minutes, the light starts blinking and then disappears. Moving the sight revives the dot instantly.
Quality In Every Inch
Looking through the RDS, its field of view (FOV) is similar to other 1-inch objective lenses. The RDS has its own proprietary coating called the Twilight Red Dot lens system, which Leupold touts to provide better color consistency and lens clarity than other red dots. As a photographer, I know quality glass and coatings when I peer through a lens. I found the color coming through the RDS true to the environment but several shades darker. It’s like putting on a light-shade polarizing filter. This may sound like a bad thing, but what’s important here is the end result, which is an image with richer colors, richer mid-tones and better contrast for a high-definition image.
My other red dots tinge the image with a blue hue, and although the image through the glass is close in brightness to the environment, the mid-tones are weak. When I compared the Leupold with my other two red dots of similar price, the other red dots appear washed out. This is most notable in full daylight. When shooting single-colored targets on the range, the difference may not matter, but if you’re hunting or shooting for accuracy, a clearer, richer image is a distinct advantage.
One of the selling features of the optic is that it goes through the same arduous testing as Leupold’s military scopes. To survive the drop test and extreme temperatures they put them through, you know this optic will take the abuse of banging around in the back of a truck, sludging through muddy trails in an ATV or those bitter-cold Minnesota winters.
The optic is waterproof, nitrogen purged for fog proofing and is scratch resistant. For a $390 optic (MOA version), it’s impressive that you won’t have to worry about the electronics failing or losing your zero. In the rare chance that it happens, Leupold backs the RDS with a 100-percent guarantee. Just send it back to Leupold for repair or free replacement, even if you’re not the original owner.
Removing the cap on the MOA turret reveals a large rubberized dial with easy-to-read numbers. The turret is finger friendly and can be turned by hand instead of with a tool. It offers 12 MOA of elevation gain per rotation. Technically, you can dial elevation gains to shoot out far distances, but since it lacks a zero feature, it complicates things.
What’s better is to shell out the extra $130 and get the BDC model that comes with a BDC turret tuned to a 55-grain .223 Rem. bullet traveling 3,100 feet per second. With this turret, the large numbers represent yards in hundreds. To adjust for 250 yards, put the large number on the dial to 2.5 and shoot. For a nominal fee, you can get a custom BDC turret tuned to your load data.
The RDS surprised me. I expected the RDS to be a good optic and on par with my other similarly priced and sized red dots, but the clarity of the RDS is superior. Testing the durability of the RDS was outside the scope of the article, so I can’t state that it will take harsh abuse. But for the price and guarantee, it would be a no brainer to replace one of my current red dots with the RDS. If given the choice, I would choose the BDC version and tune it to a hunting load.
Leupold Freedom RDS
- Type: Red-dot sight
- Magnification: 1X
- Length: 5.3 in.
- Weight: 7.2 oz.
- MSRP: $390 (MOA version); $520 (BDC version)
- Manufacturer: Leupold, leupold.com
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