Written October 22nd, 2016
I have been looking into various miniature red dot sights for quite some time. I typically use them as auxilliary sights to the primary magnified optics, but I did put together an article focused on a couple of specimens: Leupold Deltapoint and Vortex Razor (here). I liked both of them pretty well, but they also had a few shortcomings. Also, I realized that the type of shooting I typically do is not conducive to giving red dot sights a fair shake. I am a precision guy at heart, and that is not what these sights are designed for.
That did not mean that I stopped looking at reflex sights, but I did start expanding my shooting practice into other disciplines and, a couple of weeks ago, I finally made it out to Frontsight for a rifle class. This class had a very brief stint shooting from 200 yards, but the bulk of the shooting was from closer distances, mostly within 50 yards, which is red dot territory by and large. On top of that, I suffered a leg injury early in the class, so I had to shoot standing from all distances even when other positions were available. Trying to get into any other shooting position was painful. Even though I had both a magnified sight and a red dot on my rifle, I ended up using a red dot a lot more than I originally thought.
For me a rifle class is both a training opportunity (especially since shooting offhand is easily my weakest discipline) and an opportunity to test different optics. I went there with my brother and my nephew and since I had three rifles to set up, I had a chance to look at several sighting systems.
As far as reflex sights go, I had the following with me:
- DocterSight III (mounted on top of my Elcan Spectre OS 4x)
- Meopta Meosight III (on the rifle that also had Elcan Spectre 3x)
- Vortex Sparc AR (with a VMX3 magnifier)
- Leupold LCO (together with a D-EVO)
I will talk about most of these other sights in separate pieces, but I will mention them here and there.
In principle, the DocterSight competes directly against the Meosight and they look very similar, to the point that they even use the same mounts. However, there are a couple of important differences in how they operate.
DocterSight does not really have any external controls per se. Once the cover is off, it senses ambient light level and adjusts the dot brightness accordingly. Generally, that is a pretty good way to go, except for one problem: if you are in a shaded place, but your target is brightly illuminated, the dot might not be bright enough. To be honest, that is how this whole idea of looking at the DocterSight III started. I was roaming around SHOT Show earlier this year and upon stumbling onto the Docter booth, I blurted out something along the lines of: “nice sights, but I’ve got some issues with the operating method”. Going forward, I think I will try to first see what is new in the booth before voicing opinions, since the very pleasant lady at the Docter booth, instead of telling me to shove my opinions where the sun don’t shine, cheerily suggested that I looked at their latest iteration of a reflex sight, namely the DocterSight III.
DocterSight III, unlike its predecessors supports three different operating modes. All three involve automatic adjustment with light level changes, but they can now accommodate the variable lighting situations I have described earlier. Here is an excerpt, from the product manual:
Keep in mind that this is a log-log plot, so the actual perceived brightnesss difference between the modes is significant. In order to switch between operating modes, there is a magnetic switch integrated into the front right corner of the sight body and a magnet incorporated into the sight cover. Hold the magnet to the switch for three seconds and you go to a different mode. Here is another illustration from the manual:
Basically, I had to eat some crow. It is not my favourite thing to do, but that is what I get for talking too much.
I was pretty busy earlier in the year, but in late summer I reached out to Docter and asked for a sample of DocterSight III that I can take with me to the rifle class.
The first thing I did, was try to throw different lighting conditions at the DocterSight III to test all these operating modes and it passed that first test with flying colors.
Then, I mounted it on my rifle and headed to the range.
Sighting it in was pretty trivial. The adjustment screws require a small flat screwdriver, which is provided with the sight. They also provide a reference disk that you can affix to the screwdriver and that tells you how much you need to turn the adjustment screws to move the POI. While I freely admit that it is a good idea, I ignored all that and made some educated guesses. The basic process is simple: loosen the set screws on the back, adjust windage and elevation, tighten the set screws again. I suspect that instead of taking about ten shots to get a basic zero, it would have taken my five, but I can live with that. Once I got the initial zero, I proceeded to settle down and, taking my time and paying attention the fundamentals, fire off twenty shots without fiddling with anything. That tells me a couple of things:
1) it is the first rudimentary check on whether the sight is holding zero
2) if you do this, you really get an idea of where your zero is. Basing it on an aggregate of twenty shots is much more trustworthy than on three.
I had to make one small adjustment after that and we were off to the races, so to speak.
After that, I spent a fair amount of time setting up other rifles and did not shoot with the DocterSight a whole lot until we headed off to FrontSight. I did shoot it side by side with the Meopta MeoSight III a fair bit, and one interesting thing that came up was that the dot on the Docter optic had sharper edges. The MeoSight seemed to have a bit more of a starburst effect to my eyes. Now, I have a slight astigmatism, so the dot is not perfectly round to me, but with the DocterSight, in slow fire, I could use the edge of the dot for aiming. With the other red dot sights I had, I could not do that as easily. Frankly, I have not spent too much time digging into that so far, but I will. Generally, that blooming effect is usually due to the dot being too bright, but with MeoSight I was running in the manual mode (it has both a manual mode and an Autoadjust mode), so I tried to decrease dot brightness. The dot was still sharper on the Docter. Weirdly, the dot in the Leupold LCO and Vortex Sparc AR was also less well defined than in the Docter.
During the class, all reflex sights I had functioned without issues, but I had the most time with the Doctersight and it worked beautifully. I had some initial concerns that the speed of finding the dot might be a problem due to the sight sitting above the primary sight, but those concerns turned out to be unfounded.
The 3.5 MOA dot size turned out to be just right for my purposes. I generally like smaller dots and I think the 7 MOA is better suited for handguns, while the 3.5 MOA was just right on a rifle.
Despite some fairly rough handling the sight stayed zeroed and never gave me a hint of trouble. I am not sure what the battery life will be, but so far I have not had to change it. I’ll keep using it and see how long it lasts. In order to change the battery, I have to remove the sight from the mounting plate, so one of the things I want to keep track of is whether that causes a significant POI change. Interestingly, some competing designs, like the Razor and Meosight, have a sidemounted tray that holds the battery, while some others, like the Deltapoint Pro and FastFire access the battery from the top. I am a bit mixed on what is the better way, so it will take some experimentation. I suspect that accessing the battery from the bottom aids reliability and compactness. With the side mounted battery, keeping the contacts always connected might be more of a challenge, although I have not run into these issues. Top acces battery is likely to require a larger sight body and might interfere with LED placement. Either way, that is one of the things I plan to investigate going forward.
Fundamentally, I like this sight a fair bit and, honestly, more than I thought I would. I will keep it on my AR for now. At a later point, I might try it on my Glock.
As I wrap up with my testing, I’ll put together some final thoughts and, naturally, if I run into issues, I will report those as well. For now, I am pretty impressed with what I see.