Gear Review: Primary Arms Advanced 30mm Red Dot

When it comes to affordable optics, many of the house-brand offerings from Primary Arms have been TTAG favorites. Whether it was their 4-14×44 Mil Dot FFP Scope, their 6x scope with .22LR reticle, their 1-6x ACSS scope, or their 2.5X Prism Scope with ACSS Reticle, Primary Arms products typically (but not always) have gotten high marks from TTAG reviewers for what they are: affordable optics that definitely “get the job done,” even if they can’t quite compare to the quality of high-end optics.

Primary Arms’ latest offering is their Advanced 30mm Red Dot, which appears to be their answer to the new Aimpoint PRO. Like the Aimpoint PRO, the Primary Arms Advanced Red Dot is a rugged, full-sized 30mm unit with a true 1x field of view and a 2 MOA dot.

Both units use a twelve-position rotary switch for on/off and brightness control. The Primary Arms unit goes from OFF through three night vision and seven daylight levels to OFF, whereas the Aimpoint PRO has four NV and six daylight settings.

The PA optic comes with rotatable, solid, flip-away lens covers, as opposed to the solid front and transparent rear covers of the Aimpoint (which do appear to be more durable). Unlike the Aimpoint, the PA optic does not come with a Picatinny mount, though Primary Arms has a number of mounts available for about $15 when purchased with the unit, and during promotions a mount is often free. The mount seen here is their High Cantilever 30mm unit.

Both optics take a 1/3N “button” battery. Primary Arms lists the battery life at 14,000 hours (which is over 18 months continuous use), as opposed to the 30,000 hours claimed for the Aimpoint. Both have tethered cap turrets with a wide slots that are click adjustable with a coin, thumbnail, case rim, etc.

OK, you get the picture – from the outside it sure looks like a knock off of the Aimpoint Pro. But how do they compare in use?

Looking through both of them, the clarity of the glass is indistinguishable to me, as is the sharpness of the dot – both very, very good. Both have some color shift, but you are always going to have that with a non-holographic red dot.

Primary Arms

Aimpoint

Primary Arms

Aimpoint

At maximum brightness settings, the Aimpoint’s dot does appear to be ever-so-slightly brighter with a deeper color saturation, but even in blindingly bright Central Texas summer sun I never had a problem picking up the dot on the Primary Arms unit.

Aimpoint’s strong suit is that its products are, quite literally, battle tested, with a legendary reputation for durability and reliability. While I can’t claim to have put the Primary Arms optic through anything close to the military’s testing protocols, it took everything I threw at it without complaint.

First up was full auto testing. Thanks to a friend of mine who is a collector of NFA weapons, I had the opportunity to run the Primary Arms unit atop a SWD M11A1 with a 9mm upper and a SilencerCo suppressor, running 72 round drum magazines (which we were emptying very quickly, because, dammit, ‘Merica!). Despite dumping several hundred rounds down range in full auto fury, the Primary Arms optic never flinched, flickered, or wobbled, making it easy to keep the spray of lead on target.

Same story with an IWI X-95 and an SBR’d AR, both with and without a suppressor. Mag dumps, aimed shots, dropped weapons, caliche dust – no hiccups from the optic and it held zero.

To top it off, this testing was in the sun on an oppressively hot Central Texas summer day. How hot did it get on the range? Hot enough that my iPhone 7S cried uncle:

Despite the Texas summer sun being too much for the pride of Cupertino, the Primary Arms Advanced 30mm Red Dot took that plus the not-inconsiderable heat from guns being run hard – and never flickered a bit.

Will it stand up to heavy use over time? Primary Arms seems to think so, as it’s backed by a lifetime warranty that they say covers “a defect due to materials or workmanship, or even normal wear and tear.”

Primary Arms has done it again. While time will tell whether its durability will match that of the king-of-the-hill Aimpoint, at a street price of about $120 (and occasional $99 sale prices), it’s hard to beat.

Specifications: Primary Arms Advanced 30mm Red Dot

Base: Not Included ($24.99 MSRP, though often available at no charge during promotions)
Battery Life: Estimated 14,000 hours at medium setting
Battery Type: 1x CR1/3N
Brightness: 10 Settings
Finish: Hardcoat Anodized
Material: 6061 Aluminum
Mount Style: 30mm Ring
Night Vision Compatible: Yes
Reticle: 2 MOA Dot
Reticle Color: Red
Warranty: Lifetime
Weight: 5.8 oz
MSRP: $129.99

Ratings (out of five stars):

Quality * * * *
This is a solid, well-built unit that can be run hard. The mount is not as convenient or solid as the Aimpoint’s, and the lens covers aren’t as good, but in Primary Arms’ fashion they are good enough to “get the job done.”

Optical Clarity  * * * *
Frankly, I could not discern any meaningful difference between it and the Aimpoint PRO. A bit of color shift, but that’s expected. Very clear, true 1x image with a crisp 2 MOA dot.

Ergonomics and Performance * * * * *
Idiot-proof, intuitive operation — just turn the dial to turn it on, and turn it all the way (either way) to turn it off. Held zero and didn’t crap out even under heavy use.

Overall * * * *
It’s not as good as an Aimpoint, but it’s pretty close. And at a quarter of the price, it’s one heck of a value.

comments

  1. avatar ready,fire,aim says:

    knock off’s on ebay at 1/2 the price all day long…….it’s not going into battle is it?…

  2. avatar BLAMMO says:

    Just don’t like cantilever mounts. Just don’t.

    1. avatar ArizonaRanger says:

      Why not? I’ve been thinking about getting one for my Aimpoint PRO.

      1. avatar BLAMMO says:

        They seem flimsy and vulnerable. Even if they’re not, they seem so. Stuff can get snagged under them. I can see when they’re necessary, like on a scout rifle or shotgun, to extend over the barrel. But it just doesn’t make sense when you have a continuous rail and you can place a solid mount anywhere.

        Why would you opt for one, given a choice? What’s the advantage? Less weight? Maybe I’m missing something.

        1. avatar ArizonaRanger says:

          I plan on mounting a magnifier behind my red dot. So the red dot needs to be moved forward, and I feel that mounting it to the receiver is better than on the handguard. A cantilever mount allows me to move the red dot as far forward as possible while still having it mounted to the receiver. And Larue has one with on board battery storage, so that’s cool. I can understand the concerns of rigidity and possible snags, I just don’t see them as much of an issue when compared to the benefits.

  3. avatar Blaine says:

    Primary Arms= buying twice. Their customer service is good but my experience with their micro red dots
    Was poor. They just don’t hold zero. Obviously doesn’t compare to my aimpoint or trijicons but if you want to save get a Vortex. Maybe PA worked some bugs out but their red dots have let me down. I think one micro lasted about 5 outings before failure. Again, good customer service but that’s not enough

    1. avatar M1Lou says:

      If you look at PA and Vortex, their 1-6x scopes are the same tubes and made in the same Chinese factory (other scopes by both brands might just be rebrands). I haven’t used any of their red dots but I have used multiple Holosuns without any issue. Holosun makes some (or all?) of PA’s red dots.

  4. avatar PeterK says:

    I am planning on putting one of these on my rifle (when it’s done and I have the money, sigh). Glad you had a good experience. They really do seem great for the price.

  5. avatar Mark says:

    Are the Holosun red dots good? Better than Primary Arms? I have an Aimpoint on my home defense AR, but looking to equip some of my range ARs with a solid albeit cheaper red dot.

  6. avatar =BCE 56= says:

    A couple years ago I bought a PA red dot w/ high std mount, based on favorable reviews and reports of good customer service. Dot image is good and sight has held zero.
    Mounted at about midpoint of receiver rail of my AR it affords clearance for MBUS rear sight, dot is above the YHM flip-up front sight, not co witness.
    At less than a hundred bucks this was a reasonable deal.
    Worked fine, when it worked.
    I found it to be recoil sensitive, occasionally cutting out apparently due to poor contact within the battery compartment or possibly the brightness switch. Some tinkering yielded only a slight improvement.
    Note: Those little button cell batteries are a serious PITA- difficult to manipulate and likely to disappear without a trace if (when) dropped. Coin cell batts much more better IMO.
    Red dot has been retired in favor of an old Simmons 4X28 SKS scope in medium rings, with entirely satisfactory results. That compact little scope is a good match for my X39 carbine.
    One of these days I might test PA’s customer service…

  7. avatar HAH ha says:

    I put a PSA Blem carry handle on top of my PSA Blem upper with an “f” marked front post. Perfect co-witness, no problems holding zero. I haven’t figured out what batteries it takes, but they haven’t run out yet so I guess I’m good for now. Thought about putting some red nail polish on top of the front post, but my wife pays to get her nails done and I’m uncomfortable buying nail polish…maybe next time she sends me out for tampons .

  8. avatar doesky2 says:

    Once I got a holosun with a circle/dot no more solitary dots for me.

  9. avatar Tacbear says:

    I have a 5 year old Holosun that I have yet to replace the battery in!!! It isn’t perfect (early units like mine have a red glare under certain lighting conditions), but it has been through the ringer and still works like new! I recently purchased a Holosun w/Circle Dot recticle and solar cell (NO red glare) and it is awesome …HOLOSUN Customer for life!!!!!

  10. avatar Josiah in WA says:

    What I want to know, is how you got your hands on a yet unannounced Apple iPhone 7S! 😉 Pics or it didn’t happen!

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