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Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 8.50.32 AM
Primary Arms Classic 30MM Red Dot GEN II

By DrVino

I’m a miser. I don’t like to pay any more than is necessary to keep me out of “penny wise, pound foolish” territory. Still, my “main” Stoner-pattern rifle is outfitted with all the better brand name accouterments including an EOTech sight, Magpul toothpick dispenser, Leupold rear view mirror and Silencerco coffee maker. If this is too “cheap” for some readers, I suppose I could still trade one of my kids for an ACOG….

While I am averse to putting tacticool shit on my Kalashnikov rifles, I would not demure if a wealthy, lonely dowager were to be so charmed by me as to spring for a Kobra collimator from Axion (please contact the editors for my contact info).

I had built a “ghost gun” to honor California’s Senate President Pro Tem, Kevin De Leon, as well as to test out the now ATF-disapproved Gen 1 Poly80 lower receiver. With no part costing over $100, I now have a rifle with which I and my aging eyes are capable of making about 4” groups at 100 yards with just a non-magnified red dot. I’m sure I could tighten that group up with a magnified optic, but that’s not really the point of the gun. I certainly have shot better groups with it at 50 yards, which is the point of this rifle.

Now, however, I have a spare Stoner pattern rifle taking up precious cubic inches in my safe, at least until the Zombie apocalypse hits and I need to arm a family member.

With this in mind, I wanted to put a long-life “value” red dot on the rifle. I try to keep my less ballistically-inclined family members familiar with the fundamentals of operating an Ayahrr, but to compensate for deficits in the fundamentals of marksmanship, I wanted a simple “point-and-shoot” optic that would not need a new battery every two hours.

Sightmark Tactical Red Dot Sight


I had a Sightmark 30mm red dot lying around. It cost about $60 but has a 50 hour battery life (two LR44 button cells or similar). I did a little virtual window shopping and found the Primary Arms Classic 30MM Red Dot (mine came with a free lower 1/3 co-witness “QD” type mount, but I’m not sure if that still is an available bundle). It ran me about $82 shipped and was advertised to run for 200+ hours. Since then, the company has updated the battery life to 500 hours, but more on that later.

Both sights are loose Aimpoint Comp2/Comp3 clones/copies. The PA has a 3 MOA dot and the SM has a 5MOA dot. Both are made in the PRC. Both have identical looking objective lenses, lens coatings, flip-up lens caps and run on the same type of battery. The Primary Arms has two night vision settings while the Sightmark does not. The PA scope also has better cap tethers: it comes with braided wire tether installed and a spare rubberized plastic “bikini”-style tether similar to the Sightmark’s.


The adjustment turrets are a bit different. The The Primary Arms has more solid feeling turrets but the face of the dial seems to have the markings painted or silk screen printed. The markings on the Sightmark are engraved and held up far better to adjusting with coins and other tools.


I was interested to see if the emitter in the Primary Arms optic really was that much more efficient. I put in brand new Energizer Silver Oxide LR44 button cells in both the Sightmark and Primary Arms optics and powered both up to 3 – the mid setting – and waited.


My aim was to find the time it took for each sight, running continuously on the mid setting, to reach a point where the dot was not effective for aiming. During the day, I viewed the same various outdoor objects at the same time of the day to assess if the dot was visible or washed out. A few times I took the Primary Arms out to the range to see how visible its dot was against a Southern California wilderness terrain.

The Sightmark served as more of a control than anything. Suffice it to say that it performed as expected and maintained an effective dot for 50, maybe 53 hours. Presumably, a lower setting would extend that time.

The Primary Arms really surprised me. It ran continuously for 46 days (1104 hours) before the dot got so weak that I would not rely on it to take shots at 50 to 100 yards. At the end of the trial, I could have dialed up the setting if needed. The batteries were certainly not completely drained.

My notes from day 46 are:

Bright, almost cloudless day. A little haze at the horizon. Dot holds up to most lighter urban colors – but washed out almost completely by illuminated light grey and light beige (illuminated sidewalk and pavement) Could still make shot. Washed out by illuminated but not reflecting white cars and haze at horizon. Barely visible against blue sky.”

Marshall Lerner, Primary Arms CEO, let me know that the optic had originally been tested with the manufacturer-provided DL1/3N battery (which looks like two generic LR44 type button cells held together in series in an aluminum casing). Hence, the original “200+” hour battery life rating. Since then, he says, the emitter (the thing that makes the dot) has been updated to a more efficient version.

The Primary Arms Classic 30mm Red Dot not only lived up to, but exceeded my expectations of run time. YMMV – especially depending on the quality of batteries you use. The power output declines very slowly and the dot does not flicker with recoil.


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        • Not sure what he’s referring to, as I’ve used various Primary Arms optics on guns ranging from plinker .22s to 12 gauge slugs and .308s with no flicker, switching under recoil or loss of zero. I currently have two of their H1/T1 type micro dots on a couple rifles, and even the older one I bought used off of a friend didn’t mind the Ruger SR762 recoil.

      • I may put this on a .308 semi to see if you are right.
        Did you conduct this test with a .308 rifle yourself, or are you speculating?

  1. Speaking of ‘ghost guns’ based on polymer80 lowers re the California legislature, I was thinking a pistol would be a fitting response. Anyone have any thoughts on an appropriate sighting system for one in 300 BLK, would this be a good option? In my mind the AR pistols are kind of ‘I did it because I could’ kind of thing, an interesting piece of kit with no real-world advantage so I’m interested in going cheap on the sights.

  2. I have a few PA MD06L’s that have really impressed. Took one and told the kids to ‘beat the snot out of it’. They’ve played hockey with it (it is a poor puck substitute), thrown it about, kicked it around the street, rolled over it on their bikes and it still runs (it looks like crap, the lens is scratched up on both ends, but it still runs). It still holds zero when mounted. I wish I could direct post pics. It is seriously beat up. I got the idea to try it based on

    I’m not replacing my aimpoints any time soon with these (MD06), but they have made excellent RDS for trainers for my boys. Apples and Oranges, I know, but thought I’d throw that in as a good range RDS from PA. Not sure if they still sell them though.

  3. I suppose I could still trade one of my kids for an ACOG….

    Okay, I’ll take one of your kids but you’ll have to throw in a lot more than an ACOG.

    A new car would be nice . . . .

    • You can take the 17 year old. He knows everything. That should make up for the value discrepancy.

    • So, Ralph, you’re going to feed and clean up after the little @#%&$*# ?

      Hell, your ex couldn’t even train you to do that. 🙂

  4. I love Primary Arms. I discovered them on TTAG and I’ve bought several of their optics. Nothing but positive experiences.

  5. I had picked this up when PA was clearing out the older-style LR44 for ones that take a AA – $60 delivered with an absolute co-witness mount included. I figured this would work out well since I had never used a red-dot before (so didn’t want to spend a whole lot on something that I didn’t care for), and my AR is mainly just a range-toy so didn’t need anything super-robust. I am pleased to say that it has worked out extremely well and will most likely stay on the rifle.

    The only negative that I have is there is no “hard” detent when selecting the dot power level – it’s fairly soft and sometimes I have to double-check to make sure that it’s on/off. That said the knob is tight, so it won’t move once you’ve made a choice.

  6. I have a feeling many of these scopes are sourced from the same factory.
    The gen 1 PA red dot on my AR looks a lot like products that cost considerably more.

    Mine works well, but the switch is a bit fragile.

    • Yes there is a rash of them made in the same factory I have no doubt. Halo Sun, PA, Bushnell TRS-25, SIG Sauer red dot and even the Vortex Sparc and Strikefire.

      What you will tend to see is that there will be an upgrade to the base model and one of the vendors will move to it and slowly the rest will as well.

      That said I would not trust my life with any of them. Great on a training rifle, or 22 rifle. I have the TRS-25 on my 15-22. On my go to rifle, AimPoint Comp M4S.

    • Yeah but WHAT dosen’t come from there? I think alot of people would be shocked to know how many “red dots” are made there and sold under “US” company names.

      • I doubt that at least some of the major components of the computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone you used to post this (at least partially warranted) skeptical comment were not made in the PRC.

        • I don’t doubt that at all. However, I will go out of my way to find an American made alternative if there is one even if it costs more. I dunno, maybe I’m the crazy one, but sometimes it seems that those who scream MURICA the most are the first ones to go out and buy a commie made AK and hop in their Japanese/Korean/German/Italian/whatever vehicle and go to the giant box store and pick up some cheap Korean made PMC.

        • I don’t blame you at all. I like to support domestic producers – though I am wary of any All-U.S.-made AKs.
          Different applications require different quality materials and supplies and, ultimately, this particular sight will do just fine for its intended purpose.

      • Aimpoint is made in Sweden. Rather be the US, but I can deal with Sweden. I have a couple of PA optics, they are better than the Nikons made in the Philippines. Have not used a PA red dot.

    • Unless you’re avoiding buying Chinese for political reason, it’s a non sequitur.

      Not everything that is Made in China is crap. As with any other place, you get what you pay for. The majority of what gets exported is crap because consumers in USA and elsewhere demand cheaper goods, and so they’re getting them. But of late, many American and European companies have discovered that, if they’re willing to go and actually vet the manufacturers and find a good one, and don’t seek the bottom feeders for the absolute cheapest price, they can actually get very good quality, and still pay less. Primary Arms is one of the companies that has been doing it very successfully for several years now.

      • Primary arms is in the greater Houston area in pearland Tx. I’ve been to there store personally. Great guys. I was not very happy with my last purchase and may need an exchange but I’ve had good much so far mostly.

        Although I like to buy firearms that are made in the USA for political reasons( more US firearms jobs gives the industry more political clout)from an economic perspective buying from China makes sense in many cases. It’s actually better for our economy to have cheap imports as it makes our labor worth more in terms of purchasing power.

        • >> It’s actually better for our economy to have cheap imports as it makes our labor worth more in terms of purchasing power.

          It also means that there’s less labor in US that’s getting paid. Think about what happens when you take it to the extreme – everything is a cheap import. Who’ll be buying them, and where will the money to buy it come from?

  7. I have been very pleased with my Primary Arms purchases, including my Illuminated 4-14X44 FFP scope.

    • I like my fixed 6 but my 4-14 ffp is foggy on 4x,5x and 14x. Also the retical is kind is small. I wish they would make a dual focal plane retical.

  8. Primary Arms also sell their own labeled version of the Holosun microdot as well as the Holosun version. It’s pretty much an Aimpoint T1 clone that sells for about $180 and also will go over a year on a single battery even if it is left on all the time.

  9. Primary Arms is great stuff. They have a whole line of budget red dots and optics that are often loose copies of some popular legendary products, like Aimpoint CompM2 and Micro, or ACOG. Obviously you aren’t getting the same level of quality there, but it’s still plenty good in practice (better than pretty much any other Chinese made stuff that I’ve seen, and even better than some “Made in USA” alternatives in the same price segment), and you’ll pay anywhere from half to one fifth the price.

    They also have little nice things in those products. E.g. their 2.5x optic has a very nice reticle that gives you both bullet drop and target movement compensation, but also a fast-acquisition reticle for close up shooting (which actually does work great). Their 4-14x scope also has a great reticle.

  10. For my “go to rifles” I have Aimpoints on them and my Tavor is getting an Meprolight RDS next month. I use those sights because they are always on as HD weapons. For my plinker fun rifles I put cheap optics on them as I use them occasionally, or bust them out when friends want to shoot. I can’t see putting an AImpoint, EOtech, ACOG or Elcan on everything you own. I have the TRS-25 and TRS-32 on two ARs that get the job done. I also have the PA 1-6 on my favorite AR and it shoots 1.5″ groups with steel cased ammo. It also holds zero. It works really well and I can spend the money I saved on other rifles. The new PA red dots are supposed to have a 50k hour life like an Ampoint.

  11. Since then, he says, the emitter (the thing that makes the dot) has been updated to a more efficient version.

    The “emitter” is just a light emitting diode (LED). LEDs have come a long way since their introduction. Primary arms is no doubt using a high output (high MCD) LED running at a reduced current to put it in the range of regular low output LEDs but with a fraction of the current. Low current = longer battery life.

  12. Good article, thanks for writing it. There can’t be too many honest product evaluations these days

  13. I love all this “zombie apocalypse/ bet my life on it” talk – mainly from people who will NEVER be or go in harms way!

    Was in the Army ( ’68-72 in Vietnam) and worked as a LEO for 33 yrs; seen the real ugly from the central highlands battles to street gun fights.

    The average citizen can talk the talk but the reality is that ALL gear breaks!

    I have used TRS 25s for hog hunting in Texas and have even used the PA Gen II in a carbine class before retiring; both took the casual abuse of a ” non combat” shooting environment and these low budget RDS could easily survive a HD or rough hunting environment situation!!

    Buy what ever you can afford; but remember this- high tech gear has often been stalemated by low tech but operating gear( the AKM costs as little as $60 in many places in the world and it can often outlast even one of my $1,700.00 Daniels Defense ARs)…..

    Any idiot that carelessly doesn’t watch out for simple damaging effects on firearms isn’t going to have any gear that lasts and I’ve seen too many backwood fudds take a budget red dot or scope and beat it or drag it til it fails then proclaim it garbage, but would never do the SAME to that aimpoint they paid $500 for…just dumb.

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