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.
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
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.