Bringing iron sights into the 21 century

Arthur C. Clarke wrote “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”. Magic is the first word that came to mind when I read about the MicroSight which has been developed at the Idaho National Laboratory. The new gun sight allows a shooter to focus on the front sight and on the target at the same time.

One day, Crandall was leafing through an optics textbook, and he stumbled across a section on “zone plates.” Zone plates are optical devices that resemble lenses. But whereas lenses focus light using refraction — essentially, changing the direction of light waves by changing their speed — zone plates use diffraction. Diffraction describes how waves bend, break up, spread out and interfere with each other as they encounter obstacles. The diffraction of sound waves, for example, explains how you can hear someone’s voice from around a corner.

The technology has been licensed to Apollo Optical Systems, who are working on bringing it to the market.

AccurateShooter has also blogged about the sights.

[ Many thanks to David for emailing me the link. ]

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • Jesse

    So basically you look thought this tiny lens spotting telescope and it allows light from but the distance and the sight to remain in focus. Interesting.

  • THAT will sell like hot cakes!

  • Carl

    Interesting. It remains to be seen whether it will actually improve your shooting though.

    And if you start putting optical stuff on your firearm you might as well use a red dot sight.

  • Eye5600

    A great idea, but it is still an iron sight with one of these fitted?

    • Eye5600, good question.

  • Don

    That is a great idea, but using the technology exactly as they describe it will be all or nothing as far as focusing. Theoretically you will not have the option of focusing on either the sight OR the target anymore. If they can augment the technology somehow to allow either single focus OR both that would be cool.


  • Gregor

    Good idea, but I wonder how the focused front sight blade and target will look when aiming through the rear sight, which still is unfocused. Also, I wonder how the MicroSight will work with both eyes open aiming. Its worth following the development of the MicroSight, maybe it will be a good BUIS one day or a good addon for a target pistol. But I doubt its going to replace reddot sights and scopes – no matter how hard the PR text on the website claims that its capable to do so 🙂

  • Bill Lester

    It will be interesting to see how NRA and CMP view this for their Highpower and Service Rifle matches. Is it an iron sight, an optical “scope” or something in-between?

  • Nadnerbus

    So this disc would replace the rear sight aperture? Interesting idea. With Irons being relegated to “back up” status these days though, I’m not sure how much use this would get, militarily. Optics can beak more easily than steel, which would kind of diminish their utility as an emergency backup.

    I’d love to try something like this myself though.

  • Don

    I like the idea for a Highpower service rifle but I doubt they will be allowed unless the military is sold on them. Problem is very few young shooters learn how to shoot first with iron sights. A red dot from China is so cheap that they get one as soon as the parent gives in to the complaining or finally upgrade to a Eotech or Trijicon on their M4. I bet they will sell for $250.00 or higher then as the tech disperses get reasonable.

    I’ll hold out until I can see on with my own eyes. LOL!

  • Tuulos

    It’s function seems to resemble those little black discs with holes in them that target shooters use on their shooting glasses. Sadly I can’t remember the name of those little things but they allow greater focus by limiting/directing the light that the eye receives.

  • Cymond

    “And if you start putting optical stuff on your firearm you might as well use a red dot sight.” –
    Except this weighs a lot less and will supposedly be very affordable. It can also serve as a BUIS.

    I didn’t interpret the PR as attempting to replace optics, but rather bring some of the advantages of optics to iron sights. The inventor is a member of the US national long-range rifle team, so he frequently shoots with open sights. He’s trying to improve the tool he uses. I also think he’s probably experienced enough to know that scopes and reflex sights serve purposes that even the best iron sights cannot.

    I’ve never actually seent the product, but I assume that if the disc gets busted out, you still have a circular rear aperture. And I can certainly relate to the situation with young shooters learning with optics while neglecting iron sights. I learned with optics and I’m terrible with irons, but I’m working on it. All of my guns with iron sights are chambered for centerfire cartridges, so significant amounts of practice are expensive. One of my top priorities is a rimfire with good iron sights.

    As a final note, the same guy also invented a breaching shotgun but the article only mentioned it briefly. I assume he looked at existing designs before creating his version, so Im naturally a bit curious about the merits of his system. (Sorry for the long post)

  • jdun1911

    You can buy corrective lens for your Iron sight (mounted on) and it is legal in NRA match. I pretty sure this will be legal too.

  • Maigo

    It’s all well and good until it shatters and you can’t even see your irons

  • There is one error in the press release; you can get (near) infinite depth of focus with a small enough aperature close enough to your eye. I use one of these (it’s called an adjustable iris) stuck to my glasses when shooting scout style sights, and it helps me focus on the front sight and still be able to see the target. I’ve got a pretty bad astigmatism, so I have trouble focusing through the rear sight and onto the front one.

    The problem is that it intriduces paralax issues, where this does not seem like it would.

  • Ian J

    I suspect that if we’re capable of making iron sights that don’t bend or become misaligned with rough handling, we can also make a suitably protected lens-based rear sight.

    This would be a useful step forward, and certainly welcome by me. I’ve shot a lot of casual .22 benchrest with a 50s vintage Mossberg with its matching Olympic peepsight, and even with the tiny rear aperture (which acts as a sort of lens, increasing depth of field), I still have to choose whether I’m going to focus on the front sight or the target. Having this kind of “dual focus” lens available instead of a rear peep would be very useful.

    Even assuming the going was so rough that your zone plate broke, you could poke the broken bits out of the way and still have a circular rear sight that would be quite functional. Anything that’s going to shatter a 1/4″ lens inside a well-built housing would probably also render the gun unsafe to fire, and would certainly damage any attached optics beyond useability.

  • Redchrome

    jdun1911 is correct. As I understand it the NRA Match Rifle rules allow one lens. (two would be a telescope). So a lot of shooters have a corrective lens in their rear sight to compensate for aging eyes.

    I think this is out of place for BUIS where you want the ability to get mud/lint/whatever out of the rear aperture by just poking or wiping it.

  • subase

    Iron sights serve as backup sights in case your optics fail or due to environmental conditions optics become useless (mud or oil or whatever).

    This technology basically takes away one of the main advantages of iron sights. Saying that if they make the lens easily removable, just in case it does get dirty or is broken, then I’m satisfied.

  • Marvin Fly

    I hope to see one of these in the rear sight piece for a DCM
    Garand. If it wasn’t useful the old one should still work. Of course you would have to be a good enough gunsmith to change them ( that isn’t much trouble).