I really didn’t want to write this article. I made lots of excuses not to. But here it is.
Lets get this out of the way up front: This is a negative review. After more than a year of use I am unimpressed by the Holosun optic, and wouldn’t use it on most of my firearms.
I was impressed by the Holosun company. They, and their Canadian distributor did lots of work to try and make things right.
They were the ones who offered me a review optic. I didn’t go begging for the gunwriters handout. I don’t owe the review to them, I owe it to you.
If you’re not aware, Holosun produces a series of Micro-red dots that are at a very affordable price, and offer some of the features and aesthetics of much more expensive bands. In the case of the HS403A I was given to review, it clearly shares a dream with the Aimpoint H1.
I’ve owned an H1 too, and thought about writing this as a clone vs original piece. But that’s not really fair. The HS403A retails for $180 from a new company, and the H1 for $600 from the company that literally invented the red-dot sight. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the H1 is better built, with clearer glass, and tougher structure.
And Holosun isn’t trying to be Aimpoint. Not really. They want to make a solid feature list. They took the biggest feature from Aimpoint (the exceptional battery life) and made it a standard that regular shooters can afford. They’ve got some other pretty slick things in there too. The Auto-on function, which I first experienced in a Leupold Deltapoint, means that the optic will automatically activate when jostled or shaken. So you can leave the dot off in storage, but grab it off the rack or out of the safe and have it ready for action at a moments notice. Sexy stuff.
If you jump up to the HS403G or HS403C models, you get external battery mounts, solar assist, and compatibility with conventional Aimpoint H1/T1 mounts. Holosun is all about putting great features in an inexpensive package. But that package just didn’t hold up for me.
Here’s the breakdown…
Holosun A Issue 1: I was lucky to attend the last Crimson Trace Midnight 3-Gun to ever happen. I figured shooting in close with a flashlight would be a good opportunity to replace my 1-6x optic and put the Holosun through its paces. I found glass glare and light transmission to be an issue. There were lots of red reflections coming back at me through the optic, making it hard to find the dot. After the first stage I switched back to my regular optic, and didn’t feel too badly about the Holosun. Nighttime 3-Gun is an unusual environment. It’s dark, but there’s tons of tinted directional lighting, flashlights, glow sticks, and pulsating beacons to mess things up. Not exactly a parallel of your regular range use.
Holosun A Issue 2: I scratched the finish. The torx key and torx bolt that came in the box didn’t fit together very well. The key is always on the edge of slipping out of the bolt. While installing it on my Vz58 I scored a big silver scratch up the left side of the optic. Not a big deal, but I was irritated with myself.
Holosun A Issue 3: It died. Straight up stopped working one afternoon in November, no matter how many fresh batteries I tried to feed it. At this point the company service starts to shine. They shipped me a new optic, paid to have the old optic returned, and promised to inspect it to see what had failed.
Holosun B Issue 1: The mounting base shook loose. As part of my SAP6 project I set up the sight and took it out into the backwoods in winter to zero. After the second magazine of slugs failed to produce a group (this is Canada, so 10 rounds total downrange) I realized the mount had loosened enough for the optic to slide back and forth. You could argue this is my own fault for not torquing hard enough on the star key, as I wasn’t keen on scratching a second optic right away. But what was tight became loose, and I had to go home disappointed.
Holosun B Issue 2: The auto-on stopped working. I loved this feature in my deltapoint, and found it pretty cool in the Holosun too. Any significant movement wakes up the sight, so that as soon as it comes out of storage it’s ready to go. Except that after a month or two it didn’t come on any more, no matter how hard I shook it. I can still manually turn the sight on and off, so it certainly still functions. Just minus one more feature off the list.
Holosun B Issue 3: The mounting base shook loose again, this time the base from the optic. This was at the MGM Ironman, it was hot, and I was shooting slugs. I can understand why an optic you attached and zeroed in Canada would start to shift in an environment where the ground is 140 degrees Fahrenheit (40 C for all my canuck chums) but it was a major upset to have that happen in the middle of a competition. Between the heat and the fun of several slugs in direct succession, the optic had come loose and needed to be retightened. Two of the four screws had loosened, causing the optic to rock side to side. Fortunately I had a jeep full of gun-tools, which meant it was working again by the next stage, but that didn’t get me back my slug misses. To be fair, this was not the only optic that shifted zero that shoot. The red dot mount on my pistol also shifted, as did the aftermarket optics rail on my Tavor.
Holosun B Issue 4: The mount deformed. I’ll confess, after twice having experienced issues with loosening, I made sure the optic was good and tight from there on in. Except of course until the mount started to mark up, mushroom, and deform around the bolt. Take a look:
Which brings me to the current home of the Holosun: my recent 10/22 build. Somewhere it won’t be counted on for competition, won’t be subjected to significant recoil, and won’t be used in any kind of self defense role. With no pressure of performance on it, this is where the Holosun is happiest. It’s in a place that I can still tolerate it.
Holosun C Issue 1: A friend of mine also owns a Holosun. He’s a Canadian Forces infantryman, qualified marksman, avid shooter, and all that cool stuff. My point being that he’s not the kind of guy to tapco an SKS and blow apart an old couch at 15 yards. He shoots well and respects gear without getting high on brand names. He bought himself an HS403G for his personal AR-15, ran it through several courses, dropped it down a set of stairs, and generally describes it as “cheap and functional.”
Except that one range trip we were doing move & shoot drills and his dot disappeared. He got the experience of deploying his BUIS and using them exactly as intended. How often does that actually happen eh? Later we were able to determine that the battery cap had loosened, causing the dot to go out. Other than that he’s had no problems with it.
Holosun C Issue 2: Updated! Shortly after publishing this article, the owner of Holosun C contacted me to let me know that it was “trashed.” Apparently no combination of batteries will get it to produce a dot anymore. Despite a few years of function, his final thoughts are: “I gave them a chance and I’m done.” You might argue that I carry a curse with me, and can pass it on.
You could make the case that most of my issues were related to the mounting system, and that by buying the HS403G model you bypass those. Suddenly the world of quality H1 mounts is open to you and you can use awesome risers & QD setups and never worry about loosening or shifting.
But the product out of the box is the product. If Holosun’s express intention was for you to use their optics with top dollar Aimpoint mounts, then they should ship model HS403G without any mount at all. I apply this rule to firearms too. Saying that a rifle is “okay after you upgrade X to fix issue Y” doesn’t mean the rifle is okay. It means its broken out of the box, and that the customer is paying to fix it themselves.
The problem is that we all secretly want the same thing: an Aimpoint T1 for $200. I just don’t think that’s possible anymore, and that issues arise when you try.
I’ll wrap this up with a little narcisstic reflection: I don’t like writing negative reviews. Despite the fact that we’re online, I don’t get a kick out of putting down people or products. I’m sure lots of readers have Holosun optics that have been fantastic for them, will never experience any of the issues I did, and are about to let me know about it in the comments section. But I know that I’ve reviewed guns, had a great time, then had readers purchase the gun and come back with reliability complaints. I feel bad for that, as if I had led them astray. The fact is: I can only write about what I experience directly. When things go well, I write about that. And when things go poorly, I ought to write about that too.
So that’s it. I won’t be buying another Holosun. I think they’ve got good ideas, but they need to get their quality control straightened out first.