When I moved to Ohio a couple of years ago, I traded a beautiful range with backstops all the way out to nearly 250 yards for a much smaller facility whose rifle range extends only 100 yards beyond the firing line. After a couple of outings at my new range, I came to realize that the SPR build I was working on was frankly overkill for the shorter range. The Redfield Revolution’s 12x magnification made shots on steel at 100 yards far too easy and the rifle as a whole was much heavier than I wanted it to be. Rather than invest in lightening that beefy 18-inch barreled upper receiver, I sold the whole assembly and scope to purchase a lightly used Knight’s Armament SR-15 Legacy upper half.
As soon as the KAC assembly arrived, I realized that a lightweight optic would be absolutely necessary to preserve the impressively svelte feel of this new setup. Recognizing that such a requirement essentially eliminated non-ACOG magnified optics as an option, my only real choice was to find an affordable red dot sight to adorn the rifle’s upper rail. After all, the SR-15 upper had pretty well shot a hole clean through my wallet. At the same time, I previously owned a G&P (airsoft) Aimpoint clone that not only had very disruptive parallax issues, but also was essentially a no-go with my moderate-to-severe astigmatism. Needless to say, my previous foray into the world of cheap red dots had sullied my opinion of the whole category of optics.
After some brief research, I was impressed with the solid user feedback that Primary Arms’ red dots seem to universally receive. As an owner of a PA14X adjustable scope, I knew that Primary Arms put out quality products at surprisingly low prices. With the above factors in mind, I took the plunge on the “special offer” 3 MOA red dot powered by a single CR2032 battery. The official model name for the sight is PA30CR and it has since been discontinued. However, the current “Classic” red dot offered by Primary Arms should compare very closely to the review model (aside from using LR44 batteries). Size
The overall appearance and size of the Primary Arms PA30CR red dot is very similar to the Aimpoint CompM3 and CompM2 red dot sights. In fact with little effort, Aimpoint covers can be fit to the Classic red dot to complete the look. Like the Aimpoint, the Primary Arms red dot includes lens covers for both the front and rear lenses.
While heavier than micro-sized red dots, the PA30CR weighs in comfortably at just under 10 ounces when paired with Primary Arms’ absolute cowitness 30mm mount. At approximately 5 inches long, the red dot is fairly large compared to newer EOTech or micro-sized red dots, but it is far from a rail hog. The 30mm tube offers a wide field of view without making the sight a monster when mounted.
The PA30CR is compatible with the Primary Arms kill-flash, but does not work with similar items intended for use with the Aimpoint. Additionally, the Classic red dot is not at all compatible with kill-flash lens accessories. Glass Quality
The quality of the glass lenses used in the Primary Arms red dot absolutely demolishes the glass used in the cheap G&P airsoft red dot I previously owned. The G&P sight suffered from an overpowering blue-tinted sight picture, however the parallax was also so severe that at 50 yards, I was seeing as much as three inches in point of impact shift, depending on my cheek weld. In contrast, the sight picture through the Primary Arms red dot is a much lighter hue of blue that is only really obvious when looking at white surfaces or in low light situations. The Primary Arms red dot offers a nice bright sight picture, but does not reach the light transmission levels of an Aimpoint or high-quality scope. The parallax is also much better with the Primary Arms sight. At 25 yards, I see around 0.75 inches in shift when the dot is held in the extreme edges of the sight. To be honest, parallax is practically a non-issue with this sight. Durability
Frequent readers will know that I really do not beat up my gear unnecessarily. I have always had the mindset that if something is worth paying for; it is worth taking care of. That said, the sight has naturally been bumped and knocked around during its handful of range trips this past year. In this respect, I have been pleased that the sight has maintained zero. The sight also seems unfazed by the admittedly soft recoil of my SR-15. In fact according to Marshall at Primary Arms, these sights can handle the stout recoil of a 12-gauge shotgun. Part of me wants to slap this guy on one of my Mosin-Nagant rifles for a “torture test”, but the purist in me has prevented such ridiculousness.
While I do not typically trudge around in water and mud while shooting, the sight is waterproof (or perhaps more appropriately, water-resistant) for those who might be looking to use it while hunting or while taking a carbine class on a rainy day. I have had the sight out in the rain with no trouble at all as all openings have substantial rubber seals.
The packaging of the PA30CR indicates a battery life of 1000 hours. In my first year with the sight, I have not needed to replace the battery, nor have I experienced any dimming of the reticle. Adjustment
Adjusting the zero on the Primary Arms red dot is simple. The elevation mechanism is housed on top of the sight tube and the dial is concealed by a water-resistant cap. Likewise, the windage screw rests on the right of the sight’s body and is similarly covered by a water-resistant cap. The windage and elevation screws are marked to indicate how the red dot will move within the tube as the adjustments are rotated. Each positive “click” of the screw represents ¼ MOA of adjustment. Reticle
There is not a whole lot to say about the reticle. It is a simple 3 MOA in diameter red dot that has 11 brightness settings. Settings 1 and 2 are intended for use with night vision devices and as such are difficult, or impossible to see with the naked eye. Light bleed is negligible up until settings 10 and 11 where the dot does begin to flare or bloom somewhat, making it effectively larger than 3 MOA. Overall, the nice, small 3 MOA dot works well for me, despite my astigmatism. Primary Arms Absolute Cowitness Mount
Primary Arms’ affordable absolute cowitness mount is almost as impressive as the red dot itself. The sight tube is held secure by six hex screws divided in threes on the left and right sides of the sight. The unit as a whole is then held in place on the rifle’s rail with a single hex nut and screw. While incredibly basic, the mount has yet to loosen during storage, transport, or fire. It is not the lightest option at just over 3 ounces, but for $20 plus shipping the weight is more than tolerable. I also enjoy the absolute cowitness with the SR-15’s built-in sights. I find that on days when my eyes are uncooperative, using the red dot by peering through the rear iron sight helps to clear up the reticle and target. Conclusion
While Primary Arms will be the first to tell you that their red dots are not built for war fighters and that they certainly are not to be compared with Aimpoint’s formidable offerings, the sights do hold their own even when compared to more expensive red dots. To be honest, I doubt I would use any Chinese-made optic as a primary combat sight, but with models starting at $70 including mount, there really are not any better options in the price range. Because of their solid performance and respectable durability, I have no problem recommending the Primary Arms Aimpoint-style red dot sights to recreational shooters, hunters, and even gun owners on a tight budget who are looking for a night-friendly sight for their home defense firearm.