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The Current State of the Pistol Mounted RDS

The above photo I was sent was posted (and taken) by @realdirtyharry on IG, it's an Aimpoint ACRO P2.  From what I could gather, he didn't drop it, but simply was shooting it and the glass cracked.  So my interest was peaked and that started me down a rabbit hole trying to get answers, find info, and survey various people that I know who have pistol-mounted optics of various types, using them in training real-world applications or otherwise have had the applicable experience to my query.  This led me to a broader look at the industry, the current state of the pistol-mounted RDS development in the industry, and where we may want to see it go.  I reached out to Strohman Enterprise, who I used and recommended others to use, for LE discount preorders for Aimpoint ACRO P2s and asked if there is a recall and if so, if the P2 I ordered was affected. 

This email confirms that there is a recall on the ACRO P2, but anyone who purchases from Strohman was not affected by it, yet.

So the obvious question I had that I asked a bunch of people I knew could have access to this information, was how many people did they personally know who either posted about or already had replaced, a broken/cracked ACRO P2.  The answer was about 10.  Not exactly a groundbreaking number, but that number is likely higher than that because most people do not post about these issues, they just reach out to the company to get the product warrantied.  The fact remains, however, that many of us preordered the ACRO P2, paid in full, waited for nearly a year, and some of these products performed, and were generally far below, the quality we had wanted them to be.  Did Aimpoint Amber Heard the bed, or was it our perceptions and expectations contrary to reality?  That is what I am going to explore in this article.

In late 2014 I wanted to see what the rage was about, and I ended up getting an RMR cut slide and got an RMR for use.  At that time pistol mounted optics were not that great, and even though RMR changed just slightly since then, the general issues of pistol-mounted optics have been fixed, sort of.  Fast forward to 2017, I wrote an article talking about how the RMR is nice but just does not do it for me in terms of pistol-mounted optics.  Since then I have tried various different setups, including an Aimpoint T1 on a pistol, the SRO, the P1, MPS, and the current issue ridden P2.  In between these optics that I have personally owned, some carried, and used, I have tested various other pistol-mounted RDS like those from Vortex, SIG, Leupold, and a few others. Now in 2022 I settled on the Steiner MPS.

So what are the current issues with the ACRO P2?  Even though we waited for almost a year from the announcement to get the ACRO P2, the P2 is a lot of what the P1 was before.  The ACRO P2 came out because the ACRO P1 was a flop, and I outlined the issues of the ACRO P1 in an article I wrote in July of 2020.  The biggest, and the most obviously glaring issue is that the ACRO P2 is literally just a P1 with a new body kit and some new buttons, and it can take the 2032 battery.  Dimensionally, dot size, settings, etc it is nearly identical.  This was a giant missed opportunity for Aimpoint, and this does not make an iota of sense to me.  But, of course, the same people who sang the praises of the ACRO P1, were the same people to sing the praises of the ACRO P2, and they have been failures to do anything other than a shill for Aimpoint in order to keep the stream of free products coming.  Like most others, I had to pay for mine just to find out first hand it is definitely not what I had hoped it would have been when Aimpoint announced their intention to make another ACRO version.  There are benefits however, first and foremost the addition of the 2032 battery gives it extended battery life over the ACRO P1.  The P2 design has indents for covers of some kind (not that you would cover the lenses on a pistol optic), and Aimpoint has them available, also some other companies do as well, but on a pistol optic, they make little to zero sense.  I have yet to see anyone actually use them for EDC carry, and the argument for these types of micro optics mounted on a rifle is another completely different article (spoiler: hard no).  Otherwise, you get the same eye box, the same size MOA dot, and the buttons feel mushy to me but they are new so that may change.  I cannot understand why they would not redesign the whole optic, or at least make it different in more ways than not.  NV settings seem to be similar, although I have not had a lot of time with the ACRO P2 under nods to really give a great review of that functionality.  Add in the fact the ACRO P2 glass breaks for no apparent reason, and I have to say I am disappointed in the  newest ACRO version.  

The current favorite, and recommended optic, is the Steiner MPS.  Obviously, I am affiliated with a company that sells them, and Steiner did send me one for free for testing and evaluation, hence my full disclosure here, and before in posts.  The MPS, however, does a great job at being a new-to-market closed emitter pistol-mounted RDS.  The eye box is wider than the ACRO, the dot is slightly smaller and crisper (to my eye), and the overall design is more appealing to the eye, not that aesthetics should play a role but it always will on some level for the average consumer.  The MPS also has removable/replaceable side panels that I am personally waiting for someone to start 3D printing or making cool versions of.  Some people have issues with the MPS, so much so that Steiner has released a firmware updated V2 of it (the same thing just has the ability to turn off the auto 13 hour off feature).  The user can turn off the auto shut-off feature, but it removes the top brightness setting on the MPS.  The reason behind this is that if you set it to the top brightness setting and then leave it on, the battery life is measured in days not months.  This is likely true with the ACRO P2 as well, but no one actually sets it to the brightest setting and leaves it on.  I actually prefer the auto 13-hour shutoff because it does two things, number one allows the MPS to save and extend battery life, but also requires the end user to check for functionality.  You should always check your tools when you put them on, this is a normal protocol everyone should follow but few actually do it seems.  Whenever I put my pistol on, I check to make sure it is loaded, I check some of the ammo, I do some dryfire, and then draw from concealment, all to make sure the pistol is functional and my equipment is not compromised.  I also turn on the optic and set it to the brightness I need it to be set to for that particular day, brighter for sunny days, less for cloudy days.  I have long wondered why people have transferred Aimpoints "constant on" marketing from rifle mounted RDS to pistol, it is not a transferrable concept and I would not want it to be for obvious real world applicable reasons, no two days are the same and just because you left the optic in one setting does not mean it will be applicable when you go to use it.  On top of all that, how often do non-LEOs carry a firearm for more than 13 hours straight?  If you do end up doing so, regardless of where you are the lighting conditions most likely have changed and you will need to readjust your dot brightness.  How many other EDC electronic items do you turn on to the preferred setting and keep running while you are not in immediate use of it?  Is there a single electronic item you keep on just in case you need to use it?   Set and forget brightness on a pistol-mounted RDS is not something that I want as of now.  Will there be AI-powered RDS in the future that change and adjust to the light conditions, I hope so, but that leads us to wonder, what would make a top-tier pistol-mounted RDS with today's technology?

What features do we want to see on a pistol-mounted RDS, and how much are we willing to pay for it?

This is the question I posed to several folks in the 2a, training and firearms industry over the last week or so. I got back varying results, here is a wish list of things people would like to see, many were repeated by numerous people:

1.5 Month constant on
Better battery choices
Ability to change battery without having to re-zero or remove from pistol
Actual dive rating, with proof
Different reticles
Smaller Dots - 1MOA and the like
Different dot colors - Green
Two real NV modes - super NV bright and low NV bright
Titanium Construction
USB powered charging and firmware updating - which also means hackable
Two screw mounting construction
Variable or modular mounting ability - especially retrofitting onto RMR cut slides - without plates
Onboard extra battery storage from the factory
Anti-reflective coating on both glass
Has to be closed emitter type optic
Lockable adjustment dials, or a return to or set to zero
Less 'sidewall" and more glass / bigger eye box window
4 main brightness modes
Dot remembers prior brightness setting
Selective auto-shut off timer
....and a few others that were too pie in the sky to mention

Without nerding out too far with this exercise, I think that the average serious pistol-mounted RDS enjoyer would easily pay up to $999 for a top of the line RDS that is purpose designed for pistol mounting and has some key features that every other optic on the market seems to have missed the shot on.  What features would I personally like to see on a pistol-mounted RDS that could cost up to $999? Specifically, a battery or battery system (USB charging included) that creates worry-free functionality and allows the RDS to stay on for at least a full month (30 full days = 720 hours) at maximum brightness.  I think USB-C charging is something every single electronic EDC device should have today, RDS are no exception but cheap and easily purchasable batteries can replace this as long as they offer the performance.  A 1 MOA dot option, red and/or green.  Yes, green, it is great and I prefer green dots.  Some type of waterproof or water resistance or water depth rating, since it has to be a closed emitter it has to have some sort of liquid sustainability.  A way to lock out the adjustment knobs, I do not like marking anything up with a pen, and marking optics for zero is 1980s technology, why are we still doing it?  Should be able to lock out the zero once it is set somehow.  Glass reinforcement of some kind, either through double glass or hardened (gorilla type) glass, or some other way to make the glass very hard and very difficult to break or crack.  Personally, I prefer to have an auto-shut-off setting, but I understand some users may not, we can split that down the middle and make it a user customized setting.  A bigger glass window to sidewall ratio, more window, more eyebox, definitely bigger than the P2.  Finally, the optic has to be American-made, by American labor, preferably having some sort of government berry compliance.  I refuse to purchase 2a products made overseas, especially not from communist China.  I would gladly pay more for American labor.

The issue that I have mentioned previously in other articles is that the consumers in the industry still buy some of these faulty RDS products, even though they have issues because every small incremental step is still better than the previous and this is the American Capitalistic way of product development.  I am hopeful that other companies like Trijicon, Vortex, and Leupold make closed emitter pistol-specific RDS products.  I also hope they do not send their products to known industry shills who will tell them whatever they want to hear in order to keep getting products sent to them.  These are some of the biggest issues in the industry, shills, and industry celebs are the reason why we have garbage products and why people still use the RMR on duty guns because it is on the "approved" list for departments while literally the current best pistol-mounted RDS on the market, the Steiner MPS, is not.  Sometimes we are our own worst enemies in this industry, but we have to move beyond these issues and into the arena of the real world.  

If someone reads this article and has a direct hand in making decisions at one of these companies, reach out, I want no money, I just want an end product that I would recommend for people to use in the real world, and use myself on a daily basis.  This is an area of the industry that can move forward very quickly given the correct motivation and product development, big steps forward can be had, these companies just need to listen and not use the end users as test subjects.