Best PCC Optics: Compact Short to Mid Range Optics

by Travis Pike

February 21, 2024



Pistol-caliber carbines remain a very popular option for a wide variety of gun owners. This includes new gun owners, experienced gun owners, home defenders, competitors, and more. Like most guns, they benefit greatly from the addition of an optic. Which optic? Well, all the optics! I wish! With that said, we’ve gathered seven of the best PCC optics across a diverse field of optic types, budgets, and beyond. 

Best PCC Optics

Optical Types and PCCs

Pistol caliber carbines are stuck with pistol calibers. This means they aren’t long-range weapons by any means. They tend to be soft shooting, fun to shoot, easy to suppress, and affordable, but they don’t offer long-range capability. This tends to pigeonhole them into three optic types: red dots, prisms, and even low powered variable optics. With that said, let’s look at three common optics types and how they relate to pistol caliber carbines. 


Reflex sights are broken down into two categories: red dots and holographic sights. While they are different in design, they have the same end effect for the user. These are 1X, non magnified optics that offer unlimited eye relief and a ‘parallax’ free design. (Parallax always exists, but industry standards use the term parallax-free for red dots because it’s such a minor issue.) 

Reflex sights are the most common option for pistol-caliber carbines. They offer quick and easy aiming options that are super simple to use. Put the red dot or reticle on the target and pull the trigger. A skilled shooter can take a red dot out to 100 yards, depending on target size and caliber. 

Reflex sights tend to come in a wide variety of sizes and are easily paired with accessories like magnifiers and night vision devices. They also tend to be the most affordable option for your pistol-caliber carbine. 


Prism optics aren’t unheard of in the pistol-caliber carbine world. These are fixed magnification sights, which range from non-magnified 1X sights to 5X or so, depending on the model. Prism sights tend to be a bit bigger and heavier than red dots, as well as more expensive. These sights feature etched reticles that work without illumination but are almost always illuminated. 

Prism sights tend to have less illumination than red dots, so it can be trickier to use illumination in bright environments. However, prism sights do offer the advantage of an etched reticle that works with zero battery power. These optics are also easier for folks with astigmatisms to utilize. They are etched so they don’t blur or fail. 

Prism sights can offer you more complicated reticles than red dots, which can give you things like bigger reticles, chevrons, circles, dots, and more. You can also utilize bullet drop compensators, although most handgun rounds fired from pistol-caliber carbines aren’t going that far. 


Finally, low-power variable optics can be a decent choice for a PCC. It’s not an optic you’d use with something like a 9mm, but for a 10mm, a Magnum round, or something similar that can make sense. Something in the 1-4X range with an SFP reticle tends to be a solid performer. LPVOs are the most expensive, most complicated optics that are also the most expensive optics. 

LPVOs offer you the best of both worlds in many ways. This includes a 1X design that can increase to make hitting further or smaller targets easier. When you have a flat shooting cartridge like the 10mm, then that extra magnification can be quite handy. LPVOs come in at several price points, and while I love good optics, I don’t think you should spend a ton on a PCC LPVO. 

You won’t need the awesome clarity to hit targets at 500 yards with one of these guns. You can get away fairly well with a more affordable optic on a PCC. 

Gun University’s Best PCC Optics

Best PCC Optics

Aimpoint T-2
  • Most proven red dot out there
  • Lightweight design
  • NVG compatible
Buy on Amazon
Vortex SPARC Solar
  • Solar panel backup
  • Aggressive shake awake
  • Aimpoint T2 footprint
Buy on Amazon
Holosun AEMS
  • Compact optic
  • Solar backup
  • Multi reticle system
Buy on Amazon
Steiner MPS
  • Pistol sized sight
  • Emitter upside down design
  • Enclosed emitter
Buy on Amazon
Primary Arms SLx 1X MicroPrism ACSS Gemini 9mm
  • BDC reticle
  • Multiple mounting height options
  • Illuminated reticle
Check Price
  • Compact holographic sight
  • NVG compatible
  • Integral mount
Buy on Amazon
Swampfox Tomahawk 1-4X
  • Versatile magnification range
  • MOA reticle
  • Lightweight design
Buy on Amazon

Spec Comparison of the Best PCC Optics

Below is a table of the specifications for the best optics for your pistol caliber carbine:

OpticSight TypeReticleWeight (oz)Length (in)

Aimpoint T-2

Red Dot 2 MOA Dot6.72.7

Vortex SPARC Solar 

Red Dot2 MOA Dot5.92.6

Holosun AEMS

Red Dot2 MOA dot or 65 MOA Circle and Dot 5.52.2

Steiner MPS

Red Dot3.3 MOA Dot2.052.17
Primary Arms SLx 1XPrismACSS Gemini 9mm72.48


Holographic Circle and Dot93.8

Swampfox Tomahawk 1-4X

LPVOGuerrila Cross MOA17.59.79

Best PCC Optics

Here is our list for the best PCC optics:

  1. Best red dot: Aimpoint T-2
  2. Best budget red dot: Vortex SPARC Solar
  3. Best solar red dot: Holosun AEMS
  4. Best micro red dot: Steiner MPS
  5. Best prism sight: Primary Arms SLx 1X
  6. Best holographic sight: EOTech XPS3
  7. Best LPVO: Swampfox Tomahawk 1-4X

Best PCC Optics – Reviews 

1 AIMPOINT T2 : Best red dot

Aimpoint T2

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  • Clarity A
  • Shootability A-
  • Reliability A-
  • Features B+

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Aimpoint T-2 Specs

  • Sight Type Red Dot
  • Reticle 2 MOA Dot
  • Weight 6.7 oz
  • Length 2.7 in

Aimpoint T-2 Review

I don’t think we have an optic more proven than the Aimpoint T-2, except maybe the T-1. The Aimpoint series has severed dozens of military forces, including some of America’s most elite fighting forces. It’s rugged, well-made, super clear, and designed to last forever. The Swedish know how to construct an optic! I love the T-2 series, and if you need a solid little optic for a pistol-caliber carbine, then the T-2 is tough to beat. 

The Aimpoint T-2 provides a very lightweight and small platform that works perfectly with a compact pistol caliber carbine. If you’re using a subgun or SBR, then you are likely aiming to keep your weapon lightweight, and something like the T-2 is perfect for that role. The T-2’s durability and design make it duty-ready, and if you want an optical option for self-defense, then it’s tough not to suggest the T-2. 

The 50,000-hour battery life is a huge hit, which equals years and years of battery life. This optic has numerous brightness settings, and it can get bright enough to see in the brightest conditions but also dim enough to use with night vision technology. The glass is also super clear and works brilliantly with a magnifier in case you want to extend your optical capability with your pistol-caliber carbine. 

The T2 is popular enough to have a massive aftermarket. PCCs are a very diverse group of guns, and with that in mind, different height mounts can be important. The T2 offers tons of mounting options for whatever weapon you have. 

I’m gushing over this optic, and as you’d imagine, it’s a premium choice option. With that in mind, it comes with a premium price point, and if your PCC is for plinking, fun, or competition, then it might be priced a bit too high for that purpose. If you need duty-ready, then the T-2 provides a great balance of size, durability, and excellent design. 

Aimpoint T-2 Pros and Cons

  • Extremely well made
  • Long battery life
  • Professional grade optic
  • Expensive

Vortex SPARC Solar Specs

  • Sight Type Red Dot
  • Reticle 2 MOA Dot
  • Weight 5.9 oz
  • Length 2.6 in

Vortex SPARC Solar Review

If the Aimpoint T2 is a bit too expensive for you, then the Vortex SPARC Solar might be the best alternative at a lower price. As the name implies, the optic has a solar panel and battery design. The optic will stop using the battery and swap to solar when there is enough power generated to do so. This extends battery life up to 150,000 hours. It’s an impressive battery life for a fairly budget-minded optic. 

The SPARC Solar comes with both a high and low mount, which makes it easy to mate with most PCCs. Additionally, the SPARC Solar uses the same footprint as the T2, making it easy to find a variety of different mounts. Price-wise, the SPARC Solar is only about 200 bucks. It’s not as proven as the Aimpoint and isn’t crafted by the Swedes. It’s imported from China, but is still quite rugged and well-made. 

The SPARC Solar provides a nice clear view that betrays the budget price. While the dot isn’t as crisp or as nice as the Aimpoint, it’s clear enough to be precise and accurate. The dot is a little star-like at lower brightness levels and does get better at higher levels. Speaking of, the brightness levels proved to be more than sufficient in my experience during high noon in Florida. 

The buttons are recessed and take a dedicated press to push. While it might feel annoying, it serves the purpose of preventing easy accidental presses. The battery compartment juts outward and does create a bit of annoyance in my field of view. Will it block my FOV so badly that I could lose a threat? No, but it can mildly annoy me. 

The SPARC Solar is one of the better put-together budget optics. It’s not just a rehash or another, more expensive optic, but a solid and reliable option for a pistol caliber carbine. It’s got plenty of excellent features, and for most users, it’s more than enough optic. 

Vortex SPARC Solar Pros and Cons

  • Button controls
  • Bright reticle
  • Solar panel backup
  • Big battery compartment

Holosun AEMS Specs

  • Sight Type Red Dot
  • Reticle 2 MOA dot or 65 MOA circle with dot
  • Weight 5.5 oz
  • Length 2.2 in

Holosun AEMS Review

The Holosun AEMS was quite a surprise. It marked a turning point for Holosun in many ways. Holosun went from being a budget optics company that more or less cloned other optics to a company that produced its own original optics. They even ditched the numerical model numbering system and used acronyms like AEMS to designate their optics. The AEMS is a compact, long gun optic. 

It’s a big square, and the benefit of that square design is a larger window without creating a greater overall footprint. The optic is highly efficient in its window size versus its overall size. Those windows are also protected by removable see-through lens caps. I love how clear the view is through the optic, and that extends to the reticles. 

They are quite crisp and clear. On my Aero Precision EPC, the AEMS rules. I prefer the 65 MOA circle and dot combination. The wider reticle is easier to find for close-range shooting and helps me deliver solid hits to targets, both big and small, especially when I’m on the clock. I find it to be the more intuitive reticle for fast shooting. 

To keep battery life long, the optic has both a very aggressive shake wake system and a solar panel for a little extra juice generated by the sun. The side-mounted battery is easy to swap, and you can even program the sleep mode to be less or more aggressive. It does spring back to life as soon as it senses movement, so I prefer a lower setting. 

The AEMS is short and light, making it well-suited for a variety of different types of PCCs and sub guns. The main problem for me is the proprietary mount footprint. This requires you to use a special mount, and you don’t get to be as picky with your mount selection. Both low and high mounts exist, but they aren’t as common as something like the T2. 

The AEMs is a mid-priced red-dot option that provides a lot of very nice modern features. If you don’t mind being a square, then the AEMS might be for you. 

Holosun AEMS Pros and Cons

  • Solar panel
  • Multiple reticles to pick from
  • Proprietary mount

Steiner MPS Specs

  • Sight Type Red Dot
  • Reticle 3.3 MOA dot
  • Weight 2.05 oz
  • Length 2.17 in

Steiner MPS Review

The MPS in Steiner MPS stands for Micro Pistol Sight, and yes, it’s intended to be fit to a pistol. A pistol caliber carbine is pretty close to a pistol, and the Steiner MPS will need a Picatinny mount to toss on your gun. This adds some cost to the red dot off the bat and is its biggest downside. However, the strength of the Steiner MPS is its size. As a pistol sight, it’s incredibly small and very lightweight. 

On a small PCC or subgun, weight matters, and the small size of the MPS can be a major advantage. Most PCC shooters aren’t going to be using a magnifier, so they don’t need anything much larger than the Steiner MPS on their guns to begin with. The Steiner MPS utilizes a crystal clear 3.3 MOA dot that’s a bit larger than most red dot reticles, but bigger can be better to catch your eye. 

The lenses are also recessed, so they are well-protected from external elements. The recessed lenses are a great feature for a PCC and ensure the rest of the world won’t beat your optic up. A set of buttons is used for adjustments, and those buttons are recessed and protected, but also feature an excellent tactile response. 

The MPS is mid-priced and won’t break the bank, but it’s not quite a budget optic. While it’s intended for a long gun, I’ve always liked it a bit more on a long gun than a pistol. The enclosed emitter design ensures reliability in all environments, and it’s still capable of doing what a red dot does best. Other than the need to add a mount, I’m also a little disappointed in the 13,000-hour battery life. 

Steiner MPS Pros and Cons

  • Super small and lightweight
  • Excellent clarity
  • Great controls
  • Short battery life
  • Requires Pic mount

Primary Arms SLx 1X Specs

  • Sight Type Prism
  • Reticle ACSS Gemini 9mm
  • Weight 7 oz
  • Length 2.48 in

Primary Arms SLx 1X Review

Red dots are fantastic for most of the population, but for some suffering from astigmatism, a 1x Prism might be the better choice. That’s not the only advantage of a 1X prism. We also get an etched reticle that works when the batteries die. The optic can be more complicated and useful for different tasks. Prisms offer a number of advantages over red dots. 

The Primary Arms SLx 1x Microprism with the ACSS Gemini 9mm reticle is, without a doubt, the prism to beat for a PCC. First off, when they say microprism, they mean it. It’s the same size as most compact red dots. Think Aimpoint T-2 sized. It’s a little heavier, but not much. Primary Arms also includes a ton of mounting options to get the optic right where you want it. 

The ACSS Gemini 9mm reticle features a chevron in the middle with a three-quarter circle surrounding it. This is all illuminated in just bright enough for daylight bright red. Below the chevron sit two black dots intended to be used as drop points. The optic has a very optimistic max range of 200 yards for a 9mm round. While possible, I don’t think most of us need that range from our 9mms. 

The 1X design ensures you have a nice wide-open eye box and aren’t doing the nose-to-charging handle technique you would have to do for something like an ACOG. This allows you to get the gun up and on target quickly without worrying too much about scope shadow. It’s not quite as free and easy to use as a red dot, but it’s pretty close. 

Primary Arms SLx 1X Pros and Cons

  • Etched reticle for pistol caliber
  • Long battery life
  • Comes with several mount options
  • Longer eye relief

6 Eotech XPS3 : Best holographic sight

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  • Clarity B+
  • Shootability A
  • Reliability B+
  • Features B

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EOTech XPS3 Specs

  • Sight Type Holographic
  • Reticle Circle and Dot
  • Weight 9 oz
  • Length 3.8 in

EOTech XPS3 Review

The EOTech XPS3 is the current pinnacle of holographic red dots. This is the successor and current flagship of a legendary brand. The XPS3’s biggest contribution is shrinking the size of the optic to make it easier to mount with room left over for accessories like sights so that it can be used on smaller guns. Unlike the other reflex sights on the list, this is a holographic red dot. 

The upside to a holographic red dot is the clearest reticle out there. It’s also tough enough to work with a broken window, and holographic technology, in general, is superior in many ways. If you plan to use night vision, a magnifier, or both with your PCC, then the Eotech XPS3 is the way to go. While plenty of red dots work fine under magnification and night vision, the EOTech’s holographic design works best. 

It’s clearer, crisper, and easier to transition to with whatever optical accessories you are using. EOTech pioneered the versatile multitool of a reticle we now know as the dot and circle design. It’s used as a range finder, CQB reticle, and even for generating leads on moving targets. Much like the Aimpoint, this is an optic heavily used by modern military forces, including special operations forces. 

The EOTech XPS3 features a great control scheme that integrates your usual up and down brightness adjustment as well as an NV button for instant night vision mode. The EOTech XPS3 is another premium tier option at a premium price tag. The other issue is the very low battery life by modern standards. You’re only squeezing out 1,000 hours of battery life at a medium setting. 

Holographic optics have their limitations but also a whole lot of advantages. Check out our full review on the EOTech XPS3.

EOTech XPS3 Pros and Cons

  • Great for people with astigmatism
  • Reticle has some ranging features
  • Battery life

7 Swampfox Tomahawk : Best LPVO

Swampfox Tomahawk

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  • Clarity B+
  • Shootability A-
  • Reliability B+
  • Features B+

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Swampfox Tomahawk 1-4X Specs

  • Sight type LPVO
  • Reticle Guerrila Cross MOA
  • Weight 17.5 oz
  • Length 9.79 in

Swampfox Tomahawk 1-4X Review

Finally, let’s add an LPVO to the list and acknowledge that not every pistol caliber carbine is a 9mm rifle. Calibers like 10mm, .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and arguably the 5.7x28mm fall into this realm. These rounds can reach out to 100 yards, especially when fired from a rifle. A little extra magnification can help you hit targets at those distances or hit small targets at moderate distances. Most LPVOs are made with 5.56 and 7.62 in mind, so finding a 1-4X LPVO with a universal reticle was tough. 

Luckily, the Tomahawk from Swampfox found a way to swoop in and save us! You’ll want the Tomahawk with the Guerilla Cross MOA reticle. This provides the same universal MOA scale that can be applied to any cartridge, so it works without issue on any pistol caliber. The Tomahawk is a rugged, lightweight, and compact SFP optic. For a 1-4X, SFP makes a ton of sense and allows for a quick and easy-sight picture at any magnification. 

The reticle consists of a big three-quarter illuminated circle with an illuminated cross in the center. Below that is the MOA scale that’s accurate at the 4X setting. This allows for drop estimation if you need it, but learning the dope of your gun and caliber will be required to make it useful. The reticle’s illuminated portion is decently bright but does suffer in the heat of high noon. 

You get a great eye box with generous eye relief. The lenses are clear enough for PCC rangers, and the turrets have a great click to them. It’s all simple and nothing mind-blowing, but it’s also a budget-priced LPVO. You get a bit more than what you pay for with the Tomahawk. 

Swampfox Tomahawk 1-4X Pros and Cons

  • Great reticle
  • Easy to use eye box/eye relief
  • Affordable
  • Illumination isn’t quite daylight bright

Sighting In

Your pistol caliber carbine shouldn’t be isolated to using nothing more than iron sights. You really aren’t getting the most out of your PCC by just using iron sights. With that in mind, optics should match the user and their individual needs. Hopefully, we’ve put you on the right path to the right optic for your needs. If you have your own suggestion, please drop it below. 


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About Travis Pike

Travis is a former United States Marine Corps Infantryman and currently a firearms writer, instructor, and works in Emergency Management.

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