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I spy with my little eye. Gear Review: Primary Arms GEN 2 AA Battery Multi Reticle Red Dot (BLEM)

Posted by Knitebane

UPDATE: This little gem keeps going strong. As a test, I turned the red dot on and set it to its lowest setting then left it. That was in October (2012). I checked it last week (first week of January 2013) and it's still going on the same AA battery.

The term "you get what you pay for" probably came from a gun owner. It's certainly true more often than not when it comes to firearms and their accessories. That's a real problem for me because I don't like to spend money I don't have to. It hurts to shell out hundreds of dollars for a firearm and then shell out almost as much (or more) before it's usable. Even the most utilitarian pistol needs ammo and a holster. A typical self defense setup includes a good sturdy holster, spare magazines or speedloaders and a way to carry them plus a belt designed for a gun. There's just no getting around the fact that you're going to spend money on things other than the actual gun. And it's better to spend a bit more once than spend a bit less twice or more.

I really don't mind spending money on quality equipment but when an optic like an Aimpoint, Eotech or ACOG costs more than the gun I'm going to put it on, something inside of me dies. I've learned the hard way that going cheap is even more expensive. I've junked several NCStar or "Famous Maker" optics, lasers and lights. I've learned not to trust the low end stuff at all. This doesn't mean that something sturdy and reliable can't come at a good price, but too low of a price is certainly immediately suspect.

So when I come across a work-alike of an Aimpoint CompM4 for $99 and ON SALE for $59, I WANT TO BELIEVE! but I'm also afraid to believe. I don't want to buy another piece of junk. So I started digging. I checked the usual places that are critical of cheap glass. And while there are always a few zealots (If it aint a Unertl it's junk!) the reviews I found suggested that Primary Arms was a solid, dependable optics company that had a solid, dependable red dot.

Still, $59 for a rugged, dependable red dot? There has to be a catch. And there is. It seems that the first run of the GEN 2 sight had a manufacturing defect. The battery tube was a few millimeters short and the battery cap digs into the body of the optic by a tiny amount. Like this:

Battery cap

This is the stock picture from the Primary Arms website.  Mine isn't even close to being that obvious. You really have to look close to notice it so I suspect that some are worse than others.

Primary Arms admits the defect right up front and the warranty is limited to a store credit if it fails.

So I bought one. The specs are:

* 2 MOA Dot
* 1,000+ hours battery life
* Uses 1 AA battery
* Length: 5.5-Inch
* Weight: 12 1/8 oz w/mount

Used on the flat top rail of an AR, the included mount with spacer will give a lower 1/3 co-witness with the standard iron sights. Reportedly, if you remove the spacer it will do a true co-witness. I can't testify to that as I don't have an AR. I can tell you that the mount + spacer is REALLY HIGH UP on an AKM clone especially if you've mounted it using the side mount:

It's high enough that I could barely get a cheek weld even with the 1/2 inch cheek piece on the Magpul MOE. I've since pulled the spacer out (more on that later) and the cheek weld is much, much better.

This is not an Aimpoint. The glass has a noticeable green tint to it. It doesn't seem to affect visibility (for me anyway) though I haven't tried it out in a low light environment. The emitter is on the left-hand side of the tube and it's noticeable. That side of the tube isn't round as you look through it. The reticles get blurry on higher settings. In fact, the higher settings are unusable indoors as they are blindingly bright. Outdoors in bright sunlight those settings might be more usable but indoors they are a hazard. In fact, you don't want to twist the knob the wrong way on a dim shooting range. It will take a few minutes for your eyes to recover.

The reticle knob changes between a dot, a cross, a circle and dot and a starburst. The knob has positive but silent detents though it is possible to stop between detents and have no reticle while still burning battery. Elevation and windage are easily adjustable and covered. The covers themselves have retaining wires so you can't lose them.

Primary Arms GEN2 AA battery

The one real weakness is the brightness knob. Full credit for going to eleven, but it's a continuous knob and turns in either direction from OFF thus risking the aforementioned blinding. Once it's on, finding OFF is a matter of either coming out of battery to look down on the scope and find the little dot so you can line up the zero or looking down the tube and turning the knob until the reticle goes away. I would much rather have a positive stop at zero and eleven. I plan to do some creative painting on the knob to indicate which direction is correct and where zero needs to be for OFF.

On a thousand dollar optic, these would be deal killing flaws. On a $60 optic, not so much.

To date, I've only shot 60 rounds of 7.62x39 out from under it. It took three rounds to sight in, after that all of them went where I put the dot.

Currently the Primary Arms website shows this particular optic to be out of stock. Considering that it's effectively a factory second I suspect that this exact item won't be back though I hope a new one with a corrected battery tube will show up soon. They have other, similar items using CR123 batteries or single reticles so if one of those floats your boat you can go get one today.

They also have a micro red dot and an Ultimak gas tube mount that might find its way onto Mrs. Knitebane's AK.

I guess I sound like a fan of Primary Arms, don't I? Considering how I hate to part with coin unless I get a good deal, yeah, I can live with that. Part of what makes a good deal on a product is how the company treats you. After I got the optic mounted I put the box away somewhere safe. Very, very safe. And inside the box? The two short screws used to delete the spacer.

So I emailed and asked them how I could buy some more screws. Within 24 hours their customer service representative, Garrett, had responded to me and had put some in the mail, free of charge. I never even mentioned I was going to do a review.

Yeah, I'm a fan now. If you're going into combat or if you're going to compete and shoot tens of thousands of rounds a year then a high-end optic like an ACOG is probably a better choice. But for general target shooting or hunting or even some recreational competitions, a Primary Arms optic is something I'll certainly recommend.

Dear FTC, I paid for this out of my own pocket.  So there.