Meopta Optics, Part 1: the M-RAD red dot sight

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Early in The Bullpup Experiment I mentioned that I had a few issues with the stock Steyr optic: while a good product, it fit neither my physical make-up nor my eyesight issues. I also mentioned that I contacted the folks at Meopta Sports Optics to find an alternative, and that they had sent out a couple of their products for me to use and abuse as part of my little experiment. Today I’d like to tell you a little more about one of them.

First, though, allow me to recap: I’d seen Meopta’s booth at the SHOT Show and become re-acquainted with the company. I say that because back in the late ‘80s I was in the photographic industry, first as a salesperson and later as a corporate manager. I knew of Meopta as a maker of enlargers and associated lenses, but they were a little hard to get in those days; we were, after all, still engaged in the Cold War with those evil Communists from the godless land of Mother Russia! Czechoslovakia, which was then the name of the country where Meopta was located, was a member of the Warsaw Pact and therefore not exactly on our list of Best Friends Forever. We did, however, occasionally see their products pop up in small quantities here in the U.S. That’s why I was at least passingly familiar with the name and logo.

When I saw their booth at SHOT I naturally had to stop by and get a good look at their modern product line. Unbeknownst to me, Meopta was in fact one of the biggest producers of military optical sights and binoculars in Europe (though we never saw those products here until after the fall of the Soviet empire.) I had no idea of the range of products, nor of the quality of those products, that they were now manufacturing. That is, I didn’t know until I had a chance to handle them in person!

I walked away, impressed, with business cards from their representatives. I was particularly intrigued by their red-dot optics which seemed extremely well built, which is not something I can say for all red dots! This wasn’t surprising, given their military optics background.

There things sat, and it wasn’t until I realized that I’d need a different scope on the Steyr AUG A3 M1 that I remembered their booth and their products. I contacted them to arrange for the loan of an M-RAD 3moa red dot sight, which I thought would be most suitable for the AUG, and they suggested I try their MeoTac 1-4×22 RD tactical scope as well. It seems that it’s a favorite personal purchase for coalition forces members from that part of the world, and has earned quite a reputation for durability under harsh conditions. I wasn’t sure I wanted to try a scope that large (while compact, it’s still bigger than the stock Steyr optic) but decided to give it a try as well. They promptly shipped both to me; today we’ll take a look at their red dot, and in the next post we’ll examine the 1-4×22 optic.

The M-RAD red dot is of the open or “heads up” design. For those not familiar, there are two basic design types for red dot sights: the enclosed style, such as Aimpoint, which puts the optics and the projection lens in a conventional tube; and the open style, where the reticle is projected onto a see-through screen like a heads-up display. This latter style is typified by the Eotech sights.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both designs, with adherents loudly proclaiming the virtues of each. The enclosed designs tend to be more rugged but can have a dimmer view of the target owing to the extra pieces of glass between the eye and the target. They also feel a little like looking at the world through a toilet paper tube.

The open design, on the other hand, has historically been a little less rugged because there’s no sealed enclosure, but on the plus side their larger optics tend to feel more open and can have a brighter image. Everything is a tradeoff!

The M-RAD is Meopta’s attempt to produce a compact heads-up red dot that is also extremely rugged, and I think they’ve succeeded to a large degree. This little sight is a surprisingly solid thing! There is no plastic on the M-RAD; everything is machined or formed metal. Even the battery cap is machined! When you pick it up there is an immediate feeling of ruggedness and durability.

Meopta M-RAD red dot sight protection cage

The cage around the display screen is made of very thick metal: 1.5mm, or about .060” thick. Now I know that doesn’t seem very thick, but on a part of this size it is; I could not  deflect the cage, even barely in any direction, no matter how much hand pressure I applied. This is not something I’d try with most sights, but the M-RAD just shrugs off that kind of abuse. I told someone that it felt like I could use the sight as a jackstand for my car! The cage also extends over the back of the screen, protecting it from rain and other obstructions better than those of some of its competitors whose screens are right at the back edge of their cages.

Meopta M-RAD cage acts as a sunscreen

The M-RAD has a quick-release base, which is pretty much a standard feature with red-dot sights these days. I found it difficult to release once locked, which is a Good Thing in a quick-release! Between the base and the sight housing is a riser plate which can be interchanged to allow the sight to be set at the right height for any gun. Used on a flat-top AR-15, for instance, I found I had to use the thickest option to get the sight high enough. The risers are held to the sight using three Torx-head screws and are thus quite secure.

Speaking of secure, the M-RAD has physically locking windage and elevation adjustments. There is a screw on the back side of the sight which unlocks the windage and elevation screws so they can be adjusted; once done, the locking screw is turned and the zero is locked in. This is, frankly, something that some other red dot makers would be well advised to emulate; during my testing the M-RAD held zero perfectly, which I cannot say for some other brands of red-dot sights.

Meopta M-RAD adjustment lock

The view through the sight is quite bright for a red-dot, with the projection screen adding only a slight amount of density and a very slight amount of pale blue color to the scene being viewed. (Anyone who’s ever used a Trijicon Reflex, with its dark bluish-green image, will be astounded when first looking through the M-RAD.) That extended cage does a good job of not only protecting the screen from damage, but also serves as an effective sun shield to keep the view unobstructed by glare.

The power switch is located at the front of the sight and seems to be effectively weather sealed with a thick rubber cap. Push and hold the switch momentarily until the red MODE LED in the rear flashes, and the sight is on; push and hold until the MODE light flashes red then green and the sight is off. The dot always comes on at full brightness; repeatedly pressing the power switch will ramp down the brightness to the desired level.

(There are people who prefer that their dot come on to the last saved brightness while others will argue in favor of Meopta’s approach of always coming on at max. Since I’m not a Special Forces warrior who has to worry about “tangos” finding me at night, I can live with either approach — I’ll let the keyboard commandos argue it out, as they no doubt will.)

There is one feature that I overlooked until, out of necessity, I read the owners manual (oh, come on, like you always read those things!) As it happens, a quick press and release of the power button brings the sight on in “night vision mode”: a barely visible dot designed to be used with light amplification devices. In daylight it’s nearly invisible at its brightest, and it has lower settings than that. The first few times I unwittingly got into that mode I actually thought the sight was broken! Once I’d read the manual and learned about it, there were no more problems but I’ll admit that disappearing dot had me confused for a while!

(If you accidentally activate night vision, simply turn the unit off in the regular way, then turn it back on using the normal method. You’ll be able to see the dot again.)

The M-RAD comes with a tool/accessory kit that is better than some of the thousand-dollar-plus optics I’ve seen. Aside from housing the additional riser plates and the extra-length screws for mounting any combination of them, the kit has a sight adjustment screwdriver, some cleaning swabs, two cleaning cloths, a Torx wrench for changing out those risers as well as a set of spare batteries and a long screwdriver for reaching the battery compartment under the cage — all contained in a nicely made nylon organizer that keeps everything quite secure.

In addition to trying it out on the Steyr AUG A3 M1 I was using, I ended up mounting it on an AR-15 for someone whose red dot sight was having issues. Everyone liked the small size, rugged construction, and the bright view through the lens.

I didn’t find a whole lot to complain about the Meopta M-RAD; it worked as expected, held its zero, and was generally a joy to use.

Well, except for one little detail: when I went to change out the riser plate so that we could mount it on the flat-top AR, the center mounting screw (it’s held on with three Torx screws) was set in so tightly that I actually mangled the included Torx wrench trying to get it out! I ended up having to take it home and use a large-handled Torx driver — and even then it required a lot of force to break loose. Once that was done everything was fine, and changing risers is something you only need to do once, but beware: initially breaking loose the factory-set screws is best done with a wrench other than the one that’s included!

The Meopta M-RAD 3moa sells right at $400, and at that price is a “no brainer.” Some people might argue it’s a little steep from a company they’ve never heard of, but Meopta is hardly a newcomer to this business; they’ve been at it a while, and their products reflect a lot of engineering know-how and experience. When you compare them with similarly priced products sourced from startups that weren’t even in business a couple of years ago, the difference in quality is stark. Meopta knows how to make a weapon sight.

Were I in the market for a conventional red-dot sight to mount on a rifle, the M-RAD would be at the top of my list; I’d rank it as the best of the heads-up or “open” style electronic sights I’ve used. It’s one of those pieces of gear that inspires confidence because it just does its job really well. That sounds boring, but sometimes boring is a good thing!

– Grant Cunningham


About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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