Saturday, March 19, 2016

Burris FastFire Red Dot Optic Buyer's Guide

Burris currently produces both the FastFire III (left) and FastFire II (right)  While similar, there are some very important differences other than retail price. 

Burris FastFire Series Website

When it comes to red dot optics, we are fortunate to be spoiled for choice.  Using Midway USA as an example, searching for "red dot sight" returns 254 unique options from 32 different manufacturers.  An enterprising industry writer could probably make a career out of specializing in reviews of red dot sights.  I'm not that guy.  While I've used red dot sights from a limited number of manufacturers, I like the FastFire sights from Burris the most.

At their core, all red dot sights function similarly.  A beam of light is projected onto a glass lens and becomes the aiming point of the firearm the sight is mounted on.  Think of the red dot as the front sight and your dominant shooting eye being the rear sight. Looking through the glass lens, the shooter simply superimposes the red dot on the target and fires the firearm.  Quality red dot sights will allow for sufficient windage and elevation adjustment needed to zero the firearm at a desired distance.

In my experience the Burris FastFire sights are rugged, light-weight, waterproof, and do everything I expect a red dot sight to do.  Across the industry red dot sights range in price from about $20 to $1200.  The FastFire series falls within the bottom quarter of that price range with the FastFire II and FastFire III selling for $209 and $249 respectively.  I would like to point out that the prices mentioned include the picatinny/weaver mount, but more on that later.  Having purchased and used both the FastFire II and FastFire III, this article will highlight the major differences for those trying to decide between the two.

Abbreviation Alert - MOA stands for minute of angle.  In laymans language, MOA is a description of angular measurement that can also represent area subtended (covered) by a red dot at 100 yards.  1 MOA is approximately 1 inch at 100 yards.  A 4 MOA red dot will cover 4 inches of target area at 100 yards.  At 200 yards, the 4 MOA dot will cover 8 inches of target area.

Dot Size - The FastFire II has a 4 MOA dot.  The FastFire III is available in two models. The first has a 3 MOA dot and the other an 8 MOA dot.  For long range precision shooting, a smaller dot is preferable because it subtends (covers) less area down range than a larger dot.  For speed shooting, I prefer the larger dot since I find it easier to see when bringing the sight to eye level.  In all cases, the dot is crisp and well defined on any FastFire sight I've ever used.

The 8 MOA and 4 MOA dots are shown for comparison.  Photographing the dots was a challenge.  I captured the dots clearly, but the camera bleached out most of the red color from the dots.  Trust me, the dots are indeed red. 
Activation Switch and Modes of Operation - The activation switch on the FastFire II is a simple toggle on/off switch.  Dot brightness is controlled by the front mounted light sensor.  It's a simple system that works well for most.  I'm sure there are some people out there that may want more brightness than the sensor allows, but this system offers no additional options.

The FastFire III activation switch is a rubber covered pressure switch that cycles through 4 modes of operation.  The first push turns on the sight in automatic mode with brightness controlled by the front mounted sensor.  The second, third, and fourth button pushes cycle through three preprogrammed brightness settings ranging from highest brightness to medium brightness and finally lowest brightness.  One final fifth button push turns off the sight.

Protective plastic covers are included with FastFire sights.  Both covers allow access to the FastFire activation switch.  The FastFire II cover provides only protection.  The FastFire III cover protects, but also features clear lenses on the front and rear of the cover which allows use of the sight with the cover in place.  The extended top length also provides sun shade for extremely bright conditions.
I had the chance to do an impromptu survey of FastFire III sight users at the NSSF Rimfire Challenge World Championships last Fall.  Their experiences echoed my own feelings about the new expanded operations mode menu found on the FastFire III.  We all missed the simplicity of the FastFire II on/off switch.  We all liked the option to bypass automatic brightness adjustment for the brightest possible dot when shooting at targets positioned between us and a bright sun rising directly behind the targets.  We all disliked having to cycle through the remaining programs and take a little extra time to be sure the sight was really off, and not still on at the lowest brightness setting, before putting away our firearms.  As competitive shooters, I think we would all be happier using a three position toggle switch with brightest, automatic brightness, and off positions.

The small dot centered in the front housing under the lens is the ambient light sensor.  You can see it was moved down on the Fastfire III.  I assume this was done to accommodate the top loading battery.
Battery Life and Battery Changes - Burris doesn't publish any information on battery life.  I change the battery in my FastFire sights each Spring before starting a new shooting season.  I have never had to change a battery because it was dead.  Maybe that means I don't practice enough, or maybe that means I do a good job shutting off the sight when I'm not using it.  It could also mean that the FastFire system is very efficient and uses little battery power.

Battery changes are much easier with the FastFire III.  The FastFire III has a battery access door positioned on the top of the sight housing.  This makes battery changes a breeze.  The FastFire II battery is changed from the underside of the sight housing and requires removing the sight from the base.  While not overly difficult, there is always a small amount of doubt that the sight zero remains exactly the same as before removing the sight from the base.  In my case, I feel compelled to verify the sight is still regulated before I trust it.  

For some, this is the most important difference between the Fastfire III and Fastfire II.  Accessing the battery on the Fastfire II required the user to remove the sight from the mounting plate to change the battery from the underside of the sight.  The Fastfire III has a battery access door located on the top of the sight so the battery can be changed without removing the sight from the base.
Windage and Elevation Changes - Windage and elevation changes are greatly simplified on the FastFire III as compared with the FastFire II.  Burris eliminated the LOCK screws and integrated the scale disk into the windage and elevation adjustment screws found on the FastFire III.  If you have ever zeroed a telescopic sight, you will be familiar with the process required to zero the FastFire III.  The zeroing process for the Fastfire II isn't overly difficult, but it can be time consuming if you forget to bring the scale disk out to the range.

Windage and elevation adjustment pots are found in the same locations on both FastFire models.  The FastFire III eliminates the adjustment locking screws and adds positive feedback "click" adjustments.  A vertical white stripe has also been added to the rear of the FastFire III to enhance ocular alignment.
Along with all the changes mentioned above, it's important to mention what didn't change.  Burris continues to offer firearm specific mounting plates for a variety of firearms.  As I understand it, both the FastFire II and III use the same mounting plates. Upgrading from a FastFire II to a FastFire III could be as easy as removing the old sight and replacing it with the new sight since the mounting plate doesn't change.

A variety of mounting bases are available for specific makes and models of firearms at an additional charge.  I'm perfectly satisfied with the picatinny/weaver quick detachable mount Burris offers as a package with the Fastfire sights.  Buying the mount and sight together is also the lowest price option.  The attachment thumbscrews can be tightened or loosened with a coin.
The FastFire II and III packaging, with included accessories, is nearly identical between the two models.  Burris includes all the tools necessary to mount and zero your FastFire. I believe they also include the battery, but I immediately replace the factory supplied battery for a fresh one just for peace of mind.

Speaking of batteries....the FastFire II and III use different sizes of lithium coin cell batteries.  Before you go plunk down a wad of cash for spare batteries at a specialty or drug store, you might want to check Amazon or Midway USA.  They seem to have the best prices.

I'll close this out with two other bits of goodness.  Would you like a FastFire III for "free"? Now through April 1st 2016, Burris is giving away a FastFire III sight as a factory rebate when you purchase any of their Prism sights.  I'm so tempted since the Prism sight can be purchased for $350 and you get another $250 value FastFire III sight for "free".  Also, this last change snuck up on me when I wasn't looking.  All the Burris optics are now covered by a Forever Warranty.  See the Burris website for details on the program.  It's pretty awesome.    

As I was preparing this article I discovered that Burris has changed from a 12 Month Limited Warranty, to their new Forever Warranty.  This warranty applies to every Burris optic and has incredibly liberal terms.  Bravo Burris! 
After a full season using a pair of 8 MOA FastFire III sights on my competition pistol and rifle, I'm very satisfied with their performance.  I've discussed the good things and the not so good things introduced with the FastFire III versus the FastFire II.  Overall, I think the FastFire III is the better sight for speed shooting competition.  Please don't feel bad for the FastFire II featured in this article.  It's about to start a second life as a reflex sight on a shotgun.

1 comment:

  1. Great review! Thanks, Bruce.

    Mike W.