Shield sights is a UK based company that’s relatively new to the US market, however they aren’t new to red dot sights. Shield sights has been making red dot sights since 1996 and has manufactured sights and provided parts for some of the top brands in the industry. In fact the first Trijicon red dot sight was made by Shield Sights along with the JPoint and the Tasco Optima 2000. This heritage is one reason I took an interest to Shield Sights a few years back.
When looking at any product, I like to know the thought process that went into specific features and what compromises the engineers made to achieve a specific goal. Given the history of Shield Sights, I wanted to look under the hood and spent some time talking to owner James White about the Shield RMS and RMS-C. I asked him why a polymer lens, why auto brightness, what are common failure points, ect… Knowing what drives their innovation and design parameters gives some great insights into what you can expect from the current line of pistol sights.
The original Shield RMS was designed to be a low profile red dot sight to help competitive shooters align their sight and get on the target faster and more intuitively than with other red dot sights. With this goal in mind, the sight sits low enough to co-witness standard height sights giving you a natural transition and aim point. The lens housing is thin enough to minimize obstruction of the field of view, while still maintaining enough strength to stand up to tough competitive and daily use. The lens is a clear polymer that is very resistant to breaking on impact, and non-coated to maintain a clear view of the course of fire. The side battery access provides a competitor the ability to change the battery without compromising the zero of their firearm. Lastly the auto brightness feature gives shooters one last thing to think about when drawing a pistol and gives a consistent looking dot in a wide variety of environmental conditions.
Balance, compromise, and realities of the Shield RMS and RMS-C
Knowing the intended use and design parameters for the engineers, What are the pros and cons of these features and how was the balance of cost, strength, and function achieved?
The low profile nature of the Shield RMS and RMS-C is a huge benefit for any shooter. The ability to pick up the your normal sight picture and have a dot sitting on your front sight is insanely fast for someone new to a RDS on their pistol. The other benefit that almost goes without saying, is if your sight malfunctions, your primary sights are right where they always are. When I asked James why doesn’t everyone make low profile sights, this is what he said:
“Making a low bore axis sight and keeping a robust functioning mechanism that will handle severe recoil yet includes features like draws and water tight seals is extremely difficult. Most manufacturers would prefer to push the use of suppressor iron sights rather than push the design boundaries to offer a smoother experience to the user.”
Having a narrow body and thinner lens housing looks great on almost all standard size pistols on the market. Having a sight fit flush to your slide with no overhang looks great and reduces any snag points. The thinner lens housing presents the red dot almost like a heads up display with a dot suspended above your pistol. This design exposes very little frame to get in the way of your field of view and covering any potential targets.
The downside of a narrow and thin housing is strength, as with anything, if you remove material, you remove strength. The big question any consumer needs to ask when considering any product, is how much strength is needed for your intended use, and is the added material needed for that strength worth the larger footprint and added weight?
The side battery access of the Shield RMS is great for a competitive shooters that don’t want to lose zero when changing batteries. Convenient battery changes are helpful but with a battery life of 1-2 years or more, how often are you going to use this feature? An open side for a battery tray reduces the amount of aluminum on that side and that could compromise strength and the resistance to adverse weather conditions.
The clear polymer lens is more resistant to shattering on impact then a glass lens and having no coating provides an unobstructed field of view. If you’re banging your equipment around and using in harsh competitive environments then polymer is perfect for you. The down side of a polymer lens, is that while it may resist shattering, it takes special care when cleaning to prevent scratching. Most people don’t realize this and then clean the lens with a t-shirt or some other glass cleaner and end up ruining the lens. On the plus side, the Shield Sights customer service is really good at making this mistake less painful, but any call to customer service is no fun. (update: All of the RMS family of sights now ship with a more scratch resistant lens.)
Having a coating free lens provides a very clear sight picture. James said that having a coating on your lens is like putting sunglasses on your sight. This Helps prolong battery life may help in extremely bright situations like a flashlight against a white wall. The downside is a darker the field of view under normal shooting conditions. The lens on the Shield RMS and RMS-C have no coating and leaves you with a very clear sight picture that’s great for most of your shooting situations. If you end up having to use your sight at night with a bright flashlight, your dot will likely be washed out and not visible. This holds true for most sights on the market unless they have a heavy lens coating.
After using the RMS and RMS-C for the past year and I think they’re a good balance of functionality and good looks. They’re very easy to use, plenty strong for my intended uses, and if anything goes wrong I can seamlessly transition to my iron sights. The balance of design features are great for the casual shooter and a world level competitive shooter alike. If you are military or law enforcement, you may want to wait for the RMS-W for the water resistance and the added structural integrity that is needed for daily professional use. As a fairly serious enthusiast and casual competitor, the RMS and RMS-C have always performed perfectly for me and I’ll be cutting another slide for the new RMS-W shortly.