In late 2021, I received an offer from Northac to test out their M-10 red dot. As an optic nerd, I couldn't turn that down. Northtac is a relatively new company, so I took them up on the offer. How did the M-10 perform?
Who is Northtac, and What is the M-10?
Northtac is a family owned, California based optic manufacturer. An offshoot of parent company Trinity Force, Northtac was made to be the optic producing wing. One of the neat things about Northtac is that they own their factories in Asia, rather than contract out to another manufacturer. Due to this, they are able to update and upgrade production models quicker than a lot of the other Asia-produced optic companies. They've got a range of designs, but I was sent a pre-production model of their M-10 red dot for T&E.
The M-10 is an entry level optic, with entry level pricing of $179. It is a fairly large optic with an integrated mount, and a large objective window. While it may have the appearance of a holographic sight, the M-10 is a standard LED red dot. What are its features?
Features of the Northtac M-10
With the M-10 being a more unique looking optic, it also has a unique control layout.
The M-10 has the battery compartment beneath the optic body, next to the mount. While an unusual location, the battery compartment is sealed with rubber gaskets, and is a nice, tight fit for your 2032. A shake-awake function is built into the optic too, which is nice. The mount has a 1913 recoil boss, and uses a spring-tension bolt to make sure that you've got consistent lockup on the rail.
Your elevation and windage adjustments are mounted on each side of the optic. They use an Allen key or flathead bit to adjust, and have positive clicks for zeroing. I did find it a little strange that they aren't both on the same side, but it's not the weirdest thing I've seen.
The brightness adjustments are on the rear of the optic, beneath the window. The buttons have positive clicks to them, and allow you to use the 12 daytime settings. The LED emitter is located centerline in the optic body, which should help the window look less busy. Speaking of the optic window, it is massive (for a red dot), at 38mm. For reference, the Aimpoint Micros are 20mm. Some people will really like the larger window, and some my not find it all that beneficial. Either way, it is a feature that sets the M-10 apart.
The optic has an aluminum shielding and mount, and polymer inner body. It is a chonky optic, coming in at 9.5 ounces on my scale.
How well did the M-10 do during my testing?
Mounting, Zeroing, and Range Time
During my testing period, I had the M-10 mounted to my candy cane KP15 build, and my M1 Carbine. I wanted to try out two different platforms, as sometimes certain optics will work better or worse when mounted to certain guns. Mounting the optic was easy enough, and I added some blue loctite to the mounting bolt, as I normally do. During the entire testing period, the mount never came loose.
Zeroing the M-10 was, well, baffling. I was given a pre-production model, and as such, it had some kinks. While the windage adjustment worked as expected, the elevation was backwards. When you would rotate the turret to change your point of impact, it was reversed from how it was marked. I informed my contact at Northtac about this, which they appreciated. Once I realized the defect, I was able to get the optic zeroed. For each firearm, the zero was held during the testing period.
During my testing, I fired 800 rounds through the AR, and about 350 through the M1. I experienced no failures of the optic during testing, although I did swap batteries after 8 months of use. Well, the M-10 is a red dot. It reminds me of that scene from Rambo 3, as red dots are pretty simple. However, the function of the LED emitter was not what I generally prefer.
LED Emitter Talk
I've collected and done overviews on early LED red dots, and am fascinated in their function. One big element of a quality dot is the LED emitter. The emitter is the part that projects the dot, and can be a massive make-or-breaker component.
With the M-10, the emitter is of medium quality. There are two elements that I found to be lacking; top-end dot brightness, and the refresh rate.
The brightness is an issue that I notice with many Chinese produced optics. Regardless of brand, I've found that many budget red dots do not have the same high-end brightness as higher-cost optics. I have excellent vision, and tend to keep my dots fairly bright, as they otherwise can be washed out during daytime shooting. The remedy for this is either a higher quality emitter, or more tint on the forward glass. I don't mind tint, and when done well, can really extend the brightness settings.
Now, the refresh rate. Well, what is it? Refresh rate is a semi-complicated thing, but this article can explain the details well. Essentially, you want a higher refresh rate on your optic, as it will play less tricks on your eyes when in use. Many budget optics with lower-end emitters have slower refresh rates, so you'll see more aberrations when in certain conditions. The example I'll give is a common one; when you sweep from target to target, the reticle will look as though it is leaving a short streak. This looks very similar to a draw by dot book, as you'll see smaller dots behind the larger one. This issue cannot be remedied without upgrading the emitter, but given the budget price point, this was to be expected.
Testing & Evaluation Findings
I ran into some issues with the M-10, both of which were tied to the prototype model that I tested. As mentioned before, my elevation adjustment was reversed. I also found that my shake-awake feature did not work, as my optic remained on the entirety of the testing period, aside from when the battery died. From putting in the first 2032 to that point, I got 5,540 hours of continuous use out of the optic. Not bad, but not incredibly impressive either. The undermounted battery is a pain to swap, as you are losing your zero in the process.
Aside from those issues, the aforementioned emitter dislikes were to be expected. I generally expect any budget dot to have a mediocre emitter, which is less of a knock against the optic, and more of just understanding the market. I did test out the M-10 under night vision, despite not having any NVG modes. The results were as expected, and don't effect my judgement of the M-10.
The weight and size are quite large too. I understand the desire for a larger optic window, but the weight and size increase aren't worth it to me. This might be desirable for many other shooters, but I like something with lighter weight, and smaller form factor.
A minor gripe, but the brightness buttons are hard to reach when you've got a magnifier behind the M-10.
Despite all of my gripes, using the M-10 was generally pleasant. The dot was crisp (when not shifting quickly between targets), the optic never lost zero, and never broke. The build quality (aside from prototype defects) was also quite good, given the price point. What would I change on the optic for a further iteration?
How I'd Change the M-10
My list of changes would be pretty obvious, based on my testing:
- Move the battery compartment to the side of the optic, or use a battery tray system as to keep the optic zeroed during battery changes.
- Upgrade the emitter quality, as to make refresh rate better, and allow for higher brightness setting.
- Move brightness buttons to side of optic, or make them larger/higher in the optic battery, to allow for easier access during use with a magnifier.
My gripes with the optic size/weight really cannot be changed, as they are core to the design. While I'm not the biggest fan of those, they are features I'd keep on a "new M-10".
In regards to current production models, I've been told that the defects I ran into were corrected quickly after I reported the issues. New features, such as flathead only windage/elevation turrets, and different color shrouds will begin rolling out by Q4 2022.
I think that the M-10 is a decent entry level optic. I'd take it over the budget Vortex offerings, but for a similar price, I think I'd rather have a Holosun 403R. The M-10 is better than every sub-$100 optic I've used, and is fairly priced at its MSRP. The optic worked well, however it had enough qualities that make it one that I would not personally use long term. However, there is a bigger take-away here.
Northtac is a company that is willing to listen to feedback. As someone who shoots a lot, it's not easy to find companies that actually listen to feedback. My contacts at Northtac were eager to listen to my feedback, and what I'd like to see fixed or improved. This is very, very refreshing. While my experiences with the M-10 were far from perfect, I was happy to be able to test and evaluate an optic from a company that cares about improving, and not stagnating. I'm looking forward to new products as time rolls forward.
Thanks to Austin (Vintage Warfare) for sending the initial T&E optic, and to Alex for being my contact within Northtac.