I have 2. This one, (2 1/2"), and a 6". Both are excellent, accurate guns. The L-Frame was designed around the .357 Magnum round and is just about the perfect size. With the newer ones you have the 7 shot option avaliable, or even 8 shots from the custom shop. Overall it's a nice, well made piece. Bill T.
I've got a 4" 686 six shot, no dash. Have been very happy with it. Ive shot the model 19 357, and I think the little extra weight helps some with recoil. Don't think I've ever heard of one being "shot out" due to magnum loads, like the K-frames..
I think the 8 shot in built on the N frame. I'm more of a fan of the K/L frames my self. Although I am still kicking myself for passing on a model 28 last year.
L frams are built to handle the higher pressure magunum load, while being of a managable size for almost any one. (some folks with smaller hands had a hard time with the N frame model 27 and 28. As a service revolver the 686 was better suited for long service with magnums verses the K frames. Best of both worlds. Now if you want you can get the model 60 in 2,3, or 5" barrel, so if you want or need a smaller gun, thats an option. You only get 5 shots, though.
K, L, & N frames tune up better than the smaller J frame.
The 686 is a great all around gun. Which barrel lenght are you looking at? Some bigger guys can get by with the snubbie for a winter carry gun. 4" is good all around for range use and home protection. 6" is good for range duty, and hunting as well.