Editor's Note: For images of the lasers and lights covered, view our accompanying photo gallery, "Lights and Lasers: 2010."
This year's offerings in lights and lasers include both red and green laser systems. They're getting more and more powerful, feature packed, and smaller, thus enabling use on concealable handguns while still providing retina-searing light levels.
Contrary to Kermit the Frog's song, "It's Not Easy Being Green," weapon-mounted laser manufacturers are proving that assumption wrong. Many in the newest crop of weapon-mounted lasers are green laser light systems.
The Trade Off
Why are green lasers all the rage this year? If you were to set a green laser and a red laser side by side in a dark room, you'd hardly notice the difference. But where the green systems shine (sorry, had to do that) is in daylight or moderately bright environments. Our eyes see images in a defined spectrum from near infrared to near ultraviolet. Red is at the far edge of the spectrum close to infrared. But green is right smack dab in the middle of that spectrum, which is the most efficient frequency for the human eye.
So why deal with red at all? Battery life is the answer. For many years manufacturers struggled with the green laser. They chewed up batteries like a fat dude in a pie shop. Another factor was heat; green systems created higher heat levels than their red counterparts and as we all know heat is death to small electronics. With today's technology, however, green systems have become more cost effective and much better at managing heat and battery life, rivaling the red systems.
Smaller and Brighter
Pretty much every gun that goes into the patrol field today needs some sort of white light attached. It allows both hands on the gun for more accurate shooting. Handheld lights obviously still have their place out there. But, in a shooting situation or any low-light scenario where having a weapon deployed is justified, fumbling with a handheld can cost precious milliseconds.
The newest group of weapon lights could be used as landing lights on airliners-well, almost. The most advanced light emitting diodes (LED) have crossed the barrier of "that's really bright" into the realm of "wow, that's incredible." They're brighter, smaller, more efficient, and even more feature packed.
American Technologies Network Corp. (ATN) is best known for manufacturing high-end night vision devices-passive and thermal. The company has recently ventured into white light weapons illumination tools with its Javelin line of lights. ATN's flagship is the Javelin J600W. This light produces 600 lumens of paint blistering white light. That much light directed at a suspect's dark-adapted eyes can produce up to 10 seconds of transient blindness-a huge advantage when you may have to go hands-on and a real disadvantage to the bad guy if he's trying to get a sight picture that includes you.
The J600W is a substantial piece of kit. Its body is aircraft-grade aluminum with a bezel designed for offensive or defensive striking. The mounting system is also heavy duty and allows mounting on either a picatinny rail or weaver mount. It's eight inches long, weighs 13.4 ounces, and takes four CR123 batteries. The light is equipped with a wired remote pressure switch and a momentary activation tail cap.
ATN is offering two other lights in the Javelin line with most of the same features as the big light; the J125W is a two-battery system producing 200 lumens and the J169W is a three-battery light rated at 220 lumens.
Last year Crimson Trace Laser Grips introduced the MVF 515 Red Modular Vertical Foregrip. It was and still is about the best integrated laser and white light foregrip I've ever used. This year they've brought out the MVF 515 Green and it's most definitely professional level equipment. The hard polymer shell surrounds a hard anodized 6061-T6 aircraft aluminum tang.
The MVF 515 Green has ambidextrous controls and three modes to choose from-constant on, momentary, and strobe. It also has a master on switch that can isolate either side's activation pressure pads. It uses two CR123 batteries for power and puts out a user-adjustable 150 or 200 lumens of white light. Dot size of the green laser is approximately .5 inches at 50 feet and it's fully adjustable for windage and elevation. Crimson Trace backs up this professional-grade equipment with a complete three-year warranty.
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Lexington, Ky.-based Elzetta Design was founded in 2007 by two mechanical engineers who wanted to produce American made weapon lights and accessories that were innovative and high quality. To that end, all Elzetta products are designed, engineered, and manufactured in the USA using American tooling and materials. (In case you were wondering, Elzetta Design is named after the grandmother of one of the company's founders.)
The Elzetta ZFL-M60 Weapon-Grade LED Flashlight produces 235 out-the-front lumens. It features optical beam projection (not a mere reflector), creating an intense light pattern with a "soft edge" that minimizes the tunnel-vision effect common with other lights. Made from hard anodized 6061-T6 aluminum, the ZFL-M60 features fully-potted electronics to withstand harsh recoil and severe impact.
A few years back Insight Technology changed its name to Insight Tech Gear for the non-military side of the house. Now it's changed it back. In any case it's the same great military grade equipment. This year, the company teamed up with Smith & Wesson on the new Bodyguard series guns. Both the Bodyguard 38 and the Bodyguard 380 have built-in Insight Technologies lasers.
These are not add-ons; they are integral to the Smith & Wesson frame. Engineers at both S&W and Insight worked together on the gun/laser system to make it ergonomically pleasing and the activation intuitive. The activation button on the .38 caliber +P rated revolver is on top and the button on the .380 autoloader is forward of the trigger on the frame. Each can be used in constant on or pulse mode. They also have a built-in five-minute auto-off timer. Battery life provides three hours of continuous operation. The units are user adjustable for windage and elevation.
LaserMax has long been known for its great guide rod replacement laser systems and this year it didn't disappoint on that front. The company recently introduced the new guide rod laser system for the full-size Smith & Wesson M&P in 9mm, .40 S&W, and .357 SIG calibers. Once activated, the guide rod laser for the M&P provides pinpoint accuracy to two inches at 20 yards. Alignment of the laser is set at the factory and so there's no need for windage or elevation adjustment after changing batteries or accidentally dropping your firearm.
Additionally, LaserMax introduced its new Rifle Value Pack. It includes the company's Uni-Max laser combined with a momentary activation pressure switch and the MantaRail Cord Control System. The Uni-Max Red laser weighs no more than one round of ammo-including batteries. It's been drop tested on concrete, submerged to 66 feet, and baked to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Oh by the way, it still worked. The Uni-Max is .76 inches thick, 1.4 inches wide, and 2.27 inches long and will fit on a 1.75-inch rail.
The pressure switch combines with the MantaRail Cord Control System and solves the issue of cords hanging off the rifle because the adhesive got wet, old, or lost its adhesion. It houses the pressure pad and clamps to the rail, eliminating the need for hook-and-loop, tape, or even messy glues. It also comes with three MantaClips that keep the cord from dangling, catching on things, and ripping the gun out of your hands.
SIG introduced the G-LAD (Green Laser Aiming Device) this year. It produces a visible green laser beam visible for 60 yards during daylight and one mile at night. It's 20 times brighter than a red laser. The G-LAD produces a target dot smaller than two inches at 100 yards.
The G-LAD is manufactured with an anodized aircraft aluminum housing and includes a mount for Picatinny rails, a momentary activation pressure pad and cord, as well as a momentary pressure-activated tail cap. It easily mounts on any rail equipped gun and has high end optical scope-like adjustments for windage and elevation. It's powered by a single CR123 battery and has a continuous run life of four hours. The G-LAD is 4.7 inches long, 1.2 inches in diameter, and weighs in at 7.3 ounces including the mount. Since it has such great range it can be easily married with a good optical scope for long distance shooting.
The folks at Streamlight announced the introduction of the TLR-1s and the TLR-2s, strobe-equipped versions of the company's very popular tactical gun-mount lights. The new lights feature C4 LED technology providing greater brightness than earlier models. The TRL-1s is a white light only system, whereas the TLR-2s features an integrated laser.
The new versions of the lights not only include a strobe function, but deliver more bright light. Both feature enhanced brightness over earlier models and provide the same ease of use when mounting to and detaching from the gun. The mounting system eliminates the need for tools or passing your hand in front of the muzzle.
The C4 LEDs are impervious to shock and put out 160 lumens of bright white light. Both models are powered by 2 CR123 batteries and provide up to 2.5 hours of continuous. Each offers a momentary-to-steady on-off switch and can be accessed by either right or left hands. The TLR-2s also provides a three-position mode selector switch for laser only, LED only, or both modes together. The strobe feature on both is activated with a double tap of the momentary paddle.
If you have one of the older SureFire Millennium Universal Weapon Lights with its tungsten filament light source, SureFire has introduced the new V-Series KM3 LED conversion head. It's a direct screw-on replacement for the existing head on certain Millennium Universal Weapon Lights.
The KM3 produces brilliant white light and intense IR output from a single dual-LED emitter assembly. A bezel selector ring allows you to easily switch back and forth from white to infrared output-and it's self-locking so it stays securely on the selected light output-until you decide otherwise.
The KM3 provides significantly longer runtimes per set of batteries than the older incandescent emitters of similar output. The KM3 head puts out 150 lumens and features SureFire's Total Internal Reflection (TIR) lens that produces a comparatively tight beam suited for close to medium range. The O-ring-sealed aerospace aluminum body is Mil-Spec hard anodized in black or desert sand.
Viridian is one of the nation's fastest growing laser sight manufacturers and is focused exclusively on green lasers - hence the name from the Latin viridis, meaning green. They offer compact, powerful, green lasers for military, law enforcement, and civilian markets. Viridian's line is designed to precisely fit specific guns and uses the maximum allowed power.
So far this year the company has introduced the C5 (others will be right around the corner), the world's only subcompact weapon mountable green laser. It's so small it tucks neatly between trigger guard and muzzle with no overhang. It will work not just with subcompacts but with virtually any railed gun.
I know good things come in small packages but this is truly amazing. It mounts easily and contains a more than adequately bright white light as well as its powerful green laser. It runs on one small CR2 battery and has a runtime of four hours in the constant on mode and seven hours in pulsing mode. The laser is fully user adjustable for windage and elevation.
Dave Douglas retired from the San Diego Police Department five years ago as a sergeant and the department's rangemaster. He held positions in various assignments there including patrol, investigations, bombs and arson, and training. He's a long-time contributor to POLICE Magazine.