Laser Genetics ND3x50 Subzero Laser
It's not every day a product comes along that provides a solution which is completely "out of the box". From my view, this is what happened a couple of years ago when Laser Genetics introduced their first Laser Designators for civilian use. Basically a Laser Designator is a green laser light source that can produce a very concentrated beam that is adjustable from a high intensity spot to a wider area to illuminate larger/closer objects. (Believe me, I have greatly simplified the description of how it works.) In mid 2010, Laser Genetics introduced their ND3x40 and ND3x50 Laser Designators with the hunter in mind and with the intent of mounting these on rifle scopes. It was about that time when my interests really started ramping up for one of these products. For those who enjoy night hunts, a good night scope will set you back quite a few dollars. Using the Laser Genetics Designator which allows you to use your current scope and add some type of long distance illuminating capability seemed very appealing. I started following the Laser Genetics products closely and the single thing holding me back from getting one was the concern that I would be hunting during the winter months and most night hunting would be below 40° F. It seems that the standard versions of the Laser Designators would start to see degradation of the light as temperatures dropped. Earlier this year, Laser Genetics introduced a new version of their Laser Designators called the Subzero. This new version allows the unit to operate at temperatures down to 0° F without any loss in power. This new Subzero version took away my concerns on the unit's ability to function when I would be normally be hunting.
I was beyond excited when I received my Laser Genetics ND3x50 Subzero Laser Designator. One of the first things you will notice at the Laser Genetics website for this product is a retail price of $599.95 plus shipping and handling. After doing a quick search on the internet, I was able to find it for about $460 plus S&H. For this price, the ND3x50 Subzero is clearly not your normal flashlight. Each time I considered the price, I had to step back and consider the comparable product which in my opinion is a night vision device that mounts in front of your normal scope. To get a comparable quality night vision product you will start at about $1800. Clearly the projected visible light from a Laser Designator is not the same as night vision, but $460 is also not the same as $1800.
After you get over sticker shock and start looking at the Laser Genetics website, I think you will agree that the company has done a nice job marketing their products. Since I try to look at the manufacturer's claims and specifications as a basis for my review point, the following text in colored italics was taken directly from the Laser Genetics website on 5/23/11 and gives an Overview, Features and Specifications for the Laser Genetics ND3x50 Subzero Laser Designator. The , and are my way to keep up with details that I have covered in this review with either photos, commentary or both. I may also add commentary after these marks as necessary to explain some items if needed.
What's In The Box
When the Laser Genetics ND3x50 Subzero Laser Designator arrived it was boxed as shown below. Again, Laser Genetics have done a very nice job marketing their product. The following four photos show all the information on the box. You can click on a photo (or any other in this review) to bring up a high resolution photo showing more detail.
After I removed the lid, I was impressed by the nice case that is provided with the product.
I was pleased to see they included a case because if you are using this on your favorite hunting rifle, it may be off the rifle for day hunting more time than on the rifle for night hunting. For the price of this investment, you are definitely going to want to protect it.
The contents were packed in the case as shown below.
The contents of the case were as follows:
When I pulled the Designator out of the box, you can see that the mounts were all attached to the body of the Designator.
I included the photo below to show the mounts removed. At this point I was dying to install the batteries and go try it out. I did and was very impressed. There is a lot more information on actual testing later in the review.
ND3x50 Subzero Laser Designator
Tube body of the Designator is 1" in diameter, the total length of the Designator is 10.0" and the lens end is 2.36" in diameter. The Designator is machined from some type of aluminum alloy and has a nice black anodized finish.
The lens appears clear with some type of coating (spec states fully multi-coated lenses). The tail cap has a positive click for on/off.
The beam width is adjusted by the "rotary beam optical collimator" shown below. Basically a collimator is a device that works to narrow and align a beam. The collimator ring was firm to rotate, similar to changing the power on a scope.
The Lens Cap is made from some type of rubber material.
Tail Cap Switch
The Tail Cap Switch has an O-ring to seal the battery cavity and marking for the positive direction of the batteries.
Pressure Mounted Switch
The Pressure Mounted Switch has an O-ring similar to the tail cap and can change in length from 13" to about 28". The pressure pad feels like it has 4 different pressure contact points and comes with a Velcro pad ready to stick on your rifle.
This mount is actually made up of two basic components, the ring portion (Weaver-Style Mount) and clap portion. The ring portion is made from aluminum alloy and includes 6 cap screws and anti-slip tape on the inside of the rings. Although the specifications state an anodized finish, the mounts appear to be closer to some type of painted finish.
I only show 4 of the six sides below. The other two sides are symmetric to the center two figures below.
This adapter is a little confusing. Although it states 3/8" on one side and 5/8" on the other, there is not a case where the 3/8" fits any of the mount components. The 3/8" side is used to attach to the Weaver-Style mount while the other side is used to interface with a Picatinny rail. The clamp bars are made from aluminum and the screws and thumb nuts from steel.
The Tripod Mount is a one piece aluminum Picatinny rail measuring 1.86" in length. For some reason the lower portion of the rail has some curvature which is not needed for mounting on a tripod. This curvature indicates that this part may be an adaptation of a current product to meet this Tripod Mount purpose.
Adjustable Scope Mount
The Adjustable Scope Mount is used to provide elevation and windage corrections for the Laser Designator so that the center of the laser beam lines up with the center of the cross hairs on your scope. The lower ring portion of the mount attaches around a 1" tube scope body. The upper Picatinny rail is used to mount the Laser Designator the same way as the Tripod Mount.
Elevation is adjusted by the thumb nut over the ring portion of the mount while windage is adjusted by the thumb nut on the side of the mount.
The weight of the ND3x50 Subzero Laser Designator with push button tail cap and batteries installed was 16.40 ounces. The specifications state a "Tube Weight" of 13.68 ounces. Even if I subtract the weight of the two batteries (1.10 ounces), the actual weight is 15.30 ounces. I believe the 13.68 ounces specification weight is either in error or they are describing the tube as something other than the actual Designator. The mounting hardware weighed in at 6.20 ounces. This would give a minimum installed weight on a rifle of 22.60 ounces (1.41 pounds).
If you choose to install the pressure mounted switch, you will add about 0.7 ounces to the installation. 0.7 ounces is the difference between the weight of the two switches.
The lens cap weighed in at 0.45 ounces.
Before you can mount the Laser Designator on anything, you must first install the Weaver-Style mount on the Designator. Since the best place to install a single mount is always through the center of gravity (CG), I performed a quick check. The CG is shown below with the Designator balancing on a short beam.
Since I can not install the mount on the collimator ring, I installed it as close as possible. This minimizes the extra forces exerted on the mounts.
I installed the Tripod Mount to the bottom of the Weaver-Style mount just like you would with any Picatinny rail device.
Next I screwed the tripod mounting screw up into the hole in the Tripod Mount. All was good, but I believe the curvature on the bottom of the Tripod Mount (see Figure 38) causes the threaded hole to be slightly higher than normal which creates a minimum number of threads to engage the Tripod Mount.
I decided to install the Laser Genetics ND3x50 Subzero Laser Designator on my FNAR rifle which has a Zeiss Conquest 4.5-14x50mm scope. One of the first things you will encounter when installing the mounts on your scope is that your scope must have a 1" tube. If your scope is not a 1" tube scope, you will have to work out a slightly different mounting arrangement. I think it would be good if Laser Genetics would provide a different mounting configuration or parts to allow the Designator to be installed on both 1" and 30mm tube scopes.
Once you have decided which rifle/scope to install the Laser Designator on, you will have to figure out the best location on the scope. Some of the factors that impact where you install the Designator will be free tube length forward and rear of the turret housing and the width of your rings. Also, you may have to consider turret height and objective lens diameter. In my case, I was not able to install the Adjustable Scope Mount forward of my turret housing due to the minimum free space because of my wider style rings. A forward location would have been my preferred location so that I didn't block the view of my elevation turret, but this was not possible. Fortunately there was clear space behind the turret housing.
Knowing that the lens diameter of the Designator would need to be forward of the elevation turret for clearance, I installed the Adjustable Scope Mount as close to the turret housing area as possible.
Next I placed the Laser Designator (with Weaver-Style Mount installed) on the Adjustable Mount in the forward most position on the rail as shown below. Luckily there was clearance between the turret and Designator. If this would have been an issue, I would have loosened the Weaver-Style Mount and move the Designator further forward in the mount.
The next photo shows an overall view of the setup. I would have preferred the Laser Designator mounted forward of the turret housing, but overall I was pleased with the installation.
After installing the Laser Designator, I tested the sturdiness of the mount by pushing side to side and twisting the Laser Designator. Overall it was firmly mounted, but there was some free play in the adjustable portion of the mount. As a note, this installation is opposite of that shown in the instruction manual but matches the images at the Laser Genetics website. In the instruction manual, the adjustable mount is shown on the Designator.
I placed the Laser Designator 12" from the wall (measured from the lens surface) and then measured the projected beam diameters at the minimum and maximum collimator settings. The high intensity (primary) beam measures 50mm and 132.5 mm. This 132.5 mm at the widest (maximum) setting was much less than the 320 mm stated in the specifications. The beam does have a much lower intensity band around the high intensity area. At the widest setting, this lower intensity band did measure about 320 mm in diameter, but I feel this additional area of illumination is of little real value. This low intensity band is visible at the one foot distance as shown in the photos below but quickly fades as the distance increases.
Next I decided to get an idea on the beam diameter at different distances to get a feel for the illuminated field of view. I took the measurements in the table below. First you will notice that the minimum beam size is nearly constant (50 mm) at close ranges. When I backed away at 25 feet I was able to measure a slight increase in minimum beam diameter and then even more at 50 feet. The maximum beam diameter increased proportionally with each additional foot of distance (i.e. at 3' the beam size was 3 times that of 1'). Keep in mind that as the beam diameter increases with distance, you have the same amount of light that must cover a larger area. For example, the difference in beam density at 1 foot compared to that at 3 feet with the maximum beam setting is about 1:5 meaning that there is 5 times more area to cover with the same amount of light. Since the area calculation is πD2/2 and the diameter (D) is a squared term, the coverage area increases greatly as the distance changes.
Since the collimator is infinitely adjustable between the minimum and maximum setting, you are able to adjust the field of view and beam intensity to your needs. This adjustability is one of the great features of the Designator.
Low Temperature Check
To evaluate how the ND3x50 Subzero Laser Designator performed at low temperatures, I placed the Designator in the freezer for about 4 hours. When I removed it from the freezer, moisture in the air immediately started to condense and freeze on the surface. The surface temperature measured 4° F. Unfortunately since it is early summer, this was the best I can do for a low temperature check since I don't have access to a walk-in freezer.
My intent for this check was to try to measure a reduction in beam intensity at lower temperatures. To do this I used the light meter in my digital camera to provide an indication if there were a reduction in light intensity. I set up the camera so that it would automatically vary the shutter speed only to give the same exposure. The photo below was my initial baseline photo prior to putting the Designator in the freezer. In this case, the temperature was 77° F and the shutter speed was 1/5 second.
This next photo shows my first measurement once I was able to get the Designator out of the freezer and set up on the tripod. The external temperature of the Designator was 24° F and the exposure time took 1.6 seconds. The majority of darkness was due to the lens frosting, but there was some reduced intensity of the beam. As a note, the Designator did work when I removed it from the freezer while the temperature was 4° F.
This photo shows the lens after I made an attempt to remove the frost with the lens cloth. I was able to remove the thick frosty areas, but the moisture in the air continued to condense on the lens. The surface of the Designator measured 38° F and the exposure time was 0.8 seconds.
The next three photos show temperatures and exposure times all the way up to the original exposure time of 1/5 second. As the amount of moisture condensing on the lens decreased, there was less light dispersion outside of the high intensity area of the beam.
What does all this mean? To truly evaluate this Subzero version of the ND3x50 Laser Designators, you need to be doing it under real conditions. The air temperature and Designator temperature need to be the same so that you don't get any frosting or condensation build up on the lens which reduces/diffuses the light beam. I do think there was some loss of intensity of light and could believe it would be as much as 50%. This statement is based on the exposure time difference between 66° F (1/5 sec) and 59° F (1/3 sec) which had no condensation issues. Although I don't have first hand data with the original Designators, I do believe the low temperature capabilities of this model to be much greater than what I have read on the internet about the non-Subzero versions of the Laser Designators.
Front Yard Evaluation
I installed the Laser Genetics ND3x50 Subzero Laser Designator on my FNAR rifle as previously shown in this review and headed out to my front yard at night to take some photos through the scope at various distances.
This first photo is at 36 yards with my scope on 14x power and the collimator adjusted to fill the field of view of the scope.
This second photo is at 85 yards and is looking at the tree tops. Again, the scope is at 14x and the collimator is adjusted to fill the field of view. In this photo you can clearly see the pine needles.
This third photo is at 181 yards with the scope at 14x. I have adjusted the collimator so that the beam is smaller than my field of view to give a higher intensity illuminated area on the target. The target area is a tree top and you can see small branches within the photo. Since auto focus didn't work with my setup, this photo is slightly out of focus so the clarity is less than what I could see looking through the lens.
Since I couldn't get the range needed to evaluate greater distances, I headed to a local park that had a large open area. This next photo shows the illumination at the target for 240 yards to the barrel and 396 yards to me standing on the edge of the field. The collimator was adjusted to 1.5 (nearly at the minimum setting of 1) and the scope at 14x. At ~400 yards, the illuminated diameter viewed through the scope is about 1/3 that of the scope field of view diameter.
This next photo is a blow up of the illuminated area from the photo above.
These next two photos were taken to show how much light is at the target area at ~400 yards. I took the camera and tripod down range and setup about 20 feet in front of the illuminated area (you can see the shadow of the tripod on the far left). In these photos, I adjusted the exposure settings on the camera to match as close as possible the brightness of the illuminated area.
A couple of things are clear from this evaluation. First, by adjusting the beam diameter, you can put the amount of light on your target needed to illuminate it for shooting at 400 yards. Since the collimator still was not set to it's minimum, I feel the advertised 500 yard range seems realistic. Next, just because you get enough light on your subject, it doesn't mean you can clearly see the target. For longer distances, you are going to want a high power scope.
All these photos and technical evaluations don't mean much compared to the true test of Laser Genetics ND3x50 Subzero Laser Designator which will come out in the field while putting it to it's intended use which is night time target acquisition and illumination at long distances (even in a cold climate). Unfortunately the seasonal timing so far has not allowed me to do this yet (I typically hunt more in the colder months), but it is still part of the plan. Everything I have seen so far seems very promising and I will update this portion of the review once I get some field data. Part of this evaluation will be trying to determine for myself if this product spooks game. From my Front Yard Evaluation, I'm already convinced that the ND3x50 Laser Designator can provide the illumination needed to make the shot.
Since I performed the initial review, I have started hunting in a state where and they don’t allow any night hunting except for raccoons and opossums which are not on my hit list. The limited evaluations I have done have given me mixed feelings on spooking game. I have had moments where the Laser Designator clearly spooked game and others where they (deer) did see the light, but just stood there and looked around which is sometimes the nature of deer at night with regular lights. I think the success of this device hinges on how skittish the game would be that your are hunting and how concentrated of a beam shines into their eyes. I feel that good night/thermal vision is the way to go for those who can afford it.
For the battery life test, I placed a new set of Rayovac Lithium Photo 123A batteries into the Designator and turned the Designator on inside my house. The surface temperature of the Designator ranged from 77° F to 85° F throughout this test. The specifications state that the battery life is up to 7 hours of continuous use and up to 3 hours of continuous use at 0° F. After 8.2 hours, the Designator turned off. The two photos below show illumination level at the beginning of the test and 8 hours later. There appears to be no loss in intensity of the laser with time.
The warranty seems like your basic one year non-transferable warranty against original defects in material and workmanship. A copy of your original sales receipt is required so save the box and put it inside.
I have been studying the Laser Genetics ND3x50 Subzero Laser Designator now for over a month and really like the product. Every time I have a guest over, I always pull it out to get their impressions which has always been positive. The laser is extremely bright and when installed on a rifle scope and adjusted towards a low collimator setting, you are able to illuminate targets at extremely long distances. The mounting hardware included with the Designator is all 1" diameter and I would like to see Laser Genetics include the ability to mount the Designator on a 30 mm tube scope. The product weight is greater than advertised and some of the beam diameter specification data could be clarified better. The greater weight is something to consider, but I don't see the beam diameter difference as a significant item. During my temperature testing, I was able to prove that the laser will operate at extremely cold temperatures, but I feel there is a reduction in light intensity. I will not be able to truly evaluate this low temperature capability until the cold weather returns in the fall.
9/5/13 Update: Worked like a champ in cold weather.
If having a projected beam of light is not an issue for your night time adventure, I feel that the quality of image and light you are able to put on your target by using a good scope and Laser Designator is on par with night vision gear costing many times more than the price of the Laser Designator.