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Best IR Laser/Illuminator? Mikeith Green Weighs In

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::Editor's Forward:: Mikeith Green is best known for his work with Dead Air, but he's also a night-hunting fanatic and has had a lot of hands-on with all manner of night vision gear through Silence The Night. Today he breaks down some IR laser and illuminator options for your consideration.

Regarding IR laser and illuminators, these days there are many choices, and everyone wants to know “what’s best?”

The truth is, the spectrum is too broad for anyone to give an accurate, all-encompassing answer to this question.

Every time someone asks me that, I ask what their intended purpose is and the environment that they plan to use it.

Far too many people think they need a Military/LEO high powered setup, and in only very few cases is that really the best option for their needs. Do I think they should be able to be purchased by anyone? I absolutely do. But that’s a topic for a later discussion.


Here are some questions you need to ask yourself, and that a good dealer would ask you if you were looking for honest recommendations. Unfortunately often you'll run into someone just trying to push what they have in stock for the sake of immediate sale:

Intended Use: Are you using it for training/night fighting, hunting, or just shooting at stuff in the dark with your buddies? What are you aiming at and what distance? People, hogs, coyotes, steel, etc.?

Environment: Do you plan to use it in an urban or rural environment? Urban tends to have more ambient light, while most rural, backwoods areas tend to be a lot darker.

To explain why all that matters let's go over a few examples and scenarios. Take a look at this picture:

Photo credit: DayNoodlez

Photo credit: DayNoodlez

At first glance, someone would say the L3 LA5 is the winner… but is it really? Going back to the use/environment questions, if you plan on using it for hunting (people or animals) in lower ambient light environments (ignore this picture and I’ll explain why in a second) the bloom from the laser is so bright that you will be able to tell that you are aiming at your target but may not know “where” on your target you are aiming.

The LA5 is an extreme example, however, this is the case with every class III laser we’ve ever used for this type of shooting. There are a lot of times that we actually end up using the low power setting on a class I laser on darker nights. This picture doesn’t accurately depict that concept because of how much ambient light the IR Illuminators are creating. The PEQ15 would look much more like what the LA5 shows in this picture.

There are really only a couple of scenarios where you need a class III powered laser. For example, if you're in urban environments with a lot of ambient light and hunting people, the additional powered laser will be better visible.


The additional power is good for cutting through light sources–this is something that is more than likely issued to you, or society has collapsed–so good luck! The other would be long range shooting with a good clip-on night vision device, and more for use with a class III illuminator than with a laser.


Once you’ve ruled out and realized that MOST of the time a class III will create more harm than good in most scenarios (not to mention potential legal troubles), we are left to talk about which class I fits your individual needs.



MAWL-C1+ (BE Meyers)

I will first say that if it is in your budget, the MAWL-C1+ is the best overall class I currently on the market. The ergonomics and ease of switching between functions make it a clear winner especially if you have gloves on. It has the cleanest illumination at distance, only rivaled by the DBAL-D2 and DBAL-A4 which are both bulkier units. However, the wide/short range illuminator is what sets it apart from the competition. It has a completely separate and much broader illuminator from the long range setting, and it's very fast and easy to switch between short and long range use. It even has an option to run both.

In short range though, the DBAL-D2 illuminator is so overpowering that the ABC (Automatic Brightness Control) maxes out. So everything outside the “ring of illumination” becomes even darker than before you turned on the illuminator. It also doesn’t get near broad enough in tighter areas like the MAWL does. For the remainder of the post, we’ll discuss specific scenarios.


Long Range

Luna Optics LN-ELIR: Don’t let the looks fool you, it’s probably the best bang for budget illuminator and has a little Easter egg that I can’t tell you how, but will turn it into a class III illuminator… I can’t tell you not to google it though 😉
Steiner SPIR: Great IR illuminator-only option.
BE Meyers MAWL-C1+: Already addressed above.
Steiner DBAL A4: Good all in one option from Steiner with white light included, but is a bit bulky. Has short and long-range illuminators like the MAWL, just not executed as well.


BE Meyers MAWL C1+… again ^
EOTech ATPIAL-C and Steiner DBAL-A3: Great options for short to mid-range, with the A3 edging out the ATPIAL-C in illumination quality.


Close Range

Steiner CQBL: This is one of my personal favorites especially paired with the unity tactical fusion mount and a Surefire M300V, or M600V.
ATPIAL-C and DBAL-A3: Listed again because with laser only or with low power illuminator setting it’s pretty good for CQB.



Steiner DBAL-PL: There is a lot I like about the PL, but also some things that would make it so much better. It has both visible, and IR light and lasers slaved together in a compact configuration for what you get. The newest revision also has a tape switch plug making it another option for rifle/subgun use… the bad though, is that you cannot select NOT to use the illuminators, and you have to use the left button for IR, and right for visible.
Surefire X400V: Uses an X300V type head and has an IR laser. You can select not to use illumination, however, there is no visible laser for zeroing, so it has to be zeroed under NV.
Surefire XVL2: This one I haven't had hands-on with yet, but people say good things–not an official recommendation, but it is the latest combination device from Surefire.

Laser Devices Inc DBAL I2 Laser Devices Inc DBAL 2A

Controversial mention

DBAL-I2: There are two versions of this… the dual laser version which I consider worthless. The visible and IR laser are not slaved, so it makes the visible laser worthless to most people outside of being a cat toy. The second version is an IR illuminator and IR laser, making it a decent option on a budget over the DBAL-A3.

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1 Comment

  • Mike says:

    I’m surprised no mention of either the perst 4 or perst 3. The perst 3 blows away everything except the mawl out of the water by a significant margin.

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  • I’m surprised no mention of either the perst 4 or perst 3. The perst 3 blows away everything except the mawl out of the water by a significant margin.

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