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Monday, May 13, 2013

Monday Gunday: LaserMax Guide Rod Laser vs Crimson Trace Lasergrip


Part I: Prologue, or Bust a Deal and Face the Wheel

Way back in February, when I was playing House Mom, I received the following letter from Celia Crane of LaserMax:
Dear Erin,
I happened across your blog today and found it to be quirky and clever. So, I thought…hmmm…I wonder if she’s ever looked at lasers (since that’s what I do).

A handy search revealed that you have, in fact, reviewed the Crimson Trace Lasergrip for Ruger LCR. I have friends at CTC and am a big fan of their product. The company I currently work for also offers a laser for the LCR and others.

Now that you are a veteran laser gal, I thought I would reach out and see if you’d be interested in doing a head-to-head comparison…? LaserMax products are similar to Crimson Trace but we have some distinct features that you (and your Mom) might just prefer.

Let me know if you might be interested and I can send along more information and a sample!

Let me just say how awesome it is that someone actually asked me to review their product, instead of the other way around!  I could get used to this sort of thing!  Anyway, after exchanging pleasantries, I wrote back:
However, I need to throw you a curveball: my mother had surgery on her spine last week to correct stenosis within her neck (C5-T1) and as such will be unable to shoot revolvers for quite some time. That said, I believe I have a solution that will solve this conundrum.

I carry a Gen 3 Glock 26, and it also has a CT Lasergrip. I would be quite interested in trying out your Guide Rod Laser for the G3 Glock 26 and doing a head-to-head comparison with that instead.

What do you think? It's still a CTC vs. LaserMax challenge, it's just with a different model.

She replied:
I am so sorry to hear that your Mother is feeling poorly and hope she is fully recovered soon. My father had a similar surgery and I am just so thankful that they have gotten so good at neck and back surgeries during the past ten years.

I love your solution and cannot wait to get the Guide Rod Laser into your hands! One of the neatest things about that comparison idea is that you can have both sights installed simultaneously!

I am going to put a package together for you straight away. Please let me know when it arrives!
Let me just say, right here and now, what a class act Celia is. When I received the package, included was a personal letter in which she said "All the best to you and your Mom -- I hope she is back to 100% soon."

As a reviewer, I know I am supposed to be impartial, but this level of courtesy and personal attentiveness from a Public Relations guru is damn impressive. This woman, who barely knew me, was thoughtful enough to send a "get well soon" sentiment along with the T&E product.  Folks, this is how you do PR.  Even if I hated LaserMax's product, I would still be favorably impressed with their company just because of how Ms. Crane conducted herself.

However, just because I like a person doesn't mean I'm not going to nitpick her product. Welcome to Laserdome!


Part II: The Review, or Two Lasers Enter...

Disclaimer: This review is specifically comparing the LaserMax Guide Rod Laser for Gen 3 Glock 26 and the Crimson Trace LaserGrips for Gen3 Glock 26. Differences in laser models or gun generations may give different results.

1) Ease of Installation




The Crimson Trace Laser Grip (hereafter known as CTLG) is dead easy to install. It came with clearly labeled instructions that were easy for me to understand, as well as fresh batteries and an installation tool*. All I had to do was:
  1. Clear my Glock;
  2. Insert the batteries into the CTLG;
  3. Remove the trigger housing pin from the Glock's backstrap using the enclosed tool;
  4. Slide CTLG onto pistol grip;
  5. Secure with included replacement pin;
  6. Perform a function check. 
Boom. Five minutes, tops, to install the laser, and then it's ready to go to the range for sighting in. 



The LaserMax Guide Rod Laser (hereafter LMGRL) is far more complicated. The instructions were twice as large, were irritatingly vague in places, and did not come with ideal tools. Installation requires the following steps:
  1. Field strip my Glock. This was not a problem. 
  2. Remove factory slide lock and spring.  This was a problem, as I couldn't figure out what the slide lock was, and it was not clear by the small, vague, and un-labeled photograph accompanying this instruction. I spent several minutes trying to figure out why the lever that releases the slide from lock -- remember, it says "remove slide lock," this is a logical assumption -- wasn't in the place the illustrations indicated, and I didn't see how mashing it down accomplished anything. Worse, the "tool" I had been given was about 2-3 inches of small-gauge roundstock that was difficult to grip, and rolled away when set down. They might as well have called this step  "Sacrifice a chicken and pray to whatever gods there may be," because I couldn't figure out how they wanted me to move an unknown thing sideways through the receiver without resorting to sorcery or a Star Trek transporter. 
  3. Give up on junk tool and get the ACTUAL USEFUL tool that Crimson Trace sent.
  4. Cruise YouTube looking for instruction videos.  Go "Oh, THAT'S what they meant! Yeah, they really need better picture and better-written instructions on how to remove the thing. Now that I know what they're taking about, that's pretty easy. And oh, hey, the model in the video is using a proper tool and a not a few inches of chrome roundstock."
  5. Mash down on field-strip button-lever-thing with tool while shoving said button-lever-thing sideways through the slot in the receiver where the button-levers stick out.  You know, if they had just said THAT, I could have figured it out a lot faster. 
  6. Turn receiver upside-down and bang on a flat surface until spring comes out. There's no possible way this could go badly, could it?  Hint:  Do this in a container with sides. 
  7. Put new spring onto tip of plastic straw like object and make like you're playing "Operation!" only in reverse.  Immediately regret drinking coffee that day. 
  8. Replace old button-lever-thing with new button-lever-thing, making sure that the colored dots face the backstrap. Because if you put it in the wrong way, it won't work, and you'll have to take it out again just to put it in the other way, and you will generally hate yourself. 
  9. Check to see if it's installed properly.  If it is, you'll be able to push it to the side with your index finger, and the little colored dot will be visible on the other side. This is the on-off switch. 
  10. You are now done with the receiver and can concentrate on the slide. Hosannas and alleluias!
  11. Remove the spring from your slide. 
  12. Replace spring with LMGRL.  There's an art to this, and it involves compressing the spring and pushing the LMGRL through the guide rod hole, then pushing the battery end cap down, and making sure that things are generally aligned and that the LMGRL is oriented properly, because there is an up and a down and if you do it wrong the laser will turn on and won't turn off, and possibly the guide will stick out in a weird way when you cycle the slide.
After twice as many steps and 10 times the frustration, the LMGRL is installed. 

Crimson Trace:  A+
LaserMax: D, which is only because I found the video in the first place. Without it, I would have had to ask a gunsmith for help, which in my book is Instruction Sheet Failure.

Clear winner:  Crimson Trace LaserGrip


2) Ease of Use

The Crimson Trace Laser Grip is idiot-proof:  you grasp the pistol, and the pressure of your grip turns it on. The only downside here is that the laser is constantly discharging so long as you have your pistol in a firm grip. 

The LaserMax Guide Rod Laser is user-friendly: the on-off switch for the Glock model is located in the depressions where users with proper trigger discipline index their fingers. It's not as idiot-proof as the Crimson Trace, but it's easy to turn on. Turning it off requires your other hand to push the button in the other direction. 

Crimson Trace: A+
LaserMax: A

Advantage: Crimson Trace, but not by much 


3) Performance

I've been harsh on the LaserMax so far, but once I got it to the range, it really came into its own. The nice thing about it is that the guide rod, by definition, is in line with the barrel, and because of that no further adjustment needs to be made to it (other than accounting for bullet drop, which is something you need to do at ranges greater than point-blank, laser or no laser).  This stands in stark relief to the Crimson Trace, which -- despite the fact that it comes pre-sighted at 50 feet -- has always needed adjustment (not just mine, but the one on my mother's LCR as well).  This is due to the fact that the laser emitter of the CTLG is lower than, and nearly an inch to the right of, my Glock barrel. This offset creates what is know as parallax error, and that means if you are any distance other than the one to which your CTLG is calibrated, your point of impact is going to be off.

You may find it interesting that despite my best efforts to zero my Crimson Trace at 20 feet, it was still off (and noticeably so) when I compared it to the LaserMax.

So, here's what my target looked like the first time I shot with my Crimson Trace Laser Grips. This was at 7 yards, and 60 rounds of practice ammo:



I'm definitely not going to win any awards for this kind of shooting, but definitely good enough for defensive purposes:



Now let's compare that to how I shot with the LaserMax Guide Rod Laser, also at 7 yards, also using 60 rounds of practice ammo:



That's a significant difference. Let's look at that using the same red shirt:


LaserMax: A+
Crimson Trace: B

Clear Winner: LaserMax


4) Miscellaneous

This category is more a collection of things I noticed rather than characteristics to be graded:

  • The LaserMax strobes, whereas the Crimson Trace is a constant beam. This might affect battery life; it might not. 
  • Batteries are much easier to change on the CTLG than the LMGRL.
  • The CTLG actually increases the thickness of the pistol grip, which may make it harder for those of us with smaller hands to grip it. However, shooters with short fingers may find reaching the activation button of the LMGRL to be awkward. 
  • Maybe I'm just klutzy or have funky hips or something, but I noticed I was constantly bumping the Crimson Trace emitter on doorknobs. Clearly I don't have this problem with the LaserMax. 
  • A nifty but undocumented feature of the LaserMax is that the laser automatically turns off at slide lock and turns back on when a fresh magazine is chambered. This is useful because you don't have to worry about setting the gun down when the range is cold and having the laser continue to discharge, running down batteries and potentially flashing someone in the eyes. 


Part III: Conclusion, or "Who Run Laser Town?"

By a strict reading of the score, the Crimson Trace Laser Grip wins over the LaserMax Guide Rod Laser... and yet, it's the LaserMax that I still have installed on my Glock.

The truth is, there is a lot to like about both of these products. You can't really go wrong with either of them. While it may seem like I'm trying not to offend either company, I think they both have different markets.

The CTLG is, as I said before, idiot-proof. If you want your laser to be on when you need it, every single time, and not have to worry about anything other than operating your pistol, then this is what I recommend. It's what my mom has on her Ruger LCR, and even though LaserMax makes a laser for that gun, I won't change it. It's perfect for novices and for people who don't want to worry about extra steps.

The Guide Rod Laser, on the other hand, isn't for novices at all. Installation isn't easy, and I am sorely disappointed with their instructions (Note to Celia:  add a tool*  like Crimson Trace does, and have the instructions be clearly written with well-labeled instructions, and you'll improve the experience of installation tremendously.) However, once it's installed, it produces incredible performance for any operators who remember to keep their fingers indexed above the on/off switch.

To make an analogy:  Crimson Trace Laser Grips are automatic transmissions, whereas Laser Max Guide Rod Lasers are stick shift. If you can learn to drive stick, you'll never go back, but for some people that level of operation is too high.

If you're a novice, buy Crimson Trace. If you want more performance, buy LaserMax. 



* This tool right here. I keep it in my Otis cleaning kit and it has proven amazingly useful.











Obligatory finger to the FCC:  I bought the Crimson Trace with my own money. The LaserMax was provided free for T&E, but with no expectation of a good review, and did you see how I savaged them in the first section?

8 comments:

  1. Remember, with any sight system (including lasers) offset horizontally from the bore, do not try and zero it exactly POA/POI, like you would with the iron sights.


    Zero it with the same offset that reflects it's offset (at least the R-L, although I also offset the vertical difference from the irons) from the bore -- that way it will NOT parallax on you. If you're in too much of a hurry to recall "1 inch right, 1 inch right!", you're in too much of a hurry for it really to matter.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "This offset creates what is know as parallax error,
    and that means if you are any distance other than the one to which your
    CTLG is calibrated, your point of impact is going to be off.
    "


    Both lasers travel in a straight line. Both lasers will cross the flight path of the bullet in only one place.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yes. Granted. However, there is a significant difference between a laser which is aligned with the barrel such that the only deviation is from elevation, and between a laser which is offset along the slide, creating deviation along both X and Y axes.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Except that the CT came pre-offset. I never could get the calibration right. Close, yes, but never where I wanted it, be that zeroed at a certain range or permanently 1 inch right.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Early Lasermax units had a bad habit of coming apart under recoil and jamming up the whole gun. I hope they've taken care of that!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I put 60 rounds through it fairly quickly and had no issue. I understand that's not a large sampling, but 9mm is only just now becoming available and I was dipping into my private stash in order to do this test.

    I'll ask Celia about this, and if I do develop problems later on, I will certainly announce it on this blog.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Greetings and salutations, pdb!

    I am a Glock girl and have had a Guide Rod Laser in my G17 for ten
    years now without incident. I have also been professionally associated
    with LaserMax for my entire career in the gun biz, so would like to
    weigh in on your comment, if I may. The notion that a LaserMax product
    could contribute to some kind of catastrophic failure is something that
    I, too, have heard repeated over the years. Unfortunately, that claim
    is not based on any real "history." LaserMax has been producing the
    Guide Rod Laser for almost 25 years now and there has YET to be a single
    unit recalled. With regard to a LaserMax Guide Rod "coming apart"
    inside the gun, no customer has EVER come forward with anything more
    than a vague claim or reference to hearsay. Nonetheless, despite the
    fact that there was no empirical evidence to back the claims when these
    rumors reached the company years ago, the principals dedicated
    significant resources to putting the product through extreme torture
    tests seeking to replicate a similar problem. All attempts to replicate
    such a problem have been in vain.

    Many shooters don't attempt much beyond the most basic field
    stripping of their firearm and despite the fact that the Guide Rod Laser
    represents a materials upgrade from plastic to aircraft grade aluminum,
    changing something inside the gun requires a leap of faith. When these
    shooters hear that something BAD could happen if they install the
    laser, it scares the filling right out of their jelly doughnut. I am
    sure you can see why this is a frustrating and difficult myth to dispel.

    I hope this helps.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Greetings and salutations, pdb!

    I am a Glock girl and have had a Guide Rod Laser in my G17 for ten years now without incident. I have also been professionally associated with LaserMax for my entire career in the gun biz, so would like to weigh in on your comment, if I may. The notion that a LaserMax product could contribute to some kind of catastrophic failure is something that I, too, have heard repeated over the years. Unfortunately, that claim is not based on any real "history." LaserMax has been producing the Guide Rod Laser for almost 25 years now and there has YET to be a single unit recalled. With regard to a LaserMax Guide Rod "coming apart" inside the gun, no customer has EVER come forward with anything more than a vague claim or reference to hearsay. Nonetheless, despite the fact that there was no empirical evidence to back the claims when these rumors first reached the company many years ago, the principals dedicated significant resources to putting the product through extreme torture tests seeking to replicate a similar problem. All attempts to replicate such a problem have been in vain.

    Many shooters don't attempt much beyond the most basic field stripping of their firearm and despite the fact that the Guide Rod Laser represents a materials upgrade from plastic to aircraft grade aluminum, changing something inside the gun requires a leap of faith. When these shooters hear that something BAD could happen if they install the laser, it scares the filling right out of their jelly doughnut. I am sure you can see why this is a frustrating and difficult myth to dispel.

    I hope this helps.

    ReplyDelete

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