Shooting with night vision is a lot of fun. One piece of equipment that makes shooting under NODs easy is a good laser. While there is a whole wide range of lasers to choose from, we will focus on three of the most popular lasers that are available for civilian use. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly refer to three civilian lasers. Let’s take a look at what they are.
The Good of Civilian Lasers
When talking about civilian lasers for night vision use there are a lot of options to choose from. I will focus on three of the most popular IR civilian lasers that are MFAL (Multi-Function Aiming Laser). While I have reviewed this laser before, I cannot help belabor the point that the MAWL-C1+ is good, in fact, it is the best in terms of performance and functionality.
What makes the BE Meyers MAWL-C1+ so good? It is actually the illuminator. The MAWL-C1+ is a glorified laser flashlight. But it is the best that is available to civilians. Yes, there is the gray area of owning a full power laser like the Russian PERST lasers or a US one that fell off a truck but we won’t go down that route. The MAWL-C1+ illuminator is 80mW. That rivals even full power laser illuminators.
Here is a video comparing the MAWL-C1+ against the full power MAWL-DA. Surprisingly, the MAWL-C1+ is not left that far behind when it comes to illumination.
One of the main features of the MAWL-C1+ is the offset design. This positions the controls directly over the barrel. You can even switch the head and tail cap around to orient the MAWL-C1+ on the other side for left-handed shooters. This is the only truly low profile ambidextrous MFAL on the market.
See the black slider switch just in front of my thumb? It has three positions. Closest to the shooter is for wide flood illumination for close quarters use. Push it forward and it stops at the middle position. This is a combination of close range wide flood and the long range tight hot spot. Push the black detent and slide the switch all the way forward to long range illumination. You lose the wide beam and now you have a tight laser illuminator that you can use to throw light out to 800 yards or surgically throw light into tight areas without having extra light splashing back at you.
Since the controls are so low profile, you do not have to reach that far to press the buttons.
Since the MAWL design is offset, you do not have any issues clearing a front sight.
In order to go from visible laser to IR laser, you spin the black propeller cap on the front. Spin it all the way until it stops and you are in IR mode. Visible is one detent next to the off position. It can be done easily in the dark and there is no need to remember anything.
The only issue with the MAWL-C1+ is the price. There is no avoiding the high price tag. They were $2,600 but now BE Meyers has increased the price to close to $3,000. In this particular instance buy once cry once applies.
The Bad of Civilian Lasers
The L3 ATPIAL-C is the Bad of civilian lasers in this comparison. ATPIAL – C stands for Advanced Target Pointer Illuminator Aiming Light – Civilian. The ATPIAL-C is probably one of the most popular civilian lasers since the special forces use the full power version. So people who want to clone a service rifle will often go with the ATPIAL-C solely for its aesthetics. I dislike this civilian laser because it is such a poor performer and the cost is ridiculous. Now granted the MAWL-C1+ is far more expensive but it outperforms every civilian laser on the market and rivals some full power lasers. But the ATPIAL-C costs around $1,300 for a laser that is anemic at best. The laser pointer is ok but the illuminator is just terrible. In fact, a SureFire vampire head does a better job at illuminating downrange. A flashlight beating a laser is downright embarrassing. According to the manual, the illuminator is a meager 3 mW. The close range illuminator on the MAWL-C1+ is 5 mW. Another issue with the ATPIAL-C illuminator is that it is not adjustable. You cannot tighten the beam. You do get a diffuser to widen the beam even more but why bother? It sucks.
In order to turn the ATPIAL-C on, you have to reach on top and push the large circular button.
Yes, you could use a tape switch but sometimes you don’t have enough rail space for one or the tape switch dies and you have to revert to using the button. I have seen a shooter resort to this during a night match. His SureFire dual tape switch stopped working so if he wanted to keep using his laser, he had to push the button but the laser was too far forward for his hand to comfortably reach.
One issue with the ATPIAL design is that front iron sights do not play well with the laser apertures. I have the ATPIAL-C as far forward as it can go and I cannot use the covers because the front sight gets in the way.
Switching modes on the ATPIAL-C is not as straight forward as the MAWL. There is a blue screw that when installed limits you out of high power. The ATPIAL-C does not have high power so this is useless and only for LARPing. Visible is easy as it is the bottom left last option on the rotary switch but having to choose aiming laser or illuminator takes a bit of turning and memorization of the rotary switch position.
There is a port in the back of the ATPIAL that allows the use of a remote tape switch.
The Ugly of Civilian Lasers
Steiner makes a wide range of MFALs. While a lot of people chose the DBAL-A3, it suffers from the same problem as the ATPIAL-C. The IR illuminator is no better than a Maglite. The DBAL-D2, on the other hand, is ugly as sin but a solid performer. It is full-bodied but puts out so it has a certain attractiveness. What makes this ugly duckling of lasers a suitable weapon laser? The giant growth on the left side of the DBAL-D2 is a 600 mW IR illuminator. Now, do not confuse this with the IR laser illuminators that I have been talking about before on the MAWL-C1+ and ATPIAL-C. The DBAL-D2 IR illuminator is LED-based. It is a smaller version of their standalone SPIR IR illuminator. The illuminator is powerful enough to compete against the MAWL-C1+. While it cannot go as far as the MAWL-C1+, it does its best and is a nice clean circular beam. You can find the DBAL-D2 for around $1100-$1200.
While the DBAL-D2 is large, the activation button is actually behind the IR illuminator rather than on top of the housing.
The DBAL-D2 suffers the same problem as the ATPIAL-C, the mode selection has so many positions that it is easy to forget which is which. If you want to isolate laser pointer, illuminator or choose both, you have to cycle through them until you find the right one. The MAWL makes this much easier and much faster.
The top of the DBAL-D2 has threaded holes and a boss for micro red dot integration. You can mount a Burris Fast Fire directly to the DBAL-D2.
Steiner even made a Picatinny adapter for the DBAL-D2.
One minor issue with the DBAL-D2 civilian laser is the battery compartment location. This is actually a common problem with their DBAL-A2 and DBAL-A3. Front sights can block the battery compartment.
One minor issue I have with the DBAL-D2 is the color of the tan and the use of black covers. It is purely cosmetic but I wished they chose an anodizing closer to FDE and use FDE colored covers just like the ATPIAL-C.
Conclusion Of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
While this is only a brief look at three multi-function aiming lasers I wanted to highlight two solid options and compare them to one of the most popular lasers but point out the issues of said systems. The MAWL-C1+ is the best laser hands down. Sure the non-eye safe PERST lasers are powerful but they are not eye safe and not as well designed as the MAWL-C1+. Russian designed and built versus American engineering. I understand if you have an affinity for Russian built objects like AKs and there is nothing wrong with your personal preference. But the MAWL is better all around. The DBAL-D2 is the next best thing for IR illumination. The beam is clean and powerful enough to be useful. The only problem is that it is the ugliest laser around. The ATPIAL-C is such a waste of money. The only thing it has going for it is the looks because special forces use them. And sure if we could have the same high powered portable LASIK versions that SOCOM uses then I would be all for it, but we don’t. If the price reflected the performance then maybe I would get one. But $1,300 is just too much for something that is practically useless.