By Andrew Liszewski
Lasers are one thing that every geek really wants, but few of us actually need. Sure they might be useful for scientific applications, and occasionally pointing, but when it comes down to it most of us don’t have any real reasons for buying one. Maybe it’s because lasers are one of the rare items seen in science-fiction films that we actually have access to. Or maybe it’s because a laser brings us one step closer to the holy grail of geekdom, the lightsaber. To be honest though, I have no idea what the real reason is.
What I do know is that when Wicked Lasers asked me if I wanted to review their new Photonic Disruptor model, they had me at the word ‘laser.’ In addition, not many people know this but OhGizmo! has an official policy of reviewing any device with the terms ‘Photonic’ and ‘Disruptor’ in its name. Not surprisingly, this laser is the first.
So after using the laser for a few weeks now I’ve come to realize why the company discourages people from referring to it as just a ‘laser pointer’ and why their website includes the warning “The Photonic Disruptor is a laser weapon designed for military and law enforcement use only.” If you’re curious (I know you are) my full review of the Photonic Disruptor including photos is available after the jump.
In the past I’ve often referred to various gadgets and gizmos as toys because besides all of their useful features, in the end it’s still something for geeks to play with. But while the Photonic Disruptor can be fun to ‘play’ with I want to make it extremely clear that this is far from just a ‘laser pointer’ and is most definitely NOT a toy. In fact I have gone out of my way to not refer to it as one in this review. The last thing I want to see is someone complaining in the comments that they bought one for their 3 year old toddler for Christmas and it ended up being a holidays spent in the emergency room. (I know it’s unlikely, but there’s a reason we have the Darwin awards.)
In fact, this will officially be my first review (and hopefully not the last) that includes warning signs. I really hate to be Johnny Killjoy here, but safety first.
Before I got my hands on the Photonic Disruptor I’d only ever used a now boring red laser, and I have to admit that a green laser provides a far more rewarding experience. But at the same time it requires a whole other level of responsibility and care when using it. You’ll be tempted to point it at a lot of places you shouldn’t, and if you don’t think you can resist the temptation, then please don’t buy one. There’s a reason the company is called ‘Wicked Lasers.’ Anyways, I think I’ve made myself more than clear on the whole safety aspect, so let’s take a look at the laser itself.
Wicked Lasers Photonic Disruptor
While most compact or ‘pen-sized’ lasers are made for hobbyists and amateurs, the Photonic Disruptor is actually specifically designed for military and law enforcement use and is built to survive rugged, harsh environments, as well as a bit of abuse.
In fact it’s called the ‘Photonic Disruptor’ for a reason. The laser actually has focus-adjustable collimating lenses that allow the beam to be unfocused and used to overwhelm a threat’s visual senses without causing permanent eye damage. At the same time it can also be used with a focused beam to deter oncoming threats from approaching a protected area. Again, definitely not a toy.
The laser arrived in a plastic shipping envelope which actually made me a bit worried that it might not have survived the trip. I assumed it would arrive in a box full of shipping peanuts that would soon find their way into every nook and cranny of my apartment. But once I opened the envelope I discovered this foam sarcophagus which made me a little less worried.
Taking the lid off the foam packaging you find a box inside contained in a white cardboard sleeve, as well as the laser’s manual.
Well to be specific, the manual is more like a miniature product catalog with 6 or 7 pages at the end serving as the actual instructions. Since all you need to do to use the laser is insert batteries and push a button, I guess it doesn’t need that much explaining.
One thing I did notice was that the page on how to insert the batteries (2 x AAAs) didn’t actually include a reference to the Photonic Disruptor. Obviously there are two ways to insert the batteries and depending on which model you had, the negative or positive end would go in first. I guess the manual was printed before the company started selling the Photonic Disruptor so I wasn’t really sure how to properly insert the batteries. I assumed the negative end went against the spring on the inside of the laser, but I wanted to make sure so thankfully a call to Wicked Lasers tech support provided a quick answer. (It was negative first.)
The other instructional pages in the manual are dedicated to safety and maintenance of the laser. There’s the obvious warnings about keeping it clean, storing it safely and why you shouldn’t dismantle it. The manual also strongly recommends using the safety goggles that come with the laser which is a very good point, and I wish the laser I was sent had actually come with a pair.
There’s also a page about keeping the lens on the laser clean for optimal performance. While I wasn’t surprised that even the smallest smudge or spec of dirt on the lens would produce a non-uniform dot, I was surprised at how easily it got dirty, and how difficult it was to actually get it clean. I finally developed a technique for wiping the lens off with a microfiber cloth, but it took a bit of practice before I could get it completely clean. Needless to say you’re going to want to avoid touching the lens with your greasy fingers at all costs.
Back to the laser, when you remove the box from that white cardboard sleeve you get your first subtle clue that it contains some laser goodness.
The box itself is made of black cardboard (or some paper based product) and has a matte finish except for the glossy laser graphic in the lower corner. While I wouldn’t recommend leaving it out in the rain or exposing it to the elements, it still makes for a nice place to store the laser when not in use. As an added bonus the black matte finish of the box makes it an ideal candidate for burning with the laser, if you’re not able to find something else that’s suitable. Since it’s almost impossible to actually produce a flame, you don’t really have to worry about destroying it.
The lid of the box is held shut with a couple of magnets that effectively do what they’re supposed to. They’re strong enough to keep the box closed even if it’s banging around in a backpack or bag.
Lifting the lid you’ll find the Photonic Disruptor in a plastic sleeve, sitting in a groove in a soft foam that fills the rest of the box. You’ll also find a warning label sticker that I would suggest holding onto, even as just a reminder that this hardware should be used with care.
Here’s a close-up shot of that warning sticker. Now usually these come affixed to the outside of the laser and are unfortunately immediately removed by most people. But due to the unique finish of the Photonic Disruptor this sticker would probably fall off within minutes, and is most likely why the company chose not to bother attaching it in the first place.
The Photonic Disruptor itself is really not much to look at. In fact it’s actually quite boring mostly due to the plain finish and simple operation. But like with most things in life, it’s what’s on the inside that really counts so here’s a run-down of the laser’s specs as taken from the Wicked Lasers’ website.
Size: 14(diameter) X 155(L)
Color: Flat Black
Operating Mode: CW
Output Power: 100mW
Beam Divergence: <1.5mRad to 7.5mRad, fully adjustable focus lens
Beam Diameter: ∼1.5mm
Power Consumption: 600mA
Power supply: 2 X AAA 1.5V
Battery Lifetime: 90 minutes
Switch: Momentary On/Off Button
Expected lifetime: >5,000 hours
In terms of size the laser is not much larger than your typical ballpoint pen. With batteries installed it’s definitely a little heavier in the hand, but to be honest it just makes it feel that much cooler.
And the compact size, while being light and easy to carry does have some drawbacks. First off the laser tends to get a bit warm when being used for longer periods since there’s no room for a heatsink around the laser components. But apparently the heat is not enough to damage them. Secondly, the laser requires AAA batteries and not only do these tend to be more expensive than most other batteries, but they also get drained pretty fast. If you’re planning to do hours of laser experiments I would instead suggest a model that can plug into a power outlet.
Otherwise I have to admit the beam produced by the Photonic Disruptor (which you’ll see later) is rather impressive given the device’s pocket-friendly size.
I’ve mentioned the Photonic Disruptor’s unique finish a couple of times now so here’s a close-up shot of it. Basically the exterior of the laser is covered in a layer of rubber making it completely waterproof. In fact the layer of rubber also covers the momentary on/off power button which means you can use the laser in the pouring rain, or even while underwater should the need ever arise. While a lot of ‘waterproof’ electronics can be completely submerged, the buttons usually can’t be pushed without letting water in. That’s not the case here and it definitely gives you the impression that the laser is designed to survive some harsh conditions.
Here you can see the tip of the laser which actually serves as the focus ring. Turning it allows you to unfocus the beam and use it to overwhelm a threat’s vision. I’m a bit concerned that this feature might actually encourage people to shine the Photonic Disruptor into someone’s eyes as a joke, and I want to make it clear that even when the beam is unfocused it is still incredibly bright. Getting hit in the eyes with it would be incredibly uncomfortable.
Here you can see the lens on the end of the laser and like everything else on the Photonic Disruptor it’s completely sealed and waterproof. But since it’s exposed and not sunk very deep, it’s almost too easy to accidentally touch and put smudges on it, which in turn causes the beam to be obscured. In fact I don’t recommend carrying it in your pocket without a case of some sort since it will attract plenty of lint as well. I actually keep a small microfiber cloth with the laser at all times since it will inevitably need to be cleaned no matter how careful you think you are.
The laser’s tail cap/battery cover has a notched area with a hole drilled in it that allows to you attach some type of carrying mechanism like a lanyard. But again, because the lens is so easy to get dirty, I definitely don’t recommend using it as a keychain and sticking it in your pocket.
With the tail cap removed you can also see the rubber gasket that ensures the laser remains sealed and watertight on this end when the cap is screwed down. While these various features that ensure the laser is waterproof don’t make it the most aesthetically pleasing model I’ve ever seen, after using it for a while I definitely prefer the fact that it’s rugged and can safely be used outdoors no matter what the weather is like.
When it comes to performance, if you’ve never used or seen a green laser before, you’re going to be impressed. The dot it produces is incredibly bright and the beam is completely visible when you’re indoors no matter how bright it is outside. Of course I have found that if you’re outside on a sunny day you won’t see the beam, but the dot it produces still remains visible.
But using it indoors also has the nasty side effect of both backscatter and reflections. It’s hard to predict how and where the beam will bounce around the room, and if you’re not careful you can end up hitting something you didn’t mean to. So again, just using the Photonic Disruptor indoors means you have to be very, very careful and cautious of what’s around you.
Outside at night though is easily the best place to use the laser. The beam is completely visible no matter where you point it in the sky and appears to just continue on forever, which in theory I guess it does. It probably tends to spread out sooner than a beam coming from a more powerful laser, but to be honest it still looks incredibly focused as far as your eye can see. Like I said earlier, when it comes to owning a lightsaber, a green laser is basically as close as you get right now. While it loses some of the effect since the beam appears to go on forever, swinging it around in the night sky should still put a grin on any geek’s face.
On the downside though, the bright beam means you’ll be hesitant to use something like the Photonic Disruptor in a crowded or urban area. You might be tempted to shine a green dot on a nearby building but since the beam is completely visible, there’ll be no question as to where that dot originated. At the least it guarantees idiots won’t be shining one at a movie theater screen, because the ushers will instantly know who did it.
And if you’re wondering about burning things the answer is yes, the Photonic Disruptor has more than enough power to do so, but you know the drill. It has to be black or dark colored, and a matte finish definitely helps. I was easily able to pop balloons with it, but when shooting a piece of paper (or the laser’s box) I only ever managed to produce a thin stream of smoke, never an actual flame. Granted I was holding the laser in my hand which meant the dot was moving around a bit, but I wasn’t too keen on starting a fire in my apartment anyways.
But enough talking about the laser, let’s see it in action.
First off, I wanted to give you an idea what the difference in dot size is like when you defocus the beam. In this photo the laser is hitting a door that’s about 7 feet away. On the left is the focused dot (though a bit shaky) and on the right is the unfocused one. At this distance the difference in size is not exactly huge, but it’s definitely noticeable.
From a greater distance though (about 60 feet) you get a much better idea of the difference in size. The top photo shows the focused dot (again, a bit shaky in the long exposure) while the bottom shows the dot with the beam unfocused. As you can see it’s not like the difference between a laser beam and a flashlight beam, so don’t think about trying to use it that way. Even when unfocused the Photonic Disruptor produces a very, very bright and intense dot that is uncomfortable to look at.
This shot, and the ones included below show how visible the beam is at night and how far you can see it. Sharp eyed readers might recognize the structure in the distance as the 1,815 foot tall CN Tower in Toronto. These photos were taken from the balcony of a friend I was visiting at a distance of about 2.6 miles from the tower. The dot that was produced on the tower’s ‘legs’ was pretty large from that distance, but still completely visible to the human eye. For the record these photos were taken well after the tower was closed for the evening and the dot was kept away from any of the elevator shafts just to be safe.
The exposures range from about 2 to 4 seconds and even though the camera and laser were both mounted on tripods, some strong winds led to a little bit of shake which is part of the reason the beams seem so thick. But since it helps them show up better in the photos, I’m not complaining.
I wanted to include a video of me testing the Disruptor on people pretending to be threats, but unfortunately I was unable to find any volunteers willing to be hit in the eyes with the unfocused beam. Thankfully though the Photonic Disruptor was actually featured on the Discovery Channel show Future Weapons and the clip below includes a shot of the laser being used on the host as well as an interview with its creator.
I’ll be quite honest that the battery life with the Photonic Disruptor is not exactly great, but it actually depends on how you look at things. I’ve found that with a fresh set of AAA batteries you’re only going to get about 5 to 10 minutes of full power output from the laser. And by full power I mean the absolute brightest beam, with the ability to cause items like electrical tape to smoke and black balloons to pop. After that point the intensity of the beam starts to noticeably drop.
But on the other hand, like Evan mentioned in his review of the Dragon Lasers 250mW Hulk this can actually be a good thing because it means the beam is a lot safer to look at. If after 5 to 10 minutes the laser was completely dead it would be a different story, but it still remains completely visible even in the day. It’s just far less intense than it is with a fresh set of batteries. So if you’re using the laser at night for something like pointing out constellations in the sky, then the battery life probably won’t be a problem for you.
However, if you do intend to use the Photonic Disruptor a lot I would recommend investing in a few sets of high quality rechargeable batteries. Either that or find yourself some way to score a lifetime supply of AAA Duracells.
I think the Photonic Disruptor is best summed up with the reactions I got from everyone I showed it to. When they first saw it they would immediately ask why anyone would spend so much money for a laser pointer. But all I had to do was take them outside at night, put the laser in their hand and tell them to point it at the sky and turn it on. Once they saw that green beam that appeared to go on forever they would immediately get a huge smile on their face and exclaim “I want one!” This included everyone from male geeks to very un-geeky females.
But I have to agree with what Wicked Lasers says on their website. The only people who would really need a device like this are those working in law enforcement or in the military. The focusing feature definitely makes the Photonic Disruptor stand out amongst other pen-sized lasers, but even when unfocused the beam is still too bright and concentrated to be used as just a flashlight, which I think many people will consider when they read about this feature.
So while I’m not trying to discourage anyone from buying a green laser pointer, I would recommend checking out some of the other less intense and more affordable models that Wicked Lasers has available. I guarantee the performance will be just as impressive as the Photonic Disruptor, with less of the dangers. But if you really need what is probably the most powerful pen-sized green laser on the market, you won’t be disappointed by the Photonic Disruptor either.
+ It’s a green laser, enough said.
+ Completely waterproof making it great for use outdoors.
+ Beam can be defocused for other uses.
+ Includes a case, though it’s really only useful for storing the laser when not in use.
+ Uses standard AAA batteries which are easy to replace.
– Poor battery life.
– Rubber coating means it does not carry warnings.
– Can get warm after prolonged use.
– Lens gets dirty very easily.
– $599.99 price tag.
Wicked Lasers Photonic Disruptor – $599.99
If you have any further questions or concerns about the Wicked Lasers Photonic Disruptor you’d like answered please feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll try to respond to them as best I can.