First Look: The Production Laser Devices SPIR Illuminator

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Remember when you were a kid at Christmas, shaking presents under the tree to see if you could figure out what was in them inside? Did you ever know with certainty what was in one of those packages?  You probably had seen its contents before in a store or catalog, or maybe at friend’s house.  You had plans for this this thing, whatever it was.  And now you knew it was yours, it was just a matter of time.  If that’s you, then you know the anticipation that we’ve had here at Special Hog Weapons and Tactics™ waiting for the production launch of the Laser Devices Inc. SPIR.  We first learned of this unique infrared (IR) illuminator back in January 2012 at SHOT Show, billed as the largest and most comprehensive trade show for all professionals involved with the shooting sports, hunting and law enforcement industries.

SPIR stands for Special Purpose Infrared, thus the SPIR Illuminator.  When there’s not enough light for night vision gear to work well, an IR illuminator is what you need.  If you are a regular SHWAT.com reader, you’ll recall that night vision (NV) – not to be confused with thermal – simply amplifies light.  In some places, there’s enough ambient light, even at night, that you can effectively use NV. You might find this circumstance close to towns where the glow from city lights carry farther than you might think.  A little light from a quarter moon or better will do much of what’s needed, but that limits the days and times you can hunt at night.  A high quality infrared (IR) illuminator basically works like a flashlight that’s only visible through a night vision device, though the technologies between the two are different.

While there are countless applications for the SPIR, Laser Devices squarely aimed it at the tactical hog hunting community.  They had a substantial physical presence at SHOT, and a large banner announcing the SPIR with a hog bathed in green light.  Needless to say, we were excited to meet Laser Devices owner Marthie Thummel.  She quickly caught the vision of SHWAT.com, and arranged for us to test the first released SPIR prototypes.  I understand there are only twenty of those and we’ve had the privilege of running samples on a couple of occasions.  Those experiences fed my anticipation of recently getting a commercially available production model SPIR.

SPIR on rifleIn business for more than thirty years, Laser Devices Inc. (LDI) has a long history centered on supplying military contracts.  Some of you might be familiar with the AN/PEQ-15A, also knows as the DBAL-A2. The military values it because it combines three functions in one device: A focusable infrared (IR) laser illuminator, an IR pointer (the function lots of people refer to as a “laser sight”) and a normal visible laser.

Laser Devices is the sole source of the DBAL-A2 (AN/PEQ-15A) to the US Army. In pictures from current war zones, you will often see this unit mounted on rifles. That’s just a small piece of the rich history of innovation Laser Devices owns. Today, they occupy 34,000 square feet of space in their Monterey, California headquarters, holding numerous patents on laser and light devices.

Made in the USA, the SPIR’s development follows the DBAL-A2 directly. Demand for a civilian legal variant drove the technology forward. The military’s DBAL-A2 creates its light utilizing a 45 milliwatt (mW) IR laser. That’s many times more powerful that what civilians are allowed to own.  There is a method to the madness, though. Powerful lasers are used for all kinds of things, like eye surgery. Thus, civilian products are limited to 0.7 mW – not enough to provide the level of illumination sought for the civilian market.

The goal became the creation and production of an infrared LED illuminator that worked as well as an IR laser illuminator to at least 300 meters.  An LED is a “light emitting diode.” It isn’t focused like a laser, nor is it outlawed. You can buy LED bulbs at your local home improvement shop as high efficiency replacement for traditional light bulbs.  That high efficiency makes them perfect for this application.  Focusing the infrared (IR) light from the eye safe LED would be key to the project’s success.

A new patent pending lensing design resulted in an eye safe infrared LED illuminator that actually works better than the IR laser illuminator sold to the U.S. military. This technology made its way into the currently available DBAL-D2 from Laser Devices, combining the new illuminator technology with both a visible and an IR laser, all in one relatively small package.  The SPIR is that technology in a stand alone dedicated IR illuminator package.

To test the SPIR, I went back to the King’s Arsenal private range and recorded some video footage to share with you. As you’ll see in our video, illuminating to 650 yards was a piece of cake, and there’s no doubt it would work nicely at 1000 meter specification published by LDI.

The SPIR produces an incredibly smooth beam of IR light at one of two power settings, Low or High.  The range on the Low Power setting reaches beyond 300 meters while the High setting reaches out past 1000 meters.  Would you try to shoot a hog at 1000 meters at night?  Probably not.  But that’s where numbers just don’t do the device justice.  The SPIR has enough power that it could make some lower priced night vision (NV) gear a lot more useful.

SPIR Illuminator

You can activate the SPIR illuminator via the built in textured button on the tail cap or by using the remote pressure switch. A single tap or hold will give you momentary IR illumination. Double taps give you continuous illumination for five minutes, after which it shuts down, preserving your battery’s power.

That illumination can be focused to a crisp, tight two degree beam or diffused to thirty degrees. In the included video, you can see the difference. Twisting the bezel makes these adjustments.  The light quality and consistency are honestly hard to describe.  You can clearly see when coned down to two degrees a precisely defined disc of light, surrounded by a narrow equally well defined circle.

In addition to versatility of the two power output settings, the production model SPIR is available powered by either a CR123A battery or by a couple of AA batteries. Both of these are commonly used in night vision (NV) gear. On the high power setting, the AA batteries will provide about an hour of operation, while the CR123A will keep going twice that long.  Unlike most tactical lights and illuminators on the market today that use a threaded tail cap to access batteries, the SPIR uses a locking latch on a hinged rear door for battery access.  That means battery changes are fast, whether the SPIR is hand held, weapon mounted or otherwise.

This may come as a surprise, but that hinged tail cap seals up tightly enough against the SPIR’s body to remain waterproof down to three meters.  No, I’ve not hunted underwater hogs, but I have dropped gear in the dark that ended up in water, so water proof is a practical plus in my book. An aerospace aluminum body and Ultem resin knurled bezel comprise the rest of the externals.  The front lens can be covered to prevent accidental discharge with the retained flip to side cover.

The SPIR will be sold in two configurations.  One comes with the pressure switch and quick release picatinny rail mount. The other does not. The rail mount is rock solid and will be instantly recognizable to users of other Laser Devices products. If you saw pictures of the prototype models, you’ll notice that the production mount holds the SPIR much closer to your rifle’s rail.  In our test, we also mounted it to a helmet for walk-around navigating after dark.  Weighing only 9.3 ounces, it created no balance issues.

Laser Devices SPIR

While lightweight, it’s not particularly small. It’s about six inches long and most of two inches in diameter. That said, it does seem virtually indestructible, but I haven’t run over it with my jeep just yet…

Configured with the pressure switch and rail mount, the SPIR will be available at select retailers or distributors for under $700.  As a hand held unit, you should be able to find it for closer to $550. But you’ll have to wait until after SHOT Show in January 2013 to place your order. Then you might need to get in line. I’m told TNVC has plenty of prepaid customer orders for the SPIR already in hand.

Now that I’ve opened the package and tested my SPIR, the anticipation is building for my next hog hunt! Tactical hog hunting is always fun, and even more fun in the dark, but new gear always adds to the experience.

One thought on “First Look: The Production Laser Devices SPIR Illuminator

  1. The reason for wanting a device with capabilities far beyond the range you will be shooting is obvious – you have to know what is beyond the target to eliminate the risk of hitting something or someone behind the target. Just because you can see beyond what your rifle’s range is, does not mean that is where you will risk taking a shot. Then why will you [not] do it at night? I give this product 10 out of 10. I want to be able to see what is beyond where I will be shooting, just like during the day.

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