Red Light, Green Light

By Scott Longman

Everybody reading this already knows the value of laser sights, and no doubt many of you own a Conex-full of them. But what fewer of us might know are the several critical differences between red and green lasers. Depending on your application, one can be highly preferable to the other.

Let’s first dispense with the mere theoretical differences that have not proven out in the real world—there’s always a difference between pure and applied science. First up, red is said to be technically simpler and significantly more robust than green, which is obviously important for surviving recoil or impact. But, that said, we have searched for and found exactly zero reports of green laser failure attributed to concussion. 

Second up, how about the battery life? Red has about twice the battery life of green, with a given battery system. The question is whether that matters. Our answer is: with a proper battery replacement protocol, not at all. None of us can actually log laser use time, because it accrues a few seconds at a time across hours of battery life. But like so many other pieces of gear, we just set up a calendar system rather than an hours system to swap out the batteries.         

So what, then, actually matters?

Temperature does. Green lasers fail as a consequence of temperature, both high and low. Green becomes Kamala-grade useless below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and also above 100. That, of course, means that if you live in the upper third of the country by latitude, extended outdoor use for a solid third of the year is out with green. Likewise, if you live in the lower third by latitude, in the sunnier months you may well be SOL. In more pleasantly flexible contrast, red lasers punch through those limits in both directions—good for a frosty 15 degrees on the low end, and a toasty 120 degrees the other way around, which covers most of the continent, most of the time.  

Here’s what matters some more: visibility. There’s a whole dissertation here about eyeballery, including rods, cones and maculas, but essentially, our eyes like green a whole lot more than they like red. The difference really shows up in daylight, to varying degrees, with green sometimes visible when red is not. In our testing, even in low-light, the green remained more visible than the red, but that said, the red is magnificent in even moderate light. But what about the old suspicion that if you aim red at red clothing or green at green clothing, they will be hopelessly lost? Answer: not at all    

What about effective range? In one sentence: Green has way more range. On a rifle, there would be no choice but for this to be the decisive factor. But on shorter range applications: we’ve tested red out to a 100 yards in low light, and it was great, and probably good for lots more.   

How does expense differ? Red is less expensive than green by about 25%.

Happy shooting.  

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