As a fairly new laser hobbyist I wanted to share my experience to help others in selecting their first green lasers.
I started like everyone else by doing a ton of web research. I looked at all the usual vendors: WickedLasers.com, DragonLasers.com, LaserGlow.com, ebay, etc. and then I found this CPF forum. After reading some forum posts and reviews it seemed that the best price / power / quality combination was available from LucentOptics.com so I decided to give them a look.
My initial review of their website in early January 2007 left me wondering if they were reputable. The site had very little content and was obviously still under development. The most concerning part was the absence of verifiable contact information. No names, physical addresses, phone numbers, personal email addresses, and not even a company bio, welcome message, or mission statement. Just the generic firstname.lastname@example.org address which could go to anyone anywhere. I then checked their domain registration record and was further concerned to see an anonymous registration by proxy which hides the domain ownerís identity and contact information.
At this point I was going to give up on them but I found some more posts in the CPF forum which included photos, videos, and comments from several satisfied customers. I also noted that at least two forum member accounts identified themselves as the owners of LucentOptics.com so I decided to take the risk. I sent them $300 cash via Paypal on Sun 1/7 for an NV-100 which was the best laser they had listed on their site at the time. I was mildly concerned again when Paypal did not display any contact information for them other than their account name but I figured there was probably some basic safety in using Paypal so I proceeded. Five days went by and I had not received an order confirmation or email so I started to worry again. I contacted forum member FNinjaP90 (Gary) via PM and he replied with a USPS tracking number for my shipment so I was relieved again and excited to receive my unit soon.
The shipping label was printed on Mon 1/8 but the package didnít arrive until Tues 1/16. The tracking number was in ďAcceptanceĒ status the entire time so I was worried and frustrated by the delay. Gary assured me that it had already shipped so I called USPS and they explained that for the cheap delivery confirmation service they do not update the tracking status until delivery occurs. They only scan the labels and update tracking status in real-time mode for the more expensive priority shipments and delivery tracking services, so this explains why the package appeared to be in limbo when it was in fact already well on the way. I still donít know why it took 8 calendar days to arrive since 99% of all my other USPS packages arrive in 5 days or less but Gary recently decided to send all units via Priority Mail so this should not be an issue for future customers.
The NV-100 was wrapped in a thin foam sheet and was packed very well in the center of a small box that was filled with foam peanuts. The package included two safety keys, a removable safety dongle, and the laser itself. I was a little surprised that there wasnít an instruction manual with at least basic instructions and safety warnings but the laser is simple enough to use and I had already learned about safety on the forums. The only thing I wasnít sure of was which direction to insert the batteries but there were only two choices so I got it right the second time: positive tip facing the tailcap. I had also read on the forums to use the Energizer Lithium batteries so I had those waiting and I fired it up immediately.
The first thing I noticed was that the beam is not visible at all or is only barely visible in a well lit room. I tried it in the living room which had no lights turned on at the time but it was well lit by the sunlight from a few normal windows: no visible beam. I tried the kitchen which only had one small window and I could just barely see a thin beam but it was not impressive. Then I tried it in the bedroom which was pitch dark and holy cow! The laser was bright enough to light up the entire room well enough for me to read a book from the diffused light and reflections alone!
Once it got dark outside I found a safe area with no airplanes, vehicles, people, animals, buildings, unauthorized spectators, etc. and tested the laser. Truly amazing. The beam is bright and clearly visible and seems to go on for miles. The actual dot is extremely bright under all lighting conditions. In fact it is so bright that I am afraid to look at it for more than a few seconds without safety glasses even though the diffuse reflections from a Class III-b 100 mW laser are supposed to be fairly safe. I put on a small light show for the wife and even she was impressed, which says a lot since she is not usually interested in my tech gadgets.
Over the next few days I attempted a few of the common experiments like burning plastic, lighting matches, testing it on skin, etc. I didnít have any balloons so I couldnít try that yet but I will later. The NV-100 burned through a thin black plastic garbage bag in 1-2 seconds at a range of about 4 inches. It also created a mild stinging sensation when held 4 inches from my arm for 5-10 seconds but there wasnít any visible damage afterwards. When I tried the match test I found it difficult to keep the beam focused on the tip of the match head without staring at the dot continuously and it was too bright to do that so I am going to wait for my safety glasses to arrive before testing it further.
The actual quality of the laser was impressive too. I really like the 5 main safety features: locking tail cap, removable dongle that acts like a circuit breaker, momentary power switch, 3-second power-up delay, and aperture shutter. These make it quite safe and fully legal in the US which is important if you donít want to run the risk of being fined or your device being confiscated. The large high-quality aluminum tube and solid construction also provide additional opportunities for modifying the laser if you choose to do so. I am planning on the following mods when time permits:
- install a constant-on power switch to override the momentary switch when desired
- add a dip switch to disable or enable the 3-second power-up delay as needed
- create a flush-mount dongle plug for portable use
- add a remote key switch (wired and wireless) to operate the laser from a distance
- build an external power pack that uses CR-123 or similar batteries
- add additional power-on LEDs so you can confirm the power state from any direction (preferably using LEDs that can be seen through the filter of most laser glasses)
- add an audible power-on confirmation signal
Overall I am fully satisfied with the power, quality, and value of the NV-100 but I plan to have it tested soon to confirm that it is truly => 100 mW. I do believe it will meet or exceed specs but I want to be sure since it was not a cheap product. I also plan to get a more powerful unit down the road since I want something that will burn thin materials faster and from further distances, and that will have an even wider visible beam since I plan to use it for some outdoor shows once I have the proper safety equipment. I am also hoping to get red, blue, and yellow lasers of similar power so I can improve my laser shows dramatically.
My advice to LucentOptics.com is as follows:
- add more content to your website including verifiable contact info, company background, and FAQ
- send order confirmation via email soon after receiving payment
- continue to ship all orders via Priority Mail
- include a basic safety and instruction sheet with each product
- provide a toll free phone number for customer service
- explain the warranty info and how to get parts or service if needed
- continue to be active in the forums but donít be overly aggressive at promoting your site in the forums, too much praise and marketing hype tends to make one suspicious of new companies or products and there could be some members that are overdoing it a bit
- implement an online anonymous customer survey tool so you can collect stats and brag about them as your business builds
I also recently ordered one 20 mW and one 30 mW green laser pointer from DealXtreme.com since they were fairly cheap and this seemed to be a good deal based on the forum posts. Now that I have used the NV-100 I donít think I will be happy with anything less powerful but I wanted something safer to play around with in populated areas while still having a slightly visible beam. I also plan to use them for testing and alignment on my projects prior to firing up the NV-100. If I ever do get an accidental shot in the eye then I prefer it to be from a low power unit so it makes sense to keep some of the smaller lasers around for testing and project work. The only drawback is that the cheaper low quality lasers could actually output more harmful IR than the higher powered good quality lasers so I will have to check out the DealXtreme.com units carefully once they arrive. If needed I will just buy an IR filter lens for each of them which is probably a good idea anyway.
Well that is it for now. I will post some pictures of the NV-100 in action later after finishing my experiments but the outdoor photos will have to be posted elsewhere since CPF will not allow them due to an illogical ban that we donít agree with but we must abide by as members of the forum.