Testing a 35mW green SKYlaser from www.skylasers.com

My first impressions, just holding the 35mW SKYlasers green laser pointer, was that of a real solid unit with a wonderful, almost silky/rubbery finish which makes it feel as if it will never slip out of your hand.  It is quite a bit bigger than the lasers I have been using thus far – slightly larger in diameter and a fair bit longer (see picture).  Overall the workmanship is of good quality, like when you install batteries and screw on the endcap, you get the impression of well machined screw-threads.  Even the on/off button feels like it should last well.
Comparing sizes

Carrying case modded

The SKYlasers unit comes in a nice carrying case which should protect it well for use in the field.  There are just two shortcoming with this case.  Since it is the standard size for (most) laser pointers, because the SKYlaser is longer, the endcap needs to be unscrewed to fit in the case.  This is not the problem, in fact, it forces one to take out the batteries which is always a good thing to guard against possible battery leakage.  The problem comes when wanting to store the laser (in two parts) together with two AAA batteries all in the carrying case.  There is nowhere for the endcap to go (it came in one of the battery slots).  This I solved by simply cutting out a corner in the foam for the cap (see picture).  This works well but a similar cut-out should be standard for the supplied cases.

Home-made logoThe second problem with the case is that it is not immediately obvious which side is up, since there are no markings on the outside.  The lid is slightly more padded but you need to look carefully to see this; particularly not obvious in the dark.  Coupled with the fact that the spring mechanism of the lid is quite strong, when opening, it can jump open unexpectedly, with the danger of the laser falling out if you happen to open it upside-down.  I again solved this for myself by writing the “SKYlasers logo” on the outside of the lid, to clearly indicate which side is up (see picture).

“Dual Lock” system
The patented “Dual Lock” system, built into the endcap (part of the reason for the added length) not only makes the SKYlasers units FDA compliant (required in the US), but also adds interesting features to these pointers.  On the side is a gold-plated pin that, if removed, disables the unit completely.  This is useful when you need to leave the laser unattended where there is a possibility that children or other unauthorised users can access it without adult supervision.  However, you cannot afford to loose this tiny pin, otherwise your laser will be equally useless to you!

On the rear end of the cap is another pin which, when removed (by unscrewing), also disables the laser.  This is the “remote lock” for switching the laser on and off remotely.  An optional remote kit (not yet available at the time of writing) is needed to make this work.  This feature can be quite handy for laser pointers which are permanently (or semi-permanently) mounted on your telescope or as part of a delicate bench setup where the laser must not be moved when operating it – the same way that a cable-release on a camera prevents camera shake.

Battery polarity indicator

One very simple, but extremely handy feature that I have not come across in any laser so far, is a simple graphic showing which way around the batteries go.  This may sound obvious but the batteries of lasers invariably goes in “the wrong way round”, compared to what we got used to in torches all our lives. One must therefore be aware not to put them in wrong, which is where this graphic helps a lot.

Blue LED indacatorAnother first for me was a blue LED which illuminates when pressing the power button, indicating that the laser is operating.  I must admit, I have not used it much since I got so used to other methods of verifying that the laser is on, like shining it at a nearby object, etc.  I cannot really see the usefulness of this LED when using the laser at night.  When used for astronomy, the LED may just ruin one’s dark adaption if you are not careful, but it can easily be covered up with your finger if it bothers you. A red LED would have been a better choice for astronomy.

My main use of a powerful green laser pointer is for astronomy.  More specifically to point out celestial objects to people, sometimes big groups, who all need to be able to clearly see the beam, even when standing some distance away.  Another extremely useful aid is to use it for pointing your telescope at a target.  By mounting a laser parallel to the optical axis of your telescope, you can find a celestial object in no time, simply by pointing.  The fact that the SKYlasers has a simple tubular shape really helps when mounting it.

Pointing at CruxSo, for me, the ultimate test was outside, on a clear night under the stars. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, what more do I need to say other than, as expected, the powerful SKYlasers worked really well at night.  In the picture on the right (a 15 sec. f/3.2 exposure @ ISO 200)  I was pointing out Alpha Crux at the foot of the Southern Cross.  (The two bright stars lower down are Beta and Alpha Centauri, the “pointer” stars to the Southern Cross.)

Pricewise the 35mW costs $99.99, and $79.99 for the 15mW (see www.skylasers.com).  In my opinion, lasers of the 20 to 40mW range are of adequate power for pointing out celestial objects to a crowd.

As always, great care and responsibility is required when handeling such a dangerous “weapon” in the proximity of people.  Never operate a laser of this power when there is the slightest chance of pointing it near someone’s eyes and never let a child play with it!  And, however great the temptation, do not, under any circumstances point them at aircraft or passing cars!  These are not toys!

In my opinion the SKYlasers units, with their extra features, particularly the remote lock, are an attractive option for astronomy, both as a star-pointer as well as a “finder” when mounted on a telescope.  They are well built and their non-slip finish improves handeling them tremendously.  Overall a very nice, solid device at a competitive price.

Willie Koorts  (April 2010)