Laser distance measures or meters have been around a number of years and during this time the price of these tools have dropped and the list of features they can do has grown. This guide will look at some of the history, the technology and the various features available when looking to buy a laser distance measure.
First of all it can get a little confusing over the difference between a “Laser Measures” and a “Sonic Measures with laser pointer” they both shoot a laser dot and both make measurements, but that is where the similarity ends. Sonic measures or estimators use sound waves like a bat the problem is the sound can bounce off all sorts of surfaces before it reaches the surface you want to measure. The laser is just a pointer to give an indication of where the measurement is being targeted to. Sonic devices are very, very cheap but to be honest almost useless in a real world measuring environment, spend that little bit more and get a true laser distance measure.
Very simply a laser distance measure works by shooting out a laser dot beam, this beam strikes a surface and reflects back to the device. The device can then calculate the distance from itself to the surface and thats it.
For the construction and survey industries Lieca Geosystems was the first to produce an affordable device in 1993 and for a number of years had pretty much a monopoly of the technology. During this time many brands sourced modules from Leica, re-cased them and sold them as their own. Over recent years the technology or variations of this technology has become more accessible, now there are many different brands available from very inexpensive no name units sourced from China to big power tool brands such as Hilti and Bosch. Leica still continue to be the leader in feature development with the others close on their heals.
The most basic operation of a distance measure is to measure from one point to another, many basic models will also calculate surface area and volume by multiplying multiple measurements. Most will also calculate indirect measurements such as height by using Pythagoras. Other common features include continuous measurement, Min and Max readings, addition and subtraction of measurements and measurement recall. More expensive models can transfer data by bluetooth or wifi and some include digital inclinometers which improve indirect measurement accuracy and convenience. One quick note they all can be set to either metric or ft/inches just incase you were wondering.
When looking to buy a laser distance measure its extremely important to determine if you are going to use it outside. When using Inside in a small room its simple, you point the laser dot to where you want to measure to and press the button, its simple because you can see the dot. Outside in full sun you are NOT going to be able to see the dot over more than a handful of meters, due to the laser output limits placed on manufactures. For outside you are going to need some other method of targeting, so you know were you are measuring to. A few years back this was commonly done by the use of a little telescope either built into or attached to the device, this had a cross hair indicating where the dot is even though you cannot see it. This method was not always the easiest to use and was ofter better achieved when using a tripod to keep the device steady, even today over long ranges a tripod can be useful accessory to purchase. Recently these optical scopes have been replaced by digital video cameras displaying the cross hair on the devices own colour LCD screen. So when looking for a laser distance measure for outside use, do not rely purely on the range specified by the manufacture but more impotently if it has an optical sight or video targeting system.
I briefly mentioned the manufacturers distance specification before, there is an important thing to know about this. The distance stated is an “UP TO” figure, a maximum range under perfect conditions, often the actual real world figure can often be far lower. The reason for this is that the technology relies on the reflection of the laser beam and so different surfaces will reflect laser light better or worse than others. As an example you will get far better range reflecting off a white painted wall than a tree trunk with rough bark on it. Some manufacturers in some of their models include a target plate if they don’t then you can buy target plates as an accessory. This is well worth considering if you are going to use the device over a long range either inside or outside.
So in Summary when looking at purchasing a laser distance measure.
- If you are wanting to measure outside over any range you need a model with a video targeting system such as the Leica E7500 (D410)
- If you want to transfer measurements to other devices or computers get a model with bluetooth or wifi or both. Some brands have smart phone apps to do this as well. These days even some basic models have got bluetooth. examples Leica E7500i (D510), Bosch GLM 50C and others.
- Indirect measurements, if you are going to be doing allot of this for example estimating a roof surface area without getting on the roof then you are going to need a more substantial device such as the Leica S910 with full accessory pack.
- Accessories you may need may include a tripod, often a camera style tripod may do and reflective targets and possibly enhancement glasses.
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