Laser distance measures or meters have been around a number of years and over this time the prices of these devices have dropped and the features of what they can do has grown. This guide will look at some of the history, the technology and the various options available when looking to buy.
First of all some people get confused over “Laser Measures” and “Sonic Measures with laser pointer” and its easy to get confused 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 made to. Sonic devices a 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 basically 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 basically 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. In fact many brands sourced modules from Leica 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 basic operation of a distance measure is to measure from one point to another, most basic models will also calculate surface area and volume from making multiple measurements. Most will also calculate indirect measurements such as height by using Pythagoras. Other common features include continuous measurement, Min and Max readings and measurement recall. More expensive examples 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.
When researching your laser distance measure its extremely important to determine if you are going to use it outside and this is not just looking at the range specifications on each model. 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 limit placed on manufactures on the power a laser can be. So for outside you are going to need some other method of targeting the beam. A few years back this was 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 scopes have been replaced by digital video cameras displaying the cross hair on the devices colour LCD screen.
I briefly mentioned the manufacturers distance specification before, there is an important thing to note about this. The distance stated is an “UP TO” figure a maximum range under perfect conditions and 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 so it follows that different surfaces will reflect laser light better or worse than others. For instance you will get far better range reflecting off a white painted wall than a tree trunk with rough bark on it. Often you can buy target plates as an accessory and this is well worth considering if you are going to use the device over a long range.
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 D410 (E7500)
- If you want to transfer measurements to other devices or computers get a distance measure with bluetooth or wifi or both. Some brands have smart phone apps to do this as well. These days some basic models have got bluetooth. examples Leica D510 (E7500i), Bosch GLM 50CX and others
- Indirect measurements, if you are going to be doing allot of this for instance estimating a roof surface area without getting up on the roof then you are going to need a more substantial device such as the Leica S910
- Accessories you may need may include a tripod, often a camera style tripod may do and reflective targets.
Check out a review of 5 of the most popular entry level laser distance measures;
5 Basic Laser Distance Measures