When shooting with night vision it is a lot easier to shoot with an infrared laser than it is to shoot passively looking through an optic like a red dot. You have better situational awareness and a clearer sight picture. There are only a handful of trusted manufacturers that make MFAL (Multi-Function Aiming Lasers) and Steiner is one of the top three. For this week’s installment of Friday Night Lights, we will take a closer look at Steiner’s flagship laser, the DBAL-A4
DBAL-A4: Both Spectrums
There are not many laser systems that have both spectrums of light. I am talking about visible and infrared light. Most MFALs have IR pointer, IR illuminator, and visible laser they rarely have the fourth component which is visible illumination. Sure, you can add a weapon light to your gun but the DBAL-A4 has it all. The only other laser system that I have used that is similar to the DBAL-A4 is the Wilcox Raptar Lite ES. What sets the Steiner apart is the form factor and its IR illuminators.
The right side of the Steiner flagship laser is similar to their other lasers like the DBAL-A2 and DBAL-A3. Even their DBAL-D2 has a similar aiming laser setup. The aiming laser side holds both the IR aiming laser and the visible aiming laser. They are slaved to each other so when you zero the visible your IR aiming laser will also be zeroed.
The left side (from the shooter’s perspective) of the DBAL-A4 houses all the illuminators. You can see in the photo above there are two black looking illuminators and the visible LED below those. Unlike the DBAL-D2, the DBAL-A4 has two IR illuminators. The D2 has an adjustable bezel that adjusts the size of the illuminator, somewhat like a Maglite. Twist it to make the beam bigger or smaller. Even the DBAL-A2 and A3 lasers have an adjustable IR illuminator that you twist. The main difference is the A2 and A3 use a laser diode and the D2 and A4 use LED. The A4 illuminators are not adjustable but they do not need to be. The top illuminator is the bigger of the two and that is for illuminating further distances. The beam has a clear hot spot and a corona around it.
Take a look at the image above and the one below. The spot illuminator is a tighter beam and can illuminate further targets. The flood illuminator is a solid wall of light but does not go very far. It is more useful in CQB environments. Notice you cannot really see beyond the truck with the flood illuminator? The IR light is illuminating the truck but causing the night vision to reduce brightness so you cannot see past the truck.
The spot illuminator is focused using a reflector while the flood illuminator is what is colloquially called a “mule” in flashlight aficionado circles. A “mule” light is a bare LED with no reflector. All the light is emitted 180° evenly. You can light up a very wide area but the drawback is that the light does not travel that far. Interestingly, the spot illuminator is only 110 mW while the flood illuminator is 300 mW. Below is a brief video comparing the spot and flood illuminators. At the beginning of the video, I was using the DBAL-D2.
Using The DBAL-A4
Why would you want an all-in-one MFAL? Lack of rail real estate. Short sub guns do not have a lot of rail space. Take a look at my 9mm AR pistol. The barrel is so short I have to use a linear comp. The comp is so wide that it sits to close the handguard that I cannot fit MLOK T-Nuts between the handguard the comp. So the only place I can position a light and laser is the top rail.
The DBAL-A4 seems big but it is really not that bad. Here is the A4 compared to the D2 and Steiner’s CQBL. The CQBL is their smallest laser but it only has IR and visible aiming lasers. No illumination.
There is one feature that sets the A4 apart from any other MFAL I have seen. It has ambidextrous activation switches.
The two textured circle buttons are both for activating the A4. That way if you are right or left handed you can still activate with your thumbs. This is especially helpful when transitioning shoulders to negotiate a barricade. Just above the right side activation button are two remote ports. The port on the left is for Visible Override (VO). Plug in a tape switch into that port and when you press said remote tape switch, the A4 will fire the visible version of the IR mode you are in. So if you set the selector to AIM LO or AIM HI in IR mode then the VO will activate the visible aiming laser only. The body mounted activation buttons will still function and activate the mode you are in. Now if you are in AIM/ILL mode for IR aiming laser and illuminator, then the switch plugged into VO will activate both the visible aiming laser and the white light.
The activation buttons are a slight departure from traditional DBAL lasers. The A2 and A3 both have a single activation button on top. The A4 still has a button on top but it is not to activate the laser, it is a toggle button. It adjusts a number of modes. When you are in VIS ILL mode (white light only) holding the toggle button will dim the light in sequential steps. Once it goes to the lowest setting it will step back up to full brightness. In order to do this though you have to push and hold one of the activation buttons and simultaneously hold the toggle button. In IR modes the toggle button switches between spot and flood illuminators. If you repeat the process for white light dimming but apply it to the IR AIM mode you can dim the IR aiming laser. This is to help eliminate blooming down range.
Final Thoughts On the DBAL-A4
While the A4 offers everything one could want for aiming and illumination all in one device, it is a bit pricey. MSRP is just shy of $3,000. Price aside the weakest aspect of the civilian rated DBAL-A4 is the white light. The A4 is powered by two CR123 batteries. All of Steiner’s other weapon lasers are only powered by a single CR123. Why is this a slight issue? The white light is only 500 lumens. That is not very bright for 2x CR123. For 6V I would expect 1000 lumens. Or they should upgrade the A4 to use an 18650 and push the LED to have 1500 lumens. I suspect the 2x CR123s are for better battery life but I prefer high lumens for pushing past photonic barriers and illuminating shadows.
The toggle button is a neat feature but not that useful on a civilian rated MFAL. I could see needing to dim a full power 50mW IR aiming laser but the civilian rated A4 only has a 0.7mW IR aiming laser. No real need to dim something so low powered already.
These minor issues aside, the DBAL-A4 is useable in a small form factor. It is ambidextrous and provides both visible and IR aiming/illumination. For more information check out Steiner’s website.
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