Dueling Lasers: LaserMax & Crimson Trace

My first comparison and evaluation is of the LaserMax Centerfire and the Crimson Trace Defender, both solidly in a competing marketplace for the popular Ruger LCP .380 pistol. Crimson Trace has long offered one of their 'regular' grip-actuated LaserGuard units for the LCP, and have recently introduced their new Defender series. This product is priced and designed as a direct competitor to LaserMax's Centerfire sight. Both companies have kindly supplied one of each unit for the LCP for this evaluation and comparison.


Crimson Trace

You will notice that the form factors are similar, though different in important ways. The shooter actuates the laser with the index finger, which should be positioned over the switch on either laser unit if the draw is done properly and good gun handling is exercised.

LaserMax CenterFire actuation position

Defender actuation position

As the photos show, the switches on both laser units are designed to be used either right or left handed, which is good in general, and shows foresight by both companies to accommodate situations in which the shooter's normal gun hand is occupied or incapacitated. The difference between the two designs, LaserMax and Crimson Trace, is in the actuation - a two way push-switch that remains in it's position once placed there, and the spring-loaded push on/push off switch Crimson Trace uses.

Press the LaserMax activation button, which is the end of the switch that protrudes from either side of the sight, with either index finer (or any other you might need to use) and it switches the laser unit on. The switch remains in the closed position, powering the laser, until the shooter turns it off by pressing the switch rod from the other side. Easy enough to do with a two-hand grip. Simply use a finger on the other, supporting hand.

The Defender relies on a spring loaded push button, actuated from either side. One push and the laser is on. Another push, from either side, and it's off.

The only operational disadvantage I see at this point is that it is possible to inadvertently push the Defender's switch a second time, turning it off accidentally. I don't see this a high risk issue, the switch being rather small and tucked out of the way in a long indent in the casing, but the possibility is there and should be recognized.

The Innards

Below is a photograph of the LaserMax CenterFire units, the one on the left is sized for the Ruger LC9, the one on the right is for the Ruger LCP. They are identical, but one is slightly larger to fit the larger LC9, but the components and arrangements are the same. The LaserMax units are joined with larger self-tapping screws. The allen wrench is supplied to perform any sight adjustments necessary.

LaserMax for the LC9 and LCP

 Below is a comparison shot of the circuits and actuation mechanisms of the Defender, on top, and the LaserMax below. The Defender's case is more bulky and slightly larger than the CenterFire due to the way in which the push button and laser circuitry are enclosed in their own case which is, in turn, enclosed by the overall case for the unit as a whole. The Defender requires two batteries and the CenterFire only one, but in terms of the volume necessary for either, that space is pretty much the same.

Defender and CenterFire internal components

A comparison of the two units, shown below, reveals that the Defender is somewhat larger in the forward portion of the sight than the LaserMax CenterFire, due, undoubtedly to the decision to combine the push button switch mechanism with the laser and it's circuitry into an integrated package.

CenterFire and Defender comparison.

Defender on top of the CenterFire

CenterFire end view showing the actuation rod protruding from both sides. Enough to work well, not enough to cause problems.

 Below are photos of the two unit's casings for a side by side comparison.

Defender and CenterFire external left side comparison

Defender and CenterFire internal left side comparison

How do they mount and look once attached to the pistol?

I would say that the aesthetics of the two designs is pretty much in the mind of the beholder. The LaserMax CenterFire more closely follows the smooth and flowing lines of the LCP, providing, to my eye, a more integrated appearance than the Crimson Trace Defender. It just seems more a part of the gun than an add-on accessory. Now, some may like the more bold look of the Defender, but, again, that's a personal preference. I think the proof is in the using since they are supposed to be sighting aids, not fashion accessories.

CenterFire on the gun

Defender on the gun

Installing the two units.

The installation for both are virtually the same, except the LaserMax uses phillips head self-tapping screws, where the Crimson Trace uses small diameter machine screws tightened by an allen wrench.

Install the batteries, or battery, snap the right side of the unit containing all the working parts to the trigger guard. Interlock the back strap into it's mate already now attached to the trigger guard, swing the left side of the case into place, mate up the halves, pinch them together and torque down the screws.

After doing this a number of times, I can remove the LaserMax Centerfire in less than a minute. I can attach it somewhat quicker. The Crimson Trace Defender, however, exhibited an issue with this relatively simple procedure.

As you can see from the photographs below, I was unable to get the Defender's case to come completely together, even while forcing it by pinching it very hard while tightening the machine screws. I tightened the screws as much as I dared and still I could not get the gap to close. (See the photos below) I removed the Defender and checked for anything that might be keeping the sides from mating properly. The edges were both smooth and I could find nothing that might prevent the halves from closing. So, I tried another method.

The Defender gap

Defender gap, end view

Grabbing couple of strong, spring clamps I use for model ship building, and attaching them, as you see below, I was able to get the gap pretty much closed while I tightened the machine screws again.

The solution. Clamp the ends while installing and tightening the screws.

I was able to get most of the gap closed, but there still remained a small opening at the end of the sight casing. I suspect this is a molding problem resulting from not having exactly flat and true mating surfaces on the two parts. If I were to keep this particular unit on my gun, I would find some plastic filler and fill in that gap to keep it water tight. Of course, this would make it more difficult to remove and replace batteries, for example. You'd have to re-seal it each time.

After clamping

Below, showing the uneven mating surfaces on the Defender, and the position of the push-button activation switch. It is set into a small cavity cast into the sides of each casing to prevent accidental activation in a holster, for example.

Defender activation switch

As a comparison of the end mating surfaces, below is a photograph of the LaserMax CenterFire unit on the LCP showing a clean and precise mating surface.

LaserMax CenterFire end view

One of the biggest issues laser sight makers have in selling to people who are interested in trying them for their carry guns is that of holsters.

If a person buys a gun with a laser attached, or is getting an aftermarket laser for a new gun for which he or she has no, or few, holsters, this is not so much of a conundrum. However, most of us have a few carry guns already, and more than one holster for each. I have too many holsters for my guns, and from what I read, I am not unusual in this. Hickok45 even did an entire episode devoted to the holsters in his 'holster box'. I'm not that far gone, but I'm not that far behind either.

So, I think it is proper to include the holster question, briefly, in this comparison. I venture the opinion that if one already has a holster that will fit a LaserMax equipped handgun, getting a Defender equipped gun - the same gun, of course - to fit that holster depends on the holster. A holster made from heavy leather, like this Bear Creek pocket holster below, would not work. It would be almost impossible to re-mold this kind of holster to fit anything but what it was designed for. I've put the Defender-equipped LCP into this holster to illustrate the point.

Defender equipped LCP in a Bear Creek holster moulded for the Crimson Trace Laserguard

However, a holster, like this Remora with attached magazine pouch, will easily accommodate the LaserMax Centerfire, and the Crimson Trace Defender, and the LaserGuard for that matter.

Defender equipped LCP in a Remora holster. This holster will accommodate all three lasers, the LaserMax Centerfire, the Crimson Trace Laserguard and Defender.

I favor back pocket carry for the LCP, when I go that style, and the Uncle George is my choice for a great holster. It's 'heavy' enough to securely hold the pistol and prevent printing, but 'light' enough to easily draw from while it is in the pocket, and the leather can be somewhat re-molded to fit a slightly differently sized and shaped laser.  Following the directions on Uncle George' website, I used a hair dryer to heat and re-mould this holster to fit the LaserMax Centerfire even though it was originally made for the Crimson Trace LaserGuard. However, trying it with the Defender shows me that the Defender is just too bulky to re-mold for it.

Uncle George back pocket holster made for the Crimson Trace LaserGuard, which has been slightly re-moulded to fit the LaserMax CenterFire sight. The Defender, shown here,  is too large for the holster

Another view of the Defender in an Uncle George.

Last, I put the Defender equipped LCP in my Hay's cross draw holster. It's not in there all the way and it would probably work, but that would not be up to the standards I require in a self-defense holster.

A Hays cross draw holster, made for the LCP/CT LaserGuard combination. If the stitching were not in place at the bottom, this holster might be made to accommodate the Defender, but as is, it's slightly too small.

So, the conclusion is that if one has a holster made for a laser gun already, even a Crimson Trace unit, the Defender might, or might not fit, or be made to fit. In my experience, a LaserMax CenterFire has a better chance of fitting into a holster made for the Crimson Trace LaserGuard, or vice versa, than does the Defender.

If you are in the market for either one of these sights, plan on also getting a quality holster for it. Both LaserMax and Crimson Trace can point you in the direction of good holster makers who make quality products for each.


Well, where the rubber meets the road, or the bullet meets the target, is the end result of this exercise in laser sight aids.

Both companies have essentially the same laser units in their offerings, functionally speaking. Laser power is constrained to be no more than 5mW in power with a wavelength of 650nm (nano meters). Their beam shapes are identical and both emit in the red spectrum.

Once switched on, there is not much to choose from between the two. In low light or darkness they are bright and easy to see. Also under most lighting conditions,

especially at expected self-defense distances, seven to ten yards,

they are readily visible even in sunlight.

In general, my opinion is that it is not a good thing to become heavily dependent on a laser sight on a self defense handgun. There are times when it can be very useful and provide a distinct advantage, but there are also times when it's something else to operate and for the eye to pick up that red dot. Getting a shot off as quickly as possible may be critical in certain instances, and there would be no time for dot acquisition. Given that laser sights are another option in one's self defense repertoire, acquiring and training with a laser sight is a good thing. I especially think they are most valuable when coupled with a small gun, like the LCP which is difficult enough to shoot accurately in the first place.

I think the biggest factors separating the LaserMax CenterFire and the Crimson Trace Defender come down to quality of construction, integration with your chosen firearm and personal preference between the two actuating mechanisms. In my opinion, after using both, I think the LaserMax Centerfire is the best choice.

The quality of construction is demonstrably better than Crimson Trace's current effort with the Defender.

I don't care for the bulky shape of the Defender, preferring the smoother integration of the CenterFire with the LCP, but this is, of course, solely a matter of personal taste.

 Lastly, having spent a number of years as an engineering technician I am inherently suspicious of mechanisms with too many moving parts. The Defender's spring-loaded push-push switch is more likely to fail than the CenterFire's simple push on, push off switch. It probably won't happen, but Murphy has taught me that things do happen and they mostly happen at the worst times. Simply put, in the CenterFire's simple, springless on/off switch, there is no spring to fail.

I want to express my profound thanks to LaserMax and Crimson Trace for stepping up and providing these laser sights for a comparison evaluation. It has taken a number of months to get everything in place and I hope the result is worthwhile and helpful to anyone considering a laser sight for their self defense handguns. Both Crimson Trace and LaserMax are small companies dedicated to designing and producing quality products and their customer service and relationship management staffs have been helpful to me in this project.

Please leave any comments and I will respond as best I can to them.

Posted with Blogsy

Posted with Blogsy