Which pipe laying laser should I choose?
All the pipe lasers listed are of excellent quality, fully automatic, self-levelling, waterproof, and supplied with remotes for adjusting alignment and adjustable targets, all in sturdy, well built carry cases. Basic costs for quality brands are all much the same and service life should be at least several years.
The key differences are size and weight, self alignment, grade range, type of battery and ability to calibrate in the field.
The LEICA PIPER (Swiss) is the laser of choice as regards size and weight, being the only one to fit inside a 100mm pipe.
The smaller size makes it easy to set up in a 90 degree poured invert; and since it does not block a 150mm pipe when set up inside the pipe, it is still possible to use a blower. This stabilises the temperature inside the pipe and thus stops refraction from causing the beam to drop which can have serious consequences particularly if the pipes are being laid to minimum falls.
Automatic control of grade has been available for decades but a pipe laser that will home onto a rod or stake for line has yet to be developed. The nearest thing is the Alignmaster option available with the 100mm LEICA PIPER 200. This facilitates second day set ups by homing onto the special target placed inside the last pipe laid but costs extra over the PIPER 100.
Since none of the pipe lasers listed have a manual option, they are all limited by the maximum grade range. The Topcon has the greatest at 40%.
The Leica Piper, Topcon TP, MCE and Geo Fennel all have NiMH batteries but Quante win the battery stakes with their QBL125 using Li-ion which is considered even better. All models have emergency 12v cables so if the laser dies; production can be resumed by hooking up to a car. Leads for charging from cigar lighters in the car are available as accessories.
The LEICA and Topcon models can be calibrated in the field or at home
Green beam or red beam. Red beam lasers have been successfully used for decades but the green beam is about 4 times more visible and hence has undoubted appeal. The downsides is increased cost, shorter operating time between charging and reduced life expectancy.
To counter the green beam, the Leica Piper has a winking light facility similar to the ones on pushbikes. Turning the beam on and off makes it twice as easy to see compared with a continuous beam.
Experienced operators have no problem with seeing the red beam whether winking or not by simply standing so the spot is in the shade.
The ability to retain calibration is perhaps the most important requirement of all. Unfortunately there is no specification for this key factor but all brands should retain calibration reasonably well depending on how roughly they are treated.