Somogear PEQ-15 Review

As you’ve seen in my more recent posts, I’ve been getting into the night vision game lately. Ironically, I’d say I’m still spending a lot more time doing competition shooting, but at least the two interests tend to have some skills overlap.

One of the things you quickly discover about the night vision world is that active aiming is awesome, and good IR illuminators are shockingly expensive. You can get a usable IR laser for reasonably cheap ($200-$300 for a Holosun LS117IR), but an IR illuminator that can really throw? That’s going to cost you.

But… what if there were a $250 unit that could give you co-aligned visible and IR lasers along with a reasonably good (but not amazing) IR illuminator? Well, maybe there is. I bought the Somogear PEQ-15 to check out whether this Chinese company broke the code. Did they? Read on.

Somogear is a Chinese company that was founded at the beginning of 2019, and has a mission of building high-quality multi-function aiming laser (MFAL) devices for the airsoft market. What firearms enthusiasts discovered was that these devices usually held zero on the real thing, and had illumination performance considerably in excess of anything you could buy for under $1500.

Let’s take a step back for a second, and discuss the problem at hand. MFALs typically have 2-4 components:

  1. IR pointing laser
  2. Visible pointing laser
  3. IR illuminator
  4. Visible illuminator

Despite what you may have read online, pointing laser power is not really a big concern for non-military use of night vision. Even civilian-power-level (more on this in a second) lasers will travel considerably further at night than you’re likely to shoot.

Illuminator power, on the other hand, is a much bigger concern, especially on rifles. If you follow the latest-and-greatest on white lights, stuff like the Cloud Defensive REIN, Modlite OKW, and so on, you know that finding an illuminator that can throw a few hundred yards and punch through photonic barriers is a big deal. IR illuminators have much the same problem to solve, but have much larger regulatory hurdles in the way.

IR illuminators can be powered in three ways:

  1. LED
  2. Conventional lasers at wide divergence
  3. Vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL)

All of these have their caveats. IR LEDs, for instance, tend to have a much larger visible signature, doubly so when driven hard. Lasers work great, but have a big issue: the FDA regulates civilian IR lasers so that, de facto, they need to stay under 5mw – and for actual lasers, under 1mw. As you can imagine, 5mw doesn’t go all that far for conventional lasers when you start opening the divergence up. (VCSEL arrays do much better in this situation, which is why they’re so popular.)

Well, the Somogear lasers exceed these power limits… somewhat. The last measurements I saw indicated that, on high power, the IR lasers on the Somogear PEQ were pushing at about 15-20mw. This is considerably less than the mil-spec illuminators (the full-power PEQ-15 is more like 35mw). It’s also substantially higher than the illuminator found in the DBAL A3 or any other civilian illuminator that’s using conventional laser illumination. Thus, the Somogear sort of lurks in a mid-way position where it’s not quite eye safe, but also somewhat less likely to instantly blind you forever, and has considerably more power at its disposal to illuminate at a distance.

$250 for a lightweight MFAL with a useful IR illuminator and co-aligned vis/IR lasers using the efficient PEQ-15 housing and controls concept? Sign me up.

The Somogear PEQ-15 comes in a tan PALS pouch in a plastic box. It includes a knock-off, Somogear-marked Modbutton Lite (with MLOK mount), which is a nice touch. As expected, this “Modbutton” uses a crane plug, which is the industry standard for lasers. I would have preferred a black pouch to go with my black PEQ-15, but it’s hardly a big deal. The button seemed to work well enough, but my experience with other knock-off remote switches has not been good in the long-term, so I may replace it eventually. It also comes with stickers to replicate the real PEQ-15 aesthetic, but I left them off because I really don’t care about that.

Those little blue screws on the selector dial are the high-power stops. If you leave them in, your Somogear PEQ-15 is eye-safe and can only be used in low power modes. If you take them out, you get something a lot more powerful (and a lot less eye-safe) when switched to the high settings. Just like on the real PEQ-15, there are a couple of holes to screw them into off to the side (under the red sticker in the photo).

You can order the PEQ-15 in “potted” or “non-potted” variety. The potting is the usual electronics industry standard of applying a conformal coating to the electronics to increase physical shock resistance. I am personally a little skeptical that it would have much impact on the unit’s biggest potential weaknesses (loss of zero, battery shift under firing, etc.), but for $10, it can’t hurt. It supposedly adds a few days to the ship time; my Somogear shipped pretty fast anyways.

I don’t have a real AN/PEQ-15 to compare against, but my understanding is that the Somogear is a pretty close facsimile. The controls appear to be the same, and it can also be programmed for pulse rate. It takes a single CR-123. I personally like the control dial on the PEQ-15 quite a lot, and it is easy enough to set it to what I need in a hurry. The fire button is also big and easy to hit even without the remote switch. Just like the real PEQ-15, it mounts to a picatinny rail.

The illuminator focus, on the other hand… it works, but it appears to move the spotlight as it is adjusted, and even at its least focused setting, it’s still pretty focused (this is how I ran it). If the Somogear had a diffusor cap, that would be a good solution, but, unfortunately, the illuminator and laser caps just block everything. Supposedly Villain Weapon Systems is working on a Somogear-specific diffusor cap, but it is not released yet. The good news is that it’s reasonably quick and easy to adjust your illuminator’s spotlight in the field.

The end result of this is that the Somogear does not have a good flood illumination mode out of the box, and even if it did, I’m not sure I’d want to make use of it due to the illuminator spotlight moving with the focus. It’s possible to supplement with an IR floodlight (such as an EX IR 250), so this isn’t the end of the world, but it makes the Somogear PEQ-15 a little less appealing for PCCs and shotguns (although I must admit that I doubt the PEQ would last too long on a 12ga anyways).

This is not to say the illuminator is bad. Far from it! The illuminator can really push out due to having triple the usual power and a tight focus, and this makes it exceptionally good for rifle use in situations where active illumination is called for. There’s nothing even remotely comparable without hunting up a Kiji 3°, which is $850.

The lasers are similarly pretty good. I was playing around with the lasers after dark, and they basically went as far as I could see. I bought the version of the Somogear PEQ-15 with a red laser, so I think it’s a little less visible than a green laser might be. I personally don’t use visible lasers that much, so it didn’t matter much to me either way… I imagine this PEQ-15 is going to spend most of its life set to O (off), IR DH (IR laser + illumination high), or IR AH (IR laser only high).

So, all the components of potential greatness are present. We are back to the question we started with: can this handle a real rifle’s recoil? I wasn’t willing to pull the setup off my .300 BLK SBR quite yet, but I did have my Galil ACE Gen2 in 5.56 that I wanted to use for night vision shooting. It has a Mepro RDS on it, backed by a Mepro 3x magnifier. The long, long MLOK handguard made it very easy to find mounting space for the PEQ-15 and the pressure pad. Removing the magnifier and the cheek riser made it quite nice for night vision use, both active and passive aiming.

I took it out to our local night vision club‘s weekly shoot to give it a try. Unfortunately, this was the last one of the season for me, so it was make-or-break. When I got there, it was still daytime, and I used the high-powered visible laser to get a quick converging zero at about 50yds. I’m not saying this is an optimal method for a zero (infinite convergence is much much better), but it is fast and easy, and give that this was the distance we were shooting at, it made sense.

Now that I was presumably zeroed, it was time to get shooting. The first real test of the Somogear was at twilight, where it was still very light out, but it was dark enough that visible lasers could at least possibly be used. I turned the selector on my PEQ-15 to VIS AH (visible aiming laser high) and gave it a whirl. Worked great! I don’t think I’ve ever run fully active in the daytime before, so this was something of a treat.

An hour or so later, night fell, and we were able to do some real night shooting. I used the PEQ-15 in active mode (dual high power), and I was pretty impressed with the performance. No obvious battery issues, the switch works fine, super bright, etc. If anything, it might have been too bright for the distances we were shooting – the laser had a tendency to wash out the smaller targets, and going to low power (with tighter illuminator focus) might have been the better move. The IR illuminator spotlight was not super clean, but it was fine for use (and arguably no worse than a real PEQ-15). A head to head comparison with a friend’s civilian-powered MAWL confirmed that the PEQ outclassed it in laser power and distance illuminator performance, but the MAWL had the advantage of an excellent flood mode for closer work.

This video was taken with a Sionyx Aurora. The “white” light/laser you see is IR from the Somogear PEQ-15. The entire scene is much much darker than it appears – this was a good evening for using the Aurora since there was a full moon and a bit of other ambient light.

In conclusion, I have to say the Somogear PEQ-15 is a heck of a value. I’d probably even say the best value out there in terms of IR illuminator performance. This isn’t to say it doesn’t have problems – mostly with the IR illuminator’s inability to do flood out of the box – but it turns out you can overlook a lot of problems when it only costs $250. You’re basically paying for a Steiner DBAL D2 if you want capabilities similar to the Somogear PEQ-15 in an eye-safe package, and that’s closer to $1500. If you don’t want the visual signature that comes with an IR LED? Well, now you need a Designate IR-V, which is $2000 and has a VCSEL illuminator. The Somogear PEQ-15 has legitimate performance for hobbyist money. I wouldn’t put it on a duty rifle or a rifle I thought I was going to use for life or death stuff on a regular basis but for training purposes? Perfect.

I want to stress that this isn’t a long duration review – I put maybe a hundred rifle rounds down range with the Somogear on the rifle. The real test is performance over time, and I will make sure to give updates about that. But, for the moment, it really seems as if the Somogear is the entry level king for anyone who’s new to night vision and needs top-end performance for entry-level pricing.

However, one caveat and PSA: if you’re using this thing for airsoft and pointing it at other people, LEAVE THE POWER STOPS IN SO IT’S EYE SAFE. There is some irony here that while the Somogear is great at something it’s not really intended for, it can be downright dangerous when used for its intended purpose: pointing it at people in airsoft. The idea that some idiot would turn this thing to high power visible laser mode and start shining it at people is a little scary.

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