Lasers vs. Red Dot Reflex Sights Part 2

Lasers vs. Red Dot Reflex Sights Part 2

20 Years in Context

By Dennis Adler

You’ve been looking at this picture in the header for Airgun Experience since 2016 and this is still one of my all time favorite CO2 pellet pistols, the Umarex Beretta 92FS with an optics bridge (which replaces the rear sight) and fitted with a Walther MRS reflex sight and Walther red laser. This was a custom combination put together by Umarex and it is a very difficult combination to find today.

Between the Umarex Beretta 92FS pellet pistol and the Sig Sauer M17 two decades have passed, and we have gone from 8-shot, cast alloy pellet magazines and non-blowback action pistols to 20-shot rotary belt-fed pellet magazines (also containing the 12 gr. CO2) and blowback action. We have gone from excellent red dot scopes (like the Walther Top Point) to the latest Sig Air reflex sight for the M17. It is all a giant leap in 20 years from one state-of-the-art era in CO2 air pistol technology to another, from what, in the context of my airgun experience, is now a comparison of “old school” vs. “high tech” in design and innovation.

This is the way the gun was modified in 2014 by Umarex. The parts were available at that time. The laser has been discontinued by Umarex and the top rail is very hard to find today. I changed the grip panels to the 92FS hardwood Beretta medallion grips a few years ago because they look a lot better.
You might call this an early 2000’s technology jump; the fully outfitted 92FS (modified in 2014) up against the latest CO2 pellet pistol with a reflex sight, the Sig Sauer M17 ASP and Sig Air optic. However, to make an honest 20 year comparison you have to go back to what was available in 2000 for the 92FS.

A 20 Year-Old Air Pistol

To put things in the correct context of 20 years ago and today, I have to remove the Walther MRS from the Beretta and replace it with what was available when the gun was introduced in 2000 (the MRS was added along with the laser in 2014). The original model year 2000 gun was equipped with the Walther Top Point red dot scope on a bridge mount that fit completely around the frame and slide. It was part of a special design originally made for Pyramyd Air and sold as the 92FS XX-Treme. The base gun was otherwise the same as the 92FS example with the slide-mounted rail, MRS and wood grips. The original bridge mount for the 92FS was similar to the design used for the Walther Top Point scope offered in 2000 as an option for the Walther CP99 pellet pistols, only constructed of cast alloy rather than injection molded like the CP99 version. The Beretta 92FS and Walther CP99 used the same essential internal firing systems utilizing the 8-shot, cast alloy rotary magazines. In this 20-year comparison, the Beretta 92FS with the Top Point red dot scope was the Sig Sauer M17 ASP with red dot reflex sight of its day. About as fair a comparison as could be for CO2 air pistols.

Twenty years of technology brings things down in size. Both are CO2 powered pellet pistols with rifled barrels, but the Sig Sauer CO2 model is far easier to handle and there are even holsters to fit the M17 with the reflex sight (we’ll get into that later this month). You would be hard pressed to find any holster to handle the fully decked out 92FS shown. But this is a test of two different worlds, 2000 vs. 2020.

As I have stated numerous times, the Umarex Beretta 92FS has been such an excellent CO2 pistol that it has remained in production for 20 years, and one would have to wonder if the Sig Sauer M17 ASP will still be in production 20 years from now. A truly timeless design can span two decades in the blink of an eye. But what exactly have we gained in that 20 years?

The MRS (Multi Reticle Sight) is another Walther/Umarex item that is no longer available, but the MRS design is offered by other optics manufacturers today.
State of the art for air pistols, the Sig Sauer M17 ASP and Sig Air reflex sight and mount make the blowback action pellet pistol one of the most authentic CO2 understudies. The optic vastly improves the M17’s accuracy.
Big, bulky but accurate as any CO2 powered target pistol, the old Umarex Walther Top Point red dot scope and mounting system for the 92FS was available in the early 2000s. This combination was sold by Pyramyd Air as the 92FS XX-Treme. The scope and other accessories were extra but the gun could support the addition of a tactical light on one of the three remaining rails, as well as a laser sight. Even as shown with just the alloy rail adapter and Top Point scope, the 92FS XX-Treme was a pretty heavy air pistol weighing 3.5 pounds.

92FS vs. M17 ASP

The answer is easy to find by comparing the two guns and their optics, inch- for-inch and ounce-for-ounce and then shooting them head-to-head at 10 meters with their respective optics (meaning using the old Top Point scope on the 92FS and not the MRS reflex sight).

The Beretta 92FS with the Top Point and the optics bridge is one hefty pistol with a combined weight of 56 ounces (3.5 pounds), compared to the lightweight Sig Sauer that tips the scale at 36 ounces (2.25 pounds) with the Sig Air reflex sight. The upgraded 92FS with the MRS reflex sight and red laser weighs 54 ounces (3.4 pounds), still a heavy gun. Consider though that the heavy 92FS is a non-blowback so all that weight properly held is as solid as a rock, and that the lighter weight blowback action Sig delivers a lot of movement, more realistic sure, but at what cost to accuracy? Both guns have rifled steel barrels.

The Beretta was modern in 2000 with the CO2 placed into the grip frame by removing the right panel (pressing in on the magazine release pushed the panel away from the frame), lowering the base pad (bottom of the grip frame) inserting the CO2, adjusting the seating screw and then pressing the base pad up into the closed position which pierced the CO2 (as shown).
With the Sig, you lower the lever at the back of the magazine (shown closed), insert the CO2 and press the lever back flush to the magazine. In one motion you seat and pierce the CO2.

From muzzle to beavertail the Beretta spans 8.37 inches, the Sig Sauer 8.0 inches, the guns have a height (base of grips to top of the optics) of 8.25 inches and 7.1 inches, respectively, and widths of 1.625 inches (frame/slide width plus optics) and 1.25 inches. If you add the width of the Beretta’s alloy bridge mount side rails it is a bulbous 1.75 inches wide, and with the M17’s ambidextrous thumb safeties, the Sig has an maximum width of 1.5 inches.  

From an 8-shot cast alloy pellet magazine inserted into the breech by releasing the forward portion of the barrel and slide, to a 20-shot rotary belt-fed clip that combines with the CO2 magazine to become one self-contained unit, we have come a long way in 20 years.

Internally, the old school Beretta is fundamentally a revolver with each pull of the double action trigger, or manually cocking the hammer for each shot, rotating the 8-shot rotary pellet magazine to the next round. Despite being a blowback action pistol, the M17 ASP and its 20-round belt-fed magazine also utilizes the trigger to rotate the belt to the next round as the trigger is pulled. The double action trigger pull on the Beretta is a robust 7 pounds, 8.5 ounces (5 pounds, 7.5 ounces if you manually cock the hammer for the shot and put the trigger into single action), while the DAO Sig Sauer requires a very consistent but still heavy 6 pounds, 11 ounces average from shot to shot. So, overall, the Sig Sauer is a more realistic pistol to handle, it has a blowback action, and the advantage of self-contained CO2 pellet magazines for quick reloads, compared to the Beretta’s 8-shots, slow reload rotary mags and separate CO2 in the grip frame. That’s a lot of technological improvements for 20 years.

Ah, but does it shoot better?  

That’s the question every airgun enthusiast has to ask, even if the Beretta is an iconic CO2 pistol. The design is enduring but is it up to the task of trading shots with the M17 ASP and Sig Air reflex sight?

One of the best 10 meter targets I have shot with the M17 ASP since adding the reflex sight, this 8-shot group (8 shots to equal the same number of shots with the Beretta) is 1-inch with five shots at just a little over 0.5 inches. This is the best out of five targets shot.

Using traditional RWS Meisterkugeln 7.0 gr. lead wadcutters the Beretta averaged 410 fps for eight rounds. The M17 ASP with only eight shots through the chronograph clocked an average of 327 fps. The advantage in velocity, at an average of 80 fps, clearly goes to the non-blowback Beretta 92FS, but there is a lot to be said for the feel of the M17, it’s realistic weight and handling, the brisk recoil of the slide, and the sound, which as I have mentioned before, is similar to a large caliber semi-auto with a silencer. (And I still wish Sig would make a replacement threaded rifled barrel and a faux silencer for the M17 ASP). Overall, the M17 ASP has seriousness about it that is lacking with the 92FS beyond its ominous looks. Being a non-blowback with a heavy double action trigger (or requiring the awkward need to re-cock the gun for each shot like a single action revolver) the sense of realism shooting the Beretta 92FS fades in comparison to the 21st century Sig, and if that is part of what you’re looking for in a CO2 pellet pistol, then the “old school” 92FS design comes up lacking, even though it is built (I really should say handcrafted) in Germany and remains one of the best CO2 pellet pistols on the market. 

Alas, the near 20-year old Top Point and hefty 92FS can still equal or outshoot (in my hands) the new M17 ASP. The Beretta and red dot scope gave me a slightly tighter group at 10 meters and I only needed to shoot one target. The 92FS and Top Point are old friends with a lot of trigger time over the years, proving that “Old School” is still cool.

Downrange

With the Top Point scope and Sig Air reflex optics sighted in for 10 meters, the best eight rounds downrange from the 92FS (fired from a Weaver stance and using a two-handed hold) grouped into 0.94 inches with a best five rounds in the 9,10, and bullseye measuring 0.53 inches. Firing only eight rounds from the M17, the Sig grouped its shots into 1.0 inches with a best five in the 9, 10 and bullseye measuring 0.72 inches. All things being as equal as possible, the old school zero-recoil, heavy weighted and big scoped Beretta just edges out the high tech, light weight, blowback action M17 ASP by a few fractions of an inch. Which gun is easier to shoot and most accurate? If you have been waiting 20 years for a gun like the Sig Sauer M17 ASP, the answer is obvious. But if you just want to punch holes in paper and work toward that perfect score with a CO2 powered pellet pistol, odds are, if you already own a 92FS with an optics mount and red dot scope (which is about the only way to have one now), that class has already been dismissed.

2 thoughts on “Lasers vs. Red Dot Reflex Sights Part 2


    • Charles,

      I totally agree, the nickel model is really a good looking pistol. You should consider the walnut grips, too.

      Back in 2005, I reviewed the 92FS XX-Treme in Guns & Ammo. Below is an excerpt from that article.

      “Having written the very first Blue Book of Airguns in 2001 with G&A Field Editor Steve Fjestad and air pistol authority Dr. Robert D. Beeman, I can attest to having fired more airguns than most people do in a lifetime, and none have impressed me more for overall quality, design, and an uncommon cachet than the Beretta XX-Treme. If I was going to have only one air pistol, and I wanted one that was fun to shoot, exceedingly accurate, and would attract more attention at the plinking range than arriving in a military assault vehicle, then I would have to own this gun.”

      Some 15 years later not much has changed about the Beretta 92FS and the rare XX-Treme version. I have other favorites that have come along, but this is still one of the very best CO2 pistols ever made. Judging from your picture, I’d have to say you agree.

      Dennis


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