Mental Socket Product Reviews!
Gamma-Scout Geiger Counter Review
December 18, 2005 - I recently ordered a Gamma-Scout Geiger counter. For now it is just fun to go to swap meets and antique stores looking for hot items. Fiesta-ware is by far the most common item to find. Radium dial clocks are also out there and very hot. There are other obvious but less desirable uses for radiation detectors, such as dealing with radiological accidents or attacks.

Many choices are currently available in small, handheld digital units. I wanted something sensitive to be able to measure household items.   My price range was $400.  The Gamma-Scout looked most impressive in terms of sensitivity and features. I found it on sale, directly from Gamma-Scout.com for around $380 shipped.  The ordering process was fine and the item arrived quickly and well packaged.

The battery is pre-installed and on the latest model is rated to last 12 years. That is with the Gamma-Scout on 24/7.  In fact, there is no power switch! The unit is on when it arrives.  Sound too good to be true?  Well it is true but it is not all good.  There is a price to pay for such energy conservation, as you'll see in the following text.

I am no expert when it comes to radiation and the measurement of it, but I've done my fair share of research on the Internet.  The Gamma-Scout is what it called a low-range Geiger counter.  It is designed to measure relatively low dose rates and will not read correctly in high radiation environments.  This is actually a good thing, because for general use Geiger counter, you want a sensitive meter that can read small changes over background.  If a major fallout occurs, the levels could exceed what the Gamma-Scout can read but everyone would already be talking about it anyway. .  And you certainly don't want to be hanging out in high reading locations anyway!

The Gamma-Scout has an alarm feature that you can program to alert you to higher than normal radiation levels.  The lowest level you can set is 1.0 microsievert per hour, while the default is 3.0 microsievert per hour. To provide you a point of reference, the background radiation level in Panama City, FL averages .15 microsievert per hour.  The lowest level that will trigger the alarm is about six times normal background radiation. In other words, when the radiation level is such that you get six hours worth of normal exposure in only one hour, the alert goes off. I said alert instead of alarm because one tends to think of alarms as loud. On the Gamma-Scout, this alert is a very quiet beep. It is actually the same beep that is used for counts (the click you might usually associate with Geiger counters).

Speaking of clicks for counts... the Gamma-Scout is not intended to be a survey meter.  It is more of a dosimeter than a Geiger-Counter. In other words, you would use this more so to watch long term radiation levels than to walk around trying to find radioactive objects. In fact, according to the manual the audio circuit consumes 1000 times more power than the normal silent mode. It is such an issue that the audio circuit automatically turns off in five minutes.  This is the most disappointing thing to me with this unit.  It even tracks your usage and will kill your battery warranty if used excessively.  This is not the best unit for flea market hunting.

Another somewhat disappointing thing is the computer interface.  It is intended for occasional download of stored dose-rate data. The computer interface mode also consumes many times the power of normal mode.  Since the battery is NOT user serviceable, you'll want to do your best to keep the battery happy or you could be sending it in and paying for a replacement. It does not transfer live information so you have limited computer interface uses.

Reading about eight times background on some Fiesta-ware.  Note display is difficult to read.  Actual reading is 1.17
A gamma only reading from a Fiesta-ware plate shows about eight times normal background at a distance of one inch.  Note the difficulty in reading the display due to shadow along top edge.

Listen: gammafiesta.mp3

The display is large but somewhat difficult to read.  The main reading is too close to the top of the LCD and a shadow is produced by the edge of the case, which makes it hard to discern between 1's and 7's. Even worse is the lack of any backlight. I would have gladly paid extra for that. It would have been simple to have included a user replaceable battery that is used only to power a momentary backlight and the audio circuit. Empty space inside of the unit is plentiful.  The Gamma-Scout could have easily been 1/2 the size with room to spare.

While the unit works well in my testing, I am left with the feeling that most of the price I paid went straight to the profit column. Many of the modern electronic Geiger counters seem overpriced. One exception to this are Russian made units that are appearing on Ebay. I have ordered a very inexpensive, non-digital handheld unit.  I will use the Gamma-Scout as a reference unit as it is reliably accurate.

Lots of waisted space.. looking through bottom with USB cover removed.With all of my negative comments, you'd think I was not very happy with the Gamma-Scout.  The truth is I feel pretty comfortable with it.  It is accurate and reliable. Gamma-Scout units have a proven track record. I am disappointed with its lack of survey capabilities but feel I can complement it by using a low cost Russian unit for surveying, and the Gamma-Scout for an accurate assessment once I locate and item with the survey unit. Also, Gamma-Scout also offers a 90 day money back guarantee for any reason.  

After my Russian unit arrives, I will update this info and add a review on that unit.

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