This is a story about American legacies.
Three great companies that led the efforts to harness light.
Sounds almost apocalyptic.
In fact, however, these great companies, and others such as Cree, the inventor of LED lights, and John Goodenough, the inventor of Lithium batteries, converged in history to produce the tactical flashlight that most individuals use today.
It didn't start out that way.
Most of us remember those big black D cell incandescent flashlights that our father's had around the house. In fact, if you remember, these are the very lights we imagine police officers holding in one hand and slapping in the palm of their other hand. The ones that were in the popular culture movies, like “Observe and Report” one of the original mall cop comedies, where Seth Rogan fights off cop after cop with one Maglite flashlight.
So, what happened to Maglite?
Still alive and well and here's a quote from their website: “Everyone has their own reason for choosing a MAGLITE® flashlight. Maybe your dad kept one in the truck, or you know someone who carried one on the force. It could be that you’re looking for the latest LED technology, or you want Built-In-America dependability. Whatever reason you have for choosing MAGLITE®, you’ll be glad you did. A U.S.A. manufacturer since 1979, Mag Instrument makes flashlights that are carried by thousands of law enforcement officers, emergency responders, military service members and ordinary people around the world. Every one of them has their own MagStory, and a few of them have even shared them.”
Maglite is still around. Still being used by a number of police departments and first responders as well as the military. They are playing a bit of catch up, however.
Maglites are usually and historically C and D Cell (read alkaline) batteries and incandescent bulbs (read burn out quickly).
Now, there are C and D cell lithium batteries, however, as one reviewer quips “Lithium D-cell options are more rare than an honest congressman.” They're also considerably more expensive, selling for around $50 for a package of 4 (rechargeables would set you back around $70).
Of course, Maglite is currently offering LED bulbs in their current models and even offering replacement kits to convert the old incandescent bulbs to the newer LED bulbs.
But…they are still locked primarily into alkaline. They have introduced some smaller versions of the Maglite with AA and AAA, but it seems they are still relying on the iconic Maglite flashlight, i.e. your father's flashlight.
Additionally, these lights are side button control only. Having this option limits the type of tactical holds you can deploy which you can read about in my article on the tactical use of flashlights here.
If you're a mall cop trying to fight off hordes of police officers, the Maglite with multiple D cell batteries may be the way to go. Lithium. however, is the way to go now – it's lighter, more powerful, has a longer shelf life and runs a near full power. You can read all about lithium batteries in my article here.
Here's an image of the updated Maglite with 3 D cells which is linked to an Amazon page. Actually, it still looks pretty good.
A word about NTOA – the National Tactical Officer's Association
If you're looking for a seal of approval on tactical gear, you need to look no farther than NTOA and their Member Tested Program.
This is not the only word on testing and quality but it is an indicator of what first responders and military use and recommend. You'll have to become a member to read the full reviews but you can filter the companies to see what products are recommended.
All three companies, Streamlight, Surefire, and Maglite, have a number of products represented and recommended at NTOA. That alone says a lot about the quality of these company's products.
Streamlight is one of the most popular lights used by first responders and the military. In fact, most police and military outlets will only sell the big three – Maglite, Surefire, and Streamlight. Additionally, all their accessories from belt holders to gun attachments will only fit one of these three lights.
So what's the history of Streamlight?
From Streamlight's About Us: “Streamlight is a “hands-on” company; we've been one since the company started in 1973, 45 years ago. We learn by doing, so we understand what our customers need because we're out there doing what they do, using the same lighting tools in the same ways. We go through firefighters' training. We take courses in low-light shooting. We're hunters, fishermen, outdoor and sports enthusiasts. We believe it's our hands-on, real-world experience that leads to new ideas and innovations that set Streamlight apart.”
Streamlight's lights are remarkable tactical products and to illustrate what these flashlights are like, I will discuss and review two representative samples – the ProTac HL-X and the PoluyTac X.
The Streamlight ProTac HL-X boosts 1000 lumens with a run time of 1 1/2 hours. It also has a medium light at 400 lumens, and a low light at 65 lumens for 23 hours. Finally, it has a strobe.
Both Streamlight's offer a programmable feature which switches the lights levels from high, strobe, low to high only and low, medium, high. High, strobe low is the default mode and is the preferred tactical program. The different programs are accessed through their 10 tap sequence – you tap the tail button ten times and hold on the last tap to change programs.
The HL-X is operated by a tail button with both momentary and permanent modes. A single touch turns on high, while two touches turn on strobe and three light the low light. Medium is accessed by changing the program.
The Streamlights are powered by two CR123A or one 18650 battery.
The light is approximately 5.4 inches and weight 5.7 oz.
The clip on the XL-X allows for lens up or down and a Streamlight holster allows holstering with lens up.
Without a doubt, the Streamlight ProTac HL-X is solid and reliable and the cost point at Amazon is around $77. The light is a warmer light and really seems true to its lumen rating. Quality is exemplified all throughout the unit. Highly, highly recommended.
The Streamlight PolyTac X trades off weight, it's 4.9 vs the ProTac's 5.3 ounces and boasts 600 vs 1000 lumens but runs for 3.5 vs. 1.5 hours. As in many things, there are tradeoffs but the PolyTac is a phenomenal tactical light.
The lumens specs are 600 on high for 3.5 hours, 260 lumens for medium and 35 lumens for a 36 hours run time on low.
Most of the other features are the same: three program modes, two CR123A or one 18650 battery and a warmer light. The same tail button with both momentary and permanent modes. Again, a single touch turns on high, while two touches turn on strobe and three light the low light. Medium still is accessed by changing the program.
What makes this light so special?
If you want a lighter weight light with almost the same lumens rating and a longer run time – this is a great choice. Additionally, the cost point at Amazon is lower at around $52. All in all a great choice.
Both of these lights work with the Streamlight holster pictured below. The nice feature with this holster is the clip is workable without completely taking off your belt (which is not the case with SureFire's holster).
SureFire is the last of the three legacy companies, but certainly not least. If I could describe their products in one word, it would be Quality. In fact, they are sometimes overbuilt but that I'm sure is not an oversight but on purpose.
Here's a short bit from SureFire's About Us: “SureFire is a story of what can be accomplished with light. The tale begins in 1969 when an engineer with a Ph.D. from Cal Tech decided the future lay in lasers. Dr. John Matthews founded the Newport Corporation to harness the power of the laser for industrial applications. Over the next decade, the Newport Corporation grew to become a leader in the laser field, pioneering a host of industrial uses for the laser. Patents were issued, contracts were won, business boomed. In 1984, the Olympic Games were to be held in The City Of Angels and the police wondered if it would be possible to borrow a number of laser-sighted shotguns to use for security during the Games. Eventually, the SureFire name became so synonymous with excellence in hand-held illumination tools that the company name, Laser Products, was changed to SureFire LLC.”
As with Streamlight, I can best discuss SureFire by reviewing and evaluating two of their representative sample tactical lights, the G2ZX Combat and the G2X Pro.
SureFire is a bit more conservative than other tactical light companies. The G2ZX Combat is an example of that. Made specifically for SWAT type uses, the light has one light mode at 600 lumens, with a runtime of 2 hours, and is operated by a tail button that is momentary only. In stress conditions, there is never a possibility of turning on the light for permanent on.
Even at 600 lumens the light is comparable to the Streamlight lights discussed above and produces a bluer or whiter light.
The light is slightly smaller than the Streamlights at 5.2 inches and is lighter than even their PolyTac at 4.3 oz (vs. 4.9 oz for the PolyTac).
Although there are no frills, not even a built-in clip, the light is solidly constructed and a real work of art. It is, however, specifically intended for SWAT type uses and should be viewed as such. The unit is reasonably priced at Amazon for around $50.
The SureFire G2X Pro (pictured above with the SureFire holster) continues the conservative tradition with 600 lumens at a 1 1/2 hour runtime but adds a low of 15 lumens at 45 hours. Like the Combat, it does not offer a Strobe but is approximately the same size, weight and cost as the Combat.
The G2X Pro offers a tail button with momentary and permanent switching to low and high beams (and in that order).
Both lights have orange peel reflector cones, which if you review my post on the construction of tactical lights are developed to even out the light and mitigate the hot centers.
A word of caution about the SureFire holster. The SureFire holster is made of Polyurethane and is configured to work with the light lens facing up. Unfortunately, the opening of the holster will allow for the flashlight to be inserted face down. It won't go all the way in but it will end up scratching the front part of the lights since the retainer in the holster is metal. This is not a problem with the Streamlight. Additionally, as mentioned earlier, the clip on the SureFire requires the removal of your belt, since the loop is attached to both ends. Again, the Streamlight has a clip that is not attached at the bottom to allow for easier attaching.
Finally, the SureFire holster is slightly more expensive than the Streamlight.
It is interesting to see where we have come in the development of tactical lights. Certainly, this is an American phenomenon, while other countries have continued the traditi0n with their own innovations.
We've all benefited and the growth, even over the last few years has been nothing short of tremendous.
Maglite is certainly the nostalgic company. It's light, however, are hindered because of their lack, or effective lack, of lithium power. Although there are certainly specific uses, generally speaking, I would not recommend them.
There's simply too many other quality lights the compete with much higher options and features.
Streamlight seems to have made the most progress – high powered light with the types of lighting – high and strobe that is critical to tactical uses.
They have great size/weight/feature/cost offerings. I actually didn't expect such a showing but Streamlight certainly came through. I would highly recommend their consideration.
SureFire is without a doubt the most conservative of the bunch and is highly respected with first responders and the military. Their features, however, may be too limiting for general use.
They are designed specifically for tactical use by police and SWAT teams and meet those needs quite well. Their build quality is impeccable but you may have to pass for most home use.
Hope you enjoyed this review.
Always be prepared. Be well.