This is a story about American flashlight legacies.
Three companies remain as the American legacies in the flashlight industry – Maglite, Streamlight, and Surefire. Three great companies that led the efforts to harness light. 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.
This post reviews their histories and gives an example or two of some of their stellar products.
Most of us remember our fathers' big black D cell incandescent flashlights lying around the house. A modern example is the Maglite ML300LX LED (Amazon link.)
In fact, if you recall, these are the very lights we imagine police officers holding in one hand and slapping in the palm of their other hand.
The ones in 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! Here's 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."
Maglite is still around. Still being used by several police departments, first responders, and 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 rarer 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 still rely 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.
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.
However, lithium is the way to go now – it's lighter, more powerful, has a longer shelf life, and runs near full power until exhausted.
Streamlight is among 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 ProTax HL-X boosts 1000 lumens with a run time of 1 1/2 hours. It also has a medium-light at 400 lumens and low light at 65 lumens for 23 hours. Finally, it has a strobe.
Both Streamlights offer a programmable feature that switches the light levels from high, strobe, low to high only and low, medium, and 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 to 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 weighs 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 warmer and really seems true to its lumen rating. Quality is exemplified throughout the unit.
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-hour run time on low.
Most of the other features are the same: three program modes, two CR123A or one 18650 battery, and 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?
This is a great choice if you want a lighter, lighter light with almost the same lumens rating and a longer run time. Additionally, the cost point at Amazon is lower at around $45. 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 essentially overbuilt, but I'm sure that's 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. 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 stressful conditions, there is never a possibility of turning on the light permanently.
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 Streamlight's 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 on 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 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 holster's opening will allow 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 developing tactical lights. Certainly, this is an American phenomenon, while other countries have continued the traditi0n with their innovations.
We've all benefited, and the growth, even over the last few years, has been nothing short of tremendous.
Maglite is certainly a nostalgic company. Its light, however, is hindered because of its lack, or effective lack, of lithium power. Although there are certainly specific uses, generally speaking, I would not recommend them.
Too many other quality lights 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- critical to tactical uses.
They have great size/weight/feature/cost offerings. I didn't expect such a showing, but Streamlight came through. I would highly recommend their consideration.
SureFire is undoubtedly the most conservative of the bunch and is highly respected by 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.
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; it is an indicator of what first responders and the 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 several products represented and recommended at NTOA. That alone says a lot about the quality of these companies' products.Back to top of page