Flashlights – both hand-held and weapon-mounted – are important for self defense, survival and law enforcement duties. If you can’t see in the dark, you are at a serious disadvantage. In these flashlight reviews, I take a look at a variety of different illumination methods and tools you can use to mount them to your firearms.
Some of the white lights listed below include laser aiming devices, while others are just an illumination tool. Make sure you read each review to understand the features of each tool. Also, please review the testing protocol I use so you have a greater understanding of exactly what I did and how the results compare to other lights I have tested.
- DeWalt 1AAT Flashlight – This is a small LED light that offers a surprising amount of light from a single AA battery. While not marketed as a “tactical” light, the 1AAT flashlight does a credible job in the role. Take a look at the review to get the full story.
- DeWalt 3D LED Flashlight – The DeWalt 3D LED flashlight is one of the better values on the market. We first reviewed this light more than four years ago, and it has stood up to more abuse than anyone else is likely to throw at it. It remains bright and very miserly on battery use.
- DeWalt DPGA-3AAA LED – This is another DeWalt flashlight that is not branded as being tactical, but serves that purpose very well. It runs on AAA batteries and generates 80 lumens of light. That may not sound like a lot when compared to some of the most recent lights, but it is plenty bright to get the job done.
- Elzetta ZFH1500 Review – While Elzetta does make high-quality flashlights, this review is on their AT-15 flashlight mount. If you need an inexpensive but reliable way to mount a light to your A2-style AR-15, you really should look at the ZFH1500. It is a great design.
- ExtremeBeam M600 – This is one of those times where I wanted to like a flashlight, but was ultimately disappointed. I cannot recommend this light, but you will probably want to read why.
- Nightstick MT-210 – Yes, this is a small light. However, it is rated at 120 lumens for 90 minutes. Does it deliver on this promise? And is it really waterproof? Well, we test all of these claims and more.
- Olight PL-1 II Valkyrie – I wound up being very impressed by this inexpensive light. Designed from the ground up to be a weapon light, it proved very durable and threw a bright flood-type light that was great for room clearing and suspect identification.
- Streamlight ProTac 1AA – This small light offers a lot of power and a respectable two hour run time. Plus, it is pretty inexpensive. It’s not without its compromises, but it is definitely worth your consideration.
- Streamlight ProTac 1AAA – Perfect for every day carry, this light will run for nearly 3 hours on a single lithium AAA battery. It passed the impact and water testing without a problem, and it generates little heat.
- Streamlight ProTac 2AAA – For a carry everywhere kind of light, the 2AAA is a first class performer. It provides plenty of light for threat identification, but is thin and very light. The real bonus is it’s low price.
- Streamlight ProTac HL 3 – This incredibly powerful flashlight was introduced in 2014. We run it through all of the testing you have asked for: drop tests, submersion tests and run time tests.
- Streamlight Strion LED HL – New for 2013, the Strion LED HL is an amazingly powerful flashlight that is small enough for EDC, but tough enough to be carried by cops and soldiers alike. The best part is how affordable it is.
- Streamlight TLR-1s HP – Are you old enough to remember the old “Reach out and touch someone” television commercials? Those commercials could describe this amazing weapon light. The TLR-1s HP is rated at 46,000 candela! That translates into an effective range of nearly 600 meters! Perfect for mounting on an AR/M4 rifle.
- Streamlight TLR-2 – This evaluation is on the updated (for 2013) TLR-2 light and laser combo unit. The TLR-2 mounts to any firearm with a Glock or Picatinny accessory rail and provides 300 lumens plus a red laser aiming device. The user can select to use either or both at the same time.
- Streamlight TLR-2 G – The “G” stands for green: welcome to the incredible world of daylight visible green laser aiming devices. This unit is actually smaller than the standard TLR-2, but has the much more visible green laser. It does have one pitfall that could be a very serious drawback depending on where you live. Read the full review if you are interested in this one.
- Streamlight TLR-4 – The TLR-4 is another all-in-one light and laser package from Streamlight. Unlike the other units, though, this one is specifically designed for compact handguns. It mounts to accessory rails (Glock or Picatinny) like the others, but is shorter in length.
- Streamlight TLR-6 – I pound this light on the pavement, shoot it from the Glock 43 and even do a full run time test in an illuminating sphere. How does it perform?
We still have a number of flashlight and weapon light reviews in the pipeline. As we complete them, we will post them to the site and list them here.
If you have any specific requests, feel free to let us know. We cannot guarantee to get to every one, but we will certainly try.
Note: These testing standards were last updated July 17, 2015. Testing done prior to this date may not adhere to these standards. Older reviews will be updated as time permits.
There has never been a better time in history for anyone looking for quality flashlights. The market is awash with manufacturers making all sorts of tactical and utilitarian hand held lights. However, with so many options, consumers can easily be overwhelmed by the marketing hype used by so many companies.
It is my goal to cut through the BS and give you a reasonable idea of the performance you can expect from each light.
Working with members of both the flashlight and firearms world, I have developed a series of tests that I will perform on each flashlight I review. These tests are described in greater detail below. In summary, they are:
- output over time
- beam and spill
- heat generation
- impact resistance
- water resistance
In addition to these tests, I will describe the various features and workings of the light along with my experiences while using it.
Please note: The tests I do are not scientific. While I try to control for some of the most obvious variables, I am not conducting these to establish any absolute stats or to prove/disprove a manufacturer’s stated specifications. The data collected through this testing is intended to illustrate the relative usefulness of a flashlight and to provide limited comparison data between different lights tested with the same protocols.
A Note About the FL-1 Standards
ANSI/NEMA FL-1 is a set of voluntary standards developed to help consumers compare different flashlights. The standards are not perfect, and can be gamed. I believe that they are an important step forward for consumers. As time progresses, the standards can be improved.
The FL-1 standards are voluntary, and not all flashlight manufacturers adhere to them. Additionally, and perhaps most important, the standards are not policed by any organization. This means that a company could conceivably fabricate all of the testing data and no one would ever be able to make them stop.
Although the standards were, in theory, developed to assist consumers, they are not published for public viewing. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association publishes the standards and charges $70 for the privilege to examine them. I ponied up the money to ensure I could speak with some authority on the subject. The non-enforcement ability of NEMA is clearly stated in the standards.
In the descriptions of my tests, I will make reference to the related (if any) FL-1 standards and explain the differences as needed.
Output Over Time
Two of the main things that many people are interested in are:
- How bright is the flashlight? and
- How long does it run?
This is where the FL-1 standards fail to deliver an accurate picture to the consumer. The FL-1 standards test for light output, peak beam intensity and runtime. However, they do not offer any information regarding “how bright for how long.”
For the total light output measured in lumens, the flashlight is turned on and the highest reading measured by the testing equipment in the 30 seconds to 2 minute time range after the light has been turned on. So, to get a high output number, the light could be designed to hit a peak 31 seconds into the run and then drop off to virtually nothing.
But wait, you say…what about the runtime?
Well, in the FL-1 standards, run time has very little to do with the reported output. According to the FL-1 standards, run time is calculated from the peak measurement (the reported output) until the light dwindles down to a mere 10% of the peak.
In theory, an FL-1 compliant flashlight could put out 100 lumens at 31 seconds and then drop to 11 lumens at the 32 second mark. Then at 11 lumens, the light could limp along for two hours before finally dropping below the 10% threshold. The reported stats: 100 lumens output with a two hour runtime. Clearly those stats do not tell the whole story, and can paint an inaccurate picture in the consumer’s mind.
Good companies will publish a performance curve that shows output over time, but some do not.
Elzetta put together this video to try to explain the problems with the standard here:
For my testing, I use a home made illuminating sphere to measure visible output through the lens in lux over time. A scientific illuminating sphere costs $10,000 and up. These can give precise measurements and an exact lumen output. I’m afraid that this is an expense that is outside the reach of this website’s budget currently. However, a home made illuminating sphere can still be very useful even if I cannot measure exact lumen output.
The sphere allows me to show a flashlight’s output over time – essentially replicating the expected performance curve. This should give you a reasonably accurate idea of how well the flashlight maintains its brightness over the life of the batteries.
While the measured output in lux is not comparable to the published output in lumens, the numbers should be reasonably accurate enough to suggest that of two lights I test which would be brighter. In other words, I cannot tell you if a manufacturers claims of 100 lumens (or whatever) is accurate, but I can tell you if the light is brighter than another flashlight that I’ve tested using this sphere.
My illuminating sphere was made using a hollow styrofoam sphere with an internal baffle and ports cut for both the flashlight an a light meter. I am using an Extech HD450 that allows me to capture light readings at regular intervals over time (such as one reading per second for two hours.)
FL-1 specs require the use of the batteries the flashlight ships with, or the batteries specifically recommended by the manufacturer. I follow a different protocol to better compare flashlights by using the same kind of batteries from test to test. For each test, a fresh set of batteries is used. Testing is conducted with the following kinds of batteries:
- CR123A – Streamlight 85177
- common alkaline (AA, etc.) – Duracell Coppertop
- common size lithium (AA, etc.) – Energizer Ultimate Lithium
- less common batteries (button, 1/3N, etc.) – Duracell
For flashlights that ship with rechargeable batteries, the batteries will be fully charged per manufacturer recommendations prior to testing.
Beam and Spill
Defining a light beam is difficult to do in words alone: measurement and photos are needed. I provide night photos (with and without the flashlight turned on) to help you get a feel for the shape of the beam being thrown.
Additionally, I measure output at a target from a known distance. The target is a suspended white photography background with marks at the center and every 6” out to 2 feet. The light is set at 12’ from the target with the approximate center of the beam on the center of the target. The 10’ distance should be a reasonable approximation of across a bedroom.
I take measurements with the HD450 at the center and marked distances to build a graph of brightness. These numbers are reported as percentages of the center for a more intuitive understanding of the light roll off away from the center of the beam. Tight beams will generally show a significantly brighter center, while flood-type lights will show a more even light distribution.
In the FL-1 standards, the peak beam intensity is measured in candela. Generally speaking, the larger the candela measurement relative to the manufacturer’s stated output measurement (lumens), the tighter the center beam. This is a broad generalization, but one I feel comfortable with. I believe measuring the center and periphery as I am doing now is a more accurate way of providing useful data.
FL-1 standards also provide for a beam distance measurement. This measurement is merely a mathematical equation based on the peak beam intensity measurement: √(peak beam intensity/0.25) So, the greater the peak beam intensity, the longer the beam distance.
During the run time testing described above, I use an infrared thermometer to take external temperature measurements of the flashlight at regular intervals. Depending on the efficiency of the electronics and the design of the light (use of radiator fins, etc.), temperatures can vary widely from light to light – even for lights with very similar output ratings.
Some flashlights can become very hot – even too hot to hold. If a light is going to become unreasonably warm, you should know about it prior to buying.
There is no FL-1 standard related to heat.
Flashlights are like any other tool; they will be dropped from time to time. It is important to know that your light will not fail because it hit slipped from your hand and hit the sidewalk.
Many manufacturers claim varying degrees of impact resistance. The most common is a 1 meter drop resistance, though 2 meters or more can also be claimed.
It has been my experience that some lights do not measure up the the impact resistance claimed by the company building them. As a former police officer, I relied heavily on my flashlights. They were constantly exposed to abuses that are not typical for the average gun owner. So, I took this rating very seriously, and developed my testing protocol to reflect that view.
If you imagine a flashlight as a cube, it would have six sides. I drop the flashlight from each of those six “sides” onto a concrete sidewalk. The drop height is determined by the claims made by the manufacturer. If no claims of impact resistance are made, I test the light at a 1 meter height.
To ensure strikes on the head and tail of the flashlight, I use a PVC tube to guide the flashlight’s journey to the hard concrete. The tubes are sufficiently oversized to prevent slowing of the fall due to friction, but will still ensure the correct end hits the ground first.
In addition to the obvious question of “Does the flashlight work after dropping,” I also look at how the impacts affected the light’s body. There is a wide range of finishes and materials that are used. Some are better than others, and you deserve to know what is going to be the most durable.
The FL-1 standard for impact resistance requires five sample flashlights to all pass a drop test very similar to the one I use. Those lights must pass with a 100% success rate. Unfortunately, I do not have the budget to run this test with five flashlights.
The FL-1 standard does measure or fail a flashlight for cosmetic damage. However, visible cracks and breaks will fail the light.
Curiously, the FL-1 standards state that 1 meter is the minimum height that may be reported as an impact resistance rating. Additionally, for any ratings greater than 1 meter, the measurement must be rounded down to the next lowest whole number. For example, a 1.9 meter rating would be listed as 1 meter. I have seen flashlights list ratings outside of these standards (e.g. 2.5 meters.) This is another example of where a lack of enforcement can result in the standards not being followed.
Many tactical flashlights are rated as being water resistant or waterproof. Water resistance suggests the light is not going to die because it was splashed by a wave, spilled drink or even heavy rainfall. The term waterproof, however, suggest the light can be submerged for a period of time and continue functioning.
Most companies that list a light as waterproof will list the light as IPX4 (water resistant), IPX7 (waterproof to 1 meter for 30 minutes) or IPX8 (submersible to a manufacturer specified depth for four hours.) As with the drop test, depth should be rounded down to the nearest whole meter according to FL-1 specifications.
For my testing of waterproof claims, I use paracord to suspend the light in a salt water pool. This works great for one meter testing. I have not yet developed a reasonable protocol for testing flashlights that claim waterproofing beyond one meter. Perhaps something with a pressure cooker? Suggestions are welcome.
In both my testing and in the FL-1 standards, the water resistance testing is done after the impact testing. That way if the drops compromised the integrity of the light’s seals, it will show up. Like in the impact testing, the FL-1 standard requires all five lights from the impact testing to pass the water test for the manufacturer to claim the water resistance rating.
According to FL-1 standards, a flashlight will still pass if there is limited water intrusion into areas other than functional areas that have unprotected electrical components (circuit board, batteries, contacts, etc.)
It is not my intention to regularly change my testing procedures. That would make things difficult for you to try to compare two different lights that i have tested.
That said, I am open to suggestions on how to improve my reviews. Let me know what you think in the comments section. All reasonable suggestions are gladly accepted and will be considered.