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Field Test: Pistol Light Comparison

Written by Jennifer Gavigan

LED lights mounted on duty pistols are a critical aspect of officer safety. Tactical Response sought six of its readers to test five different pistol lights. The testers are tactical officers and tactical-minded patrol officers who used the equipment on patrol and during tactical training. They come from a wide cross section of law enforcement, including rural and urban departments and large and small departments. They are from all over the country, including Pennsylvania, California, Florida, Wyoming, New York and Alabama. The eight-week-long field test took place during late winter/early spring of 2011.

Tactical Response asked five of the top pistol light manufacturers to submit lights for testing and review. Each manufacturer sent a patrol-oriented, pistol-mounted LED light. To keep things apples-to-apples, we asked that lights with an integral laser (or tactical illuminator) not be submitted. Some of the companies sent lights that had strobe features, but that was not mandatory. No minimum lumen (brightness) was specified, but all the manufacturers sent their brightest pistol lights, ranging from 90 lumens to 170 lumens. The lights were all LED. They can be used on a tactical officer’s pistol, but the primary use is for mounting on a patrol officer’s pistol.

The areas of evaluation rated by users included the following: ease of installation, security, compatibility, switch functionality, size/weight, durability, brightness, battery life and tactical features.

The following pistol lights were tested: BlackHawk’s XIPHOS, Insight’s WX150, Smith & Wesson’s Micro 90, Streamlight’s TLR-1s and SureFire’s X300. The lights were rated using a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = poor, 5 = excellent). The reviewers were also asked for their overall opinion of each light. Following is a detailed description of each light and a summary of the results and how each light ranked.
 
Smith & Wesson
Micro 90

Average Score 3.2

The Smith & Wesson Micro90™ Compact Pistol Light is a miniature, high-output, solid-state LED weapon light designed for tactical carry and home defense use. With 90 peak lumens of true, “out the bezel” light and a run time exceeding two hours, the Micro90 delivers blinding illumination with precision performance. From sub-compacts to full-size weapons, the Micro90’s unique UniBar latching system fits securely on almost all brands of pistols and guns with accessory rails.

Additional features include digitally controlled, advanced micro technology for 90 peak lumens of brightness; two-plus hour “constant on” run time (to 10 percent usable light); on-weapon battery replacement; front-loading aircraft aluminum bezel; ambidextrous switches; and “momentary” and “constant on” modes. The MSRP is $99.50.

Smith & Wesson’s Micro90 took last place with an overall average score of 3.2 out of 5. However, it scored well in the Size & Weight category. Nicholas Borchard, Rialto PD (Calif.), said this light was “less than half the weight of several of the lights.”

Others comemnted that the size and weight of the Micro90 did not affect the balance of the pistol. Jarrad Berkihiser, Lancaster City Bureau of Police (Pa.), stated that due to the light’s compact nature and construction, the size and weight were “excellent.”

Some reviewers disagreed on the Micro90’s Brightness rating, with scores ranging from 1 to 5. Kevin Lang, New Port Richey PD (Fla.), described it as “very dim and limited to small rooms.” On the other hand, Charles Searor, Oswego City PD (N.Y.), said it was “very bright for a small light.” As with most of the lights, battery life didn’t seem to be an issue. In the security category, a few officers noted that once the Micro90 light was mounted, it stayed in place and remained locked.

BlackHawk! Products Group
XIPHOS
Average Score 3.8


The BlackHawk XIPHOS weapon-mounted light is designed for one-handed activation and features a patent-pending Cam-Clamp mount that allows the user to quickly install the light onto nearly any rail weapon mount without using tools. The Cam-Clamp eliminates the need to slide the light down long rails, and it installs in the desired location instantly.

Additional features include duplicate ambidextrous operation of all programmed functions; an intelligent circuit design that eliminates afterglow; more than two hours of total runtime; and an anti-reflective glass lens to ensure maximum light output. There are no tools required for installation or battery removal.

The XIPHOS is lightweight and won’t change the feel of an officer’s weapon.

The XIPHOS is made of corrosion-resistant black anodized aluminum and stainless steel with black oxide-finish metal in an injection-molded carbon-fiber/polymer body. The high-impact lifetime LED resists high G-forces from recoil and drops. Modes of output include a “momentary switch,” a “constant on” setting, a strobe option and a low battery indicator. In addition, the XIPHOS is water resistant up to 10 meters. The MSRP is $199.99.

BlackHawk’s XIPHOS had an average score of 3.8, scoring high in the Security, Brightness and Battery Life categories. Many of the reviewers said the battery life on the XIPHOS “was never an issue.” According to Lang, the locking lever stayed in place, and regarding the Security category, he said, “Many draws in and out of the holster, and it did not loosen.” In the Brightness category, most officers said the XIPHOS was good for both indoor and outdoor tactical situations.

Detective W. Blake Strickland, University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) PD, said the brightness was “more than enough to easily recognize targets over 20 feet.” In terms of compatibility, all the testers commented on the fact that the XIPHOS is holster-specific. Berkihiser said, “You have to purchase a BlackHawk holster if you want to use this light.” However, some of the officers disagreed on ease of installation for the XIPHOS. John Love, Green River PD (Wyo.), thought the initial setup was “very complex,” while Borchard said the XIPHOS was one of the easiest lights to install because it had a lot of free play, allowing the light to move onto the rails easily.

Streamlight
TLR-1s
Average Score 4.4


Streamlight’s TLR-1s® is a bright, virtually indestructible tactical light that includes a user-programmable strobe enable/ disable. The TLR-1s is powered by two 3-volt CR123A lithium batteries with a 10-year storage life. Additional features include a C4® LED with blinding beam (TLR-1: 135 lumens, TLR-1s: 160 lumens) and optimum peripheral illumination; up to a 2.5-hour run time; machined aluminum sealed construction with black anodized finish; and fast, adjustable, secure side mounting. The TLR-1s is also dustproof and waterproof to one meter for one hour.

The rail grip clamp system securely attaches/detaches quickly and safely with no tools and without putting officers’ hands in front of the muzzle. With the ambidextrous momentary/steady on-off switch, users can double-tap the momentary paddle within 0.4 seconds to activate the strobe.

The TLR-1s includes rail locating keys for Glock style, 1913 Picatinny, SW99/TSW and Beretta 90two mounting. It also features an IPX7 rated design and weighs 4.18 ounces. The MSRP is $199.00.

The Streamlight TLR-1s tied for first place with an average overall score of 4.4. It scored high in Durability, Brightness and Battery Life, with all 4s and 5s in those categories. The TLR-1s was identified as being the strongest and most rugged light of the group. “It performed flawlessly throughout the tests and evaluations,” Borchard said. In the Brightness category, Love reported that the TLR-1s had “excellent illumination.” As evidenced by the high scores, the majority of reviewers said the battery life was not an issue and the batteries did not have to be changed during the testing period.

Most of the officers gave Streamlight’s pistol light high marks in Features, for both patrol and tactical use. Berkihiser said this light has all the features he needs and noted that the “momentary switch is easy to use and is ambidextrous.” Although a few officers commented on the heavier weight of the TLR-1s, they did not feel it affected the balance of their weapon. The testing group differed on the TLR-1s scores for Ease of Installation. One reviewer stated it was the most difficult to put on and take off, while another said it was easy to install and easy to remove.

Insight Technology 
WX150
Average Score 4.4


Insight Technology’s WX150 is a ruggedly built LED weapon light featuring a hard-coat anodized aluminum body that is designed to fit existing M3 holsters. Its powerful 150 lumens of white light from a Cree LED, powered by two 3V 123 lithium batteries (included), give the WX150 a little more than two hours of run time. The WX150 easily mounts to most pistol rails by using Insight’s patented adjustable Slide-Lock® interface. Officers simply slide the unit onto the pistol’s rail and lock it into place with the spring-loaded latch bar. The WX150 comes with two latch bars to ensure the proper fit.

Additionally, the WX150’s removable backplate uses the same independent and ambidextrous rocker switch found on the XTI, giving the operator the choice of Momentary On, Constant On or Strobing modes to handle any low-light tactical scenario. Toggle either side’s switch down for Momentary On or double tap down for Strobe. Locking either side up will put the WX150 into “constant on” mode. The WX150 can be locked into a “constant strobe” by tapping down once and quickly locking the switch upward. The WX150 is covered by a limited lifetime warranty. The MSRP is $239.99.

Insight’s WX150 tied with two other lights for first place with an average overall score of 4.4. The WX150 scored highest out of all the lights in the Ease of Installation category, with a 4.5 overall score in that category. Searor said the WX150 was “very user friendly.” Other officers agreed; Borchard said the Insight light was the simplest of all the lights to install. Rob Fischer, Green River PD, was so impressed with Insight’s light that he gave it 5s in every category.

The WX150 also received high marks in the Security, Compatibility and Switch Functionality departments. The majority of the testers rated it a 5 in Security. Lang commented that the light “locks securely and tight to the pistol frame.” In terms of compatibility, the light worked in standard molded holsters without issue for most of the officers. The functionality of the switches even worked well with gloves, according to Lang.

SureFire 
X300
Average Score 4.4


The SureFire X300 features a high-efficiency LED that generates 170 lumens of brilliant white light focused by a Total Internal Reflection (TIR) lens to produce a tight beam with good reach and significant surround light for peripheral vision. The LED has no filament to burn out or break and generates tactical-level light for 2.4 hours per set of batteries. The high-strength aerospace aluminum body is Mil-Spec hard anodized for superior toughness and corrosion resistance, and it is O-ring and gasket sealed to make it submersible to 22 meters.

The X300 Rail-Lock® system comes with adapter plates, permitting rapid attachment to and removal from universal or Picatinny rails. An ambidextrous push/toggle switch provides one-finger operation for either “momentary on” or “constant on” operation. Optional pistol grip switches permit operation with the top grip finger, leaving the index finger free to operate the handgun trigger. Other switches are available for operating the X300 when attached to a long gun. The MSRP is $275.00.

SureFire’s X300 also tied for first place with an average overall score of 4.4. It scored highest out of all the lights tested in Brightness, with all 5s in that category. “The intensity and brightness of the entire light were excellent,” Borchard stated. Other officers agreed, saying it had “the brightest wide beam and distance beam light.” Strickland said the X300’s features cover 99 percent of the functions that officers need in the patrol and/or tactical environment.

The testers also praised the X300 for compatibility, durability and battery life. “Switches are rugged and sturdy, and the battery door seals tight,” Lang commented when describing the X300’s durability, ruggedness and reliability. However, some of the officers disagreed in the Ease of Functionality and Ease of Installation categories, with scores ranging from 1 to 5. Jesse Nielson, Green River PD, thought the toggles on the SureFire light were stiff when rotated up or down. Alternatively, Borchard said his department currently has numerous officers carrying SureFire lights. “This light equipped with a push forward for the intermittent is very well liked,” he noted.

Even though three of the pistol lights tied for first place (Insight’s WX150, Steamlight’s TLR-1s and SureFire’s X300), reviews of the lights varied quite a bit. As with any field test comparison, opinions differed due to personal preference, as evidenced by the wide range of scores for each category. For example, it was not specified that the lights had to fit certain holsters (the BlackHawk light needs a BlackHawk holster, but they sent the holster it needs).

This issue was addressed in the Compatibility section (i.e., Is it OK that a special holster is needed?), allowing the reviewers to decide for themselves. Some of the reviewers thought certain pistol lights were suited for all tactical applications, while others preferred them for light duty or more recreational use. We extend our sincere thanks to our panel of testers. Their time and efforts are greatly appreciated.

Jennifer Gavigan has been writing for Tactical Response magazine for eight years. She can be reached at jgavigan@hendonpub.com.

Published in Tactical Response, May/Jun 2011

Rating : 9.3


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