recently conducted a Field Test of LED lights for patrol rifles. This involved LED rifle lights from five manufacturers: American Technologies Network (ATN), INOVA, Streamlight, Sunlite Science & Technology and SureFire.
The lights tested were LED only—not halogen, and not HID. The lights had to produce enough output for long-range rifle use and had to be suitable for mounting on an AR-15 pattern patrol rifle. The lights had to use stand-alone batteries, as opposed to being rechargeable. All mounting hardware and switching options were provided by the manufacturers.
The LED rifle lights were sent for evaluation to several testers across the United States. The participants were tactical and police officers from a variety of regions and agencies who used the lights in tactical training and during operations.
The rifle lights were evaluated based on the following criteria: ease of installation; ability to mount in various locations; security and durability of mounting hardware; functionality of the switch, push-button, twist-knob or pressure tape; size and weight of the light; durability, ruggedness and reliability of the light; and sufficiency of brightness for patrol or SWAT use.
The supplied LEDs were given a score from 1 to 5 in each category, 1 being “poor” and 5 being “excellent.” Following is a review of how each LED rifle light ranked among the evaluating officers, including which features were most appreciated, what problems officers found and the overall average score of each light. American Technologies Network Javelin J600W Average Score 3.3
Overall, testers found the J600W from ATN’s Javelin Series to be a very durable, solid, rugged light. However, every tester also reported that this was the largest and heaviest light of those tested, and some even felt that it was too heavy for weapon mounting and would be better suited for handheld use.
Due to its size, most testers found that the mounting options were limited with the J600W, as a minimum length rail was required. Mounting hardware, however, was reported to be sturdy and durable, and most testers found the J600W easy to mount.
For this Field Test, ATN submitted its lights with the pressure tape system for activation. Many officers felt that they would prefer the push-button method, which ATN does offer as an option with the J600W. Testers felt the length of the cord on the pressure switch could pose a safety hazard by potentially getting caught or snagging on objects. Testers were also dissatisfied with the limited activation options of the pressure switch, which only allows for momentary on.
Officers were pleased with the J600W’s performance in training exercises, though they again mentioned issues with the size and weight of the light. Sergeant Eric Schmitt said, “This is a fairly large, heavy light, which does add noticeably to the front weight. However, this light provided the most illumination in wide areas, so it’s a trade-off. If you’re going to have to stand on target for a long time, the weight will be an issue. For normal tactical movement and shooting, I did fine.”
Testers found ATN’s LED rifle light to be very bright and effective in room-clearing exercises. Many reported that the width of the beam was impressive, and while most thought the length of the beam was sufficient, others felt that it could be longer considering the size and heavy-duty construction of the light.
The ATN Javelin Series J600W rifle light received an overall average score of 3.3 out of 5. The MSRP for the J600W tactical flashlight is $269. Sunlite Science & Technology CR123 Strobing 8W Far Projection Average Score 3.4
One of the strong points for the CR123 Strobing 8WFP from Sunlite was its smaller size and the ease with which it could be mounted in various locations. Corporal Eric Belshe said, “Installation of the Sunlite onto a long gun rail was quick and easy due to the simple scope-type mount used. The mount’s thumb screw was easy to operate which made transitioning the light system from weapon to weapon quick and painless.”
The 8WFP also incorporates a rubber sleeve for mounting which helps to hold the light in place. Most felt that this provided a tight, secure fit for the light, though one officer questioned if the rubber would deteriorate over time.
The Sunlite LED could be operated by either the tail cap switch or a separate pressure switch. The tail cap could be held down to engage the light for momentary on or strobe, or it could be turned for constant on. Some testers were displeased that the tail cap had to be turned for constant on, feeling that this could waste valuable time during a mission. They did, however, appreciate that the push-button was recessed into the tail cap to prevent accidental engagement.
The general consensus seemed to be that the 8WFP was a relatively small, compact to average-sized light sufficient for rifle use. It was found to be adequately durable, rugged and reliable, apart from some suggestions that the switches were unreliable or prone to failure. Some testers found the beam bright enough, while others felt it did not carry well over long distances.
Chief Deputy Mike Quintal found that “The beam was fairly narrow. The light was sufficient in CQB … [but] targets were difficult to identify beyond 60 yards.” Kevin Davis, SWAT (ret.), conversely, reported that this rifle light had “good brightness for inside and outside work at a distance.”
The Sunlite Basic CR123 Strobing 8WFP received an overall average score of 3.4 out of 5. The MSRP for Sunlite’s 8WFP alone is $99. When purchased as a kit with the 1-inch mount and the 5-inch pressure switch, as it was supplied for this Field Test, the MSRP is $139. INOVA INFORCE 9V
Average Score 3.5
Ease of installation and security of mounting hardware were areas in which the INOVA INFORCE 9V excelled. In addition to being small and light enough to mount in various locations, the mounting hardware contains a unique screw tension device which is reliable and easy to use. Many officers also praised the 9V for its “quick detach system,” which allowed the light to be quickly and easily removed from the mount for other uses, such as searching a vehicle.
The INOVA light was supplied with both the tail cap switch and a pressure switch. Several testers liked that this light had a number of options (momentary on, constant on, strobe) and said that the 9V had more modes than any other light tested. Yet others felt that these various modes made the light too complicated. Deputy Greg Gritsch commented that the “multi-mode lighting makes it impossible to turn the light off for quick movement in low-light situations,” and Davis felt that “simpler would be better on a tactical light.”
Testers were pleased with the size and weight of the INFORCE LED for weapon mount, and they felt that it was both durable and reliable. Schmitt said that “For its size and weight, this light packed a lot of punch. While the light dissipates over long distances, it will do fine for normal rifle applications.”
However, a number of officers said that the 9V had the lowest light intensity of all those tested. Officers generally found that the beam of the 9V had more width than depth and would perhaps work better for indoor use rather than outdoor or distance work.
The INOVA INFORCE 9V received an overall average score of 3.5 out of 5. The MSRP for the INOVA INFORCE 9V alone is $97. The total MSRP for the 9V light, the weapon mount and the tape switch, all of which were supplied for this Field Test, is $204. Streamlight Super Tac
Average Score 4.2
With the variety of mounting options supplied by Streamlight for the Field Test, testers found the Super Tac very easy to mount. The mounting systems allowed placement both in various locations and on different types of weapons. There was a permanent mount option, although some testers liked the “quick detach” mount so that the light could be removed for other uses.
Testers did have issues with the size of the light head, which was generally thought to be too large. This limited where officers were able to mount the light, and some thought it might make the Super Tac unsuitable for weapon mount. Most testers felt that the small body, however, offset the large head of the light, resulting in an overall light weight.
Streamlight also provided various switching options, including two different pressure switches. Schmitt liked the pressure switch with the coiled wire as it “gives more options without the cable hanging out.” Many officers were pleased with the functionality of the tail cap switch as well, which engaged easily, though some felt that it could have some kind of protective shroud to prevent accidental engagement.
Overall, testers were very impressed with the intensity of the Super Tac’s beam, and many said that it was the brightest of those tested. The general consensus seemed to be that the light was very bright and focused, thus making it good for long distances, though there wasn’t much diffusion for illuminating objects around the target.
“The bright and tight-focused beam could easily reach out and identify a specific target,” Belshe said, though Quintal thought “it was not as useful for CQB or urban environments.” Schmitt noted that the concentrated beam could actually be used to sight the gun up to 20 yards.
The Streamlight Super Tac received an overall average score of 4.2 out of 5. The MSRP for the Super Tac light alone is $118. The Super Tac Kit, which was supplied for this Field Test and which includes the light, vertical grip and low-profile mount, has an MSRP of $299. SureFire M620C Scout Light
Average Score 4.4
The SureFire M620C Scout Light was the easiest and quickest LED to mount according to testers. Almost all were thoroughly pleased with the mounting hardware, reporting that the throw-lever clamp was very easy to operate and provided a tight, secure grip. There is also a quick release feature so that the light can be detached for handheld use. Only one officer said that the lever was prone to accidental disengagement and that it snagged on clothing and gear straps. All others praised the mounting system of the M620C, which is permanently affixed to the light body.
Officers were also thoroughly pleased with the switch functionality. They found that the switches required just the right amount of pressure, were easy to engage and were protected from accidental engagement. Gritsch appreciated that the tail cap push-button had a constant on feature so that his hands were left free to perform other tasks.
Of all the evaluated lights, testers found SureFire’s to be the most compact, making it highly desirable for rifle use as it occupied minimal rail space. The lightweight durability of the aluminum body was highly praised. Quintal said, “The light proved to be rugged and reliable during exercises. I was impressed with the durability of the light in relation to its size and weight.”
Though this was not found to be the brightest light of those tested, the majority of officers felt that the Scout Light was the most suitable for long gun use overall. The beam was reported to be very concentrated with sufficient diffusion for peripheral sighting. It was generally thought to be more suited for CQB or indoor use, as some officers felt that target identification would be difficult at greater distances. Yet overall, the M620C ranked the highest, and according to Sniper Team Leader William Welling, “The Surefire’s size, weight and strong mounting system are perfect for SWAT use.”
The SureFire M620C Scout Light received an overall average score of 4.4 out of 5. The MSRP for the SureFire M620C Scout Light is $525. Kelly Spence is the assistant editor for Tactical Response and can be reached at kspence@ hendonpub.com. New LED Light Brightness Standards
By Susan Geoghegan
In October 2009, Streamlight announced the adoption of a new voluntary basic performance standard for flashlight brightness. Standardized tests and a uniform rating system for flashlight equipment were created when a coalition of 14 prominent flashlight manufacturers performed individual tests and shared their results. After two years of research and testing, and working under the guidance of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the coalition developed the ANSI-NEMA FL1-2009 Flashlight Basic Performance Standard.
As the first worldwide flashlight standard, it provides testing methods and definitions for basic performance, in addition to brightness marking or labeling. Before development of these guidelines, buyers did not have access to industry-wide standards to determine which flashlight would best suit their needs. It was also impossible to monitor, and respond to, false or exaggerated claims made by flashlight manufacturers, importers or distributors.
After deciding which basic metrics to measure (such as run time and light output), the coalition determined the standards by which to evaluate performance. They discussed individual standards contributed by the participants as a group, which allowed them to fine-tune the end product.
The new ANSI/NEMA flashlight standard allows customers to rate and compare important features, such as beam distance and intensity, water and impact resistance, light output and run time. The standard also includes a series of icons that participating manufacturers will use to identify product information and performance rating. This should result in better solutions to false product claims.
Participating ANSI/NEMA FL-1 Standard Manufacturers
Panel of Testers Eric Belshe
- Dorcy International
- Princeton Tec
- SureFire, LLC
- The Brinkman Corp.
- Energizer Holdings
- ASP Inc.
- Streamlight Inc.
- Cat Eye Co. Inc.
- Black Diamond
- The Coleman Co. Inc.
- Duracell Inc.
: Corporal; Cameron, MO PD; Cameron, MO Jerry Cox
: Sergeant; Wichita County Sheriff’s Office; Wichita Falls, TX Kevin Davis
: SWAT (ret.); Akron PD; Akron, OH Randy Elliot
: Lieutenant; Wichita County Sheriff’s Office; Wichita Falls, TX Jack Griffin
: Officer; Greenwood Village PD; Greenwood Village, CO Greg Gritsch
: Deputy; Jackson County Sheriff’s Office; Medford, OR Mike Hopper
: Captain; Wichita County Sheriff’s Office; Wichita Falls, TX Alan Moody
: Detective; Greenwood Village PD; Greenwood Village, CO Michael Quintal
: Chief Deputy; Lewis County Sheriff’s Office; Nezperce, ID Eric Schmitt
: Sergeant; Greenwood Village PD; Greenwood Village, CO William Welling
: Sniper Team Leader; Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Office; Little Valley, NY Eric Wisch
: Deputy; Wichita County Sheriff’s Office; Wichita Falls, TX