Thursday, January 7, 2021

All The Lumens! Full-size Weapon Mounted Lights

RFV Tactical makes kydex holsters that index on popular full-size weapon mounted lights, so we thought it would be good to post our thoughts on all the different lights, and compare the light output of each one.

The most popular full-size weapon mounted lights that are commonly used on handguns are:
Surefire X300-Ultra/Turbo (A and B)
Streamlight TLR-1 HL
Modlite PL350
Inforce WILD2
Olight PL-2/3/Pro and Baldr Pro R
Nightstick TWM-30/TWM-850XL

We make holsters that index on these lights specifically because the body of these lights are wider than most handgun frames.  That extra width allows the holster to come in contact primarily with the light more so than the gun's frame or slide.  A benefit to our holster design is that typical holster wear is drastically reduced or completely eliminated on most guns. The holster may touch the controls on either side of the frame on some guns, but in most cases the slide doesn't come in contact with the holster.

As far as the lights themselves go, they will all light up a dark room or alley pretty well as you can see from the photos below. The differences really come down to the ergonomics (switch placement and activation method) and the beam pattern (hot spot and spill), which are simply personal preferences for each individual user.

Update November 2021: With the addition of the new Modlite and Nightstick lights to the article, all light output photos were retaken on 11/17/2021 with fresh batteries installed in each light.

Surefire X300U-A/B
The Surefire X300U-A/B weapon light is the standard by which all other lights are compared.  The X300U is widely used by law enforcement and military, so it has proven itself as a durable and reliable light.  It's also the most expensive of all the full-size lights. In our opinion, the X300U light output is the best we've seen for handgun use.  It has a very wide and bright hotspot that will easily light up everything in your way out to 50 yards, and it also has excellent spill to illuminate just about anything in your peripheral vision. The downside to this light (other than it's price tag) is that it is 1/2" longer than all the other lights, which seems to be a little excessive for a compact size gun (not as much of an issue for full-size guns or compact guns with compensators).  That extra 1/2" of length imposes a little more discomfort when carrying in the appendix position compared to the other full-size lights.  The light has an ambidextrous swivel rocker mechanism for the switches. You can rotate the switches either clockwise or counter-clockwise for constant-on, however momentary-on activation is achieved by pressing either lever forward. The switches are short and stiff which makes them a little difficult to actuate one-handed for people with smaller hands (check out the replacement switches from PHLster to address this). The mounting methods and fitment of the two versions of these lights are also a bit cumbersome and quirky to use. There are some tricks and modifications that you can do to get these lights to fit better on most guns, but fitment is horrible right out of the box, which is disappointing for such an expensive light.

Aesthetics: Okay - a half inch longer than all the other full-size lights except for the PL350
Ergonomics: Okay - the switches are short, stiff, and difficult to actuate one-handed
Fitment: Poor - both versions typically require modifications to fit most handguns
Performance: Great - brightness, hotspot, and spill are the best of all the lights
Price: $270
Surefire X300U-B
(1000 lumens, 11300 candela)

Streamlight TLR-1 HL
The Streamlight TLR-1 HL is the second most common weapon light.  It has a similar reputation as the Surefire X300U as far as durability and reliability. It is shorter than the X300U, and is also half the price of the X300U!  The light output is also really good, but it has a more narrow hotspot than the X300U. The downside to the TLR-1 HL is it's activation switches. Out of all the full-size lights, the TLR-1 switches are the least intuitive and they are also very sensitive so accidentally activating them is very common.  You can see in the photo at the beginning of this blog post that the activation switches on that TLR-1 HL have been modified in an attempt to reduce accidental activation. The swivel rocker switches have a similar activation method as the Surefire X300U, but unlike the ambidextrous switches of the X300U rotating the switches clockwise only gives you constant-on and rotating the switches counter-clockwise only gives you momentary-on.  Without repetitive training this can get confusing, which is not a good thing in a high stress situation. If this is the light you choose, be sure to become very familiar with the switch activation method (constant-on vs. momentary-on).

Aesthetics: Good - no real issues, but nothing spectacular
Ergonomics: Poor - switch activation method can be confusing and is very sensitive
Fitment: Great - comes with multiple mounting keys to fit a wide variety of guns
Performance: Good - brightness and spill are great, but it has a more narrow hotspot
Price: $130
Streamlight TLR-1 HL
(1000 lumens, 20000 candela)

Olight PL-Pro/PL-2
The Olight PL-Pro (rechargeable) and PL-2 (non-rechargeable) are similar in size to the Streamlight TLR-1 HL (they will actually fit into some holsters made for the TLR-1), but the activation switches are much more intuitive to use. They also have a quick disconnect mounting system that works really well, which is a great feature if you like to attach a light to your gun for night stand use or home defense and then remove it for daily concealed carry. The downside to the Olight weapon lights is that they are made in China and don't have a proven track record like Surefire and Streamlight. They also get a lot of negative/hate comments on internet forums from the Surefire "fan boys", which can be a source of amusement with the right perspective. Another thing to note is that the light output of the PL-2 is very similar to the TLR-1 HL and is actually better than the PL-Pro in our opinion. The PL-Pro's light output has a slight green/yellow tint to it which makes it appear dimmer than the PL-2 even though it's supposed to be 300 lumens brighter than the PL-2. Olight has officially discontinued the PL-2, but you can still find the PL-2 on eBay and Amazon from time to time. We can't really recommend the PL-Pro as it seems to be inferior to the PL-2 in many ways.

NOTE: the ratings below are ONLY for the PL-2
Aesthetics: Good - no real issues, but nothing spectacular
Ergonomics: Great - switch activation method is very intuitive and easy to use
Fitment: Great - the quick disconnect is very fast, easy, and secure
Performance: Good - brightness and spill are great, but it has a more narrow hotspot
Price: $100
Olight PL-2
(1200 lumens, 13800 candela)

Inforce WILD2
The Inforce WILD2 appears to be very well built compared to it's polymer body 400 lumen predecessor (the APL), and it looks very cool with it's octagon shape which also makes for a cool looking holster. It's activation switches are very intuitive and the light output is very bright, however the hotspot is very narrow with a longer throw and the spill is a little cut off compared to the other full-size lights. The mounting method of the light makes it very easy to attach the light to the frame of the gun, but a thin coin or screwdriver should be used to firmly tighten it as there is no spring washer to keep tension on the screw which turns very easily. The downside to the WILD2 is that it is fairly new to the market, so it's durability and reliability has not been proven yet. Inforce's previous handgun lights were plagued with problems and their light output was less than desirable, so it will take some time for this new light to prove itself.
Update on the WILD2... our light apparently had a battery drain issue just like the early versions of their APL weapon light. The batteries had to be replaced twice in the span of a couple of weeks with very minimal use.😩 The light was returned to Inforce under warranty (usually a 6 week turnaround), and the new light does not have the same battery drain issue.

Aesthetics: Great - the light's octagon shape is very cool looking (very subjective, we know...)
Ergonomics: Great - switch activation method is very intuitive and easy to use
Fitment: Good - no issues found with any guns, but should be firmly tightened with a coin or tool
Performance: Good - brightness is great, hotspot is more narrow, and the spill is a little cut off
Price: $180
Inforce WILD2
(1000 lumens, 25000 candela)


NEW Lights for Late 2021

Modlite PL350 (PLHv2 head)
The Modlite PL350 was introduced in August of 2021 and was preceded by a lot of social media hype and anticipation. Modlite is well know for making high quality rifle lights and handheld lights, but this is their first attempt at a light that is specific for a handgun. While this light is insanely bright, we feel they missed the mark in several ways with this new light, especially for the price which is more expensive than the Surefire X300U. The light is longer than the X300U, so it looks obnoxiously long on a compact size handgun and it will be even more uncomfortable to carry inside the waistband in the appendix position. The light uses the interchangeable screw-on heads from their popular rifle lights, which is a good thing for modularity and battery changes, but it also means that the light output of those heads are intended for rifle use with a very narrow and intense hotspot. The hotspot and beam pattern are similar to the Inforce WILD2, but much brighter. For a handgun light, we feel this is overkill and unnecessary as that insanely bright hotspot is only about 3 feet wide when using it indoors inside 15 yards. The switches have the same activation method as the Surefire X300U for constant-on, but there is no momentary-on capability.  The switches are also very sensitive like the Streamlight TLR-1 HL, so it's very easy to turn the switch past the off position to the alternate on position when you just want to turn the light off. We don't have a whole lot of time with our PL350 yet, but we've seen numerous reports of the switches losing their audible/tactile click for the off position, which would make it even easier to accidentally turn the switch past the off position.

Aesthetics: Okay - the light is VERY long but it looks okay on full-size guns
Ergonomics: Okay - no momentary-on and the switches are very sensitive
Fitment: Okay - comes with two rail keys that press into one of two slots in the light body
Performance: Good - hotspot is very bright but very narrow, and the spill is a little cut off
Price: $320
Modlite PL350 w/PLHv2 head
(1350 lumens, 54000 candela)

Nightstick TWM-30
The Nightstick TWM-30 is a relatively new full-size weapon mounted light that was introduced in September of 2021. Nightstick has been around for a few years, and their lights are basically clones of the various Streamlight offerings with subtle differences. The TWM-30 appears to be a clone of the Streamlight TLR-1 HL with similar light output (brighter flood area, less bright of a hotspot), but it has a much better switch activation method that is similar to a Streamlight TLR-7A.  Because this light is so new, we cannot yet comment on it's durability or reliability, but it definitely appears to be a good alternative to the TLR-1 HL with better activation switches.  Unfortunately, the clamp thumbscrew is on the opposite side of the light body compared to the TLR-1 HL, so it won't be compatible with most holsters made for the TLR-1 HL. That's okay... we make holsters that work with the TWM-30! 😎

Aesthetics: Good - no real issues, but nothing spectacular
Ergonomics: Great - switch activation method is very intuitive and easy to use
Fitment: Good - comes with three mounting keys to fit a decent variety of guns
Performance: Good - brightness is great, hotspot is good, but the spill is a little cut off 
Price: $130
Nightstick TWM-30
(1200 lumens, 9379 candela)


Handheld Light Comparison
For comparison purposes, here is the light output from a Streamlight ProTac 1L-1AA handheld light. As you can see, despite only being rated at 350 lumens, this handheld light still lights up the alley almost as well as all the 1000+ lumen rated weapon lights. Regardless of which weapon mounted light you use (or don't use), we recommend that you ALWAYS carry a good handheld light with you.


An Alternate Perspective
While the results in this YouTube comparison by Werks Holsters don't really align with our findings (plus, they didn't compare the PL-2, only the PL-Pro), we wanted to offer a different perspective on these lights with more scientific testing involved. They also have separate videos for the newer Modlite PL350 and Nightstick TWM-30.

Check out our website for more details and pricing on all of our products!

2011/1911DS Grip Chop and Texture

We're now offering our grip chop service for full-size 2011-style polymer grip modules to accept compact 16-round (120mm) Staccato C2 ma...