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Surefire Flashlights

2007-09-11 updated 2010-06-29 - Send Feedback
Related: flashlight, lighting, video

This page covers Surefire flashlights, of which I own 8 or so of varying sizes.

I presently favor three flashlights to the exclusions of all others:

  • The Lupine T1200, which is fully compatible with the Lupine Betty and Lupine Wilma system. The T1200 is extremely bright, with variable output levels and it is programmable to various behaviors. Fantastic.
  • The Surefire Lumamax L4 and sometimes, the compact Outdoorsman E1L. But I use the L4 90% of the time; it has excellent ergonomics.


My top pick for all-around use is the Lumamax L4 or the Outdoorsman E1L. You can get Surefire flashlights at B&H Photo.

Show below are several Surefire flashlight models. The smallest two (Lumamax L4 and El1) are the only two I like to carry; the others are larger than I like for casual use.

Surefire flashlights are awesome (I own 6 different models), and their beam brightness and uniformity has to be seen to be believed. They can all be useful for photographic purposes, self-defense, emergency use, etc. For most uses, I prefer the bright and long-lasting LED models, not to be confused with “El Cheapo” LED lights—these units are top quality. Click the image above to see 5 models up close. The M6 Guardian uses an incandescent bulb which can be destroyed by a harsh shock (personal experience), but is far and away the brightest flashlight you’re likely to ever see.

One of my all-time favorites is the 95.6-gram L4 Lumamax, which is bright enough to hike or bike with. Its beam is wider than the tactical (narrow) models and its brightness obliterates my 3 “D” cell conventional flashlight. The beam pattern of conventional flashlights is also grossly inferior to the L4 Lumamax, or any of the Surefire lights. The usual reaction is “wow!”, though occasionally an appreciative expletive is heard.

The instant on/off capability, together with the “lock-out” tail cap is terrific. Except for the M6 and C3, which require a twist to stay on, most models also have a click-on/off tail cap. All of the lights are sturdy enough to be pressed into service as self-defense weapons against an attacker (use the beam first!). The use of CR123 batteries mean you can leave these lights sitting in a drawer for a *long* time and know they’ll work when you need them.

Consider your needs carefully—these lights aren’t cheap (but you get what you pay for). Some models are long burning with lower output, and others are extremely bright, but with relatively shorter burn-time. All are far brighter than ordinary flashlights. Even the diminutive E1L Outdoorsman (see table below) is superior to a two “D” cell flashlight.

Light quality of the Surefire lights can range from yellowish (“warm”) with the incandescent M6 Guardian, to fairly blue (“cool”) with the E1L/E2L Outdoorsman models. Warmer light is generally preferable to cooler light, as the human eye is more sensitive to yellowish light than to blue light, and thus visual acuity is higher. As a rough comparison, the incandescent units emit light similar to a standard halogen car headlamp, and the LED units range from being very close to daylight (sunlight) to noticeably blue. So far, the absolute best color rendition I’ve observed comes from the U2 Ultra.

I had a chance to swap K1L LED heads between an E1L and E2L (both ways to rule out batteries and the flashlight body), and found that there is also variation in color temperature even with the same model of lamp. Whether this applies to all such units is unknown to me as the E1L and E2L units use a TIR lens (“Total Internal Reflection”), which might vary more (or less) than the other LED units. Note that color as perceived by human vision is both a function of light intensity and actual color temperature.

  Output** Weight*** / comments
M6 Guardian
60 min @ 500
60 min @ 250
tactical* beam

433 grams

At 500 lumens, brighter than many car headlights. Outstanding beam uniformity. Easy to see subjects at 300 foot distance. The 250 lumen bulb is 1/2 as bright, but is still *very* bright. Do not look directly into the beam of this light—you will see “spots” for longer than you’d like.

Recommended for: search & rescue, self-defense, road-bicycling to get motorists attention, night-time photographic exposures of moderately-distant subjects.

C3 Centurion
with KL5 head
90 min @ 100
tactical* beam

228 grams

KL5 had has colder (more bluish) light than the U2 Ultra. Outstanding beam uniformity. This light is somewhat large, but the C3 can be used with its supplied head as a 100 or 200 lumen incandescent, or converted to LED with the KL5 head. With 3 batteries, it burns longer than the two battery models, at the cost of a little more size and weight.

Recommended for: same uses as U2 Ultra (below).

U2 Ultra
2400 min @ 2
60 min @ 100
tactical* beam

163 grams
Pleasing color rendition—near daylight. Outstanding beam uniformity with a bright center, but still covering quite a broad area. 6 brightness levels from 2 to 100 lumens.
Best all-around LED model.

Recommended for: versatility, long burn time (at lower output settings), illuminating items very clearly up to 150 feet away.
Cons: expensive, heavier than L4 Lumamax (below).

See this review.

L4 Lumamax 60 min @ 100
wide beam

98 grams

Easily brighter than a 3 “D” cell maglite. Comfortably fits in a pants pocket or biking jersey pocket.

Excellent choice for all-around use, plenty of light up to 15 mph on a bicycle; can be strapped atop a helmet easily using Velcro.

Recommended for: all-around use where broader, less intense central illumination is not required. See also the L2 below.

See this review.

L2 Lumamax 18 hours @ 15
60 min @ 100
wide beam

132 grams

At 100 lumen setting, the L2 beam pattern is nearly identical to the L4 Lumamax, but with the additional flexibility of the long-lasting 15-lumen setting.

Unlike the L4, it does not have a click-on/off tail cap; the tail cap must be turned clockwise to obtain the 15 lumen setting, then further to obtain the 100 lumen setting. However, it does offer instant on/off from 15 to 100 lumens, so it can be handy for situations where 15 lumens suffices, with shorter bursts of 100 lumens as needed (or just run it at 100 lumens).

At 6" long (1" longer than the L4), it might feel just a big larger than some users would like, though it actually fits with ample room to spare in any standard size pocket.

E1L Outdoorsman 240 min @ 25
narrow beam

75 grams

The E1L TIR lens doesn't have the ultra-smooth light gradient as compared with the L4 Lumamax, but instead has a tightly focused beam that is nearly as bright as the 100-lumen L4 Lumamax, since the L4 Lumamax spreads much of its 100 lumens in a broad circle. The E1L 25 lumen output is substantially more than needed for night-time hiking, and is even adequate for level bicycle riding up to 15 mph.

The E1L (and/or the L4 Lumamax above) are excellent choices for women (or men) who might find themselves in less-than-savory parking lots, paths, etc. It easily fits into any pocket, a purse, etc. It is so compact and lightweight that you won’t be tempted to leave it behind. Still, for another 21 grams, the L4 Lumamax is considerably brighter (but only for 1 hour, at which point light output very gradually declines).

Recommended for: backpacking, emergency light for car/house /boat, nighttime hiking or slow to moderate bicycling on even ground.

Note that the KL1 head that comes with the E1L can be screwed onto the body of an L4 Lumamax, producing the equivalent of an E2L Outdoorsman (below). The L4 Lumamax head can be screwed onto the E1L body, but results in a very dim output (which might be useful for tent use, bathroom trips in a strange hotel, etc, but it's far too dim for sports, being perhaps 2-3 lumens).

E2L Outdoorsman 180 min @ 30 +
180 min declining
narrow beam

100 grams (Surefire specification, not as weighed)

See comments on E1L Outdoorsman above; the E2L uses the same KL1 head. The beam pattern is identical, but is noticeably brighter. If minimal size and weight are not the priority, the E2L offers the convenience of somewhat brighter output and longer total run-time.

*tactical beam: center bright area with a broad and even surrounding gradient.
** output time is quoted for maximum light output. LED brightness degrades gracefully for a period of an hour or more after quoted burn time. Incandescents fade much more abruptly.
*** weights are as weighed with batteries on a Ohaus Scout Pro SP401 laboratory scale.

Weights might vary a few grams, depending on battery brand, and minor variation with individual units. Surefire also offers the unusual Kroma, with white, blue and red LEDs for nighttime work, such as map reading, but I haven’t used one.

Surefire offers rechargeable models as well, but I favor the regular models, because CR123 batteries hold a charge for years. Be sure to stick to high quality batteries.

My only complaint about the Surefire lights is that they do not offer a “flash” mode or SOS mode. Many of the LED headlamps offer such a mode.

Buy a Surefire flashlight

Get Surefire flashlights at B&H Photo. Top pick is the Lumamax L4.

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