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Olight: The Tactical Light Future Is Now

I remember when the first 60 lumen tactical lights hit the market and we all went bananas over the awesome power that we had. Then 80 lumens became standard, and then more and more powerful lights in small packages came onto the market from an ever-increasing number of vendors, and you had to make a career out of keeping track of them all.  When I retired out of  LE in 2010, 200 lumens in a cigar-sized package was pretty high-end, and I thought that was a breath-taking amount of light to have at your fingertips.  But in just the intervening few years the technology has ridden the severely downward slope of the technology learning curve, and now several hundred lumens in an approximately 1-inch diameter, 5 to 6-inch long package is the norm.  And for less than $100, no less!  Manufacturers now compete not just on light output, but on the quality of the light -- that is, the purity of its whiteness.   Since a whole-mess-o'-light is now common, vendors have to further differentiate themselves not only by different controls and different modes of light (hi, low, medium, strobe, etc.), by the quality of their materials and machining, by their water-resistance, by the number of hand positions that can be had on the light, and so on.

These are glorious times for light aficionados!

As a result of this great increase in function, two very interesting things have happened.  One, some tacticians are now concerned about using too much light!  There is a theory that says that using more than 200 lumens for normal interior searches (offices and residences - not warehouses) can be detrimental to the operator because the reflected light will degrade  his/her vision.  The second thing is that we are now concerned with candela (what used to be called candlepower) as well as lumens when evaluating a light.  Lumens refers to the total amount of light that a source puts out, in all directions, while candela refers to the brightest spot of light output.  (The two measures are not convertible to each other since they measure different things.)  Before the first tactical lights hit the market, most flashlight manufacturers rated their lights (if they rated them at all) by candlepower because they were really only useful at their brightest spot.  When the new tactical lights came out manufacturers had to educate us to the fact that at those then-new light levels, lumens was a more appropriate measure for our purposes.  And yes, at first, with the now anemic but then powerful 60 lumen-class lights, it made sense to compare total output to total output.  But with many hundreds of lumens now available in the same size package, we have the luxury of being concerned with not just total light thrown (lumens), but with the diameter of the light cone at various distances and with the mix of brightness levels within that cone (candela).  Imagine an 800 lumen beam at 200 meters.  If most of the light is concentrated in the center of the beam, that gives us different capabilities at that distance than spreading the light out evenly throughout the beam would.  In other words, the present generation of extremely powerful hand-held lights allows us to use our lights in more ways at greater distances, but in order to maximize these new capabilities we should understand the light pattern that's best for our use.

One of the leaders in this new hand-held light world, one made a splash at the January SHOT Show, is Olight.  Starting from their base as a European manufacturer of very high-end outdoor activity lights, they are now making and selling very high-quality tactical lights into the U.S. law enforcement and military markets.  Here I'm focusing (no pun intended) on the M22 Warrior light, a 950 lumen, 23,000 candela light that's 5.7-inches long.   If you haven't looked at lights in a while, handling the M22 is, I imagine, like being a Victorian man waking up in 1956 and seeing Brigitte Bardot for the first time.  Or to put it another way,  the M22 shoots so much light from your hand that you expect recoil!

950 lumens in a fairly tightly-focused 23,000 candela beam reaches out a long hundreds of meters.  (The beam distance of this light is specified as 305 meters.  When you reduce the technical definition of beam distance to plain English it means that at 305 meters it casts about as much light as a full moon on an open field.)  The M22 also has two other output levels -- 250 lumens and 20 lumens -- which you can choose based on your activity (for example, searching a house vs. searching a field).  I like the way that the lumen output is controlled: you have to twist the head of the lamp counter-clockwise/clockwise rapidly to achieve a jump of levels.  This insures that you won't accidentally jump levels when you're doing something important (like searching) with the momentary/constant-on tail cap switch.  With regard to that switch,  I used to dislike momentary/constant-on switches since it was all too easy when you wanted a blip of light to depress the switch too far and get a constant-on beam, which could be very dangerous.  But the new generation of these dual-mode tail-cap switches, including the one on the M22, pretty much eliminates that concern.  They are designed such that momentary activation is the natural thing for your thumb to do, and you have to make a conscious effort to depress the switch far enough to activate a constant-on beam.  There's also a strobe function, and that too requires a deliberate set of thumb motions with the tail-switch, meaning that you won't go strobe accidentally.

Any conceivable holding technique--syringe, Harries, FBI, neck index, cigar, and so on--is possible with the M22 due to its exterior flange about an inch from the rear.  The aluminum body is textured to provide a good grip, and the M22 is waterproof to 2 meters (more than that and I'd be calling for the dive team).  It's light engine is the high-end Cree XLamp XM-LR LED, which puts out exceptionally white light indeed (for a very technical discussion of the M22's capabilities, see here, and for an entire YouTube channel devoted to high-end lights by the same author, see here).  It runs off of two common CR123 cells or a single 18650 cell, and provides a full hour of maximum output on a set of cells.

The M22 has also been well thought out in terms of actual field use.  It's just the right size for a duty belt -- not too big, but with a big enough head (1.6-inches wide)  to give you all that "throw" ("throw" is the colloquial term for beam distance and refers to how far out the beam is useful).  It's also just at the upper end of size for pocket carry, making non-uniform carry practical.  The holster is well made and equally well thought out.  It has a hole in the bottom so you can see if the light is on, side pockets for spare cells, and the hole in the flap that goes over the tail end means it remains as compact as possible on your belt.  Unlike many cheap, after-thought holsters that come with lights (and even then, not all do!), this one is properly executed  and is eminently suitable for duty carry out of the box.   The M22 has thermal management to prevent overheating and reverse polarity protection in case you put the batteries in backwards.  It  thoughtfully comes with a white diffuser filter and spare O-rings.  All-in-all, the whole look, feel, and packaging--as well as the performance--of the M22 is professional and top-shelf.

The compact size and 1-inch body of the M22 make it an ideal long gun light.  Put  the Olight weapons mount and maybe attach the Olight remote pressure tape switch and you can swap it between your rifles and shotguns.  This is probably the use that I'll put my M22 to -- after all, it's beam can reach out to way further than I'll probably ever have to shoot, and all that light will allow me to not just locate a BG, but identify them and see what's in their hands out further out than I've been able to previously.

There's a plethora of light manufacturers out there today, so you have a wide and confusing  choice.  But along with all that power has come falling prices, and you can get top-end lights for very short money these days.  For example, the street price of the M22 as I write this is about $90.  For that kind of money there's no reason to skimp and not to have a top-end light like the M22 -- after all, your life really might depend on it.