Thursday, December 27, 2012

Streamlight ProTac 2AAA

Streamlight ProTac 2AAA
To start off, I'm making these pictures smaller than I normally do.  If you want to see them better, click on each and it will blow up to a larger, more detailed size for you to see up close.

This is my review on the Streamlight ProTac 2AAA flashlight.  This is one flashlight in Streamlight's ProTac series of lights.  I've been carrying this light around for the past few months, and I have say that I love it.  I'll go over some of the technical details in a minute, but I want to share with you the intended use for a light such as this.  First off, it's not really a "tactical" light, though the name suggests it, ie: Pro"Tac."  It's an everyday carry light.  What do I mean by "everyday carry?"  For the uninitiated, everyday carry is just that, or EDC for short.  Everyday carry items can be anything from a small pocket knife to a flashlight, such as this, a pocket sized multi-tool, or any other item (aka: gear) that you think you would need everyday.

For instance, my EDC system consists of a lock-back pocket knife, a Leatherman Juice S2 multi-tool, a flashlight, and typically another small keychain knife, which includes tweezers, tiny screwdrivers, a toothpick, a very small knife, and a bottle opener.  I also carry a gun, but that varies depending on my mood.  For the most part, the items mentioned above do not change, and they go everywhere with me, no matter what.

Because I'm a field service mechanic, meaning that I work out of a truck - not in a shop, I find myself needing these smaller tools on my person at all times because sometimes the places I go may be far enough from my truck that I might need them (without going back and forth).  I also carry a tool bag, but I often find myself needing nothing more than a small flashlight and a small screwdriver; it's hardly worth grabbing an entire bag every time.

Not all people are mechanics, however.  The one thing we all have in common is we all have the need for a small flashlight at one time or another.  Trying to find your keys in the dark can be a real chore.  Or perhaps you lost a small screw behind a desk and need to find it.  Maybe you dropped something in the foot well of your car and the dome light doesn't illuminate where you need the light.  Or perhaps the power goes out and you suddenly find yourself groping in the dark for the candles and battery operated lantern - or ironically, another flashlight.  The point is that no matter who you are, or what your situation is, you could always use a small, rather powerful light on your person.

ProTac 2AAA top, Maglite Bottom
Since this review isn't necessarily geared toward a tactical gear junkie like myself, I'm using a Maglite incandescent mini maglite as a direct comparison.  These little flashlights are a dime a dozen.  They are really cheap.  At less than $10 most places, you can easily hook into one for your kids or yourself.  The problem is that this Maglite is so antiquated in so many ways.  First off, the body is much larger than the ProTac 2AAA.  The Maglite is heavier.  To turn on the light, the user interface is a twist on, which requires two hands to operate, unless you are a ninja.  There is no pocket clip to speak of, and the head doesn't have flats to keep it from rolling off the table.  The final nail in the coffin for the trusty ole Maglite is the fact that the light output is only 14 lumens.  Compared to the output of the ProTac 2AAA at 80 lumens on high, the Maglite is 5.7 times dimmer.  Comparing run times is also bad for the Maglite because the ProTac's 10 lumen (low mode) output will make the batteries last 30 hours compared to 5 hr 15 min for the Maglite.

Maglite left, ProTac 2AAA right
Of course, all that usability comes at a higher price.  I paid $29.49 on Amazon Prime to have the ProTac 2AAA drop shipped to my house back in September.  That price includes free shipping and no tax.  For the price of the ProTac, you could probably buy 3 Maglites (non-LED variety).  However, even if you combined the light output of all those incandescent Maglites, you still couldn't touch the 80 lumens put out by the ProTac 2AAA.  And if you combined all the run times for the Maglites, you still couldn't touch the 30 hour run time of the ProTac 2AAA on low.  You also wouldn't have an emergency strobe that can go for 5 hours straight.  Did I mention, the Streamlight ProTac 2AAA has strobe function?  Well now you know.  Suffice it to say, I think I've killed the Maglite (incandescent variety) with the ProTac.  How's it stack up against the Maglite 2AAA LED model?  Well, at 84 advertised lumens, Maglite beats Streamlight on paper.  And with an advertised run time of 5 hours, 45 minutes, it also has the Streamlight beat, on paper.  But remember this: Maglite flashlights will dim over the course of the battery life.  It's been my experience even with the larger, 3D LED light that it just doesn't stay at advertised 134 lumens of light output for long.  Rather, it just slowly fades until there is nothing left.  With the Streamlight ProTac 2AAA, you get solid state power regulation, which keeps the light output at 80 lumens until the battery is nearly dead.  This is the reason for the disparity between run times for each brand.  I've experienced this with the ProTac 2AAA.  While using it, it came to the end of the battery's life.  The light output immediately reduced, letting me know it was time to swap out batteries.  Don't let this hour and a half run time fool you though.  You're not going to be using this light as a search light.  I always use mine for short periods of either momentary operation (which I'll get to later) or clicked on for just a few minutes at most.  This is likely how you will use yours because despite the fact that I make a living using flashlights in hard to see places, I still buy groceries and drop my keys in the snow at night, like everyone else.  Oh yeah, before I forget... the cost of that fancy Maglite 2 cell AAA LED mini?  $18.50 plus $4 shipping on Amazon.com.  For all the disadvantages of the Maglite, you'll surely pay nearly Streamlight prices for it!

The Streamlight ProTac 2AAA is easy to service (that is, replace batteries).  The button cap screws off, and out come two AAA batteries.  I use Duracell in my flashlight because it's my preference.  Streamlight recommends alkaline batteries in this model.  There is a rubber o-ring seal on the end to protect the inside of the body from water, dirt, and other debris.  This really works.  While I have not dunked the light into the bath tub, I have dropped it in the snow, into mud puddles, puddles of coolant & diesel fuel, and I dropped it into a 5 gallon bucket of waste oil (which made me none too thrilled).  After fishing the light out of the bucket, I wiped it off, disassembled it, and found no motor oil inside.  I finished cleaning it up, put it back together, and kept using it.  For the record, I have dropped a mini maglite into a mud puddle before and it stopped working completely.  I had to throw it in the trash.  You get what you pay for.

The user interface is a momentary/clicky that allows you to do a few things.  First, you can depress the button just enough to turn the light on at full power.  This is good for general use, where you don't need the light on for any measurable amount of time.  To make it stay on, just depress until you hear and feel a "click."  Since the rubber button cover isn't protected, I initially thought that the light might activate itself if I bumped into something, but this hasn't been the case.  The button takes a bit of effort to click and the action to do so must be deliberate.  I'm not saying it's impossible to accidentally turn this on, but it is highly unlikely.  The other functions are accessed as follows: to turn on the strobe, you momentarily depress the button twice.  If you want the strobe to stay on, you just click the button down and it stays on.  To access the low setting, you momentarily press the button 3 times.  If you want the low setting to remain on, you finish pushing the button until it clicks.  I find it sort of obnoxious that I have to cycle through the strobe function to get to low.  For me, a better option would be to click it once and hold it down to toggle between high and low, which is how my Streamlight Stinger LED works.  The reason is because if you are using the low setting, chances are you'll want the light to be on for more than a few seconds, and clicking to turn it off is easy enough.  As you can see, in the picture above, the rubber cover is shaped like a hat and it goes into the metal ring before getting screwed onto the button.  This not only retains the rubber cover, but weatherproofs the housing.  Since the button is on the back, it is one-handed in operation, and can easily be activated momentarily on and off with your arm raised, which makes it easy to actuate with your thumb.

The clip is designed so it rides deep in the pocket.  If you move the clip to the top of the light, as I have, it rides so deep, it's hardly noticeable.  The only thing I wish the clip had was the end to be shaped so it's not sticking out like it does.  You can see how the finish has come off on the front of it from scraping against walls or brush, or even painted surfaces.  However, the clip is small and mostly unobtrusive.  There are no weird shapes or weird attachment screws.  The other benefit of this clip is that you can remove it without tools, should you decide that clipped pocket carry isn't for you.  For you gals, who want to carry this in your purse without snagging on other things, you may want to remove the clip.  As for me, the flashlight rides nicely in my pocket opposite my pocket knife.  The thinness of the flashlight also makes it great for carrying in the breast pocket of your work-provided button up shirt, which I've also carried in.  With the overall slimness of the design, it's really hard not to find a good place you can store this flashlight without it getting in the way, yet readily accessible when you need it.

The LED is Streamlight's C4 LED technology, which I've discussed here before.  Basically, it's a marketing gimmick.  What you are buying is a CREE LED, which will last 50,000 hours under normal everyday use.  The bezel is somewhat crenulated, which doesn't do a whole lot of anything.  The most useful part of this feature is that if you're foolish enough to set a flashlight down on its bezel, light will emit through the gaps between the table and the bezel, alerting you that you are throwing photons around when you ought not to.  Some flashlights are heavier and have more pronounced crenulation, which serves to turn the light into a striking weapon of sorts.  However, that's not the case here.  It's mostly for looks, in my opinion.

The head also has an anti-roll feature, with three flats machined out of the aluminum housing.  Since you always want to set your flashlights down, as shown in the picture above (never on the bezel), the anti-roll flats on the head will keep the flashlight from, eh, rolling away from you.  If you have the clip on it still, then it really isn't going anywhere.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Streamlight ProTac 2AA flashlight, which is basically the same light, but it runs on AA batteries instead of AAA.  You also get 120 lumens for 1.75 hours.  The features are virtually identical, however, it is good to note that this light is obviously larger than the ProTac 2AAA model.  The major advantage of the 2AA flashlight over the 2AAA flashlight is that it uses more readily available AA batteries instead of the harder to find AAA variety.  By harder to find, I don't mean that AAA batteries are rare, but I don't see them on every shelf that stocks AA batteries.  In many cases, AA batteries are less expensive than AAA batteries.  If I wasn't so terribly concerned about keeping a small and light footprint for my everyday carry, I might just opt for the ProTac 2AA instead.  The price difference between the two is negligible.  At $35.68 on Amazon Prime, it really comes down to needs and preference over cost.

 New in Streamlight's lineup are the ProTac 1L and ProTac 2L series of lights.  These are the same lights, except they use either one or two CR123 batteries.  I like them.  At 180 lumens for 2.5 hours for the 2L and 110 lumens for 1.5 hours for the 1L, each does a lot for giving you options.  If you are running a lot of CR123 powered lights, these might be the route for you.  Of course, that is also the downside of these 1L and 2L lights.  They use expensive and harder to find CR123 batteries, and the run times are about the same as the ProTac 2AA and 2AAA models.  For everyday carry, the 1L and 2L don't offer anything that my 2AAA doesn't already have, except for higher light outputs and more money spent on batteries that are harder to find and more expensive than the run of the mill AA or AAA batteries you can buy at 7-11.

Now, if I was to buy one of the two, 1L or 2L, I'd get the 2L.  The reason is that I obviously want the 180 lumen output that it throws.  It might be a good EDC option for when your size and weight constraints aren't as pressing.  I can't see any reason I would get the 1L because if I was determined to get a really compact light, I'd get the ProTac 2AAA because despite the fact that it is longer, it is much slimmer in the main body and hides in my pants pocket easier.

For those of you who want the short, compactness of the 1L, but don't want to run CR123 batteries, you can opt for the ProTac 1AA, which is nice and compact, yet runs readily available AA batteries.  The major downside is that you are restricted to 50 lumens instead of 110 from the 1L and even the 80 from the 2AAA model, or the 120 from the 2AA model.  However, for my use, a good EDC light will be 50 lumens or above.  Since it's not a tactical light, it's not entirely imperative to have the most lumens in the world.  Finding your car keys at night does not require 180 lumens of light.  It requires enough to see.  50 lumens is ideal for that.  But since I prefer between 80 and 100 lumens for everyday carry, I went with the ProTac 2AAA model.    By the way, all the aforementioned lights are waterproof to 1 meter for 30 minutes.

So, if I didn't have any of these, and was in the market for one, which would I buy?  Well, that's going to depend.  I have a lot of flashlights that run CR123 batteries anyway, so it only makes sense for me to choose another CR123 powered light.  At $40 on Amazon Prime, the 2L is $10 more expensive than the ProTac 2AAA, and boasts more than double the light output, which means it could cross over and be a small tactical light if necessary.  For EDC, I'd still go with the ProTac 2AAA because of the overall slim design.  If I was going for a more tactical loadout, the 2L would get the nod.

-James

1 comment:

  1. The protac 2aaa makes a excellent backup light next to my surefire eb2. Run eneloops in the pro tac use it all the time save the surefire for emergencys

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