I have loved lights since I was young, but as I began to come into adulthood, I grew to appreciate them as survival tools. Lights, firearms, knives, and fire-starting devices are the most basic survival necessities besides food and water. Some of my earliest quality flashlights were Pelicans and MagLites, and then I discovered SureFire flashlights.
MagLite flashlights had been used by many security and law enforcement professionals, as well as thousands of hunters and homeowners, but while they were sturdy and offered light at the touch of a button- vital in emergencies- they were big for their output. I remember trying to use a 2-cell C MagLite years ago to hunt hogs. I could hear an entire herd of hogs all around me in the dark, but the beam from my MagLite was too dim to pick them out for a shot. Larger MagLites were much brighter, but took up too much space to be reasonable for a police officer to carry on his already heavy belt, and were certainly much too large for the regular citizen to carry on a daily basis.
The Laser Products SureFire 6 Series revolutionized tactical lights. Using a high-strength aluminum body, a powerful lamp, quality glass, and 2 compact CR123 lithium batteries, the SureFire suddenly offered an extremely bright, tough flashlight in a package small enough to be carried in a jeans pocket. The “user interface” (controls) were optimized for those using the light in dangerous situations. A touch would turn the light on instantly, and if constant-on was desired, the rear bezel could be screwed down. The light would then stay lit until the batteries died or the rear bezel was loosened.
The SureFire was a dramatic leap forward in flashlight technology, but even it was not perfect. The approximately 60 lumens of the SureFire 6P made for a fine tactical light, but that much light is actually too bright for many situations. Shining a very bright light into a window at close range, for instance, will reflect much of that light back into your eyes. Using that much power at once also quickly drained the expensive and hard-to-find CR123 batteries, which only lasted about 2 hours of burn time. The incandescent bulb in the SureFires, while somewhat shock-resistant, was still breakable, and would eventually need replacing after enough hours of use. The SureFires would also become hot enough to cause injury if left on for long.
Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) are very efficient light “bulbs” that were originally used as indicator lights in electronics. When used in hand-held lights, they gave a very sturdy bulb that would last for literally years of constant use, and battery life several times as long as similarly bright traditional flashlights. The down-side to LEDs was the lack of “throw”- the beams produced did not project nearly as far as those of incandescent bulbs. LEDs have continued evolving, though, to the point that most high-end small flashlights now use them.
Many potential solutions have been tried to resolve the challenge of a daily user flashlight with a useful output, and a much brighter emergency or tactical option. Most of the flashlights with two or more output levels require a series of complicated key presses, or are relatively uncomplicated, but require “clicking through” a lower-output mode to get to a stronger one. I find this unacceptable.
I am a firm believer in Murphy. Things do go wrong, usually at the worst time. If I need a powerful light in a hurry, I do NOT want to have to remember the code word and secret handshake, or have to press the switch 5 times or more to get to the REALLY powerful light beam I NEED. RIGHT. NOW. Lights for potential emergencies should be very powerful. They should be very simple. They should be very tough. I have often suggested that people carry two flashlights, one a daily user with about a 15 lumen output, and a much more powerful emergency light with at least 60 lumen output and simple on/off press switch.
I was privileged to help represent The High Road at the 2011 SHOT Show. This is the biggest shooting industry show in the U.S., and perhaps the world. Three days is just not enough time to see it all. I was sitting next to Dave Barnett on the flight out. I introduced myself, and Dave told me he was with ElZetta Designs. They made flashlights.
Dave produced a 2-cell flashlight that looked like a SureFire 6P’s tough uncle. He explained that, unlike SureFires, the ElZetta 2-cell could use rechargeable batteries. It used a premium Malkoff LED with High/Low or High/Strobe options. He also claimed it was practically indestructible, and said he had been using his lights to pound nails into lumber at the show. When Dave turned the light on, it was BRIGHT. I’m used to good flashlights, and this was BRIGHT. The ElZetta had a forward-press button switch, meaning pushing the button will activate the light until released, or a harder press will lock the light on. The thing I loved most about the ElZetta was when Dave showed that twisting the rear bezel would instantly switch light modes.
I really wanted to get my hands on an ElZetta. Here at last seemed to be the light I had been looking for: a single, tough light that could use rechargeable batteries and easily and intuitively adjust from a useful daily beam to an emergency one! Dave agreed to ship me one to test, and after a month’s delay caused by the post office, I finally was able to begin testing.
There are two major characteristics of light beams, throw and flood. Throw is how far the beam will travel coherently, while flood is the beam width. Both are important for tactical lights. Good throw allows distant objects to be illuminated. Police officers, soldiers, or regular citizens in dangerous situations need a light with a wide enough beam to show anything dangerous in a room with a single flash, without needing to train the light around the room. The M60 I received for testing was a ZFL-M60-CS2D, meaning it had a crenellated bezel, standard lens, was a 2 cell, and had the high/low tailcap. The low setting was extremely useful, with a surprisingly long throw indicative of quality lens. High was very bright, and had enough flood to illuminate a medium-sized room without moving the beam. The “hot spot” (brightest area) of the beam was consistent and round. Satisfied with the quality of the beams, I began testing.
I decided to test several things simultaneously, in a “worst case” mixture of bad. I mixed salt into water to approximate the saline content of sea water. Salt water is more conductive of electricity, and is also corrosive. After mixing in two tablespoons of table salt to a quart of water, I inserted 2 unused Panasonic 123 batteries into the M60. I had these particular batteries for the last 4 years, and they spent at least a year of that time in my car’s trunk, subject to all the temperature variations of the seasons. Switching the M60 down to low, I dunked the light into my saline mixture and placed it in the freezer.
The M60 showed no reaction to being placed in the salt water. I want hard-use lights, because we need our lights most in the very worst of conditions. Being frozen in salt water would show if the M60 could handle submersion and extreme cold. Salt lowers the temperature at which water freezes, so the quart of saline solution took around 4 hours to freeze completely. The light showed no diminishment during these hours, and no noticeable dimming for many hours afterward. After 18 hours of constant runtime, the M60 showed a slight dimming.
At 25 hours, the M60 was still shining at a very useful level, and it was time to try another rigorous test. The block of ice was popped from its container, and dropped 4 stories onto concrete to test for shock resistance. Aside from very minor scuffing, there was no discernible change. The M60 kept shining.
At 32 hours, the M60 could still clearly illuminate the apartment building about 40 yards across the courtyard, when switched to high.
At 40 hours, there was another very slight dimming. At 50 hours, the M60 was still putting out a nice, bright beam.
At an incredible 56 hours of constant runtime, the M60 still shone brightly enough to let someone find their way in a forest, or around a darkened building. Since people have to sleep sometime, I do not know exactly how long that single pair of at least 4-year-old batteries lasted in the M60! This was amazing performance.
The M60 was tough, had very high quality light beams, was easy to use, and incredibly efficient. I had tested one temperature extreme, so I decided to test the other. The most fragile part of most lights is probably the lens. In the case of the ElZetta, the lens is a piece of acrylic. If subjected to intense heat, would the M60 fail? If a soldier or first-responder was near a brief but intense heat source, their clothing might protect them, but after an explosion or fire might be the most important time to have a working light, to escape a darkened building or vehicle. To replicate such conditions, I used 91% isopropyl alcohol.
After covering the bezel with the alcohol, I set it alight, and let it burn for just over 2 minutes. The light was on during this time, and continued shining after the alcohol burned away. The acrylic showed some minor damage, and the hot spot of the beam was no longer perfectly smooth and round, but the light was still perfectly useful. (After I returned the light to Dave Barnett, he says he used 60 grit sandpaper, and worked down to 600 grit. He says the lens is once again pristine, and sent before and after pictures.)
I appreciated the high and low levels of the ElZetta, but the low beam is so clear and projects so far, I could easily identify potential threats down long hallways (about 15 meters) with the light on low. At this level, I spotted an opossum in the grass at about 25 meters while out walking. It would have been easy to think the much more intense high beam was overkill, until I used the M60 in an IDPA match. One of the stages was fired indoors, in a low-light environment, with simulated headlights pointed towards the shooter. I discovered then that a very bright beam might be required, in a dark environment with conflicting light sources reflecting off gunsmoke- in other words, in the worst of conditions.
I used the M60 to search vehicles coming onto military posts. When used this way, I had no problem making it through 4 shifts without recharging the rechargeable batteries I was using. I also took it with me on a week-long military “field problem”. White lights are generally not used in the military for tactical environments, but are useful to have for emergencies.
Would I change anything on the ElZetta? Well, some users may appreciate a lanyard, which the M60 does not have. For less than $5, a SureFire lanyard ring can be added. It slips around the body of the light when the rear bezel is unscrewed.
The ElZetta is a great all-around light. It is tough, it is bright, it is easy to use, it lasts for a very long time- but is it a good value? At around $150, the M60 is not inexpensive, but I think it is absolutely worth the cost. The 2 light levels allow it to be an excellent nightly task light, and a superior emergency or tactical light. The 2-cell can use rechargeable batteries, for the frequent user. (For such users, I suggest using the RCs and carrying lithium backups, since rechargeable batteries gradually lose charge even without use.) For comparison, the SureFire E2L has a much more complicated user interface, does not start off with the high beam first, cannot use rechargeable batteries, and has a higher suggested retail. I am absolutely certain the SureFire cannot stand the abuse I subjected the ElZetta to. I believe the ElZetta is the best personal tactical light available on the market, at any price, the only personal light you will need for the rest of your life. I bought my last couple from Kevin at Brightflashlights.com.