Saturday, April 23, 2011

Surefire G2X Pro Review

Here is a picture of my Surefire G2X Pro and its light&saber buddy, a Zero Tolerance ZT350:



Surefire has been, perhaps, the premiere name in production flashlights for more than a decade now. They have consistently produced lights that rival customs in terms of fit and finish and innovation. However, with the advent of cheaper Chinese-based products, such as the Fenix brand lights, Surefire, as of about five years ago, looked like it was about to fall behind the technology curve permanently. While the Chinese makers powered through the first and second generation of LEDs (which were underpowered, expensive, and had a terrible tint), Surefire stuck to its guns and produced one incandescent light after another. Then, the LED technology finally hit its stride and Surefire lights looked like well-built, dim dinosaurs.

But Surefire didn't collapse. Instead it looks like they redoubled their efforts and started melding their superior builds with the more promising, newer generation of LEDs. First came the L4 Lumamax--Surefire's first mainstream LED light. Check out this review of this groundbreaking light from the old FlashlightReviews.com. Note the almost giddy tone of the review, a flashaholic rooting for the old established brand to teach the young whippersnappers a thing or two. And then from there, the flood of amazing lights began: the still unique among production lights A2 Aviator LED, the amazingly small and innovative Titan T1 (now T1A), and the much beloved, elegantly simple single cell E1B Backup. These were not the weaksauce LEDs that were first used by the Chinese brands. They were high output, high performance, photon cannons, mated, for the first time, with the superlative Surefire design and body.

The only problem was cost. Surefire lights ain't cheap, but these lights were virtually custom lights in terms of quality, features, AND price. The E1B still sells for more than $125. So while Surefire had matched the performance of the Chinese brands, they were still losing on the cost front and their market share dwindled (actually, it probably stayed the same, but the overall market got larger as cheaper and better lights came out, making the effect the same as a shrinking market presence).

Surefire again redoubled their efforts and brought both their quality and the high tech LEDs to a budget line and the results have been GREAT. Two new LED, multi-mode lights came out last year at prices that match or best the Chinese brands: the 6PX series and the G2X series.

Here is the G2X Pro's product page. Here is a street price for the light (Note: usually Surefire's pricing policies require virtually uniforming pricing, so there is little difference across the board, though some places will throw in free shipping and batteries; however in this case there are HUGE differences, some places have the light for $95 and others $65. I got mine for $65 at REI, but the price is $30 more now). Here is a review of the G2X Pro from Survival Forum and Gear Reviews (the only real review I could find).

I opted for the Pro model because it offered two outputs. I opted for the G2 version with its polymer body because it was lighter and offered virtually the same strength without fear of scratching like the aluminum version of the 6PX model. The G2X line is an upgraded version of the old G2 line, which is a polymer bodied version of the most famous high end light of all time: the 6P. I bought this light to use on nighttime walks. I needed to have long throw to scan the large football field we walk in, to avoid skunks mostly, but also teenage miscreants as well. It represented the perfect balance between output and throw and size for my use.

There has been a rash of reports like this one indicating that the tailcaps in G2X Pro lights were defective. The problem is that tapping the light will change modes and sometimes the clicking on the clicky switch won't. I had that problem with my first G2X Pro. Surefire sent me a replacement tailcap and that didn't work. They then sent me an entirely new light and that did fix the problem. Here is a DIY fix. I cannot confirm this, but the price difference seems to be indicative of an upgrade or change in design to eliminate this problem. I say that with no evidence whatsoever, but the follow four pieces of information (as well as deductions from them): 1) there were defective lights out there; 2) the $65 versions are on older pages; 3) Surefire's uniform pricing policy means it is HIGHLY unlikely that some folks can get away with selling the same lights $30 cheaper; and 4) a decrease in the number of complaints about the problem across the forums.

As always with Surefires, they are not designed to work with rechargeable batteries.

Design: 2

The G2X Pro is a beautiful looking light. It is lightweight, impact resistant (having dropped mine DOZENS of times while walking and holding a squirming infant), and easy to use. I strongly prefer single cell lights, but this is a pretty compact dual cell light. I also like the dimpled as opposed to scalloped bezel--less sharp edges. Odd side bonus, the polymer is easier on the teeth when using the light in your mouth for hands free operation.

Fit and Finish: 2

Unlike the Arc 6, I think the G2X Pro problems were an aberration. I have owned 4 Surefire models and none were a problem in the least. This is the first time I have had any problems whatsoever from a Surefire so I will give them the benefit of the doubt.

The head is well made and mates well, even with different material (the head is aluminum and identical to that of the 6PX, though neither are removable, eliminating one past time for Surefire fans--lego lights :(). The clicky is tough and responsive. There is no battery noise and the body tube is well made. The reflector is deep and perfectly textured and as always the LED is perfectly centered.

Grip: 2

The polymer material is cool in heat and warm in the cold, like G10 and is textured enough to allow a good grip. I like choking up on the light and holding it right behind the head, too. Excellent all around grip.

Carry: 0

It is a dual cell light and thus carries worse than a single cell light, but even in its own class it lacks a pocket clip, lanyard (or even a lanyard hole) or any other method of attachment. Its deep reflector head makes the light bulky and not the same diameter all the way down the light. When you make high end lights for cheap, I guess this is where you skimp. Still, the super cool two way clip on the newer, high end Surefires, seen here on the LX2 Lumamax, is really awesome and would have made this light a superstar.

Output: 2

Amazingly good output in two modes with little to no tint. As always with Surefire lights, it does its one task (illuminating objects) VERY, VERY well. 200 lumen high and 15 lumen low are very nice settings and probably what I would choose in a dual output light (if the ceiling was 200).

Runtime: 2

2 hours of 200 lumens and 45 (!) hours of 15 lumens is exceedingly good, especially when the beam is this nice. Home run.

Beam Type: 2

A throwy beam that works well in flood situations due to the very bright uniform spill. This is the second nicest beam type I have seen, after, of course, the Haiku's flood/throw perfection. Excellent, with a enough punch to hit stuff a long way away.

Beam Quality: 2

Again, Surefire's quality literally shines through. No artifacts, rings, or weird uneven output.

UI: 2

Simple, simple, simple. Click once: on at low, click again quickly: on at high. There is no mode memory so you will always start on low (which seems very sensible to be, I hate accidentally losing my night vision as I stumble to the bathroom).

Hands Free: 1

The light can't tailstand, which I think is a shame, but it has an anti-roll design and because of the polymer body is nicer on the dental work than other lights.

Total Score: 17 out of 20

If this light could tailstand and came in a single cell design, it would be practically perfect. Also, really how much can the pocket clip cost? Still, in order to bring the Surefire quality to lower priced lights, some compromises needed to be made and they were made in all the right places. The beautiful, powerful Surefire beam remains intact.

Surefire's resurgence is a great story in this age of exports. It shows how an American company that has the tech and quality advantage can match and even beat the Chinese lights at their own game. I am not myopically pro-American (I own quite a few non-American made lights), but this is story I can get behind. Plus, like all true flashaholics, I am something of a Surefire fanboy. Seeing them go toe to toe at the bottom of the market while still innovating at the other end is awesome.

UPDATE: I had another problem with the G2X Pro, but Surefire took care of me.  See here for more details.  

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