Olight S20: Tactical Vs. Task Light Application


Small on-off switchBThe Olight S20 flashlight has many good features. First of all, it’s light, tiny and easy to carry. No matter how great a flashlight is, if it’s not comfortable to carry, it’s going to stay in the house or car. This one rides snugly and practically unnoticed on my belt, thanks to a very sturdy belt clip, or in my back pocket next to my wallet.

It’s also extremely bright, much brighter than other small flashlights I’ve owned.  Back in the 90s when I first became a cop, the giant incandescent Streamlight I carried wasn’t this bright.  It also has variable levels of brightness, from very subdued to pretty bright to damn bright.

Like most modern lights, the S20 has a strobe feature, which in my line of work is pretty valuable. But unlike most lights, this one has a flat endcap with a strong magnet. The light attaches securely upside down or even sideways to any smooth metal surface. That’s useful in many situations.

Magnetic tailcap B

All of the above makes the S20 a great general purpose light. In my current life as a non-deployed, non-street cop regular guy, I feel completely at ease with the S20.

Unfortunately, there are many reasons I wouldn’t carry it as a tactical light. It is listed under "General Use and Outdoors" on the Olight website, not "Military and Tactical".

First of all, it has no tailcap switch. In the dark or while you’re moving, it’s easy to find your light’s tailcap, not always easy to find the on/off switch near the lens. Especially this on/off switch. It’s tiny, very low profile and has no raised protective shroud. When I first started testing the light, I tried finding the switch with my eyes closed, and missed it a few times. However, I’ve inadvertently found it several times, usually by bumping it while it’s on my belt, which always makes my smartass teenage son laugh at me. This tiny, unprotected, overly sensitive switch produces white light NDs like crazy.

And another shortcoming of the switch: it’s not a momentary switch that you can activate by pressing halfway. You have to click it all the way. This is a big deal.

Small on-off switchB

Over the years, we in LE and the military have learned a few things about lights. Back before we started getting smarter, the standard method of searching with a light was the old “night watchman” technique. An officer would turn on his flashlight, leave it turned on and walk around with it. This was a ridiculously dumb way to search for a bad guy.

A new way we’ve learned to search is by strobing. I don’t mean using the strobe feature, I mean using the momentary switch to briefly illuminate an area, which gives us a “flash picture”. Then we move, strobe again, move, strobe, etc. We move our light randomly around as we do this. If it’s done the right way, it’s very disorienting to a suspect.

All they see is darkness, then a blinding flash in one spot, then darkness and residual effects from the flash, then another flash somewhere else. Without a momentary switch, you can’t do this. Instead of seeing brief, random, blinding flashes, a suspect would see the light on for the time it took to click it on and then back off. That might only be a second, but that’s way longer than a brief, blinding flash. The longer your light is on, the easier it is to determine your location.

Another thing about this flashlight that’s just plain odd in addition to detracting from its tactical usefulness is that it has a glowing lens ring. The manufacturers put a red ring of I don’t know what around the edge of the lens. This material absorbs light like a child’s glow in the dark toy. If I keep the light on for a few seconds, when I turn it off the red ring glows green.  This removes one big advantage of LED bulbs: they don’t fade out when you turn them off. An LED is instant on/instant off, whereas an incandescent bulb fades. If you’re using the strobe and move method I just described, the fading ring on the S20’s lens gives away your position just like an incandescent bulb.

Red ring around lens B

Flashlight ring comparison

On the plus side, the S20 has sturdy lanyard that attaches at the tailcap. That's good. On the negative side, the S20 has a sturdy lanyard that attaches at the tailcap. That’s bad.

Here’s what I mean. Yes, a lanyard is a great way to keep from losing your light. But if you have that flashlight hanging from your wrist and perform a malfunction drill or reload on a pistol, when you rack the slide you’re going to brain yourself with a flying flashlight.

Lanyard B

Size comparison B

With my tactical lights, I attach a 550 cord wristloop and a rubber O-ring for my middle two fingers. Whenever I’m using the light, I slip the loop over my wrist and fingers in the O-ring. I can still let go of the light to reload or go hands on with someone, and the light stays in place. If the light is in the way, I can flick the O-ring off my fingers and the light stays at my wrist. No danger of bouncing it off my skull during weapon manipulation. Olight could change up their lanyard positioning and make the S20 a tactically better light.

Bottom line: the Olight S20 Baton is a great general purpose flashlight. Unfortunately, it’s not a good tactical flashlight. With a few improvements, however, it could be both.

-Respectfully, Chris Hernandez

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