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Reviews : Police Product Test

Police Product Test: Streamlight SL-20L Flashlight

The Streamlight SL-20L updates the "gold standard" SL-20.

May 25, 2012  |  by A.J. George - Also by this author

Photo: Mark W. Clark
Photo: Mark W. Clark

Streamlight has been making the "gold standard" SL-20 flashlight for years. It is probably safe to say this light is almost as synonymous with police work as handcuffs and black-and-white cars. I have one and, like most cops, mine has accompanied me on more calls than I can count. I've replaced the battery stick, bulb, switch, and seals. The finish isn't quite as pretty as it used to be, but it is every bit as dependable as it was when I bought it eight years ago.

A few years back Streamlight came out with a polymer version that had three LEDs in addition to the incandescent lamp. Most of us saw it as a slight improvement over the original but not enough to justify buying a whole new set-up. Cops love new gear, but if we're going to spend our hard-earned money, it better be well worth it. In my opinion the new Streamlight SL-20L is definitely worth it. Everything that was great about the original is still here. Everything we wished it did better? Yeah, that's here now, too.

Historically, the biggest hurdle with LED technology has been getting the "candela" or "candlepower" to compare to that of an incandescent. LEDs generally put out high "lumens," meaning they are really bright at close distances, but not as good at casting light in the distance. Streamlight figured out how to do both with this one.

The SL-20L is an anodized aluminum, rechargeable light with a polycarbonate lens and a single C4 LED. It has a large, simple rubberized on/off switch on the side near the front bezel. The company claims 350 lumens and 60,000 candela on the highest of three brightness settings. This translates to a wide, bright white beam that will illuminate objects out to 490 meters. I stood in my driveway and was able to clearly read the license plate of a vehicle five houses away; pretty impressive for a handheld. There's also a strobe feature for use as a defensive or signal light.

The battery life is claimed at two hours on the brightest setting. I charged the light for the recommended 24 hours when I received it, and it is still going strong after a few nights of use. I prefer the highest setting, even for up-close use, but have tried the other settings as well and even the dimmest of the three puts out plenty of working light.

When it is time to recharge, the SL-20L is fully compatible with the original SL-20 chargers. This is good news for those of us with the original as we can now upgrade to the new technology without having to buy new chargers. I can see this light having a spot in my bag of gear for a long time and would definitely recommend it to anyone.

Streamlight SL-20L Flashlight Specs:

Weight: 1.7 pounds

Length: 13.1 inches

Battery: NiCd or NiMH rechargeable up to 1,000 times; fully recharges in 7 hours

Technology: C4 LED

Modes: High, medium, low, and strobe

Peak Beam Intensity: High 350 lumens, medium 160 lumens, low 10 lumens

Runtime: High 2 hours, medium 4 hours, low 50 hours, strobe 4 hours

Construction: Anodized machined aluminum with knurled barrel for a sure grip, polycarbonate lens with scratch-resistant coating

Warranty: Limited lifetime

Price: $223

A.J. George is a motor officer and firearms instructor for the Scottsdale (Ariz.) Police Department.

Comments (10)

Displaying 1 - 10 of 10

GLENN PHILLIPS @ 6/5/2012 1:54 PM


TripWire @ 6/5/2012 8:19 PM

I made the mistake of buying a Surefire Defender, last me all of 4 months.... my advice: get the Streamlight.

Brian Joyce @ 6/5/2012 10:13 PM

I have had an SL20 since 1977 while I was assigned to solo motor cycles. At the time it was the only handheld light that would penetrate auto glass and light up the interior. It has been with me for 35 years. It was the best
$100.00 I spent early in my career. We are retired now.

John Collins @ 6/6/2012 9:19 AM

I bought an SL-20 in 1983. Best damn flashlight I've ever had until about 8 years ago I got the UltraStinger. Just as good a light and a smaller package. After 20 years I was a little more educated and was paying attention to the candelas and the lumens and was glad to see that I had chosen wisely (in spite of being so dumb back then, LOL).

Now after 25 years in LE I see too many departments issuing the baby flashlights designed for detectives to Patrolmen. Yes, they are bright but have no depth. (I love the looks I get when I show up and start looking around with what appears to be a spotlight compared to the baby lights. Priceless!) The reflector is bigger and actual working light projects farther.

This is the second review I have read that says the SL-20L is better than my tried and true 35,000CP lights at 60,000CP in the same size package. I might just have to get one.

I checked out the Surefire e2D Defender, none of the literature mentions candela, as mentioned above that's typical. Don't be fooled into thinking lumens is the only point that matters. They are wellmade and serve their purpose, but it ain't Patrol. If it's like any of the other Surefires I have tried, they don't project very far and the Streamlights all dwarf the beam in distance and size of the spot.

Well written and informative article AJ. I hope the youngsters pay attention. Being safe is better than looking cool, get the right size light for the job.

Scott Harper @ 6/6/2012 2:39 PM

How many out there remember the ol Kel Lites? I carried a five cell that was like a bat. Then the SL20 & 35 came out in early eighties. Man they were the new kid on the block. Bright and rechargeable!! Lighter and aluminum but were not as heavy. First time I ever spent $100.00 for a flashlight. Back then that was unheard of. I still have my original light and charger, both still work. I have since carry the streamlight stinger C4 on duty belt. Will have to look at the new SL20L, Wow 60,000 CP, and back then we thought 15,000 CP was blinding. Man has technology changed for the good a light that you cab see with. Informative article AJ, will have to add the new SL20L to my war bag.

ahollister @ 6/7/2012 11:29 AM

I am curious to see how you guys would rate the MAG Lite LED Lights

hlawrimore @ 6/11/2012 3:25 AM

I personally have not used the original or new version of this light. My department issues the StingerLED. I work on a beach/resort island and spend a fair amount of time on the beach at night, and the StingerLED works great. I am able to light up the beach in the darkest of nights for several hundred yards. Also, it has been buried in sand and salt water and never stopped working. I recommend the StingerLED.

Ima Leprechaun @ 7/24/2012 10:43 PM

I started out with the eveready two cell I didnt make much money in the beginning. The stream light was next and then the best for my money was Mag light. I never had to replace anything on a Mag light but the Stream Light broke all the time, I carried streamlight parts with me like a field rep. I love MAG light. I dont know squat about LEDs and I wish I did, I love flashlights. Best one I ever had I couldnt use at work but it was an old rail road spotlight, the beam went a mile. I can't figure out what the heck lumens, candela, candle power, darth vadder and how to compare it to each other is supposed to be done. I just try it and if it looks good in my hand and I can light the wall in Wal-MArt with it we have half a chance. I want to try LEDS but I'm just not that brave anymore and I am on a very fixed income. But use the metal car spotlight and put an aircraft landing bulb in it it and it cuts thru window tint faster than a bullet. Gets re

Ima Leprechaun @ 7/24/2012 10:45 PM

Gets really hot really fast so dont use a plastic backed spotlight or it will be on fire. But I loved my spotlight bulb.

Brian @ 11/13/2016 2:15 PM

My charger was stolen out of my unit...
How can I get another?

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