March 22, 2017

Flashlights

Sometimes a headlamp is what you want, and sometimes it ain't. When it ain't, then you probably want a flashlight.

LED flashlights are a hot item these days. New products and new LED technologies seem to roll out every year, so it is very hard to stay on top of things. Needless to say, you can buy a much better light these days than you could only a few years ago and there is no telling how long this will continue. So if you loose or damage your favorite light, it just means you have an excuse to replace it with something much better. Consider the implications of this if you are considering buying a several year old model on clearance. It will probably be a fine light, but you could get something a lot better if you bought a new model.

Some sources of information:

Some sources for fancy flashlights:

There are superbright and giant lights that seem to be aimed toward the police/tactical market. There are keychain lights. There is everything in between.

18650 flashlights

For a long time I insisted on using rechargeable NiMH AA batteries for all of my lights. There is merit to this (you can pick up alkaline batteries at any convenience store). But after trying 18650 rechargeable lithium ion batteries, I am spoiled and ruined and somewhat disgusted with my dual AA flashlights that I loved for so long. I currently have two favorites, but here are some of the parameters I insist on: This ruled out the expensive and highly lauded Zebralight (no lanyard hole??).

Thrunite TN12 2016 XP-L

You can pick this light up for $45 on Amazon. An excellent light, although I would pick up the BLF-A6 for half the price.

It has the Cree XP-L V6 emitter and can deliver up to 1100 lumen on its brightest setting (which of course you will rarely or never use). It has a wonderful 0.4 lumen "firefly" mode, and can go 74 days in that mode! Ignoring the absurd 1100 lumen "turbo" mode, here is the mode menu that you access from the side switch.

I find that 18 lumens is fine for general use, 175 is good for walking around. I rarely use 435 lumens, and never use 1100 lumens.

BLF A6

This is a fantastic an amazing bargain at $20 !! Compare it to the Zebralight SC600 for $100 or the Fenix PD35 at $70. Even if these lights were all the same price, I would choose the BLF A6. I immediately ordered two of these after a friend showed me his. They are only available from Banggood at the best price. You can sometimes find them on Amazon from some seller at a higher price.

The crazy thing is that the best choice for an 18650 light is also available at the lowest price! This light was designed by folks on Budget Light Forums and has open firmware, which is a fascinating topic, but not one I am likely to make use of.

I ordered mine on 3/21 from Banggood and they arrived 3/31, shipped from the City of Industy in California. My friend ordered one and he said it took 3 weeks to arrive.

It uses the Cree XPL emitter and can deliver 1600 lumens. Single button at end, and will tail stand. It has springs at both ends of the battery compartment. You want the 3D version (neutral white), but 1A (cool white) and 5A (very yellow) are also available if you are crazy.

It has a moonlight mode, but I have not yet found lumen or burn time numbers.

Cottage industry AA flashlights

I don't know quite what else to call these, but they deserve special attention. These are extremely high quality lights that you are unlikely to find in your local outdoor store. You will have to buy them online.

Quark
This is the "house brand" sold by 4 sevens. I like their model numbers, which immediately tell you which lights use which batteries. Their Quark AA2 R5 model was recommended by several people when asked to recommend a light using two AA batteries. It can crank out over 200 lumens, but has 5 power levels, including an 0.2 lumen "moonlight" mode that they claim will go for 30 days. The maximum power mode pulls 0.7 amp and cranks out 206 OTF lumens for 1.3 hours. The "R5" designation indicates that it uses the Cree XP-G R5 emitter. Looks like a nice light, so I ordered one (along with the its single AA little brother, the Quark AA R5). Price for either is about $60.

A particularly like the moonlight mode!

I now actually own three quarks, all are AA models, I have:

I have had trouble with both of my double AA lights. They got flakey and would only turn on for a few seconds and be intermittent and frustrated. In both cases the problem was fixed by tightening the ring behind the pocket clip (which I removed on one, and probably will also on the second). Because the pocket clip acts as a spring, it doesn't seem loose, but you discover that it can be tightened at least a full turn! I may locktite the ring on.

A am also a little disappointed in the single AA model because it will not use a 1.2 volt NiMH battery, which is my battery of choice. I guess I understand (sort of), but wish I had known up front.

The "tactical" model has a whole different control protocol than the others. You can program a high and low level and then select them by tightening or loosening the bezel. Also the button on the back allows momentary on, which is the key tactical feature.

Now that I have them, and have played with them a bit, here are my first impressions. First, they are probably brighter than anything I will ever need. The one place I have actually found the need for a really bright light is when exploring old mines and I want to look several hundred feet down a mine shaft, not the kind of thing everybody does. All that aside, they are nicely made. I am worried that the lanyard attachment hole(s) are located such that a lanyard will intefere with the button, we shall see. The switch is also "reverse clicky", which I now comprehend, but until I have a light that is forward clicky, I can't say how important that really is. I do get annoyed by the strobe modes and wish they were hidden away somehow. They are severely (and beautifully) overpackaged. They could use simpler packaging and take $5 off of the price of the light. I guess they intend for these to be sold in stores. I am not sure I can bring myself to throw out the boxes.

Power levels for the Quark AA-2 (two AA battery light):

Moonlight 0.2 lumen  30 days
Low       4.0 lumen  5  days
Medium   22.0 lumen  24 hours
High     85.0 lumen  5  hours
Max     205.0 lumen  1.3 hours
Strobe               2.5 hours
Beacon               18 hours

Power levels for the Quark AA (single AA battery light):

Moonlight 0.2 lumen  10 days
Low       4.0 lumen  2  days
Medium   22.0 lumen  6  hours
High     85.0 lumen  1.5 hours
Max     110.0 lumen  1.2 hours
Strobe               2.5 hours
Beacon               18 hours

Power levels for the Quark 123 (single CR123A battery light):

Moonlight 0.2 lumen  15 days
Low       4.0 lumen  2.5  days
Medium   22.0 lumen  13  hours
High     85.0 lumen  2.7 hours
Max     206.0 lumen  0.8 hours
Strobe               1.6 hours
Beacon               12 hours
Although I do not have the 123 battery light, comparing it to the AA light answers some questions I have had for some time. The CR123A battery seems to hold about 50 percent more energy that the AA. In addition it allows a 206 lumen output that the single AA cannot generate (with correspondingly reduced run times).

Fenix
They make a wide variety of flashlights using AAA, AA, and CR123A batteries. The best online source I know of is 4 sevens. They have a long (and confusing) list of models. Models with a "D" in the designation seem to be fully regulated lights with what they call "digital" control. This seems to mean that you can select multiple power levels by fiddling with the control button.

I was tempted by the LD10+ ($54), which uses a single AA, has 4 power levels, and can produce 120 lumens for 1.5 hours. It uses the Cree 7090 XR-E LED emitter. I was also tempted by the LD20+ ($63), which uses two AA cells, has 6 power levels, can crank out 205 lumens for 2 hours. It uses the Premium (R4) Cree 7090 XP-G (R4) LED emitter. (However see the Eagle Tac P20A2, which may well be nicer).

Eagle Tac
Apparently Eagle Tac makes pretty good lights (though I have never owned one). They offer a lifetime warrantee to the original owner. Folks in Candle Power Forums are not ashamed to compare them (and even prefer them in some cases) to Fenix lights. Note that the letter "A" in the model number seems to denote a flashlight that uses one or more AA batteries.

Their P20A2 Mk II compares to the Fenix LD20. The MkII version of the P20A2 uses the Cree XP-G R5 and has a user interface that some prefer to the Fenix. It has 3 "superbly spaced" brightness levels (230, 60, 15 lumen), with run times of 1.5, 8, and 55 hours. (I see claims of 300 lumens for the Mk II.) The user interface tucks away the annoying SOS and Stobe modes that are seldom used. The Eagle Tac also uses a forward clicky, whereas the Fenix uses a reverse clicky. (Most people prefer a forward clicky). $65

I became interested in Eagle Tac after seeing their P100A2 light mentioned as a good 2-AA flashlight. It could be viewed as a "bargain version" of their P20A2. It uses a Cree XP-E Q5 emitter, and produces 110 lumens from 350 mA of current for 1.8 hours. (I see ads claiming 195 lumens.) Or get 55 lumens for 8 hours. There are only two power levels, 195 or 55. It can be purchased in either neutral white or cool white. (neutral white is less blue, but not quite as bright). Button allows a mometary on (forward clicky). It can be purchased for $43 from Amazon.com.

Eagle Tac has their own LED digital driver, which is optimized for AA batteries, whereas, for example, the Fenix and Quark 2-AA lights use a "generic" module that works with both CR123 and AA batteries. The claim is that the Fenix and Quark sacrifice some performance when used with AA batteries.

Nitecore
Nitecore lights come highly recommended, and can be obtained from Light Junction or Battery Junction.

Jetbeam
Jetbeam makes high end lights. Their Jet-1 Pro V3.0 is a single AA light for that is similar to the Surefire L1. It is definitely a good looking little light. It is very nicely made, with an amazing 240 lumen output (with a rechargeable lithium). With a AA cell you get 145 lumens for 70 minutes. The V3.0 means you get a Cree R2 LED (earlier versions had a luxeon). Drawbacks are the price, and lack of decent low power modes. The medium power mode has a shorter runtime than high power, and burn times for low power are unimpressive (2 lumens for 50 hours) Made in Canada. Available from Amazon.com for $70.

The Jetbeam RRT-0 is very popular. It is a $98.00 light using a single CR123 (add an optional AA adapter ring for $14).

The Jet-1 Pro EX uses two AA batteries, and they call it a "tactical backup flashlight", imagine that! I don't know why they didn't call it the Jet-2 Pro. Regular price $80. Uses a Cree XR-E (Q5) for 200 lumens for 1 hour. Also 170 lumens (75 minutes) and 20 lumens (10 hours) and 2 lumens (50 hours).

Olight
Olight flashlights also look interesting.

Mass market AA flashlights

You are truly better off spending the extra money and getting a light made by one of the companies above. Just for comparisons sake, it is interesting to look at some of the better offerings that you might find on the shelf in your local outdoor shop.

The mini-mag
In a word, forget it.

These (with halogen bulbs) were everybodys old standby. You can get the tungsten filament model (but why would you?) for $15 to $20. They also now sell a model with an LED emitter (but who knows how it compares to other 2-AA offerings these days). You can also buy a conversion kit from Cat-ize to retrofit an LED into your old beloved mini-mag. I did just this and was impressed with the result. I also misplaced that flashlight soon after. Maybe I will see it again someday.

Princeton Tec Impact XL
A handheld light with a single side emitting 1 watt LED and using 4 AA batteries. Princeton Tec claims 25 lumens (and claims regulation!) on the product packaging, but claims 45 lumens on the website, which I am suspicious of. It has a "Maxbright (luxeon) LED" and they quote a 50 hour burn time.

I have owned two of these and liked them very much. (I still do). I left the batteries too long in the first one and the reflector got severely corroded. Let this be a warning to anyone reading this. This is the second light that I have had damaged due to leaky batteries. Because LED technology can run on next to no current, you can have problems of this kind - namely batteries that are leaking and still powering the light. For a time, I thought that the newer "Amp 4.0" was a superior choice to the Impact XL, but I no longer feel this way. Althought the Amp 4 offers much longer battery life, and perhaps twice the light (if you can sort out their conflicting specifications) it is not nearly as well built. The Impact XL is far more rugged, it is certainly more waterproof. The Impact XL is rated as waterproof to 100m, whereas the Amp 4.0 is only rated to 1m.

Princeton Tec Amp 4.0
I was enthused about this light until I actually owned one. The one I had (and returned) had a faulty switch and would turn itself on whenever it was bumped or jostled. It is nowhere near as sturdy as the Impact XL, although it does crank out more light. As of mid 2010, I have left 4 AA lights behind given that there are excellent 2 AA lights (using Cree emitters) now available with all the performance I could ask for.

Princeton Tec now has an "Amp" family of lights, in increasing sizes from 1 through 5. I am partial to single emitter lights, so I chose the Amp 4. It claims a 50 lumen output and a weight of 206 grams. It uses a Maxbright Luxeon Rebel LED and claims a 150 hour burn time. The product packaging says that it is regulated (but the website says not). The instructions say that the light may not be as bright if you use NiMH batteries due to reduced voltage -- which would imply that it is not regulated. The instructions also caution you to not install the batteries backwards, as it will damage the light (this will really make me mad if this is true, every other light I have simply refuses to work when I do this). It has two brightness levels, with a bizarre and unexpected feature. The burn time at low brightness is 120 hours, less than the 150 hour burn time on high! Their website (and product literature) needs work. As an aside, there is no excuse for a flashy website with bogus and misleading information, that is all I will say. Made in China. USA Lifetime Warranty.

Gerber "Firecracker"
When you see the name "Gerber", turn and run.

This was an impulse buy for $20 in early 2010. You get what you pay for, which in this case ain't much. It uses a single AA and produces 18 lumens with a 7 hour burn time. It has a single emitter (an 0.7 watt Nichia Rigel LED with a distinctly purple cast). Although it is at best, a pretty mediocre light, it ain't bad for the price. I find it handy and useful to keep in the glove compartment of my truck. It does a good job of draining the last juice out of otherwise spent batteries. It is plenty bright enough to be useful around camp for night activities. The brightness is about right for book reading.

It is sealed with O-rings, which is hopeful.
Lacks a hole for a lanyard.

The case is aluminum! You would never know given the paint job, but I took a file to mine in an effort (that I intend to return to and finish) to eliminate the false button on the tailpiece of the light. Made in China. Lifetime Warranty.

There is some nformation on the Firecracker on Candlepower forums. The Gerber uses an optical element in front of the LED (in lieu of a reflector aparently). To quote the thread, which compares the firecracker with the Inova X1.V1 serveral times:

The Gerber FIRECRACKER uses a TIR type optic, providing maximum throw with limited sidespill. The Inova x1.v1 uses an aspheric optic. It produces a tight moon type beam with clearly defined edges and no spill.

TIR stands for total internal reflection, and the interesting aspect of this design is that the firecracker uses this lens instead of a reflector.

Mass market AAA flashlights

A bad idea unless you just have to have a tiny light.

Princeton Tec Impact II (I would get the "attitude", not this model, given the specs)
I have used, and been extremely satisfied with this things big brother, the impact XL (which uses 4 AA batteries, yields 31 lumens with a 50 hour burn time and weighs 7 ounces (197 grams)). The Impact II uses 4 AAA batteries, weighs 2.85 ounces (81 grams), has a single well focused emitter. It is a flashlight (the only drawback) and a single brightness with a 75 hour burn time. 7 lumens.

Princeton Tec Attitude (looks like a winner!)
This is a handheld light with 3 LED's, yielding 30 lumens with a burn time of 150 hours. (2.5 ounces) 71 grams with 4 AAA batteries. Given that this thing produces the same light output as my Impact XL with half the weight and a 3 times longer burn time, it would seem clear that it is using a new generation of LED emitters.


Feedback? Questions? Drop me a line!

Tom's Light Info / tom@mmto.org