E.D.C. Flashlight - Cordon & Review
January 19th, 2009 | Cordon & Review | Posted by Rob Curtis
One battery. One lonely little AAA, AA or CR123. What could it do in a flashlight when most of us remember state-of-the-art as those huge two or four D-cell man-beaters? Well, with the latest L.E.D. technology, a little CR123 battery can run a light for hours that’s no bigger than your finger but nearly as bright as a car headlight.
All the major players you know, and a few you don’t, have embraced the L.E.D. So, we’ll give you a primer on the new millennium flashlight tech and offer capsule reviews of 11 lights you can carry everyday without weighing you down or making folks wonder if you’re just glad to see them.
Hit the jump for the GearScout’s take on everyday carry (E.D.C.) lights.
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The Beam: The shape and quality of a flashlight beam has come a long way from the focusable Mini-Mag. Old-school lights made with sometimes off-center bulbs and smooth reflectors produced nasty rings, holes and artifacts that reduced the utility of a beam and caused eye fatigue during extended use.
Perfectly centered L.E.D. modules, textured and specially engineered reflectors, and tuned optics combine to make old-school, focusable, Mini-Mags about as cool as brick phones.
Beams can now be tuned at the factory to produce a tightly focused spotlight, a broad diffused glow or a combination of the two. Let’s call the amount of light that surrounds the center hot spot the “spill.” Lights that use an optic to define the beam will generally have a tight hot spot with little spill, great for lighting up objects at a distance. When reflectors are used, the beam can have a much larger usable spill area and a less defined hot spot, better for lighting a whole area. A light with no hot spot, like the Zebra H30-Q5, is considered “floody.”
The high-end lights like Surefire’s E1B and Blackhawk’s PL3 XTR contain shatter-resistant Pyrex or precisely engineered reflectors to make beams with defined center spots. More affordable lights will use lower-quality optical material and their beams will appear less defined and may actually change color as you move from the center of the beam outward.
The last quality of a beam to consider is the color. When talking about white light, noticeable tints will range from blue to yellow. The yellow end of the spectrum appears more like a light bulb and is easier on the eyes. Blue tints appear whiter and more brilliant.
One important thing to note with L.E.D.s is that radiate a more limited spectrum than light bulbs. This means that you can’t throw an accessory IR filter over your light and use it with your NVGs. If you want an IR light, you’ll need to buy an I.R. L.E.D. light or get one that has a separate, secondary I.R. L.E.D. emitter.
Controls: Modern flashlights contain microprocessors to manage their output. This allows a range of function, but having only one or two controls limits the user interface and has created some imaginative control schemes.
The two most popular controls are “clicky” and “twisty.” Clicky means the switch is binary: press the button until it clicks and the light remains on with your finger off the switch until you press it again. Twisty means you twist the part of the light in relation to its head to activate the light. Generally, twist it tight and it’s on until you unscrew it.
Clickies are intuitive but they can be loud and their contacts will eventually wear out. Clicky variations include reverse clickies, as found on the Leatherman Seracs and Fenix, which only switch the light on during the switch backstroke. On the plus side, the switch has to be depressed completely before it activates, making pocket activations unlikely. The minus? No momentary, or tactical, switching. Forward clickies allow momentary activation with a half-press so that as soon as you remove your thumb from the switch, the light turns off.
“Twisty” switches are very reliable and reduce the size of the light but drawbacks include accidental activation and inelegant interfaces. The Fenix LD01’s three light levels are cycled by quickly twisting the switch back and forth. With some practice, you can do this with one hand but it can be a little awkward at first. Some twisties can go on momentary by using the play in the tail cap threads as a buffer.
Brightness and Modes: Most manufacturers offer lights with multiple brightness levels and flashing modes. Nitecore’s EX10 gives you two fixed settings and a third setting that you choose by ramping up (or down) the light to any of 100 steps between the extremes.
Don’t be seduced by the brightest beam, though. Consider your use: in everyday carry (EDC), you’ll most likely use lower light levels to extend battery life and to keep from blinding yourself when using the light during close-up work. Surefire’s E1B offers two settings, and the tail switch cycles between the two with a half-click, always coming on at full power after power-down. But if you intend to stun an attacker or light up a house number from the street, make sure your light can put out more than 65 lumens in a tight hot spot; the Blackhawk Sentinel PL3 XTR or the Surefire E1B are perfect for this.
Power Source: The three batteries found in most handheld lights are AA, AAA and CR123. The AA is ubiquitous, cheap and contains a moderate amount of power but it’s relatively large and heavy for a pocket light. The AAA carries less power than a AA but its small size and the efficiency of modern LEDs mean it’s a tradeoff worth making for many applications. The CR123 has become much easier to find lately, though it’s still expensive. But its increased voltage is needed to drive the brightest flashlights to their potential. If you never know what battery you’ll have on hand, take a look at the Gerber Omnivore. It can use a AA, AAA, or CR123.
Go to the link above and you can also find individual reviews of the following lights:
Fenix Digital LD01 Q5
Fenix Digital LD10 Premium Q5
Surefire E1B Backup
PentagonLight Molle Light Phantom
Leatherman Serac S2
Leatherman Serac S3
Blackhwk Sentinel PL3 XTR
Gerber Infinity Ultra-M
Gerber Infinity Omnivore
NiteCore SmartPD EX10 GDP