Monday, January 16, 2006


So theres an interesting flashlight thread going on over at Kims forums.

Now, I happen to have a lot of flashlights (something over a dozen), including seven MagLites; which is the brand most folks think of when they thing "good flashlight", and a few Brinkmans; probably the best of the low end brands. Oh and of course a few assorted random others.

On the MagLight side, I've got a 6D cell light, a 4d cell light, a 3C cell light, two AA mini MagLites, and two MagLight Solitaires (one on my keychain).

There are a LOT of accessories available for flashlights, from differnet switches and lenses , to different bulbs and batteries, to entire new lamp assemblies that can convert your standard light into something ultra bright, or that can run twice as long etc...

These accessories correct some of the flaws of various designs. For example, the biggest irritation with the MiniMagLite (other than it being slightly dim in comparison to other premium lights), is that it's switch is very inconvenient to operate with one hand, and hasa tendency to come on when it's in your bag. To turn the light on you actually rotate the head of the light.

Well to address the brightness, and the switch problem, I have the momentary endcap switch, and I’m running lithiums in it. I’m thinking about switching the head to one of the one watt LED’s available for it, because the standard wheatgrain bulbs just arent doing the job, and have shitty runtime to boot. Oh and one of the glass lenses as well. You wouldn't think the plastic lenses were all that bad, but the glass ones make a HUGE difference.

Of course at that point, is it really a MiniMagLite anymore? It's more of an al new flashlight with a minis tube in the middle of it.

I also have a SureFire A2 aviator, and an E1L outdoorsman.

The Aviator is a bloody great flashlight. It has two modes (momentary, and steady on), and two different light sources; either a 3 led cluster, or a very bright MA02 (50 lumens for about an hour, and then a steep falloff for another hour) type incandescent lamp. The LEDs are available in several colors (mine are red), and they run damn near forever (about 15 hours at full bright, and another 30 hours from 50-25%) on the two CR123A lithium batteries the light takes.

I love the light, it's a great light for a flight bag, or any kind of kit, or for being tacticool; but it's a bit bulky to ride in the jeans all day every day.

I bought the E1L because it was so small, yet so bright; and it’s great, but it’s actually too small. The head is actually larger than the body of the light, and so the light is unbalanced. The E2 uses the same head and tail, with a longer two bettery body, and I’m wondering if I can just buy the body as a spare part from SureFire.

Oh and I’m totally lusting after the SureFire U2, but it’s $300. A bit much for a pocket flashlight (though my aviator as almost $200 with tax)

Now, what is the appeal of a $200 A2, or a $100 E1; when you can buy a maglight for between $10 and $50?

With my E1L, which is less than 4” long, and weighs about 3oz, I can illuminate my entire field of view/work area for 60 minutes, at near daylight light levels, and 3 hours more at the same light level as a “normal” flashlight. It throws a useful beam out to about 25 yards; and a beam you can read a book by out to about 10.

That’s with one single CR123a battery, which cost about $1.50 in bulk packs (about twice as much as a D-cell in bulk), and which weigh less than a AA.

It takes a 4d cell MagLite, which is more than 14” long and weighs about 2 pounds, to do the same thing.

On the 2 cell version of the same SureFire I can do the same thing, a little bit brighter for twice as long; OR I can switch out to the 5 watt head, and be TWICE as bright for just as long.

There are two advantages for being twice as bright

1. You can blind someone if necessary
2. The light throws farther (and from farther away is wider) allowing you to usefully illuminate out further, and to light a wider working area by holding the light further away.

Oh and the two cell SureFire is 5 inches, and 3.5 ounces. The brightest standard MagLite (the 6D cell), which is only just about as bright as the SureFire, is almost 20” long, and weighs almost 3 lbs (note it's twice as bright with the higher power lamp assembly).

The only advantage to the Mag is that you’ll have from two to five times the useful illumination time from a single set of batteries (depending on the exact models and lamps you are comparing). Of course that single set of batteries takes up 12 times as much space, and about 24 times as much weight as the pair of CR123as in the SureFire.

Oh and you CAN get a double powered xenon lamp for the MagLite, that runs at full power for about half to 2/3 as long for the same set of batteries, but will urn at reduced power for much longer (about 12 hours). The MagLites are MUCH better with that lamp.

Personally, I always thought the 6D MagLite was more useful as an impact weapon than a lighting device.

Now, if you think I'm bad; there are some HARD CORE flashlight geeks out there. There's one particular guy who goes by the name of Mr. bulk; and this guy is the flashlight guru. He takes standard flashlights and modes them from here to tomorrow; as well as manufacturing his own line of superpremium lights.

Are they great lights? Hell yeah. But they may be jsut a bit too much flashlight geekery for me.

That said, I WOULD however love to modify my current MagLites. In particular, I love the lithiums in my mini Mag Lite, and I love the LED in my SureFire, so I'd like to convert my minis to LED. Also, I'd like to take my milti D cell models and replace the lamp assembelies with 3 or 5 watt LED lamps, and switch to rechargeable lithium batteries. They are expensive, but they don't outgas, they are more temperature stable (good thing for a car trunk in Arizona), and they don't have a memory effect.

Going to the lithiums and the LED bulbs will give me more light, greater run time, AND greater reliability. The only downside is, the batteries are about $5 a piece, and the LED's are about $30 for the 3 wattt, and $50 to $70 for the 5 watt (oh and they get hot as hell).

Oh, and I need to replace the MagLite Solitaires I've got with something brighter, and that doesn't go through batteries as badly (and yes you can do it), but is still approximately the same size (or smaller).

I don't care for those photon (or copies) Keychain lights, because they jsut have the bare LED with no lens assembly etc... and they arent very easy to aim or use. I

'm thinking one of the mini .5 watt LED lights that use stacked lithium hearing aid batteries is the way to go there; I just havent found one I like yet.

Heres a semi-random list of links to flashlight resources:

Flashlight Reviews

LED Flashlight lamps and glass lenses

CR123A Batteries in bulk

Mr Bulk's Flashlight MOD site