Monday, May 10, 2010

Episode 9 - Flashlight Technology Compared - Old hotness, new hotness

Welcome to another episode of the Be Prepared Channel. Well today's episode is going to be something that I had planned to do a little later after I have had some time to play with my new toy flashlight, but I am so impressed already that I felt I should go ahead and do a quick mini comparison of the new breed of flashlights and how they compare to lights of the days gone by.

I am not really a flashlight junkie per se and I have been pretty much a traditionalist(you buy something that produces light, and stick it in a drawer, glove box, or in your pocket. In the past I bought and liked the old Maglight Flashlights. A co-worker brought in a newer Surefire flashlight to work and was showing it off and that was pretty impressive that used the small CR123 batteries. The size, weight, and light output were impressive. However at that point I was not willing to cough up the money for the Surefire and was satisfied with my mini Mag I was carrying. I did go ahead and buy a newer AA battery LED Mini Maglight that I carry with my Leatherman as a everyday carry(EDC). It works pretty well(or so I thought). When you don't have something to compare it to it is hard to know how much better it can be and just how big an impact/difference there is by upgrading to a better quality light.

So today I will share with you a simple comparison of the past and the present as we demonstrate in a very simple comparison the old and newer technology in flashlights. I have to admit I wasn't expecting a huge difference. I was simply looking for a tactical light for a weapons mount. I went searching for leads and info on a possible light for that purpose and wanted one of the newer technology LED lights out there that would be able to stand up to the rigours use and abuse when mounted on a weapon. What I actually found was that the new technology appears to be a game changer in flashlights. So I will try to get some good pictures to post with this podcast so that you can see what I will be talking about in the podcast and here in the blog.

The purpose of this podcast is not to recommend a specific product, but to demonstrate the difference between the incandescent, early generation LED, and current generation LED technology. The brand of light that I purchased for the latest technology is far from the only game in town and there are many competing products in the market. The new generation light I purchased was based on good reviews on the Candle Power Forums(link posted below), but there are many good products out there.

Have I become a flashlight junkie because of this purchase? Possibly! I may have to upgrade my mini Mag I carrry with my Leatherman after seeing the new flashlight technology in action so I will post an update some time in the future when I finally get the funds to replace my EDC light.

Episode 9 Flashlight Technology Compared - Old Hotness, New Hotness:
Technology Compared:
Incandescent bulb Maglight (3 D cell) full sized billy club and tire thumper flashlight
Off the shelf LED Maglight (2 D cell) full sized flashlight
Off the shelf LED Mini Maglight (2 AA cell) flashlight
New comer in my stable of lights: Eagletac T20C2 Mark II

Here is the lineup shots of the flashlights:
Left to right:
3D Cell Maglight - Incandescent flashlight
2D Cell Maglight - 3 watt LED Flashlight(commonly found in Walmart)
2AA Cell Mini-Maglight - 3 watt LED Flashlight(commonly found in Walmart - part of my EDC)
2 CR123 or 1 18650 battery Eagletac - T20C2 Mark II

Newest LED technology:
R2 Cree XP-G (Pretty much the current leader and commonly shipping technology)
R5 Cree XP-G (This is the newer technology that is shipping now in the Cree lineup and brighter than the R2)
SST-50 (This is one of the new technologies that are starting to ship now, and appears from the reviews to be very bright)
SST-90 (This is the latest to hit the scene and it is just breaking into the reviews forums being posted online now)

Differences in lumens and run times:
Various brands of lights drive the LED's harder than others. This results in higher lumens(light output) from the flashlight where the same light technology is used, but the only real difference between the two lights might be how hard the LED is driven. There are pros and cons to this methodology and it results in a compromise. The harder the LED is pushed to produce more light the shorter the run time from your batteries. So ultimately you have to decide what is the best mix for you as you have to decide what the tradeoffs are in run times vs light output. Speaking for me I can honestly say it should probably be weighed on the role of the light and it's frequency of planned use as to how much compromise I am willing to make in the tradeoffs.

The differences between competing technology appears to be substantial in the light output. I think the real challenge next is to figure out how to balance the output with battery run times. With each of these newer technology we see the light output increasing dramatically, however we are also seeing the battery run times decreasing just as dramatically. So the fine line will be in juggling the tradeoff's, and watching to see if we begin to see a shift in focus into efficiency as well as the light output. Today it appears that there is a high emphasis placed on lumens, but considering how good these lights already are it wouldn't surprise me to see the competition begin to shift emphasis from output to longer run times. Considering the break neck pace this is moving I don't imagine it will be long as these all appear to be pretty amazing breakthroughs in LED lights.

Types of Light output:
You will see right away that the light output from the incandescent is not nearly as bright as the others and has a yellow color to it. The LED's appear bright, white to maybe slightly blueish color. The newer LED's can output a natural looking light vs the very bright white/blueish color and this is done with a different LED light technology. So far from what I have read the natural light LED's tend to not output the same brightness and same lumens level. I don't have a natural light LED in my possession at this time to compare it to, but I do recommend that you check out the flashlight experts forums at Candle Power Forums. They test and show off the latest and greatest in lighting technology so you can get a better idea how the light technology compares, and they do the full range of tests with light output, run times, and overlays so you can see how the different flashlights compare in various reviews I have seen posted.

What about poor Maglight?
Well even Maglight is not sleeping at the wheel. The Maglight versions I show you here are the older technology that is available. Maglight has released a newer generation that is now getting good reviews for the price and performance and the pictures shown of the light output compared to my trusty 2AA LED Mini Maglight on Candlepower Forums show the newer XL100 from Maglight is a big step up and performs better than the previous generation of the Mini Mag. So even Maglight is upgrading to newer technology to offer better products at a good bang for the buck price ratio.

So let's get into the comparison of the different lights and see just how all this rambling on and mumbo jumbo stacks up.

Maglight light output compared:
Left to right:
3D Cell Maglight - Incandescent flashlight
2D Cell Maglight - 3 watt LED Flashlight(commonly found in Walmart)
2AA Cell Mini-Maglight - 3 watt LED Flashlight(commonly found in Walmart - part of my EDC)

The big dog in this lineup is the 2D Cell Maglight. Clearly showing that the upgrade from an incandescent flashlight to the off the shelf LED models is a big step up. Even my little AA Mini Mag gives the old incandescent flashlight a run for it's money. Now let's compare the best of the Maglight to the newer technology available.

Maglight LED vs Eagletac:
Eagletac in Turbo Mode(it's brightest setting):

Eagletac in it's General Mode(the standard setting):

Some things to know:
The Maglight has the ability to focus the light into a nice tight pattern(by turning the head of the light) which is great for throwing the light out at good distances and the light pattern can be widened into a little wider more flood like pattern. This is a nice feature that the Eagletac does not have. The Eagletac has an advantage in that it has multiple modes for low power consumption, a strobe function, a SOS function, beacon function, general output, and turbo output modes. So there are a variety of modes to provide additional flexibility in the light output.

The Eagletac is a small palm sized flashlight that bests a regular size 2D cell flashlight even with a much smaller power supply, and reflector. The fact that such a small light outperforms the larger one by such a wide margin really makes you wonder what an apples to apples comparison of these lights would look like with the new LED's compared to the older in the same size/format light. I think it is fair to say that it will probably warp what we think and know about flashlights going forward!

The Technology Race:

It looks like this LED flashlight space is very rapidly changing and the competition is fierce. From what I can see so far the products are already pretty amazing and I don't really see any reason for someone to hold off making a purchase at this point since the products are just that good. We only have even better stuff to look forward to as the race is on between these companies.

As you can see from some of the pictures of the light output these new LED lights are absolutely amazing and take lighting to an all new level. The pictures hardly do these lights justice and is hard to capture just how big a difference there is between them. I hope it is clear from the shots just how bright the LED's are vs the incandescent and just how bright the newest generations of the LED's are and how they have already dwarfed the commonly available LED's on your store shelves right now. If your still working with that old incandescent flashlight it is time to try something new. These LED bulbs last longer, potentially can use less power depending on the power settings and type. These have the potential to be far more reliable over the long term life of the flashlight. There is no substitute for a good flashlight when you need light.

So don't hesitate. If your lugging around one of the old incandescent bulb flashlights then come on in the waters fine in the LED light camp, and from the looks of things it is only getting much better as time goes on.

LED Cons:
- More costly than the conventional lights, and the newest technology is even more costly still. So weigh the tradeoffs in cost vs the light output.
- Can be more difficult to find replacement LED's if for some reason you should need to replace one

LED Pros:
- You can have a very small flashlight put out as much or more than a much bigger tire thumper size flashlight so size and weight advantage goes to the LED's
- Power consumption can be lower with LED's depending on the flashlight and settings
- More durable than the incandescents(I have been using the LED's for years and have not had an issue)
- The light output is very good, and newer lights are amazing

The purpose of this comparison is to highlight the technology differences and the advantages of going with the LED vs conventional, and to show the even bigger jumps in the more recent LED products now entering the market. If you would like a more detailed review of the Eagletac T20C2 I can do a follow-up review showing the light in more depth and how I plan to use it, but the purpose of this comparison was to give you an idea how these technologies stack up and give you an idea weather these new lights are worth your hard earned money. So far from what I can see they are very good, but can be spendy depending on what you buy.

Some of the more common brands that seem to be very hot right now and shipping with some of the latest technology are:
Four Sevens

Plus many many more... Take some time to check out the reviews section of the Candle Power Forums:

Check out NutnFancy's YouTube Channel for some great reviews on various items that a prepper might find useful:
NutnFancy's Channel

I hope you found this informative and helpful. So with that I will wrap this up, be thankful, be safe, have fun, and we will catch ya next time....

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