Survival-Pax Blog: How to Choose a Flashlight

Thursday, December 9, 2010

How to Choose a Flashlight

I know that many of you know a lot about flashlights. Some of you probably know more than I do, which is great. I'm here to learn things as well. That said, I wanted to share what I know, since I also know that many of you guys do not know very much about flashlights.

The tiny Preon 1 is great for every day carry (EDC)
but lacks the brightness of larger flashlights.
All of the high-tech terms thrown around can be very confusing. I know that they were confusing to me at one time. Terms such as lumen, LED, mAh, etc. can seem like alphabet soup. Well, I hope to shed some light on these flashlight terms (pun intended) and help you see what it's all about (oh stop with the lame jokes already).

First of all, it's important to understand a few simple things that are true with all forms of technology, not just with flashlights. With a given technology, the more functionality that an object has, the larger it is going to be, although there can be exceptions. If you want a flashlight that mimics the brightness of the sun, it will probably be too large to carry in your pocket easily. Likewise, if you want a teeny tiny little flashlight that you can carry around with you without even noticing that it's on your person, then it will not be the brightest light on the market. Basically, what I'm trying to say is that you have to pick the right tool for the job in order to minimize the weight that you'll be carrying around with you.

So, first ask yourself, what will you be using this flashlight for? Will it be for every day carry? Will it be for work? Will it be for emergency use?
The Quark 123, at 174 lumens,
is MUCH brighter than a Maglite.

Asking yourself these questions will help you determine what sort of flashlight you will need; whether it needs to be small and light, or whether it can be larger and heavier. It will help you determine how bright the light needs to be, how far it needs to shine, even what battery it should use.

Ok, so, what should I get already?

Well, I should mention one more thing. How much money are you willing to spend? We all know that quality comes at a price. The cheaper things cost, the cheaper they are in their quality, usually. You usually have to spend a little more to get a quality item. You don't have to spend a ridiculous amount of money, but you can't be cheap either.

If you aren't into flashlights but are reading this in anticipation of making a purchase, I will say that you probably need to spend a little more than you would have normally thought to get a quality flashlight. Sure, you can go with a $15 Maglite, but you'll get about 1/10th of the light of a $50 Quark 123. Was it worth going the less expensive route? Probably not.

So, after having acknowledged that you might have to spend a couple more bucks than you initially wanted to, and after having figured out what you need the light for, lets get into some helpful tips about flashlight choices, starting the most important part of the flashlight. The...

Emitter

The LED emitter is clearly seen on this Preon 2.
The emitter is the part of the flashlight that shines. It is what converts electrical energy from your batteries into usable light for you to see. Nowadays, the brightest and most efficient emitters on the market are LED's, which stands for Light Emitting Diode. Not going into too much technical detail, LED's use semiconductors to create light; they work much differently than your standard incandescent bulbs. LED technology used to be expensive. Now, this technology is affordable. Make sure that the flashlight that you choose has an LED emitter to maximize brightness and battery life.

LED flashlights can come in an array of multiple LED's or they can have one brighter, single LED. For maximum light output, maximum efficiency and the most perfect beam pattern, I recommend getting a single LED flashlight. Who wouldn't want the most...

Brightness

We all want bright flashlights. The brightness of a flashlight is generally measured in lumens. A lumen measures how much light is contained within a certain area. When talking about flashlights, lumens measure how much total light is put out by a light source. In order to keep this explanation simple and as non-technical as possible, I will not give you a scientific definition of a lumen. If you want one, click here. Instead, I will help you get a feel for how much a lumen really is, practically speaking.

Let's compare some everyday objects with their respective average lumen values:
Candle - 13 lumens
AA Powered Maglite - 15 lumens
Car Headlight - 700 lumens
100 Watt Incandescent Light Bulb - 1750 lumens

Since lumens measure total light output, notice that candles and light bulbs have a very high lumen rating, but they don't seem that bright. This is because the light from a candle or bulb is not directed in any particular direction, but is emitted in all directions.

What is it that directs the light from an emitter towards that which you want to illuminate? It is the...

Reflector

The Maelstrom G5 has a deep, smooth reflector.
What are these types of reflectors good for, again?
The choice in reflector is often something that is overlooked. The reflector is what helps determine the beam pattern that your flashlight will have. It is important to choose a flashlight with a quality reflector because a poor reflector will have artifacts (uneven spots) in the beam pattern.

A shallow, textured reflector will give a wide, soft beam pattern, whereas a deep, smooth reflector will have a more concentrated beam pattern. A wide beam pattern is great for up-close lighting while a concentrated beam pattern lets you illuminate far-away objects. So again, what kind of jobs do you need your flashlight to help you with? What kind of reflector do you need?


There are some things that will give you some multi-purpose use with your light. They are the...

Lighting Modes

Lighting modes give you versatility with your flashlight. They are the different ways in which the flashlight gives off light. Lighting modes usually dim the flashlight, letting you choose how much light you need in a given situation; this also helps conserve battery life. Certain lighting modes flash the emitter, giving you a Strobe mode, an S.O.S. mode or a Beacon mode, which can also be useful.

To give you a properly bright flashlight that lasts for a long time, you also need to choose the correct...

Batteries

The CR123A battery is great for powering flashlights.
Batteries are the fuel of a flashlight. Choosing the right flashlight involves choosing one that uses the right battery. Do you want a more commonly available battery such as the AA or AAA or do you want a higher-output, longer-lasting battery such as the CR123A or the smaller CR2? Considering the availability of a particular battery is very important when choosing a flashlight. If you can't get the correct batteries for your light, then it's just fancy-looking metal rod.

You choice in batteries will determine how bright the flashlight is and how long it will be able to shine for. Your standard AA or AAA batteries are usually alkaline, whereas newer battery designs such as the CR123A or CR2 are lithium cells. Alkaline batteries are less efficient in high-drain applications, such as those in a flashlight, making lithium cells usually the preferred choice.

Batteries are measured in mAh (miliampere-hours: a unit of power), which corresponds to how long of a runtime the flashlight can have. A AA alkaline battery, for example, has about 700 mAh of power, with a AAA alkaline battery having even less. Comparing that to the 1500 mAh that a CR123A battery has, it is a clear choice, as least when it comes to power, which battery is superior.

The CR123A and CR2 lithium cells also output 3.0V vs. the 1.5V of a AA or AAA battery. This increase in voltage lets the flashlight shine brighter. Flashlights that use CR123A or CR2 battery are usually brighter than those which use AA or AAA batteries.
The Quark MiNi AA² is long and thin
because it uses two AA batteries. 

As you can see, choosing the appropriate battery is important. Your choice in batteries will also determine the flashlight's...

Size & Shape

Since the body of the flashlight contains the batteries, the size and shape of a flashlight is partially determined by what type of battery it has to fit. If your battery is short and stout, such as the CR123A, then your flashlight will also be shorter and wider; reference the Quark MiNi 123. If you use a longer, thinner battery such as the AA, then your flashlight will also be long and thin; reference the Quark AA² Tactical. Using multiple batteries, likewise gives you a longer flashlight.

When determining which shape to choose, it is important to ask yourself if size is critical for the application at hand, or if you would rather have a flashlight that is more comfortable to hold. For a commonly used flashlight, I believe that it is important to have one that is easy to hold, so as to minimize it slipping or falling out of your hand.

Conclusion

So, that's just a brief (if you can call it brief) introduction to flashlight selection. There is a lot more that can go into choosing a flashlight, such as the method of turning it on (tailcap vs. twist bezel), the texturing on the outside, methods of carry, etc. but I didn't want to confuse you guys too much. I didn't even begin to get into headlamps...

As an introduction, I hope that this blog post will help you in choosing a flashlight. If there is something that you would like to ask or maybe you have some useful information to share, please feel free to comment on this post.

Take care guys!

Simon - Survival-Pax Team Member

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12 Comments :

  • Well this is the third time I've typed this Since I keep accidentally changing sites. So I'm looking into a light with great throw and Brightness and Have limited down to either the Quark Turbo 123(squared) or the Maelstrom G5. I plan on using the lights for both EDC and a weapon mounted light for both Tactical applications and Night hunting out to approximately 150 meters. I know the attributes to both and like the Quarks lower price, Longer battery life, Hand Grip accessory, and Smaller, lighter approach. At the same moment I like the G5's Brighter, Further beam, its set mode configurations, and ease of weapon mounting.(I would most likely have to shim the Turbo to fit in a weapon light mount, Which isn't too much of a problem) Being that overall cost is important as I hope to Buy a knife along with the light, The most bang for my buck is required which is why I'm here. I'm looking for your opinion on both lights and which you would personally choose. Also, what's the difference between the original 4Sevens and the S2 versions of the light? Is it a difference in the diode or what?

    Thanks for your help,
    Kyle

    Ps. Looking into buying the CRKT M16-13SFG if funds are available.

    By Blogger Snyper_94 , At December 28, 2010 at 11:06 AM  

  • Kyle,

    Sorry that your previous messages weren't posted for some reason.

    You pretty much understand the benefits/drawbacks of both lights. The Maelstrom is heavier, larger, brighter and slightly more expensive, while the Quark 123² Turbo is smaller and not as bright. I haven't tested either light at 150 meters but I'm sure that the Maelstrom would work better in that regard due to its brightness.

    Personally, if you can afford the extra weight, the Maelstrom is the way to go, since it was mainly designed as a tactical/weapons light. It does have a 1" body diameter, which is more or less standard for weapon-mounted lights.

    If you want an ultra-light setup, then go with the Quark, but like you said, you might have to shim the flashlight mount that you intend on using. Your light will not be as bright, but it will be nearly half the weight of the Maelstrom.

    As to the S2 vs. R5, yes, these are the LED emitters that the flashlights use. I don't notice a difference in brightness when comparing the two LED's. The S2's are more expensive and seem to have a beam with a slightly yellow hue, whereas the R5's have a whiter color. I would just save your money and pick up the R5 version of the light that you want while they're still available.

    I hope that answered your questions. Feel free to ask if you have any more.

    Take care!
    -Simon

    By Blogger Survival-Pax , At December 28, 2010 at 4:36 PM  

  • How many flashlights do I have? More than I need and less than I want. I guess I'm a flashaholic... my wife thinks so. Like your site.

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    By Blogger Dheeraj , At March 19, 2013 at 5:27 AM  

  • The issue I find with CR123A batteries is that their more expensive than AA. On top of that, it'll be the only thing in my house that uses them so I'd rather stick with AA's because my remote control and whatever else uses them too. This post on the best survival flashlight states the same thing.

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    By Blogger steve7876 , At June 23, 2015 at 2:21 PM  

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    By Blogger Tito4372 , At February 23, 2016 at 2:33 PM  

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