review: polished Zebralight SC52 (a.k.a. "aluminum zebra")

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ToyKeeper
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review: polished Zebralight SC52 (a.k.a. "aluminum zebra")

Zebralight SC52 which has had its anodizing sanded off and and then polished to provide a mirror-like finish to get rid of ZL’s usual military drab look. Since the valleys between heat fins still have anodizing, it may be the only Zebralight in the world which actually has zebra stripes:

The main difference from a regular ZL SC52… is that this one is pretty.

I won’t bother talking about the specs and performance; selfbuilt has already covered that in a great amount of detail, and you should go read his review if you want to know what a ZL SC52 is normally like.

The trade:

Cereal_Killer wrote:
I have my ZL SC52 which I’ve chemically stripped of its ano in all spots but the lows of the fins and the tail threads for lock-out then highly polished it. There is a small imperfection on the flat where the clip would go (shown in photos). Also the clip mounting point was ground down for a more streamlined look. The clip and screws are however included. The lens is in great shape with the AR coating still reflecting the typical purple color it should. The beam is right around 6000k with a hint of green, no blue, almost neutral. This is a beautiful light and as far as I know is one of a kind. I just recently touched it up on my polishing wheel with some AlOx compound and flitz so its extra shiny at the moment.

I’m looking to trade for an XM-L / L2 version of D25C Clicky or any configuration non-low voltage Quark (pro or tac w/ any size body) or an 18650 Quark body +cash.

When Dan / Cereal_Killer posted a thread offering to trade a shine-modded ZL SC52, I thought it was a rather unique and pretty item. I didn’t have anything from his list to trade, but I’ve always thought Zebralights were ugly and should come in more visually-appealing designs. So I commented to say something along those lines, and that it was pretty. Bare metal is often a nice look, though I prefer brass over silver-colored metals.

Anyway, he offered to trade for an item I had instead of what he originally wanted, and we agreed. I traded my 2-month-old H52w (in almost mint condition, reviewed here) for a unique SC52 (modded for a shiny appearance).

Since there are some pretty negative posts about Dan, he knew people would probably be wary and he’s trying to rebuild his reputation, so he was willing to take all the risk himself instead of trading in a more fair traditional fashion. He shipped first, with an agreement that I’d send my item as soon as I received his. My picture above shows that I briefly had both items in the same place.

I sent my item about half an hour later after doing a quick look-over and some basic functionality tests, and PM’d him the details including tracking number. It should be there Monday, complete with the original box, packing foam, clip, headband (re-threaded for better comfort), and manuals. I guess I’m back to my old H51w for now.

The item:

This shiny light, which I’ll call the SC52CK or “aluminum zebra”, has apparently seen some pretty heavy use over time. If Zebralights have nine lives, I’m pretty sure this one had already gone through two or three lives before it was reborn into its current incarnation… but it probably still has plenty of years left. It still works fine and these things are built like tanks.

The good:

  • It’s shiny! Polished aluminum is a good look for Zebralights… at least in my opinion.
  • The light seems to work just like my stock SC52.
  • The rounded edges feel nice compared to the relatively sharp edges of a normal SC52, and removing a bit of metal has made its button easier to press.
  • The remaining anodizing in the heat sink valleys provides a nice contrast. One might even say it has stripes like a zebra. (huh, imagine that… a zebra-colored Zebralight)

The bad:

  • The lens is scratched up. It doesn’t affect the beam profile much, but it’s a bit cloudy to look into. I might put some DC-Fix over it.
  • The clip cannot be re-attached because there isn’t enough metal left and the clip+screws are rusted.
  • It seems this light has been very heavily used in the past, given the state of its few un-modded parts: scratched lens, dented bezel, very dirty/gritty threads and O-ring, and corroded clip.
  • Several spots aren’t shiny, and seem to still have a bit of anodizing. Especially in areas which are concave instead of convex.
  • The ZL logo is still dented into the flat part of the body, and the tailcap has a bunch of tiny parallel grooves as if the metal had a grain like wood.
  • Bare aluminum is relatively soft, and won’t resist corrosion or dents or scratches as well as if it were anodized. However, rusted aluminum looks virtually the same as non-rusted aluminum… so I might not even notice it.

For my purposes, this should work fine. It will probably get used mostly as a night light, a display piece, and a generally interesting / unique item.

Pictures… lots of pictures: (a.k.a. flashlight porn!)
Click on any of the pictures below to load a larger version. Many of the details are only visible when zoomed (especially the lens pictures).

SC52 and SC52CK, front view:

SC52 and SC52CK, back view:

SC52 and SC52CK, side views:

Tail caps:

The clip attachment point has been pretty much sanded off. The clip cannot be re-attached:

I suspect this light saw some very heavy use before it was polished. The clip shows a few signs of its previous life. Keep in mind these two lights are the same age, and I carried my regular SC52 daily for months:

When I got it, the threads were extremely dirty and gritty. I cleaned it right away, but it was almost like cleaning part of a car engine. It cleaned up well though, and here’s how it looks after being cleaned and saturated in copious amounts of “Super Lube”:

As long as we’re looking at the tail end, the tailcap shows some grain-like texture, a bit of anodizing which hasn’t been removed, and some little dents or scratches:

This shows a bit better just how much of the tailcap grip has been sanded off. Also, a couple little dents on my regular SC52 while I was carrying it daily:

The Zebralight logo still shows a bit; apparently ZL’s printing process leaves an impression deeper than ink:

Under slightly different lighting, different parts of the logo are visible. Also, this shows how close the polishing is to being a mirror finish, reflecting the camera and my hands in the grip:

The raised area around the button has been reduced, which makes the light significantly more comfortable to use. The button is easier to press without such high borders around it. A little bit of the steel retaining ring got sanded down too though. Additionally, some scratches are visible on the rubber.

For reference, here’s the unmodded SC52’s button.

Moving up to the front end, the lens is scratched and a bit cloudy, and the bezel is scratched and a bit dented. I’ll show it in a few different images. Many of the details may require clicking the image to zoom in though:


The light has a few spots where anodizing is still there. Starting at the head end, this shows a couple little ano spots and the overall amount of smoothing which has been done compared to the original:

On the other side, there are a few bigger ano spots:

Just below the button, some extra ano spots show up. This is the clearest shot I got of the ano spots, so this may be the best one to see up close by clicking to zoom in:

And, finally, the light next to some other bare-metal lights. Despite all its flaws, it’s overall a very pretty light and easily the shiniest, most silver finish. Natural lighting is very forgiving of little scratches, and it normally looks quite nice. This also shows the remaining logo imprint better than the other shots:

(left to right: CNQG/FFL brass beauty, DQG Tiny AAA IV, ZL SC52CK, Convoy S7 w/ SolarForce L2 clip)

Firelight2
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wow! What a gorgeous light!!!

Cereal_killer
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Hey, thanks for the in-depth critique! The part I found most interesting is the difference around the button, I don’t have another SC52 so I was never able to do a side-by-side and didn’t realize that was any different from stock. BTW the anodizing was stripped completely chemically, the only part that was ever sanded was the clip mount, so all the metal that was removed from around the button was done so during polishing on my buffing wheel.

I’m excited to hear of the SC62 coming out but what I’d really like to see is an updated emitter SC31 (or even a complete redesign SC32). If/when that light comes out I’ll probably be getting one and polishing it up from the get go.

TK thanks again for the trade, can’t wait for the H52w to arrive next week, I can’t believe how much I miss having the little thing in my pocket all day and night. I don’t think there was a 6hour window in the past 9 months that the light was out of my pocket, even at night.

Also, love the designation!

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Awesome! I wish it was copper!

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Very nice looking ZL. I would have to retap the mounting holes for the clip though. Gotta have that!

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It looks a little bit like a steel microphone

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FWIW, after receiving this item, I learned that Zebralight can do special orders for non-anodized lights. CPF has a thread about it, or at least part of a thread anyway. Here is one of the pictures calflash posted about it:

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I hope people don’t mind this thread being pic-heavy. Since this isn’t an item people can just go out and buy, I figured its main purpose was less about being informative and more about flashlight porn.

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Great review mate. My take of it is that since the light was badly abused, it must have had anno wear and the chemical process ripping it off its anno was a story to get the light sold/exchanged. Just my opinion for what its worth (nothing)

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Ok just watched the original thread by CK. This has to be among most dishonest pics I’ve ever seen.
Those 2 pics would imply an item in great condition. None of the things mentioned and pictured by Toykeeper can be seen.
Pics reproduced under…

2 pics are worth 2000 words!

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I got some DC-Fix (sand) today and made a diffuser for this SC52. The 17mm lens from my brass light is almost the same size as the exposed part of the SC52’s lens, so I used it as a cutting guide. A tiny amount of non-diffused light leaks out a ~0.3mm gap on the side, but it’s only visible if I specifically look for it. Not a big enough deal for me to bother cutting a ~0.6mm bigger circle.

The beam pattern is a lovely flood, gradually dimming from the center to the barely-discernable edge. It looks really nice now.

MountainKing
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Yo man. Where to get DC-fix? Can it be bought off ebay?

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MountainKing wrote:
Yo man. Where to get DC-fix? Can it be bought off ebay?

I got it from the “Home & Wall Decor” vendor on Amazon. It would have been slightly cheaper from another store I found while searching, but I didn’t really want to deal with making yet another account on yet another site.

It’d be nice if it came in quantities appropriate for torch use… but it seems that the only commercially-available quantity (45cm by 200cm) is designed more for windows instead of lenses. A guy on CPFMP sells smaller sheets cut to the size of an envelope, though, if you want a much smaller quantity.

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Post a pic and beamshot? Want to see if its worth my trouble to get it? Thanks!

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Hey TK,

Maybe check out ‘Flitz Metal Polish’ and give that little boy the shine it deserves. The stuff works AMAZING! It will also take out minor surface scratches, and light ano spots. Really wish I had this ZL, I would LOVE to fire up the buffer wheel, and give it a little TLC!

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I made some quick shots to show the difference made by the diffuser (DC-Fix Sand, one layer). Left is the original SC52, right is the diffused one. I tried a few different exposures to show how it looks, because cameras are particularly bad at this.

The differences are: The spot is dimmer, wider, and blends smoothly into the spill so it doesn’t look like a spot. The spill is wider and has a much softer edge. There is also a secondary spill of sorts which is almost 180 degrees wide. All mach bands are gone (woot!), and the tint is much more consistent across the beam.



The beam can be diffused more by adding more layers, but each layer eats about 3% of the lumens (I forget who right now, but somebody reputable on CPF tested it).

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Great beamshots man. Thanks for your time and effort. Seems totally worthwhile to get it Smile

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That didn't look too good, and I wouldn't have been happy with it, the way you got it.

It must be abused, and the only way to sell it for a normal price is this way..

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Oh, I forgot to do pics of the diffuser itself instead of just its beam.

Here is the gap I mentioned, since I made the circle slightly too small. It looks big here, but it’s only half a millimeter (or less).

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How was the anodization stripped without getting the anodization in the fins? I been meaning to strip some anodized threads but don’t know how to get a clean line when transitioning from the threads to body tube. Already tried it once with a light by just tailstanding it with only the threads submerged. It works fine but aesthetically looks uneven.

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Not a clue. That’s why I assumed it was sanded or otherwise rubbed off instead of using a chemical process. Normally, I’d expect to have to soak the thing in caustic soda then gently brush off the loose bits then soak then brush then soak then brush, then start polishing it after everything is cleaned and dried. But that wouldn’t leave the fin valleys and other concave spots intact like this.

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I assumed he stuck something in the fins but looking closely at the pictures it does look like it was just sanded down.

edit: wow yea after an even closer inspection and read through of this thread…this does look like a beat up light that was sanded down just to make it look better. The lens is in horrible condition even though it was described differently. The edges are VERY rounded which would signify a sanding job vs chemical strip (and the missed ano spots). It would be hard to chemically strip an sc52 considering it is hard to take apart.

I would personally ended the deal and sent his light back but if you like it, that is all that matters. I personally run dcfix on my sc52w too so I guess the lens issue isn’t as important.

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You know how they say, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Well, I like my SC52 with its Zebralight coloured anodizing. Once you take away the anodizing, it just doesn’t seem like a Zebralight anymore.

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Yeah. It didnot occur to me. What the f? Chemically removing the anodising left the anno in the fins? Impossible. More like sanded down…

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I’m okay with how the trade went; I got about what I expected. Given that I already have an original SC52, this was interesting to me mostly because it was something different and something to keep me busy for a while. I have enough lights that this hobby has gone far beyond anything practical and is now mostly a form of entertainment.

As far as the light goes, the main thing I’ve never liked about Zebralights is the military drab color. They have at least improved this lately with darker anodizing, but there’s still an extra something about bare metal. The rounded edges give this particular light a nice-feeling texture and an unusual retro look, and in natural light it shines like jewelry. Functionality seems unaffected, so it works well as a bedroom night light and as part of an EDC rotation. I’m usually pretty gentle with my lights so the soft surface isn’t really an issue, but it would be kind of nice to have a clip.

The H52w I traded was nice, but I was planning to sell it as soon as the H52Fw I ordered (months ago) shows up. I don’t enjoy the process of selling things, so I was kind of glad to bypass all that and get something interesting out of the deal. But I do enjoy the process of taking and sharing these detailed pictures, and talking to BLF about it. Smile

Now I just need to stop procrastinating and start doing some mods. There’s a C8 with a de-domed XP-G2 calling my name…