How to choose flashlight. Main things in simple words.

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Narmattaru
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How to choose flashlight. Main things in simple words.

What is the difference between thrower and flooder? What is a Cree T6 LED? What is the focus of a flashlight with focus? How do flashlights manufacturers cheat flashlight users?

In this text, I will tell you in simple language about the basic terms that will help you to choose flashlight exactly for your needs.

Hope you agreee, that you will not choose a car without understanding the difference between a automatic and mechanic transmission?

I planned to do this F.A.Q. for a long time, and now, after several days text is done. So, below are topics i`ll explain. For most of BLF members, these words are obvious. But each of us was newbee once…this text is for them. there will be no advanced things like discussing driver or Hi-CRI, modding etc. Only basic things that will help reader buy needed flashlights and not to waste money.

lumens | candelas | color temperature | tint | bean | driver | stabilization, thermoregulation and stepdown | types of flashlights | difference between LEDs | battery capacity

Back in 2015, you had to spend like 100$ to buy a good LED flashlight with a brightness of 1000 lumens. And now, after 4-5 years, the situation has changed dramatically. Changed good way. This brightness has become quite ordinary and quite affordable for budget flashlights of about $ 15. By the way, the brightest flashlight in the world now shines already under 100,000 lumens (Imalent MS18). Actually, it is stated to be a 100k, but simple mathematics says that this is a lie, and representatives of the manufacturing company shy away from discussing this.

I highlighted the “good” separately because both then and now there is all sort of trash at aliexpress , miserable crafts that promise 10 000-50 000 lumens for only $ 10. The same for batteries. Yesterday I was holding “12000mah” batteries in my hands. Each of them weighted like AA alcaline battery. -)

There are couple of store with good choice of flashlights, besides aliexpress and amazon. You can check Banggood and Gearbest.

So, when one needs to choose a powerful or just a good flashlight, he or she faces tons different models and deal. There are some lumens, there are candels. The buyer decides just choose the most popular flashlight on aliexpress or amazon. Money paid and after some time appears new disapponted owner of a cheap zoomie flashight.

There is, of course, another extreme. -) I bet most of BLF members tend to this.


I hope my FAQ about choosing flashlight will help you to refrain from buying, which you will have to regret later. Believe me, now there is an opportunity to buy a decent inexpensive flashlight for absolutely any purpose.

Flashlights for Dummies. Selection guide

Brightness = Lumens

What you need to understand:
1) A bright, powerful flashlight does not mean it will have good throw. It is clear that an increase in brightness will increase throw. But combination of optics and LED plays here the decisive role. 500 lumens in this case may give you good light at the range impossible for 5000 lumens. The closest analogy is payload and speed in cars.

So, with rare exceptions (search flashlights), the flashlight has either good brightness or throw. And, what about this excepion – it may disappoint you with dimensions of the models that combine these two characteristics. These two are on the right: the Mateminco MT70 and Imalent RT70 aren’t the biggest either.

2) The more known the brand, the more likely it is that you will get what is declared in the specification and vice versa.

Buying an unnamed (as an option sh*tfires – ultra, trust, blast etc – there is a bunch ) flashlight promises a simple deception – “it has 500, we’ll write 2000 \ 3000 \ 5000 lumens,” while big brands use a different trick.

When you see specs and promo pics, the maximum brightness there is alwasy for TURBO mode. And companies often prefer to consider something like this: “it consmes 5A in turbo, we have a 2500mah battery, so we write half an hour runtime in turbo.”

In fairness, specifications of few manufacturers now honestly contain something like 2000-> 1000 (1min + 70 min). It indicates the brightness and runtime in turbo and the same for the level to which the brightness falls from the turbo.

And, yes, the brightness in a turbo must decrease. According to the time interval specified in the driver or thermoregulation triggering. This fall is called “Stepdown.”

Turbo by its name implies short-term work at maximum brightness. Here it may work at max like one minute before stepdown and you will have time to see everything around. Or maybe, like in case of Nitecore MH23 falls to 75% in 2 seconds. Technically, there IS declared brightness, but in fact you dont have it. Of course, they have lots of decent models with perfect stabilizaions,even better than you may expect.

As a rule, the flashlight keeps brightness to which it falls from the turbo. Take this brightness as a normal working one, judge by it what a flashlight can do. There are models that may get to 400 from 1500 and models that get to 1000 lumens lever.

So if you see some crazy numbers of brightness, or if the seller in the offline hunting shop blows in your ears that the return from the light of the flashlight will be almost like a gun, ask him about runtime of this crazy turbo brightness. do you want to use something that lasts like photo-blitz?

Then I went to the territory of another topic, thermoregulation and stepdown. More about them later.

Of the good. When it is about 1000 lumens bright flashlights, you`ll inlikely meeet lie(I’m talking about normal brands). Technology has reached such a level that this brightness can be achieved without the slightest problem and increasing price. Big brands cheat you with stabilization (i`ll talk about it later)

3) For most domestic needs, same 1000 lumens turbo and 600-700 lumens constant light after stepdown is definetely enough. Yes, these numbers are not impressive nowadays, but believe me, they are enough. I review like 30-40 flashlights yearly last 4 years, so i can pick any of them as my personal pocket light. And you know, i`m ok with 300lumens 14500 flashlight. This is enough to shine around during evening walks. and it fits any pocket. If you want pay lowest price and get flashlight that you may rely on – Convoy S2+ XML-2 is a pick for every beginner. Lots of people here at forum started with this model. It will give you enough light to work withing range of like 50meters.

5) Some sly manufacturers state brightness without taking into account losses on optics. And then it’s just “like that, at a current of 4A, this LED should give out 1500 lumens, and we’ll write it like that.” But this is a specific case, which I mentioned here just to mean that they can.

Throw = Candela

What you need to understand:

1) There is throw and there is useful throw range. Well, at least for me.

The trick here is that throw, like brightness, is measured according to ANSI standart (in best case. manufacturer may just make up numbers). So, 500m ANSI range means that at a distance of 500m the flashlight will give a brightness of 1 lumen. And what is the sense of such a homeopathic brightness? So it turns out that the really useful range can be noticeably less, that way 350m. Therefore, in my reviews I always try to single out precisely useful range in two ways: a) with good detail and brightness b) well, to at least distinguish the hummer from the elephant.

Given the resolution of the human eye and most situations when you need long-range light, if the flashlight shines well at a distance of 300-400 meters, then this is enough.

2) Light distribution.

The better is throw, the less convenient light is for close-range work and vice versa. In the vast majority of cases, range is achieved by combining a specific LED with a deep smooth reflector (SMO). The result is such a picture. The center is very bright, while sides are Bible black. Here’s an example of a good long-range vs short-range.

The light distribution is extremely influenced by the type of LED and reflector. So, when All else being equal.

1) SMO gives you more throw, compared with OP reflector (and as I said, less convenient near)
2) A smaller LED (XHP35) will give at the same brightness more candelas than a large and bright one (XHP70). A simple example is to pump a liter/second through a 1cm hose and through 3cm wide. Where will the go jet further?
3) Dedomed LED (i.e. with the silicone dome removed) will give even more candelas. The brightness will be slightly less. The is denoted by HI (high intensity) \ HD the one with an dome (Hi Density).

Right now, the best choice for a long-thrower flashlight is the XHP35 HI. Relatively good – XPL-HI.

If the flashlight you plan to buy, has XM-L2 LED, then it’s better to look for something more modern. Although, in fairness, there are good models here. For example, the same Maxtoch shooter 2x


There are a couple of EXTREMELY long-range models, but carrying 3kg is not convenient at all. People at BLF wanted to get extreme flashlight – they got it. well, i got it as well )

3) At a distance of about 300m, a powerful top-end long-range flashlight will work at 20-30% output and some ordinary one at 75%. Accordingly, the battery of latter one will discharge faster. True, for sure, such flashlight will cost less.

4) In the same housing and at the same brightness, a warmer light will have better penetration. Cold light perfectly reflects all the particles of dust and fog in air. Pretty eating up long-range potential. Remember what color are car fog lights ? And then we came to the next section.

Kelvin = Color temperature.

I’ll start with convoy flashlights as a lot of people start their collection with them.

On the page of the well known bestseller, S2 + you can see these numbers.

To simplify, the line “emitted color” indicates the color temperature. To quickly navigate – 1A as cold as possible, 7A as warm as possible.

It is useful here to study two words directly related to the topic.

Bin. The LED bin is also the process (and the result) of sorting the LEDs into groups according to brightness and color temperature.

*Tint *- a shade of light inside one bin. Greenish or or slightly red.

The most popular brand of LEDs, CREE ranks them in nine groups, from 0 to 8.

0-2 – cold light (from 5250K) | 3-5 – neutral (3750-5250K) | 6-8 -* warm, below 3750K*.

Each group is somewhere within 500K, + there are additional subgroups A-B-C-D. The number indicates a tint.

_By and large, if you are not a flashaholic, then there is no point in bothering with bins and tints. Just find out what such a thing exist.
_
So if you need to choose a convoy flashlight on aliexpress, and see this table at Convoy official store
then just turn your eyes to the numbers below.

U2-1A 6500-7000K T6-3B 5000-5200K T6-4C 4300-4500K T5-5B 4000-4200K T4-7A 3000-3200K

That’s all, the temperature is directly indicated in Kelvins, you do not need to bother with decoding color-brightness bins. And taking into account the fact that everyone except Simon (the Main Merchant of Convoys) rarely gives choice of just simple neutral (NW) and one cold (CW) light, then all these color-brightness bins did not bother you at all.

And here, in fact, the question is about what is LED T6 LED, as they are called on aliexpress.

The answer is simple. There is NO such LED as LED T6 !

It’s the same as calling the flashlight “side button”.

T6 is just one group of brightness and nothing more. Of course, if you want to buy a flashlight which hs “T6 LED” in name, you should expect that you will get some kind of fake cheap LED with a terrible blue light beyond the threshold of 7000K. The brightness in such models, as a rule, does not exceed 400-500 lumens.

Real Cree XML2 fake in zoom.


Yes, once I mentioned these numbers here, I’ll tell you what it means x7135.

[*7135 are current stabilizers. The more of them, the more current will be supplied to the LED and the flashlight will shine brighter. It seems to be it – take more 8×7135 and be glad. But, no. The brighter is flashlight – the faster it gets hot and the faster the battery discharges, dropping the brightness (you don’t expect full stabilization from 10-15 bucks flashlight?). Personally, for the same S2 + I always buy 4×7135 version and this is more than enough for me.]*

In fact, the most important thing to know about color temperature are:

1) With rare exceptions,* the warmer the light, the lower the brightness*. Manufacturers are hunting for large numbers in the specification, so in most cases they put a cold LED. Buyers are either not aware of the difference, or have no choice. The ability to choose between CW \ NW is an indicator that manufacturer is user-friendly.

2) The warmer the light, the better it penetrates. And this can significantly negate this difference in brightness. The difference between cold 6500K and warm 3000K light will be especially good in smoke / dust / fog. No wonder the same firemen need warm light. Yes, car fog lights, remember. All powerfull long-throwers are made in a neutral light.

Here you have an exceptionally clear picture. Convoy S2 + in three colors, 4200 \ 5000 \ 6500K.
the difference in brightness is clearly visible. On the one hand, the 6500K is clearly brighter, on the other – the chilly light is clearly not so pleasant to the eye. I personally like the option in the center. 5000K is not so yellow, while there is no significant dip in brightness.



Stabilization and thermoregulation

Stabilization is keeping brightness constant as battery power drops with discharge.

If you buy a budget flashlight, then most likely the brightness will fall like that. However, in medium modes, 1% drop in 5 minutes is not so scary, the eye will not notice it at all. Here’s an example -again, the most popular budget flashlight at aliexpress CONVOY S2 +

The brightness of Convoy C8 + XPL-Hi with a biscotti driver 100% looks much worse.

Better flashlight is, more likely you get better, flatter runtume line at runtime chart , getting close to flat line of full brightness stabilization. As you turn on amy mode besides turbo, flashlight will keep it. Of course, in most case, finally, it will go to a lower level as battery discharges. Although an inexpensive flashlight may surprise you. Here, for example, Convoy S11

Fenix, by the way, provide honest pic of runtime on packages so u can evaluate stabilization. That is REALLY good. In general, as i`ve said – the more decent the brand, the more likely it is that stabilization will be full. And that’s also worth asking about if you buy a flashlight offline.

Thermoregulation – brightness control depending on the heating level of the flashlight. Mostly it relates to turbo as high normally shouldnt heat flashlight to the point when trigger of thermal regulation activates.

“sawtooth” is a clear example of poor thermoregulation. The flashlight heats up, the brightness drops. After some time at this level, as flashlight cools – the brightness jumps up again. The result is a moronic leapfrog.

For example Having bought a Klarus flashlight, with a high probability you will get just such a saw. Here is an example of a graph with and without cooling. In addition, there is a hellish gap between turbo and high. Seems like Klarus have saboteur at R&D, who does best to ruin good name of company – they repeat these mistakes almost in each model for years.

Good thermoregulation: with cooling (wind or forced fan cooling), the brightness either goes to a fully stabilized (ideally) level higher than high (the top picture is Lumintop ODL20C) or increases continuously (turbo) (bottom picture). The latter I find more practical. Sustaining near-turbo level will delight you with good brightness and throw but will inevitably make runtime shorter for obvious reasons.

1) in most cases, there is no thermoregulation in cheap flashlights. So there are chances that it simply cannot be held in your hands (if you manage to find something brightner than 2000-3000 lumens). 2000 lumens in the size of a convoy C8 heat it to the point harmfull both to hands and batteries. Or to fhashlight itself in worst case.

2) Logically, flashlight heats up faster indor quicker than in the open air. And if there is winter and wind, then the difference can be enormous.

Convoy L6, although is not an example of cheap crafts, has no thermoregulation. With 2×26650 inside, it is able to hold maximum brightness for a quite long time, but you will have to look at the flashlight from the side. At 1st runtime chart may impress, but in reality you will be able to use it only in thick gloves and in really cold weather.


overall: dont focus on brightness, pay attention to:

a) how long flashlight will keep it (and how) | b) what is level flashlight steps down from turbo (do you want 400lumens after 1800?).

Does impressive brightness make sense , if it lasts 2-3 seconds?

Reflectors, TIR optics, flashlights with zoom.

I have already explained the main thing:

with the same LED and in the same mode, a flashlight with a smooth reflector has better throw than the one with textured. A deep reflector has better throw comparing to shallow one. In principle, even in such sizes it is possible to increase throw (but still dont expect much) A good example – Convoy S3 XPL-HI

Of course, long-throwerwill be inconvenient for near-range use, and the near-light will not penetrate into the distance.

In fact, this is all you need to know about the effect of the reflector when choosing a flashlight.

TIR optics.

Speakin simply, TIR lens controls the luminous flux better way. Typically, TIRs are set to provide a nice blurry near light (though there are some made to increase throw). Best example here is the people choice headlamp – SKILHUNT H03

If you have a wish to experiment with optic and straight hands that grow from shoulders instead of butt, you can play around with wide choice of TIR, one of them will have exactly light distribution that you need. Some TIR lenses themselves look really atractive. For example, in the Fenix ??E16, the central smooth part forms a narrow beam of light, while the perimeter dotted microlenses give good side light. As a result, a tiny flashlight gives a pleasant light distribution.

In fairness, people who care about the availability or installation of TIR optics already know what it is and why.
 

And here is the sweet part. Due to its price and magical marketing numbers the most popular flashlight at aliexrpess or amazon in 2019 is the same as 5 years ago – is the ugly Zoomie flashlight.
It has lots of names, but core idea is the same – to give worst possible light.

Sellers generously promise as much they can imagine for different versions: T6 4000 lm L2 8000 lm V6 10000 lm

It is clear that in reality you get sh*t. There is nothing in such sort of flashlight:

1) No normal light distribution. At the near end, you get a dull circle. On a distant focal point – tiny square with veins.
2) No heat sink. However, this is compensated by ….
3) absence of normal brightness. There will not be more than 300lum in the T6 version. Buying so called “better” versions is a cheating urself because for 13 bucks you can buy the convoy.

4) throw. At the long focal point, it shines as well as the cheapest S2 +. why? Because the aspherical lens gives the wildest loss of brightness when moving the lens forward.

What you get is cyanotic light and hellish PWM flicker in lower modes.

see for yourself. The flashlight shines equally disgusting at any distance and at any position of focus.

* Convoy C8 + XPL-Hi 6500k
*

 Ultrafire with so called T6

Convoy S2 + XML2 4×7135 6500k

Although, well…for 3 bucks, it is quite possible to store it in the glove compartment of the car as an emergency light, which is what it is.

the only good is that such flashlights can store 21700 batteries, which have excellent capacity.
 

However, if the zoom system is based upon moving TIR optic (for example, the FD or some YLP), then there is almost no loss of brightness and such a flashlight is close to being universal and usable flashlight.

 The last thing to say is* batteries and charging*. and here you need to know one thing.

Now, in 2019, the most capacious 18650 battery is 3500mah. no 7000-12000 and close does not exist. As a rule, in order to find out the actual capacity of such a battery, you need to take the zero at the end. 21700 batteries path their way toward and i belive that in closest future most of flashlights will support them as they can give you 5000mah in almost the same size.

If you need a capacious battery for a flashlight from aliexpress of amazon of from whatever, then in 9 cases out of 10 this repackaging of Panasonic NCR18650B will work as well as expensive high-drain ones. real capacity will be around 3200-3300, there is a protection board. I order a lot of them and you will get no better for its price. ideal for flashlights below 2000lumens.

 If the flashlight consumes more then 5A, then you should take care of buying some high-drain batteries. buying some top ones like ali or hg2 you likely get something worse packed insde heat-shring. But still in most of cases it will be ok for you. .

 

What is important to know. there are Samsung, Sony, Sanyo-Panasonic, LG. Everything. there are no such batttery manufacturers as ultrafire, trustfire and other things (especially with *fire at the end of the name). What kind of chemistry is inside is unclear. Clear is that buying this you get from 1\3 to 1\10 of stated.

Equally, there is no point in buying expensive Nitecore \ Fenix ​​\ Olight batteries. You will pay a 2-3 time more than battery really cost just for having brand heatshrink.


 

The last thing worth mentioning. I often came across a phrase like “what is the brightest and most long-throw flashlight at aliexpress? I want to buy it! ”

And if I explained all the things above well enough, then you should understand that in the vast majority of cases, the brightness is the opposite of throw. But! There is a category of flashlights that still combines these characteristics. These are search flashlights. As a rule, now they are built on the basis of a huge smooth reflector and a dedomed XHP70.2 LED, which produces about 6000-7000 lumens in forced mode. They have decent sidelight, being relatively convenient to work at close-range. At the same time, at maximum brightness, throw though lower than the top-end long-range flashlights like Acebeam T21 or Olight Javelot Pro, but far beyond what you usually need. And since such flashlights usually powered by 4×18650, then you get an excellent runtime and complete stabilization.

In my opinion, the best search flashlight on the market is the Mateminco MT70. Awesome flashlight from any side. If $ 100 is too much for you and you are not going to work at 800m range, then buying a Convoy M3 with a smooth reflector is a reasonable budget decision. In a compact pocket size, you get the maximum possible for a very modest amount.

175m distance

400m distance

Well, that`s all buy now. if i forgotten to mention something – pls write in comments.

Hope this text explained all the basic thing you have to know to choose flashlight according to your needs. I will work on this text and add some thoughts i may missed.

"How to choose flashlight, Main things in simple words":http://budgetlightforum.com/node/68418

Edited by: Narmattaru on 08/19/2019 - 02:07
Rdubya18
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Thanks for your time on this . Lots of information explained. I would have saved some poor choices had I read a single post like this when I started collecting .

(

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. Beer Nice Job on this…

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Wow! You put a lot of work into this! I wish I had read something like this when I started, thankfully I did a lot of sifting through threads for my purchases but this method you have presented is a big time saver. Thanks for the thoughtful efforts!

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Damn, subbed for later reading. Thumbs Up

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Forgoing discussion on UI/modes and CRI for more technical subjects is the wrong approach IMO. Interface is in many ways the MOST important aspect of choosing a light the way I see it.

If activating it and getting to the mode you want is a chore every time you use it, who cares if the efficiency at certain modes is better than another light IMO.

CRI being as nearly important is debatable but I would have stuck with much older lights I already owned if high-CRI options weren’t available to me when I started looking into flashlights again. For me the best resource to see how UIs and emitter CRI/temp/tint have changed and to compare available options was the “Advanced Knife Bro” channel on Youtube. Very muggle/layman friendly buying guides.

Still a great guide here and I am excited to see what additions are made in the future! Big Smile

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Awesome! I am still at the very beginning of the learning curve with regard to flashlights. Every day spent reading at BLF is a day of “Oh’s! and Aha’s!”, sparsly followed up by digging deeper into the matter, the “Errr, later..maybe!‘s” moments. Right now there are still many things I don’t want to learn, or try as all things discussing or modding of emitters, drivers etc. is simply still too complex, too technical for me and it will take a while before I venture into it.
I tried reading and understanding the Flashlight Wiki but this explanation is so much better! This thread is a keeper. Also one to which I will refer different beginners around me. Thank you very much for listing all basics and explaining it clearly and simply. Thanks, Narmattaru! Smile

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Very well done! Sticky’d.

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Awesome post!! Thumbs Up Beer

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Quote:
Having desire and hands, growing from shoulders instead of butt, you have a wide choice of TIR exactly with light distribution you need.

What?

Find all my reviews of flashlights and more gear at www.bmengineer.com

Narmattaru
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hm, seems i wrote it in to complex way and use some russian idiomas

to have straight hands, to have have groing from shoulders, not from butt – all that means being able having tech skills of doing things well with your hands. like soldering, repairing, wood-woriing

i mean, in other words, “if you want and if you can – you may play around with installing TIR optic”

i will read my text couple of times more, to add some new ideas and to pick proper words for them

"How to choose flashlight, Main things in simple words":http://budgetlightforum.com/node/68418

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i plan to add some thought about UI. problems is that UI is quite subjective. what is good for one, is bad for another…

"How to choose flashlight, Main things in simple words":http://budgetlightforum.com/node/68418

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Thank you for doing this. As a noob, most of it was over my head. Still good reading though.

I am curious, in the Convoy series, let’s say the S2, what combo would be your choice for the average, common guy that is not into lights? ….

Narmattaru
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if you are not really limited with size, i would vote for convoy s11 or m3

 

they are bigger than s2+, but fully stabilized and way brighter

 

u can check my accoumt for my reviews of these models, cannot leave direct links as i use smartphone right now

"How to choose flashlight, Main things in simple words":http://budgetlightforum.com/node/68418

bmengineer
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sabre cat wrote:
Thank you for doing this. As a noob, most of it was over my head. Still good reading though.

I am curious, in the Convoy series, let’s say the S2, what combo would be your choice for the average, common guy that is not into lights? ….

Probably the 4000K SST-20 WITH 4*7135

Find all my reviews of flashlights and more gear at www.bmengineer.com

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Nice intro. I can see a page based on this writeup being a summary for new enthusiasts and each section having links into a deep dive on that topic.

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Fresh Sanyo NCR18650GAs already wrapped "for sale HERE":http://budgetlightforum.com/node/69120 if you like.

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Awesome! Great read, not so many questions from me (hopefully) Big Smile

Mike