I recently joined to read the reviews on budget priced lights and have several questions. I have always had incandescent? lights including my trusty maglite. I took it on a group camping trip and was surprised by the newer LED lights how small and bright they were. I bought a 3 pack of lights from Costco and really enjoyed the power and haven’t used the maglite (D cell) size since. Because I got those Costco lights 3 for $15 I felt that they were a great deal. After reading some, when I compare the 200 lumens of those lights to the ones I see with 800 lumens I wonder if they really are the great deal I thought they were.
So I guess my questions are:
How do the $15-20 lights with say 800 lumens or more compare to my Costco lights? Do they last as long, are they really 4 times brighter?
I read the warning of the 18650 batteries and believe I can be safe using them. I don’t understand how they are better.
Do they both last longer and put out more energy to run a brighter light?
I can imagine wanting 3 lights down the road each one costing less than $30. A zooming light, a flood, and a thrower. And I am not at all handy with electronics or modding my lights.
The trade off with more powerful flashlights is the need for specialty batteries compared to AA, C or D cell lights that might be more familiar to you. The 18650 Lithium Ion is a popular power source for high lumen lights.
These are popular budget lights that won’t break your wallet… Back row left… Small Sun ZY T08 Thrower, ( $20-$30) Back row right Skyray King Flooder ( $30-$40 ) Front row Sipik 98 Zoomer ( $10-$15 ) Opinions will most certainly vary but this will give you an idea.
Regarding your question about why Li cells can be both stronger and last longer, that is because li batteries pack more juice (energy). For example, the best AA batteries have capacity of 2400mAh, at 1.2v nominal voltage; a regular Li battery (18650) has similar capacity (say 2400 mAh) but at a higher voltage of 3.7v. The energy that can be released from AA cell is 1.2v x 2.4 Ah = 2.9 Wh; while 18650 can do 3.7v x 2.4Ah = 8 Wh.
But this is not the whole story yet. Modern led flashlights use led emitters of high efficiency (more light from same power sent to the emitter), high efficiency electronics, and better optics.
Your current plan sounds quite reasonable. One zoomie, one flooder and one thrower kind of get you covered, except that you may want a good headlight too, just in case sometimes you need light and both your hands free.
Chinese lumens are a bit of an exageration. Dividing their number by two or three usually gets you closer to reality in most cases. If your Costco lights are those 3xAAA Techlites then you are going to be happily surprised with a Li-Ion powered light. For $20 you can get a properly driven (~3A) C8 with an XM-L2 that will easily produce 4 times the lumens as your Costco light. That said, 4 x the lumens does not equal 4 x the apparent brightness. This is because the human eye does not see light increases in a linear manner. But it will make your Techlite look dim in comparison.
18650, or Li-Ion cells in general, have a much higher energy density than NiMh cells. They can also deliver higher discharge rates at a higher voltage than NiMh.
See the other posts here for ideas about which lights to buy. You won’t lack for suggestions.
Dale’s picks of the small sun and sky ray king are two of my favorite lights for a budget. Both are just as good as it gets as far as bang for your buck. Personally I would skip the zoomie and get a good C8 or C12 They can be had for next to nothing and they are just a lot more of a light than the zoomie. But zoomies are fun it’s just that I think you will find more use for a C8.