Looking for the best compact trower for night nature photography

I’m looking for the optimal flashlight for animal and nature night photography. These are my main requirements:

  • Compact and lightweight. Must be under 20cm long, preferably use 1x18650. I already carry a lot of weight so this is a hard requirement.
  • Best possible throw with a little spill. I’m usually shooting hand-held with a 400mm lens, which means I need the best possible illumination on the subject with a little spill to get the feeling of the environment.
  • Practical distance is ~20m for small subjects like squires and up to 150m for large subjects, such as elephants. But I really need them lighted up well.
  • I don’t intend to keep the flashlight on for too long, maybe two minutes to get a shot so I don’t need a lot of battery capacity (hence the 1x18650 preference).
  • If it has multiple modes then it should have a memory function for the last mode.
  • My price range is up to $50, but obviously the lower the better.

Thanks in advance for any advice.


Small and decent throw don’t go together all that well. I would say a Jacobs,A60 but the light it too pinpoint for actual work. My suggestion would be the Small Sun ZY-T08.


The HD2010 is also very popular but has been hit and miss quality wise.

The ZY-T08 is really going to be next to impossible to beat if what you want is a relatively small thrower. Remember that to create a good hot spot you need a fairly large head. Although it takes two 18650’s they are side by side so really it’s not taking up much room or adding that much weight but you get double the run time and I think you will find that it’s more important than you think.


I saw other members of the forum talk about the
UltraFire C8 with XM-L2 (http://www.lightmalls.com/ultrafire-c8-cree-xm-l2-5-mode-led-flashlight-torch-1x18650) and
UniqueFire UF-T8 also with XM-L2 (http://www.lightmalls.com/uniquefire-uf-t8-1770-lumen-cree-xm-l2-u2-5-mode-led-flashlight-torch-1x18650)

These seem to be very bright, just the right size and in a good price, but do they throw well and how do they compare to other alternatives?

They will be very bright but they are not throwers. They are mostly flood. Another thing you might need to consider is what tint led you go with. For photography you will probably want something that is Natural White. The cool white is more “white and blue” Think of Natural white as being more like an incandescent bulb and cool white as more like a florescent. Of course if you can solder you can change them easily enough. But it’s something to keep in mind.

How do you photograph animals at night? Won’t everything just turn out blurry?

Welcome to BLF!

You are asking quite much and thus not receiving many answers.. 400mm hand held requires pretty good illumination and especially the 150m distance is a tough requirement.

Let's assume you would require a modest 100lux (which equals to very dark overcast day) @150m => that would require 2250kcd (more than double the amount of what a very very bright led thrower would give you).

A good thrower would give you 100lux at 50m, but that wouldn't be under 20cm in length or very light either.

You would probably like to have a Neutral White emitter too.

One good alternative for night time photography is BTU Shocker NW, but that's definitely not small or light.

It would help to know the shutter speed, the highest ISO you can use, and the maximum aperture of your lens at 400mm. From there we could calculate the necessary lux and make flashlight recommendations.

Handheld at night with a 400mm lens is asking a lot. Throwing enough light at 150m with a $50 flashlight is unlikely. You also need to consider CRI.

On safari you have a chance to photograph wildlife in the wild but a lot of animals are active at night so you don’t have a choice. I’ve had some nice shots wit my old Streamlight TL-3. You try to rest the camera on something as stable as you can, like the roof of the jeep you’re in, open the aperture as much as you can and rely on image stabilized lenses, and then one of 10 shots turns out sharp, but it’s better than nothing.

Thanks for the warm welcome :slight_smile:

Sounds like I really am asking for too much… but the small and lightweight requirement are really a must, which means I’ll have to compromise on the distance, I can live with that. Until now I was using the Streamlight TL-3, which I’m sure is not as bright as any of the newer flashlights and still managed to get some good shots, but I’m obviously looking for the best I can get within my budget. If the best doesn’t light the subject well enough at 150m, then I’ll just have to get closer or give up on some shots, but getting a larger light is just not an option. Using a speedlight, by the way, is not an option either because it scares the animals.
Natural white is better but slight blueish tint, is not a big concern because it can be removed by tweaking the white balance settings.

Do you mind modding or should you get a light which is good as stock?

if modding is not out of the question, I'd suggest buying some nice XM-L thrower and simply swapping emitter to a XP-G2 3D NW on a SinkPAD. That would give you good throw and a very pleasant tint.

Maybe something like STL-V3 for the host. That's small & light enough, for sure. Or maybe a Trustfire X9?

Fandyfire STL-V6 isn't heavy either. A bit long maybe (as a 2x18650 light), but also significantly brighter..

Thanks for the suggestion. I can solder if I have to but I’ve never done it with flashlights and would prefer something professional and robust that just works.

Not long ago I built a zoom host. Made for XM-L. Result was… decent… But throw was not that good. And it ruined my 4000K tint. And it had a “typical” whiny driver circuit.
Just changed out (driver and) the emitter with XP-G2 on copper and I just made the perfect light for photography and your type of use! Since you can zoom in and out you can always get a perfect amount of light. The light will also be even. No hotpot in the middle. So it will not look like a flashlight have lit up your target if you zoom it right. Its also got quite high CRI (color rendering). Basically as good as you get considering the throw. And the throw is good!


(this have no annoyin noise to disturb your photography)


Reflow to copper sinkpad:
20mm XP-G (from vestureofblood)
I think 16mm could work too, but you should be careful and insulate it properly. Intl-outdoor should have them available in a week or two. Or buy from Nitro on this forum.

Use good thermal paste.
Pay someone to build it since it requires some skills to get right. I would not recommend to run it on high for a very long time. For the zoom function to work perfectly, it needs to be lubed perfectly.
This ring would make it easier to fasten the driver circuit since the host is made for larger drivers. (I managed without)

The easy mod:
Use SK98 host and change out the emitter with the one I linked too (16mm board. might also take 20mm??) . That should be possible to do in no time, and should not require much skills. Remember thermal paste. Do not use it for a long time continuously on high. (with a good copper MCPCB) you could easily run it for a longer time when being outdoors at night.

at first, i’d like to suggest armytek predator but out of your budget range. maybe you want to try XinTD…it’s similar form factor to c8 host but higher performance.
anyway for lighting 20 m the hotspot might a bit intense, not so nice for color. can try cover the light with flashgun softbox.

Thanks for the suggestions guys. To be honest I just don’t see myself dealing with modding a flashlight.
I’ll probably have to compromise on something, either price or size/weight. How would you rate the EagleTac TX25C2 and G25C2 MKII compared to the SMALL SUN ZY-T08 in terms of their throw?

They are about 16 and 22kcd (250 & 300m) vs. ZY-T08 48kcd (440m) => quite much worse.

Flashlight photography is very tricky in my experience, not that it can’t be done though
You can try a C8 light, it has quite good throw, but i can’t say with any certainty you will get the result your expecting.

The small sun is really a thrower and as far as I know it’s as good as it gets in that price range and size.

I did just get in the new XM-L2 C-12 from Lightmalls that is driven super hard. I won’t know until it gets dark how far it will throw. However, it’s hotspot is very impressive so it might just be one to consider. I’ll let you know tonight.

hi @18sixfifty, I’m curious how was the XM-L2 C-12? And how would you compare it to the Small Sun?

I took them both out tonight and the Small Sun still out throws it by a little but the C-12 is putting way more light on target because the the beam is bigger. The Small Sun can light up a tree that is just a little farther away but if you come back just 50 yards or so the C-12 is not only lighting up a few branches it’s lighting up the tree. So it really depends on what you are looking for. If you want a concentrated hot spot that throws a beam out further it’s still the Small Sun. If you want to light up a whole tree from not too much less then the C-12 is it.

For this size light it’s the most impressive light I own. That includes two different C-8’s a Fandy Fire Rook, three 502B’s with XP-G2’s and XM-L2’s I even have an X8 which it out thows. For a stock light I am extremely impressed. I have a blast modding my lights and I usually mess around with all of them. This one is not getting any changes anytime soon. They would have to come out with a brand new LED that was really a big step up and I don’t see that coming for a while.

FYI that XM-L2 C-12 is a BLF Special Build From Bill Zeng/Lightmalls…