Tuesday, May 6, 2014

LED Flashlight Review and Recommendations

Those old-fashioned, incandescent-bulb flashlights are just so five minutes ago, their creaking technology now superseded by the LED flashlight. It's not just the yellow light from the old school types; the new LED lights are just so much brighter.

1. First, an inexpensive way to go LED is to buy an LED replacement bulb for your current incandescent bulb flashlight. What difference will that make? A standard, 2 D-cell flashlight puts out about 9 lumens of light. Changing to an LED bulb at the cheap end ($2-$5) will give you 30 lumens of light, more than triple the output.

I've used the Rayovac 3VLED-1T bulb, rated 3 volts, 0.16 amps and 0.5 watt. The color is slightly lavender, common among the low end LED bulbs.

I also put this bulb in my 3 D-cell Mag-Lite, and so far it works okay. Caution, though. If you try this, remember that you'll be running 4.5 volts through a 3 volt piece of electronics, generating more heat and so forth. So if you leave the light on too long, the LED may fail.

2. The next step up is to get a new LED flashlight. Not one of those "9 LED" things you can get for a dollar, but a good one. How do you tell what is a good one? Here's the quick test:

  • Be sure the flashlight contains an official FL-1 rating. Most new flashlights do, even the old, incandescent ones.
  • Choose the amount of brightness you need. Recommendation: For your car, bedside table, walks around the neighborhood, checking in the basement during a power failure, 120 lumens is a good choice. See the recommendation below.  For wilderness camping, when you want to see the coyotes (or timber wolves or mountain lions) down the hill or across the valley, you might want to check out another recommendation (see below) a 700-lumen light.
  • Check the color. As noted above, some LED bulbs produce a slightly lavender beam, while others are bright white.
  • If you want extra features, like an adjustable focus (from spot light to flood light) or high and low settings or strobe, be sure to check the specs.
  • Check the spot light quality for size and roundness and the spill size (the much less bright lighted area around the spot) to be sure it meets your needs.
Yes, LED flashlights are a lot more expensive than yesterday's technology, partly because the first generation lights were sold to police and firefighters at huge prices (even hundreds of dollars), and the market is still adjusting downward from there. (I remember when the first VCR cost $1295.00.) So, what's a good deal in these pricier lights? 

I really like the Rayovac Indestructible 120-Lumen flashlight, model OT3AAA-B or BA. The body is made of aluminum-titanium alloy and it has high 120 lumen and low 19 lumen modes and will run for 5 hours on high and 40 hours on low. There are videos on YouTube showing people hitting it with a hammer, dropping in it water, and so on. And I like the angled edge that prevents it from rolling. The light output is white and the spot and fill areas are very good, both quite round and even. About $15. Got mine at Walmart.

I'm going to take my own recommendation and get some more of these for family and friends.

An alternative is the Ozark Trail 150 lumen flashlight. It's a great choice to have  handy in your car's glove box, since it is only about 4.5 inches long. Since it is a Walmart house brand, you know where to get it. About $11.

Which to choose? The Rayovac is worth the extra $4 to me. Even though it has a lower lumen rating, the light is whiter (the Ozark Trail has just a hint of lavender cast), the shape of both the spot and the spill are better to my eyes, and the two-modes (high and low) provides flexibility. And, I admit, the Rayovac has a much more manly design.

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