October 24, 2006
World's Best Flashlights
Halloween is coming! Piper is going to be Hermione and Anthony doesn't know what he wants to be yet. We've got our big bucket of candy and spooky decorations ready.
But the most important question for Dad is.... Where are my flashlights?
I think my love of flashlights makes me an unqualified gadget nut. I don't know what the attraction of flashlights is - flashlights are simple things after all - you stick in the batteries, and light comes out. But for some reason I really enjoy a good flashlight. Every year around this time I get a bunch of flashlights for myself and my little costumed ones.
This year there are a couple new flashlights that I particularly like...
LEDs Make Neat Flashlights
Soon after Shuji Nakamura developed the first blue LED in 1993, Nichia and other companies started refining LED technology to make white LEDs bright enough to be used in flashlights. The current superstars of the LED world are the Luxeon LEDs made by Lumileds. These one-watt-and-up LEDs are now bright enough to be truly practical for illumination.
The amazing thing about LED lights is that they basically never burn out and they are much more efficient than incandescent bulbs; some of my older LED flashlights still have their original AA batteries. But the early LED flashlights were dim - they put out noticeably less light than ordinary flashlights.
Current LED flashlights are much brighter. Of course, they also draw more electricity so instead of lasting hundreds of hours, your battery might only last a few hours. But they still beat incandescent lights.
Previous Years' Favorites
My previously-favorite LED flashlight was the Arc AAA flashlight made by Peter Gransee. The amazing thing about the Arc is that it puts out a strong beam using only a single AAA battery - a feat which requires a little bit of electronics because you need to step up to about 3.5V to drive a white LED. The small Arc is nicely cut out of aluminum, watertight, and solid. And it passes the all-important rattle test: when you load up a battery and shake it, it does not rattle around.
After ARC went out of business in 2004, I looked for other brands of LED flashlights. (Actually Peter's company has been reincarnated so you can buy Arc flashlights again now.) Last year I played with one of the Peak LED flashlights. They make nice flashlights, but somehow not quite as nice as Arc - they are a little too heavy and solid for my taste. I gave the kids little Streamlite Key-Mates in blue and green to hang around their necks - those were a big hit all year, but they use unusual batteries. The kids also liked playing with the various colors of Photon flashlights - but these are too small to really rely on for walking.
Hunting for a new general-purpose compact flashlight, I browsed around Candlepower Forums and noticed that some of the flashaholics were fans of a new manufacturer in China. China? My previous experience with Chinese flashlight manufacturers wasn't good, with thin screw-on parts that didn't fit well, beams that didn't focus, and battery holders that would rattle. But heck, I figured I'd give this new one a try - Fenix.
I was pleasantly surprised! The Fenix E1 is like an improved Arc AAA flashlight. It has a solid feel and fits together very smoothly, with waterproofing O-rings. It passes the rattle test. And unlike the Arc, it comes with a shiny focusing mirror and lens; it has a very symmetrical beam; and instead of putting out 5 lumens of light it puts out about 12 (though it burns through the battery a bit faster than the Arc too). The Fenix E1 also has a flat tail so that you can set it down pointing at the ceiling, which I like.
Fenix also makes an incredibly bright 3-watt flashlight that uses a single AA battery called the L1T (that's the black flashlight pictured at the top). The L1T has a three-watt LED and adds a pushbutton tailcap switch and a twist-head that selects between two levels of brightness. And it really is bright - much brighter than, say, a regular old non-LED 2 C-cell Maglight flashlight.
Of course, the real attraction of an LED flashlight is that it's just so darn neat. I think it is cool to look into the flashlight and see, instead of a glowing filament, a little square diode chip pumping out piles of photons...
Happy trick-or-treating.Posted by David at October 24, 2006 09:56 PM
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