Selfbuilt's Flashlight Reviews
Extensive comparative analyses of modern LED flashlights
My goal is to provide objective testing results, in a readable form, to let you decide what flashlight best fits your needs. My reviews are posted on candlepowerforums, to facilitate ongoing discussions with the user community.
My flashlights are expensive to feed with all the runtime tests I perform, so I gratefully accept donations to my Paypal battery fund.
Flashlight Resources See my Testing Methods for further resources
Video overviews of each of my flashlights, plus additional background primers.
Overview of the ANSI/NEMA standard for flashlight testing (FL-1).
My lightbox design, and how I have calibrated it for estimated lumens.
Overview of all my recent outdoor 100-yard beamshots.
But I realize the sheer volume of information here can be overwhelming for the newcomer - who knew there were so many kinds of flashlights? So I've created this page to provide you with some starting points for recent lights that you may want to consider. I've broken them down by battery type, as I figure that's the best place to start to narrow down your choices. From there, I will provide a list of several good models to consider, with their relative advantages/disadvantages. You can then use the individual reviews to narrow down your choices further, as I provide plenty of comparative testing results to other lights of the same class in each review.
Again, I make no guarantees as to the performance of any specific brand. The lights listed below are simply ones that I think provide good value for their respective class, based on my review sample. As always, your mileage may vary. :) I plan to try and keep this page updated, so expect that listed models will change over time.
One thing I should make clear up front: my personal biases in flashlight selection are good efficiency (i.e., long runtime for the output level), and a good interface (i.e., intuitive and easy to use). Other people will prize other aspects - like a certain beam profile (i.e., more "throw" or more "flood"), or a consistent beam tint, or perfectly flat circuit regulation, or a dedicated "tactical" interface, etc. Where possible, I will try to address as many of these points as possible below, but you have to realize any such list with be somewhat idiosyncratic.
If you are looking for an explanation of any of the terms used here or in my reviews, please see my FAQ or Testing Methods pages.
Some suggestions to consider, as of March 2016:
- Standard AA Battery (1x)
- Standard AA Batteries (2x)
- Standard AA Batteries (3x, 4x, 6x, 8x)
- Keychain AAA Lights (1x)
- CR123A Lithium Camera Battery (1x)
- 18650 Li-ion Rechargeable Battery (1x)
- Multiple 18650 Li-ion Rechargeable Batteries (2x, 3x, 4x or 6x)
Standard AA Battery (1x)My personal prefered EDC ("every day carry", in flashlight lingo) is a 1xAA sized light. With modern LED flashlights, this class typically provides a good balance of output, runtime and ease of carry.
My current EDC remains the Sunwayman V11R with AA-extender. I like this light for its ultra-low output levels, and the continuously-variable control ring interface. The ring allows you to finely customize your output level - even before turning the light on. The relative light levels along the ring have been adjusted to seem roughly "visually linear", which takes into consideration that our relative perceptions are not consistent across the dynamic output range of the light. See my review of the light for a greater explanation of what I mean by all that.
Probably my top pick for general use is the Zebralight SC5. This light is unbelievably bright, and can produce as much (or more) light on a regular NiMH battery as most 1x14500 lights do. Coupled with a thermal-control circuit and the best efficiency I've seen in this class, this light is an outstanding choice.
The new Manker Quinlan T01 has similar efficiency and range of outputs as the SC5 - but also supports 1x14500, and is focused for throw applications. Certainly worth checking out. I also like the latest member of the Nitecore Explorer series, Nitecore EA11, featuring a dual-switch interface and secondary red LED.
Otherwise, the Thrunite Neutron 2A remains the brightest light in this class (but only on 1x14500). The Olight S15/S15R and Skilhunt DS15 are very similar lights in this class, except that the S15 can also be run in 2xAA form with the included extended tube (for even better performance).
For an ultra-slim model, or a more "budget" choice, you are likely looking at a "twisty" interface (i.e., a tighten/loosen switch of the head is used to turn the light on or change modes, instead of having a traditional clicky switch). I've found the L3 Illumination L10 to be a very good performer, and is a good choice for an entry-level model.
The best deal I can see right now is the new Thrunite Archer 1A V2, which comes with both a clicky switch for on/off, and a side electronic switch for mode changing (and is available in both cool white and neutral white tint).
Standard AA Batteries (2x)The 2xAA class is probably the most common type of light people think of getting for around the home. With the much greater efficiency of modern LEDs, you don't need to rely on clunky 2xD or 2xC cell incandescent lights any more (which were never very reliable to start with). A good 2xAA LED flashlight will last a lot longer than those old dinosaurs, and provide a lot more output.
As with the 1xAA lights, I recommend the use of rechargable NiMH batteries - they can provide more power for longer, and won't leak and destroy your light as alkaline cells can. Modern low-self-discharge NiMH will also keep their unused charge for years without needing to be recharged (i.e., Sanyo Eneloop style cells).
Typically, 2xAA lights will be able to produce greater max output than 1xAA lights, and run longer at lower levels (due to the extra battery). But you might want to check out the 1xAA light suggestions above, as many of them are still brighter than what you are probably used to.
This is one class where I really prefer a simple, straight-forward interface - with good battery life. One of my favourites right now is the Olight S15. Although billed as a 1xAA light, it is actually better suited to be run with an extender as a 2xAA light.
Another good efficiency choice in this category is the Foursevens Quark QP2A (Pro or Tactical) - formerly known as the Quark AA-2. Another option if you are looking for a comparable light that can throw a beam a good distance is the Foursevens Quark QB2A - formerly known as the Quark AA-2 Turbo. More recently, the Thrunite Neutron 2A is incredibly bright on 2x battery sources. All are good choices, with a wide range of defined output levels (including low "moonlight" levels).
Eagletac and Fenix also have very efficient lights in this category as well - check out the Eagletac D25A2, and the Fenix LD20 or newer models in this family.
There is not a lot in the "budget" class that I can recommend, but you could also try the relatively inexpensive Jetbeam Backup BA20 or Nitecore MT2A. The new Thrunite Archer 2A V2 is a great choice. It comes with both a clicky switch for on/off, and a side electronic switch for mode changing (and is available in both cool white and neutral white tint).
If you want to try something a little different, check out the Nitecore EA2 Explorer, which has a pretty distinctive interface. There have been some reports of issues with waterproofness with this series though.
Standard AA Batteries (3x, 4x, 6x, 8x)For those looking for even more power - or longer life - there are 3x, 4x, 6x, and even 8x AA options to consider. In many cases, these are designed to replace the common 2x C-cell or D-cell lights (which have been the stable for consumer flashlights for years). The advantages of the higher number of AA cells (in series) is that the lights run at higher voltages, and are therefore capable of greater output. Due to how LEDs operate, its typically more efficient for circuits to take advantage of higher input voltages.
I have done a comparative round-up overview of all the recent 3xAA/4xAA lights here. Some personal favourites in this space are the Sunwayman D40A, Eagletac GX25A3 and Nitecore EA41. The Thrunite TN4A is the current max output champion for this class. But please see the 4xAA round-up review for more info to help guide you in making a decision between all these models.
If you want even greater runtime and output, you could also consider the big brother versions of the above, like the 8xAA Nitecore EA81 or 6xAA Eagletac SX25A6. Typically, these lights are not really any brighter overall on Max, but they do usually have larger heads for even greater throw. The SX25A6 also comes with the widest array of accessories I've seen, including good quality diffusers and filters.
Keychain AAA Lights (1x)I also keep a "backup" light on my keychain, typically in the 1xAAA format. My current keychain EDC is the Fourevens Preon ReVo, but this light is sadly no longer produced. There is a light with the identical circuit out there, the Klarus Mi X6 (which I gather is a matter of some dispute with Foursevens).
I have certainly gifted a lot of lights in this category to friends and family over the years. Popular choices are the Olight i3S and the Lumintop Worm. Another recent new example is the Thrunite Ti3 But there are a lot of other options out there with fairly similar performance. I would suggest choosing on the basis of price and local availability. Another great one to consider is the Fenix LD02, which has a nice "grippy" body with a pocket clip and tailcap clicky (which is rare on AAA lights). It is also one of the most efficient AAA lights I've tested.
In the ultra-small category, the Foursevens Preon P0 is a cute choice - but note that it has a very wide and "floody" style beam. Again, please see the video primers on my FAQ page for more information about what these terms all mean.
These lights are all pretty inexpensive, so I don't have specific recommendations in the "budget" category.
A nice addition to the 2xAAA class is the Foursevens Preon Penlight, also known as the Olight O-Pen. This is a higher-end pocket penlight design (with clicky switch), and one that has a more classy look than most 2xAAA lights.
Although not an AAA-based light, the new rechargeable keylight from Nitecore is very interesting - the Tube. I have also reviewed the current-bossted Vinh Nguyen TubeVN. Definitely worth checking out as an alternative to the AAA class keychain light.
CR123A Lithium Camera Battery (1x)The 1xCR123A flashlight is a very popular option for every-day carry ("EDC"). It is quite compact, and the higher voltage Lithium chemistry and can provide greater output and/or runtime than single AA-style lights. As always, if you are new to Lithium battery chemistries, you might want to check out Battery University, or the batteries subforum at candlepowerforums.com.
Many of my recommendations for this class will be similar to the 1xAA options above. The Sunwayman V11R is a good choice for ultra-low output levels and a "visually-linear" continuously-variable control ring interface (see my earlier 1xAA comments above - and my review of the actual light - for a greater explanation of what I mean by that). A very similar light is the JetBeam RRT-01 - check out my comparison review to the V11R in the link for the RRT-01.
As before, there are the efficient current-controlled options, like the Foursevens QTLC (in Pro or Tactical interface versions) - formerly known as the 4Sevens Q123. There are also the Fenix PD20 (or newer PD22), Olight S10R, Skilhunt DS10, or Eagletac D25C. I personally like the Olight S10 for a good over-all performer, or the Eagletac D25C for an ultra-slim model. Both of those lights (and the Foursevens) feature ultra-low "moonlight" levels.
A consideration for the ultra-slim "twisty" style is the Foursevens Atom AL, with has a similar beam pattern to the full-flood Preon P0 described above. Again, please see the video primers on my FAQ page for more information about what these terms all mean.
There is not a lot in the "budget" class that I can recommend, but you could also try the relatively inexpensive Jetbeam Backup BC10 or more recent Nitecore MT1C or Lumintop ED11. The new Thrunite Archer 1C V2 is a great choice. It comes with both a clicky switch for on/off, and a side electronic switch for mode changing (and is available in both cool white and neutral white tint).
18650 Li-ion Rechargeable Battery (1x)The 1x18650 flashlight class is probably the "sweet spot" for many flashlight enthusiasts. Typically also accepting 2xCR123A batteries, these lights are capable of fairly high output - and can last a lot longer than the single CR123A-class lights. They potentially also allow for greater heat dissipation (thanks to the larger body mass), and can more easily be designed for greater throw (with a proportionally larger head and reflector).
Not surprisingly, the 18650 battery is probably one of the most popular Li-ion rechargeable forms out there. Nominally 3.7V (4.2V fully charged), in the standard ICR chemistry format, the 18650 typically has much higher charge density than multiple smaller cells (like 2x16340, or RCR). They also remove the inherent risk of multi-cell bettery setups. Like most people, I recommend the use of quality name-brand cells only, with built-in protection circuits. You can learn more about rechargeable Li-ion batteries and their safe handling at Battery University, or the batteries subforum at candlepowerforums.com.
As with the 1xAA class, two of the best performing light out there (in terms of max output, overall efficiency and circuit regulation) are the 18650-only Zebralight SC600-III and Zebralight SC62. Other lights in this class that are also quite popular are the Thrunite TN12 2014 and Archer 2A V2 (available in both cool white and neutral white tint), Nitecore P12/MH12 and EC20/MH10, Fenix PD35, and MH20. All of these models (except the EC20/MH10 and MH20) feature a dual-switch interface (i.e., a physical tailcap switch for on/off, and an electronic side-switch for mode control), and support a wide range of battery types (i.e., 1x18650, 2xCR123A). See my individual reviews for more commentary about what distinguishes these lights from each other. All of the above choices are quite compact as well.
Among the continuously-variable output lights that use a control-ring, the Sunwayman V25C is one to consider (although I personally still prefer the original V20C interface). The Nitecore SRT7 (XM-L2 White, 3xRGB) is an excellent light in this class, with one of the best implementations of a "visually-linear" control ring (see my review for a discussion of what that means). That light also has a well-implemented set of red, green, and blue LEDs (that don't interfere with the beam proflle of the main white LED).
A versatile and efficient model that I am also currently enjoying is the Eagletac G25C2-II. This light can be purchased in a kit form, with a lot of optional extras. The metal screw-on, flip-top style diffuser cover is particular well designed and useful - allowing you the option for maximum throw, or a soft diffused beam at the flick of a finger. Recently updated with the latest XM-L2 emitters, this light is a top pick for me in this class. The Olight M22 or Foursevens MMX Burst are other high-output XM-L2 choice in this space.
The other usual suspects in terms of good efficiency, small size, and ease of use are the Eagletac D25LC2, Foursevens Quark Q123-2-X (now known as the QPL2-X), Olight S20R and S30R-II, and Skilhunt DS20. Another stand-out contender is the Eagletac TX25C2 (XM-L2) - a more petite version of the G25C2 mentioned above, with an electronic control switch. It has remarkably high output and throw for the class, while remaining quite small.
For something a little different, the 1x18650 Nitecore EC2 Explorer is probably the best implementation of that particular series. There have been some reports of issues with waterproofness with this series though.
Something that is becoming popular is the the built-in 18650 charger for this class of light. This facilitates use of the class, without the need for a dedicated charger (although I always recommend a good quality charger and digital multimeter - DMM - if you are going to working with Li-ion rechargeables). I've tested a number of these, and they are starting to come along. Probably the best overall implementation I've seen so far is the Foursevens Regen MMR-X, which is another high-efficiency model (with a custom 18650 cell included).
I am not a very "tactical" guy, but a couple of popular options in this space are the Klarus XT11 and Thrunite Lynx. I suggest you read up on those models to see why they are considered particularly suitable for law-enforcement purposes.
For max output in the 1x18650-only class, the Sky Lumen 2 (SL2) by Vinh Nguyen (V54) is the current leader in my collection. High-drain rated IMR/INR 18650 cells are required for this light, though.
Finally, if you are in the market for a true "thrower" in this class, you could try out Vinh's modded Eagletac S200C2vn (XP-G2 dedome). This is a custom modded light, and one with an unbelievable beam distance for the size. Olight has recently launched a stock dedome light, the Olight M2X-UT Javelot, which has even further throw.
Multiple 18650 Li-ion Rechargeable Batteries (2x, 3x, 4x or 6x)This is a huge class of lights, with outputs currently ranging anywhere from 600 to 6000 lumens. It's hard to provide just a few examples, so I strongly suggest you check out the individual reviews below for additional ideas.
Many people seem to go for maximum "throw" in this class (i.e., lights with a big reflector to project a beam as far as possible). At the moment, the greatest throw that I've seen in this 2x18650 class is the Olight M3XS-UT, which features a stock dedome XP-L emitter. For a more traditional beam profile, a great thrower is the Thrunite Catapult V5, followed closely by the ArmyTek Barracuda (XM-L2 version) and even the basic Olight M3X (XM-L2 version).
For more general use, the compact Sunwayman T45C is a solid XM-L2 choice (and very stylish). The Fenix TK35UE and Nitecore P36 are other compact examples - using the high output and relatively "floody" MT-G2 emitter. The recent Fenix LD50 has good output as well - I have reviewed a modded version of this model (the LD50vn).
I've also been impressed by the high-output SX/MX-series lights from Eagletac. All these lights share a similar interface, and some even come with high quality rechargeable Li-ions cells (and a built-in recharging option). They also have an incredible number of extras and accessories available, including several "turbohead" versions for greater throw. Some recent examples include the Eagletac MX25L3C Compact and MX25L4 Turbo, but there are plenty more to choose from.
I'm a little out of date in the "budget" class of 2x18650 lights, although Crelant has several well known models, like the throw-monster Crelant 7G5CS. There is an optional aspheric head for even more throw (although I understand this may not be compatible with some of the newer builds). The interface even includes a rare continously-variable ramp, accessed through a secondary mode switch. The less throwy Nitecore MT40 is an inexpensive light to consider.
If you are really keen on getting the maximum possible throw, single-emitter lights like the Olight SR52, Fenix TK61, Thrunite TN32 and SupBeam K50 may suit you in the 3x/4x18650-size. Of course, there are also the "big guns" like the Olight SR95 and SR95S-UT lights, and recent Acebeam K60 (XHP70). But again, also check out the 2x32650 MX25L2 (SST-90) and MX25L2 Turbo (SBT-70) mentioned above (especially with the turbohead versions, as they slightly out-throw the SR95-series lights).
If you are interested in "modded" (i.e., modified lights, tuned for extra performance), the TK61vn and K50vn from Vinh Nguyen are the furthest throwing reflectored lights I've tested to date. And the SR52vn is a great compact thrower. But the XP-L dedome version of the K40Lvn is probably my favourite all-around high-output thrower from Vinh right now.
In the compact class of higher output lights, the 4x18650 "Tiny Monsters" from Nitecore are popular, including the recent TM06. But an exciting new class of lights centered around the Cree MT-G2 emitter are able to provide extremely high output from a single emitter. These lights typically all have a very pleasing Neutral White beam tint, and are geared more for smooth flood beams than throw. I am reviewing an increasing number of these lately, but my personal favourites right now are the Eagletac SX25L3, Niwalker BK-FA02 and Thrunite TN35 and Acebeam K40M.
The incredibly tiny Niwalker MiniMax Nova MM15 is very impressive - incredibly high output, full "flood" beam, in a remarkably tiny size. And if you want even more power, there are also the Vinh Nguyen mods to consider - MM15vn dedome and dome-on. More recently, Thrunite has released the even higher output TN36, featuring 3xMK-R emitters (available in both cool white and neutral white tints), in a similarly compact body.
Again, there really are a lot of lights in this class to consider. I would suggest you start the ones listed above, and narrow down your search based on number of batteries, number of emitters, user interface, and overall beam characteristics.
Unfortunately, my flashlights are expensive to feed with all the runtime tests I perform. I don't accept any payment for any of my flashlight reviews, but I will gratefully accept donations to my Paypal battery fund. Your contributions will go toward helping defray the costs of creating all my detailed reviews.
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