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Flashlight Shootout 2012


Rick Bunzel
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By Rick Bunzel, ACI

When I wrote my first article on flashlights in 2006, the Streamlight Ultra-Stinger won the competition over the Maglite MagCharger. Today, inspectors have many more choices of flashlights that are brighter, smaller and cost less than Maglite or an UltraStinger.

LEDs have come a long way in the last 5 years. The first LEDs were dim and cast a blue colored light. These days, LED flashlights have deep reflectors that concentrate the light into a tightly focused beam that throws long distances - as far if not further than a flashlight using a high performance bulb. Early LED flashlights used multiple LEDs to get the desired brightness but 2nd and 3rd generation LEDs have the performance to use just a single unit.

My requirements for an inspection flashlight are simple: The flashlights should be rechargeable, preferably with a 12-volt charger, brightness greater than 200 Lumens, comfortable fit in my tool belt, and neutral light color. For this review, I was able to get several new LED flashlights and I found LED conversions for the Maglite MagCharger and the Ultra-Stinger. I made an exception on the rechargeable requirement for Coast flashlights as they had some high performance lights and a monster flashlight that, on paper, outperformed any of the other lights.

I used the lights on inspections to provide real life testing conditions. I tried to use the lights for at least two weeks each. For my test pictures, I set up my tripod 60 feet from the side of my house. I set my camera on "night scene" mode and focused the center of the beam on my target.

All pricing is from internet sources, but most is from Amazon.

AllLights.jpg

L to R: Dorcy Spotlight, Coast HP21, Mag Charger, LED Maglite, Streamlight UltraStinger, Streamlight DS LED,

Coast HP14, Coast HP7, LED Lenser P5R. Not Shown: Dorcy Cree Xre. Photo by author

Maglite

Maglite has failed to keep up with the other manufactures of high performance lights. They have some new products, but nothing that is ground breaking. I included my two Maglites as a baseline of performance.

Maglite LED 3 Cell Cost: $25 Lumens 150

The Good- Good price and solid construction. Tight beam. Good backup light

The Bad- LED is bluish, mediocre output, no focus. Not rechargeable

MagLite Mag Charger Cost $120 (originally) Lumens: 218

The Good - Solid construction. Halogen Bulb is bright and replacements are inexpensive. In its day, it was the light to have but as technology moved on this light stayed in the charging rack more and more!

The Bad - Heavy light for its size and beam wasn't as sharp as other lights.

Terralux Ministar 30MR-EX (MagLite Mag Charger LED Upgrade) Cost: $80 Lumens: 700

The Good- Wow, lots of light, converts the Mag Charger to a high-powered spotlight. I prefer this traditional shape to the pistol grip spotlights for crawlspace work. Although the upgrade is on the expensive side, if you already have the Mag Charger and charging racks it?s worth considering.

The Bad - Beam had a starfish like pattern with no focus adjustment. Too much light for everyday use but for attics and crawlspaces it works well.

Streamlight

Streamlight products won my first flashlight shootout in 2006. They make a good quality light and included a cradle with AC/DC charge options. They tend to be expensive compared to other lights.

StreamLight UltraStinger Cost: $120 Lumens: 230

The Good - Streamlight included a charger base with 120v and 12v adapters with these lights. Good quality construction.

The Bad - Little warning when the NiCads died. Battery life is 1 hour. Bulbs are expensive ($15) and break easily if you drop the light.

StreamLight DS LED Cost: $130 Lumens: 180

The Good- Streamlight quality and small form factor, throws a nice beam and can go several inspections before it needs a charge. Has several operating modes / levels

The Bad -High price per lumen.

Terralux TLE-US (UltraStinger LED Upgrade) Cost: $35 Lumens: 300

The Good - This is a no-brainer upgrade for those inspectors who are using the UltraStinger. Although I didn?t test the run time, as my NiCad batteries are older, I expect that the run-time will be 3 to 4 times of the Xeon Bulb.

The Bad - Turning the bezel does little to change the focus.

Dorcy

I came across a rack of Dorcy flashlights at Lowes and was amazed at the price/performance of their products. Dorcy is a 55 year old American company that manufactures in Taiwan.

Dorcey Cree Xre Cost: $55 Lumens: 220

The Good - Throws a broad circle of light with a hot spot in the middle. A low price but doesn?t scrimp on aluminum case and comes with 120v and 12v chargers. Best budget light you can buy.

The Bad - Taiwan manufacturing shows through with a jack for charging (no cradle). Hotspot in the middle makes it more difficult to shoot picture of defects. Doesn't have multiple modes like other lights.

Dorcey 41-1080 Spotlight Cost: $50 Lumens: 500

The Good - A 500 lumen spotlight for $50??? Wow! Throws a nice, bright beam. Even though it has a plastic case, the construction is good with a claimed 3 hr run time.

The Bad - Fixed focus. In practice, it doesn?t seem like it goes for 3 hours of intermittent use. Doesn?t give much warning when the battery is depleted. Don't know how the plastic case will hold up over the long run.

LED Lenser

LED Lenser was a pioneer is LED flashlights, introducing their first product in 1994. Today LED Lenser is a division of Leatherman.

LED Lenser P5R Cost:$90 Lumens: 200

The Good - This is a pocket size light (smaller than AAA Mini-Mag) that is super bright for its size. The P5R has a high and low power mode and will run for 2 plus hours in high mode. It's very easy to move focus between flood and spotlight. Comes with 120v contact charger and USB charger.

The Bad - The small size is a disadvantage: I kept losing the P5R in my tool pouch. The charger uses a magnet to stay attached while charging which could be problematic if you plan on charging the P5R in your vehicle. A belt clip was included but I found it wasn't secure and carried it in a nylon holster I had for a mini-maglite.

Coast

Coast is a Portland based company that started out making knives and has added high quality flashlights to their lineup. Excellent machined aluminum construction. All their products came with lanyards and holsters

Coast HP7 Cost: $59 Lumens: 251

The Good- Military grade construction. This light looks like it will withstand a fall from a roof to a driveway without missing a beat (no, I didn?t try this!). Water resistant with an easy slide focus that locks with a twist.

The Bad- Not rechargeable - uses 4 AAA batteries in a round cradle.

Coast HP14 Cost: $72 Lumens :339

The Good - Just slightly smaller than a 2D Maglite but with a lot more power. Run time was 4 hours plus.

The Bad- Similar to the battery setup on the HP7 except it uses AA batteries. Specs claim 339 lumens but in actual use, it didn?t seem that much brighter than the 200 lumen lights.

Coast HP21 Cost: $274 Lumens :1317

The Good- The king of high performance flashlights in terms of construction, size and brightness. This is a bright light. At 1317 lumens, it trumps any of the lights in this test by 2.5 times. It is easy to change the beam from flood to spot. It comes with its own form-fitting case. It has a heavy-duty aluminum body with a rubber ring around the bezel.

The Bad- This is a big light with a large reflector. It takes 4 D cells- that and the metal body explains why it comes with a shoulder strap. Expensive to the point I would have a hard time justifying the cost of this light to my accountant.

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LEDs have come a long way in the last 5 years. The first LEDs were dim and cast a blue colored light. These days, LED flashlights have deep reflectors that concentrate the light into a tightly focused beam that throws long distances

--------------------------

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I love a good flashlight and a good deal. If your looking for a deal and 200 lumes works for you, check out Costco. For less than $20 I bought a three pack of tactile flashlights by Techlight. They are only 4.5" long. They use three AAA batteries. You could use rechargeable batteries. The only downside is the switch is on the bottom of the flashlight and I occasionally walk around with a shining light in my back pocket.

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I love a good flashlight and a good deal. If your looking for a deal and 200 lumes works for you, check out Costco. For less than $20 I bought a three pack of tactile flashlights by Techlight. They are only 4.5" long. They use three AAA batteries. You could use rechargeable batteries. The only downside is the switch is on the bottom of the flashlight and I occasionally walk around with a shining light in my back pocket.

You know, I bought two of those three-packs over a year ago so that I'd have some disposable flashlights to let customers use. I figured I'd just toss them when they stopped working. So far, I'm still on the first one -- the remaining 5 are still in the blister pack.

At they could be brighter but they're bright enough for most stuff. And for the price, well, damn!

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Just bought a Coast 25... at Lowes for $40 after I left my Ultra Stinger at home and discovered it about an hour away heading to a job. Works on 3AAA and shoots a beam better than my Ultra Stinger. I think it is listed at 170 lumens. The light color is more of a warmer white and not the blueish color many off the LED lights have. I love it....

It also has a lanyard that helps to keep it handy on your wrist if you decide to use it.

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  • 2 months later...

The BEST flashlight I've ever owned:

1600 lumen CREE XML T6 LED Zoomable Focus Aluminum Flashlight Torch

I use this flashlight daily in my home inspections. Super bright, flood to spot beam adjustment with no "donut hole"

It does wear down a battery per home inspection, but, I have 5 rechargables and keep a charger in the truck.

Andrew Constantine

http://InspectProHomeInspections.com

Serving North Carolina and South Carolina

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