Friday, July 24, 2009

Let There Be Light

When I left home at age 17 to move into my own apartment, Dad set up a small toolbox for me that included a small flashlight saying, "Here, this is a good one."

How right he was!

I didn't realize it at the time, but there's a wide range in the quality of flashlights, more so now that LEDs have transformed the world of flashlights.

So, there I was, happy for years with the silver flashlight from Dad kept in the kitchen followed by a brilliant blue Mini Maglite that I bought later because I wanted a flashlight in the bedroom and someone told me that Maglites are good flashlights. Later, I added a blue Maglite Solitaire to my purse because I was tired of the electricity going off at work just before I needed to use the Ladies' room.

Eventually, with the advent of LEDs, I tried a Garrity keychain flashlight and was very pleased to be the heroine several years ago when a car hit a pole and took out the electricity for several blocks while I was at the dentist's office.

"What do we do, now?" I asked the hygienist.

"We're done with your cleaning, but the doctor still needs to check your teeth. If the lights don't come back on, you might have to come back," she replied.

Inwardly, I groaned. When the dentist came by, I asked if he could use my flashlight to check my teeth so I could leave. He examined my flashlight, was impressed with the quality of its light, checked my teeth, then asked if he could borrow it to finish another patient. As he returned, another woman asked to borrow it because she needed to use the rest room.

"That's a great light," the dentist said while the other patient went off to the rest room. "Where did you get it? I'd like to get some for us here in the office."

I told him that I got it from Wal-Mart for less than $5 and he wrote down the name of the manufacturer before leaving me.

The woman returned my little Garrity with great thanks. There's nothing like not being able to see in an unfamiliar facility well enough to relieve yourself when you really need to go.

My hygienist laughed as I picked up my purse to leave, "You didn't know you were going to be a heroine today, did you?"

Since that afternoon four years ago, I've been on the lookout for good LED flashlights. The thing is, although I want a good flashlight, "good" means different things to different people. I don't need a tactical flashlight that costs $300 or want one that uses expensive batteries or need one that puts out 200+ lumens and runs through a set of batteries in an hour or two like some other people do.

I converted my blue Mini Maglite using the Nite Ize three-diode conversion kit, but that was a disappointment. The only reason I didn't convert it back to the Krypton bulb is because the batteries last longer. Since then, Nite Ize and other companies have come out with better conversions. If I try another conversion with other Mini Maglites, I'll probably get one by Terralux because there are more options. Deciding on one gets tricky because more watts and more lumens also mean a shorter battery life. I have to decide the trade-offs I'm willing to make to get an acceptable light with a decent run time.

The next thing I tried was a couple of Forever Flashlights because I like the idea of not needing batteries. One problem is that I don't like waiting while I shake it when I need light. I thought I'd resolve that issue by leaving them in the well on the floor of my car between the driver's seat and door. Evidently, I don't drive enough or brake enough to simulate shaking because the lights are really dim until after I shake them for a minute or two.

Another problem is that they produce a rather small spot of light and one is dimmer and more yellow than the other although brighter than my Nite Ize converted Mini Maglite. The final problem is that since the shake flashlights are magnetic, care must be taken around magnetic media to avoid corruption.

After severely bashing my little toe in a motel in Oregon when a storm put out the lights, I decided to get a Garrity LED lantern/AM-FM radio combination, model KP052, that charges by electricity or the hand-crank. It has several LEDs in it and is a decent area light for preventing stubbed toes, although it isn't bright enough for reading even if it's right next to you. It looks like it's supposed to be able to charge a cell phone, but there wasn't a cord or plug in the package or a card to return to Garrity to request one.

Because the Garrity lantern is rather large for travel and hiking, I next bought the little yellow Coleman MicroPacker 2-LED lantern that was so much dimmer in my motel room than my single-LED Garrity keychain flashlight, I immediately returned it. Some people may like it; I'm not one of them.

Late last year, I tried again with the hand-sized Eton Microlink FR 150 that has a solar-charged/hand-crank AM/FM/NOAA weather radio and flashlight. It may also be charged via USB if you have a cord to do so, but it's a lot easier to keep it on a sunny window sill. The light isn't very bright, but is somewhat adequate for reading except for the strange pattern of light it makes when close up. I'm glad I bought it because it's a nice, small, compact, all-in-one unit that could charge my cell phone if I requested the free plug from Eton. That it has a flashlight is a bonus.

Attracted by the half price on Sierra Trading Post, I bought a Solar Lite by All American Light last month. It's nice that it needs only bright light to charge, but it produces a spot light that's similar to my Forever Flashlight. I'm glad I didn't pay full price for it and, like the Forever Flashlight, wouldn't recommend it unless you need something that's better than nothing and doesn't need batteries. What's nice about it is its light weight and that you don't have to shake it. It's also nice that you don't have to be careful with it around magnetic media.

At last, I am very happy to report on the next generation of the 2 AA Mini Maglite LED flashlight. Mine is gray, model #SP2209HJ, that I bought from Wal-Mart for $21.88 on Tuesday.

Where the older style of the Mini Maglite LED has a larger head than the incandescent version and no hole on the tail cap to attach a lanyard, with the next generation Mini Maglite LED, we see the return of the smaller head so the rubber rim for the face cap fits as well as the lenses of the accessories pack. The hole to attach a lanyard is back in the tail cap.

It measures 1/2" longer than the incandescent version.

The holster still doesn't have the Velcro flap that the holsters for the incandescent Mini Maglites used to have and is a tighter fit than my Velcro-flapped holster, but then, that applies to the current incandescent Mini Maglite's holster, too. I guess Mag changed the design to save on production costs.

Although the corona isn't quite as bright or quite as white as the diffused beam of the 80 lumens Duracell Daylite 2 AA LED flashlight that I bought at Wal-Mart for $26.88 at the same time, the hotspot is brighter and the overall diameter of the beam is broader than the Daylite's. I like the Mini Maglite LED much better, not only because the beam is broader, but also because it weighs less, is narrower and shorter, and doesn't have a push-button on the tail cap. Plus, the Mini Maglite may be set up in candle mode for wider illumination (directions are on the package).

I'm VERY pleased with the Mini Maglite LED because it has settings for 100% power, 25% power, blink, and SOS that is definitely good for signaling for help whether by a lost hiker or a survivor of a natural disaster or other emergency situation. Just twist as usual to turn on, then twist off & on again to sequence to the other modes.

What that does to those who prefer the tail cap push button modifications offered by different companies, I don't know. I prefer to twist the head and can do it easily by gripping it with my little, ring, and middle fingers while twisting with my forefinger and thumb of the same hand.

At the 25% power level, designed for reading or saving the batteries during prolonged emergency use, instead of lasting for hours of continuous use as on the 100% setting, the package says that fresh batteries will last for days. I haven't tried to run down a pair of batteries through it to see how long they'll last, but it makes sense because any of the brighter LED flashlights go through batteries faster than those producing fewer lumens.

[Updated on 8/31/09 - I tested the battery life with a pair of fresh alkaline batteries at 100% power and a second pair of fresh alkaline batteries at 25% power.

Continuously on at 100% power, it dimmed to an unusable level and started flickering at 116 hours (4 days, 20 hours) until it went out at 117 hours.

Continuously on at 25% power, it started flickering at 192 hours (8 days) and went out some time during the next 6.5 hours while I was asleep.]

All in all, this ends my search for a small LED flashlight. I think Mag did this version of the Mini Maglite LED right and hope they do as well when they upgrade the Solitaire to LED.


masterstream said...

It's not often I come across someone so serious about flashlights. Heres one you should look at it's made by FENIX and it's model number L1D uses 1 AA battery and has numerous settings. Google it and for about $53.00 you wont be sorry.

Gail Rhea said...

Thanks, masterstream! While I don't qualify as a flashaholic, I do appreciate quality gear of whatever type and really dislike poor lights. I discovered the Fenix L1D while doing my research and will be mentioning it in my next post about flashlights.