Thursday, July 8, 2010

More LED Flashlights & Conversion Kits

Getting that 2-AA Mini Maglite LED flashlight for my friend last week prompted me to order more LED conversion kits for my incandescent Mini Maglites and finish this post I started working on last year.

My requirements for a mini flashlight are that it's affordable, costing less than $30, and is powered by one or two AA cells because they're inexpensive and widely available, a consideration for foreign travel since cells we're used to getting here are not always available elsewhere.

My intended use is general preparedness, household, auto, travel, and outdoors such as hiking, geocaching, and waymarking.

My research taught me that the best of the high output LEDs are made by Cree, Philips Lumileds (Luxeon and Rebel), Nichia, and Seoul Semiconductor (SSC). Lights that use these LEDs are likely to mention them on the packaging to assure you of getting a quality product.

The flashlights with which I've gotten familiar since posting "Let There Be Light" are:

1. 2-AA Coleman Max (Cree XR-E): 115 lumens, 5 hours runtime - This is the same length as the incandescent Mini Maglite but for the slightly protruding push-button on the tail cap that prevents it from standing on end. Unlike the push-button on the Duracell Daylite (below), the push-button on the Coleman Max is easy to operate. The Max weighs slightly more than the Mini Maglite LED (below) and has a really good feel in the hand.

However, the light is significantly warmer (yellow) from the hotspot throughout the corona.

If I didn't like the next generation Mini Maglite LED flashlight so much because of its white light and features plus the Accessory Pack or the incandescent Mini Maglite with an LED conversion kit, this would be my favorite.

Comes with lanyard. US$24.88 at Wal-Mart.

2. 2-AA Duracell Daylite: 80 lumens, ? hours runtime - The housing is attractive with a textured surface to enhance grip and the diffused beam is a nice white.

I didn't bother to look for nor test the runtime because I really don't like the flashlight. The adjustable focus doesn't vary much. The corona of the light doesn't really exist because it's so dark, it's not useful. It's marked by rather attractive circles at the narrowest focus setting and strangely-shaped light rings at the widest adjustment. You have to provide your own lanyard to attach to the hole on the tail cap.

Considering that it isn't comfortable in the hand and is more unwieldy being longer, larger around, and heavier than the next-gen Mini Maglite LED or the Coleman Max, and that the recessed push-button on the tail cap is significantly more difficult to use than that on the Coleman Max, in addition to it costing more than either of the other two, it simply isn't worth buying.

Not recommended. US$26.88 at Wal-Mart.

3. Next generation 2-AA Mini Maglite LED (Luxeon Rebel®): 69 lumens, 18 hours runtime at 100% setting, 31 hours at 25%. The one I bought last year didn't have ratings on the packaging and not finding any online for the next-gen Mini Maglite LED flashlight, I did my own runtime tests using new Duracell alkaline batteries for each test that performed considerably longer than what the package now says.

At 100% power, it dimmed and started flickering at 116 hours (4 days 20 hours) until it went out at 117 hours.

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.

As far as brightness goes, at full power it's definitely brighter than the 50 lumens of the TerraLUX TLE-5 conversion LED (below) and the center hotspot is brighter than the diffused beam of the 80-lumens rated 2-AA Duracell Daylite (above). It looks a bit brighter than the Coleman Max (above), but that might be because the Max is warm (yellow); it's hard for me to judge between the two.

I like the 25% power level for reading and, as a result, eliminated my formerly ideal, incandescent 2-AAA book light from my packing list because the 6-8 hours runtime for it is much too short by comparison to warrant taking it along anymore.

The strobe and SOS features make it ideal for preparedness for situations ranging from natural disasters like Katrina to getting lost in the great outdoors. Being shock- and water-resistant, it's just as good as the incandescent Mini Maglite that was the standard by which other flashlights were judged for many years prior to LED flashlights coming out.

Available in black, red, silver, blue, gray, and camo according to Maglite, I've seen only black and gray at the two Wal-Mart Super Centers I've visited. If you want another color, please be careful of buying online as some don't have the lanyard hole on the tailcap and, as such, may be the previous version that the Mini Maglite Accessory Pack doesn't fit instead of the next generation that does have a lanyard hole and for which the items of the Accessory Pack do fit.

My guess is that online stores such as Amazon are selling existing stock of the first version before getting the next gens.

Still my favorite LED mini flashlight, the next gen 2-AA Mini Maglite LED is US$21.88 at Wal-Mart.

For those who may have a hard time getting used to the twist on/off of the Mini Maglite, there are rear clicky conversions available. The best seems to be the TerraLUX TCS-1 Tailcap Switch for the AA Mini Mag for US$5 at Amazon.

If you already have an incandescent Mini Maglite (12 lumens, 5 hours 15 minutes runtime, currently US$8.88 at Wal-Mart), there are several LED conversion kits offered by Nite Ize and TerraLUX. These are excellent for giving new life to the outdated incandescent Mini Mags. At first glance, the conversion kits may seem expensive but what you'll save in batteries and/or gain in brightness will more than make up for the purchase price plus you'll never again have to change a light bulb.

Also, since LEDs are not to be shined into someone's eyes because doing so will cause retinal damage, you could give your children incandescent Mini Maglites for their own recreational use or preparedness kits and upgrade their flashlights with LED conversion kits when they're old enough to use LEDs responsibly.

Other than for children, there's probably no reason to buy a new incandescent Mini Maglite and an LED conversion kit unless it's to get a color finish like purple or pink or the American flag that isn't available (yet?) on a Mini Maglite LED flashlight. You're better off simply getting the next-generation Mini Maglite LED flashlight unless you want to assemble your own tactical flashlight (see TerraLUX #4 below) or need a specialty LED for another purpose such as a UV LED for hunting scorpions or inspecting hotel rooms.

Just be sure you're getting the next generation version that has a lanyard hole instead of the first version without the lanyard hole unless you're 100% absolutely sure you will never want to attach a lanyard or want to use the rubber head cap that is a great anti-roll device, a colored lens, or replacement clear lens of the Accessory Pack. A quick way to tell the difference between the two versions is that the packaging for the first version has three colored circles on the front while the packaging for the next generation has four colored circles.

Nite Ize:

1. The Nite Ize 3-LED Upgrade Kit is approximately 8 lumens and runs up to 20 hours. I bought one of these when I first saw them years ago at a local Gibson's and was disappointed because the incandescent Mini Maglite is brighter. My disappointment was such that I held off converting my other Mini Mags until last year when I found out about other LED conversion kits. However, using it as a map-reading light with the red lens from the Mini Maglite Accessory Pack to preserve my night vision redeemed its purchase. From US$4.50 through Amazon.

2. The Nite Ize LED Upgrade II is approximately 30 lumens and has a runtime of about 25 hours. About $9 through Amazon.

3. The 1 Watt Nite Ize LED Upgrade Kit is approximately 55 lumens with a runtime of 15 hours. About US$19 at Amazon. With the IQ Switch, the kit is about US$25.

TerraLUX offers the following Luxeon LED conversion kits for the Mini Maglite:

1. TerraLUX MiniStar3 TLE-3: 15 lumens, 50 hours runtime - This has 3 LEDs. Because this is about the same brightness as an incandescent Mini Maglite and because of the long runtime, it's ideal for your preparedness kit if you don't want to buy a new flashlight. Other than that, I recommend getting one of the others that produces a brighter light because they're so nice. From US$5.99 through Amazon.

2. TerraLUX TLE-20 (Nichia Regel), 0.5 watt: 36 lumens, 15 hours runtime - This produces a nice, white light. To avoid going bump in the night, I chose this one to upgrade my bedside flashlight. Also for the 2-AAA Mini Maglite. From US$9.95 through Amazon.

3. TerraLUX MiniStar2 TLE-5 (Luxeon III?), 1 watt: 50 lumens, 6 hours runtime - This has a distinctly yellow tint in the hotspot but not as yellow as the Coleman Max. This is my favorite upgrade kit because it yields suitable brightness coupled with a decent runtime. I put it in my kitchen flashlight. I got mine last year through Amazon for US$9.70.

4. TerraLUX MiniStar2 Extreme TLE-5EX (Cree XR-E), 3 watts: 140 lumens, 4 hours runtime. I got it just to see and... Wow! It's bright! Use this kit and the TerraLUX TCS-1 rear clicky conversion to turn an excellent general purpose incandescent made-in-America flashlight into an LED tactical light for about US$35.

I couldn't find a runtime rating, so I did my own test using new batteries.

At 4.5 hours, the circle of light began to get smaller and smaller until it was so tiny it was useless at 6 hours. I turned it off at 6.75 hours.

The nice thing about alkaline batteries is that they tend to recharge themselves when they're not being used which is the reason alkaline batteries for any LED flashlight will last longer than the rated runtimes if the light is used intermittently instead of continuously as during tests to rate the runtime.

As a result, I was able to use it for another hour a week after the test. (It didn't quit. I was through using it.)

After another week, I decided to resume testing with the same pair of batteries. It ran for 1.5 hours before going out. I let it rest for 8 hours and turned it on for another 3 hours with it dimming and shrinking over the last hour.

This LED produces a nice, white light and cost me US$17.95 last year through Amazon.

If you have other styles of incandescent Maglites, Streamlights, or SureFires, TerraLUX has LED upgrade conversion kits for them, too, as well as a couple of universal upgrade kits that work with other brands.

Something to keep in mind is that there are no industry-wide standards for rating flashlights. As a result, a flashlight rated n lumens with a stated runtime may be brighter or less bright and have a longer or shorter throw than another flashlight with the same rating and may run longer or for less time. Your best bet is to check independent reviews such as those on CandlePowerForums Reviews.

Another thing is that, although I've listed the wattage as do several manufacturers, watts are not indicative of the amount of light produced like we're used to thinking when looking at incandescent bulbs. In fact, watts only indicate how much power an item needs such as how much power an LED needs to produce its best light. For an example of how we can't use wattage to indicate output, a 26-watt CFL bulb produces light equivalent to a 100-watt incandescent bulb.

For more info, Flashlight Reviews and the flashaholics on the CandlePowerForums may be the most helpful sources.

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