Flashlights, what matters?

Since I first got heavy into “EDC” I’ve been obsessed with flashlights. I’ve been obsessed with how efficient they’ve become and how much brighter torches are now compared to even 10 years ago. If you’re an older individual you’ll remember the Maglites of the dinosaur era and how dim they are compared to the flashlights of today.

For those that don’t here’s a comparison for you. My new Fenix E16 at 2″ long is pushing 500 lumens and 5,050 candela…and it’s only 2″ long. This 2-D Cell Maglite only produces 27 lumens supposedly and 10, 627 candela… it’s 10″ long and weighs 23oz. The E16 weighs less than an ounce.
…Now I’m actually interested in picking up the Maglite just to see what 27 lumens looks like with that much candela!

Flashlight technology has advanced quite a bit from the days of old and it’s perpetually getting better and better. Given, one of the trade-offs we’re seeing is run time. For instance, the E16 only runs for 1 hour and 5 minutes on a rechargeable 16340. The Maglite sample has a run time of of 8 hours and 30 minutes.

As the technology progresses, I think we’ll see these smaller lights gaining better run times, but back to the main topic. What matters when you’re looking at flashlights? Well, different flashlights have different roles.

Lumens? Candela? Huh?

There’s a lot of confusion out there about candela and lumens. Yes, there is a difference between the two measurements. From what I’ve seen candela is typically listed as the intensity of the light. Lumens is listed as the output…it’s confusing, right? Think of it this way. Lumen= Flood, Candela= Hot spot.
A higher candela rating also means the light will have an easier time defeating barriers and stuff in the air (like fog, ash, etc.) Even if you can’t see past that fog, the higher candela rated lights will have an easier time making it through the fog, which makes it easier for someone else to see.

A higher lumen rating means you’ll have light in a shorter, but wider area. We can look at our regular  60-100w lightbulbs for this which range from 600-1000lm in output. A lightbulb’s candela rating is extremely low, but the lumen rating is extremely high. One light bulb can light up an entire room, but like a candle, you aren’t going to see that light through a thick fog.

Below, you really get a good idea of the difference candela makes at a distance. The top image is of the Cloud Defensive O.W.L which is rated for 1,250 lumens and 50,000 candela at a distance of 100 yards. Below it is the Surefire Scout which is rated for 1,500 lumens and 16,000 candela at a distance of 100 yards. O.W.L’s candela being nearly 5 times as much allows it to push out to the distance better than the Scout’s.

Up close, the Scout should have a wider beam of light and a hot spot that isn’t as easy to point out when compared to the O.W.L.

Light Color

Light Color is typically graded in temperature. You can see what the different colors of light come in at above barring any specialty colors like green, dark blue, etc. I don’t see a huge benefit to any of light color outside of red/green to protect your night vision (not NVGs) and light around the color of daylight (5,000k).

The hotter on the spectrum that you get (to the left of “Daylight”) the shorter the distance the light will travel (regardless of candela). The throw on a light really starts to get affected starting at about 3,600k all the way down to 1,800k from my experiences. The colors in this range can also affect how well you can see what the light is pointed it. Colors begin to mesh together and because of that, some of the details more or less wash out.
The one exception to the rules that I have is, the lights around 2,800-3,000k are really good for reading, or lighting for right before you go to bed.


What do I need to look at?

This question completely depends on what the light’s purpose is going to be.

For defensive purposes:

A higher candela rating is typically suggested. It can be debilitating to the person on the receiving end, it makes it easier to identify individuals, and the higher candela rating means it’ll have an easier time pushing through light barriers.
I would also add on that you want something in the 5,000k range. Doing experiments on myself and a few other people, the whiter the light, the more blinding it is.

For Search & Rescue purposes:

A higher candela rating with a high lumen output is going to be your best bet. Even if it’s foggy and you can’t see past ‘x’ amount of feet the light’s beam will still travel through the fog and the individual you’re looking for just might see it. Like for defensive purposes, I would also say going with something in the 5,000k range would be optimal.
Without any testing, I do want to say that anything in the 6,500k-12,000k range might be inhibited by fog.
I would also say that anything in the 1,800k to low 4,000k range is going to get washed out completely if you’re trying to search through a burning building, or anything else that has similar ambient lighting.

For inspection or medical uses:

You might want something with a higher lumen rating and a lower candela rating. A real intense hot spot from a higher candela rating can make things wash out up close, it can be blinding to the user when up close, and it can make differentiating liquids difficult.
Color wise you really want something as neutral as possible so the light isn’t causing any visual color changes. My recommendation is something between 4,000k and 5,000k.

For night driving:

A red or green light with a low/medium lumen output and low to nonexistent candela rating is what I would use. Red is arguably superior to green in these conditions, neither will wash out your night vision though, but will supply ample light for night driving activities like acrobats.

For power outages:

With power outages you should always be prepared with multiple options. For regular around the house purposes, I would strongly recommend something with a red light function, or a red only light. Red LEDS typically have longer run times mostly because they aren’t as bright. As an example the 0.7 lumen setting on the Streamlight AA Lantern will run for a total of 192 hours or 8 days.

Well, there’s my rudimentary knowledge on flashlights all summed up. As I said in the beginning, I’m fascinated with lights, especially with looking at the different emitters and seeing how different companies get the output that they’re getting. I think there’s a place for most lights out there and there’s a bunch out there that are well… Snake Oil. Kinda like those Gas Station Specials that claim to be 10,000 lumens while running 10 low quality LED bulbs.

A Message To Manufactures

If you work for or with a flashlight manufacture, please. Start including your products candela rating on advertisements, as well as where the light’s color is on the temperature chart. As a consumer, it is so annoying to try and find an online review that actually shows the true color of the light, especially with all the cameras picking up different lights differently.

As an example, one review showed the Fenix E16 as more yellow and another review showed the Streamlight TLR-7 as being more white. The complete opposite is what I’m seeing in real life.

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