Latest update: 2/24/17
As with most other subjects, were you to get one hundred people in a room and ask their opinion about flashlights, you would have a minimum of 99 opinions. With that in mind, I will provide this page as a summary of my opinions on the things I find more important when it comes to flashlights.
A very good source for information on high output flashlights is Candle Power Forums(CPF). DO keep in mind that their main area of concern is for HIGH OUTPUT flashlights. As such, if your idea of a "good" flashlight is the one you can find at Radio Shack for $1.99, you will not find CPF of much use.
The first item for you to think about in the purchase of a flashlight is your use. If you want something to keep around the house "just in case" the power goes out and you need to traverse the house without stubbing your toe on the furniture, the Radio Shack $1.99 is a good choice. Just remember to change the batteries at least every other year! On the other extreme, if you have a LARGE backyard that has four legged visitors you need to deter, a much higher output light is in order.
Once you have a preliminary decision made on the relative output you want, the next consideration is the type of "bulb" the flashlight will be using. The old time standard of incandescent, still works just fine, IF you do not need high output. There are several different improved incandescents, Xenon is one example, that are significantly higher in output. If you want to get to really higher output then you need to seriously consider Light Emitting Diodes (LED) as your choice of emitter (read that bulb).
The relative output and efficiency of the LED emitter has been changing at an almost exponential rate in just the last few years. In fact, the "high output" LED of just last January is now considered less efficient compared to the current XM-L types. Do you really care? The harder you use your flash, the more important the light output and efficiency become. - - - - - Main point, just get one that handles your need and don't worry. I have one LED light that is four years old and it is still an excellent choice which, unfortunately, is no longer available.
I had a list here of the significant increases in LED efficiency, until the industry went into yet another iteration of advances. It is AMAZING how much more light they are getting out of smaller and smaller LEDs. What was huge output just five years ago is now not worth mentioning, in that there are . . . currently . . . single LED with output in excess of 1300 lumen (yes Virginia, thirteen hundred).
Just GREAT for users. ;-)
A very important item to consider is the type of battery your new flashlight will use. The quite old, yet very reliable (and HEAVY) alkaline battery has done yeoman service and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. They are, however, quite heavy, but they are relatively inexpensive, and last a long time. The other choices are Nickel Cadmium (NiCad), Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMh), Lithium (Li), and Lithium Ion (Li-Ion). Each is an improvement in performance over the previous, but at a perceptible increase in cost.
The batteries noted above are divided into two categories; Primary, or NON rechargeable - the Alkaline and Lithium (not to be confused with Lithium ION), and Secondary, or rechargeable - Nickel Cadmium, Nickel Metal Hydride and Lithium Ion.
The old alkaline is NOT RECHARGEABLE! If you try to recharge them they will, at minimum, leak all over the place, and some may explode. DO NOT try to recharge a primary cell!
There are SIGNIFICANT differences in the care and feeding of the various types of rechargeable batteries and that information, at lest for now, is beyond the scope of this web page. - - - I will, however, make note of one SIGNIFICANT difference between rechargeables. The Li-Ion rechargeable used for flashlights have a SIGNIFICANTLY higher output voltage than either the NiCads or NiMHs. NiCads are 1.2V per cell at full charge. The Li-Ion at full charge is 4.2V! Put a 4.2V cell into a device that is expecting 1.2V and can you say SIZZLE?! Just take care.
One other point while we are in batteries: The Lithium Ion (rechargeable) does not use the same naming standards as Alkaline, et al. The Li-Ion battery is known by its size (in mm). For example: The AA size we all know is a 14500; 14mm diameter, 50mm tall and the last zero says cylindrical in shape. The double CR123A battery is the 18650, or 18mm diameter, 65mm tall and cylindrical shape.
Chargers for Li-Ion rechargeable batteries must be well regulated (see the article from Battery University). I also suggest, if you decide to go with Li-Ion batteries, that you get "protected" cells. They are more expensive, but well worth it in the long run. Battery University has an overview of the Li-Ion batteries with some of the cautions mentioned. Candle Power Forums have more information but some of the people there are more paranoid than necessary.
For Li-Ion cells, the "gold standard" for chargers is the Pila. Since few are ready to pay $50 for a two slot charger the next best seems to be Nitecore chargers which range from $14 to around $28, depending on the number of cells you can charge at one time and many other features. The Nitecore are constant voltage chargers (really good for Li-Ion cells), but some models can be set to constant current.
One last item on rechargeable batteries: Each of them will/do self discharge. That is to say their charge diminishes while "on the shelf". A NiCad will discharge at about 1% per day! That means a fully charged NiCad, just left "on the shelf" for 90 days will effectively be 90% discharged. A NiMh self discharges at about one-half to one-third the NiCad rate.
The Li-Ion rechargeable will self discharge at a significantly lower rate. I have read that they will shed about 10% of their charge in a month to six weeks. After that the self discharge is much slower. Mine will hold very close to 90% charge for three months. In fact, they may be better than that, but three months is the longest I have tested them to. BIG difference there.
Just like cars where you have Ford, Chevy, Dodge, Nissan, (etc, ad nausium), there are many many different brands of flashlights. The one item that I find most important in selecting a brand of flashlight, is your intended use. If you are going to use it daily and "most strenuously" (such as the Police do) then Streamlight or Maglight are excellent choices. For the rest of us, I suggest Xeno (pronounced Ze-no) as a viable choice.
I have more than one Streamlight and they are a good product. The primary objection that I have to their product is the type(s) of battery you need for them. The better of their line run on either CR123 (at $2 to $3 each) that provide you with about one hour of service, OR rechargeable Nickel Cadmium (NiCad) batteries that run from $4 each to as much as $20. Do remember you will need to learn about the care and feeding of NiCads, should you decide to run Rechargeable NiCads. - - - I find Streamlight to be very usable, but far from optimal.
Having said less than optimal, there are two of the Streamlight models that are quite usable, if you do not need significant output. The MicroStream is 25-28 lumen that runs on a single AAA battery. They typically cost from $13 to $17, depending on where you get them. This is particularly good for a backup that sees little use. - - One that fits between low output and high output is the PT 2L which runs 180 lumen. If you look around you can find the ones with no strobe and only high output for about $45 to $50.
Maglights are, again, a very durable light that comes in many configurations. I think every one of us has seen the TV program COPS and the primary light of choice is Maglight for larger ones and Streamlight for smaller ones. If you are willing to put up with the extra weight, a Maglight, with LED conversion ($20, if not included in the initial purchase price) is far from a bad choice. In fact if you want a super durable light that will last and last, a Maglight with LED conversion, in three or four cell alkaline configuration is an excellent and comparatively inexpensive choice.
The assortment of Maglights available is nice, but some are only marginally useful. For example, the Mini-Maglights are in the low output range and even with LED emitters are still not very efficient, nor convenient to use.
While Xeno is my overall favorite, there is a new offering that has been out for only a few months. It is the MANKER T01. It runs on almost any flavor of AA battery and, naturally, varies the lumen output accordingly. An Alkaline AA (1.5V) will generate 500 lumen(!) on the highest setting, while a rechargeable Lithium Ion 14500 (3.7V) will put out 900 lumen! They are three and one half inches tall, with a barrel diameter of eight tenths of an inch and a bezel diameter of one and one-eighth inches. Quite small and VERY bright.
The earliest production versions had a domed emitter that was less than optimal. Later, early production had that corrected. You can tell early production by the name it ships under, GODMES T01.
The GODMES T01 can be had for $45 to $55, depending on where you find them. The MANKER T01 will sell for $65 on up. - . - . - . The GODMES seems an exceptional value, if you get the non-domed emitter.
Here we go again. Manker has another one that is rated at 1300 Lumen, and is "focused" at 700M (Yes Virginia, 700 METERS)! They recommend that you use 26650s rather than the 18650 because of the additional current draw. The good side is that it sells for $65! It is the Manker U21. Got mine and am REALLY impressed with the amount of light (lowest setting is 15 Lumen). At the lowest setting, it lights up the STOP sign at the end of the block and on High (not turbo) it lights up the building a block away!
The Zebralight SC5 is a new offering (read that as hard to find) that is small, light weight, runs in AA batteries (NOT the Li-Ion rechargable) and produces about 900 lumen output. Expensive, at $70, but seems to be an excellent choice for EDC.
My first excursion into high output flashlights was a 2-"D" cell unit from Home Depot. This is a 200 Lumen light with a very good focus (throw) that I got on sale for $20. Unfortunately Home Depot decided they were not making enough money off of their light and discontinued it. Later, and from there I went to CPF and found the Zebra-Light SC600. This is an EXCELLENT, high output, pocket size light, that is expensive ($125 counting everything to get it going properly) and extremely complex to operate (three sets of three options that you have to do a dance with the push button switch to activate). Nice, but less than optimal usability.
I happened on Xeno (DO NOT confuse them with the rip off Zeno) several years ago and they were very good. I still have several and they continue to work very well.
Some for consideration are:
I just ran across the Nitecore EA41 that I got from Amazon for $45.
It is rated at 1020 lumen, but I think that is overly optimistic. I
would guess at more like 750 to 775 lumen on turbo, but the remaining
settings seem in line with their ratings.
It runs on four AA batt's but will NOT handle the Lithium-Ion 14500s (excess voltage). It is a larger diameter light (about 1.5 inches by 4.5 inches) but still is easy to hold. Output is significant and has five settings from ONE lumen to, as I said above, about 750 lumen, just about evenly spaced. Well worth a look-see.
DANG if they didn't come out with another high output relatively small flash. The EC4GT is the limited edition of the EC4 series and is AMAZING! The difference between the various selections in that series is cosmetic AND the focal length of the beam. The "shortest" focus length is 300M and the GT version is 475M (that's just over 500 yards for us non metric people). Brighter than the EA41, but the same UI, which I find very nice. This one runs on a pair of 18650 or four CR123 batteries. If you can handle 18650 batteries and could have only one, LOOK CLOSELY at this one. Taint inexpensive ($76 delivered) but significant output (AND it comes with a nylon holster).
You can drop the bling (color bezel) and cut your price by ONE THIRD!
For a pocket sized MAJOR output light, look at the Nitecore MH20GT.
The MH20GT will run from $70 to $100 depending on where you get it. You can count on 1,000 limen output with various blink settings, to suppliment the low, medium, high and turbo modes. It runs on the 18650 battery (3.7V) and is water resistant to 1.5 meters. EXCELLENT little light (wish I got a comission).
You can also charge/re-charge it with the supplied USB to miniUSB cable. That means to can use a desk top charger or re-charge it in your car (with proper 5V USB source).
If you have been looking at the "output" ratings of various flash lights you will find many differences, based on how the manufacturer rates his product. Some will just say "Lumens", which usually indicates the "input". The output lumens are less than the input. While that may sound a bit confusing, the difference is in the efficiency of the LED itself, or how much power is "lost" converting the electrical energy to light.
You will find that some of the manufacturers hedge their bet by providing a Lumen rating and following it up with an "ANSI Lumen" rating. The "ANSI Lumen" is, for all intents and purposes, also known as the Out The Front (OTF) Lumen. IT is a measure of what you can expect to be usable light.
This is marketing at its worst. The manufacturer wants his product to sound like it is big and mean, so many of them will use the larger number (roll eyes). Fortunately, many of them are coming to understand the viability of a "usable" number.
In doing my research on various configurations and brands of LED lights I find that there are a veritable plethora of brands that have strobe modes included. To me, that is nothing but an annoyance that you have to "click through" to get the durned light shut off. How many of us need a strobe function? And of those that do, how often do you use the strobe, compared to how often you just want to shut the light off? To me, that is unnecessary garbage.
The above holds true for a large number of older lights. One new model, the Nitecore EA41 (and others I'll bet) give you one button access to the strobe AND one push of one button to shut it off. That "one press" on or off, removes much of my aversion to strobe. If you like it, have a ball.
The E03 and F7/F8 have YouTube videos available showing them doing a
drop test, from three feet, on concrete, THIRTY times. The lights just
keep on running. I consider that durability. The G42 has pictured, in
the manufacturer's web page, the G42 being run over with a 1.7 ton truck,
and still working. I'm impressed.
Xenos are three "mode" (high, low and ultra low [high, medium and low for mere mortals]). The default varies by model number. The E03 starts with medium and allows you to change the output by pressing lightly on the tail cap while it is in operation. The F7, F8, F42 and G42 all default to high, but you can lightly press the switch and index through the other modes until you get the one you want and then just press until it clicks. It will run at that output until it is shut off.
One last item you WILL want if you make the excursion into high(er?) output flashlights is lubrication for the tail-cap threads and the "O" rings that maintain the water resistance. The one that I have found to be the most efficient and easiest to obtain, yet relatively inexpensive, is the 3oz. tube of Super Lube. That is about a five year supply, but for $7 to keep everything working properly, and save "O" rings, that seems inexpensive to me.
Some of the more inexpensive sources for Xeno lights are directly from CHINA! Unless you want someone in another country to have your credit card information, take care.
I almost said to use PayPal, BUT I had a real problem with them. I was double charged for one transaction and had to really raise holy ned to get a refund of the overcharge. Finally got it and promptly forgot about it. UNTIL today. I just received an E-mail scam FROM PAYPAL that had the total dollars of the over charge and said that they are ready to process the refund . . . . . Except that I had to provide them with a laundry list of my banking information, "so they would know it was me". I used some impolite terms in telling them what strange and unnatural acts they should do to themselves. I doubt I will hear from them again, but HOW DID MY INFORMATION GET OUTSIDE OF PAYPAL?!
High output flashlights are far from inexpensive. Do you - really - need one? That is your decision. I like them and finding the one(s) that are the least expensive, yet excellent functionality/durability has been fun, even if a bit expensive. I hope my experience will be of use to you.
I have had "more than one" incident during after dark walks, where a really bright flashlight has kept them memorable, rather than problematical. If you are out after dark, a good flashlight is worth every penny.