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2005 SHOT Show LED Flashlight Review
ETS Contributing Editor Kathy Jackson

2005 SHOT Show logoIncreasing numbers of manufacturers are entering the LED flashlight field, with plenty of resulting redundancy. How many tactical LED lights can the market absorb? That remains to be seen, but the technology continues to improve.

Interestingly, as LED flashlight technology moves out of its infancy, LEDs are becoming more like incandescents in many ways. They are brighter, more widely available, and more likely to drain the batteries quickly than the old, dim LEDs of a few short years ago. Consumers can't take it for granted anymore that an LED flashlight will take just about forever to run out of juice simply because it's an LED. Whether it's an LED or an incandescent bulb, any light source producing more than just a trickle of light is using battery life to power that light. As LEDs get brighter, it is becoming increasingly important to watch out for battery drain when comparing LED flashlights.

In design trends, plenty of companies are producing lights of varying intensities, varying colors, or both. There continues to be a steady supply of dual-element lights, which feature LEDs and incandescents in the same light, but the trend appears to be away from such mixtures. Instead, more manufacturers are surrounding high-intensity LEDs with lower-intensity LEDs, or with LEDs in different colors, and designing circuitry to allow the user to step the power up or down to suit the need at hand. This makes good sense, if only because the presence of a more fragile incandescent bulb in the lamp negates the shock-proof advantage provided by LEDs. And with brighter LEDs not exceeding many incandescent bulbs, you no longer have to compromise in many cases. The light weight of LED technology also continues to inspire designers looking for the perfect unobtrusive source for personal illumination.

One trend we'd like to see is some manner of industry-wide standardized scale for flashlight comparison. As Doug Ritter noted two years ago, "We'll go on record here to suggest that it would add considerable legitimacy to the industry, and be a boon to consumers, if the flashlight industry would adopt standardized testing that consumers could rely upon to compare products from different companies."

As it is now, some companies provide no data at all about light output or projected run times, while others provide numbers that simply can't be taken at face value. Some are claiming unbelievably long run times, disregarding the difference between visible light and useful light, while others are scrupulously exact about what their products can be expected to do. Though we have used lumens where available, there simply isn't an industry-wide standard of comparing the light output of a flashlight from one company to the light output of another flashlight from a different company. Nor is there a widely accepted standard to define when the LED tail has stopped providing useful output. Nor, for that matter, have any of the various methods used been validated against their effectiveness at actually lighting something up so we can see it. The result is that every company has its own internally-defined standard, and the consumer is left swimming in a sea of misinformation.

What follows are just the highlights.  We have provided the specifications we received from the manufacturers for the most part; some are much better than others in what they provide, so blame them if you are missing some spec you'd like to have seen.

Prices quoted are manufacturer's suggested retail price as of February 8, 2005 (we don't waste pixels, or your intelligence, on 95 cents, we just round up). Most gear covered here can be purchased at significantly discounted prices from those quoted.

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Contributing Editor: Kathy Jackson
Email: Kathy Jackson
Publisher and Editor: Doug Ritter
Email: Doug Ritter
First Published: February 11, 2005
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