These Colors Don't Run - Remember 9.11.2001 Equipped To Survive
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LED Flashlights

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Photon Micro-Lights - 1,2 & 3 (LtoR)L.R.I.'s David Allen can be credited with creating the now huge market for pocket size, single white LED flashlights with their original diminutive Photon Micro-Light, later upgraded to the Photon I ($12) with a better case design providing far better water resistance and tougher glass reinforced polyurethane body. While the Photon I is still in production, its major drawback is the momentary switch that requires constant pressure to keep the light switched on. L.R.I. addressed this shortcoming with its second-generation light, the Photon II.

The Photon II ($20) is the same oval size, 1 9/16 x 15/6 x 5/16 inches, but with an on-off slide switch added to the momentary switch. The little slide switch is easy to operate with a fingernail or a finger, albeit a bit more difficult, but it can be difficult with cold weather gloves.  While not water resistant like the Photon I, that slide switch penetrates the momentary switch button, we've gotten them soaked, blew the water out and they still worked fine. 

Photon IIThe LED on the Photons protrudes from the case and over time the surface will become slightly less than perfectly clear from constant pocket carry. This hasn't appeared have much detrimental impact on brightness.  We've run over the lights with a truck and they have still functioned afterwards, they will take a lot of punishment.

The Photon II body is held together with four small #0 Phillips screws. (Be sure to carry a small screwdriver if you plan on changing batteries in the field. An available Accessory Kit ($12) includes spare batteries, a screwdriver, spare screw, lanyard attachment with clip, 2 sets Velcro fasteners, a neck lanyard with clip and instructions). The white LED version relies upon a pair of 3-volt CR-2016 lithium cells lasting about 14 hours (as does the green, turquoise and blue LED models).  Red, orange and yellow LED versions use a single CR 2931 3-volt lithium cell and last around 100 hours of use.   An infrared version is $25.  An ultraviolet (UV) model, for hunting those scorpions, perhaps, or illuminating blood traces at a crime scene, will set you back $46.

Photon II back showing small screwsThe lights are shipped with a small high quality split ring in the 3/16 in. lanyard hole with a larger quality one-inch key ring attached.  The very useful Lanyard Attachment, a 2 1/4 inch nylon cord lanyard with a clothing clip on the end, is now sold separately (also as part of the above accessory kit) for $2.  

The Photon II is designed so that neither the slide switch nor momentary switch is activated if the light is laid flat and pressure applied. However, it is still possible to activate the light in storage if pressure is applied directly to the switch, so care must be taken if packing it into a survival kit.

L.R.I.'s new Photon Micro-Light 3 ($26) incorporates a microchip into the same package size for on-off control and to regulate the intensity and function of the LED. The case has lost the screws and now snaps together in the same manner as the Photon I.  This eases battery changes; only time will tell how it holds up in the field compared to the Photon II. The use of the digital control eliminates the manual switch that compromised water-resistance in the Photon II, so it will be as water resistant as the Photon I, which proved effectively waterproof to six feet in our tests.  It is also much easier to use with gloves on.

Photon 3 showing microcip and snap-off backThree light levels are provided (bright, medium and low), as well as three rates of flashing light performance (rapid, medium and slow). Also included is an auto-off mode that turns the light off after 60 seconds (it starts with an initial three second of rapid flashing so you know it's in auto-off mode; a shorter annoying flashing period would be fine with us). This is designed to prevent run-down of the batteries if inadvertently switched on in your pocket.

As before, the oval switch is set into the top of the housing. Holding down the rear portion of the switch steps the unit through the seven different modes in four-second intervals. This takes a significant amount of pressure, such that cycling through all the modes gets slightly uncomfortable. One test subject with a weak grip due to health problems found this a difficult task. When switched off (press on, press off on the rear portion of the switch), the chip retains the last mode of operation, returning to that mode when the light is turned on again.

Pressing the forward portion of the switch instantly restores the light to full brightness when required, no matter what mode it is in. However, this is a momentary switch only and the inability to instantly go from another mode to constant on mode left us frustrated.

Photon's clip w/ lanyardBattery drain at full brightness is the same as with the Photon 2, expect about 14 hours out of the white LED model.  The medium and dim setting offer considerable improvement in battery life, about double and 10 times, respectively.  We found the lowest brightness level quite adequate for many uses once our eyes were dark-adapted.  It is even bright enough for nighttime travel, though the brighter settings are probably better in such use, from a practical and safety perspective.

The lesser adverse impact on night vision from the lower illumination levels can be a big advantage, no matter what color LED is being used.  The added battery life from using the lower settings is also a potentially important advantage in some circumstances.  LRI had no information on battery life for the flashing modes, and we didn't have enough batteries or funds (those lithium batteries are not cheap, $2.79 each from Radio Shack!) to explore that issue.

As with the Photon II, care must be taken when packing the Photon 3.  The auto-off mode won't protect from constant pressure that will keep the LED lit, cycling through the modes until the battery is depleted.

A Photon 3 “Covert” model ($28) includes a shield around the exposed LED to prevent side scatter. That could be a real benefit in many circumstances, not just because you're trying to be stealthy.

L.R.I.'s Photon Micro-Lights are made in the U.S., with the exception of the microprocessor and circuit board in the Photon 3, which are made in China.  They all come with a limited lifetime warranty.

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First Published: June 7, 2001
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