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GreatLite introduced the TactLITE series of black tactical lights. Oddly, one of the lights in this series runs on two D-cell batteries, making it far too large for a tac light and too large to review here for our purposes. Of the other lights in the series, 2AA is available now, while 1AA should be in production sometime this spring.
TactLITEs are O-ring sealed for water resistance (not submersible) and feature sensitive tailcap switches that cannot be locked off. The knurling on the 1AA light body gives a fairly secure grip, while the 2AA 's knurling is more subtle and not quite as secure. The 1AA throws its light by a standard reflector, while the 2AA uses a collimator type lens. In both cases, the beam is fairly narrow, with a hot center and limited spill.
Other than the low price point, there's not a whole lot to set these lights apart from the plethora of other black "tactical" LED lights crowding the field these days. It will be interesting to see how the marketplace deals with them.
HDS Systems introduced its programmable EDC series of lights last year. This year, designer Henry Schneiker was showing off several new variants.
First, the heavy-duty EDC-HD. The reflector is the same size as the original EDC, but the reflector housing is much beefier. Although the original EDCs are quite robust, a light that small, carried in a pocket day after day, takes a lot of abuse, so the beefed-up casing may not be a bad idea at all.
EDC-HD is available in very bright 60- and 85-lumen versions, and comes with a 2X battery tube. (See more about EDC battery tubes in the entry below.) They both put out a lot of light despite their Lilliputian size; if the one-hour runtime seems a bit scant, remember that you can always step the light down to conserve battery power.
Like most of the other lights in the series, EDC-HD has four basic programmable settings. Through these four settings, most features can be customized. If there's something you think a flashlight should be able to do, odds are you can step through a menu to make this flashlight do it.
This has a downside: the user's manual runs to 13 pages, and users definitely need every page of the instructions to get full value from the light. While you don't need instructions to simply turn the light on or off, and it is simple to select a brightness level for one-time use, using the other features takes a little more work. To change a programmed default setting, for instance, the user clicks the button 10 times to enter a menu, clicks a few more times to select the specific feature, and then presses to set or clear the feature. Getting lost inside the menus is not only possible, it's nearly inevitable on the first trip through. Technophobes beware.
Once default settings are selected, running the light is as simple as running any other multi-featured flashlight.
Designed for those who need to throw the light a bit further, EDC-LR features a 1 3/4-inch reflector. EDC-LR is available in 60-lumen and 85-lumen variants. The internal features are consistent with others in the EDC lineup (see details above).
Also introduced this year were several new accessory battery tubes. EDC lights will easily accomodate a wide variety of battery-cell numbers and chemistry types, from 1.8 volt to 7.3 volt. The circuitry is designed to handle both rechargeables and disposables properly, to prevent overdischarge of rechargeables while using every last bit of power from disposables. Now that additional battery tubes are available, EDC owners have even more flexibility in choosing battery types. All the accessory battery cases come complete with switch and battery cap so you can store spare batteries in the battery case. Obviously, the overall length of the flashlight will vary according to which battery configuration is chosen.
Of interest to military readers especially, infrared versions of the EDC should be available before the end of the year.
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Funky-looking squarish lights with shark-gill heads, the new Inova Radiant series from Emissive Energy Corp. are designed and priced to appeal to the mid-to-lower end of the LED market. The bodies are polymer, with rubberized grips, and have lanyard holes near the tail. The square design is, of course, anti-roll, while the gill-like slits in the heads function as venting for cooling and energy efficiency. Despite the gills, the lights are water-resistant. The products appear to be durable and well-made.
In order to keep the end cost down, instead of using Inova's TIROS lens, the Radiant series uses a simple reflector lens. For similar reasons, the lights run on less expensive alkaline batteries, rather than on more efficient and lighter weight lithium ones.
If the info tables look a little empty, that is because the company has moved away from providing lumen output, and no longer talks about the wattages of the LEDs in its products. According to Senior VP Peter Gediman, the move has been made at least partly because there is no industry standard governing what luminosity means or how it should be measured. Gediman also points out that an 80% efficient 1-watt LED is going to give you more light than a 40% efficient 2-watt LED, but because there's no industry standard requiring disclosure of efficiency along with wattage, the uninformed can easily be led astray by wattage listings.
Instead of using these often-abused terms, the company provides numbers that they say measure how the light actually performs. Consumers want to know how far the beam will throw useful light, and how far away it can be seen. Therefore, the company provides numbers to assess each light's "effective range" and "signal visibility."
Effective range for R3A-T is listed as 100 feet, while signal visibility is given as 1 mile.
For the R2A-T, the numbers are 150 feet and 1.5 miles respectively.
Unfortunately, the company literature does not provide data as to how the above numbers are arrived at, nor tell us how exactly they are measured. Without that crucial information, the numbers might allow you to compare various products within the Inova line but aren't going to help a whole lot if you want to know how these lights stack up to those produced by other companies. The yardstick Emissive Energy is using might be a good one, but it isn't one that anyone else is using.
All of this really highlights the need for a uniform industry standard for measuring output from personal lights. And, that conveniently provides the perfect seque to:
The non-profit Equipped To Survive Foundation believes there is a need for industry-wide standards that can be used to objectively measure the output parameters of portable directed lighting devices such as flashlights and headlamps and present that information to the end user in a useful manner. The ETS Foundation has started soliciting stakeholder interest in the development of such standards and is proposing that a committee be set up under ASTM International for development of consensus standards suitable for these purposes. If you are involved in this industry or are an institutional, military, government or non-governmental organization user of these lights who would benefit from such standards, please click here to email Doug Ritter for more information about these activites.
Inova's X-series line is being reshuffled. Perhaps also a bit confusingly, the current Inova XO is being renamed the Inova XO2 because it now features "twice the optical output" of the former XO. One assumes that means it now has a 2-watt LED instead of a 1-watt, but given the company's move away from using wattage labels to describe the LEDs in their products, that's simply a guess.
The product described in the info box above, the new XO, will be released in June. Think of it as a smaller version of the existing Inova XO3, because it has the same basic shape and flared head as the XO3. However, instead of the TIROS optics, the new XO uses a reflector system. The reflector delivers a bright hot spot with plenty of side spill, so the new XO can be considered a general-purpose light.
The tailcap switch is barely protrusive and functions as a momentary-push type. Constant on is achieved with a twist.
At $40, the new XO is the least expensive member of the X-series family.
LEDheads, technophiles, and flashaholics would have enjoyed stopping by the JS Burly's booth. Burly's has teamed up with some very gear-oriented folks to sell the newest hotness in high-end lights.
First, there's Indium SMART from designer Angus Noble, claimed to be the world's first flashlight with a built-in USB port so it can easily be programmed through your Windows-based computer. Perhaps first to production would be the better description. At a projected $350 retail, this is definitely not the flashlight for the fellow standing in the Wal-Mart aisle trying to decide whether the light that comes with batteries is a better deal than the one that comes without batteries. But for the dedicated gear freak, the technology is eye-popping.
The question most often asked of the poor guys on the SHOT Show floor: why in the world does anyone want a programmable flashlight?
The big advantage of such a beast is that it allows a nearly infinite level of customization. Want a light that dials up more slowly or more quickly than most other folks want it, or that comes on at midpoint and dials down from there? Need a way to throw a specific Morse code message to a buddy across the canyon? Want a light that allows you to dial through only options that you yourself ever use, and doesn't ever cycle past ones you don't like and don't use? Ever wish you had a light that allowed you to use it as a superbright tac light for a couple of weeks a year, but then functioned as a battery-saving general purpose light the rest of the time? Can't make up your mind which of multiple functions or settings you would find most handy, and want to try out several before you decide? All of these are attainable with the flexibility of a programmable flashlight.
Because the SMART light is fully-programmable by computer, the buyer will be able to easily upgrade the flashlight's software to match when new hardware becomes available. The stiff $350 price tag on the Indium SMART might turn out to be an decent investment in the long run, especially for those who simply must have the latest and greatest when it first arrives. Because LEDs are circuitry-dependent, when there is an improvement in LED hardware, last year's flashlight can rarely, if ever, be improved by simply dropping in this year's improved LED. But the core component of the Indium SMART would allow it to upgrade to newer LED hardware by simply replacing the LED module and following it with a simple software update. The SMART can provide up to 1500mA of current to the LED, more than enough for any LED on the market today and with plenty of wiggle room for improving technology.
The heart of the Indium SMART is a small round tube upon which can be found a tripod socket and a control button. A LED module snugs into one end and the USB port can be found at the other. The front of the SMART tube is threaded to accept the reflector, while the rear is threaded to accept the battery tube. The battery tube includes a rear tailcap switch. When fully assembled, the Indium SMART thus contains two control switches: a simple tailcap switch and a more complex midbody one. Both switches can be completely customized.
Because the SMART is programmable, users will be able to select the number and battery types they prefer to power their flashlight. The SMART accepts an input voltage from 1.8 volts to over 12 volts, allowing users to get the last drop of power from their chosen battery type. Different-sized battery tubes will be available.
Obviously, the choice of which battery type, and how many cells, will dictate how long the flashlight becomes and how much it will weigh. Length and weight will also be affected by reflector choice. Runtimes will vary depending not just upon battery choice, but upon which settings are chosen and how they are used.
Potential consumers can download the SMART's programming software at http://smart.angusnoble.com/ to explore how it all works.
Next up at the JS Burly's booth, flashlight designer Don McLeish added a new item to his McLux series - the McLuxIII-PD.
Barely larger than the CR123A lithium battery it contains, the McLuxIII-PD is a general purpose flashlight which offers two levels of momentary light with a flick of the tailcap switch, or a smooth segue between low and high constant on by twisting the bezel head. The McLux series is a well-known secret in the online flashlight community, and the big news here is that because JS Burly's has picked up the design, they will soon be available to ordinary consumers and not only as custom orders for web addicts and flashaholics.
The McLuxIII-PD is small enough for every day carry in a pocket, while being bright enough for most tasks. The pocket clip and bezel ring are very robust, available in either titanium or stainless steel. On such a small light, the scalloped bezel couldn't be considered a self-defense tool; it is only a styling feature (albeit an attractive one).
Waterproof-tested to 120 feet, McLuxIII-PD gives a decently bright, narrow beam and good runtimes.
Also hanging at the JS Burly's booth was LumenCraft Inc.'s Walter Bachtiger, GatLight's primary designer. So named because it strongly resembles the Gatling gun of historic fame, GatLight's unusual styling is the designer's approach to solving the heat-shed problem that plagues most LED designers. Put simply, the more efficient the heat sink surrounding an LED, the brighter the resulting light will be, and the longer the battery will last. The catch is that an efficient heat sink often involves thin-walled designs that simply don't hold up well under stress.
Rather than sacrificing sturdiness for heat-shedding ability, or vice versa, Bachtiger set out to design a light that was both maximally robust and maximally efficient at shedding heat. The result is weirdly attractive and looks like something Scotty would hook up to the Enterprise's engine right before the whole ship disappears. Made of stainless steel, with special orders available in titanium or aircraft-grade aluminum, a cage of slender metal poles surrounds the GatLight's battery and guts. The screw heads are also customizable, offered in a variety of styles. This unique design provides a very large heat sink, while hopefully remaining muscular enough to hold up to everyday wear and tear.
Obviously the design team is made up of the kind of guys who wear suspenders and a belt: despite the efficient heat sink, GatLight also includes two temperature sensors which step the light down to a save level if the LED or its circuitry become overheated. There is also a temporary overdrive feature which allows the LED to be driven at the extreme edge of the brilliance envelope for a temperature-dependent amount of time.
Surprisingly in view of its open design, the GatLight is waterproof to at least 1 meter. All of the electronic components are fully sealed behind silicone elastomers. And, although the sides of the battery are open to the water, it becomes waterproof because the contact ends are protected in silicone boots.
The lightly-textured rear switch on the GatLight dials up through an unlimited number of brightness levels. Each individual click of the switch as it rotates is distinct, but the overall feel of the dial is very smooth. The brightest setting provides a blinding 90 lumen, which the designer projects will become 120 lumen when Luxeon's K2s become available. The light is fully-regulated, so brightness will remain a constant during the life of the battery.
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Contributing Editor: Kathy Jackson
Email: Kathy Jackson
Publisher and Editor: Doug Ritter
Email: Doug Ritter
First Published: February 26, 2006
Revision: 01 March 2, 2006
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