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How To Choose the Right Flashlight

When getting a flashlight there are so many terms and functions that need to be understood and questions you should ask that need to be answered. For example not many know what a lumen is, or the difference between types of bulbs, xenon or LED? Many of us have minimal knowledge about flashlights, thinking they come in “one size” or that the batteries always need to be changed, rather than having the choice of rechargeable batteries. Knowing the basics will help you understand the differences and what kind you will want to invest in. As any start to buy something, you need to know what will it be used for. What is the main purpose of having it? Does size matter, will it need to be stored in a glove compartment or maybe it will be placed in the shed. Just like most tools, a flashlight can serve to very specific tasks and not just “shining light.” Lets begin with terms you should familiarize yourself with.

Key Terms to Know and Understand

  • Bezel – the front or the “head” of the flashlight which includes the lens, reflector and bulb
  • Candlepower – the unit that expresses light intensity “measurement of brightness”
  • CR123 – a lithium primary battery, most common because of great weight to power ratio
  • Fast Charger – transformer used for quick charging lights
  • Halogen Bulb - is a bright bulb that maximizes light output but keeping the interior clean with Halogen gas
  • HID “High Intensity Discharge” – Lamp that has high light intensity with the use of less power
  • Incandescent - Electric light that uses wire filament to create electrical current passing through it till bulb lights
  • LED “Light Emitting Diodes” – Long-lived light bulb, can run up to 100,000 hours but is less power than an incandescent light bulb
  • Lumen – unit that measures the total amount of light emitted
  • NiCd “Nickel-Cadmium Battery” – high performance rechargeable battery
  • NiMh “Nickel-metal Hydride Battery” – rechargeable battery
  • Reflector – The part that surrounds the bulb and focuses and directs the beam
  • Run Time – the amount of time the batteries will last
  • Xenon Bulb – clean burning bright bulb that maximizes light output but with keeping interior clean through Xenon gas

Types of Light Bulbs

Incandescent Bulbs

How this works is that the incandescent light bulb is an electric light that uses a thin filament that creates a current to pass through it. This causes the filament to get hot in return making it glow, hence producing light. The glass surrounding it has more than one advantage. It prevents oxygen from destroying the filament and also the gas that is sealed in it increases the life of the filament and the temperature of the filament allowing the light to be brighter and at the same time keeping the interior clean. Using incandescent light bulbs for your flashlight has its advantages and disadvantages. To start with the disadvantages, they are not durable or shockproof which may be an asset in certain situations. On the advantageous side, they are extremely bright, powerful, easily focused, and great to use for long distances with amazing performance. If your need for a flashlight is sufficient with these characteristics it is the right choice to go for.

LEDs

This stands for ‘Light Emitting Diodes’ and they are greatly known for their long life, which can be up to 100,000 hours! This extremely durable bulb is a great choice when you want a long lasting bulb and not needing to worry about having to get a new one or the light suddenly shutting off on you. It’s long lasting life makes it cost efficient since you won’t need to constantly change it. It does lack in power when compared to the incandescent light, but it has an easy glow that makes especially good for close viewing. If your use doesn’t require too much power, or you’re mainly looking at close up objects, the LED would be the best option and it saves you money at the same time!

HIDs

This type of bulb stands for ‘High Intensity Discharge’ bulb and it uses a metal vapor instead of a filament. This makes it able to produce much brighter light in comparison to the standard incandescent and a much lower power. This is a great bulb because it will last you twice as long as an incandescent light bulb while giving you a brighter light to work with. Something you should know about this type of bulb is that it requires ballast for current control.

Understanding Brightness

First thing to know is that brightness is a very very very important feature in your flashlight. There is no sense in having one if you can’t see what you are looking for. This is why understanding it and getting the proper amount of brightness is important when making your purchase. So lets start understanding how brightness is being measured in your device!

When wanting to measure the brightest spot in a flashlights beam, the unit that expresses this light intensity is called the ‘Candlepower’ or ‘Peak Beam Candlepower’. On the other hand, when wanting to measure the total amount of light that is being emitted the unit it is measured in is known as a ‘Lumen’. You probably will not know what amount of lumen and candlepower you will need for your use without going and looking at the lights yourself. It will be much easier if you looked at the light, checked the numbers and then compared them to how it will work for your use. For example, if you had a keychain light that may be one lumen. On the other hand, a 2AA penlight with a one-watt LED lamp, one that you would use to change the tire of the car, roasting marshmallows at a campsite or checking your toolbox in a dark garage will offer about 45 lumens and have a life span of over three hours. If you tried to focus on an object two yards away with the same light pen, you won’t be able to see the object very well. If you replaced the light bulb with an incandescent bulb it will be able to illuminate light and focus on an object twenty yards away. Of course, if you did this, the battery will drain and cause the life span of the light  decrease for sure. Some do offer you the option of switching between the two types of light bulbs, so you would be able to use the appropriate type of bulb for the specific situation you are in. Some lights are so bright that they can temporarily blind someone and strobes, which are being used in tactical lights, have the capability to make someone lose balance!

Colored Beams – What Can They Do For You

Generally, colored lights are much easier on the eyes in comparison to the bright white light. They also serve your night vision better because your eyes won’t have to readjust themselves to the darkness as much, when you use a colored light. This is why in astronomy the viewers use red colored flashlight so they won’t have to wait as long for their eyes to readjust to be able to view the sky again. Many hunters like to use colored LEDs because they can help them have a more successful hunt. For example green light is used because it doesn’t easily spook the prey, the blue light helps in tracking blood and the red light is easiest on your eyes. If this is something that will be important for your use, make sure to choose an instrument with variable colored light.

Understanding Battery Power

There are many different types of batteries, with different kinds of lifespans and features. To know which will serve you better you need to understand a little bit about them. Lets begin.

Alkaline Battery

Many people may think that an alkaline battery is the outdated, too large and too heavy to use battery but they still have their advantages! They are perfect for moments when the power goes out at home or the circuit breaker trips and can last for days. Of course you need to know the amount of power you need and how long you will be using your instrument before you buy one. There are alternative power sources as well such as the rechargeable NiCD, NIMH or lithium ion batteries.

Three Volt Lithium Disposable Batteries

This type of battery gives you much more power than an alkaline of the same size. One lithium battery will give you the same power of two and a half alkaline batteries and yet weighs half as much as an alkaline. Another advantage to the lithium batteries is that is can maintain a constant voltage for 95% of their life span. Also, due to their low internal resistant they serve well for heavier loads.

Disposable Batteries

These types of batteries are handy to have as spared and are cheaper than the rechargeable batteries have a longer run time than a rechargeable battery. The downside to them is that they may in turn cost you more with long term and bright powered use.

Rechargeable Batteries

These may be the most cost efficient batteries for long-term use. For first purchase they will be pricier than any other battery but because you will buy them once and frequently reuse them, they will be more cost efficient. They can be used with a variation of high or low powered bulbs.

Battery Size

Size is not usually a concern when choosing your instrument, the general rule is usually that the battery size will depend on the size of your flashlight, the smaller the instrument the smaller the size of the battery will be. Some of course will require larger batteries because of their long use period. For example a wall mounted flashlight that is found in a firehouse will have a large rechargeable because of its high beam intensity and its everyday use for long periods of time. Again, battery size should not be a primary concern.

Flashlight Material – Metal or Plastic?

There are two types of materials that can be considered, metal or plastic frames. Of course the choice of what material should be used is up to you and our own personal preference. On one hand, metal can get cold and generally feels heavier than plastic, but some people prefer going with metal. On the other hand, many durable pistol frames are made of some sort of plastic material. You should take a look before making a purchase and see which one feels and looks better to you.

Cost of a Flashlight

When it comes to making your purchase knowing what you will be using it for will help you determine how much you should be spending on your instrument. If you will be using it for any light use, such as a spare form of light when the power is out, any flashlight will do the job and you won’t need to spend too much on it. You will be looking at a more durable instrument rather than a high-powered over built more expensive instrument. Remember that the rechargeable flashlight is more expensive at initial cost but will serve you more (at a cheaper cost) than a disposable battery instrument. Of course, if you are using it for a more serious use, such as tactical use, spending more will be no price for your safety. Just remember to keep in mind the use of your instrument when making a purchase.

Uses of Your Flashlight

There are many uses for your instrument ranging from something you need in case of emergencies, to hunting or viewing species, to even more serious uses such a Tactical.

Hunting

Many hunters like to use colored lights to get a more successful hunt because it can help them in viewing species without scaring them away and even seeing blood better. If you will be using the instrument for hunting purposes and buying an LED light would be best because of the long run time and soft light it gives. If you want to get one with different LED lights, it would be best to get an instrument that also has white light available. This way you can make use of all the colors in specific situations. In terms of headlights an adjustable band would be great for hunting use because you will have both hands free to use to make a proper hunt.

Scuba Diving

In terms of scuba diving you will need a light to be able to see the aquatic species in larger details, especially as you are diving very deep in water. When making a purchase you should make sure that it is a waterproof and you should check other specifications such as how many feet below it can withstand.

Law Enforcement

When we see a police officer we usually see a built around their waist that has different instruments on them. The flashlight serves them in various situations but these days they are handier than the 6 “D” cell metal flashlight we used to see. They were pretty much useless in comparison to the newer, smaller, lighter and more easily to use lights we have these days.

Marine and Spotting Use

You would use the same instrument for both these activities because they are requiring the same power for distance. A waterproof model would serve best for marines, and they would be able to identify boats in the distance and to an extent, even see under water objects. A spotlight would be perfect for tasks such as in field searching whether it was for a deer, grouse or fox!

Camping

When it comes to camping a flashlight will serve you well, especially if you want to tell horror stories, look for extra fire wood or just to see whatever is around you! The best type to get would be handheld, low-powered lights with LED. Also many campers like to use lanterns for tents in order to get a wide view of the area. This makes it easy to see everyone and everything around you.

Weapons Mounted

Many today believe that they need a weapon light on their pistols or their pistol will deem useless. Whether this is true or not many new pistols now have a groove in the dustcover that allows you to attach various types of tactical lights to it. There are many safety issues that can come with using a pistol-mounted light because some people don’t use it correctly and just use to it for the fact of using their mounted light. This should be taken seriously and with proper care around you. Some older models were too heavy and would cause some malfunctions with the pistol, luckily nowadays there are different lights of all sizes and weight that you can choose from. If you practice properly and use the appropriate type of mounted light, it can be a great tool to have and use. When purchasing the perfect flashlight for your firearm please consider the weight, brightness and reliability for your needs. Many rifles and shotgun will accept lights of all sizes so depending on the use and light intensity you can properly choose one. Remember that with any affixed light, you can have minor malfunctions, so practice before use and it will serve you to its best quality.

In Case of Emergency or Home Use

It is always good to be prepared in case of any emergency or mishaps! Many of us have at least one laying around at home, whether in a kitchen drawer or in a toolbox. An AA powered flashlight would serve you well if a circuit breaker crashed or the lights went off at home! Of course going with better quality lights can serve you for different occasions. An LED lamp would be worth investing in since they offer a long run time. Having more than one flashlight at home would be recommended and at least one of them having a bright and powerful light. Being prepared is the best thing you can do and will give you an ease of mind whenever put in a situation where they will need to be used!

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