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Flashlight Buying Guide 2020

Flashlight Buying Guide 2020

This is the 2020 update to the Flashlight Buying Guide, which has been completely re-written based on feedback from light painters. Whilst flashlight / torch trends are currently heading away from being useful for light painting, there are an increasing number of excellent lights purpose designed for light painters. Ratings are based on useful flashlight / torch design features for light painting such as:
– Evenly spaced brightness levels
– Mode memory – light turns on in previously used mode
– Momentary switch – light can be turned on temporarily by holding down the switch
– Constant frequency strobe – even better if the frequency can be adjusted
– Build quality / reliability / warranty
– Internal charging
– Price
I have added to each light’s description the maximum initial brightness in lumens, battery type, and an asterix (*) if the light has internal charging capabilities (or is supplied with a charger). Lumens for multi-colour/colour fading lights have not been quoted as lumen ratings are not directly comparable to white light lumens.

Flashlights

L to R – Light Excursion Sport, 3 Convoy S2+ with diffusers, Light Painting Paradise Lightpainter, Lumintop FW1A

Lights suitable for Light Painting Brushes and Light Painting Paradise connectors and adapters

Most of this article is written for flashlights that are suitable for the Light Painting Brushes Universal Connector (25-38mm head diameter), and Light Painting Paradise Adapters (20-38.5mm head diameter). Sections later in this buying guide cover other connectors and use cases.

Best High Brightness Flashlights
When you want to light paint in high ambient light conditions, you want a li-ion flashlight that can output a lot of lumens. All of these lights emit more than 1,500 lumens into light painting connectors. However, they won’t stay at maximum brightness for long due to heat.
1. Klarus XT2CR (1,600lm, 18650*) – my favourite light for high ambient brightness conditions, but not much else. Steps down after 30secs, and has an alternating frequency strobe.
2. BLF/Lumintop FW1A Pro (3,500lm, 18650) – very bright floody beam, but steps down within seconds. Adjustable frequency strobes at approx. 750lm. Tricky single button user interface. Throwier FW1A may be better for longer tools.
3. Olight M2R Pro (1,800lm, 21700*) – bright light with two stage turbo and strobe switch. Good strobe. Expensive, and steps down after 30secs.
Also consider the BLF/Lumintop FW21 (2,800lm, 21700), Olight M2R (1,500lm, 18650*), Klarus XT11GT (2,000lm 18650*), Klarus 360X1 (1,800lm 18650*), Convoy S11 (2,400lm, 26650), Convoy S21A (2,300lm, 21700).

Best Flashlights for Light Drawing
Momentary switches (also known as “forward clicky”, “tactical”, or “temporary” switches) allow for more control over on/off with a half press of the switch. These are very useful for intricate light drawing or light writing, especially when they work on all brightness and strobe modes. All of these lights can reach 900 lumens or more.
1. Light Painting Paradise Lightpainter (1,200lm, 18650*) – variable strobe frequency, variable strobe brightness, and momentary switch. Amazing flashlight and easy to use!
2. Light Excursion Deluxe 1200 (1,200lm, 18650) – 10 strobe modes and strobe frequency controlled by RF remote. On-board dimmer and momentary switch. Excellent heat handling.
3. Light Excursion T1000 (18650, internal*) – 10 strobe modes and strobe frequency controlled by RF remote. On-board dimmer and momentary switch.
4. Nitecore MT22C (1,000lm, 18650) – momentary switch with adjustable brightness wheel, plus strobe. Can be used with remote pressure switch.
5. Nitecore P10GT (900lm, 18650)- easy to switch between turbo and strobe modes on the fly. Can be used with remote pressure switch.
With constant frequency strobes also consider the Light Excursion Godzilla/Double Dragon (1,200lm, 18650) and Sport RGB (18650), Atactical/Wowtac A1S (1,150lm, 18650*), Thrunite TC12v2 (1,100lm, 18650*), Nitecore P26 (1,000lm 18650), Olight M1X (1,000lm, 18650, discontinued), Soonfire DS31 (1,050lm, 18650*), Nextorch TA30 (1,300lm, 18650) and Nextorch TA15 (600lm, 14500). With alternating frequency strobes also consider the Sofirn SP31v2 (1,200lm, 18650), and Fenix PD35TAC (1000lm, 18650).

Best Flashlight for Strobes
In the last year or two, there has been an increasing number of strobe-tastic lights designed with input from light painters. The best of these are below:
1. Light Painting Paradise Lightpainter (1,200lm, 18650*) – variable strobe frequency, variable strobe brightness, and momentary switch. Amazing flashlight and easy to use!
2. Light Excursion Deluxe 1200 (1,200lm, 18650) –  10 strobe modes and strobe frequency controlled by RF remote. On-board dimmer and momentary switch. Excellent heat handling. M version has auxiliary jack.
3. Light Excursion T1000 (18650, internal*) – 10 strobe modes and strobe frequency controlled by RF remote. On-board dimmer and momentary switch.
4. Lumintop FW1A (1,200lm, 18650) – biggest strobe frequency range, but fixed strobe brightness at 750lm. Tricky single button user interface. Available in cool, neutral, and warm white, and well priced. Similarities to other FW series lights.
5. Light Excursion Godzilla (1,200lm, 18650) – Combination of Sport RGB at one end and Deluxe 1200 at the other. Double Dragon option is similar, but with parallel light sources.
Flashlights with constant frequency strobes include Thrunite TC12v2* (12.5Hz), Atactical/Wowtac A1S* (12.5Hz), Zanflare F1* (10Hz), Olight M2R* (9Hz), Olight M2T (13Hz), Nitecore P10GT (10Hz with 33% on time), Nitecore MT22C and P26 (19.5Hz with 33% on time), Nextorch TA15 and TA30 (10Hz), Folomov 18650S (7Hz), and Threeworlds Concentrate C5.

Lightpainter

Light Painting Paradise Lightpainter has adjustable strobe frequency

Strobe and PWM

Fast Strobe from Lumintop FW1A and Slow PWM from Ledlenser P7QC

Best Colour Flashlights
These have multi-colour options, but cannot fade between colours.
1. LED Lenser P7QC (4xAAA) – solidly built Red, Green, Royal Blue, White flashlight with 7 year warranty. Noticeable PWM.
2. Light Excursion Sport RGB (18650) – 7 colours (4 mixed) Red, Green, Blue, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, White, plus 10 strobe modes controlled by RF remote. Pretty beam pattern with LE lens option.
3. KDLITKER E6 w/Triple Cree XP-E2 (18650) – cheap P60 based light where you can choose 3 emitter options from Red, Blue, Royal Blue, Green, Amber, Warm White, Neutral White, or Cool White.
There are also a few lights available with single colour LEDs include Jaxman E2L Color (18650), Maglite XL50 Spectrum Series (3xAAA), and KDLITKER E6 (18650) with single or triple emitter colour P60 drop in options.

Pretty beam pattern from Light Excursion Sport LE

Pretty beam pattern from Light Excursion Sport LE

Best Colour Changing Flashlights
The colour changing flashlight market has improved considerably in the last few years. All of these lights can mix colours, allowing for colour fades and other creative effects.
=1. Antsonamelon RGB Critter (18650*) – Large selection of colours, fades, strobes, and brightness levels controlled  by 3 on-board buttons. Can save custom settings. Native tool attachments available, firmware updates, and reasonable price. Expected delivery from Q4 2020.
=1. Light Excursion Deluxe RGB (18650)- excellent controls, with great colour fade, pulse, and flash modes controlled by RF remote. On-board dimmer and momentary switch. M option has auxiliary jack. Best colour fading light available at the time of writing.
3. Ignis Shop Color LED Torch (internal*) – same modes as the above light, but with a simpler user interface. Always starts from same point in colour fade for consistency. RF remote control.
4. Threeworlds Concentrate C5 (AAA, needs padding to fit in connectors) – great price, excellent programmable effects modes, but not very bright.
Also consider the light units from the Fiberflies Pixelwhip Rev 4 (18650*) and GloFX Space Whip Remix (18650*) light sources.

Ignis Torch

Created with Ignis Shop Color LED Torch

Best Zoom Lights
Zoom lights are more useful for controlled illumination purposes, rather than being connected to light painting tools. They have thermal limitations, and few options have good user interfaces. If you really need compact zoom lights, consider:
1. Fenix FD30 (900lm, 18650) – momentary switch, mode memory, but alternating freq. strobe.
2. Wowtac A3S (1,000lm, 18650*) – includes USB rechargeable battery, mode memory for all modes except turbo and strobe.
3. Klarus FX10 (1,000lm, 18650*) – a zoom version of Klarus’s popular XT series lights, but alternating freq. strobe.
4. Ledlenser MT10 (1,000lm, 18650*) – popular zoomy, but poor value for money, and lots of PWM.
5. Convoy BD04 (400lm, 18650*) – cheap zoom light available in 5 different colour temperature options.
Also consider the Coast Polysteel 400 (440lm, 4xAAA), G50 (355lm, 3xAAA), and TX9R (300lm, internal/4xAAA*), and XTAR WK007 (500lm, 14500). Whilst the popular Ledlenser MT18 (3,000lm, internal*) is too large for light painting connectors, Light Painting Paradise make a filter holder and colour filter set for it.

Best Budget Lights
There are many excellent and high quality flashlights if you are on a budget. These are all below US$40:
1. Wowtac A1S (1,150lm, 18650*) – includes USB rechargeable battery, momentary switch, and mode memory (but not for strobe mode).
2. Sofirn SP31v2 (1,200lm, 18650) – momentary switch, evenly spaced brightness levels, mode memory (but not for alternating freq. strobe mode).
3. Convoy S2+ (<800lm, 18650) – often under US$20. Impressive but confusing range of cool, neutral, warm white, high CRI, and even UV LED emitter options, 2 different user interfaces, different power outputs, different body colours, diffuser, and tail magnet accessories. (Note: only the older 3/5 mode user interface has a good strobe, but the newer Biscotti user interface is otherwise better).
4. Folomov 18650S (900lm, 18650*) – includes USB rechargeable battery, can move between strobe and continuous on the fly.
5. Zanflare F1 (1,000lm, 18650*) – mode memory and good strobe.
Many cheap flashlights available from hardware stores such as the Energizer 2AA or 3AAA lights will also fit light painting connectors, but there are better budget lights available for light painting. Do not be fooled into buying cheap lights with ludicrous lumen ratings from Amazon, eBay, or other online retailers.

Flashlights for Other Light Painting Connectors

Liteblades KYO – the connector screws into the head of some Klarus lights, which allows for a solid connection for impressive fast snappy movements, and easy access to side switches. Unfortunately they all have an alternating frequency strobe unless the strobe switch is held down. It is however possible to move between turbo and strobe modes on the fly, and all lights can be controlled by a remote pressure switch. Recommended options include the Klarus XT11GT (2,000lm, 18650*, PWM on low and mid modes), Klarus XT11S (1,100lm, 18650*, no PWM), and Klarus XT12S – (1,600lm, 18650*, more concentrated beam). It is also possible to connect the KYO to the Light Painting Brushes Universal Connector, opening most of the previously mentioned lights in this article, as well as the Light Excursion lights with LE connector. However the connection is not as solid.

Light Painting Tubes – these have no connector as the light sits inside the tube, attached by a side clip. Recommended lights (in no particular order) include the Nitecore MT22C (1,000lm, 18650), Nitecore P10GT (900lm, 18650), Klarus XT2CR – (1,600lm, 18650*), BLF / Lumintop FW21 (2,800lm, 21700) or FW1A (1,200lm, 18650), Olight M2R Pro (1,800lm, 21700*), Olight M2R (1,500lm, 18650*), and Light Painting Paradise Lightpainter (1,200lm, 18650*).

Lumenman – this connector accepts lights with relatively large head sizes between 32-40mm. Lights recommended on Lumenman’s website include the Led Lenser M7RX (600lm, 18650), Klarus XT11S (1,100lm, 18650*), Klarus XT11GT (2,000lm, 18650*), Nextorch TA40 (1040lm, 18650*) and PA5 (600lm, 18650*).

Liquid Light – the Ledlenser D14.2 (400lm, 4xAA) is a diving light that is compatible with Denis Smith’s Liquid Light Painting tools. He sells a black painted version, instead of the stock luminous version.

Apologies if I’ve missed any other light painting systems!

Flashlights that don’t fit in Light Painting connectors

Best Extremely Bright Flashlights
These lights have impressive max brightness, and can sustain >1,500 lumens without getting too hot.
1. Thorfire/Sofirn Q8 (5000-6000lm, 4×18650) – includes a very useful tripod thread, great for backlighting! Thorfire Q8 is neutral white, Sofirn Q8 is cool white.
2. Ledlenser X21R* (5,000lm, internal*) – brightest zoom option, and much improved over previous X21 versions.
3. Olight X7R* (12,000lm, internal*) – best consumer option with internal rechargeable batteries.
4. Acebeam X80-GT (32,000lm, 4×18650) – brightest light with a tripod thread.
5. Imalent MS18* (100,000lm, internal*) – best for people who want to show off, and have money to burn!
Also consider the budget Sofirn SP70 (5,500lm, 2×26650) , Sofirn SP36 (6,000lm, 3×18650), Convoy L6 (4300lm, 2×26650), Emisar D18 (14,000lm, 4×18650), and the more expensive Olight X9R (25,000lm, internal*).

Thorfire Q8

The Thorfire Q8 has a tripod mount for backlighting

Best Headlamps
Headlamps are an underrated piece of equipment for when out at night. Most are fit for purpose, but always be aware of run times on each brightness level so that you are not left in the dark in the middle of nowhere.
– Nitecore NU25 (360lm, internal*) – compact and rechargeable, great for short outings and running (8h at 38lm). Red and high CRI auxiliary lights.
– Nitecore HC65* (1,000lm, 18650*)- excellent all-rounder. Bright, or long runtime (16h at 80lm). Red and high CRI auxiliary lights.
– Olight H2R* (2,300lm, 18650*) – very high brightness (2,300lm max) or long runtime (50h at 30lm).

Other Notable Lights
Other notable lights that don’t fit into any of the above categories, but are useful for light painting include:
– Protomachines LED8 (2×18650) – expensive professional colour mixing light with advanced features including exposure timers. There is also a less expensive LED2 model.
– Yongnuo YN360iii (2,700lm, NP-F750) – excellent budget video light wand with RGB colour mixing and variable colour temperature options.
– LumeCube 2.0 (1,500lm, internal*) – waterproof video light that can be controlled remotely by Bluetooth.
There are also plenty of budget video lights that can be used for scene illumination purposes.

Whilst not technically flashlights, the following lights are useful for light writing and calligraphy:
– Light Painting Paradise Freehand Pencil (A23) – light pen, RF remote control with 20 colours, adjustable brightness, and colour fades.
– Dariustwin Night-Writer (internal*) – light writing pen with 8 colour tips.
– Light Excursion Calligraphy Light (internal*) – seriously impressive light calligraphy tool. A swiss army knife of lighting!

Conclusion

This article has listed many flashlights that will make light painting easier. Your light painting techniques will determine which lights are most suitable, and I would advise building up a collection of lights that meet your requirements.

I usually state which flashlights are used for Light Painting photos on my Instagram account, so check that out if you are interested to know which light was used to create a specific effect.

Light Painting Community flashlight links:

Light Painting Paradise – website

Light Excursion – website and instagram

Lumintop FW series – website (affiliate link)

Antsonamelon – website

Ignisshop – website

Dariustwin Night-writer –  website

 

About The Author

Stephen Knight

Photographer from Brisbane, Australia. I have been into light painting photography since 2014, and have a keen interest in the equipment side of light art (flashlights, light painting tools, and software).

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