Flashlight Buying Guide 2021
This is the 2021 update to the Flashlight Buying Guide for Light Painting Photographers. Flashlight/torch ratings are based on feedback from light painters, flashlight enthusiast reviews, and my own testing.
Each light’s description includes the maximum 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 colour lumen ratings are not directly comparable to white light lumens.
It should be noted that most flashlights step-down from their maximum brightness after a few minutes, or in some cases, in 30 seconds or less! Also, be aware that many cheap’n’nasty lights (not reviewed in this article) are advertised with highly exaggerated lumens.
Best Flashlights for Light Painting Systems
Flashlight designs seem to be progressing away from designs suitable for use with commercial light painting systems (i.e. connecting to tools). However, there are still quite a few commercial flashlights that are suitable for light painting, and an increasing number of lights designed specifically for light painters. New to this 2021 Buying Guide, I will describe each light, followed by a matrix showing which featured lights are compatible with each of the following light painting systems – Light Painting Brushes, Light Painting Paradise, Light Painting Tubes/(North American sized) T8 Tubes, Liteblades KYO, Lumenman, and Liquid Light.
White light output
– Light Painting Paradise LightPainter – Ryu’s Lightworks (1,200lm, 18650*) – designed by Ryu’s Lightworks specifically for light painters. Tail switch for on/off/momentary. Side switch for changing modes. Adjustable strobe frequency up to 66Hz, adjustable strobe brightness, mode memory, momentary switch, trigger mode, and no brightness step-down. Amazing flashlight and highly recommended by light painters! (Disclaimer: I am a product ambassador for Light Painting Paradise, however the prototype Ryuslightworks V2 was my favourite flashlight before I had any involvement with the company).
– Light Excursion Topgun 1200M (1,200lm, 18650*) – designed by Light Excursion for light painters. This handmade light has 10 strobe/effect modes controlled by RF remote, plus on-board dimmer and momentary switch. Excellent heat handling, internal charging, plus an auxiliary jack. Whilst the range of strobe frequencies is on the slow end of the scale, the strobe and pulse effects can be very creative.
– Nitecore P10GT (900lm, 18650) / P10v2 (1,100lm, 18650) – dual tail switch light that makes it easy to switch between turbo and 10Hz strobe modes on the fly. Momentary switch on all brightness settings. Can be used with a remote pressure switch. 3 minutes until brightness step-down. Noticeable Pulse Width Modulation (PWM).
– Lumintop FW1A (1,200lm, 18650) – cheapest tail switch light with adjustable strobe frequency (up to 112Hz), but fixed strobe brightness at 750lm max. Have had some negative feedback on reliability and the confusing “Anduril” user interface. The light steps-down in brightness due to heat almost immediately, and rapidly drops to just 250 lumens. However, it is great for generating “fairy dust” effects, or short-duration light trails. The similar FW21 (2,800lm, 21700), FW3A (2,800lm, 18650), and FW1A Pro (3,500lm, 18650) all very briefly output more lumens. (Another disclaimer: momentary functionality for strobe modes was added based on my feedback).
– Olight Warrior Mini (1,500lm, 18650*) – two stage tail switch allows for momentary for turbo and strobe, or turbo and medium modes. 90 seconds until brightness step-down. Optional remote pressure switch. Good for light painting in high ambient brightness. Uses an Olight proprietary 18650 battery.
– Nitecore MT22C (1,000lm, 18650) – discontinued, but still be available at some retailers. Momentary switch with adjustable brightness wheel (which needs care when inserting into the connector/adaptor/tubes), plus 19Hz strobe. Can be used with a remote pressure switch.
– Klarus XT11GT (2,000lm, 18650*) – a popular light for the Liteblades KYO system, with dual tail switch and side switch. PWM on low and mid modes. Optional remote pressure switch. The older Klarus XT11S (1,100lm, 18650*) is PWM free. Strobes are alternating frequency unless the strobe switch is held down. Note: The newer XT11GT Pro has not been confirmed to be compatible with the KYO.
– Nextorch P80 (1,300lm, 18650*) – recommended for the Lumenman system. Dual side switch with instant access to either momentary high, or constant medium. Can enter and release strobe from any mode.
– Ledlenser P6R Signature (1,400lm, 18650*) – contrary to light painting folklore, zoom lights are far from essential for light painting. However, if you really need a zoom light, this light is much improved over previous Ledlenser models in terms of sustained output, user interface, no PWM, and CRI. Expensive, but with a 7 year warranty.
– Folomov 18650S (900lm, 18650*) – quirky budget light that includes a USB rechargeable battery, and can move between 7Hz strobe and continuous on the fly, or momentary operation using the tail switch. Gets hot very quickly.
– Convoy S2+ (<1,000lm, 18650) – popular budget light, but with a confusing range of options. Biscotti/12-group user interfaces have mode memory, but alternating frequency strobe. 3/5 mode user interface has 10Hz strobe, but annoying 3 second memory timer. XP-L HI or CSLNM emitters (the latter with white and colour options) are best for longer tools, and XM-L2 emitters best for a floodier beam. Clip accessory required for Light Painting Tubes/T8 Tubes.
– Sofirn SP31 V2.0 (1,200lm, 18650*) – budget light that uses the same flashlight host/body and emitter as the Light Painting Paradise LightPainter. Mode memory and momentary on all continuous modes. Unfortunately the strobe is alternating frequency.
– Ledlenser D14.2 (400lm, 4xAA) – a diving light that is compatible with Denis Smith’s Liquid Light Painting tools. He sells a black painted version, instead of the stock fluorescent version.
Other lights with mode memory and momentary switch, but no direct access to strobe modes include the Wowtac A1S (1,150lm, 18650*), Thrunite TC12v4 (1,100lm, 18650), Soonfire DS31 (1,050lm, 18650*). With alternating frequency strobes also consider the Fenix PD35TAC (1000lm, 18650), PD32 V2.0 (1,200lm, 18650) and PD36R (1,800lm, 21700). With tail switch access to turbo and strobe consider the Nextorch TA30 V2.0 (1,300lm, 18650), Nextorch TA15 (600lm, 14500), Olight M2R Pro (1,800lm, 21700*), and Olight M2R (1,500lm, 18650*). The throwy Noctigon KR1 (1,300lm, 18650) may be good for long narrow tools, and has adjustable strobe frequency.
Whilst most light painting systems have options for colour filters, these lights are good options if you want coloured light direct from the source:
– KDLITKER E6 w/Triple Cree XP-E2 (18650) – cheap and relatively bright P60 based light where you can choose 3 emitter options, built to order, from Red, Blue, Royal Blue, Green, Amber, Warm White, Neutral White, or Cool White. 3 second mode memory timer can be annoying.
– Ledlenser P7QC (4xAAA) – the head can be moved to switch between White, Red, Green, and Forensic Blue. Moves to the next mode if turned back on within 10 seconds. Noticeable PWM after step down from high, and in low mode. Expensive, but with a good warranty.
– Light Excursion RGB Standard (18650) – a new colour-mixing light which is roughly half the price of the Deluxe model. 3 rotary faders to mix RGB channels, and a momentary switch. No remote, colour fading modes, and thankfully no PWM.
Please be aware that the new RGBW Olight Freyr and Ledlenser P6R Core QC are too large for commercial light painting systems, though they can be used for illumination purposes.
These lights all have multiple colour fade options, for creating colourful light trails:
– Light Excursion Deluxe (18650)- Very popular handmade colour changing light. Colour fade, pulse, and flash modes controlled by RF remote. On-board momentary switch, and recently updated with 3 rotary dimmers for RGB channels. Light Excursion also makes lots of other impressive RGB lights including the Godzilla, Double Dragon, Light Artist, and Light Spray.
– Antsonamelon RGB Critter (18650*) – Colour changing light with 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. Limited lifetime warranty. Shipping has been delayed to mid-2021.
– Threeworlds Concentrate C5 (AAA) – fantastic programmable effects modes, cheap, but not very bright. Needs padding to fit in light painting connectors.
Other colour changing light options include the Ignis Shop Color LED Torch (internal*), light units from the Fiberflies Pixelwhip Rev 4 (18650*) and GloFX Space Whip Remix (18650*) light sources, and the cheap but terrible Colorshine Flashlight (3xAAA).
Light Painting System Compatibility Matrix
Best non-Zoom Flashlights for Illumination
The next two sections are for lights that are highly recommended for illuminate scenes, instead of being connected to light painting tools. Whilst most lights (including those in the previous sections) can be used to illuminate a scene, these lights have useful additional features such as compatible diffusers, tripod mounting options, high colour rendering (CRI) emitter options, and decent sustained brightness. There are quite a few new entries for 2021!
– Convoy S2+ (400-1,000lm, 18650) – very cheap, easy to use light, with lots of emitter options from warm to cool white, high-CRI, Red, Green full spectrum, Blue, Orange-Yellow full spectrum, and even UV. Compatible diffuser, and fits U-shaped tripod mounts. Also consider the larger, high-CRI Convoy S12 (1,500lm, 21700) which is my pick for use with the LACE Backlight Scanner.
– LumeCube 2.0 (estimated 650lm, internal*) – best photography cube light option – a compact high-CRI floody light, great for drone attachment, waterproof, and can be remotely controlled via Bluetooth. Not as bright as advertised.
– Fireflies E12R (12,000lm, 21700*) – new compact light with reasonable choice of emitters (including high-CRI), and impressive sustained brightness to size ratio – 800-1,600lm depending on the emitter and ambient temperature. Complex Anduril 2.0 user interface. Will fit a U-shaped tripod mount.
– Fireflies NOV-MU (5,200lm, 21700*) – specifically designed for floody photography lighting, and much brighter than a LumeCube. Uses ultra high-CRI Nichia E21A emitters in either 4500k neutral or 2000k very warm white. Diffuser included. Not yet tested, but expected to be able to sustain >1,000 lumens. Complex Anduril 2.0 user interface. Will fit a U-shaped tripod mount.
– BLF Q8 (5,000lm, 4×18650) – soda-can sized light intermittently available from Sofirn. Whilst many newer soda-can lights have higher initial brightness and high-CRI options, the Q8 is still the king for sustained brightness at 1,500-2,000lm. It also has a tripod mount, and is compatible with the Fenix AOD-L diffuser. Narsil user interface. Convoy 4*18A (4,300, 4×18650) is another good budget soda-can size light with 1,500-2,000lm sustained brightness, simple user interface, choice of colour temperatures, but no tripod mount or diffuser.
– Fireflies ROT66 V2 (7,000-10,000lm, 3×18650) – soda-can size light with a good range of emitter options including high-CRI. Tripod mount. Anduril user interface. Sustained brightness is mediocre for it’s size though at around 800lm.
– Noctigon KR4 (<4,300lm, 18650) / Emisar D4v2 (<4,300lm, 26650) “pocket rocket” lights with tail switch and side switch respectively. Good range of emitter options including high-CRI. Anduril user interface. Sustained brightness is around 800lm/500lm respectively.
– KDLITKER E6 w/Triple Cree XP-E2 (18650) – cheap and relatively bright P60 based light where you can choose 3 emitter options, built to order, from Red, Blue, Royal Blue, Green, Amber, Warm White, Neutral White, or Cool White. The Blue is at the Cyan end of the Blue spectrum instead of the more common “Purple like” Forensic Blue. Tail switch steps through Low and High mode for each colour.
– Protomachines LED8 (2×18650) – expensive professional colour mixing light with advanced features including exposure timers. Intermittently out of stock for long periods. Used by Troy Paiva for his amazing junkyard photos.
Many LED panel/video/batten lights can also do a good job of illumination, of which my pick is the Yongnuo YN360 (NP-F750).
Best Zoom Flashlights for Illumination
I generally don’t recommend zoom lights for use with light painting tools, as there are plenty of non-zoom lights that do the job better. However, for illumination purposes, zoom lights can be useful for more controlled lighting:
– Ledlenser P18R Signature (4,500lm, internal*) – popular but expensive zoom light. Successor to the MT18. Light Painting Paradise make a color filter holder and filters for this light. Unknown sustained brightness.
– Ledlenser P7R Work (1,200lm, 21700*) and P6R Work (850lm 18650*) – the only high-CRI zoom lights that I’m aware of. Not cheap, but well built and with a 7 year warranty.
– Ledlenser P6R Core QC (270lm, 18650*) – the only RGBW zoom light that I’m aware of. Successor to the non-zoom P7QC. Expensive, but with a very good warranty.
– Convoy Z1 (2,200lm, 21700) – best budget zoom light. Choice of cool or neutral white LEDs. Can sustain nearly 1,000lm.
Headlamps are an underrated piece of equipment for when out at night. 200lm or more will help with focussing in the dark. An increasing number of headlamps now have high-CRI emitters.
– Nitecore NU25 (360lm, internal*) – best lightweight headlamp. Compact and rechargeable. Excellent for short outings and running (8h at 38lm). Red and high CRI auxiliary lights.
– Biolite HeadLamp 750 (750lm, internal*) – well reviewed and feature packed running headlamp with spot beam, high-CRI flood beam, and red light.
– Armytek Wizard WR (1,000lm, 18650*) – both white and red lights are very bright in this headlamp. Armytek make many other headlamps including high-CRI versions.
– Acebeam H60 (1,250lm, 18650) – first headlamp with a 97+ CRI SunLike TRI-R light source.
– Nitecore HC65 (1,000lm, 18650*) – excellent all-rounder, and my personal favorite headlamp. Bright, or long runtime (16h at 80lm). Red and high CRI auxiliary lights.
– Olight Perun (2,500lm, 18650*) – very efficient headlamp, with high brightness (2,500lm max, steps down at 2 minutes) or long runtime (66h at 30lm).
This article has listed many flashlights or torches 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. Reviews of flashlights suitable for light painting are regularly posted to Light Painting Blog.
Some useful light painting and flashlight enthusiast community links (non-affiliate links – I don’t make any money from these links):
Light Excursion (Deluxe, Topgun, etc)
Antsonamelon (RGB Critter)
Light Painting Paradise (LightPainter – Ryu’s Lightworks)
Convoy (S2+, S12, and accessories)
Kaidomain (KDLITKER E6, U-shaped tripod mounts, diffusers)
Fireflies (E12R, NOV-MU, ROT66)
Intl Outdoor (Noctigon and Emisar lights)