Flashlight Buying Guide 2021
Last updated 20th June 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!
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 “strobe monster” 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.
– Light Painting Paradise LightPainter – Ryu’s Lightworks (1,200lm, 18650*) – designed by Ryu’s Lightworks specifically for light painters, with very positive feedback from users, and my personal favourite light. Tail switch for on/off/momentary. Side switch for changing modes. Three strobe modes – 5ms on time, 50% on/off, or ribbon effect. Adjustable strobe frequency up to 66Hz, adjustable strobe brightness, mode memory, momentary switch, trigger mode, and no brightness step-down. (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 Strobe Master (1,200lm, 18650*) – designed by Light Excursion for light painters. Two strobe modes (5m or 15ms on time). Adjustable strobe frequency and strobe brightness. Momentary switch. Excellent heat handling, internal charging, plus an auxiliary jack.
– Lumintop FW1A (1,200lm, 18650) – cheapest tail switch light with adjustable strobe frequency (up to 112Hz), but fixed strobe brightness at 750lm max. Confusing “Anduril” user interface, and the tail switch often gets stuck. The light steps-down in brightness due to heat almost immediately, and rapidly drops to just 250 lumens. However, it is good for generating “fairy dust” effects, or short-duration (<15secs) light trails. The similar FW21 (2,800lm, 21700), FW3A (2,800lm, 18650), and FW1A Pro (3,500lm, 18650) all very briefly output more lumens. The newer and more expensive FW3X (2,800lm, 18650) has better heat handling at ramp max, 1000 lumen strobe, and a not particularly useful RGB aux emitter.
Commercial Grade Flashlights
– Nitecore P10v2 (1,100lm, 18650) – successor to the P10GT, this is my favourite “consumer grade” light for light painting. This 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).
– Olight Warrior Mini (1,500lm, 18650*) – two stage tail switch allows for momentary for turbo and strobe, or turbo and medium modes. Optional remote pressure switch. 90 seconds until brightness step-down. Uses an Olight proprietary 18650 battery. Unfortunately the new 1,750lm Warrior Mini v2 has a proximity sensor that will lower brightness when placed in a light painting connector – avoid!!!
– Klarus XT11GT Pro (2,200lm, 18650*) – latest version of the XT11 series compatible with the Liteblades KYO system. Dual tail switches for instant access to Turbo or Strobe. No side switch. Optional remote pressure switch. Strobes are alternating frequency unless the strobe switch is held down, and there is no direct access to Mid or High Modes. Only manages 2,200lm for a few seconds, and drops from 1,700lm after 30 seconds.
– Klarus XT2CR Pro (2,200lm, 18650*) – “update” to the Klarus XT2CR, which is my “go to” light if I briefly need lots of light in a light painting tool, but not much use for anything else. Dual tail switches for instant access to Turbo or Strobe. Optional remote pressure switch. Strobes are alternating frequency unless the strobe switch is held down, and there is no direct access to Mid or High Modes. Only manages 2,200lm for a few seconds, and drops from 1,700lm after 30 seconds.
– 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. However, if you really need a zoom light, this light is much improved over previous Ledlenser models iterms of sustained output (in 1,100lm Power mode), user interface, no PWM, and CRI. Very expensive, but with a 7 year warranty.
– Ledlenser P7QC (220lm, 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.
– 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+ (400-1,000lm, 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 CSLNM1 emitters (the latter with White, Red, Green, Blue, and Orange-Yellow options) are best for longer tools. 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 and not memorised.
– KDLITKER E6 w/Triple Cree XP-E2 (280lm, 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 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 TC12v2 (1,100lm, 18650*), Soonfire MX66 (1,060lm, 18650*). With alternating frequency strobes also consider the Fenix PD35 V2.0 (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*), Olight M2R (1,500lm, 18650*). The Noctigon KR1 (1,300lm, 18650) may be good for long narrow tools, and has adjustable strobe frequency, plus colour LED options.
– Light Excursion Deluxe (18650* or 21700*) – 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 (again) until late-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 Flashlights for Illumination
This section recommends the best lights for illuminating 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 “best of breed” 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!
Non-zoom lights for illumination
– Convoy S2+ (400-1,000lm, 18650) – very cheap, easy to use light, with lots of emitter options from warm to cool white, high-CRI, 4 colours, and even UV. My picks are the high-CRI LH351D emitters, and CSLNM1 colour emitter versions. Compatible diffuser, and fits U-shaped or clamp tripod mounts.
– LumeCube 2.0 (estimated 650lm, internal*) – best photography cube light option – a compact high-CRI floody light, great for drone attachment (or attaching to pretty much anything), waterproof, and can be remotely controlled via Bluetooth. Not as bright as advertised, but can run at max brightness until the battery runs out.
– Fenix LR35R (10,000lm, 2×21700*) – popular and fairly expensive consumer light. Whilst it can only manage max output for 30 seconds, it can sustain an impressive 1,500-2,000lm. Cool white, and not easy to mount to tripods.
– Convoy M21D XHP70.2 (3,800lm, 21700*) / M21C GT-FC40 (2,500lm, 21700) – at last, single battery lights that can (almost) rival the sustained output of larger “soda can” style lights (such as the BLF Q8 and Sofirn SP36). Choice of colour temperatures. Both can run on full power for 4 minutes, and then sustain 1,400lm for the XHP70.2 and 1,000lm for the high-CRI GT-FC40 versions. Fits U-shaped or clamp tripod mounts. Beam is narrower than I would prefer, but still great for backlighting and backlight scanners.
– Emisar DT8 (6,700lm, 18650) – best “pocket rocket” light. Good range of emitter options including high-CRI. Complex Anduril 2 user interface. DT8 yet be fully tested, but reports of >1000lm sustained with XP-L HI emitter.
– KDLITKER E6 w/Triple Cree XP-E2 (280lm, 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.
Some other flashlights that came close to making the list include the “Soda Can sized” kings Lumintop BLF GT3 (18,000lm, 4×18650) and Sofirn Q8 Pro (11,000lm, 4×18650), both of which have tripod mounts and can sustain more than 1.500lm. The ultra-high CRI Fireflies NOV-MU (5,200lm, 21700*) photography light, bright and compact Fireflies E12R (12,000lm, 21700*), the “two lights in one” Noctigon K9.3 (7,400lm, 21700) are popular with enthusiasts. Many LED panel/video/batten lights can also do a very good job of floody illumination, of which my pick is the cheap and very popular Yongnuo YN360 (2,600lm, NP-F750).
Zoom lights for illumination
– Ledlenser P18R Signature (4,500lm, internal*) – popular but very expensive zoom light. Successor to the MT18. Only manages 4,500lm Boost mode for 10 seconds, and not sure how long it can sustain 2,600lm Power mode before stepping-down to 1,000lm. Light Painting Paradise make a color filter holder and filters for this light.
– 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 (1,000-1,700lm, 21700) – best budget zoom light. Choice of cool, neutral white, or green LEDs. Can sustain around 50% of max brightness.
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). (Brighter than usual) Red and high CRI auxiliary lights.
– 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+, M21C, Z1, and accessories)
Kaidomain (KDLITKER E6, U-shaped tripod mounts, diffusers)
Fireflies (E12R, NOV-MU)
Intl Outdoor (Noctigon and Emisar lights)