Friday, July 23, 2010

Hey buddy, gotta light?

This post is a comparison of flashlights, and a quasi review of my shiny new Fenix PD20 that was waiting for me on my counter yesterday after work.

This flashlight comes with a pocket clip, a nifty little nylon case, a spare rubber tailcap in case your one year old gnaws through the first one while in line at Target, and a short lanyard. It did not come with a CR123 3volt battery. I won't use the lanyard, but the case is designed very smart: the closure is simple velcro, and it has a plastic loop sewn on the top for attachment to stuff with a carabiner; it will also slide onto a 1 1/2" belt (and perhaps a 1 3/4" belt I think), and it has a flap on the back with velcro to attach it to a tactical vest with MOLLE. All of this in a minimalist package:




The light itself is not much larger than a car key and fob, as you can see here:



The PD20 gives out a maximum of 190 lumens, which beats out pretty much two of any of the other flashlights that I have combined, and this is in a chapstick sized light that costs about $60 with shipping. It has a waterproof aircraft-grade aluminum body with six modes that are very easy to operate: click on the button on the back and you are in "Turbo Mode" with 190 lumens. Tap the button and it pulses with a 190 lumen seizure causing strobe that will strain your eyes in about a second and a half - I would know because I set it to strobe, placed it head height in a blacked out room in my basement and proceeded to try to look at it at a distance of six feet. I won't ever try that again.

To use the other four modes, just twist the bezel an eighth of a turn and click the light on for a 9 lumen beam. Tap the tailcap to increase the beam from 9 lumens to 48 lumens, again to 96 lumens, and lastly an SOS strobe. Tap again to go back to 9 lumens. The whole concept of how it operates took me all of sixty seconds to master, to the point where I can snatch it out of my pocket and have it on in any mode in probably two seconds.

Holy smokes, was that a flying squirrel or a bat?!?! Click the tailcap once to light up the world and find out. Oh snap, it's a gangbanger, a serial killer, or a lawyer?!?! Then tap the tailcap for strobe and he will lose interest in you and whip out his twirling chem lights and start dancing. Lost your nitroglycerin pill under your desk? Twist the bezel an eighth of a turn and clicky the tailcap. Trying to signal the Pavehawk to land and pick up you and your airsoft buddies? Tap three more times on the tailcap and you come home a hero. Easy enough?

Now, how does it stack up to the competition? I have yet to do a full run against my line up of many Surefires, several Streamlights, and one GLOCK light, but I do have a comparison against a Surefire 6P LED, and my trusty Surefire E1e.




I only had time for a quick test, as the sun had already come up and it wasn't pitch black like I would have wanted. First up is the E1e that has been in my pocket every day for four years. I bought this one in a PX in beautiful Iraq, and it has served me well. 15 lumens of light with a click on tailcap that will last for an hour and a half with a fresh battery. I've replaced the bulb in it once, and that is the only maintanance I've had to do:



I love that the clip on the light is positioned so that you can clip it onto the brim of your cover (hat, to the non-military) and have basically a headlight. I have used it like that to find helmets, dropped ammunition, and the like in some of the worst environments imaginable. It's a great idea. The only problem I have with this light is that since it does not have enough ass to blind a formation of hostels long enough to reduce them with my carbine, I have to carry a bigger light on my belt for that purpose. This one is only for finding car keys at night and such. That means two lights instead of one, as well as a holster for it somewhere on my belt, so I have less room to carry a grappling hook or thermal imaging device. But I normally carry a bigger light when I go out for the evening with the family, and for that I carry the Surefire 6P LED:



This one replaced my ancient 6P, and it has I think 90 lumens with a twist on tailcap. It's a good light, and is practically bomb proof, but I'm starting to see that maybe Surefire's Research and Design team has been slacking as of late, because my little Fenix light handily kicks its ass, and with half as many batteries:



The Fenix also has features that $250 Blackhawk lights have, like the strobe, as well as some other useful features like the small wings that not only protect the tailcap, but allow the light to stand on its end on a table; you have to see how useful that can be. I am now going to update my entire fleet of lights with Fenix lights, and it will cost about as much as one high tech Surefire. The fact that I now have one small light that not only fits in my pocket, but will serve in many different roles goes a long way to reducing my day to day loadout, and is nice to have while I am in corporate America where fist sized lights don't mesh so well with slacks. Of note is that the PD20 has a pocket clip like the E1e, but it is facing the wrong way to be clipped onto the brim of a cover (hat). It is designed to clip the light to your pocket face down to protect the lens, but I am happy to report that you can pop the clip off and turn it around when needed, so it has the headlight capability too.

All in all, I am very much impressed by this light. At $60, I'm going to get another one for the hell of it, and I'm looking hard at ordering some of their larger lights as well in the near future. If you are not into the CR123 batteries, they have many lights that are just as bad-ass, but use AA or AAA batteries instead. It really is amazing at how far this technology has come in such a short period of time.
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