In search of, and finding, a very good flashlight


Flashlights have undergone a revolution thanks to the LED technology that is also changing household light bulbs.

The result is much brighter light with the same size of batteries. It does not make sense to buy non-LED flashlights unless you like the warmer, but dimmer, glow of the old incandescents.

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Flashlights come in an enormous range of shapes and sizes, from ones that easily fit in a pants pocket to ones that can be swung as weapons.

I’ve been interested in the mini kind, which I can whip out from my pocket at the least provocation (underscoring my flashlight nerdiness) along with headlamps to make illicit night-time lawn watering easier (kidding; no need to call the water police on me).

Some models running on a single AAA battery can pump out 100 lumens, enough to light up a couple dozen metres of pitch black Galloping Goose trail. An old style flashlight of similar size might offer 10 lumens, and barely illuminate a couple of metres.

My first LED flashlight was a Maglite Solitaire, which runs on a single AAA battery and is rated at 37 lumens. It turns on and off with a twist of the flashlight’s head. But it proved unreliable. Straight out of the package, the required twist would not turn off the light sometimes. I took it back to the store and got one that works fine. That success prompted me to buy another Maglite Solitaire. But it too had the on-off problem.

So I went looking for another brand. After reading reviews around the Internet, I settled on the Fenix E12. It has a knurled metal body, uses one AA battery, turns on and off with the push of a button on its tail, fits in my pants pocket, and offers three brightness levels: 8, 40 and 130 lumens. You change the levels by half pressing the tail button, which is a little tricky at first but quickly becomes familiar. The battery, sensibly, lasts longer if you run the Fenix E12 on lower lumens.

I have been using the E12 for three months and I like it a lot. It has been reliable, and the three light levels are useful. Use dim when that is all I need; bright when I need to see where I am strolling on a rainy, dark night. I’ve seen the E12 being sold for $27 to $30, the Maglite Solitaire for $16 to $20.

Some nitpicking about the E12: it tends to roll away if you put it on a flat surface; there’s no way to tell when the battery is about to be exhausted.

Fenix also makes a skinnier flashlight that uses a single AAA battery and shines at 100 lumens. It costs a few dollars more than the E12.

You can spend enormous sums on a flashlight. Fenix, for example, has a flashlight that’s sold for $200 to $250 and delivers a blinding 2,900 lumens, powered by specialty batteries (which can push the price to over $300). It’s designed for search and rescue and will light up a hillside. I have not tried or bought this flashlight, I have only seen the ads.

I told a young relative about my flashlight excitement and she shrugged. There is no need to buy a flashlight, she said. Just switch your smartphone’s camera flash to constant-on mode. I am reluctant to embrace that approach, sensible though it is. I can’t remember how to switch on the smartphone light; it is not bright enough; I don't want to run down the phone battery. I can come up with excuses galore to stick with my beloved flashlights.

Fenix E12 flashlight in Capreol, Ont.
My Fenix E12 visits Capreol, Ont. I wrote this entry on my iPhone during a recent train trip. At a stop in Capreol, I passed the time by modelling the Fenix E12 with the train station in the background. 

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