When I went shopping for a LED flashlight on eBay, I found a lot of confusing, false, exaggerated and incorrect information from sellers, many based in China. From my shopping experience and online research, I compiled some information into this LED Flashlight Guide to help navigate the confusing process of buying a LED flashlight.
Brightness and Lumens Claims
After I purchased my first LED flashlight on eBay, I learned from research that the listing claimed the flashlight had a brightness, measured in lumens (lm), that was not possible, based on the LED device used.
Exaggerated claims of high lumens are common as a deceptive sales method of attracting buyers. I complained to the seller and got a refund for my purchase. I learned not to trust the exaggerated lumens claims made in the seller listings. They are sometimes twice the actual brightness.
No LED Device Type Specified
The second problem is that the sellers often do not specify the actual LED device used in the flashlight. Once you know the actual LED device, you can verify the device specifications.
Cree is the leading manufacturer of LEDs for flashlights and lighting, and they have detailed specifications on their website. So, the first step is to look for ads where they state the actual LED device used in the flashlight. Otherwise, you do not know what you are buying, so avoid those ads.
Brightness Varies by Battery Voltage and Current
The LED brightness in lumens depends on the battery voltage and the current flowing thru the LED. The current will vary depending on the LED driver circuit in the flashlight. It might include multiple modes: high, medium, and low brightness modes by clicking a tail switch. Some LED flashlights only include a single mode, on or off.
I recommend choosing a LED flashlight with a high and low brightness mode (2 modes), or a high, medium and low brightness mode (3 modes). Low brightness is adequate for many situations and your battery will last much longer. High brightness may be too bright for close-up work and will discharge the battery faster.
For comparison, a 60-watt incandescent light bulb produces about 800 lumens. A BIC lighter produces about 15 lumens.
The chart below gives the specifications for different LEDs manufactured by Cree. For example, if the LED flashlight is using a Cree XM-L LED, look it up in the chart.
That LED device can produce a maximum brightness of about 1,000 lumens, at 3,000 ma, so sellers claiming a higher brightness than stated in the device specifications are not accurate and should be avoided.
Cree LED device types are identified by 3 letters, such as XM-L, XP-E, XP-G or XR-E. Some devices include a 2, such as XM-L2, which indicates second generation, brighter technology.
LED Manufacturer Bin Sorts
When LEDs are manufactured, due to manufacturing variations, they are not all identical in performance. Some are brighter or dimmer or have color output variations. They are tested and sorted by variations into bins, with a letter/number rating, such as Q3 or Q5. But Q3 and Q5 are not LED device types, they are bin sort variations of a LED device.
Many seller ads do not specify the actual LED device used in the flashlight, they only give a bin sort rating. Don’t buy those flashlights. Higher bin ratings are more efficient and are brighter. Q5 is brighter than Q3.
Battery Type Choices
Read the LED flashlight description to see what type of battery is required. I prefer a flashlight that can use either a single AA battery (1.2-volt NiMH or 1.5-volt alkaline) or a single 14500 battery (3.7-volt Li-ion), which are the same size. A 14500 battery is 14 mm in diameter x 50 mm long.
This provides battery flexibility for the user and the flashlight is a mini-flashlight, easy to carry in a pocket or on a keychain, so you always have it with you for every day carry (EDC).
I use eneloop rechargeable 1.2 volt NiMH AA batteries for my digital cameras, emergency radios, emergency Cobra two-way radios, and other household devices such as radios, remote controls, wall clocks, thermostat and smoke alarms. I also have several foldable solar panels that can recharge AA batteries during a power outage or off-grid situations.
Other LED flashlight models use 18650, 16340/CR123A, or button cell batteries. 18650 batteries are larger and have more storage capacity than 14500.
Battery Storage Capacities
Battery storage capacities are rated in milliamp hours (mAh). If a battery has a rating of 1200 mAh, and the LED is using 300 mA of current, then the battery will last for 1200/300 or 4 hours at that brightness mode. If it has a low brightness mode of 100 mA, it will last for 1200/100 or 12 hours at that low brightness mode.
Battery Safety Tips
When choosing lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, be aware that unprotected batteries may overheat and pose a fire hazard if they are overcharged, overloaded (short circuit) or continue to operate after they are discharged to an under voltage level. For safety, purchase and use protected batteries. They are more expensive, but they have a safety protection circuit built in, attached to the end of the battery, making it slightly longer.
Check dimensions to make sure a protected battery will fit your device and battery charger. Protected batteries also have vent holes on the top, positive terminal end. It should say protected or protection on the battery label.
Use a smart battery charger that automatically turns off when the battery is fully charged.
Do not keep batteries in a box or drawer where they can move around, short circuit or come into contact with metal objects or flammable material.
Caution: Do not insert a 14500 3.7 volt battery into a device that requires an AA 1.2 volt or 1.5-volt battery only. The higher voltage of the 14500 battery can destroy your device.
Floodlight or Spotlight
The light output pattern may be spread wide, as a floodlight, or focused in a narrow beam, or spotlight, for longer distance or “throw“. Adjustable focus or zoom is valuable since you can use the flashlight as a floodlight or a spotlight. More lumens means the spotlight has a longer throw.
Economy LED Flashlight for General Purpose Use
For general purpose, short-distance, short-duration lighting use, such as an occasional power outage, finding a door keyhole or address number, Halloween, walking the dog, walking to the yard or mailbox, searching for an item in storage, changing a flat tire, or doing home maintenance, an inexpensive general purpose LED flashlight works fine. The prices are low, with many choices under $10, so you can buy 2 or more to have a backup. Some bundles sold include a battery and battery charger.
Expensive LED Flashlight for Tactical Use
For more serious, long-distance or long-duration lighting situations, such as security, tactical, medical, everyday work use, disasters, search and rescue, camping, hiking, skiing, mountain biking, hunting, fishing, boating, or vacation cabins, spend more money ($50 and up) and buy a better quality LED flashlight.
Look for a waterproof, rugged design, with an easy grip, and high, medium and low brightness modes, using multiple batteries or 18650 batteries for a longer duration, and bring extra batteries with you.
Also look for emergency features such as flashing (strobe) mode or SOS mode to attract attention in an emergency. High brightness may be useful to temporarily blind or disorient a potential attacker while you get away.
Cree LED Specification Chart
|Cree LED||Bin||350 mA||700 mA||1000 mA||1500 mA||3000 mA|
|MC-E||M||430-490 lm||753-858 lm||-||-||-|
|XM-L||T6||-||280-300||385-413||546-585 lm||910-975 lm|
[Last-Modified Date 2017-04-03] add new image