Monday, July 11, 2011

2011 $500 Max Recommendations, Part II: The Lights

Just like the blades, now the lights get really interesting. Surefire, Nitecore, Sunaway, JetBeam, and HDS all make lights that compete well in this price range. There are even a few custom or small batch production lights available: the McGizmo Sapphire, the Mac Custom's EDC, and one of my favorite lights of all time, the Muyshondt Aeon. There are so many choices and so many outstanding lights and outstanding features that this is an exceptionally competitive field.

If the lights, or light, in the last recommendation is a high end production car, a sporty BMW, the lights in this recommendation are custom built race cars. They are NASCAR racecars, but still, they will blow the doors off the competition just a few bucks cheaper. The F1 cars, they come in the next round. Still, these are truly awesome machines.

Surefire's lights are, almost by rule, expensive. They are, by rule, exceptionally well made. The E1B is emblematic of the entire company: solid, unfailingly simple, and made with the finest materials. It has a decent but not screaming high of 130 lumens and a good low of around 15 lumens. It uses a simple two click UI. It has an interesting two way clip. It is a bit big for a single cell light and it can't tailstand but if those aren't important to you then you should consider this light. It has what Surefire describes as a "melted" look, with few sharp edges. Pottery Barn calls that "eased" edges, but it just means the light goes in and out of your pocket easily. Finally, for a single cell light it is a bit big, around the same size as the HDS light. At $139 it is a great light and you pay for that greatness. There is a proposed Lumamax, LX1, that is a single cell light and if and when it comes out it will share many of the features of the E1B with that Lumamax segmented body look. Great light, but Surefire can deal in vaporware sometimes. The final Surefire light I want to look at is the T1A. Originally the T1 was released with CR2 power cell. That was a special edition and is highly sought after, if you can find it. It originally retailed for $500, so they are likely to be much more if you can find one. The T1A is essentially the same light with a CR123A power source. The high is nothing to write home about, 70 lumens, and it the light lacks a clip, but it is small and it has one of the best UIs available. The variable brightness UI on the T1 and T1A is awesome--twist head for on, twist more for increased brightness. It is simple, hard to activate accidentally, and amazingly useful. A low of 1 lumen and a high of 70, with anything in between all at the twist of the wrist is just too good to pass up. If you can afford the $249 price tag, it is a light without parallel in the production light world.

Novatac's 120 series were really great four years ago They are still good, but no longer cutting edge. They do a few things very well. They have about the cleanest beams available, rivaling my $500 McGizmo Haiku. They also have a great form factor too. Just be careful, the budget line of these lights is not that good at all.

5.11 Lights for Life seem like cars that get 500 MPG, but they really work. A police officer friend of my loves his and says it works just as advertised. He did notice that the body got hot during charging, but I can't see that being a problem. It also did well lighting stuff up. The 400 is just too big, but I suppose someone out there could EDC the 300. The bigger light is $169.95 and the smaller, $10 less. Interesting idea and probably worth a peek.

A few of the Chinese makers produce variable output lights. Nitecore makes the Infilux models. All of Sunaway's lights are variable output and they even made a shiny Titanium model, but just like in the tools section, some of these higher priced items are merely pimped out versions of cheaper things with no performance enhancements. JetBeam makes a series of variable output lights as well, and of those I like the RRT-0 the most. In fact, of the Chinese made variable output lights, it seems the best. I don't like the grip-style clip, but I do like the output (255 lumens on a single CR123A cell) and the fact that they give you both an AA and a CR123A body tube.

That said, the RRT-0 needs to be really good because in addition competing against the 120 lumen HDS from the last recommendation, it is also competing in this price range, with the brand new HDS light, the Rotary. The release of this light caused jubilation on the CPF boards (it also caused a wave owners of previous HDS lights to sell them off at greatly reduced prices, a boon to the rest of us). A few kinks on the technical side were worked out and we now have an awesome light. The rotary allows for more direct access to output levels and, in the menu mode, more intuitive programming. This light is definitely in the running.

We finally get to the first McGizmo and it is the diminutive and beautiful Sapphire (aka the Arc Titanium AAA). It's output is not too different than that of the beloved Arc AAA, around 10.5 lumens. It is made of Titanium though, so there is premium price. I am not sure I can drop that kind of money on a light with that small of an output. If I could bring myself to do it, though, it would be a tough call between the Sapphire and the Rainbow Killer from another custom maker, Photon Fanatic. Personally I like the aesthetics of the Rainbow Killers a little more than the Sapphire, but function-wise these are not much more than jewelry when compared to the Arc AAA.

Now that we are clearly in the custom territory, we can't fail to mention one of the most affordable, most highly praised, and brightest customs out there--Mac's TriEDC. It is a flamethrowing, sky brightening, pocket-sized lightning gun with 700 lumens in a package the size of a HDS light. With a custom Ti pocket clip the aluminum model comes in at $229, a stunning bargain for this performance and size. Peak performance does require a special battery, but rechargeables are available. Drop by Mac's site and drop your jaw--this is what cutting edge lights look like and the fact that they are handmade in the US, my home state of Massachusetts no less, by a true craftsman makes it all the better.

Now we come to what is probably my favorite light I have ever owned--the tiny David to every other light's Goliath--the Muyshondt Aeon. There is a warm and a cool tint option available and though I am perfectly happy with my cool version, the warm version had received raves. If I fawn anymore about the Aeon, I think that Enrique may take out a stalking order. Oh yeah, you can get it in Titanium too.

There are tons of options here, but if I had to choose, it would the TriEDC from Mac's Customs. It is so cheap for what you get, rivaling and in some ways surpassing a McGizmo that costs twice as much. If you are in this price range, go for this light. You won't be disappointed. Unless you hate weirdo batteries.


Recommendation: Mac's Customs Tri EDC
Price: $199.95 for light, plus $29.95 for Ti Clip (Mac's Customs)

Honorable Mention #1: Muyshondt Aeon. Can't go wrong here, just a different style light. If you are looking for small and light, this is it. A combo with the WH E6 would be an featherweight pairing with top shelf performance.

1 comment:

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