Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lighthound AAA Review

As we march forward in the evolution of LED emitters, people, including myself, have rightly pointed out that the difference between the "flashlight nerd" battery of choice, the CR123a, and the battery of choice for the rest of the world (stupid philistines that they are), the AA, is shrinking.  In fact, I think that with the release of the XML and the XPG2 emitters you can have a single cell AA light as your primary EDC and do almost every task you would need to do.  Of course, the flashlight nerd in me will tell you that the CR123a can do more and produce more light, which is true, but AA lights can now do most if not all of what you need.  The latest generation of emitters has pushed the lumens to power threshold down far enough that you can get 100 lumens in real world settings for a substantial period of time from a single cell AA light.  The EagleTac D25a proved that to me.

A clever person, however, would point out to both the flashlight nerd and the philistine, that just as emitter technology narrows the gap between the CR123a and the AA lights, it does so for the AAA light as well.  From a design point of view, the AAA offers substantial advantages over the AA.  First there is the size.  The AAA batteries are both thinner and shorter than an AA.  It seems to me that the difference in diameter between the AA and the CR123a is so small that essentially the AA is just a bigger, weaker light.  But when you compare either the AA or the CR123a to the AAA you have a real difference in size.  Obviously there is a difference in weight as well.  This form factor difference, coupled with emitter technology improvements means that the AAA just might be the the best everyday battery to use in a flashlight.  You have the availability and price of an AA with a smaller form factor.  And now, you have single cell AAA lights that, again, can hit 100 lumens in the real world.  Perhaps the technology increase means that we'll just skip over AA batteries altogether, going from the cognoscenti-preferred CR123a to the AAA.

The Lighthound AAA makes a good case that we should do just that.  It is a lumens bomb in single cell AAA form.  It is also a significantly better light than its badge brother, the Lighthound AA, which was, in my opinion, a fatally flawed light.  The Lighthound AAA is part of an exceedingly crowded field of low cost single cell AAA lights.  It has a trick up its sleeve that makes it a stand out.  The question is whether that one trick is enough, given the incredibly stiff competition.  

Here is the product page.  This light, like the Lighthound AA, is a badge swap with a Balder light, in this case the Balder BD-0.  I cannot find a working English product page for the BD-0.  There are no video reviews or written reviews of either light.  Here is a thread from CPF on the light.  Finally, here is the review sample from Lighthound:

IMG_0013

Design: 2

The light is quite small, even for an AAA light.  It is not quite as tiny as the Preon 0, but it is pretty svelte.  The head is nice and has a good deal of aggressive knurling which helps because this light is an old fashioned twisty (as opposed to a two stage twisty like on the Muyshondt Aeon).  The tailcap is very flat and a bit wider than the body tube.  The only real design issue I have is that the head is actual two parts, one for removal and one to access the LED.  Other than modders I am not sure who would want to access the LED.  I will not that this can cause some problems as it unthreaded instead of the actual head itself when activating the twisty.  A nice sharp twist locks is back in place, but it is a small bit of hassle for no appreciable benefit.

The big deal with this light is that it takes rechargeable AAA batteries (10440), allowing for an insane high, something like 243 lumens, though with this body size that is more theoretical than anything else.  That many lumens pumping through this small of a piece of metal would almost certainly cause spontaneous combustion.   The fit is VERY tight, so you might have to slice off the label on your 10440 battery before it will fit in the body tube. 

The ratios are decent.  The lumens:weight (lumens:ounces) is a very good ratio (as all quality AAA lights are): 126 lumens per ounce (the light weighs exactly one ounce).  The lumens distribution is 4914 on high (126 lumens for 39 minutes).  By comparison the JetBeam RRT-01, one of the better production single cell lights on the market has a lumens distribution of 19800.  For more on why I switched to this number, see the Lighthound AA review.    

Fit and Finish: 1

The threads are nice for the price and the emitter is centered.  Here is a view down the business end of the light:

IMG_0015

My complaint isn't a deal breaker but just a thing to note.  The idea that this light would retain anything like its coating while living on your keychain is laughable.  Anodizing is determined by chemical composition and thickness, so that Hard Anodizing II or III is a standard for anodization, not a specific thing, like lumens aren't a specific LED emitter, but a measurement of an emitter's output.  A HA II coating is thinner than a coating of the same chemical composition in a HA III.  This is to say that not all HA III is equal.   You can have thin and weak HA II and you have anondizing that barely meets the HA III standard and some that exceed it by twofold.  Here we have no idea what we are getting.  After two weeks the Lighthound AAA looked worn.  It wasn't flaking off, which is good, but it was clearly worse for wear.  It was still presentable and actually had a bit of Boba Fetting going on, so it looked kinda cool, but by comparison to the Aeon, this thing's coating is wimpy.  That said, anything's coating compared to the Aeon is kinda wimpy (YEARS later the Aeon still looks nice and I carry it A LOT).  Not a big deal, but something to note.  So many lights like this one have shitty anodizing.  To ding it more than a point would make virtually every light in this class below par. 

Grip: 2

As I mentioned above, the light's knurling is plenty grippy and the variations in the size of the body tube all make the light very grippy especially in the single cell AAA light format which is full of tiny, slick little lights.  A permanent clip would definitely make the light grippier, but compared to the competition it is already well ahead of the pack.

Carry: 1

This is the primary benefit of the AAA light over the AA light and like most other lights in this class the light carries nicely.  Then there is the pocket clip.  I simply cannot tolerate friction grip clips.  They do not work.  They slide, they scratch your light, and they don't offer a level of security I would expect for something that costs $20 or more.  Think of it like this--even cheapo pens have clips that are permanently affixed to the pen and they work.  Why can't flashlight makers do this?  There has to better places to save a few pennies.

Output: 2

If rechargeables are your thing than there is no better AAA light than this one.  Output-wise when running the right rechargeables it bests all but the very top tier of single cell CR123a lights.  On regular AAAs the high is impressive.  I'd like to see a moonlight low, but that is a feature that has not yet migrated to lights in this format. 

Runtime: 2

39 minutes on high is quite nice and the low, well, it is hard to evaluate lows nowadays because they are all ridiculous.  Some of the more powerful, bleeding edge 2xCR123a lights have low runtimes in weeks.  This is not there, but it is respectable.  

Beam Type: 2

This is a flood light and a quite good one.  There was a distinct hotspot and a nice spill.  It is important to remember that lights in this class will mostly be used for close up work, so the lack of a throw isn't that big a deal.  And you should know there is virtually no throw at all.  One common task that requires (or is better) with a flashlight is taking out the trash.  Living on the East Coast nearing the winter solstice means that it gets dark here quite early.  The floody beam did great for the most part.  I could distinguish between the recycling and trash bins (only the tops are different colors).  I could light up the walkway.  But one thing I couldn't do is hit the fence at the end of my walkway from the front door.  It is probably 40 feet and at that distance the beam had virtually disintegrated.  Still, this is a close up light 99.5% of the time, so I am not going to drop any points.  Just beware of that when you look into buying this light.  

Beam Quality: 2

The beam quality here is surprisingly good.  It is a very cool tint but there are no rings or holes.  I suppose the cool tint allows them to really smash the photons out the front and hit those insanely high output numbers, which is fine with me.  Its hard to say no to more lumens, especially when the cool tint isn't overwhelming weird like the purple on the early Preons.  

UI: 1

Okay, here is the biggest fault I can find with this light and I will note it is not a functional problem, but more of a conflict between my preferences and the light's settings.  The light starts on in high.  I know that has applications and good reasons behind it, but those reasons do not generally exist on a light in this format.  The single cell AAA light is not a tactical light and without that application, I think the UI has to be, absolutely has to be, low first.  Low first makes sense in almost every single EDC application--the quick search in the dark, the midnight sprint to the john--everything.  So, with the tactical UI, I am going to dock the light a point.  If this is not a big deal for you, give the light back this one point.  I will also note that this is done almost assuredly as a cost saving measure as a single CPU can be used across a wider variety of lights, amortizing the costs significantly.  This is emblematic of the choices you have to accept in budget lights. 

Hands Free: 2

This was a score I went back and forth on because you really can't tailstand this light if you intend on using it on your keychain.

IMG_0012

See what I mean.  Its not the biggest deal in the world because when the split ring is removed this guy is rock solid.  It just means that this is not both a keychain light and a tailstanding pocket light, at the same time.

The pocket clip and the attachment point for the split ring also work as anti-roll devices.   See:

IMG_0017

In between the teeth, this light does quite well, thanks to the very narrow proportions on the body tube.  It does kinda taste like your keys though, which, probably should be a sign that using a flashlight like that is not a good idea.   

Overall Score: 17 out of 20 (18 out of 20 if you like tactical UIs)

This is a light that can do something very few other lights in its format can do and that is hit 240 plus lumens.  That is the reason I wanted to review it and that is the reason many people will buy it.  The single cell AAA market is a crowded one so you need a standout feature and 240 plus lumens is certainly that.  The rest of the light is certainly fine, except the UI, but again that is a preference.  If are in the market, you should consider this light.  I'd probably go with something else, but even I can be swayed by the siren's song of BIG lumens, especially when everything else is pretty firmly at or above par.

Other Options

I am going to try something new and give you a little comparison between the reviewed product and its competitors.  Ideally, I'd do a shoot out or already have one done, but in this case, I don't.  In fact, I have only reviewed one of the lights listed below, the Preon 1 (the link there is to the review).  All of the other links are to the product page, except for the Eagletac which links to the Going Gear page, as that light is out of production.

There are really two distinct markets in the single AAA format--those lights that are designed to be simple keychain only lights, in large part aping the design of the Arc AAA and "full featured" AAA lights.  The Arc AAA-style lights tend to be inexpensive, have a single mode, and have very limited if any optics whatsoever.  I don't really think the Lighthound AAA competes with those lights.  In large part, it would destroy them in a head to head shootout. 

Instead the real competition comes from the "full featured" AAA lights.  These lights are more expensive and differentiated on the basis of having higher outputs, price tags, and multiple output modes.  Here are a few I think are legit competition:

47s Preon 1:  The review still holds true today.  This is, in my opinion, one of the top lights in this format.  It doesn't however, have the ability to take rechargeables and cannot hit a high even one third of what this light can.  I like the clip much better but the tint on the earlier models is distinctly purple.

Olight i3:  I haven't tested this light, but it is the next on my lights.  It is the culmination of years of product design through the iTP budget line of Olight, the Olight brand itself, and a collaboration with 47s.  The affixed pocket clip and better lanyard ring placement is a big deal, but again, the high on this light is more than three times what the i3 can product.  

Maratac AAA:  This is a real competitor.  The high with primaries is the same, but the low is better, a true moonlight low of around 1 lumen.  The clip is the same and the lanyard attachment is the same.  Really this comes down to whether you want an EDC or tactical UI and whether you run rechargeables.  If you run rechargeables and want an EDC UI, I think you have to wait. 

Klarus Mi6 and Mi6 Ti:  A hybrid between the keychain only lights and the full featured AAA lights.  This has a decent high and low, but no clip and no ability tailstand.  Personally I think it would work well on a keychain, but is quite expensive in that market. It doesn't exactly fit here either.
 
EagleTac PN20a:  An out of production light, but one that is still widely available.  It has a sweet little clip, a washer style clip from the looks of it.

Simply put: if lumens is your game, it has to be the Lighthound AAA and rechargeables.  If not, there are very good competitors.   

7 comments:

  1. Fenix LD01 is in this category. M->L->H output sequence; 72 lumen high on primaries; good runtime; very nice beam and tint. The present version even has regulated output, no PWM! The light would be a real contender if it just had decent knurling. Its smooth sides are too slippery.

    I agree that the original Maratac AAA has great appeal. Unfortunately, CountyComm recently replaced it with a new version ("rev. 2") that (1) starts on high and (2) has no medium mode, which totally kill the light for me. Baffling decisions.

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    1. Anon R.D. --> The Maratac AAA Rev. 2 starts on low, not high. It does, as you say, have no medium mode.

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  2. Can't agree more with your conclusion on the friction clips - I hate 'em, and one of the worst ones, the one on my old limited edition stainless steel Fenix LD01 (which I otherwise loved) I am pretty sure is the reason why I lost it. The Preon 1 is the current standard bearer in the clip space for me, but I too just ordered an Olight i3, and its clip looks particularly well executed.

    On the comments above regarding the Rev 2 Maratac AAA, I just received my copper version of this light a couple of weeks ago (and interestingly just profiled briefly on my own blog) and while you are correct it now only has 2 levels, it actually does start on the low - which I agree is a key feature for any multi-mode light.

    On this Lighthound light, which I believe is a twisty - is it actuated with that bulbous piece with the logo on it, or the knurling just next to the head? Does that bulbous piece add anything to the feel of the light in the hand? It looks a bit odd to me at first glance.

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  3. Tony, have you tried a smaller split ring? The Maratac AAA has a similar design and tailstands just fine.

    Looking forward to your Olight i3 review--finally a AAA light with a decent clip! Still sticking with my trusty old Maratac, though--dependable, nice beam, hangs well on a keychain, and great knurling.

    I have both versions of the Maratac AAA and agree that the older version is better. The extra lumens on the new one barely make a difference in real-life use, the light gets hot to the touch in 30 seconds (hopefully Maxray's thicker copper version will help), and using a smooth reflector on a light this size is just ridiculous--more artifacts for hardly any throw.

    I still think 100+ lumens on a light this size is a bit of a gimmick--heat and runtime still suffer--but kudos to Lighthound for pushing the envelope. It's only a matter of time! :-)

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  4. Thanks for the review!
    On the matter of friction clips on flashlights i very much agree with you, they mostly are useless. But i have to mention the one exception: the Streamlight Microstream, at least with the older clip design, i have no experience with the newer doubled clip. The clips on my Microstreams never came of, bend or caused any other problems and i actually think it is better than the clip on the Preon. The Microstream in general is a good AAA light, despite its shortcomings. It only has one mode but is is a forward clicky UI which i think is better for those occasions when you only need light for a short moment. The output is inferior to other AAA lights but that may change (some people run it with rechargeables and get great output, but that is off-lable use).

    For the Hands Free use i have a suggestion: I wrap the end of my small lights with one or two layers of tape, that makes it much more comfortable to hold between your teeth for shorter tasks. And it increases the Boba Fett effect if you like that look.

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  5. I feel like the lumapower edc lm21 is being overlooked here. It hits over 300 lumens, has three modes, starts on low, takes aaa or 10140 rechargeables and can be used as a clicky or twisty.

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  6. Nice review, glad I read it. My EDC is a Preon 1, and I've been running a 10440 in it for months with no problems. It has the same head as the Preon 2 (I have both) and can apparently take voltage (lots of folks do it), and with a 10440 in it it's actually a little brighter than the Preon 2.

    I really like the look of this Lighthound and plan to take a closer look at it - thans again!

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