Monday, May 6, 2013

47s Penlight Review

The penlight is an odd piece of gear. It is one of only a small handful of items that regular folks--non-gear geeks--will carry with them all of the time. I still remember my old fashioned pediatrician carrying around his penlight to shine in kid's eyes.


The penlight is to the flashlight world what the SAK is to the knife world--a non-threatening, virtually ubiquitous tool. There are people out there that carry a penlight everyday and have no idea what EDC is.

But the penlight has not been spared in the relentless pace of upgrading. The penlight has been given better batteries, newer emitters, multiple output modes, and an unfortunate "tacticool" make over. The best performing penlights are something the army of penlight fans would never carry, knurled grips don't look right in a doctor's pocket.

 Until now.

47s new light, dubbed the Penlight for simplicity's sake (please 47s simplify the naming conventions on your other lights, it is SO confusing; how about this: product line + number of batteries + type of battery for something like this Mini 1xCR123a, everyone knows what that means). It is a very stylish, distinctly non-tactical looking penlight. It blends in quite well when the rest of your office haul. The question is whether or not the good looks are matched by good performance.

Here is the 47s Penlight product page.  Note that this is badge swap with the Olight O'pen (47s and Olight have been working together for many years now and these badge swaps are common among the two brands).  There are a few different colors--red, blue, black, and . Here is a written review from selfbuilt.  Here is a video review from selfbuilt.  Given how thorough selfbuilt is, I could just end here, but I am not.  Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the 47s Penlight, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ  

Finally, here is the review sample 47s sent me.

IMG_0041

Design: 2

47s is marketing this light as something that blends in with your normal office stuff, something that doesn't look out of place among your pens and pencils. They totally succeeded. The design is upscale, without the tactical horns and knobs of other penlights (Streamlight I am looking at YOU). Everything has been carefully designed to make the light very functional but not too tactical. The pocket clip looks very much like a pen clip. The clicky could easily pass for the knock on a more upscale ball point. Even the length and diameter are convincing look a likes. I love everything about the look. But this is not simply a pretty like (Jil Light CR2 anyone?). 47s packed it with a new high performance emitter, the small die XPG-2, and trimmed out the package with a stainless bezel (for looks and performance). The body tube works well in the hand from both the perspective of turning on the light and holding on to the light. The choice of running commonly available cells is always a good thing, especially when they result in no real performance compromise thanks to their number and the highly efficient LED. This is one of the reasons why penlights are so popular--lots of lumens in a small package run by common cells. To that end the design of the 47s Penlight succeeds.

The ratios are decent.  Lumen:weight is 112.5.  The total lumens output is 150 (5 lumens for 30 hours).  Usually the high is where you get the most output lumens, but because of the short run time on high .36 hours, the low provides the most.   Finally here is a size comparison with a standard 2xAA Mini Mag:

IMG_0047

Fit and Finish: 2

I found nothing to complain about here. I have a local product tester who helps me out on some reviews and he is REALLY tough on stuff and even he had no complaints. The clicky was nice and crisp, but still easy to use. The emitter was well-centered. The anodizing withstood his brutal attacks. All in all, this is a well made light. The body tube is a little thin, but this is the case on virtually all modern lights and I have never had a problem with them.

Grip: 2

With a penlight, especially one of a less tactical design, it is the size that makes the light grippy. Going back to an old refrain, there is an ineffable ratio in flashlights between the diameter and length. The penlight has been so beloved despite all of the different designs because of this ratio. The 47s light doesn't have much if anything in the way of knurling, but that's fine. In this role, this size and shape is perfect. It will stay in your hand and remain useful in virtually all scenarios. I wouldn't use it in a tactical scenario, but its not a tactical light. This size and shape is simply great for EDC use. Its been around for a long time for that very reason.

Carry: 2

I have thought for a long time that it is silly that our gear can't look more like...well...other stuff. I love the clips that look like pen clips and I really enjoy stuff that can hang out in my pockets discretely. But alas tactical gear seems to be decidedly unstealth. Penlights, on the other hand, look like, um, pens and that means they are easy to carry and easy to conceal. The 47s Penlight takes this to a whole new level. Here it is hanging out in my Tom Bihn Cadet:

IMG_0053

Capitalizing on the tactical pen trend, 47s Penlight is not just at home hanging out with your pens, it looks and carries great with them. Even the clip looks like a pen clip. So if you can find a place to carry a pen you can find a place for this light.

Output: 2

The lumens arm's race is crazy, but the 180 lumens on high is still more than respectable, especially given the ultra-easy-to-find power source (2xAAA).  In fact it is 100 lumens more than the best Streamlight penlight option, the Streamlight Stylus Pro Tac.  As I am want to do, however, the highs don't really concern me much. Instead, it is the lows, you know, that mode you ACTUALLY use, that captures my attention. And in this light we have exactly what made 47s a great brand in the first place, a usefully low low. Overall, this light does highs well and lows well, making it an excellent option output wise. I would note that the Preon P2 penlight (which runs 2xAAA as well) has a lower low (2 lumens compared to 5 here) and a lower high (160 lumens compared to 180 here). The difference is strange because they both run the same emitters.

Runtime: 1

One curse of making a really great product is that subsequent products need to be that much better. Here the Penlight pales in comparison to the Preon P2. The runtime on max here is .36 hours versus 1 hour for the P2. Same batteries, same emitter, virtually the same high (180 here, 160 on the P2) and dramatically shorter runtimes. I just don't get it. The runtime on low is longer here (with a higher lumens count) so something seems off. I like the longer runtime on low, but why the difference? Also, the difference in utility between 30 hours and 23 hour on low is not as big as the difference in utility between roughly 20 minutes and 1 hour on high. This seems like an issue to me. In a vacuum the runtimes are fine, but compared to the cheaper P2, something is wonky.

Beam Type: 2

There is flood and then there is this, something like "deluge" or "Noah's Arc." It is so floody, so incredibly floody that even at moderately close range, something like 30 feet, the light starts to dissipate quickly. That's okay because in this product class, you aren't doing search and rescue.  Selfbuilt noted the incredibly large hotspot and this borne out by my experience.  I'd like a touch more throw, but penlights typically aren't pressed into any type of throw-critical applications.  Take a look at the floody beam for yourself:

Reference Shot:

IMG_0019

Low:

IMG_0016

Medium:

IMG_0017

High:

IMG_0018

Notice the lack of a distinct hotspot and spill.  This is the opposite of the Surefire EB1--that was a tiny hotspot and tons of spill, this is a HUGE hotspot and no real spill to speak of.  In this application, it was very good. 

 Beam Quality: 1

Tint snobbery has invaded the scoring system.  Here is a comparison shot with a HI CRI emitter (the Nichia 219 on the Aeon Mk. II):

 
In a vacuum, the tint is not bad, not good though. Compared to the golden warm light of the Ku 40DD or the balanced beauty of the Mk. II Aeon, this thing looks like a blue Christmas tree light (query: blue Christmas tree lights, tacky or solemnly beautiful?). Note the tans in the barn jacket or the blues in the shop aprons.  The issue I have is this--the XP-G2 emitter has a HI CRI variant and for the price, a jump of $10 over the P2, this would have been a nice and noteworthy upgrade.

This is not, however, to say that ALL non-HI CRI LEDs will score a 1, though it is getting there quickly, but merely to say that this is a below par tint, irrespective of HI CRI or not.  Compare this to the tint of an Eagletac D25a, for example.  There even without the HI CRI emitter, the light produced was a warm and accurate tint.  Also, as a brief aside, can you see how the HI CRI emitter makes less lumens more useful?  By accurately rendering colors, even at a lesser brightness, you can get a lot done.  Distinguishing objects in the dark is what flashlights are all about and HI CRI lets you do that easier than a light with the same lumens count.

 UI: 1

Times change and things improve. This is a good clicky interface (identical to the old 47s UI except for a memory for the last mode and the removal, thankfully, of the hidden modes), but not state of the art. Add to that the fact that I don't think clickies themselves are state of the art and you get 1. I'd love this like in a selector ring or a QTC UI. That too would have been a good justification for the increased price over the P2. As it is, it is exactly the same three years later. For state of the art clicky interfaces see the Olight Baton S10 or the Zebralight interface on lights like the SC600. Once great, now par or slightly below par. Cool little trick I noticed after my super thorough almost 3 year old product tester finished with the light--you can twist it and switch through modes if the light is already on.

Hands Free: 2

Okay, so it can't tailstand, but no penlight can.  They are too tall and narrow to effectively balance on end, so it is not fair, really to deduct a point for that.  The clip is a good anti-roll device and it works very well between the teeth given its dimensions. 

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

If you are looking for a penlight, consider the P2 AND this light.The P2 is a little cheaper, a little dimmer, but has a longer runtime and a lower price.  The fit and finish on the Penlight is better, the appearance more sophisticated, and the overall design a bit more refined.  Both are good flashlights, excellent renditions of the penlight form factor.  Personally, I have reached point in my gear appreciation that I am willing to pay a few bucks for good looks.  The Penlight colors are amazing and they really do remind me, both in their non-threatening utility and vibrant tones, of the SAK Alox Cadets.  In fact, here is a color coordinated EDC using the two:





This is a very good light.  I'd like an updated UI and the runtimes are weird (note selfbuilt's issues in this regard as well), but in all other respects it is very good.  The P2 is probably a better value, very strictly speaking, but if you have even a passing interest in aesthetics, this is the clear choice.  If you are closet gear geek and want a great light that no one will ever notice or poke fun of you for, this is the obvious choice.  Stashed in a pen cup, no one will be the wiser until the power goes out at the office and you can get everyone outside easier, or at least help out those that didn't tease you.  Also, if your name is Brad Dowdy, this is the clear choice in EDC flashlights.  It is, after all, called the PEN light for a reason.    

31 comments:

  1. Actually, if you look at the product page for the P2, there is a note:
    "The specifications listed are for the first generation XP-G LED. The second generation XP-G LED will be 20% brighter while maintaining the same runtimes."

    So, the P2 (with XP-G2 emitter) has a top end of about 190 lumens.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey Tony, thanks for the review.

    I have a 2 part theory about the run times: Four Sevens describes the pen light as Current Regulated versus the Preon (and most other models) being Pulse Width Modulation (PWM). PWM means that for 40% brightness, the LED is on HIGH for 40% of the time and off for 60% and cycles fast enough that the eye can't tell. If you listen closely to the Preon on medium or low you can hear a faint whine (louder on the medium setting) which disappears on high. An LED is more efficient on lower power levels (VS Incandescence which is vice versa due to black body radiation, I won't get into that unless you really want me to). Thus for a given power level below HIGH, current regulation is more efficient (but more expensive to implement)

    So PWM VS current is the reason for the longer run times at lower lumens.

    Part 2 of my theory is that the very short run time for HIGH is due to the battery sagging severely and quickly due to the higher current being asked by the micro controller. This I am unsure about but am sure about the first part.

    Let me know if I lost you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that is probably right, based on the runtime charts from self built and what we know about current regulation.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, that theory makes a lot of sense. I bet Foursevens also felt marketing pressure to claim a higher max output for the Penlight than the Preon 2, since the Penlight is newer & costs more. But it seems doing so yielded an unbalanced short runtime on high.

      I'm not too upset because the Medium level is rated 50 lumens (and selfbuilt got 68), enough to be good for walks, coupled with a drastically better runtime (rated 8 hrs, selfbuilt got 6.5 hrs). That's nice performance from 2xAAA alkaline!

      The medium mode must be the sweet spot of the current regulation setup. It seems to be where the Penlight really kicks butt. I was a little surprised you didn't discuss it, since the medium is the only thing that makes the light a viable EDC choice at all, to me, given the wonky high. I'd stick to medium and low and treat the overboosted high as a "turbo" for rare occasions.

      Note too that your description of the Preon 2 as having a longer runtime doesn't hold true at all for the medium. Penlight runs twice as long on the same power source despite being much brighter!

      It's a handsome light that would fit great in an office EDC. I hadn't heard of it prior to this review. Thanks.

      Delete
  3. Any chance you could do an Insingo review compared to a regular Sebbie? I did a hard cutting task yesterday (car tire) and would appreciate softer corners on the handles and a stronger penetration point. I just looked at pictures and the DF2 blade shape looks a lot the Insingo.

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