Part of this has to do with how the eye perceives increases in lumens. Here is a very useful chart on perceived brightness. Running a NiHM rechargeable, the SC52W pumps out 280 ANSI lumens, while the S10 hits 320. There is very little perceptible difference between the two. Similarly, the 280 lumens compared to the F1's 400 lumens is also almost imperceptible. To get a real bump at this lumens count you need to jump into the 600s. But this is not the end of the story. In my daily life, I have found that I rarely need more than 200 lumens for a task. Punched up the end of my driveway at night to figure out what that bump was needs around 100-150 lumens, 200 on a stormy day. Before the SC52 that level of performance on a single AA cell light was unheard of absent a rechargeable cell. Now, on a primary AA, you can get around 280 lumens. That's plenty and now competitive with most CR123a lights. Eye physiology, brain processing, and practical use means that you probably won't need something more than what the SC52 puts out and that means, in turn, that you can go back to buying regular batteries (though I find it helpful to have many different format lights in an emergency).
Here is the product page. The Zebralight SC52w costs around $65. Here is a written review (from SelfBuilt, YIPEE!). Here is a video review (more SelfBuilt). You can purchase the SC52w at E2FieldGear and if you use the coupon code "Commentary" you get 8% off AND benefit the site's giveaways. You can click on the banner to the right. Here is my review sample:
Twitter Review Summary: Best AA light on the market, hands down.
There is very little to complain about here, really nothing. The big things, such as the recessed side switch, are done right, and the little things, like the smoothed out portion of the head underneath the pocket clip, are nice. Zebralight is at the absolute forefront of flashlight design and the SC52w proves it. One thing that surprised me was just how small this thing is. The last 1xAA light that I liked, the Fenix LD10, was probably twice the length. Part of that is just a more efficient internal layout, but undoubtedly some of that is from the brilliant side switch. As a rule, I love them. They make the light tailstand better AND they make it possible to grip the light in many different ways.
For all of the big and little things done right, this is a light that kills the performance numbers. On its max output (280 lumens, though with a lithium 14500 it can hit 500 for less than a minute). The lumens:weight (280/2) his a very good 140. The total lumens output, achieved on medium (50 lumens x 7.5 hours) is 375, very good for a light this size. Here is the SC52w next to the Zippo (see, I told it was small):
Fit and Finish: 2
In the two weeks or so that I used this light, I noticed not a single flaw in the fit and finish. The threads were clean, the clicky was crisp, the anodizing was even and never chipped. The knurling and heat sinks were even and precisely cut. The emitter was centered and the lens was clean. Again, all of this manufacturing goodness was in service to the overall utility of the light. For instance, the pocket clip was a very high polish number, but that wasn't just for good looks (and of course it does look good), it also greatly aided in getting the light in and out of your pocket. Excellent.
As a rule, I love side switches. This light, the SC600 Mk. II, and the soon to be reviewed EagleTac TX25C2 have convinced me they are the way to go if you are going to EDC your light. They make the light tailstand better AND they make it possible to grip the light in many different ways.
I also have no complaints with accidental activation or mode switching on any of the side switch lights. Here the recess is significant, more so than on the TX25C2, and it all makes for a great light in the hand and in use. I was worried that something this small might be hard to hold on to, but the different diameter between the head and body tube and the shape of the pocket clip makes this little gem easy to grab.
Let me show you a superior pocket clip and placement:
Its that easy. Everything about this pocket clip works--size, shape, placement etc. The bolt on design is very simple and very sturdy. It really does grab your pocket, but thanks to the smooth "landing spot" it is easy to draw. If a manufacturer wants to do a bolt on clip, this is a good place to look for inspiration (noting, of course, that this bears a very strong similarity to the overall shape of a McGizmo clip).
Zebralight can rightfully claim about as wide a spread as any EDC light, as this can hit 500 lumens with a rechargeable on high and .01 lumens on low. The 500 lumen is really nothing more than a burst, as it lasts less than a minute, but even then a 280 lumen output is extraordinary in the 1xAA format, even now almost a year after the SC52 debuted. I found the .01 lumen setting to be too low, even in the blackest night, so I opted for the .6 lumen low. I'll explain more about this below in UI.
Along with the emitter upgrade that boosts the lumen count you get amazing runtimes. A 1xAA light with runtimes listed in MONTHS? Check. Again, I am thinking that the .9 hours of 280 lumens is more a aggregated runtime as that much light for that long in a light this size my cause a meltdown, but still, the totals are impressive and another piece of proof that you no longer need a 1xCR123a light as an EDC.
Beam Type: 2
This is perhaps the most subtle part of the SC52's superiority. With a larger head you get a more competent reflector and the curse of the EDC light--the cloud of flood--is gone. This is an excellent beam that is, of course, mainly floody with some ability to throw. As I do the 1YL updates, its things like this that make a score drop over time. If this little diminutive torch that runs around $65 can get a well balanced beam, others should be able to do the same.
Beam Quality: 2
The neutral white was gloriously revelatory, making nothing look like a hokum movie with its cheesy warms or a disco with its wild purples. I still think that the majority of gear geeks do not give enough way to tint and the SC52w is a good example of why they should. You'd opt for Hi CRI if it was available but the neutral tint here is a good substitute. Of course there are no artifacts or holes and the beam is perfectly round.
I was on the edge of giving the SC52w's UI a 0 as it is WAY too complicated for a single button. In the Design of Everyday Things, Donald Norman talks about this slide projector that had only one button. You clicked it to advance and pressed and held it to reverse. It was a disaster. If you hit the button too softly nothing happened and thinking (correctly) that you didn't hit it hard enough, you'd press and hold the button, but it would send the whole thing in reverse. AWFUL. This is probably not that bad, but the click v. press and hold is too subtle for a non-flashaholic to get. I'd much rather have fewer modes and a simpler interface.
But that is not the only problem. All clickies, except for the Klarus and new Fenix lights (with their dual clickies) have that problem. No the SC52w takes it a step further by having a high, medium, and low output with "sublevels" in each output. That sentence alone is enough to tell you there is a problem. You should never use the word "sublevel" when describing a flashlight. NEVER. In high you can actually adjust output to two levels, plus a strobe. In low there are three levels. Getting into the sublevels is another feat of one button gymnastics. This many options are a sign that Zebralight doesn't really know what its customers want. If you do a good job of choosing the levels you don't need to mess around with at least NINE possible settings. McGizmo does it. Muyshondt does it. 47s does it. It is possible. Do some research and just lock the modes in. I'd vote for 280-50-1 if it were up to me. That spacing provides you with a good combination of runtime and useful lighting and a significant enough spread between the levels to register a perceptible difference.
So why the 1 instead of a 0? Well, if you don't mess around and play with the clicky, it is pretty easy to get the two most used modes--high and low. Click to get high, press and hold to get low. Not great, but definitely average. You get yourself into trouble deviating from those two modes, even medium is something of a quest, but leaving the light to just those two makes the UI decent.
Hands Free: 2
The benefit of a side switch, rock solid tailstanding:
Overall Score: 19 out of 20
The clip is a perfect anti-roll device and the diameter of the light is small enough to accomdate an emergency teeth grip. Overall, just about perfect in the hands free department. There used to be a few accessory mounts that converted this into a head lamp, but I can't find them on the Zebralight site anymore. There is an aftermarket Fenix band that will work.
Overall Score: 19 out of 20
This is very, very close to the perfect EDC light--common cells, excellent output and runtime, compact size, great pocket clip, and super side switch. Only the UI holds it back. I'd love Zebralight to lock in three modes and use the McGizmo memory mode set up. That would make this light the perfect EDC under $100. As it is, it is definitely a Top 5 light and one that flashaholics will have no problem whatsoever using. Opt for the neutral, even with the sacrifice in lumens. It is totally worth it for the better tint. Can't say enough good about this light--it is great and Zebralight, a USA based company, is just killing right now. Send Mike some of your dough and save 8% by clicking on the E2Field Gear banner to the right. If you don't want to get into the hassle of dealing with Peak's bewildering options or if you light the storage superiority of AAs, this light is better than even my beloved Peak and you don't have to buy accessories for it to be as capable as the Eiger. Out of the box, this is one hell of a light.