Friday, December 13, 2013

47s AL Atom Review

47s is a flashaholics' flashlight brand.  They stay up on cutting edge emitters, they were one of the first makers to recognize the value in a good moonlight low, and they have a checklist of features that seem to be culled directly from feedback from the forums.  I love 47s.  I am not afraid to admit it.  They make great lights.

But I am not a fanboy.  I can recognize issues, even in my favorite brands.

Recently it seemed like they had stalled out a bit.  All of that innovation in the beginning gave way to a series of incremental upgrades.  If you make your name on the bleeding edge, you can't go back.  I noted in the review of the QP2L-X that 47s lights still hung with the big boys, but they were on the verge of falling out of the top tier.  An innovator must stay an innovator to stand out from the crowd.

Well, they have finally released a totally new EDC light.  This is not a new body tube or emitter slapped on an old light, but a new light with a new (for 47s) UI.  And it is a great light with two small dings.  The Atom AL, simply put, rocks.  It is worth your dollars and makes an excellent core to an awesome flashlight system thanks to the compatible headband. 

Here is the product page. The Atom AL costs $40. This is the first review of any kind. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you may be able to find the Atom AL, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample (sent to me by 47s and returned upon conclusion of review):

P1010861

Twitter Review Summary: Superb illumination system with two minor dings.

Design: 2

47s flexed their muscles here and delivered a hell of a light.  The mule (reflector-free emitter) makes this the most compact 1xCR123a light on the market by a huge margin.  The Atom AL is smaller than my Aeon Mark II.  This is a tiny light.  But is quite well designed.  The look, the mule, and the magnet are straight from the P0, but the UI is entirely new and a welcome upgrade (more on that later).  The fact that the light can be used with an excellent headband shows a great degree of forethought on the part of 47s.  This is part of a trend--lights are now actually illumination systems, empowered by accessories to flex into a bunch of different roles.  Frankly, this is my favorite system I have used yet.  Getting a damn fine EDC light and a headlamp all in one is proof of how good 47s is at both designing tools and getting you to spend on dollar-worthy accessories.

Here is the light away from the beauty of that very rare piece of cherry (shot through with rust from buck shot embedded in the wood; I found the buck shot the hard way...and my miter saw has yet to forgive me):

P1010907

As you might expect, the lumens:weight is very good.  This light clocks in at 1.6 ounces with a battery, given you a ratio of 69 (110/1.6 = 68.75).  The total output is best on high where it can run for 3.5 hours at 110 lumens for a total output of 23,100 (110 lumens x 210 minutes).  Both are quite respectable and another this is a light that is among the best out there in its product class and price range.  Finally, here is a photo to convey just how small this little gem is:

P1010908

Fit and Finish: 1

When you look at the light in the picture with the Zippo above and compare it to the picture below:

P1010877

You might notice that the frosted aluminum, which is helpful for grip, has been marked up significantly in the top picture.  I don't normally care about this sort of use wear (see: the Fett Effect), but here I am concerned for two reasons, which, taken together, make me dock this thing a full point.  First, the scrapes occurred during pocket carry.  I didn't drop this thing down a mountain.  I just carried it in my pocket with a pocket knife.  Second, without the frosted finish, the light would be significantly less grippy.

All of the other parts of the light are well done.  The threads are standard triangle threads, but they are well cut and do not cross thread.  The emitter was well centered.  The polished parts looked gorgeous and the overall thickness of the body tube was fine, though thin (as is always the case with lights this small).  

Grip: 2

As mentioned above, the frosted finish really does help with grip.  This is a tiny light, but you can operate it with one hand.  I think that the extra diameter over other tiny lights, like the Mk II Aeon, gives the Atom AL a grip advantage.  The magic ratio, diameter to length, is present in this light.  

Carry: 2

Great carry is part for the course for a light this size.  It is one of the reasons why I prefer smaller lights.  You can easily tuck this light into a coin pocket and it would carry okay on a keychain (aside from the dings that would occur to the frosted finish).  

Output: 2

The Atom AL's decision to draw down the lumens on the high mode is a wise one.  110 lumens is usually enough to get most tasks done and I have found, over time, that I like longer run times over blinding highs, especially in EDC lights.  The lumens rating is right around the high of the Mk. II and the more I think about this light the more I realize that it is very close to what a product Mk. II would look and perform like.  The low is truly low and useful and it will run forever (40 hours).  This is quite good for a production light.

I want to make this clear--I have scoring this a 2 based on preference (runtime over lumens).  If you have a different preference, consider this a 1 as 110 lumens is probably below par for a CR123a.  I think it is plenty to get done what you need to do, but I understand that the lumens arms race has sucked in lots of people.  

Runtime: 2

See Output above.  Really this light is a perfect example of the tension between output and runtime and how that tension is resolved is largely a matter of personal preference.  I think 47s did it the right way here.  You might disagree.

Beam Type: 1

This light is a mule, that it, it does not have a metallic reflector.  Instead the light comes out the front without any refocusing.  Here is what the head looks like (the green stuff is glow material):

P1010911

I understand why they used a mule head, as it cuts down on size, weight, and cost, but the choice for ALL flood is something I don't really like.  Its okay in an EDC light where most tasks are going to be broad illuminations (like checking your yard for critters) or unfocused up close work (like changing a tire on the side of the road), so it is deserving of a point, but I really miss a hotspot.  Done well, you can have light, like the Haiku, that does both a good flood and good throw at the same time.  Understand why 47s did this, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.  

Beam Quality: 2

Despite its diffuse nature the tint, shape, and clarity of the beam are all there.  There is no artifacting or rings.  The XPG2 emitter produces a fairly colorless, neutral light, and the shape is perfectly round.  You are very unlikely to encounter any weird lighting anomalies here.  

UI: 2

Ah, and the big upgrade.  The Atom AL is a two stage twisty.  That's right, the UI is twist for on and twist more for high.  Elegant, simple, easy to use.  In a word--perfect.  This is one of my three favorite UIs and this version is well done.  The spacing between the modes (how far you have to twist) is just right.  Now 47s needs to implement this across their entire line of non-clickies.  

Hands Free: 2

The Atom can tailstand.  It can clamp on to ferrous metals thanks to the magnet.  AND it has some anti-roll protection, but the real trick is this:

P1010912

and this:

P1010895

Yep, it can work as a headlamp thanks to a $15 accessory from 47s.  Note that the headlamp works with the Atom as well as a bunch of other 47s lights, including the Minis, thanks to swappable inserts.  The headband, aside from looking tremendously dorky, worked well.  I used to in my basement, in a crawlspace, and in the attic and it was perfect.  I think a dedicated headlamp might be better, but certainly not enough to warrant investing in one when this is out there.  The fit between the Atom and the holster is tight enough that you can switch modes with the light on your head (again, tremendously dorky).  There is some padding between your head and the light holster for added comfort, and the strap is adjustable.  The entire unit is light and the holster can rotate so that you can point the light straight up, straight down, straight ahead, or anywhere in between.

 Let me be candid--if you are buying a light that is compatible with the headband, just buy the headband too.  That way you can have your EDC light flex into a headlamp.  This is yet another milepost on the road to illumination systems, like what we saw with the Eiger and the MBI lights.  Frankly this a trend we should all be thankful for--getting more out of what you have is great.   

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

The Atom AL is a great light.  Paired with the headband it is an amazing illumination system.  This little gem has a ton of features that make it essentially a production Mk. II Aeon and that is a damn good light to emulate.  I love the UI and the magnet in the tail cap.  The price is also excellent.  The frosted finish is a little weak and the beam type is not my favorite, but both of those are acceptable flaws.  This is a great light and proof once again of 47s credentials as an innovator in the flashlight market.  GREAT JOB!

The Competition

The Atom kills the Fenix PD22.  Its half the size, $20 less, and works with an amazing headband.  I like the the magnet at the bottom and though the scores are only a point apart, as you may have noticed, jumping from a 16 to a 18 on the scale is pretty tough to do.  When paired with the headband, you have both a very good headlamp and a superb EDC.  I strongly recommend you get the band.  It makes you look uber dorky (see that picture?), but for $15 it is a no-brainer.  Against other lights like the SC52, the Atom comes out at least tied thanks to is sub-$50 price.  When you get into the rarified air of the Peak Eiger or the HDS Rotary, I think the light starts to falter, but against similarly priced and made lights the Atom is very competitive.    

7 comments:

  1. ? 110/1.6 != 103.77
    110/1.6 = 68.75
    110/1.06 = 103.77

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  2. As far as the output limitations, I think a lot of it had to do with the lack of adequate heatsinking in small designs such as this. Lack of a reflector, which also aids in heatsinking can add to the problem. Have you tried leaving it on high for an extended period? Bet it gets really hot!

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  3. If only if only it was hi CRI, I'd snap up quite a few for gifts.

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  4. Wow, that thing seriously cannot be much larger than the underlying CR123 cell itself.

    It is beautiful. The upscale, frosted minimal look will draw in some people who would never carry a knurled black "tactical" looking light.

    I bet the unfocused low is nice for reading. Might have been cool to go with an integral diffuser, like the Fenix E05. ("Embrace the flood.")

    Personally, the output and lack of reflector will probably keep me away.

    I wonder about these bottom magnets that Foursevens has gone in for. Is it realistic to worry about how they will interact with cards, hotel keys, etc. in one's pocket?

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  5. How would you say the Atom AL compares to the Quantum DD for key chain EDC, especially from a size/bulk on the key chain perspective?

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    Replies
    1. The Atom is bigger, both around and in length. Lengthwise the DD is about 1/2 the size. In terms of diameter it is somewhere between 1/2 and 1/3 the size. The keychain attachment on the DD is infuriating, but once it is on, the DD is hardly noticeable.

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  6. Like the UI but have such bad memories from the PO it resembles. Hope they at least potted the electronics on this one which they failed to do on the PO. And hope the beam is not so uselessly floody as was the PO.
    Am considering the Eiger.

    ReplyDelete