Thursday, February 26, 2015

L3 Illumination L10C Review

NOTE: A regular reader purchased an L10C and it stopped working pretty quickly.  He has agreed to let me take a peek at it and see if we can get it working.  I may update the score and review after that. Just a heads up. 

This review, in a way, is perfunctory.  The L10C already won my pick for Overall Product of the Year in 2014.  It is, in many ways, a watershed product--serious performance at a budget price, in a great battery format.  It is the promise of the Eiger filtered through economic forces and competitive markets into a $30 light.  The L10C is a great light and an insane value.  But you already know that.  This review is designed to formalize all of that in one place, to give you a benchmark for other lights.  Suffice to say, going forward, production lights need to be insanely awesome.  The era of lumens upgrades is over--quality is now available on a budget.  So if you are making a me-too design bragging about a marginal benefit in output, go elsewhere.  The market has passed you by and thank god.  I just about lost touch with the production world of lights.  I couldn't take another tiny tweak in a light that manufacturers called revolutionary when it was, at best, hardly noticeable.

Here is the product page. The L10C costs $33 shipped.  Yep, shipped. Here is a written review. Here is a video review. Here is a link to Amazon, where you can find the L10C, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Here is my review sample (purchased with change from inside my car...well, almost):


Here is my video overview:

Twitter Review Summary: The light found in Adam Smith's Invisible Hand

Design: 2

This isn't a titanium jewel.  It isn't a thrower.  It isn't all that complex.  In fact, this is probably one of the simplest lights I have reviewed.  But, it has all of the things that really matter and none of the bullshit that doesn't.  Let's run down the list:

1. Clicky: the clicky feels great here--responsive without being sensitive.

2. Clip: good bolt-on clips are my favorite and here you get one that threads relatively easily in place, though you don't have to worry as it comes attached.

3. Output: the whisper bright low is perfect and the high is about as good as you can expect given the battery format.

4. Emitter: Nichia 219 for excellent color rendering. 

Simply put--the L10C is shorn of baloney and focuses on the features of a flashlight that really matter. Its good--really good. And frankly the simplicity of the design is a pleasant change from uber complex lights like the Surefire UDR Dominator.  There is zero feature creep here and the light is all the better.

This is a slightly larger than normal 1xAA light.  Here it is with a standard deck of cards (a more colorful and easier to photograph size reference than the shiny Zippo):


The performance ratios are good.  The lumens:weight is 79.47 (120 lumens/1.51 ounces).  The total lumens output is found on high with 10800 (120 lumens for 90 minutes).  

Fit and Finish: 2

The hard anodizing has held up just fine over six months of use.  The clicky is still crisp.  And the threads are clean and smooth.  But there is feedback out there that the L10C isn't all that solid.  I will note that the feedback came from earlier than the date of my purchase so it is entirely possible my unit came from an improved batch, as I have had zero problems.  But I think it is important to note the issue.


One thing I will point out and this the thing that probably detracts from the fit and finish the most--the emitter is ever so slightly off-center.  It doesn't affect the beam, not at all, but it is visible.  Its just one of those things that flashaholics check for (like blade centering) and when it is off, you always seem drawn to it, no matter how little it sits to one side.  Also remember, this is a $30 light, so small cosmetic flaws like an slightly off-centered emitter shouldn't be a big deal.  You can get perfect fit and finish at any price, as the San Ren Mu 605 proved, but I wouldn't lose a second of sleep over the emitter placement here. 

Grip: 2

I have said this before but there is a certain feel, a well made and well designed flashlight has in the hand, and the L10C has it. It just fits. Everything falls in place and your hand is right where you need it to be.  It is, frankly, lovely.


The knurling pattern is effective without being shreddy and the pocket clip mostly stays out of the way. Very good and one of the reasons to buy this light over another very good cheap light, the Eagletac D25 AAA.  The reality is, some of the smaller 1xAAA lights are too small.  But here you get compact but not teeny.

Carry: 2

It is not exactly tiny, but the size isn't bad in the pocket at all.  The L10C is a slender, especially compared to stuff like the comparatively "bulky" SC52.  This isn't the shortest light running a 1xAA power source, but its not too bad. Finally, the clip is darn good. Its not the best ever, not Haiku good, but it is probably equal to the also refined SC52. 

Output: 2

Its funny, over the years, the top end of output has become pretty boring.  Everyone makes lights that are good, some are great. This is where the L10C sits--between good and great for the power source. But the real action, where the real performance jumps take place, is at the low end.  And here, like everything that matters with lights, the L10C comes up huge.  With a whisper bright .5 lumens low the L10C gives you a few slivers of light, enough to find your way, but not enough to wake a sleeping person or steal your night vision.  This is best in class performance here, on par with some uber pricey boutique lights like the HDS Rotary (though it is getting more common on midpriced lights).  Additionally, the two other medium type modes are adequately spaced and useful.  All in all, its hard to beat the L10C on the bottom, its decent at the top, and good in terms of spacing.  Superbly done.  

Runtime: 2

Like with output, the runtimes have become pretty staid.  The top end here is what you'd expect from a modern light, but again, the action and interest takes place at the bottom of the output.  Thanks to the very low low, the L10C can run for an enternity.  Its not unique in this regard, but the idea that you could get ultra long runtimes out of a 1xAA flashlight is quite nice and, if I had a DeLoren, it would have been stunning even as few as three years ago.  Flashlight technology changes quickly and this is one of the signs of that pace--amazing performance even on a budget light.  

Beam Type: 1

With a deep-ish emitter, I would have expected a bit more throw.  This is not the most terrible flaw, but I just can't figure out what is going on here.  Someone with experience designing reflectors could probably say why.  If I were L3 Illumination I would upgrade to a pure experience with a TIR optic.  As it is, you get a little bit of throw and a little bit of flood, but not enough of either to make one or the other 100% worthwhile.  You can cover up some beam type problems with good outputs and the L10C does that, but blah, I wanted more.  

Beam Quality: 2

Hello Mr. Nichia.  I didn't realize that you had become so egalitarian.  I am pleased that you have.  The results of your more democratic approach have been inspiring.  The beam is clean, round, and resplendently sun-like in its color rendering.  

UI: 2

Clickies aren't great.  I'd prefer a selector ring, but this clicky is surprisingly good.  I am not saying "good for the money," I am saying just straight up very good.  There is a strong feedback to the clicky and the spacing between the modes is perfect. I like the start up in whisper low, but I wish there was a mode memory.  Alas, the budgetary constraints come in. Of the things to not include, that's the thing I would have left out as well.  

Hands Free: 2

It stands well. It doesn't roll. And it does the always last resort, between the teeth grip, quite well.  

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

Its not a perfect light, but it is pretty close.  If it weren't for the neither here nor there beam type, this would be a perfect light.  As it iss you'll have to settle for damn good.  At the price its an amazing deal.  The 1xAA format has come a long way from the days of weaksauce output and runtimes measured in heartbeats.  In terms of EDC use the format pulled ahead of CR123as a while ago, but that was largely because of the performance of the mid-priced lights out there.  As it stands now, well, even the budget lights are screamers.  

When I gave the L10C my Overall Product of the Year for 2014, I got some feedback that the lights weren't all that well made.  I did some research and it is true that there are performance and durability issues reported on forums, CPF and Budget, but I have not experienced those problems nor have I been able to cause issues to occur with rough use.  I have mentioned this before, but evaluating QC is very hard to do for two reasons.  First there is the sample size issue--usually I only have one review sample.  Second there is the whiner issue--people on the Internet LOVE to whine.  Type in even the most beloved piece of gear, something that has a reputation for superior fit and finish, such as the Sebenza, and you will find dozens of threads containing people attesting to the poor QC out of Chris Reeve's shop. Be clear, I am not saying that the folks complaining about the L10C are whiners.  Its just that I have no way to distinguish whiners from sincere folks, hence the problem with Internet feedback. My review sample has been fine but as a tip of the hat to the reader who passed the QC tip along, I decided to include this paragraph. Its the best I can do.

Simply put the L10C is a great light, one that just about anyone on Earth could carry and use with no problems.  Its design and production budget was spent incredibly well, skipping baloney like a junky sheath in favor of a truly great emitter.  Every choice was made exactly as I would have made it.  Only the soupy beam type was an issue and even that was a small one.  With a TIR (also available on budget lights, see the D25AAA), the L10C could be a world beater.  As it is, it is probably the best 1xAA light on the market and a no-brainer recommendation for newbs all the way up to seasoned flashaholics.  Beware of QC problems, but delight--this is a $33 light that performs like a $100.  Its  not sexy.  Its not titanium. There is no Jetsonsesque selector ring.  What there is is everything you want in an EDC light and nothing you don't.  Just go buy the L10C.

The Competition

Pu-lease.  The Fenix PD22 is not even in the same league--the friction fit clip, thick body tube, and less than awesome UI makes the L10C an easy choice.  The thing I keep coming back to is this--the L10C compares favorably to the SC52 from Zebralight, probably the consensus pick for the 1xAA format.  While the SC52 is shorter, thanks to the side switch,  the L10C isn't giant and is actually a bit thinner.  In every other regard the L10C is as good or better.  Both run bolt on clips, the L10C has a better UI, a better clicky, a better emitter, and while its not as bright on high as the SC52, in terms of perceived brightness, there isn't much of a difference (again, remember that our eyes perceive brightness logrithmically, meaning that large increases in lumens are necessary in order for things to look different).  In short this is a better light than the SC52 and it costs 50% less.  And yes, Zebralight is a US company, but both L3 Illumination and Zebralight have their lights made in China. 


  1. And with that comparison to the SC52, my favorite light, I'm definitely in for an L10C. Its like you just told me about 3 inch EDC knife that is better than a Sage or Mini Grip and it costs $40.

    1. What larry said. The SC52w literally ended my acquisition of new flashlights. (Except for a 2014 Fenix E05 for the keychain).

      But that makes this recommendation an eye-opener.

    2. I will say that it seemed like there was a little bit of casuistry deployed in the Output section to get to a 2. Nothing wrong with casuistry! But no, I really can't see a 2 for a 120 lumen 1xAA light. The Zebralight (a smaller 1xAA) doesn't just edge this light, it crushes it; 150% more output.

      You used to name 200 lumens as the "good enough" cutoff; did that change? Do you think Zebralight's output figures are less rigorous than L3's?

    3. And I also love the SC52w's interface. One hand operation that you don't have to shift around in your hand lika a tail clicky. Its such a great light.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. The lumens cut off I had was 100 lumens, which is the output needed to get from my bedroom window to the garbage cans at the edge of my yard on trash day.

      While the output is 150% more, remember that the way the eye perceives brightness will not make it look like a HUGE boost. Its noticeable, but not that big a deal.

      Additionally, if the Zebralight's output was necessary to get a two in the 1xAA, there would only be one light to get a two as the SC52 has the highest output in the format.

    6. Very fair response.

      I am ordering one of these things on the strength of the review (my first Nichia 219), so please know that I'm not just seeking to nitpick.

      Random idea: What about an Overbuilt Sub-3" EDC Shootout between the Spyderco Techno, the CTS-XHP Mini Recon 1, and [insert third knife here]?

    7. R.D., could you pls. point out exactly what you meant the casuistry involved in output?

    8. You know what, I withdraw that characterization. Tony put his finger on it in his response. I am so used to the Zebralight SC52w that I forget that its output is actually very unusual for a 1xAA.

      After so much pocket time with the SC52w I am worried that going back to 120-130 lumens will feel like a notable step down, so it seemed to me hard to conclude that a 1xAA light at that output could deserve anything more than a 1, without a lot of qualifications about it being "good enough," which is what that segment of the review initially sounded like to me.

      But then I went and actually surveyed the state of the industry. Fenix LD12, Foursevens QPA, etc. And nope, I'm wrong, 120 to 130 is still the output norm for this format.

      So I apologize for the characterization.

    9. Thanks. No worries. I was just wondering if I'd missed something. Tony is Jesuit educated, after all. :)

  2. Tony: Have you considered doing any sort of review of batteries? I'm thinking about getting an EDC light(the one I have now is some free cheap crap) and I would love to know what batteries you'd recommend. Put simply "which AA battery should I buy with this light?" if the answer isn't just "whatever is sitting in the checkout line".

    1. Here's what I go by based on reviews I've read and my own comparison:

      Sanyo Eneloop - fantastic NiMH batteries that hold a lot of power, don't develop memory, can be stored with full charge and maintain 90% charge after 1 year. They cost 2-4 times more initially than alkaline, but they recharge thousands of times for literally pennies. They are not prone to leakage like alkaline, and don't seem to work better in cold. My personal preference for an EDC light.

      Alkaline - Familiar and readily available, but poor performance in cold and are prone to leakage. There is not much performance difference between Duracell and Energizer. Compared to something like Rayovac the "big names" are slightly better, but not enough to justify the increased price (sometimes nearly double). I find that the huge 36 packs of Rayovac from big box stores offer the best value.

      Lithium - These disposables, such as Energizer Advanced Lithium, are more expensive than alkaline and less readily available. This is offset by the large performance increases they offer: more power/longer life, exceptional shelf life (12 years), and the best performance in cold. They are also noticeably lighter weight than alkaline. For a backup/emergency/go-bag light this is the hands-down winner. For an EDC light it is a respectable choice, but I prefer the long term value offered by the Eneloops.

    2. Great summary.

      I dislike fussing with rechargeables, and am a "let them eat caviar" guy when it comes to batteries. I have long used Ultimate Lithiums in all 1xAAA or 1xAA lights that I actually carry. It's an indulgence, but I looooove them.

      Alkalines for casual or 'round-the-house backup lights.

    3. Oops. That should read that the Eneloops DO seem to work better in cold.

  3. Great review as usual and spot on with your points. Unfortunately, I encountered a QC issue with the light not functioning after about a month. I'm in the process of getting an exchange, but loved the light while it was working.

  4. I was hoping you could provide a comparison with the Thrunite T10 since they seem similar with regard to being budget lights.

    1. The clicky on the T10 is worse and it has no option for a Hi CRI emitter, like the Nichia 219. That puts the L10C ahead for me.

    2. On the other hand, however, the T10 has mode memory, a higher (though not greatly so) high, comes with a diffuser cone, and runs about $6 less.

  5. I have the older twisty model and like it, but got a new model because I like clickies and wanted the clip. Excellent lights, good enough for most any EDC casual user, I'd think, and priced right.
    Throw is adequate for me, and I think it hits a good compromise for EDC task use.

  6. That is definitely the area the US ALL Salaryday Measurements Home fund cost-effective cost-effective economical loan products as well as products or alternatives can certainly make use of efficient affected by. Once you choosed to discover acquired with the US ALL Salaryday Measurements Home fund cost-effective cost-effective economical loan products as well as bad credit payday loans products or alternatives.

  7. I know it is a 1xAAA light but, I would pick the Prometheus BetaQR before this light. It is more expensive but it is the most impressively built light I have owned and it is still fairly affordable. The BetaQR made me retire my Peak Eiger completely.

  8. I'm having a hell of a time with the distributor linked here and in the previous mention, SB Flashlights.

    I ordered one from SB following your naming of this as the 2014 Product of the Year. I placed the order on January 6th, 2015. I happened to notice on the 8th that the finish I ordered was now listed as out of stock. (I'm sure their sales surged in response to your recommendation.)

    Since I had yet to receive a shipping notice, I emailed customer service and was told that the item was indeed out of stock and they expected to have more by mid-February, and I could expect mine then.

    Mid-February came and went, I emailed again on Feb. 27th and was told that due to delays it would now be mid to late March.

    I don't necessarily mind waiting, but I am pretty shocked that in both instances there was no attempt made to contact me to let me know about the delay. Even after having questioned it in January, when they knew the February ship date would not be met, they did nothing to let me know.

    I've not had any dealings with SBFlashlights prior to this and I'm not sure if my experience is unique to how popular this particular product has proven to be, but if they are a site sponsor in any capacity I hope they are treating you better than I've seen thus far.

    1. Well March has come and gone and still no light.

  9. Mine both arrived pretty promptly as ordered. Of course, I got "Old Man Orange" so I could find it easily in a black suitcase or carry bag. I would have liked a more subtle shade, but just not practical in my life.

  10. Sorry, can't beat the SC52w L2's interface... And I'm not sure this L3 has a better emitter than the L2 either.

    Love the L3 though, I have it in the Nichia non-clicky version.

    1. The only reason the SC52 hasn't run away with the crown is its clunky, overly complex interface with its 6 different modes and silly "high and slightly less high" configuration. If ZL would give us a light with 3 modes, well spaced, and leave everything else alone, their would be no doubt that the SC52 is best the light under $100. Until then, their shortsideness gives us reason to explore the competition.

  11. I've been EDCing this thing nonstop for two months. Great light, great buy.

    I agree with almost all the high points in this review. Great feeling clicky, clean beam, awesome tint, and, on mine, nice F&F, and (something I think carries tremendous weight in Tony's reviews -- this is the basic reason why he loves this light) zero obviously bad design choices.

    I just use plain jane AA alkalines in the L10C -- I guess I don't consider it as an aristocrat like my Zebralight SC52w, which I always feed the 40 day dry-aged prime ribeye of batteries, aka Energizer Ultimate Lithiums. L10C runtimes are fine.

    I have only two caveats.

    1) The pocket clip is complete bullshit. It's a stamped sheet of thin, bendy metal. This is where where you can tell they scrimped on costs to meet budget. It scraped on stuff and got bent, then when I tried to unbend it it broke in two. Whatever. I unscrewed the jagged stump of the clip, trashcanned it, banished it from my memory, and started dropping the L10C in my pocket as a clipless light, like a Fenix LD15 or E12. It works great that way. Nice slim form makes it an easy carry next to your wallet. (Although it still struggles to tailstand even sans clip.)

    2) Coming to this light from the SC52w, I have occasionally missed the insane output of the Zebralight. That said, on medium and high the L10C acquits itself fine. It's a question of "puh-lenty of light" (SC52w) vs. "enough light" (L10C).

    Well worth a buy.

  12. Tony: Have you had a chance to check out the L11C? I bought one based on this review of the L10C and I've been more than happy, but I wonder if they've improved it enough to be worth noticing.

  13. Blast. This was such a good light.

    My L10C has stopped functioning. Seems that about two months of pocket time and regular use was enough to kill the clicky.

    So I end up where Ellison did in a comment above: I really like the light but it didn't last long. It seems to have QC issues. I hate to say it, it may be time for a re-evaluation.

    How did things pan out with the non-working L10C the reader sent in to you?

  14. RD that sucks. I got the L11C a few weeks ago; hopefully they've fixed the QC issues with the new model.

  15. Well it turns out that RD wasn't alone. My L11C quit after 2 months and I got it replaced. The new one's clip was loose enough to be useless so I had to take it off, but that was fine for me. Also the new one wasn't as finished on the tail so it couldn't tailstand at all. But then after about another 2 months it quit too. I love this light but I can't keep doing this. So I bought the Al-bodied Thrunite T10 NW 2014 edition. I'd rather have the Nichia 219 and hopefully they've fixed the clicky but I can live with all that if it works longer than 2 months. If they won't refund me on the L11C then I'll have a decent backup or my wife will have a purse light. But I can't depend on it and that's sad. I'd definitely pay extra for someone to make this light with a bit better F&F.

  16. I received two L11C's (nichia 219B, 4 mode) a week ago. Yesterday the one I was using stopped working without any clear cause. I just emailed SBflashlights asking for a replacement. I'll start using the second one now and hope it lasts until I get the first one back.