Friday, October 2, 2015

Olight S1 Baton Review

In evolutionary biology, scientists long wondered why the chimpanzee and the human, separated by very little in terms of genetic makeup, were radically different in terms of intelligence.  As it turns out, the differences, though small individually, add up to make a huge impact when taken together.  An increase in brain size, an emphasis on different brain structures, an increase in height and a different posture, among other things, add up to a massive difference between the chimp and the person, even if we share a lot of our DNA.

And so too with the S1 when compared to the S10.

The S1 is a dramatic improvement over its predecessor, the S10 Baton.  The S10 was a good light, not a great one, but the S1, with its handful of modest upgrades, is a great light.  That is, like the human and the chimp, even though the changes are small, the combined impact is dramatic.  The size reduction, the modest improvement in the specs, and the TIR optic all together take this light from being a good production light to one of the very best. It does lack some of the elite features other lights have, such as a Nichia 219 emitter (come on Olight, you have to see the trend in the market) and crazy runtimes, but short of those two things, the S1 has everything you need to make it a great light.

Here is the product page. The Olight S1 Baton costs $50. This is the first written review. Here is a video review. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the S1, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample (purchased with my own money and going in the Gerstner Chest!):

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Here is my video overview:


Twitter Review Summary: Evolutionary awesomeness

Design: 2

This thing is tiny.  I mean TINY.  Here it is in my medium glove (and distinctly non-lawyerly hands...I was splitting wood for the dark cold New England winter):

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It's older brother, the S10 was compact, but it wasn't this small and the difference is huge.  This light is much more like the Aeon in the pocket than it is the S10.  The 15% or so reduction in size doesn't SOUND like a big deal but it is.  The light goes from being a clip or pocket carry to a coin pocket carry light and is huge--it gives you a whole pocket to use unimpeded.  

The other major change, which makes the size reduction possible, is the TIR head and that too is amazing.  I will leave the beam pattern specifics to the category below, but the overall feel and look of the light is dramatically improved by switch from a reflector to an optic. 

The blue anodizing is nice because it is, well, my favorite color.  It also happens to break up the black monotony of the light, a dash of color to accent everything important--the head and the switch.  The labeling is a bit garish, but who really cares.

As a light on paper or in CAD, the S1 smokes it.  This is a perfectly sized and shaped EDC torch.  

The performance ratios are good, as you can imagine given the S1's Liliputian dimensions.  The total lumens output is 28,800 (80 lumens for 2,400 minutes) and is found on medium using CR123as (note that in a weird turn, the light does much better, both in terms of runtime and lumens using primaries instead of rechargeables).  The lumens to weight ratio (500:1.65 ounces) is 303.  Both are pretty staggering.  This is an amazing amount of firepower for a light this small.

Fit and Finish: 2

One of the most frustrating aspects of reviewing production flashlights is their widely inconsistent levels of fit and finish.  Nitecores have been universally wretched.  47s and Eagletac have been decent to very good.  Thrunite, Surefire, and HDS have all been superior.  The S1 falls into the category of the latter.  Its not as robust as a Surefire or an HDS, but every part is well-machined and all come together snugly.

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And its nice to know that with all of the doodad-ification (yes, linguistics researcher from the year 3121, this is the first instance of the word doodad-ification being used) of torches, Olight remembers that tailcaps need to be flat.  Remember the Jetbeam Raptor--what a dumb way to machine a tail cap.

Grip: 2

The ratio is there--the magic number between the length and width of the light.  But more so there is the knurling and the excellent hex head.

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Taken together these all make for a grippy and great light, despite the small size.

Carry: 2 

You might be looking at all of my pictures and thinking--Where the hell is the clip?  Gone.  The clip is wretched.  Its a friction fit clip, but given its size and the size of the light it hardly ever stays in place. So why does the S1 get a 2?  Because without the clip it is the perfect size to drop in a coin pocket and forget about it until you need it.  Its the same reason the Aeon scores well here. Just a bit of a decrease in size and all of a sudden you have a world beater in terms of carry.  This is why the S1 is so good--evolutionary upgrades.  Also, with a light this small you really don't need a clip.

Output: 2 

I have mentioned this before--Quickbeam's (aka Flashlight Reviews) flashlight design dilemma: small size, high brightness, long runtimes, choose two.  Well, Doug, the dilemma is clearly no longer an issue.  At a true 500 lumens, the S1 is amazingly bright for a light of its size.  Its probably 10% bigger than the Aeon and it is 500% brighter.  That's a big deal.  I am not a lumens whore by any means, but with the S1 you get so many in such a small package it is just impossible to ignore.  Why carry an 18650 light when you get this much output in a body the size of your thumb (and what is with everyone comparing lights to digits?  I get that it is convenient, but none of them are the same size...I digress).  Sinner's Tri-EDC is bigger and brighter, probably proportionally so, but other than that firebreathing dragon I am hard pressed to think of something so bright and so small. 

Runtime: 2 

And the second part of the flashlight design dilemma is also dead.  The runtimes here, even on primaries, are crazy.  I imagine that the number for the high is a cumulative one as an hour and half at 500 lumens would probably render the S1 into a puddle of molten aluminum, but still its impressive. I would note that the low should have a longer runtime.  I am not going to set the bar at Muyshondt-levels, but Olight could squeeze some hours out of the moonlight mode if they wanted to.  Its not a big deal, but I feel like I have to mention it.

Beam Type: 2 

Boom! Almost all flood.  I like lots of flood in my EDC lights, but some folks don't.  The spill is almost non-existent here, so be aware.  Compared to the two high achievers here--the HDS Rotary and the king of the beam, the McGizmo Haiku, the S1 looks like it has no reflector or optic at all, but compared to more pedestrian lights, its not crazy.  The "2" here is definitely a personal preference. If you need throw, you probably should look elsewhere.  But to be fair to the S1, this isn't a throw light and using that way is like using a hammer to make an omlet--its possible, but really messy.

Beam Quality: 2

I have gone back and forth on this score.  I want a Nichia 219b or some other Hi CRI emitter in all of my lights.  If you are going to bother to see at night, why not have it look like it does in the daytime?  Olight missed a big opportunity here.  Nichia emitters aren't expensive--the Eagletac D25AAA has one and runs less than $30.

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That said, the tint here isn't offensive, like early Preon purple.  Its just that it could be better.  But a score of "2" doesn't equal perfect or the best, merely excellent.  And here the rest of the beam pattern is so clean, so silky smooth, that I am okay with ignoring the less than the best tint. But Olight this is the place to improve--that and adding a recharge feature.  If you do that, well, geez....

UI: 2

Marshall Hoots of Going Gear helped Olight design the clicky UI and the result is an amazing interface, one that convinces me that clickies aren't dead.  I had long ago written them off as second tier, but thanks to simple and intuitive controls, I now think it is possible to make a flashlight with a clicky and have it compete with UIs like a selector ring or the Aeon's version of a twisty.

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But there is more than just ease of use, Olight included what I think is a flashlight first--a sleep timer.  You can program the light, using just the clicky, to go off at one of two selected time intervals.  Its kind of gimmicky, but when you add this interesting (but maybe not terribly useful) feature to an already superb UI, its going to scoring well.  

Hands Free: 2

The magnetic tail cap was the masterstroke feature of the S10 and here it is still very good.  It is a feature that has spread somewhat as lights like the D25AAA have magnetic tail caps.  Needless to say, the magnetic tail cap is a great feature.  It provides you with the ability to stick the light basically anywhere there is ferrous metal.  In particular I found it useful to stick it on the screws of a light switch plate.  In a power outage, this could be a great way to guide people from room to room. 

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The light's hex collar and the side switch make the S1 stay put when you put it down on its side.  The light's diameter makes it decent between the teeth, which is never advisable but always something people do.  

Overall Score: 20 out of 20

The Olight S1 Baton is not a perfect light.  I want a better clip and a Hi CRI emitter.  But it is an amazing light, definitely the best regularly produced production light on the market (the MBI HF-R is better but not really regularly produced or readily available).  The S1 bests the Peak Eiger, especially if you are comparing them out of the box.  The ability to hit highs of 500 lumens in a light this size with runtimes like the S1 has is truly groundbreaking.

Evolution is a complex process, in the natural world and in product development.  And its often times hard to see incremental improvements.  This is most obviously true in the flashlight world where the breakneck pace of emitter improvements moves the bleeding edge forward probably once every three months.  What, in actual practical terms, is the difference between an XML and an XML-2 emitter?  But every once in a while a evolutionary improvement will be one that is obvious.  The difference between an enteledont and a pig is pretty huge, even though they are closely related.  And here, the S1 is a tremendous upgrade from the S10.  Its smaller, brighter, and just better.  The size difference is quite important as it makes the light vastly easier to carry.

In the end, the S1 is a simple and whole hearted recommendation.  This is a damn good light and about as good as you will find in the production world.  Go buy it.  Its amazing.  

Competition

Compared to the fat, clunky Fenix PD22, the S1 is vastly superior.  In fact, its probably time to update the Readily Available Benchmarks as the PD22 is not all that great.  This means I have to buy a wretchedly overpriced light at Dick's Sporting Goods, but...If you have the choice, get the S1.

14 comments:

  1. At least two written reviews already out there.

    https://www.reddit.com/r/flashlight/comments/3mtuzh/olight_s1_baton_full_review/

    http://www.candlepowerforums.com/vb/showthread.php?408229-Olight-S1-Baton-Review

    I have one of these on the way. Can't wait.

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  2. My coin pocket is dedicated to stowage of my spidey Dragonfly 2. Would this fit in there alongside it? I could NEVER give up my DF2, and feel naked without it in my coin pocket. NAKED I tells ya.

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  3. 2 for 2 on the carry just by removing the clip? Sorry but that is a cop out. Maybe you felt subjectively this was a 20 light from the beginning but are you now going to go back to other lights with removable clips and upgrade their scores to 2 for 2 if you did't like the clip but can take it off? You just nailed the Sinner Tri EDC a point for a crappy clip, but you can just take it off too. There are probably others.

    For knives you did this same thing on the Fallkniven, IRJ, and the Quiete too, and no retention method at all should not be 2 for 2 ( my opinion, obviously), unless maybe retention is not a measurable cartegory. Maybe you should score all knives with and without the stock pocket clips?

    I'd like to see you stay strong like when you face the Pingo a 0 for deployment.

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    1. That should be "gave the Pingo".

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    2. Here is the thing--the clip stinks, but unlike the pocket knife scoring system that has separate criteria for carry and retention method, the flashlight system doesn't. The carry category is designed to capture how nice the thing is in your pocket, clipped or not. The truth is many flashlights don't have a clip. They are not as universal as they are on knives, so it made little sense to have two separate categories for flashlights.

      As such, in terms of carry, the S1 is quite nice without the clip because the size and shape are JUST right. It would be hard for me to give the Aeon a 2 and this anything list given that they are basically identical in size and shape. The fact that it comes with a shitty clip is sort of irrelevant.

      Separately, I think it is possible for a knife, like the Fallkniven U2, to score a 2 when there is no clip. Retention Method is about the appropriate retention method and with a knife as smooth as a river rock, like the U2 (or maybe the Al Mar Ultralight Hawk), the choice to NOT have a clip is the right one.

      It seems weird to say, but think of it like a radio in a Ferrari. Are you going to deduct points or hold it against a Ferrari if they don't include a radio on the La Ferrari? That's the right choice, design-wise. Your listening pleasure comes from hearing the roar of the engine, not some jabber over the airwaves.

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    3. Carry should have been scored a 1, and Peak Eiger is a horrible horrible light

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  4. This critique strikes me as valid.

    "The clip blows but the light/knife carries well loose in a pocket" seems like it should be a textbook example of a 1 out of 2: The feature is flawed but still works, the flaw doesn't seriously dick up the user experience.

    Loose pocket carry is inferior to clipped carry with a product like this; you want your flashlight to stay right where it's put, immediately accessible. Also a dark anodized light like this is harder to protect against finish wear if it is carried loose. (Many people don't have coin pockets or aren't on board with tucking gear in them -- I want to be able to get at the stuff in the main pocket! A CR123 light is too thick for that treatment imo).

    I think larrybar's point about the traditionals is fair as well. If that means that no traditional knife can hit 20/20 unless it is tiny + indestructible (e.g. Cadet) or comes with a good slip sheath, then that should be accepted. The IRJ has a great little sheath; it is an example of a traditional that I'd say merits a 2.

    The knife system is normed around small to medium sized, modern locking folders. It just turns out to work well enough for traditional knives to be worthwhile to apply to them too.

    It's not much different from some of the big Cold Steel folders that are partly designed as fighting knives, Many of them have features that make them interesting and attractive to EDC folks. Nevertheless, I wouldn't expect something like a Large Voyager to earn a 20/20 on this system even if it were a flawlessly executed example of what it is. I mean, that is a really lightweight knife for its strength and blade size; the aluminum liners are a great design touch. But the Large Voyager still would probably merit a 0 for Carry, because it is freaking huge in the pocket, in all dimensions, compared to something like a Benchmade 940 or a ZT0770, and that's just how it is.

    The incisiveness of the 20 point system rests on the way it analytically separates out the components of the user experience. It's OK for a paradigm-defining, breakthrough, must-buy product to get an 18 or 19. The Alox Cadet got a 17.

    After reading this review, I immediately ordered an S1 Baton, which is incoming. The performance numbers are amazing. I love the look -- totally agree about the wonderfulness of blue accents on black gear. Olight should do a co-brand thing with Benchmade and pack one of these in with a 940-1 for $299.

    I do worry that the side clicky button looks kind of small and unprotected -- especially if the light must be carried loose. (I think clickies want to be on the back of the light, under your thumb, as that is the least fiddly, most repeatable gross motor action for activation. Nothing I've tried in flashlight UI, selector rings included, feels as right to me as a well executed "tactical" forward clicky tailswitch.)

    Magnetic tailcaps don't particularly appeal to me. We'll see what this one is like. I am content with a light that tailstands well and maybe can get clipped to my cap.

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  5. It's worth noting the power cost of using nichia vs cree in your emitter discussions and scores. That, more than the monetary cost, was probably the real reason this light uses the cree. When you start getting into the high end (150+ lumens), the nichia is just about unusable. But even at ~80 lumens (which is the s1 baton's normal operating mode) there is a significant efficiency tradeoff. You can check these two posts on cpf:

    XM-L2 (5000k)
    http://www.candlepowerforums.com/vb/showthread.php?352326-XM-L2-quot-review-quot-(mostly-lumen-and-CCT-testing)

    Nichia 219 (I think it's an a-variant):
    http://www.candlepowerforums.com/vb/showthread.php?348171-Nichia-219-lumen-sphere-testing

    At ~93 lumens, the xm-L2 tests at about 169 lumens per watt and 73 cri. At ~99 lumens, the nichia tests at about 108 lpw (89 cri). That combined with the fact that the S1 was probably designed from day 1 with that 500 lumen max target in mind is why this light (and a lot of others) don't use nichia 219s.

    I think I have read that the 219b has improved things in the high lumen range. But the efficiency gap is pretty large even in the mid-range and, for a mass-produced flashlight, I would guess most engineers would decide it's not worth the slight improvement in color temperature.

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    1. I forgot to say:

      I think the new dilemma with leds is high cri, high brightness, high efficiency: pick two.

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  6. This light is really, really great.

    I put the S1 Baton in the hollow of my ball cap and used it as a shielded candle to light up a nighttime dinner on the porch at my inlaws'. After seeing how gracefully it did this, and watching me play with that humongous floody hot spot in their back yard, my mother-in-law immediately asked (twice) if she could have one for Christmas. Well played, Olight.

    I do get the argument that the light merits a 2 for Carry because it is small and perfect for the pants coin pocket. Since I can't use my coin pocket to carry a flashlight, I have to tuck it next to my wallet in the back pocket. There the lack of the clip and the anomalous magnet on the back (I don't like those - grabs your knife/keys/whatever) make it a tolerable but not great carry.

    TL;DR I could only score this a 1 out of 2 for Carry, but I think the review's scoring choice was well explained. I think it ends up exactly where the ZL SC52w does -- 19/20 supermodel with one zit.

    It's a fascinating comparison because both of those lights are so amazing. Each one aboslutely crushes the one feature that the other light has a problem with. The Olight needs a clip while the SC52w has one of the best pocket clips ever. The Olight clicky UI is BRILLIANT, perfectly thought out, while the Zebralight clicky UI is touchy and odd.

    I do like the big, clear, recessed button on the Zebralight more than the teeny button on the Olight -- occasionally have to spend a second hunting for the right bezel face on the O1 to turn the light on or off.

    If the SC52w had the O1's UI programming the resultant light would create a flashoholic singularity and disrupt the fabric of the universe with its thundering perfection.

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    1. You may already know but the magnet is easily removable

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  7. I purchased this light based mainly off the 20/20 rating here, and I must say I was slightly disappointing. Overall, I think I light it, but I would have knocked this light a point for the clip as well as for the button...it's a rubbery button that sticks out too far and activated in my pocket daily...to the point where I just don't carry it anymore.

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