Saturday, May 7, 2016

Fenix RC09Ti Review

If you are a baseball fan, follow me for a second.  If not skip down to "In many ways".

I was at the peak of my fandom in both baseball and baseball cards in 1989.  When Upper Deck released their first set and it included the Ken Griffey rookie card I was ecstatic.  When I opened my first pack and saw Ken Griffey grinning back at me I lost it.  Ken Griffey Jr. was for me and many others my age a revelation, a hope that we would see someone assault the record books like Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron did.  He was my generation's best hope at becoming The Best Player Ever.  And for a decade he lived up to the hype, destroying pitchers for the Mariners.  I lived in a small town named Xenia, Ohio, so my favorite team was the Reds, but as they were in the NL, I could have passing flirtation with the AL Mariners.  Year after year after year Griffey amazed in the outfield and crushed at the plate.

Then one fateful day he was traded...OH MY GOD...to my team the Cincinnati Reds.  He is from Cincinnati and his Dad played for the Big Red Machine, so it was a homecoming.  And my kid heart, now a young adult heart, swelled at the thought of a pennant arriving on Ken Griffey Jr's back.  Alas, the Reds portion of the Ken Griffey career was marked more by injuries than home runs.  Eventually he was traded to the White Sox, though even now, just a few years later, no one remembers Ken Griffey Jr. White Sox, except maybe for him falling asleep in the dug out.  Each step of his career was a sad one, a downfall and let down from former greatness.  

In many ways Fenix's role in the flashlight world parallel's Ken Griffey Jr.'s career.  When they first erupted on the scene, they were making better lights than Surefire and selling them for 1/3 the price.  They had better LEDs, better designs, and better specs (though Surefire's optics were always and still are better).  They were the first company from China to make a splash and what a splash it was.  I remember thinking that any day now we'd be getting 500 lumen single cell lights for $15.  The promise of Chinese manufacturing was so great.  If Fenix's could do for flashlights what Wal Mart did for lots of stuff, we'd be awash with great cheap lights.  But that's not what happened.  Surefire pivoted and caught up.  Other Chinese companies overtook Fenix.  Olight, FourSevens, Thrunight, Eagletac, Sunwayman, and JetBeam outpaced Fenix about five years ago and have been lapping them ever since.

And so when the RC09Ti was announced I was excited, hopeful that Fenix was about to rise like a...oh man, too obvious.  But the light is not the herald of a return to former greatness, but more like the Reds portion of Ken Griffey's career. There are so many design gaffs and feature crap outs that this is just not that competitive of a light.  5 years ago it would be great.  2 years ago it would be a competitor with the S10 Baton.  But now, with the S1 Baton and the Titan Plus, this is an also-ran.  

Here is the product page. The Fenix RC09Ti costs $100 and is a limited edition (thank god).  There is a cheaper aluminum version with the same feature set.  I don't see why the review here doesn't cover that light as it is the exact same but for the titanium body. Here is a Reddit thread mocking Fenix and how terrible this light is (did I mention it has AIRCRAFT GRADE titanium!).  There are no written reviews. Here is a video. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Fenix RC09Ti, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ 

That said, you should probably buy another light using that link.  

Here is my review sample: 

P1060920

Twitter Review Summary: Over the hill Fenix's latest attempt at cutting edge...too little too late.

Design: 1

There are a lot of things about this light that before the Titan Plus and the S1 Baton I would have considered annoying, but not that bad.  The on/off button, for example, is very easy to accidentally turn on.  It happened many times in my pocket while carrying this light.  The S1, which also runs a side switch button, has a stronger "bounce" to it and is less exposed so it didn't activate accidentally even once.  Similarly, the light's size, while decent for a light that has an output of around 500 lumens, is beefy compared to the 300 lumen Titan Plus or the 500 lumen S1.  Both are significantly smaller.  The exposed charging port is not something I like all that much, either.  It can be mistaken for the switch in the dark, it attracts gunk, and I dislike how it charges:

P1060914

The idea of a light that can charge the battery with the battery inside is great, but the rechargeable S10 Baton did it better and that was a light from a flashlight generation ago.  None of these are a deal breaker (hence the 1 instead of the 0) but all are indications that this light, despite its price and billing in Fenix's marketing, is not a cutting edge light.  Five years ago it would be and Fenix's presentation of this light indicates that they are truly no longer in their prime.  

Performance ratios are pretty middling.  Max totally lumen output is found on medium (50 lumens for 470 minutes) and is 23,500.  The lumens:weight is (550 lumens/2.76 ounces) 199.  Neither are spectacular. 

Fit and Finish: 2

Whatever complaints you have about the light, it's UI and its design, can't carry over to its fit and finish.  The light is marvelously made with tight tolerances and well polished parts.  Nothing is super great, but there are no flaws either.  I have always liked Fenix's fit and finish.  Now if only their design department and their emitter department could catch up to their machine shop...

Grip: 1

I like side switch lights.  They are very, very good in the hand.  It's a shame that they went to all of the trouble of relocating the switch, only to give you a giant honking clip that really hampers the grip of the light.

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As you can see the upturned portion pokes right into your hand's meaty parts.  This was not a good idea at all.  Unlike the S1's clip, which is equally terrible, I could not, for the life of me, get this thing off without fear of damaging it or the light.  Since I give most of the gear I review away as part of giveaways, I didn't want to destroy the thing or use pliers, so I left it alone.

Carry: 0

There are three problems, each of which is pretty substantial.  First, the side switch is too easy to accidentally activate.  I got hot pocket more with this flashlight than any other I have tested.  Second, the light is a bit big by today's standards.  The S1, which runs on the same size battery, is probably 3/5th the size.  Its not ginormous, but it is too big to easily fit into a coin pocket on a pair of jeans.  

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These two would knock the light down to a 1.  But it is the clip, that dreadful clip, that kills this thing.  I hate friction fit clips and this one has all of the flaws of the type.  It comes loose (though, weirdly, never loose enough to pull off the light).  It moves and gets hung up on fabric.  It is also a paint scrapper.  Finally, that up curved tip at the end is just awful.  It is so darn pokey.  In preparing this review, I found a letter I wrote to Fenix five years ago.  It went like this:

Dear Fenix,

I hate your el cheapo friction fit clips.  Please get rid of them, they are pretty bad.  

Signed,

Everyday Commentary

PS: They suck.  Really.

Okay I never wrote that letter, but I could have and given that they sucked 5 years ago, now, with very good clips like the one on the Surefire Titan Plus, this thing is a travesty. 

Output: 1

The high is fine, of course, because that is just a function of the emitter.  Anyone that can buy emitters can guarantee a good high, but the fact that this light is lacking a moonlight low or anything close to it, tells you all you need to know about this light and Fenix.  In this day and age, lacking a mode that preserves night vision is the flashlight equivalent of releasing a car without seatbelts--you just don't do it.  This more than any other feature or lack thereof tells you how out of touch Fenix is with the cutting edge of flashlight design.  

Runtime: 1

Without a moonlight low, the month long runtimes seen on modern lights is impossible.  As a result, this light just can't hang with the competition.  Here is a comparison that proves my point.  The max runtime on the Zebralight SC5 is 4 months.  The max runtime here is 53 hours.  Supposing you are out in the wilderness or trapped in a cave, which would you rather have--4 months or 53 hours of lighting?  Simple right?  Suppose you are like me and never trapped in the wilderness or in a cave, but merely someone that doesn't want to fuss with their gear all day, every day, which would you want?  Simple, again.  No moonlight low, no amazing runtime.  

Beam Type: 2

The beam here is actually good.  The long head makes up for some of the deficiencies in a non-TIR optic.  A shallow reflector optic is just terrible, producing a poor balance between spill and hotspot.  Here, thanks to the decent reflector you get a tight hotspot and just enough spill.  This isn't a thrower, but it isn't bad.  

P1060918

Good fit and finish can make up for lesser designs.

Beam Quality: 1

The beam is clean and free of artifacts, but its not all that nice of tint (note, from now on I am going to evaluate tint in the beam quality section and leave it out of the output section, which will just focus on lumens and the spacing between modes).  This is, again, a sign that they have not caught up with the times.  Fenix, it is not that hard to source Hi CRI emitters.  Go get them.  We like them better.  

UI: 0

All right, let me get technical for second.  The time between presses necessary to change modes or operation of a light is called the "debounce" time.  Its basically the time necessary to trigger the emitter to switch modes.  There is a more technical definition of debounce, but for our purposes, this explanation is fine.  The debounce time here is all off.  It is just not the right time.  It screws up how the light works, making turning it on and off and switching modes counter intuitive.  Compared to the perfect UI on the side switch S1, this is horrendous.  In fact, compared to most lights, its horrendous.  Its like watching a movie where the soundtrack is a half second off.  Its SUPER annoying.  But more than annoying, here it makes using the flashlight a complex chore.  The is the least intuitive UI I have seen in a long time, harkening back to the busted Lighthound AA.   This thing is awful.

Hands Free: 2 

The light doesn't roll, tailstands well, and has a magnet in the tail.  Excellent.  Straight up rip off of the S10 and S1, but excellent.

Overall Score: 11 out of 20

I do occasionally fret about the brands I review, worried that I have missed something important.  Fenix is one of those brands, as they are so high profile and so historically important.  But the reality is, they are not all that relevant to us anymore.  They aren't making enthusiast lights.  Instead they are making lights that seem targeted at Big Box and occasionally clad one in titanium to snag our attention.  But pay no attention to this shiny object.  It is a light that would have been decent, but not great in the last generation of flashlights.  Compared to stuff like the Titan Plus and the S1 Baton, this is not worth your time, attention, or money.  

4 comments:

  1. Did not realize you grew up in Xenia. I was born and raised in Yellow Springs.

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  2. A few corrections....
    Bath Ruth??? Autocorrect must be off...

    720 hours is only one month (or mathematically 30 days).

    Love reading your blog, keep it coming.

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  3. Fenix makes enthusiast lights, including influential and well-received ones. They are big multi-cell tactical numbers inappropriate for most ordinary EDC. Just perusing the forums makes clear how much impact the PD35 made. 1000 lumens, dawg! But it is too big to carry.

    Fenix actually did make carryable 2xCR123 lights at one time, the best of which was the PD31, but then they embraced the nerd only-rechargeables-are-legit dogma [looks sideways at Tony ;)] and the lights got thicker and more bloated.

    Anyway, this thing seems like a mess. A lot of the components and features overlap with other Fenix 1xCr123 lights. It's like Fenix saw the huge success of the Olight S1 and thought, what can we piece together out of our parts bin that could hit that part of the market?

    Some of what you are seeing here is the continuing collateral damage from Surefire's patent litigation -- no one feels safe using the sensible forward-tailswitch-plus-twist UI setup. Fenix used to employ that UI in lights like the PD30 and PD10, then they had to scramble for substitutes because of the Surefire suit.

    They ended up with a 2-button UI. The first implementation (PD32, PD22) used a large, slightly rubbery, flush square button on the side of the head to change modes. I actually thought this was a good approach. You could find the mode-switch button easily in the dark with your ring or pinkie fingers. Then they changed to using a wee metal Chiclet button on the side to switch modes. It is good for marketing because it looks like the O1 but it is cheesy and harder to find with your fingers than the old rubbery square switch.

    This side button design is also *obviously* designed to be used in conjunction with an activation tailswitch, because the metal chiclet is exposed and prone to be depressed in the pocket -- this is my way of saying I can't BELIEVE Fenix went with that same little metal side button as the heart of an on/off, one-button UI! Not remotely surprised that you experienced tons of accidental activation in pocket. Terrible idea. It may look like the Olight side button <> but it doesn't feel or behave like it.

    This light seems to share a lot of components and circuitry with the larger PD25, which I own and sometimes carry. It's a comfortable and decent "tactical" EDC with a pretty good forward clicky. Probably around a 15-16 point light.

    I don't get the hostility to Fenix friction clips -- totally secure in my experience -- but I agree that the pointy turned-up protrusion at the end of the clip here is too scrapey. Annoying.

    Having the medium mode be the most efficient output? That is classic Fenix.

    The low is 5 lumens. I take Tony's point that it would be nice to have an 0.5 to 1 lumen moonlight mode, but I wonder if the failure to mention the low output might lead people to think this is a completely ridiculous output suite like the Foursevens Paladin with its 25-lumen "low".

    This turned into an essay. It may have been an error to polish off tonight's dinner bottle of Chianti before commenting. Peace y'all!

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  4. I handled this light and I couldn't figure out the UI just standing there. It's good to know it wasn't just me.

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