Friday, October 7, 2016

Olight S1A Review

Let's whittle down the battery formats quickly.  Two cell lights and 18650s are too big for pocket carry and I don't carry a backpack around daily (I do carry a briefcase, but I don't want to have to empty it out at the magnetometer), so they are out as EDCs for me.  I like the performance, but not the availability and cost of CR123as (though I think both drawbacks aren't as bad as most think).  This leaves the 1xAA and 1xAAA as my ideal format.  As between those two I think I'd prefer the 1xAAA as it offers a size advantage with no real cost in terms of the lumens, especially with Surefire's emitter that somehow gets 300 lumens out of a 1xAAA (rechargeable only).  The 1xAA is a very good one and one that many people like.  But it is not my favorite.  I'd opt for a 1xCR123a instead.  It's all very close now that emitter tech has leveled the output differences to a degree.  As between the three, they are so close that it basically comes down to which light I like better.  And with the S1A, the decision is even more difficult.  This is basically the S1, with a few tweaks, in the 1xAA format and that is a very good thing.  The S1 is the best production light out there under $100 (I edited out the word "probably" in this sentence, there is really no question).  

It should be simple for me to say: if you liked the S1, but prefer the 1xAA format get this light.  But it in fact these lights are surprisingly different.  The S1A has more in common with the S1R than the original S1. This is because the S1A UI incorporates a mode memory feature.  Is this difference a good thing?  I am not sure.  I do know that if you like the 1xAA format, this is the light to get.   And no, Scurvy, you can't sell me on the Zebralight's extra janky UI. 

Here is the product page. The Olight S1A Baton costs around $50-$55. Here is a written review. Here is a video review. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the S1A, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample:


Twitter Review Summary: Pick your poison...if it is AA batteries, this is the one to get.

Design: 2

It's surprising how a good body tube design can make a flashlight useful, well after its emitter has been left in the dust.  The McGizmo Haiku is still a great light in large part because it is body tube is the best ever designed--right size, right shape, right everything.  And the S1 series of lights has a similarly good body tube.  The hex head and button placement are perfect.  They have the magic diameter to length ratio that feels good in the hand (though the S1 is not as good as this light in that regard--a bit too stubby).

The performance ratios are good.  The lumens:weight is: 250 (600/2.4 ounces, which is 1.3 ounces of battery plus 1.1 ounces of rechargeable AA cell).  I can't give you the maximum lumens output (runtime multiplied by lumens) because the specs don't give us runtimes for each mode. 

Fit and Finish: 2

The one thing that has surprised me about the S-series of lights, even after I had figured how just how good the side switch, emitter/reflector, and size were is how Olight has been able to consistent produce high quality lights.  Over and over and over again, with now five samples of S-series lights having gone through my hands, I can say with more confidence than normal that they have their machining and QC dialed in.  The threads are clean and smooth.  The parts synch up with vault-like tightness, and the emitter head is amazingly dirt, dust, and debris free (one of the many benefits of a TIR reflector--no space for dust to live).  Even the anodizing, which is often where production lights cheap out, has been consistent and hardy.  

Grip: 2

Its not just that the knurling is good, though that is also true.  It happens to be the fact that the light's size is just right to put a medium sized male hand right on the clicky when you hold it.  


Of the S-series lights I have reviewed, this is probably my favorite in the hand.  That extra bit of length gives you a very solid purchase without some of the mild finger yoga required by the smaller lights in the series.  

Carry: 2

The pocket clip is horrendous, like a jagged tear across canvas of a Renaissance master's painting, but fortunately for all of us, it pops off easy, and without it, the S1A can live pretty uneventfully in a coin pocket of a pair of jeans.  Perhaps it is a Freudian Slip then that the product page specs section claims that the light has no pocket clip.  Either that or Olight's web design person knows the real story--the pocket clip is like the pin on a grenade--you have to remove it before using the actual device.   

Output: 2

The Output category is one that I am not so concerned about anymore in terms of lumens.  All of these lights are blindingly bright at the time they are released and then, as emitter tech changes, they get surpassed by the next gen lights.  Here the 600 lumen high (on rechargeables) and the .5 lumen low are great, exactly what you want.  


Really, the thing now is seeing which of the companies choose Hi CRI or at least non-disco tints.  Though the S1A lacks a Hi CRI emitter, it does carry a very good tint and thus scores a 2.  I'd really like to see Olight release a special edition of these lights with a bolt on clip and a Hi CRI emitter.  We'd be in custom light territory at that point in terms of feature set, so it would stand out in the crowd even more than the lights do now.

Runtime: 2

Can I be honest for a second?  All of the decent lights have good runtimes now.  Unless you pick your light at random or buy a Mag, you'll get something useful.  The runtime on low (.5 lumens) is 25 days.  That's pretty darn good, but not Zebralight crazy.  That makes Olight better than average, but if you are reading this blog you are only considering lights that are better than average.  Its not Zebralight awesome, but it is pretty darn good.  

Beam Type: 2

One of the interesting things about S-series TIRs is that they are really great up close.  They provide a hugely useful beam at 30 feet.  At about 100 feet, it stinks.  I prefer the beam type on the Surefire Titan Plus in this regard.  But as an EDC light, which this clearly is, the utility of the beam up close is so high, I can overlook its less than stellar at a distance performance.  Saying your light's beam type is second to Surefire's is a good thing.  

Beam Quality: 2

If the TIR limits throw it does so with the trade off of producing a scintillating beam pattern.  There are no holes, no gaps, no artifacts.  The spill is even to, with pleasantly diffuse edges and the hotspot is blindingly intense.  As a theoretical object, without reference to its real world throw performance, there is nothing I would change here.  The beam looks absolutely gorgeous.  

UI : 1

This is really the only flaw here--the combination of the new mode memory feature and the debounce times required to switch modes conspires to make an imprecise and somewhat clunky UI.  I'd prefer either the original S1 Baton UI or, if you want to do mode memory, go with the McGizmo set up.  This makes it impossible to go from off to either high or low directly, but it makes switching modes easier and convenient.  It's hard to pin down what the issue is precisely--the debounce time on the press and hold or the debounce on switching from medium to high with the light on.  Somewhere in those two functions lies the issue, it's just hard to tease out where. 


It's not a deal breaker by any means.  The light still works, it is relatively easy to use.  The direct from off to high or low is nice.  It's just that none of this is 100% consistent.  It's like 70% consistent.  Once you get the hang of it, that number goes up to around 95%.  But there is no reason it can't be 100%.

Hands Free: 2

The magnetic tail is not a gimmick.  Its great and should be a standard feature on all EDC lights.  Add to that a perfectly flat tailcap and a good anti-roll hex ring on the barrel and you have a great light to use without your hands.  


Overall Score: 19 out of 20

I can't say enough good about the S1A.  Its great.  For the money its about as good as production lights get.  I might actually prefer it over the S1 just because of how nice it is in the hand.  Overall, this a great light.  The UI thing is a weird issue, hard to pin down and hard to explain.  Its not omnipresent, but shows its head often enough to notice.  But don't worry about that.  Your only real decision now is which battery format you like best.  If you like 1xAAA go for the Surefire Titan Plus, if you like 1xAA go for this or the Zebralight.  If 1xCR123a is your preference the S1 or the Mini S1 is the way to go.  The entire S-series is great.  But, as Yoda told Obi-Wan...there is another...


  1. Man, I want to love this light but I can't get past the clip, it is worse than horrendous. I have an S2 and can sorta deal with it but the S1 clip is so much worse, I guess it's the shorter length. I could not get rid of the S1 fast enough and gave it away, to my father. I would buy this in a second if a bolt on clip was available. Why are so many light clips garbage when almost every knife clip is at least functional?

    1. I don't know enough about flashlight history to be any sort of expert. But I have a theory, and someone tell me if I'm nuts or on to something.
      Pocketknives didn't really have clips most of the time, and then Spyderco and others started putting them on knives and it took off from there. Perhaps we're at a stage in flashlights where knives were maybe 10-20 years ago (in terms of clips, not overall performance) and they just haven't caught up yet.

  2. Funny that Scurvy just started having second thoughts on the Zebralight UI. I love my sc52, but if you hand it to another person, it's useless. One thing I wish makers like olight would take away from Zebralight, however is that amazing anodizing. Mine is two years old I think and it still looks almost new.

    1. Where did I have second thoughts about the Zebralight UI?

  3. But SHHHHHHH, don't tell anyone that I have been thinking about the S1R. Unless, you know, zebralight wants to make a rechargeable...

  4. Call me crazy, but I just could never get myself to like the prior version of this light. Its well built, the output is great and construction is first rate, but I simply could never find the on-switch when it was pitch black. I found my thumb twiddling through each face of the hexagon and it was always on the last rotation when I would locate it and flick the light on. I carried this for a month on my keychain, and then just gave up. I switched to a Zebralight H32w headlamp stripped of head straps. The output is 440 lumens (less thena the Olight but more than adequate), the weight is comparable with a CR123 and I could actually find the on/off switch. Just worked for me better

  5. I tried to like the Baton for a month but it took me too long to locate on-switch in the dark with it embedded in the hexagon. Switched to Zebralight H32w headlamp with head strap removed. Pretty much identical weight with a CR123 inserted, slightly less output at 440 lumens, but I can always locate the on button. This one has stayed on my keychain. Guess I have big fat hands. But the Baton certainly was not the light for me. Aesthetically, it is better. For me at least, not as pragmatic an object when needed.

  6. Apologies for double post. I am "unknown"

  7. "Let's whittle down the battery formats quickly" --

    A fair overview but I think the 2xAAA category could compete very strongly if the available lights were more squared away. Some of us have EDC setups that put a premium on thinness over short length. It's just that the makers don't treat 2xAAA as part of the mainstream EDC categories. Penlights are kind of off in their own universe. They are either very affordable/casual (SL Stylus Pro) or they have weird feature sets. The Eagletac PN20A2 could be a great light but what a strange mode array it has -- 40 / 168 lumens iirc. Weird.

    The Streamlight Protac 2AAA, with its good tactical fwd clicky, throwy reflector, and programmable UI, is actually the most sensible model for a "serious" EDC penlight -- *except* for the non-competitive electronics. 80 lumen high (sad trombone), iffy regulation, uses PWM for the low.

    I want someone to make like a 130/10 version of that light with good tint, programmable UI, current control, decent runtimes, lithium primary compatibility, and some knice knurling on the body tube.

    I would pay $60 for that light.

  8. Oh yeah, and my ideal 2xAAA penlight would put some real dough into a tough, retentive pocket clip that can carry well in thick cords or skinny slacks alike.

    Skimping on the clip is a great way to kill a good light. Count me with the folks above who find the Olight S Baton's horrendous clip a big problem. Should cost these lights a point in every review.