Its odd that some of today’s fastest hypercars have higher top speeds than F1 cars. What’s going on here? If these hypercars are faster, why not race them? Well, the answer is they are not actually faster. They may have higher top speeds (we aren’t for sure about this, as most F1 cars don’t go in a straight line for as long0, but they clearly do not accelerate as quickly and they do not have as precise handling and braking. But they do offer is both speed and accessibility. Racecars are never accessible. While cars with over 500 horsepower aren’t mindless drives, they are cars that regular folks can learn to drive (though probably not at 304 MPH, calm down Koenigsegg fanboys…). Racecars, with their mind-bending acceleration and insane suspension, downforce, and breaking, are incredibly high performance, but that performance comes at the price of accessibility. Race cars are virtually impossible to drive. A Regular Joe that sits behind the wheel is immediately overwhelmed by the switches and readouts and buttons. The average race car steering wheel has more buttons than most cars do in their entire passenger compartment. When I sat in the cockpit of an Indy car (at the excellent Indianapolis Speedway Museum), I couldn’t even figure out how to turn it on. Ultrahigh performance almost always limits accessiblity.
And so it is with the retina-destroying Lumintop Fw3A. This is a singular flashlight in a market crammed full of excellent torches. Its high, 2800 lumens, is the current record holder for a common cell, single cell flashlight. But you have to use a flat-top 18650. And you have to be worried about overheating. And you can’t leave it on too long or the battery drains. And you have keep track of your nubbin, which, for the past 41 years, I thought was attached. F1 performance comes with F1 inaccessbility. This isn’t to say that the Fw3A is bad. Far from it. This is an exceedingly well-design torch with performance like no other, but it is not a flashlight you can give to anyone, even when you put it into the hilariously named Muggle mode. If you have the time and mental capacity to work your way through the Andruil UI, you will be rewarded with flexibility and performance that no other production light can deliver. But the mode diagram for the Andruil UI (see below) looks like the safety controls diagram from a nuclear power plant. Time and again the Fw3A requires work, but it provides insane rewards for that work and thus is an excellent enthusiast grade torch.
In the end, this review is a fantastic though experiment in a dilemma I have thought about for decades—is accessibility part of greatness? Whether it is in music, film, or consumer product design doesn’t seem to matter much, the dilemma is the same. Let’s see what the answer is.
Twitter Summary: The F1 of Production Lights—High Performance and Highly Demanding.
With great power comes great complexity. That’s not exactly Stan Lee’s line, but it is nonetheless true. Here the unrelenting output and small form factor has required Lumintop to make a concession on battery selection. Additionally, there is a pair of questionable design choices that make the Fw3A a bit of a liability. First, this light absolutely requires a flat top, high discharge 18650. These are not easy to find and even if you find them, they are hard to purchase. I tried all of my 18650s and none of them worked. I then reached out to the person that provided the sample and he sent me his flat top cell. In between that I went to Amazon to buy a flat top cell and while I definitely purchased one, the item sent to me was a standard button cell. I get the decision to go 18650, high output, but the requirement for a flat top cell makes no sense to me and it makes using and owning this light a bit more of a hassle than it should be. But that’s not all. In one of the most mystifying design choices ever, the entire light depends on a small rubber bit, the nubbin, that is exceptionally easy to lose. This small rubber bit, which is about four times the size of a handwritten period, is housed between the tailcap button and the internals. It is not glued in place, not secured in anyway, and if lost, it cannot be reordered (so far as I know). Without it the light does not function at all. I found this out the hard way as I tried to figure out if one of my smaller button top cells would work. I found the nubbin and put it back, but it is absolutely silly that this is an issue. To compound the problem, the light’s tailcap screws off. The instructions warn you to never do this, but if you are used to most lights, this is the first place you go to take the light apart, which invariably occurs BEFORE you read the instructions. And then the nubbin falls out and you are SOL. Put some Loc Tite on tailcap Lumintop or better yet, reduce the parts of this light and make the body tube and tailcap a single piece.
Between the cell choice, the nubbin, and the attractive nuisance that is the tailcap, this light would be a zero. But the reality is, everything else about the design is so spot on, so picture perfect, I can’t complain too much. The clip is awesome—a washer style clip with a very gentle bent and good mouth. The body tube bears the unmistakeable shape of an HDS light, with its elegant hourglass shape. And the tailcap is wonderful. Time and again, this light’s design is simple and great pulling on enduring features from the great lights of the past. And for that, I think a 1 is warranted.
Fit and Finish: 2
Lumintop’s fit and finish has been historically pretty meh, but with the simpler forms and shapes of the Fw3A, they were able to focus on a few things and do a very good job. The threads are clean and the parts screw together with a seamlessness seen on more expensive lights. The anodizing is even and high quality. I’d like to see the Ti version of this light to see how going it is, as that is a significantly greater machining challenge than aluminum, but this light is well made. Its a step below the HDS/McGizmo/Muyshondt trio, but so is every other light in the universe.
The hourglass light is a classic for a reason, and here, you have that perfect ratio of diameter to length. The tapered middle section and the tailcap flare out are superb and give you great control over the light.
This is about as small a torch as you can get and still use the 18650 format. Its very compact and light (thanks to the aluminum), and it plays well with others given that it lacks the aggro bezel found on a lot of torches these days. Its not as pocketable as the compact class of lights like the Mini Turbo Mk. III or the Surefire Titan Plus, but if you want an 18650 torch you’d be hard pressed to find a smaller one.
If you know of the Fw3A, its because of its output. Thanks to guidance from the community, the low is a whisper of photons, at or below the 1 lumen level, and the high is staggering at 2800 lumens. To put that into context, this light is almost a 1/3 brighter than the headlight on your car. That’s super, duper, insanely bright. I do question the tradeoff between heat and brightness, as this light gets exceptionally hot, but this is the brightest small sized, single cell production light I know of circa October 2019.
Ha. Runtimes are a joke now. With a ton of modes, the Fw3A has you covered. If you need months of a little light, you are good. If you want to melt someone’s eyeballs, be careful, you need to do so quickly as this light will last no more than a few minutes on ultra high. And of course, because the light has a progressive brightness mode, you can get anything you want in between those two poles with a commensurate runtime.
Beam Type: 2
Well, I guess we have given up hope that EDC lights will ever have a throw profile (this is one reason why the Mini Turbo Mk. III and the v2 Raptor are so interesting). This is not a bad beam profile, but its using horse power and not optics to give you anything light real throw. There is a good balance between split and hotspot, which saves this light from a 1, but the idea that none of our general use torches can throw is strange to me.
Beam Quality: 2
With a host of emitters to choose from and a very nice TIR set up, the light’s color and beam are top notch, artifact free, accurate and revelatory. There are no holes, no “puddle ripples,” and a good tint. One note: the optic here is not a typical TIR as there is a combination of clear and frosted portions to the optic. I am not an optical engineer, but the pattern here is so clean that I wonder if that combo has something to do with the purity of the beam.
“I have one button and 247 different modes, good luck.” That is what the Fw3A’s instruction manual should have said. Instead it tries to walk you through the Anduril UI. It has a chart that can be found here:
Yeah, its crazy. In all honesty, I found the default mode pretty good, but my adventures into other modes was, well, inconsistent. In some instances I would get lost in the conceptual maze and end up some place I didn’t want to be. In other instances, I couldn’t get from one mode to the other. The reality is, a selector ring UI like on the Raptor, gives you all of this flexibility with none of the hassle. For that, I give the Fw3A a 1.
Hands Free: 2
With no roll and perfect tailstanding, I love the Fw3A. It all stems from a great body tube, but so many lights fail on this account for no reason I can understand.
Fidget Factor: Low
One button and a daunting UI prompts me to not mess around too much.
Fett Effect: Moderate
I feel like the clip is going to start showing wear followed by the ano, and when that happens this light will look decent. Not leather gloves cool, but better than Halliburton battered.
Value: Very High
State of the art performance for $50? Yup. This is a great buy.
Overall Score: 18 out of 20
In the end, I liked the Fw3A. It was a bleeding edge performer, but there were a few quirks that made me work for that performance. I would prefer the exact same light without those issue, and I have heard such a model is in the works. As it stands, the Fw3A is a truly stupendously bright light for not a lot of money. Its classic body tube will ensure that the light is relevant and useful for years to come, well after it has lost its crown in terms of lumens. You won’t be disappointed by the Fw3A at all. Its a stellar torch.
Right now, as I mentioned in my Best Of series, is a high watermark for production flashlights. The JetBeam RRT-01 v2 Raptor and the Fw3A are among the best on the market and they represent polar opposites in terms of design philosophy’s. The Raptor is so great because it is so user-friendly and dead simple. The Fw3A is so great because it is a no-expense-spared firebreather. If you are looking at a midsized EDC light right now, these should be two of a handful of lights you are looking to purchase, but because of how different they are, the choice isn’t simple. If I were putting this into knife terms it would be something like: should you buy a Busse or a special edition Sebenza? They are truly that different.
If forced to choose (and the Competition section is just that—a forced choice), I would opt for the Raptor. While the Fw3A is insane and unquestionably great, the Raptor is simply one of the best lights available, custom, production, price—whatever criteria you want. But I don’t think the Raptor is always the right choice. There are use cases where I would prefer the Fw3A.
For example, my sons have basically become small, unsponsored versions of Coyote Peterson. We spend an inordinate amount of time catching wild animals. About 40% of all free time on the weekend is dedicated to traipsing through the mud and the muck and the woods (or shore) finding creatures. We release them after a few hours, but the hunt is quite fun for them. In two recent creature adventures, my eldest son and head creature catcher was diving under a massive glacial erratic on the beach pulling out literally dozens of crabs. The stone was big enough that it was quite dark underneath and as a result he borrowed my light and used it to find his way to tiny beasties. This was a task where the more lumens the better. It was also a case where I am not 100% sure the selector ring would have held up. Similarly we were wading down a forest stream looking for snakes and frogs in the banks. They were covered with tree roots and he would literally dive into them. This too was a dark environment that would have benefited in the Fw3A’s formidable output and simpler build.
Neither light would be terrible in this case or for general utility, but if I don’t know what I am going to use the light for, I’d prefer a simpler, slightly smaller light like the Raptor, but this is a dilemma stemming from an embarrassment of riches. Both are good, both would do well in a lot of situations, but the Raptor’s superlative UI puts it slightly ahead of the Fw3A. Accessibility, as it turns out, IS part of greatness.