Tuesday, November 30, 2010

CR123A or AA?

For the average person, a flashlight is a flashlight, as long as it's adequately small and bright. A large percentage of people don't know or care about different bulbs, diodes, lighting modes or battery types. They never really had to know, because they don't normally use flashlights.

Which battery: CR123A - Lithium or AA - Alkaline?
For us, it's different. We care about brightnesses, runtimes, lighting modes, flashlight size/weight, etc. All of this matters because we care about pushing flashlights to the limits: getting the brightest light, with the longest runtime in the smallest package.

In the pursuit of flashlight efficiency, one thing cannot be overlooked: The choice of battery. For the past 40-50 years, alkaline batteries have been the standard for a quality battery.

Within the past few decades, as technology has advanced, the lithium battery was introduced. Lithium batteries have a longer life for high-demand appliances and can even offer higher voltages than your standard alkaline battery, although they are generally more expensive.

This leads us to title of this post, "CR123A or AA?". For those who do not know, CR123A are popular lithium-cell batteries often used in flashlights. I wanted to give you some advantages and disadvantages, comparing the lithium-cell CR123A battery with the alkaline AA battery, both common in today's flashlights.

AA - Alkaline Cell

Never fear, excellent flashlights that use
AA batteries do exist, such as this
Quark Tactical QTA by FOURSEVENS.
The alkaline AA battery has been around for many many years. It is so common, that it can be found almost anywhere. This commonality is it's greatest strength and the main reason why so many flashlights use it. It is an adequate performer, especially for items that drain the battery slowly.

High load applications are where the alkaline battery falls short, being the main reason why it is not as good for flashlights as a lithium cell. A AA battery, when used in a powerful flashlight, has about 700 mAh (miliampere-hours: a unit of power), which corresponds to how long of a runtime the flashlight can have. When you read about CR123A batteries, you will see how many mAh the lithium-cell battery can have.

Alkaline AA batteries are also heavier than lithium cells, the average weight a AA alkaline battery being around 0.9 oz. The dimensions of a AA battery also dictates the dimensions of the flashlight. A AA battery is 2.0" longer with a diameter of 0.5". Knowing this, a flashlight that uses such a battery cannot be smaller than that. Flashlights that use AA batteries are generally longer and more slender than flashlights that use CR123A batteries.

CR123A - Lithium Cell

The FOURSEVENS Quark Pro QP2L is a high quality
flashlight that uses CR123A lithium cells.
The CR123A is quickly becoming a more and more popular flashlight battery. Although not common enough to be found in all local grocery stores, the slight difficulty in finding batteries may be offset by this battery's excellent performance.

Like I mentioned before, this is a lithium-celled battery. The fact that it uses a different chemical makeup than an alkaline cell means that it can offer higher voltages. The CR123A battery outputs 3.0V as opposed to 1.5V in a AA alkaline battery. A higher voltage can mean that the flashlight using it is capable of being brighter.

The CR123A battery is also a better performer in terms of capacity. The CR123A battery has about 1500 mAh (double that of a AA alkaline battery), which means that the flashlight that uses it generally has a longer runtime.

To top it off, CR123A batteries weight 0.6 oz, 33% lighter than alkaline AA batteries. A CR123A battery is 1.3" long with a diameter of 0.6". Flashlights that use CR123A batteries are generally shorter and wider.

Conclusion

Personally, I am a big fan of the CR123A battery. Flashlights that use them are generally more powerful and have longer runtimes. Sometimes, however a flashlight that uses AA batteries may be the better choice. The only situation that I can think of that you might want a AA-powered flashlight instead would be for people who do not have easy access to CR123A batteries.

In the future, I predict CR123A to continue to grow in popularity, inevitably leading to CR123A batteries being easier to find and purchase. The future, of battery technology resides in lithium cells. As technology becomes better, look forward to flashlights being less expensive, along with having longer runtimes and brighter outputs, eventually leading to the complete phasing out of alkaline batteries altogether. It's a bright future indeed.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Review - FOURSEVENS Quark Turbo Series

The Quark Turbo series of flashlights make
long-range lights small and affordable.
While I haven't gotten around to reviewing them yet, FOURSEVENS Quark flashlights are a staple product for the FOURSEVENS company. The Quark series is know for its compact brightness and durability. One of the features of the Quark series is it's "orange-peel" textured reflector, which gives a soft beam pattern, great for illuminating a larger area at medium ranges.

What if you want to illuminate something far away? Well, FOURSEVENS solved that issue by introducing the Quark Turbo series of flashlights. The Quark Turbo series shares much with the Quark Tactical series of lights, the main difference being that the reflector in the Turbo is smooth, keeping the light beam focused at greater distances. The Quark Turbo is for those who want a flashlight that will illuminate far objects, as well as close ones.

The Quark Turbo comes in two version, the Quark Turbo QB2L - Gen2 (formerly the Quark 123² Turbo)  and the Quark Turbo QB2A - Gen2 (formerly the Quark AA² Turbo). They both use two CR123 or two AA batteries, respectively. The Quark Turbo QB2L is shorter, a little brighter and has a slightly longer battery life, while the Quark Turbo QB2A uses a more commonly accessible battery.

The Quark Turbo models of flashlights have similar output modes. Below, I will list the output modes for the lights, along with their brightnesses and runtimes.

Quark 123² Turbo:
Moonlight (0.2 lumens, 30 days)
Low (4 lumens, 5 days)
Medium (22 lumens, 20 hours)
High (85 lumens, 4.5 hours)
Max (276 lumens, 1.8 hours)
Strobe (276 lumens, 3 hours)
Beacon (276 lumens, 23 hours)
S.O.S.

Quark AA² Turbo:
Moonlight (0.2 lumens, 30 days)
Low (4 lumens, 5 days)
Medium (22 lumens, 24 hours)
High (85 lumens, 5 hours)
Max (247 lumens, 1.3 hours)
Strobe (247 lumens, 2.5 hours)
Beacon (247 lumens, 18 hours)
S.O.S.

The Quark Turbo is turned off an on by a tailcap switch. The switch can be depressed fully or lightly tapped for a "momentary on" feature. This is very useful in case you need to quickly turn the light on.

The smooth reflector on the Turbo lets the beam shine further.
The way to get to the output modes is identical between the two lights. The Quark Turbo can memorize any two modes of output, from its eight total modes, to be instantly available. These two memorized modes are accessed by either tightening or loosening the head (for example, tight can be Max, and loose can be Low).

Programming Modes:

To have the Quark Turbo memorize a different mode, turn it on and loosen the head by a half-turn. Then, tighten the head at least four times rapidly (twisting it tight, then loose, then tight, etc., four times). After the fourth time, leave the head tight or loose depending which position you want to program.

After three seconds, the light will flash, signaling it is ready to be programmed. Cycle through the eight available modes by clicking the tailcap off and on. The mode sequence is as follows:

Moonlight » Low » Medium » High » Max » S.O.S. » Strobe » Beacon

Once you find your desired mode, leave that mode on for ten seconds and the light will flash again, confirming that the mode has been memorized. To cancel programming before it flashes, turn the flashlight off for three seconds.

So, it's easy to see that the Quark Turbo series has a lot of modes and is pretty bright, definitely bright enough for most flashlight uses. What about the dimensions? Yeah, well I figured that I would get the brightness modes out of the way first before getting to the dimensions and externals of the Turbo series.

The size for both flashlights is good, not too big and not too small. The Quark Turbo QB2L is 4.9" long, with a head diameter of 1.2" and a body diameter of 0.9". The Quark Turbo QB2A is 6.2" long, with identical head and body diameters. As you can see in the image, both Turbo lights taper down, having a thicker head and a narrower body.

The tailcap switch on the Turbo allows for "momentary on".
The lights are also reasonably lightweight, with the Quark Turbo QB2L weighing 3.9 oz and the Quark Turbo QB2A weighing 5.4 oz, both weights being with batteries inserted.

The flashlights are constructed of aircraft-grade aluminum and type III hard anodized in black. This anodizing is durable and scratch resistant. The CREE XP-G2 LED that the lights use is protected with an impact-resistant lens. This lens has an anti-reflective coating on the inside to maximize light transmission. The flashlight heads have what seem to be heat-sinks to prevent overheating, which I think looks pretty cool.

The flashlight bodies offer ample knurling and feature a removable pocket clip. The clip is also reversible, giving many carry options. At the tailcap end of the light, there is also a hole for attaching a lanyard. Did I mention that the Quark Turbo lights are waterproof to 10 meters? Well, they are, as if you didn't have enough of a reason to like them.

In the end, both version of the Quark Turbo would make excellent long-range flashlights. The fact that two versions which use different batteries are offered is also great, in case getting CR123 batteries is difficult for you. Don't hesitate getting either light if you are in the market for a relatively inexpensive thrower (long-shining flashlight).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How Does a LED Work?

Read our new "How Does a LED Work?"
page in case you were wondering how a light
like this 4Sevens Preon ReVo is so bright.
I posted a new page onto our site. You can read it here. It's about How LED's Work. Originally, I planned on putting it up as a Flashlight Blog post, but I thought that it's useful enough to publish as a page.

I hope that you guys enjoy reading it.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Flashlight in the Home

Our vision is our most important sense. Without our vision we are at a severe disadvantage. However, in the dark, we lose our vision, putting us at a great disadvantage. This is something that many people often do not think about. At night, we are all totally blind unless we find a source of light. Today, through technology, we have access to relatively powerful sources of light that we can carry with us practically anywhere we go. We have no excuse to not be able to see.

A FOURSEVENS Quark Pro QP2L flashlight
would work great in the home.
How many of you keep a flashlight next to your bed? How many of you have one in an easy to access location somewhere in the house?

If any of you said "No", then, hopefully, I will shed some light onto why you should. (nice pun, heh?)

Knowing that your vision is so critical, it is wise to take the situations where our vision is diminished seriously. If an emergency were to happen, you need to be able to see what is going on, in order to asses the situation and take proper action. Otherwise, tragedy can result.

Why don't I just use a light switch?

There are times when you may not have access to electricity or to a lightswitch. For example, what if the power goes out and you need to see at night? It can be very frustrating looking for a flashlight in the dark. That is why you should always keep a flashlight in an easy to find location where everyone in the house can have access to it.

Here's another situation. What if  are taking out the trash at night; something that I just got back from doing. There are no light switches outside. If you hear a strange noise outside of the home. You would want to see what it was by illuminating the area from a distance. What can you do if you do not have a flashlight?

The smooth reflector on the FOURSEVENS Maelstrom MMS
illuminate far distances.
Having access to a flashlight is also necessary to those who keep a firearm for self defense, which I hope many of you do, if legally allowed to. In a life or death situation, it is critical, absolutely critical, to be able to know what you are about to do. Having a flashlight at hand can prevent a tragedy from happening. That noise that you heard at night might be a burgler, or it might be your child coming home unexpectedly from college. It is very hard to know what it is that you heard unless you first visually inspect it. In a situation where you are considering pulling the trigger to defend your family, making sure of your target is mandatory. A flashlight is the best tool that I can think of to help you in this role.

There are, of course, many other situations where a flashlight would be useful. Not all situations that could use the help of a flashlight are extreme. Most are very common. If you start using a flashlight regularly in the home, you will quickly see the benefits.

Consider what I wrote and if you aren't already, always keep a flashlight handy so that you're never caught in the dark.