Enlighten Me

An Interview with Captain Illumination
Some people think that I am the only gadgeteer in the RLSH community. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am not the first, nor even the best. Maybe I am just the most vocal. Whatever that counts for.
There are many Gadgeteers with varying degrees of expertise and specialties. Some are on the street crime fighters, bringing their gadgets to the field with them for testing and fine tuning. Some host builder’s workshops for the improvisation of tools weapons and armour. And some are highly specialized technicians.

 One such highly specialized member is Captain Illumination. The good Captain is a street level crime fighter with an arsenal of home built light based equipment. Seeing his assortment of lights, and talking to him about his abilities it is easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge Captain Illumination has about battery powered light output.

 I wanted to bring some of that knowledge to light. Hehe. So I put together some interview questions for him. If you are looking for a good patrol light or just want to understand the nomenclature better, read on as I pick the brain of Captain Illumination!
1. First off, if you don’t mind,.. Please tell us where you have acquired your background in all things lighting.
Ever since I was very young I have been deeply fascinated by light, my parents kept a journal as I grew up, they said as soon as I could walk I would run around the house turing lights on and off for hours at a time.
I have never been able to leave things good enough alone, If they could be modified or improved upon I would do so. Flashlights were no exception. It all started with my first 4-D Maglite, ever since then I knew I needed more power.
As far as options for lighting goes, there are just so many routs one can take. Someone could just buy the biggest Maglite they can find put a Xenon bulb in it and be done. They could also buy any one of the thousands of cheap “but effective” Chinese made LED flashlights from eBay etc. For the true professional, company’s such as SureFire and Streamlight offer the performance and reliability out of the box that no other brand can match. The last rout of course is total custom built lights. Either based on a production flashlight or made entirely from scratch, these lights allow the end user to have the most control over just what they want their light to do.
What ever your choice start off small and work your way up. The experience you gain from working your way up will later allow you to build your own lights form scratch.
2. You seem to prefer incandescent lights as opposed to the more modern LED lights. Why is that?
Simply put, LED’s ARE the future. The truth is as simple as that. Soon all standard lighting sources will be LED. Just as car headlights are transiting over too LEDs, street lamps, movie projectors, searchlights, everything will be LED I estimate in the next 20 years or so.
That being said while LEDs do offer the ability to make custom lighting projects, nothing today can surpass the utter simplicity and cost effectiveness of incandescent lighting for home made lights. One simply can not match a home made Incan for the same price of a LED modded light. $15 will pick up a Par36- 50 watt bulb which will make over 1,200 lumens easily. In order to make that many lumens in LEDs (regardless of what anyone has seen for sale on eBay, etc) would cost hundreds of dollars invested in driver boards, heat sinks, Multiple LEDs, optics, Li-ion batteries, and even more.
Also Incan’s offer full color rendition. Meaning, everything you see with a incandescent light would look the same as if it was viewed during the day under sun-light. Even while using the purest white LED, one might expect to loose massive amounts of depth perception and the ability to discern one object from another at longer ranges. Lastly, it is MUCH harder for an LED to really throw it’s light down range for spotting objects in the distance. It can be done, but it all comes down to surface brightness when one wants to make a spot-light and Incans have that area covered.
3. What is the difference between Lumens and LUX? Which is better for seeing? Which is better for a weapon?
LUX, the forgotten sibling of Lumens, is overlooked by so many who need it. Today Lumens have almost became a house hold name, anyone who knows anything about flashlights, knows this magic word describes “just” how bright the light is, the higher the number, the better right? Well sort of.
First off I’d say at least 90% of flashlight companies who put lumens on packages are over exaggerating to say the least. Most imported Chinese made lights “while cheap” demonstrate massive amounts of over exaggeration. In fact a lot of them advertise an amount of lumens that it’s LED could never even physically produce.
Next time you read lumens on a flashlight try cutting the number in half. That would make it much more realistic. That being said don’t feel bad if you bought one of those “900” lumen flashlights, you still should have at least 300 “hopefully” that is a lot of light, once upon a time that would have been unheard of for even a large multi hundred dollar light.
Lux, however, is in fact even more important then lumens and there isn’t even over exaggerated claims made on packaging for it. It is as if it didn’t even exist! Lux describes the intensity of light at one meter. So Lumens = how much light, Lux = how intense. Think, Lumens is like how many gallons a second a hose or stream would discharge, Lux would be the pressure or speed at which it was moving. That being said one can now hopefully understand just how important Lux truly is if one is going for a “weapon” type light.
First I must point out that like the proverbial grapple gun, a light which can be used by it’s self to stop an attacker is simply unrealistic, and near impossible to make, that being said lights can be used offensively and defensively to give a major upper hand in a fight” Anyway, if you think of a flashlight like water, which would you rather be hit by? 10 gallons dumped over your head from a bucket, or half a gallon focused into a water jet that could cut through steel? I think we all know the answer!
Thus if you want to disorientate an attacker by shinning light in his eyes you want the light hitting him in the face to be as powerful as possible. It doesn’t matter if you are only using 50 lumens if all 50 lumens go into his eyes. VS a 300 lumens light and only 15 lumens goes into his eyes and all the rest of the light goes around him.
The best comparison is a laser. A laser is light just like a flashlight, that being said a 10 lumen laser can reach out 2 miles easily, because it has super high Lux “over a million”. How does one get tons of Lux? Well you can either use very high power LED lights form some of the more high end companies or a cheaper incandescent with a large reflector.
A good comparison is that a typical 2-D flashlight makes 20 lumens and 3,500 Lux, and one of those $3, 7 LED lights that take 3x AAA cells makes more lumens “24” but only offer a dismal 800 Lux. A 900 lumen “true 350” Chinese tactical light, will make about 5,500 Lux, but a big old 4-D Maglite will make 18,000 LUX! With only 48 Lumens. The ultimate debunk of flashlights blinding people is that even the most powerful SureFire M6 $400+ flashlight will only make around 28,000 Lux when sunlight it’s self makes between 75,000 and 100,000 Lux.
Don’t belive me? Get your brightest flashlight then go outside during noon time stand in a patch of sunlights hold your flashlight next to your head and see if you can see the beam on the ground. Chances are you won’t. Is it possible to beat out the Sun? Yes, but it will cost quite a bit of money. If you’ve got the money, try a Polarion.
4. If we were looking for a good RLSH patrol flashlight, what price range should we be looking at? Can you recommend a light that would work well for us right out of the box?
Really the price range is up to the user, if one is willing to bet their life on their light I wouldn’t want the cheapest light I could find. Most RLSH’s are on a budget though, and $45 should easily be enough for almost any scenario.
An excellent starting light is the Maglite XL50. It’s cheap $30 and very strong and bright. Unlike most companies Maglite shows true lumens and at around 100 this lights is very bright for it’s small size. The best part is it’s reliability unlike most no name brands this light will last for years of use.
Want something a bit more unique? Get a $16 Streamlight ProPolymer 4AA flashlight from a dive shop, replace the bulb with a HPR 53 Halogen bulb, use 4x high quality rechargeable batteries and you’ve got a super bright almost indestructible low budget flashlight. Even if you don’t want to mod this light is works great for the price.
If you can still find one at your local hardware store, the Dorcy rechargeable 190 lumen flashlight has a super high LUX beam for it’s price and it’s standard rechargeability is very practical.
The Lowes 2-C Task Force flashlight was one of my first every day carry [EDC] lights for over a year. It’s cheap “under $30” and has 150 lumens with a very high lux beam “around 7,500”. The current generation uses a different LED then my original. I have no experience with it, but I assume it is even better then the original.
There are many other flashlights I could have suggested, however all of the above flashlights can be bought in local stores, free form shipping and have a good trade off between reliability, brightness, and run-time.
That’s all from Captain Illumination. I Hope this added to your knowledge of lighting for patrols and general usage. RLSH can use your new knowledge of lights to try to make the world a brighter place.
Groan, .. That was a horrible pun…