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LED Flashlights

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HDS Systems

HDS Systems Action Light w/ special lithium batteryIs the world ready for a $300 LED flashlight?  That's the question HDS Systems seems to be asking. Their  "Action Light" was originally developed as the ultimate caving light, a use where reliability and long battery life are key to survival. So, for a serious spelunker, $300 may not seem too high a price to pay. The question is, are there others out there willing to pay such a price?

The key to its performance is an array of 24 LEDs along with a special 3.6-volt lithium battery, that is D-cell size, but not voltage, ($19) and a triple intensity switch. This one puts out enough light to truly compete with conventional flashlights, except for really long-range uses.  While not the brightest we tested, it's plenty bright.

HDS Action Light form factor is an issueThe bulky form factor (3 1/2 x 3 1/8 x 1 1/2 in, 13.6 oz.), designed for mounting to a caving helmet, leaves something to be desired.  The LEDs are protected by a robust 1/8 inch think slab of polycarbonate. The body itself is a machined chunk of aluminum with aluminum caps as well. I suspect you could drive a tank over this without hurting it. It is waterproof, HDS doesn't say to what depth.  There's enough flat surfaces to make it work in any orientation. The body is available in black military type III hard anodize or conventional anodize in red, green, blue, purple, or gold.  On the back is a (caving) standard blade (3/4 in. flat hook) with swivel for fitting to a helmet.

Battery life varies with setting, supposedly 300 hours on low, a measured 48 hours on the mid setting and 13 on high. (Since our test, a new five setting switch has been introduced)  For close-up work and most general use the low setting is quite adequate and the mid setting will do for most everything else.

The LEDs are well matched and the light is uniform. The rotary switch really needs some form of lock to keep it from being switched on inadvertently.

HDS Systems Action Light is made in the U.S. and comes with a limited lifetime warranty.

Holly Solar Products

Holly Solar PilotThe "Pilot" lights by Holly Solar Products are a virtual clone of the original triple AA-cell Trek light, though of lower quality fit and finish, with a twist.  Besides the Pilot 2 ($30) two-LED model, they also offer both a one- and a three-LED version. The single LED model, Pilot 1 ($20), didn't seem to offer much except extra long life and it was quite bulky for the light provided. 

Pilot 3 beams don't convergeThe Pilot-3 ($35) served as an excellent example of the difficulty that having multiple light sources that are not well aimed can cause, as it provided three distinct lit areas.  Not too bad for finding your way, but seriously annoying when trying to use the light for close-up work.

The LED module was difficult to remove due to poor manufacturing tolerances, making battery changes difficult.  The Pilot lights included an elastic cord wrist lanyard.

Holly Solar's molded components are made in China, then assembled in the U.S. and come with a one year limited warranty. (Holly Solar was initially not entirely forthright about the fact that the bodies are molded in China and specifically mentioned initially that their LEDs were not made in China without mention that the bodies are. We had to specifically ask, based on information received from another source.)

For more information, check Craig Johnson's LED Museum

Innovative Technologies

Look Ma, no batteries! Innovative Technologies NightStar About as non-traditional as you could get, the single LED NightStar ($79) from Innovative Technologies doesn't even contain a battery. As you shake the flashlight, a magnet slides up and down inside the plastic barrel (available in clear, black, yellow and translucent red, orange or blue), past a coil, generating electricity that is then stored in a capacitor for periods up to "months."  Magnets at the ends of the light repulse the sliding magnet, making it much more efficient that it would be otherwise. The biggest down side is that you will only get approximately 4.5-5 minutes of light (requiring 90 shakes/30 seconds).

The light output is relatively dim, even for a single LED light, though a concentrating lens makes it brighter and more focused than it would be otherwise. It is plenty bright enough to find your way around in the dark or to perform close-up tasks. You can keep it going indefinitely with regular shaking, but it does become a bother very quickly. Unscrewing the lens cap allows the lens to be used as a magnifying glass in an emergency, yet another novel concept.

The slide switch on the tubular body is made of phosphorescent (glow-in-dark) material, and will glow green for hours after exposure to light even briefly. Flats on the body help reduce, but don't eliminate, the tendency for the light to roll.

Magnet and coil in NightStar generate powerThe body is made of a “polycarbonate and ABS alloy,” except for the clear version, which is polycarbonate only.  It's also bulky, especially for its light output, a bit larger than a three D-cell Maglite, and not exactly lightweight at 13.5 oz.  Finally, the strong magnets used for power generation mean care must be taken in use and storage to avoid damage to some electronics and magnetic media or to avoid erroneous compass readings.

The up side is you never have to worry about dead batteries, either in storage or in use.  As such, the NightStar might be a nice addition to home emrgency supplies, an abandon ship bag or a survival kit, but only as a supplement, not as a primary light source. That's not to say we don't appreciate the thought and quality that have gone into this unique flashlight, it's just got some drawbacks.

Beyond that, in our opinion it is a curiosity, not a practical lighting solution. If the developer succeeds in reducing the size and upping the light output and electrical storage capacity, as he says he plans to do, it would become an even more viable emergency lighting solution. For everyday use, however, we'll stick with batteries.

Innovative Technologies' NightStar is made primarily in the U.S., the magnets come from China.  The NightStar comes with a limited lifetime warranty.

For more information, check Craig Johnson's LED Museum


LEDtronics Looking somewhat like a Mini-Maglite, the aluminum bodied, two AA-cell "FlashLED" lights from LEDtronics incorporate a pushbutton switch and a range of LEDs, both in color and quantity.  We tested both three-LED ($50) and six-LED ($70) lights.

The three-LED was unimpressive, with a brightness level lower than some single-LED models, though it did offer a somewhat wider lit area.  The six-LED provided just adequate light for close-up work and some general use, but still nothing to shout about. 

NOTE: These lights are now available with three 1.5-volt N-cell alkaline batteries, but we have not received samples to test. The 4.5-volts should significantly improve light output over the 3-volt powered models we tested, at the expense of run time. A pair of AA-cells can be substituted to provide longer run time with expected performance equal to that we found. However, without test samples, we cannot provide any data or conclusions.

LEDtronics also makes the "KeyLED" key chain light.  This waterproof light is ruggedly constructed of aluminum and powered by a trio of small LR44 1.5 volt alkaline button cells. A lens serves to concetrate the light, but also restricts light transmission. Rotating the head turns the light on and off.

We were not impressed; light output was acceptable for close-up work, but was marginal for anything else. It would be okay for reading a menu, but it's marginal for anything requiring serious light. The lens also limits the area lit, making it unacceptable for walking around use.

Note that our LEDtronics products and pricing were supplied by LED-Lite, a master distributor, after LEDtronics failed to respond to queries.

LEDtronics lights are made in the U.S. and come with a limited lifetime warranty.

For more information, check Craig Johnson's LED Museum

Light Optronics

Laserlyte LaserBriteLight Optronics Laserlyte single LED "MiniBrite" ($8) has a large sliding switch, so it isn't particularly water resistant. However, it is very easy to operate and an improvement over momentary switches. A nifty snap-on plastic clip allows it to be clipped to a cap visor for hands free use.

NOTE: These lights have not been fully evaluated, despite promises, none have been made available, so no more information is available.

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First Published: June 7, 2001
Revision: 02 June 12, 2001
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