The incandescent bulb is a dead technology. Incandescent bulbs are energy hogs and fragile. For example, with fresh NiCads the best I could get from my UltraStinger was one or two inspections before it would start to fade. In fact, I would switch to another flashlight for crawl spaces because you didn’t get much warning when it was running out of juice. I could never recall burning out a Maglite or UltraStinger bulb; however, if I dropped the flashlight, half the time the element in the bulb would break.
LEDs have come a long way in the last five years. The first LEDs were dim and cast a blue-tinted light. Many LED flashlights used multiple elements to get sufficient brightness. Today’s LEDs are warmer and can outshine Xenon or Krypton bulbs. Many LED flashlights have deep reflectors, which concentrate the light into a tightly focused beam that will shine for long distances — as far, if not farther, than a flashlight using a high-performance bulb.
Early LED flashlights used multiple LEDs to get the desired brightness, but second- and third-generation LEDs perform well using a single unit.
My requirements for an inspection flashlight are simple:
- rechargeable, preferably with a 12-volt charger,
- brightness greater than 200 Lumens,
- comfortable fit in my tool belt, and
- neutral color of light.
As with my previous flashlight articles, I wanted real-world testing, so I used the lights on my inspections. I tried to use each light for at least two weeks. For my test pictures, I initially set up a target at 40 feet, but the beams were still too bright. So, I set up my tripod in a field 60 feet from the side of my house. I set my camera on ”night scene” mode and focused the center of the beam on my target.
The prices listed in the article were found on the Internet, mostly through the Amazon Marketplace.
L to r: Dorcy Spotlight, Coast HP21, Mag Charger, LED Maglite, Streamlight UltraStinger, Streamlight DS LED, Coast HP14, Coast HP7, LED Lenser P5R. Not Shown: Dorcy Cree Xre. Photo courtesy of Rick Bunzel
(See comparison photos at the end of the reviews)
Unfortunately, Maglite has failed to keep up with the other manufacturers of high-performance lights. They have some new products, but nothing that is groundbreaking. I included my two Maglites for a baseline to compare other lights to.
Name: Maglite LED 3 Cell
The Good: Good price and solid construction. Tight beam. Good backup light.
The Bad: LED is bluish, can’t focus and mediocre output. Not rechargeable.
Name: Maglite Mag Charger
Cost: $120 (originally)
The Good: Solid construction. Halogen bulb is bright and replacements are inexpensive. In its day, it was the light to have, but as technology moved on, this light stayed in the charging rack more and more!
The Bad: Heavy light for its size and beam wasn’t as sharp as other lights.
Name: TerraLUX Ministar
30MR-EX (Maglite Mag Charger LED Upgrade)
The Good: Wow! Lots of light, converts the Mag Charger to a high-powered spotlight. I prefer this form-factor over the pistol grip spotlights for crawl-space work. Although the upgrade is on the expensive side, if you already have the Mag Charger and charging racks, it’s worth considering.
The Bad: Beam had a starfish-like pattern and couldn’t be focused. Too much light for everyday use; although, it works well for attics and crawl spaces. At $80 for the upgrade, you are in the price range to buy outright a new high-performance light.
I have been using Streamlight products since they won my first flashlight shootout in 2006. They make a good-quality light and include a cradle with AC/DC charge options. They tend to be expensive compared with other lights.
Name: Streamlight UltraStinger
The Good: I am partial to this light as it was my first bright light. At the time I purchased it, it was the bright lightest light around. Streamlight included a charger base with 120v and 12v adapters with these lights. Good-quality construction.
The Bad: Little warning before the NiCads died. Battery life is one hour. It may only last through two full inspections. Bulbs are expensive ($15), and they break when the light is dropped.
Name Streamlight DS LED
The Good: Streamlight quality and small-form factor, throws out a nice beam and it can go several inspections before it needs a charge. Had several modes you could put it into.
The Bad: For the cost, the light output is on the low side. Not a lot to fault this light on.
Name: TerraLUX TLE-US
(UltraStinger LED Upgrade)
The Good: This is a no-brainer upgrade for those inspectors who are using the UltraStinger. I didn’t test the run time because my NiCad batteries are older, I expect it to be three to four times the Xenon bulb.
The Bad: The beam pattern is pretty much locked and turning the bezel does little to change the focus.
I was shopping, and came across a rack of Dorcy flashlights at Lowe’s and was amazed at the price/performance of their products. Dorcy is a 55-year-old U.S. company that manufactures in Taiwan.
Name: Dorcy Cree Xre
The Good: Throws out a broad circle of light with a hot spot in the middle. A low price, but doesn’t scrimp on aluminum case and comes with 120v and 12v chargers. Best budget light you can buy.
The Bad: Taiwan manufacturing shows through, and it uses a jack for charging. Hot spot in the middle makes it more difficult to shoot picture of defects. Doesn’t have multiple modes like other lights.
Name: Dorcy 41-1080 Spotlight Cost: $50
The Good: A 500-lumen spotlight for $50? Wow! Throws a nice, bright beam. Although it has a plastic case, the construction is good. Continuous run time is three hours, even after using it for several months.
The Bad: Fixed focus. In practice, it doesn’t seem as if it goes for three hours of intermittent use. Doesn’t give much warning when the battery is depleted. Don’t know how the plastic case will hold up over the long run.
LED Lenser was a pioneer in LED flashlights, introducing its first product in 1994. Today, LED Lenser is a division of Leatherman.
Name: LED Lenser P5R
The Good: This is a pocket-sized light (smaller than AAA Mini-Mag) that is super bright for its 44 size. The P5R has a high and low power mode and will run for two-plus hours in high mode. It’s easy to move focus between flood and spotlight. Comes with 120v contact charger and USB charger.
The Bad: For me, the small size was a disadvantage as I found the P5R getting lost in my tool pouch, but to be fair, other inspectors may not find that to be a problem. The charger uses a magnet to stay attached while charging, which could be problematic if you plan on charging the P5R in your vehicle. A belt clip was included. I found it wasn’t secure and resorted to using a nylon holster I had for a mini-Maglite.
Coast is a Portland-based company that started out in knives and has added high-quality flashlights to its lineup. Excellent machined-aluminum construction. All its products come with
lanyards and holsters.
Name: Coast HP7
The Good: Military-grade quality construction. Water-resistant and looks like you could drop it from the roof to a driveway and it wouldn’t miss a beat. (No, I didn’t try this!) Easy slide focus that locks with a twist.
The Bad: Not rechargeable — uses 4 AAA batteries in a round cradle. Run time at high is 3.5 hours, which means every two-three days you will be replacing these batteries.
Name: Coast HP14
The Good: The big brother to the HP7. Just slightly smaller than a 2D Maglite but with a lot more power. Run time was four-plus hours.
The Bad: Similar to the battery setup on the HP7 except it uses AA batteries. Specs claim 339 lumens. In actual use, it didn’t seem that much brighter than 200-lumen lights.
Name: Coast HP21
The Good: The king of high performance flashlights in terms of construction, size and brightness. This is a bright light. At 1317 lumens it trumps any of the lights in this test by 2.5x times. It’s easy to use in flood, then focus the beam to a spot. It comes with its own form fitting case. It has a heavy-duty aluminum body with a rubber ring around the bezel.
The Bad: This is a big light with a large reflector. It has a metal body and takes 4 D cells, which explains why it comes with a shoulder strap. Expensive to the point I would have a hard time justifying the cost of this light to my accountant.
Photo 1: Maglite LED 3 Cell
Photo 2: Maglite Mag Charger
Photo 3: TerraLUX Ministar 30MR-EX
(Maglite Mag Charger LED Upgrade)
Photo 4: Streamlight UltraStinger
Photo 5: Streamlight DS LED
Photo 6: TerraLUX TLE-US
(UltraStinger LED Upgrade)
Photo 7: Dorcy Cree Xre
Photo 8: Dorcy 41-1080 Spotlight
Photo 9: LED Lenser P5R
Photo 10: Coast HP7
Photo 11: Coast HP14
Photo 12: Coast HP21
THE BOTTOM LINE
All these are excellent flashlights for the home inspector, but what’s a shootout without declaring the winners?
I am sorry to see Maglite falling behind other companies that are producing flashlights today. I had high hopes for the TerraLUX Mag Charger upgrade, but at $80, I can’t justify it, even with its great output. I loved the Coast flashlights for their quality, multi-mode operation and easy focus, but for our everyday needs, I really want a rechargeable light that I can throw in a cradle.
The LED Lenser products were high-quality, but for our needs, I felt the P5 was too small even if it did have great output.
The Dorcy flashlights were the underdogs, yet I find myself grabbing the Cree Xre and recommending it to friends. For the price, you can’t beat the Dorcy products. The Dorcy products get my Best Buy Award.
Two years ago, I parked my UltraStinger and started using LED flashlights. The TerraLUX TLE-US upgrade has given the UltraStinger new life, and I am using this as my main light again. If I didn’t own the UltraStinger, my next choice would be the Streamlight DS LED. Good brightness, convenient charging cradle and long run time.
(Comparison photos follow)
Name: Streamlight LED Headlamp
The Good: Multiple modes, long battery life with LED, inexpensive.
The Bad: Old technology
Name: Dorcy LED Headlamp
Lumens: 145 Lumens
The Good: Inexpensive, bright headlamp, two modes. Almost bright enough to use without an additional flashlight.
The Bad: Hard to tell what mode you are in. Not focusable.
Name: LED Lenser Headlamp H14R
The Good: If you need a bright light and need to go hands free, this is the headlamp you need. Run time at full power is 4.5 hours. For those doing extensive exploring, run time at low power is 20 hours. Converts to a standing work light by removing the straps. A great light to have in a disaster or for cave exploration.
The Bad: Its expensive, and the battery pack is external, hanging off the rear of the straps.
Name: Coast HL7 Headlamp
The Good: Overall a great product. I like the large On/off switch and the dimmer on the battery pack. With the adjustable focus and brightness, this is a versatile light. If you use a headlamp for inspections, this is the light to have.
The Bad: Since I usually don’t wear a helmet, I prefer the headband to have a cord that goes over the top of your head. This is more important when you have a battery pack hanging off the back of the headband. Wish it had a jack to recharge the batteries.
Headlamps, l to r: LED Lenser Headlamp H14R, Dorcy LED Headlamp, Coast HL7 Headlamp, Streamlight LED Headlamp
Photo 13: Streamlight LED Headlamp
Photo 14: Dorcy LED Headlamp
Photo 15: LED Lenser Headlamp H14R
Photo 16: Coast HL7 Headlamp
Candlepower vs. Watts vs. Lumens – What’s the Difference?
One candlepower is the radiating power of a light with the intensity of one candle. Watts measure the amount of power a bulb uses — not how bright it is. Lumens measure the amount of light produced by a bulb. The more lumens in a light bulb, the brighter the light.
Today, the lighting industry is converting to lumens as it more accurately depicts the output performance of a bulb or LED. There is no easy way to do an exact conversion of one measurement to one of the others. Roughly, a 100-watt incandescent bulb produces about 1,750 lumens or 137 candlepower.