After writing my last entry where I upgraded my Snakelight with a LED bulb that isn’t brighter but stands to last much longer on a charge, I did some more research (mostly at Candlepower Forums. It is crazy how much information is out there on flashlights. And it’s hard not to get caught up as people talk about new technology and fantastically bright flashlights. Also, you have to sort through a lot of posts some of which have outdated information and of course aren’t going to tell you about what the current state of the art is (until you figure out what to look for).
I have two mini Maglite flashlights that use 2 AA batteries (and a third that uses 2 AAA batteries). They are decent on new alkalines but pretty pathetic using rechargeable NiMH batteries which have more capacity but a lower voltage. They now have LED versions available for more more money ($19 at Amazon, $24 at Walmart). I thought about getting one of those but then passed. Also, in 2009 Maglite introduced brighter LED “multi-mode” flashlights that let you use different brightness levels, but these are not easy to find yet: my Home Depot has them (about $22), but not Target or Walmart. The multi-mode miniMag has two brightness levels (in addition to a flashing mode and an SOS mode) with the brighter mode being about 90 lumens.
The LED Mini Maglite is brighter than the old incandescent versions (which are less than $8), but there are upgrades that are even brighter. The Snakelight upgrade was made by Nite-ize and they make upgrades for Maglites too (as does Maglite). But that one gets poor marks too. Then there is a company called Terralux that makes upgrades. They are harder to find, but they have one version that is definitely brighter called a TLE-5 (using a Luxeon 3 LED) and another that is twice as bright as that called the TLE-5EX. The TLE-5 uses a Luxeon LED while the 5EX uses a Cree XR-E LED (though it has used Luxeon K2 and Seoul emitters in the past, so it’s hard to keep the information straight). They claim the 5EX is 140 lumens vs. maybe 10 for the incandescent bulbs.
Anyway, I got the upgrade in the mail today. It didn’t fit in my older Minimag (so old it says Brinkmann instead of Mini Maglite on it; later on I was able to sand down the edges exposing the aluminum base of the upgrade and I got it to fit), so that one will just have to go without an upgrade. But in my newer one, wow! It is really bright. You can’t look at it without probably damaging your eyes. It’s like a small spotlight. I’m very impressed. People say that because it gets very hot that it will dim some after a few minutes of use. Even on a fairly marginal rechargeable batteries it is just as bright. At 3 watts it would only last a couple of hours on a set of good batteries, but that is about the same as the original bulb which is much, much dimmer.
Here is a very informative review with tons of pictures of the TLE-5EX upgrade. They measure the light as being 16 times brighter than the original bulb.