More research on flashlights, so you can skip this . . .
The main high-end US flashlight company, Surefire, sells innards of a flashlight called a P60. It consists of three parts: a reflector, a bulb, and the electronics that drive it. Surefire uses this assembly in several different models of flashlights. It has become a standard part and now many off-brands offer P60 drop-ins that can be used in Surefire lights. And because there are so many P60 drop-ins and Surefires are so expensive, now people make P60-compatible bodies that will accept the drop-ins. So instead of spending $150 on Surefire’s system, you can spend $18 for a generic.
One company, Solarforce, makes such a system that a lot of people like. Generally these lights use a lithium-ion battery called an 18650, which is like an AA battery on steroids: 30% larger in diameter and about 30% longer, so a little more than twice the volume and three times the voltage of a 1.2V NiMH. However a light with a battery like that doesn’t fit in your pocket easily. This is a bigger light, but still a lot smaller than a light that takes 2 D cells (a lot of policemen carry the Surefire 6P on their belt which is a P60 light).
The nice thing about the 18650 battery is it has a lot more oomph than smaller batteries so it will last longer or can drive a LED harder (brighter!) than a regular battery. I’m happy with my smaller lights, but I thought it would be good to have something a lot brighter that doesn’t have to be as portable. The new Cree XP-G R5 LED should be at least 20% brighter than anything I have now. There are other LED’s that are even brighter but they produce a lot of heat that can cause the LED to destroy itself and have really short runtimes, even on a 18650 (some lights use two 18650’s). More on this later.
So this company Solarforce is capitalizing on Surefire by offering a cheaper light and P60 drop-in. But we’re talking about China, so there is yet another company that has totally stolen the look of Solarforce and cut the price in half again, down to about $18. This company is Ultrafire. They make several lights that look like various Solarforce lights and use the XP-G R5 LED (which Solarforce hasn’t even adopted yet). These are the WF-501B, WF-502B, and WF-504B. Yes, there is a WF-503B, but nobody has put a R5 in there yet (only KaiDomain has a 504B with an R5, while BestOfferBuy.com has the drop-in, 501B, and 502B a little cheaper; DealExtreme doesn’t have any R5’s yet). I can get one of these for about $22. Just the drop-in itself is $16, so I’m only paying $6 for the body.
I almost bought one of these. I was liking the 504B which has a stainless steel front bezel, but the rest of the light has a glossy black finish that looks a little too slick. The 502B was very popular the last couple of years, so it has a large customer base. I think maybe the silver 504B would be the one I would get though it will show scratches like crazy.
But if I buy one, I also need an 18650 battery. And although my really cheap lithium ion charger will accept something up to 65 mm long, most of the protected batteries are actually 66-68 mm long and might not fit. Also the slow charging rate would take all night to charge one battery. So I would need a new charger. I found one I can get for $8 that people seem to think is okay. So a pair of batteries would be $8 plus the $8 charger (if I got the charger, I could get longer batteries with more protection, though I don’t know for sure they would fit in the light; [they fit in my light and my cheapo charger, as it turns out; but I’m not crazy about the batteries. Should have gotten these for a little more]). Plus $22 for the light, so now I’m up to $38. And this isn’t even a light I would carry around that much. It absolutely won’t work on regular old batteries, though other P60 drop-ins would work with two somewhat conventional CR123A batteries (drop-ins designed for the higher voltage of 2xCR123A aren’t usually as bright since they have to regulate the voltage down to something the LED can handle), which will fit in the light.
So I think I will hold off. The only R5 drop-ins are either 1-mode (not enough) or 5-mode (too many) and the 5-mode doesn’t remember the last mode. Some of the R2 drop-ins have 3 modes and remember the last setting, which would be a lot better I think. As the R5 LED’s become more popular, some 3-mode versions might start showing up. So I’m thinking I will hold off for now.
I could also buy a pair of 18650 batteries now and a charger, so I would have those ready when I do eventually buy a flashlight that can use them.
Further thinking . . . Now I’m considering getting a flashlight with a P7 LED which is actually 4 LED’s on a single chip and can be really bright. There are a few P60 drop-ins, but they’re kind of expensive and plagued by heat-sinking problems (which some manufacturers get around by reducing the current which also reduces brightness, which is the whole point!). Another LED with 4 emitters is called a Cree MC-E. There is one recommended from DX that people seem to agree puts out the 400 lumens claimed for $23.49 (just for the drop-in; these multi-die LED’s are expensive).
I also found a good review of a silver DealExtreme 5-mode 504B for $15 that uses a XR-E R2 and has a very tight beam that throws a long way. It would be neat to have a good thrower regardless while the XP-G R5 or the P7 would have more of a floody beam. So then I could get the R5 drop-in separately from KD. Alternatively I could get one of the KD 504’s (or 502 or 503, haven’t decided yet) with the R5 and buy the DX R2 drop-in (the drop-in has mode memory but the flashlight they sell claiming memory apparently doesn’t). Or, since I would rather have mode memory and avoid the flashy modes of the DX, I could get a higher quality Solarforce drop-in from this site which offers a 5% CPF discount. That would be about $40 for a light with two different drop-ins.
There is another alternative that I looked at that involves building your own P7 drop-in, but that involves a whole new list of parts, so I may write a separate post on that (see comment below). It’s intriguing because it is kind of like building your own light saber.
Alternate 1: A silver R5 504B from KaiDomain for $22.20
Alternate 2: A silver 504B from DX with 5-mode R2 plus KD’s R5 drop-in: $29.85
Alternate 3: A 504B from KD with R5 plus the DX 5-mode memory drop-in: $33.93
Alternate 4: DX 504B with R2 plus the DX MC-E drop-in: $38.48
Alternate 5: 504B from KD with R5 and Solarforce 3-mode R2 drop-in: $42.15