Photography / Hands-on Review

Turn off the Dark with these Unusual Flashlights


Spring is in full swing and summer will come and go before you know it, so be sure to enjoy the nice weather while you can. The warmer weather lures people outdoors, and the longer daylight hours keep them outside longer. But no matter how much daylight summer brings, people also spend more time in the dark during the summer. Regardless of whether they’re camping, hiking, star gazing or spelunking, a good flashlight always comes in handy.

Flashlights come in more shapes, sizes and a variety of price points than ever before, and B&H carries around three hundred different types for a host of applications. You can spend several hundred dollars on a flashlight if you want to, but most people don't really need a high-tech flashlight that’s military spec. Here I’ll discuss a variety of models, and how useful some of the more innovative ones are. If you want to learn more about more high-end flashlights, you can read these reviews: Not Your Grandfather’s Flashlight and The Modern Maglite.

A flashlight is one of the most important things to have with you when you plan on being outdoors at night or anywhere the sun doesn’t shine, even if, for example, you need to find something in the bottom of your seemingly bottomless black camera bag. If you’re off into the wilderness, it’s more important to have water, food, a multitool and matches or a lighter, so make sure you pack those items, too. For a more complete list of things you should have with you on wilderness photo shoots, just read this article: Eighteen Important Items to Bring on Wilderness Photo Shoots. And if you want to learn more about some of the finest multitools around, click here for A Tale of Two Leathermans. Now, let’s look at some flashlights.

If you don’t have any flashlight, anything is better than nothing. In fact, if you don’t have any outdoor survival items, a good place to start is the Carson Outdoor Pak. This inexpensive bundle includes a Coleman flashlight, Carson 8x21 binoculars, a 9-in-1 multitool and a compass. Just don’t forget a lighter to get your campfire going!

If you’re looking for a small flashlight that will fit in your pants pocket, look no further than the Pelican L1 Finger Flashlight. This tiny LED flashlight is only two inches long, weighs less than an ounce, is waterproof and has a pocket clip and a hole for your keychain. Its four button-cell batteries will provide up to 130 hours of light.

For hands-free illumination, use a head-mounted flashlight. When I’m cooking at night on a camping trip, even with a propane lantern illuminating the entire campsite, it’s hard to see into the cook pot unless I’m wearing my head-mounted flashlight. When angled properly, it lights my field of view no matter which way I turn my head, while leaving my hands free to dice onions, add seasoning or—more often than not—work a can opener. The head lamp is also helpful when I’m looking for a particular piece of clothing, in a big duffel bag, in a dark tent. B&H carries head lamps made by Extreme Beam and Pelican. They’re extremely convenient and inexpensive. Take your pick.

Conventional handheld flashlights are great at spotlighting, but not great at lighting up a workspace. That’s not the case with the Sunpak Mini LED Flashlight and Lantern. Powered by three AAA batteries, this combination flashlight/lantern features six bright LEDs surrounded by a sliding reflector. Slide the reflector down over the LEDs and it’s a flashlight, shining a spot of light wherever you point it. With the reflector pulled away from the LEDs, it works like a lantern, lighting up an entire area.

Photographers are probably familiar with Joby GorillaPods, those colorful miniature tripods with flexible legs that can wrap around and cling to just about anything. Joby also makes GorillaTorch flashlights that feature the same colorful, flexible legs. They’re particularly useful to photographers, but also good for mechanics and anyone else involved in any activity that might benefit from extra light—and a third hand.

The GorillaTorch features a 65-lumen white LED flashlight mounted atop a familiar looking and flexible Joby tripod. The legs of the tripod can be wrapped around anything to hold the light where you want it, and the tripod feet are magnetic so they also adhere to steel objects. The plastic-coated feet won’t damage painted surfaces, so it’s safe to attach the light to the fender or hood of your car. The variable output, water-resistant flashlight is powered by three AA batteries, and its economy setting will provide up to 80 hours of light from a fresh set of batteries. The GorillaTorch is available in black, blue, orange and yellow.

Joby also offers the GorillaTorch Flare, which is identical to the basic model except that it features red and white LEDs, which combine for 100 lumens, along with a strobe function that can be used to warn others away from a hazardous situation or to attract rescuers to an accident scene. At 130 lumens, the GorillaTorch Blade is very bright, but it also includes a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack so you don’t have to feel guilty about using disposable batteries.

The most versatile GorillaTorch, and the one that’s most useful to photographers, is the GorillaTorch Switchback. Like the Flare, the Switchback features both white and red LEDs. But that’s where the similarities end. The Switchback is a compact lantern mounted atop a Joby tripod stand. The lantern converts into a headlamp when needed, and the stand can be used as a camera tripod using the included adapter clip. How’s that for versatility?

Some flashlights aren’t necessarily carried around, but are used more as cordless light sources. Carson’s Under Cabinet Push Light, TL-10 LED Drawer Light and BookBright are good examples. The Under Cabinet Push Light is simply an adhesive-backed LED light designed to stick on the underside of a cabinet or anywhere else that needs some extra light. You just push the top of the light to turn it on and off, and the 6-LED light bar swivels so you can aim the light where it’s needed. The TL-10 LED Drawer Light, which comes in a pack of two, is an adhesive-backed light designed to light up a drawer so you can closely examine your photo accessories or see which socks you’re selecting. The BookBrite book light clips onto a book, magazine or map and makes it easy to read regardless of the lighting conditions.

The Pelican Camera Bag Light is an LED flashlight designed to clip onto a flap or divider in a camera bag and illuminate its contents. It will also light up the contents of other bags, including women’s purses. The light is activated by pulling the light head away from the body of the unit. The light head pivots out, up to 180 degrees, so you can aim the light where needed. You can even clip it to the brim of a hat and use it as a head lamp.

Obviously, you’d never need all of the flashlights we’ve reviewed here, but most people would find at least one of them to be quite useful. A good flashlight is the type of accessory that makes your life just a bit easier—and perhaps a bit safer as well.

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Some interesting suggestions here, albeit slightly ordinary. The world of flashlights is far larger than most people suspect. If you look up Candlepowerforums you will find the flashlight collector's community and the very best, smallest, most powerful and latest in every type of flashlight currently made. Some of the custom and boutique lights that are now available are simply amazing and will blow any light reviewed here completely out of the water.