Monday, December 26, 2016

Photo Gallery: Spyderco Native 5 S110V "Blurple" G10 Version

I've always had a crush on the Spyderco Native line of pocket knives. I've also been a big fan of their lightweight models, so it was natural that I got the Native 5 Lightweight model in S110V the day it came out.

Since a new version came out in blue/purple (blurple) G10, I've been kind of on the fence since the lightweight version seemed like the perfect EDC.

This blurple G10 version looked sweet on the photos, and holding it in my hands and using it everyday, it doesn't disappoint. It's like a work of art that can open packages.

Spyderco Native 5 S110V "Blurple" G10 Pocket Knife
Spyderco Native 5 S110V "Blurple" G10 Pocket Knife - EDC Shot

Spyderco Native 5 S110V "Blurple" G10 Pocket Knife - Three Spyderco Natives

Spyderco Native 5 S110V "Blurple" G10 Pocket Knife - Three Spyderco Natives 2

Spyderco Native 5 S110V "Blurple" G10 Pocket Knife - Product View 1

Spyderco Native 5 S110V "Blurple" G10 Pocket Knife - Product View 2

Spyderco Native 5 S110V "Blurple" G10 Pocket Knife - Product View 3

Spyderco Native 5 S110V "Blurple" G10 Pocket Knife - Product View 5

Spyderco Native 5 S110V "Blurple" G10 Pocket Knife - Product View 1

Spyderco Native 5 S110V "Blurple" G10 Pocket Knife - Product View 6

Spyderco Native 5 S110V "Blurple" G10 Pocket Knife - Product View 7

Spyderco Native 5 S110V "Blurple" G10 Pocket Knife - Product View 8

Spyderco Native 5 S110V "Blurple" G10 Pocket Knife - Product View 9


Spyderco Native 5 S110V "Blurple" G10 Pocket Knife - Product View 10

Spyderco Native 5 S110V "Blurple" G10 Pocket Knife - Product View 11

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Spammers: backpackingmastery.com

About twice a week I get people spamming this blog's comment section with spam links to backpackkingmastery.com. Lots of bloggers and web sites work hard to build something awesome from scratch, and it's not an easy thing to do.

I've always been an optimist about people, so I allow comments to be posted and just delete the spammer/scammer/shill comments. It's a lot of work to manage the comment sections and hunt down the bad comments, but for the most part it's worked well.

But certain shitty sites like backpackingmastery.com have been especially egregious with their spam. If your web site is so good (I haven't looked at it) then why aren't you building your readership the right way with good content and legitimate promotion? I think we all know the answer to that one...


Update: Same exact comment left on the same post 2 days later. It probably lived for about 10 minutes before I deleted it.

Update: This comment lived for about 8 minutes before I deleted it!


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Review: Lumintop SD4A [4xAA LED Flashlight]

Introduction


This review is for the XP-L version of the Lumintop SD4A flashilght.

There's been an explosion with this form factor since the early makers like Nitecore and Fenix started producing these types of models. This is a highly competitive segment of the flashlight industry because they provide good output while still using common off-the-shelf batteries, and it doesn't get more common than an AA battery.

Most of the time I carry much more powerful lithium-ion flashlights. But those types of cells can explode and/or melt you and your devices if you use them wrong, so I wouldn't recommend them to my aunt.

But having said that, I wouldn't have a flashlight collection without a 4xAA flashlight in it, and I ended up just keeping my trusty Sunwayman D40A on the shelf until this SD4A showed up in a box of review samples graciously provided by Lumintop for review. Lumintop has come a long way as a manufacturer. I'll be honest that they didn't really interest me until I bought my first Tool as a gift and ended up keeping it. I'm still infatuated with my PS03, so they are definitely a brand I pay attention to now.


Video Review

Here's the video review, which I'm still learning how to do.


Product Description

Price: About $50 online

The SD4A is a high output "soda can" style LED flashlight that uses 4 common AA batteries, including NiCd and NiMH rechargeable batteries. It utilizes a two mode electronic switch panel with lots of modes, and features the latest Cree XP-L emitter, though they make versions with an XM-L2. It's also got some cool touches like the back-lit power switch.






Official Specs (From Lumintop)


Bulb
Cree XM-L2 U2 LED
Cree XP-L HI LED
Output / runtime
37 Lumens (51Hours)                         
350 Lumens (4 Hours)
560 Lumens (2Hours)
1000 Lumens (1.9 Hours)
Moonlight 1.5 Lumens (552 Hours)
Aviation Signal/SOS/Strobe:1000 Lumens
35 Lumens (51 Hours)                         
310 Lumens (4 Hours)
510 Lumens (2 Hours)
920Lumens (1.9 Hours)
Moonlight 3 Lumens (552 Hours)  
Aviation Signal/SOS/Strobe:920 Lumens
Max Beam Intensity
20300cd
40000cd
Max Beam Distance
285 Meters
400 Meters
Modes
8 Modes(Low-Mid-High-Turbo-Moonlight-Aviation Signal-SOS-Strobe)
Size
Length: 4.41" (112mm)
Head Diameter: 1.61" (41mm)
Body Diameter: 1.61"(41mm)
N.W
6.28oz(178g)
Working Voltage
0.9v-6.4v
Battery Type
4 X AA or 1X D Cell
Water Resistant
IPX-8 (2 meters)
Impact Resistant
1.5 meters
Accessories
O-ring, Lanyard
EAN/UPC
6933165915497
889709154982
6933165915503
889709155088


Initial Impressions


The first thing I notice is that it seems more compact than my trusty D40A, and just a little fatter. How did they do that? The reflector is almost twice as shallow. That's fine because most people use these types of 4xAA flashlights as a "wall of light."

Which leads me to the second surprise: this model has a very tight hot spot, giving this thing some serious throw! The difference is dramatic, and I knew from that moment that I would never part with this flashlight. But the D40A has some decent throw and it's a wall of light, so any user considering the SD4A should take that into account. For me, it's a simple choice: keep both.

I look at so many flashlights, for some reason I thought I got the version with the Cree XM-L2 emitter in it and didn't catch that they have versions with the XP-L in it, which is clearly what this one has, and explains the extreme throw because the XP-L is a smaller die (and more efficient) LED.

Unscrewing the head, I saw that it comes with 4 Alkaline batteries. You just pull the little paper tab from each battery to make it contact the battery carrier. Now, I pretty much despise "alkaleak" batteries and would never use them, as they tend to leak with extremes in temperature (like in a hot car) and pretty much dissolve your device. But they're fine to test the flashlight with, and hey, they're free. My advice is go out and get 4 Eneloops, which are rechargeable and superior in every way (except for not being free I guess.) I even notice the product photos on their web sites show Eneloops in it. Best batteries you can get.

Another thing I noticed right away is the rubberized switches which most manufacturers of this type of flashlight have started using--with good reason. Same metal plate and switch setup as the D40A and other makers use.

Immediately I set out to compare the two flashlights, since the D40A is the only 4xAA flashlight that I've kept in my collection, and have used it consistently for a couple years.




Lumintop SD4A [4xAA LED Flashlight] - Product Link

Comparison To Sunwayman D40A


There's lots of 4xAA flashlights out there, but I think that the Sunwayman D40A was the first one with a big following. A few commenters have been vocal here against it, but I never saw too many complaints about it from users on BLF, and it's personally been one of my favorite flashlights.
  • The SD4A is a bit shorter and fatter.
  • The D40A has a much better battery carrier.
  • The SD4A has much better switches--the only thing I really didn't like on the D40A.
  • The SD4A has a much more shallow reflector.
  • The SD4A has a very tight hotspot--surprising given the shorter reflector!
  • The D40A puts out more of a "wall of light" by comparison.
Lumintop SD4A [4xAA LED Flashlight] - With Sunwayman D40A


Build Quality


Overall good. It compares well to the D40A in terms of quality except for the battery carrier, which looks a little cheap by comparison. It's not terrible, but I'd probably be a little gentle with it putting new batteries in.

Aside from the minor gripe, it seems to be good quality overall and worthy of its price tag. The machining and anodizing are both decent. The switch panel first rate and the cooling fins are beefier than they need to be. Reflector, lens, LED--all good. I think they did a good job building the SD4A. It even has constant-current circuitry, which I'm a stickler for.

Lumintop SD4A [4xAA LED Flashlight] - Battery Cage 1Lumintop SD4A [4xAA LED Flashlight] - Battery Cage 2Lumintop SD4A [4xAA LED Flashlight] - Battery Cage 3




Fit & Finish


Overall, good. The anodizing has a few nicks that I'm pretty sure I didn't put there myself. The anodizing is well done overall but could probably be a little thicker. The screws on the switch plate look a little cheap, which is pretty common for my collection.

Aside for a couple minor gripes, overall this unit has a really good fit and finish. The lens has an anti-reflective coating just like it should, the smooth reflector doesn't have any flaws or aberrations I could see, and the LED is machine-centered. 

Cross-hatch knurling is precise and well done. Crisp logo, check. Well fitting steel bezel, check. The feel of the switches is superb. It probably has the best feel of any electronic switch on any flashlight I own, and I own a lot of flashlights.

Everything else is spot on: O-ring is lubed and the triangular threads are nothing special but still well done.

Lumintop SD4A [4xAA LED Flashlight] - Closeup of Threads



LED Emitter


The emitter, sometimes just called the "LED" or the "diode" is the light bulb that gives light to an LED flashlight. This unit features the newer Cree XP-L emitter in it, which has a smaller die size than most of their high output models. Just like computer chips, LEDs get more compact and more efficient over time.

Lumintop SD4A [4xAA LED Flashlight] - LED Closeup

As mentioned above, at first I missed that this was the XP-L model until I started playing with it. I have a few smaller lights with this LED--even a 1xAAA flashlight, but I've always thought this LED would be better suited to larger lights. Looks like I got my wish.

Run Times


It's my understanding that the XP-L is a little more efficient than the XM-L2. It's certainly a smaller die size. So it's a little bizarre that the official run times are the same for both versions. They look believable for both versions, but I'd expect the XP-L to have slightly better run times.

Circuitry


One of my pet peeves is low-frequency PWM, which can give people headaches and even be dangerous for example working on a running car. So I'm happy to report that I can find no PWM on any modes using my cell phone camera. This camera trick works because the camera refresh rate and the rate PWM "blinks" the LED are always different, so you get lines on any photo taken with PWM.

Constant current circuitry is also ideal for survival applications because it gives flashlights much better efficiency, which translates into longer run time. In a cave or alone in the woods are bad times to have your flashlight run out of juice, and this type of circuitry combined with low and moonlight modes give you all the run time you need in an emergency. I only recommend constant current lights for survival kits like bugout bags.

User Interface


This thing has a lot of modes! For basic operation, click the power button to turn the flashlight on and off, and press the mode button to cycle between modes.

Turbo: This one gives me a little grief, but with the light off, double click the power switch. It seems like you have to turn the light off on high before activating this mode, and the backlit power button blinks green.

Moonlight: With the light off, press and hold the power button.
Strobe: With the light off, press and hold the mode button.
SOS: With the light on, press and hold the power button.
Beacon: With the light on, press and hold the mode button.

Lockout Mode: Press both buttons, and the light will blink a few times to let you know you're in lockout mode. To return to normal operation, press and hold both buttons again.

Lumintop SD4A [4xAA LED Flashlight] - Switch Panel

Moonlight Mode


Access this special mode by holding down the power button until it comes on, which is easy to miss and leave the light on. This is also the same way to access moonlight mode on the D40A--why change a good interface?

Those who know me, know that I love me some moonlight modes. These very-low-output modes are just bright enough to see with dark-adjusted eyes, and are ideal if you want to find your way to the bathroom at a campground or check on your kids without waking them up. It's also ideal for survival applications, where a light like this can literally go weeks. Most people tend to focus on raw output ("How many lumens is it?") but those high output modes are still there--everybody wins.

The moonlight mode on this model seems a little lower than the D40A, which is perfect for me.

Beacon Mode


Access the beacon mode by holding down the mode button when the flashlight is on.

This is another special mode that's worthy of its own mention because I like it so much for survival applications. Many makers give you a strobe mode and call it a survival mode. My thoughts on strobe modes are that they're pretty much only for showing off to your friends, and most law enforcement / military types consider them completely worthless. For being lost in the woods, you want a beacon mode.

Beacon modes are ideal for being lost in the woods because it pulses the LED at full power over longer intervals, giving you more run time on beacon mode than just pointing your flashlight at the sky until you run out of juice. This one pulses at one second intervals, which is fine, but I think it should be a little longer. 

I really like beacons modes with high power, constant-current flashlights. Add in the moonlight mode, and I think this flashlight is ideal for survival applications, though maybe on the heavy side for a bugout bag or backpacking. This one is better suited for a glovebox or car camping. My favorite beacon mode flashlight for bugout bags is still the EagleTac D25LC2 Mini, but I appreciate Lumintop putting a beacon mode on this model!


Usability


This XP-L model has some serious throw. I own a couple decent small-die throwers but I've never really craved the serious throwers because they are so large. It's physics. The size of the hot spot is a function of the LED die size and the reflector size, and most throwers have a huge reflector, and I like to travel light. Somehow this unit has a tighter hot spot than the few throwers I have.

Again, throwers aren't my expertise, but the throw on this seems pretty incredible given the shallow reflector, which is roughly half as deep as my Sunwayman D40A. Notice on the specs above that the throw is roughly double for the XP-L version, and you can see the secret: The XP-L is almost as powerful as its XM-L2 cousin with a smaller die size.

Playing with it outside, it's got a beautiful, tight beam. This isn't a model to look under the cupboards with or to light up your backyard, unless you have a big backyard. Throwers are at their best shining at long distances: looking down the trail, shining across a large property, search & rescue, etc. 

So I guess what I'm saying is it's a pretty awesome thrower for how compact it is, and using common AA batteries. This is a thrower I'd tell my mom to buy. It really depends on the application. Many times I use my multi-emitter PS03 when I want a UFO-encounter-level wall of light, but there's also definite times I want a decent thrower, like recently when the neighbor knocked on my door and said "Mark, you're the flashlight guy, can you look down the creek and see where my dog ran to."

The funny thing about the Cree's XP-L emitter is that flashlight makers tend to put them more in EDC type flashlights, which is awesome, but it seems like Cree designed it for larger flashlights like this. My Thrunite Ti XP-L Christmas Edition is great for a 1xAAA flashlight, but only drives the LED at 1/4 the voltage of the SD4A.

I'd expect the XM-L2 version to have much more flood, only throwing by just brute force, just like its cousin the D40A. If it's your only flashlight, this might be a better choice. But I have bags and boxes of flashlights of flashlights better for working on my truck or looking under the fridge with. This version is much better suited for looking for Xena late at night when she escapes her pen and runs a mile down the local creek. This is now my go-to flashlight for seeing far distances.

Lumintop SD4A [4xAA LED Flashlight] - In Hand 1

Lumintop SD4A [4xAA LED Flashlight] - In Hand 2


Weights & Measures


The weight is acceptable for this type of light. As I've said above, it's a little shorter and fatter than the D40A, and I like the shape of the Lumintop a little better.

Lumintop SD4A [4xAA LED Flashlight] - On Scale

Lumintop SD4A [4xAA LED Flashlight] - Next To Ruler

Conclusions


I've been giving away my flashlight collection to family and friends since I downsized from a big house. My plan was to decide which 4xAA flashlight I liked the most and give the other one away. But the SD4A has so much throw that it's not really a replacement for my D40A. But I don't have many throwers, and I kind of have a crush on the SD4A, so I'm keeping both.

A light this "throwy" is ideal for seeing long distances, like looking for a lost dog, law enforcement--there's many reasons people like throwers. It probably has enough spill-over from the hot spot for looking under a sink or car hood, but I think the reason to buy this model for most people would come down to two reasons: taking common AA batteries you can buy anywhere, and seeing long distances outside. 

If you want a better balance between flood and throw, you'd probably be better off with the XM-L2 version of the SD4A. Personally I love me some XP-L and wish more flashlight makers would use this emitter. 

Lumintop did a good job with this model, especially given the $50 price tag. When they first started making flashlights, I read all the reviews and wasn't too impressed with their lineup to be honest. They were targeting enthusiasts but not listening to them. But now their lineup has exploded, and they're definitely listening to the community. Every time I ask my brother-in-law about the Prince I gave him, he says "dude, it's awesome!"


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Review: Olight PL-1 II Valkyrie Weapon Light

Olight has been around a long time making flashlights. They started with tactical flashlights, and the last few years they've been branching out with smaller EDC type flashlights. They bought one of my favorite flashlight companies iTP a while back, and released the iconic Olight I3S which I carried for a long time and gave away as gifts. I also still carry my S2 Baton. I had some problems with the switch out of the box, but it worked itself out and it's been a fine light. The Valkyrie is also a brand new model, and I'm one of the first to get my hands on it.

I think that Olight does better with their higher end tactical products, so I was excited to get one of these PL-1 II Valkyrie weapon lights in my hands. Most people who know me know that I'm a hippie pacifist, but I have lots of experience handling firearms, and it wasn't hard to find a friend with a shiny new Glock G19 to try this out on!


Olight PL-1 II Valkyrie Weapon Light - Product Link


Video Review

I've been doing more video, and slowly getting better at it ... slowly.



Product Description

Price: About $100 online

The Valkyrie is a two-mode "weapon light" intended to be mounted on a handgun with MIL-STD-1913 rail systems, like the Glock 19 I used for this review. It features dual rubberized electronic switches and takes a CR123A battery or a 16340 lithium-ion rechargeable cell.

Official Specs (From Olight)

KEY FEATURES:
  • Applicable on MIL-STD-1913 and Glock sized rails
  • Uses a single CR123A battery delivering an output of 450 lumens and a beam distance of 106 meters
  • Switch on/off silently. Push forward directly or hit the side of the switch to activate
  • Heavy duty stainless steel lever making it easy and fast to attach and release
  • Hardened glass coated with an anti-reflective coating on both sides allowing for 99% light transmission rate for maximum clarity
  • IPX6 Waterproof
INCLUDED ACCESSORIES:
  • Weapon Light x 1
  • 1600mAh CR123A Battery x 1
  • 1913 Rail Mount (for 1913 Rail) x 1 
  • T6/T8 Socket Head Wrench x 1
  • Instruction Manual

Initial Impressions


Very favorable. I've always liked Olight's tactical flashlights, and this one gives me the impression that it's very rugged. I popped in the included Olight branded CR123A and it slid right onto the Glock and locked up tight, and had a good feel with the locking lever. Then I took it off the Glock and handed it to my brother, who immediately blinded everyone in the room. 450 lumens is a lot for a handgun light.

Olight PL-1 II Valkyrie Weapon Light - In Box 1

Olight PL-1 II Valkyrie Weapon Light - In Box 2

Olight PL-1 II Valkyrie Weapon Light - In Box 3

Olight PL-1 II Valkyrie Weapon Light - In Box 5


Build Quality


Very good overall. The rail locking lever has a great feel, but it's coated with a little bit of rubber and looks a little cheap. The rail mount screws also look a little cheap, but that's pretty much everything I review that has screws.

Other than a couple minor gripes, the Valkyrie looks to be very well built. The machining and anodizing are superb, as is the knurling on the head. The textured, rubberized switches are well done and look very rugged. Reflector, anti-reflective lens, LED--all good.

With a tactical flashlight, my first question about the build quality is: Would I recommend this to a friend in law enforcement or the military? Yes, I would.

Olight PL-1 II Valkyrie Weapon Light - Product View 1

Olight PL-1 II Valkyrie Weapon Light - Product View 2

Olight PL-1 II Valkyrie Weapon Light - Product View 3

Olight PL-1 II Valkyrie Weapon Light - Product View 5


Fit & Finish


Overall, superb. My minor gripes with the screws and the lock lever don't really come into play here, since you can't see the screws when it's mounted, and the rubber coating on the lever looks much better when it's locked and mounted as well.

Extra points for the knurling on the heads--they are as precise and well cut as I've seen on a flashlight. For flashlights in general, I look for rough machining, nicks, tool marks, off-center LEDs, aberrations in the reflector, cheap lenses--it's all perfect!

The texturing on the rubberized switches is also as good as I've seen. In fact, when I see a review sample this good, I'm almost suspicious about manufacturers cherry picking samples for review. But in my experience, the big manufacturers don't do that. If the production lights have a fit and finish this good, then this is going to be a hot model.

You can see in the photo below that it comes with plenty of lube on the threads and o-ring.

Olight PL-1 II Valkyrie Weapon Light - LED ViewOlight PL-1 II Valkyrie Weapon Light - Pill View

Olight PL-1 II Valkyrie Weapon Light - Opened



Electronic Switches


This model features dual electronic switches mounted on either side of the unit. I'm a big fan of this type of switch because it has a much longer lifetime than a mechanical switch. Adding to the durability, the switches are rubberized with a thick type of rubber, and well textured.

My only gripe with these switches is that you have to hit them dead center of the switch to get the light to turn on. With gloves on, this shouldn't be an issue. People with small hands should practice with this light to make sure they can hit the switch right when the time comes for self-defense. If you have big hands, the light can be activated by your trigger finger. For people with smaller hands (like me) you probably want to use the thumb of your off-hand.

The switches themselves have a really good feel for electronic switches, which gives me a warm fuzzy for their durability over time.

Olight PL-1 II Valkyrie Weapon Light - Switch Closeup


Modes


The Valkyrie has two modes: constant output and strobe mode, and the user interface is simple. Pressing either switch activates the weapon light. Pressing both switches at once activates the tactical strobe.

Now, I'm not a huge fan of strobe modes. Mostly they are to impress your friends, and I know very few law enforcement types who claim they actually do anything. So, most people would just press either switch to activate the light. It's probably hard to accidentally press both switches at once, but it's something to think about.

Usability


Using a weapon light should be simple and quick. You don't have time to mess with modes or figure out a complicated user interface when the time comes to defend yourself.

So, this model can be quickly activated with a quick press from the thumb your off hand, or your trigger finger if you have large fingers. This Glock has the extra large tail on it, which might make the difference. Again, not a big fan of strobe modes, but either mode is enough to temporarily blind your opponent, as well as see him.

I have not fired the G19 with the light mounted, but the mount feels secure and doesn't look like it would cause any issues. I was hoping to get a chance to do that for this review, but I have too much stuff to review. Maybe some readers can report back on how well the Valkyrie works attached to a Glock and firing it at night?

Olight PL-1 II Valkyrie Weapon Light - Mounted To Glock 19


Olight PL-1 II Valkyrie Weapon Light - In Hand

Here's an animated GIF I did which shows the action of the lever.

Olight PL-1 II Valkyrie Weapon Light - Animated Rail Lever

Output / Tint


The manufacturer claims 450 lumens for this model, and I believe them. I don't use a light sphere for measurements, but I own a lot of flashlights, so the output seems right on the money.

In fact, the output is quite good for a CR123/16340 type flashlight and about as much as you need. With a weapon light, you want to make sure you don't accidentally blind someone friendly, but the output is there if you need it.

The tint on this model leans towards neutral white. They're not calling it a NW model, but it's nice to see flashlights of this type not have an icky green or blue tinge to them. That being said, I hope they come out with a special NW or WW version of this model, maybe with a Nichia emitter in it.

Weights & Measures


It's 3 inches long and a little heavy. But that's the price of quality (lots of metal) and the G19 is a little on the heavy side for me anyways.

Olight PL-1 II Valkyrie Weapon Light - On Scale
3.8 ounces with included CR123A cell

Olight PL-1 II Valkyrie Weapon Light - Next To Ruler
Add caption


Conclusions


A well built product that's rugged and easy to use is what I look for with tactical flashlights. I wish they offered a single output mode version without the strobe, but it's a minor concern, and I like everything else about this light. $100 is a little steep for a flashlight, but if that's what quality costs, then I'm OK with it. I also wish they offered a neutral white version, but I'm a "tint snob."

It's easy to mount/unmount, easy to use and high output. I think they did a good job with the Valkyrie and would recommend it to the LEO / military types who would use this every day, as well as homeowner types. This one is a gift (since I don't own a gun) and I wouldn't give someone a weapon light that I didn't like, and I like this one!