Friday, March 28, 2014

Review: Two in One Camping Lamp

I'm always on the lookout for good camping lanterns. Most of the store-bought ones use extremely cheap and low-efficiency LED emitters, so I always pay attention to ones that use a good emitter like a Cree. This one uses a Cree Q5 LED emitter in it. A shady company asked me to choose something from their site to review and I wanted something a little different, so I chose this model.

The review sample was provided by a shady seller I no longer deal with, and runs about $10 on their site.

3xAAA Camping Lantern Product Link
Camping lantern product link 

Product Description


This is a single mode 3xAAA camping lantern. It features a hybrid design that allows it to act like a flashlight when the retractable diffuser is pushed in. When acting as a flashlight, the unit has a large, smooth reflector actually giving the unit some serious throw. With the diffuser extended, the unit acts as a lantern, which can stand on its own or hang from the attached ring.

As I mentioned, this model features a Cree XP-E Q5 emitter with what is most likely a direct drive circuit. It's one of those so-called "vampires" where it can drain the batteries all the way dead, giving you every last bit of light.

Official Specs


There is not a whole lot of information out there on this lantern, but here's what their web site has:

Specifications

General
Type: Camping Emergency Lights
For: Camping, Fishing, Hiking, Emergency, Travel
Material: Aluminum Alloy, Glasses
Functions: Long life, low power consumption, bright and no stroboscopic
Specification
Power Source: 3 AAA battery (not included)
Dimension and Weight
Product weight : 0.1kg
Package weight : 0.15 kg
Product size (L x W x H) : 11 cm (Folding Size), 16 cm (Unfolding Size)
Package size (L x W x H) : 13 x 8 x 8 cm
Package Contents
Package contents: 1 x Camping Lamp
3xAAA Camping Lantern 1

3xAAA Camping Lantern 2

3xAAA Camping Lantern 3
It's got a sturdy looking ring to hang it from

3xAAA Camping Lantern 4
The base is Aluminum and looks to be attached with 3 philips screws

3xAAA Camping Lantern Tail Switch3xAAA Camping Lantern Tube



3xAAA Camping Lantern Battery Holder 13xAAA Camping Lantern Battery Holder 2


3xAAA Camping Lantern Battery Holder 3

3xAAA Camping Lantern Threads3xAAA Camping Lantern Tail Cap and Spring

Initial Impressions


This thing is built a little better than I thought it would be at this 10 dollar price point. The main body is anodized Aluminum. The threads are well machined, and the sliding plastic diffuser doesn't feel cheap. The lens and reflector are plastic, but the lantern base is Aluminum just like the body. The reverse clicky tail switch has a good feel to it. The battery holder is of the typical cheap 3xAAA variety you will find on any flashlight in this range. The unit it itself looks durable enough to go into my camping gear, where it will bounce around in the truck. All things considered, it gave me a favorable first impression.

It says "GSWolf" on the cap. I googled it and didn't see this lantern anywhere else.





Fit and Finish


Overall, good. Nothing really surprising given the price point. The emitter is a good bit off center and that affects the beam when the unit is functioning as a flashlight, since part of the beam is cut off. In lantern mode, the emitter being off center does not affect the amount or quality of the light since it's mostly coming out the diffuser. There's also some dust on the flashlight reflector and lens but I don't see a way to take it off, and I don't want to damage it. And again, this issue has no effect on the lantern's operation and probably doesn't really affect the flashlight either--it's more of my OCD wanting to clean it.

Other than the couple minor gripes above, the fit and finish is above average, and I'm pleasantly surprised overall. It's an interesting hybrid of Aluminum and plastic. The anodizing on mine came without any scratches or scuffs and looks nice. The anodized metal base is also a nice touch.

3xAAA Camping Lantern Closeup Of LED 1

3xAAA Camping Lantern Closeup Of LED 2


Flashlight


The large, smooth reflector coupled with the smaller die size of the Q5 give this flashlight a tight beam with some serious throw. If it wasn't for the off-center emitter, this flashlight might challenge more expensive lights in my collection. Other than the funny shape, it's a fully functional flashlight. The plastic reflector and lens are well designed and give this model a nice, tight beam. The tint is the usual cool white you will find on similar flashlights with this emitter. Output is probably in the 100-200 lumen range would be my best guess. Certainly in line with most other flashlights in this category that use the Q5.

3xAAA Camping Lantern Closeup Of Reflector
It's got a pretty good reflector


Lantern


Extending the diffuser turns this model into a decently designed lantern. The output is acceptable for this style, though it only has one mode. The fact that it only gets full brightness for about an hour limits its usefulness as a lantern, but as my wife joked, it gives you three days to use the lantern to find fresh batteries.

The lantern can sit on its base on any flat surface or can be hung from something like a tent using the ring attached to the base. It looks like it may even be water resistant, though I wouldn't push it.

Sitting flat on its base on a picnic table is how the lantern seems to work best, and it's how I plan on using it. For my tent I use a much more expensive setup, usually an 18650 based flashlight with a lot of modes and run time, like the EagleTac shown below with a wand style diffuser. This one will sit on a table like it is below when I'm out at a camp site. It'll be sitting on table while we eat dinner. It might be a bit heavy for backpacking, but probably fine for a disaster "go bag".

3xAAA Camping Lantern On Table 1
3xAAA Camping Lantern On Table 2

Lithium-Ion


I did get an unprotected 18650 lithium-ion battery to fit in the unit. It's fully functional, though the tail cap doesn't screw down all the way with an 18650 in it. Even though it barely fits, it's still nice to know that I could power this thing with a harvested laptop battery if I wanted, and it will vampire that battery down in an emergency.

NOTE: Always be very very careful putting a 3.7V battery in anything that wasn't specifically designed for it. This model could conceivably discharge a lithium-ion cell too quickly, to the point where it could be in danger of melting or even explosion. But if you know what you are doing, it should be useful to know that this model will work with an 18650. I only ran it a couple minutes for my test.

Run Time ("The little lantern that could")


My test was performed with 3 second generation AAA Sanyo Eneloop batteries. My tail cap reading with the 3 fresh Eneloops was 1.3 Amps.

The lantern only gives full brightness for about an hour. I figured that's where the story would end, as it coasted down to nothing. But at 4 hours, it was still bright enough to function as a lantern. Around the 8-10 hour mark, it was really dim but probably enough to still read by in a tent. But this thing just kept going. At the 24 hour mark it was definitely sub-lumen, giving a so called "moonlight mode" and just kept going. At 48 hours it was still probably bright enough to use it to look for fresh batteries! Currently we are just past 72 hours into the test and there's still enough light to see the lantern in a dark room and that's about it. These so-called "vampire" lights often have no circuitry at all--just the batteries straight to the LED emitter and can be handy to have in an emergency, due to the fact that they will suck every bit of power out of your batteries.

The shot below was taken about about the 12 hour mark. This is what earned it points with my wife.

3xAAA Camping Lantern At 12 Hours Run Time


Conclusions


This is a decent little camping lantern that I am happy to add to my gear. It doesn't have a whole lot of output or run time, but given its diminutive size and 10 dollar price point, it's definitely worth throwing into the car for my next camping trip.I also like that it has a "vampire" circuit that will squeeze every bit of juice out of your batteries. That might even earn it a spot in my disaster bag. I'm still deciding.

It's also a pretty good flashlight, mostly due to the well designed reflector. It's made of plastic and so is the lens, but it still appears to be well made. This model should make a decent flashlight. For me it'll be a backup flashlight and a nice extra lantern to have along. I usually bring lots of AAA batteries camping anyway. This lantern also scored points with my wife, who was impressed that it stayed lit for so long.

I don't really have too many complaints about this sample. The fit and finish has lots of room for improvement. Most enthusiasts would return a light with the LED so far off center, though I doubt most casual users would notice. It doesn't affect the lantern, though, so it's not really a concern for me. The dust inside the lantern is really annoying too. I'll probably figure out how to take it apart.

Gallery


Oops. At least the unit was packed in bubble wrap and undamaged

Shown in ounces with the Recyko batteries







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