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!"


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