Gadget Bag: Trail Lights

Small flashlights have 1001 uses for an outdoor photographer in autumn
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If you want to get the very best photos, you need to capture the very best light. That special light tends to happen at the fringes of the day as the sun is popping above the horizon and just before it slips below. That's easy enough to do, but it leaves you with one slight problem. You have to be prepared to hike and set up or take down your gear in the dark. A flashlight is a no-brainer, right? But all flashlights aren't created equal, and we can offer some that are better choices for
nature photographers than others.


Princeton Tec Impact XL

The advent of LED lights has changed the game for flashlight makers. You can pack a lot of power into a small package that doesn't need a huge battery and that doesn't get super-hot. LEDs almost never burn out, so you're unlikely to have the problem of a flashlight that doesn't work when you most need it.

We're advocates of AA- or AAA-powered lights. Unlike models that require exotic cells like CR123, AA and AAA are readily available and inexpensive, and in an emergency they're exchangeable with other battery-powered devices—that is, you can rob from one device to power another in a pinch. No matter where you go in the world, you can probably find AA or AAA batteries without too much difficulty.

Obviously, rugged construction is important since this is a tool you'll use in the field. Not too long ago, we wouldn't have advocated a metal flashlight, but today, lightweight alloy models are available that withstand the elements and don't succumb to rust or sand and dust. Water-resistance is still critical, of course, but plastic or metal are acceptable.


Petzl ZIPKA PLUS2

The switch is one aspect of the light that a lot of people don't think about, but it's important because the wrong switch easily can turn on when you're not aware and drain the battery. Push-button switches need special care to prevent them from being accidentally turned on. Sliding switches are also prone to this when sitting in a bag where other gear can rub alongside. Helical switches are particularly reliable when properly handled. Lights with helical switches turn on and off by screwing the contacts together. To turn them off, you just unscrew them slightly. They're extremely rugged and reliable, and they're very difficult to turn on by accident so you stand less chance of finding your batteries dead when you need them most. The only thing you need to pay special attention to is to have the top of the light unscrewed enough so it won't turn on because of a change in barometric pressure. Think about driving down a mountain. The change in air pressure is enough to push the contact together if the light is only barely unscrewed. It's easy to prevent this just by giving the light an extra quarter of a turn.

Headlamps are an outstanding option for photographers. They free up your hands so you can work with your camera, and they light up the area where you turn to look. Overall, they're just incredibly convenient. If anyone makes a wisecrack that you look like a coal miner, you can just ignore it.

Here are some favorite lights for outdoor photographers.


This Article Features Photo Zoom

Fenix HL21

Fenix HL21
The HL21 is a lightweight, high-intensity, water-resistant headlamp powered by a single NiMH or alkaline AA battery. Its 90-lumen Cree XP-E LED (R2) features digitally regulated output to maintain a constant brightness, and it has a life span of 50,000 hours. The unit is made of high-quality plastic and premium Type II hard-anodized aluminum, and features a push-button switch. Dimensions are 2.6x1.3x1.9 inches, and it weighs 1.45 ounces (without battery). Estimated Street Price: $34.95.


Fenix E21

Fenix E21
A practical outdoor flashlight, the Fenix E21 is powered by two AA batteries. Its 50,000-hour Cree XP-E LED provides two power settings. Just twist the unit to switch between 48 lumens (battery duration 11 hours) and 150 lumens (battery duration 2 hours, 15 minutes). A tactical push button in the tail-cap turns the flashlight on and off. Constructed of aircraft-grade aluminum with knurled texture for a good grip, the E21 is waterproof to 2 meters. The flashlight is 6.5 inches long, 1 inch in diameter, and weighs 3.2 ounces. Estimated Street Price: $34.95.


Pelican 1910

Pelican 1910
Designed for easy one-handed operation, Pelican's 1910 LED is a new ultracompact flashlight that features a 39-lumen LED and is powered by a single (included) AAA alkaline battery, which is good for about an hour of operation. Operation is simple. Press the tail-cap button to switch on, press again to switch off; press gently for momentary-on. Constructed of aircraft-grade aluminum alloy, the 1910 is water-resistant. A handy belt clip is built into the unit. The flashlight is 3.6 inches long and weighs just one ounce without battery (1.4 ounces with). Estimated Street Price: $29.95.


Princeton Tec Remix

Princeton Tec Remix
The Remix headlamp features polycarbonate construction, an asymmetrical single-arm bracket, an easily accessible battery door and a large push-button switch. Three Ultrabright LEDs and one Maxbright LED let you choose between long-range spotting or close-range area light. Power is 100 lumens, and burn time (on three AAA batteries) is 200 hours (Ultrabright LEDs) or 28 hours (Maxbright LED). The unit measures 2.3x1 inches and weighs 2.9 ounces. Estimated Street Price: $30.95.

Princeton Tec Impact XL
A "traditional" design flashlight, the rugged, durable Impact XL features a Maxbright LED rated at 65 lumens and a rubber overmold for a good grip and shock- and impact-resistance. It's also waterproof. The Impact XL is powered by four AA batteries, with a rated burn time of 50 hours. Operation is simple; just twist the bezel to turn it on and off. Estimated Street Price: $29.95.

RESOURCES
Fenix
www.fenixlight.com
Pelican Products
www.pelican.com
Petzl
www.petzl.com
Princeton Tec
www.princetontec.com

Petzl ZIPKA PLUS2
An ultracompact headlamp, the ZIPKA PLUS2 features one high-output white LED, one red LED and five lighting modes (three continuous, two blinking). A ZIP retractable cord system lets you wear the unit on your head or wrist. The high-output LED produces up to 50 lumens, and the unit can burn for up to 140 hours at economy setting. An electronic push-button switch provides simple operation. The ZIPKA PLUS2 operates on three AAA batteries (it comes with three alkalines; lithiums can be used for better performance in cold weather), and is IPX4 water-resistant. It weighs just 2.5 ounces with batteries. Estimated Street Price: $40.95.

5 Comments

    Recently came across small blacklight flashlights that are small and weigh only a few ounces and sell for less than $10. Great for spotting insects at night that you want to photograph, or wish to avoid like scorpions.

    Having a red light option is very helpful for late evening and night photos so your eyes can adapt to the dark. I use a red/white LED flashlight using the red setting after dark.

    Note: the red (or green) option in a headlamp is essential for photographers. We need to be considerate of our fellow photographers who may join us after dark or before sunrise at that special location (eg: Bosque del Apache)

    There’s really nothing quite like fiddling in the darkness with your camera gear and then suddenly getting blinded by brilliant white beams in your eye from another head as that shooter sets up his/her own equipment!

    I think the Redline by Nebo is the best light I have used to date. It has 3 brightness levels, 100% with 220-lumens, 50% with 110-lumens, and 10% with 22-lumens, as well as a continuous S.O.S. mode at 220-lumens and an emergency strobe with 220-lumens. The light has a 4x adjustable beam that works with any light setting to change from a flood light illuminating everything within a 20 yard distanceto a spot light that will focus up to 150 yards. At 4.5″ long and only weighting 6.8 ounces it is the perfect trail light.

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