Torch Buying guide and FAQ - 2019

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Dec 7, 2014
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I posted this over at 28, but thought it would be useful here too.

Torch Buying Guide & FAQ - 2019
I've noticed recently a lot of people on here and on various related Facebook pages asking about what torch to buy with barely any information on what they want. Normally followed by a good amount of #Torchchat. I'm a sucker for #Torchchat, but I realised we don't really have proper guide or reference on exploring related torch buying. So I'm gonna make one.

This is by no means a definitive guide, but will help point you in the right direction.
I'm going to cover the basics of what makes a good torch and a bad torch, the different styles, makes and list some of my recommended options including some of the forum favourites.

The Basics of a torch


AA / AAA - The most widely available type of battery, can them almost anywhere. They are limited compared to modern lithium batteries as they don't have anywhere close to the the power density. Great choice for a backup torch. Eneloops are probably the best brand of rechargeable AAA/AA. LADDA batteries sold in Ikea are basically repackaged Eneloops and are a bargain.

18650 Lithium - Probably the best battery type for a torch currently, holds the same amount of power as 5x AA batteries. There are different types of 18650 ranging from High Drain and Low Drain. High Drain versions can provide up to 20amps of continuous power, suitable for very high powered lights that pull a lot of current. They provide long runtimes and are generally cheaper to use over over a long period as after a handful of recharges they pay for themselves.

It's generally best to avoid buying 18650's from Amazon or Ebay as they are riddled with fakes. Avoid anything with Fire in the name, such a TrustFire and Ultrafire. This is because they are nearly always fake and serve more as a fire hazard then a source of power.

The max output from a 18650 is around 3500mAh. Anything over is probably fake.
There used to be '9800mAh' 18650s sold on amazon that were clearly completely fake and total junk, don't fall for it!

I'd recommend buying from a trusted Vape shop or website such a Fogstar. Expect to pay around £5 - £10 each battery and don't forget to budget in a charger!

Good 18650s:
  • Samsung 30Q
  • LG HG2
  • Sony VCT6
  • Sony VCT5a
  • Panasonic NCR18650B

26650 Lithium - Bigger version of the 18650, becoming more popular in the last few years. Basically the same but holds up to 5500mAh of power.

14500 Lithium - A lithium 3.7v version of an AA battery. Some torches give you an option to use a 14500 or an AA battery for flexibility.

21700 Lithium - The new kid on the block and one which is starting to be used in a handful of torches. In-between the size of a 18650 and a 26650.

Beam/Optic types

Floody - As it sounds like, a floody beam lights up a wide area and generally doesn't throw light a long distance. This is especially useful for exploring inside of buildings as the beam will light up the entire room instead of a single very bright point on the wall. This often helped with different types of optics such as the TIR or Honeycomb optics as seen on the Armytek Wizard. This is a very good type of optic to have on a headtorch for close up work.

Throwy - A long throwing beam with a tight hotspot. Great for lighting down to the end of long tunnels and outside exploration but might draw unwanted attention if you are not careful.

Zoomable/Zoomie - As seen in the much loved Led Lenser P7.2, the zoomable beam allows you to adjust the beam from a wide flood to a single zoomed in long throwing beam. Wonderful on paper but has a few shortfalls. Zoomie optics can be inefficient and lose light that it cuts off on the edges. It means your 400 Lumen LED might end up being 200 or 300 when it comes out the front of the torch. They can also be a source of water ingress as it's hard to waterproof a moving head that pulls a vacuum as you move it in and out. What they are great for is light painting, allowing you to paint light in nice and wide for close ups and zoom right in for long corridor or tunnel shots without overexposing other parts of the photo.

The ideal beam pattern
There is no such things as a perfect beam pattern, but rather one that works for your needs. Zoomable torches can sort of offer a bit of both, but it's not perfect as sometimes you want both flood and throw.

A good quality fixed beam torch can offer both of these.


UI - User Interface

UI as it's commonly known refers to how the torch operates. The most basic of UI's is a simple On or Off.

However modern torches offer a vast array of User interface options with various brightness's modes and settings. Useful features like access to Moonlight Mode (really low sub lumen modes) or High modes straight from off without having to cycle through High > Medium > Low etc.

The UI will vary from torch to torch, some better and more intuitive than others.

A more recent type of UI is something called Ramping UI, which allows you to hold the on button and the light will slowly ramp up or down in brightness until you let go when you find the output you want. It's a really nice feature and I think it will start to be seen on more torches over the next few years.

Tint and CRI

Tint and CRI will define the 'quality' of the light. A lot of this is down to personal preference, but there are some things you want to try and look out for.

Tint - The tint of a light is either Warm, neutral or Cool. Measured in Kelvin or just K.


4000K and lower is considers Warm and is my personal preference.
5000K is a pure or neutral white.
6000K upwards is a cool white/blueish. This is generally seen on cheaper torches and is generally less desirable.

CRI - Colour Rendition Index

This is one of the most overlooked spec's on a torch and is one that can make a real difference.
Simply put, CRI is a rating on how good a torch will provide a full range of colours. It's rated from 0 to 100 and the higher the number the better the colours will look.

  • CRI 70 is about average, and anything much lower than that is worth avoiding IMO.
  • CRI 80 is decent.
  • CRI 90+ is very good.
  • CRI 100 is the highest you can get and is the rating of old Incandescent lights. Current LED technology has only reached CRI 99.

On a lot of cheap torches now you will find that they have cool blue tint's and wash everything out in a blueish haze. It is the reason why some people still used old Incandescent torches to light paint, because they provide a more accurate colour of what is being lit up.

However in the last few years LED's have started getting really good. CRI 95 led's are now easily available and come in a range of warm and cool tints.

A good CRI rating will not only allow for better colours in shots, but will also allow you to see and pick out that you might want to avoid, rusty nails or spikes hidden in debris etc.

On the Left is a photo lit using a Led Lenser M7 which is about 60 - 70 CRI and has a very cool blue tint. On the right is one using a Emisar D4 with a Warm 4000K 95CRI emitter.
It's perhaps not the greatest example but shows the colour and contrast differences between the two light sources.


If you want to know more, check out this:

It has a brilliant example of CRI, much better than I have here.

Lumens and Candela

This is a measure of the amount of light that comes out the front of the torch. How these lumens are spread out or focused is entirely down to the optics. Whether is spread out wide in a soft floody beam or focused into a very tight and bright long throwing beam.

How many lumens is too many Lumens?
One of the common responses to someone bragging about the lumen count of their new torch is that you will only draw a whole load of attention to yourself when you are trying to sneak around a derp with 5000 lumens making you stand out like a sour thumb and get you caught in seconds. This is indeed correct and is the reason why any good high powered torch should also have a range of very low modes.
High lumens will also generate heat and drain the batteries quicker.

As a general rule of thumb, a good 1x 18650 powered general use torch will have around 1000 - 1500 lumens max output, and a range of medium modes including a Moonlight mode near or less than 1 Lumen. Newer Quad LED torches are pushing the boundaries of what a single 18650 can produce, some reaching over 4000 Lumens, but will generate lots of heat and have far shorter runtimes.
Torches are getting brighter and brighter so 1000 lumens will soon be considered pretty standard.

On the extreme end of the spectrum you have torches like the Acebeam X70 which makes 60,000 Lumens and throws over a Km. Totally useless for exploring, but probably good fun.

This is the concentration of light at distance of 1m at the brightest spot. Throwy lights tend to have much higher Candela ratings than floody lights. Candela is always a good measure of a lights real life performance.

Torch brands

'Premium' Brands
These well known high quality makes tend to command a higher cost, but are mostly very good.

Led Lenser:
Well known German make and produce good quality lights that are available on the high street as well as online. The Led Lenser P7.2 has long been a forum favourite and has long been a good all rounder. However they are not the most cost effective and a little behind on the latest LED and Battery technology. The P7R, one of their newer torches produces 1000 lumens using an 18650 battery, but is a little on the expensive side for its output and features compared to many. I would not recommend their high end lights such as X21R.2 that can cost in excess of £200, they offer very poor value.

Produce a wide range of very good quality torches with some very modern features such as inbuilt recharging. The only negative is they tend to favour cooler tints, so if you want a warm tint, look elsewhere.

Another high quality manufacturer of torches who do a good range of zoomable and fixed lens torches. Not the cheapest but well worth the money.

Nitecore can produce good stuff, but have been noted to have slightly above average failure rates on some torches. They can make some pretty weird and wacky stuff too with some nice features. The Nitecore EC22 has a little wheel on the top that adjusts the brightness which is pretty cool.

Arguably one of the highest quality manufacturer of torches. They really care about good tints and great runtimes. The boost drivers in Zebralights allow for some of the longest runtimes of any well known make. They aren't the cheapest but they are worth it if you can afford it.

Canadian company who make one of the best headtorches on the market, the Armytek Wizard Pro. Their customer service is sadly not as well regarded and can be hit and miss.

I feel like maglite is the Kodak of the torch world. They were the best torch maker 20 years ago, and yet somehow they just gave up trying and stopped innovating. Not a single one of their products interests me now. You can't knock their quality as all of their stuff is built to last, and they can be modified to be much much brighter if you still fancy one.

Better Value Brands
These aren't cheap and nasty, just better value lights. If you are on a budget, look here.

Known for making possibly the best value for money headtorch you can buy, the Skilhunt H03.

Very cheap and good quality. A good place to look if you haven't got a huge amount to spend but want something decent.

Wowtac have a small but well thought out range of affordable torches and head torches. I believe they are owned or connected to ThruNite.

Very good value for money with a nice range of different styles. The TN12 and TC12 are often recommended as a good all-rounder.

Convoy have been around for a while producing some of the best value for money torches you can buy. Most notably for the Convoy S2+ and the Convoy C8. These can be bought as bare hosts that you can install your own LED emitter(s) and Driver of choice. An enthusiast favourite for bargain prices.

Fairly new on the scene but sell some of the craziest torches you can fit in your jeans pockets. The Emisar D4 produces 4000 Lumens and can burn a hole in things, but is 2/3rds the size of Led Lenser P7.2. For £27 its a bargain.

Short for Budget Light Forum, they design torches by committee and decide on features by voting. This means that the forum members can vote on designing their 'perfect' torch. This is lead the way for some amazing and well thought out lights such as the BLF Q8 and the BLF A6.


I'll order these by price, cheapest to most expensive to make it easier to sort by your budget.
Don't forget to budget in Batteries and a Charger if they are required.

General exploring handheld Torch
Small handheld torches that will fit in most jeans pockets. Mostly 18650 powered.

Convoy S2+: £10-£20
The S2/S2+ has been a favourite for a few years and there's a reason for it. It offers around 900 Lumens and a decent UI for around £10. Available in a range of tints and emitters. There is even a High-CRI version available now. If you have the skills you can also buy an empty host body and drop in your own choice of LED Emitter and Driver. Some people build triple Emitter builds that can produce over 3000 Lumens. It has a fairly balanced beam that is on the floody side but has plenty of power to throw a reasonable distance if needed. Available from Gearbest & Banggood.

BLF A6: £15
Similar to the Convoy S2+, but uses a more powerful FET driver that allows for 1600 Lumens. Will get a little warm if ran for a while. sell it for £17 with a Samsung 30Q battery included.

Convoy C8/C8+: £15-£30
The ultimate 'budget thrower', perhaps not ideal for indoor and close quarter explores but can throw up to 500m and has around 1000lumens. Can also come under different brand names with slightly varied outputs and tints.
The C8+ is the newest incarnation with improved performance and a cool looking sandy colour.

Anker LC90 - £25
Zoomable 18650 powered light made by Anker. 900 Lumens and has a very basic High>Medium>Low>Strobe>SOS UI, but still a good option when on a budget. Rechargeable via USB.
Sold on Amazon.

Led Lenser P7.2 (and other similar versions such as the M7 or T7.2): £25 - £45
These are a long time favourite and offer fairly decent performance out of the AAA battery source. They are also very well made and will take years of abuse. The older model put out 320 Lumens but has recently been upped to 400 lumens. They can sell for up to £40 but amazon often discounts them and so they can be had for under £25 if you grab one while on offer. Here's the problem though, they are actually pretty basic and lack a lot of features. The low mode only goes down to 40 Lumens and 400 lumens max is pretty low by 2019 standards, however as its only powered by AAA's it can be forgiven as you won't get much more power out of 4x AAA's.
Personally I would recommend leaning towards a 18650 powered torch with a better range of Low and Moonlight modes, higher max output, longer runtimes and better tints, but the P7.2 has proven it self again and again to be perfectly good for many people here, and the zooming optics are very good, so it's still a good option.

Emisar D4 - £27
I have to admit a bit of bias here as I've everyday carried one of these for over a year now. For me it's the perfect torch in many ways. Firstly the output is insane at 3000-4000lumens using its quad LED emitter (Depending on Emitter choice). This of course generates heat, a lot of heat. In fact it's notorious for melting holes in jacket and trouser pockets when its been turned on by mistake. However its got a super low moonlight mode of less than 1 Lumen and has the rather clever Ramping UI I referred to earlier which allows for endless range of brightness settings. The latest choice of emitters include many High-CRI options in various tints of your choice. Powered by a single High Drain 18650 and is very compact, it's even smaller than a P7.2. It's very floody, so ideal for exploring inside buildings. For £27 or $35 it's an absolute steal. Available from Intl-outdoors.

Lumintop ZOOM1 - £28
A new light from Lumintop with zoomie optics. Appears to have nice optics and has the bonus of USB recharging. 10 - 850 Lumens range and up to 210m throw.
Can be bought from Aliexpress

Wowtac A3S - £30
A cheap and powerful zoomable torch with 1000 lumens of output and a decent range of modes. Sold on Amazon but goes in and out of stock regularly.

ThruNite 2C V3 - £45
1100 Lumens and USB charging, also has Ramping UI and a wide range of moonlight and low modes. A good robust mid range priced torch. Sold on Amazon.

Fenix PD35 - £50
Well made and popular 1000 Lumen torch. Not the cheapest but ticks many boxes for lots of people.

Led Lenser P7R - £60-£80
An 18650 powered rechargeable version of the Led Lenser P7.2 with 1000 lumens output. Much improved performance and step in the right direction for Led Lenser. Much more expensive though.

Fenix FD41 - £70-£80
A zoomable torch for people who don't like zoomies. Unlike most zoomies where you get a uniform round beam with no hotspot in the centre, the FD41 is different in that it still has the hotspot which gets bigger and smaller when focused in and out. It's not cheap but the optics are brilliant. The 900 lumens is more than enough for most peoples needs. A very good choice.

Headtorches and Right Angle Lights
Right angle lights are very versatile in the fact that they can be both handheld torches and headtorches.

Skilhunt H03 - £25
Probably the best bang for buck you can get in a headtorch. Very floody TIR optics, 900 Lumens and decent UI. A good range of moonlight modes and comes with a nice head strap.
Sold by Gearbest and is sometimes on sale as low as £21. Also available with inbuilt recharging. High recommended. Sold on Gearbest

Wowtac A2S - £30
Another great value headlamp which includes a USB rechargeable 18650 battery and puts out 1000 Lumens. Not a super floody beam, but a more general use beam with a good hotspot and useable throw. Tint is a bit on the green side but can be forgiven for such a great value torch. If you want one torch that wills serve as headtorch and a Handheld torch all for a good price, this might well be the answer. Sold on Amazon.

ThruNite TN20 - £30
Dedicated Headtorch that uses a single AA battery. Very small, light and puts out 230 Lumens using an AA and 520 Lumens using a 14500. A good backup or main headlamp. Sold on Amazon.

Armytek Elf C2 - £50
Armyteks budget version of the well regarded Wizard Pro. Sharing the same super floody TIR optics as the wizard but with a low but still respectable out of 900 lumens. It has a moonlight modes of 0.4 & 2.3 Lumens. Comes in both Warm and Cool LED tints, although I'd recommend warm over the cool option. An even cheaper version is available called the Elf C1 that uses a smaller 18350 battery.

Olight H2R Nova - £70
Quite Similar to the Wizard Pro with a slightly lower price tag. 2300 Lumens max and 1 Lumen low modes. Built in recharging and comes with a headstrap and a battery. Has Neutral white and Cool White tint options. Sold on Amazon.

Armytek Wizard Pro V3 XHP50 - £80
Rock solid and packed full of features this is more headtorch than anyone would ever need. 1700Lumens max output and again comes in Warm and Cool tint options (get the warm). Comes with a magnet charging dock and has a great headstrap that you can easily remove and re-attached.

Zebralight H604W - £100
Very long runtimes and an attention to detail for good tints, zebralight makes very good quality lights that are bombproof. The Moonlight low modes are extremely low and it has a max output of 1400 Lumens.
It's not cheap and you don't want to be losing this, but its a gorgeous light.

High Powered Torches
Super high powered torches, normally a bit much for general exploring use, but useful for the occasions where you need to light up a large space.

BLF Q8 - £30-50
Beer can sized quad emitter torch powered by 4 x 18650 and has over 5000 Lumens of output. Brilliant ramping UI with very low output modes and will sustain a high output for many hours due to a reasonably sized thermal mass allowing it to manage the heat well. Potential to have extremely long runtimes if you use it sensibly. It's made by Thorfire on behalf of BLF. Can be modded to get over 6000 Lumens. I've seen it as low as £30 on Amazon, for that price its an absolute bargain and out classes pretty much everything in the same price bracket. Only downside is the beer can size is a little big for a lot of pockets.

Emisar D4S - £37-£50
Bigger brother of the Emisar D4 and uses a 26650 Battery. It's bigger but can run at higher brightness's for longer without getting anywhere near as hot. Depending on Emitter choice can put out up to 5200 Lumens. I would recommend the SST-20 4000K High CRI option. Nice size to fit in a jacket pocket and has many customizable options including colour, aux LED colours and Emitter type. It has a very strong magnet in the end cap and is a really nice all round light. Much more of a thrower than the smaller Emisar D4 but far more usable outdoors.
Available from Intl-outdoors.

Fireflies E07 - £42 - £58
A very new light that uses 21700 batteries. Can put between 3800 and 6900 lumens from its 7 emitters. Absolutely madness for the size of it.
Similar to the Emisar D4S in ways but with more emitters. Bought from Fireflies Direct

ThruNite Catapult V6 - £70
750meteres of throw in something that will easily fit in your hand. 26650 powered and emits 1700 Lumens. Very well regarded.

ThruNite TN42 - £150
Do you need to light up something 1500meters away? This is the light for you.

Backup and Spare torches
As the expression goes: One is none, Two is one. Always carry a back up torch(s), especially for underground stuff.

Anker LC40 - £9
Anker are know for making good quality phone chargers and Bluetooth speakers. However they do make a nice range of torches. This is nothing special using 3xAAA or 1x18650 and outputs 400 lumens, but as a backup its perfect. For under a tenner who's gonna complain. Sold on Amazon.

The generic 'CREE 18650 torch' - £5-£10


You've likely seen these for sale on Amazon or Ebay. Often marketed to greatly exaggerated lumen output and come in all different makes and designs. Sometimes they come in a kit including batteries and a charger. These were pretty much where the term 'Chinese Lumens' was coined, because lots of those claimed lumens seem to mysteriously disappear when it finally arrives on your doorstep.
These are cheaply made in masses and based off an Ultrafire 878 which can be bought of £5 here. Most these types of lights are copies or loosely based on a similar design and you should not pay any more than £10 for one.

Several companies such as ShadowHawk market these as 'Military grade' lights under the names like the ShadowHark X800 and try and charge £50 upwards for one. THIS IS A SCAM, do not buy one! See here for more info.

The reality is that these cheap generic torches are not 'bad' lights if you want something inexpensive that you can chuck in your camera bag as a spare. Compared to old incandescent lights they will seem amazing. However the real output will be something close to 300 - 500 Lumens depending how lucky you get, and they normally pick the cheapest bluest CREE XML-T6 emitters they can get and the Zooming optics are normally horribly inefficient. The UI is bad and I personally would not trust one enough to rely on it completely.

Watch out for kits such as is shown in the photo above. They often come with dangerous fake 18650 batteries which are liable to explode when charging and chargers with dodgy circuits and no fuse. Always buy a battery separately, They also make AAA versions, but expect no more than 200 lumens.

ThruNite T10 II - £20
A small AA or 14500 powered light that can output up to 550 lumens (using 14500). Small and pocket friendly, this makes for a good quality backup light. Sold on Amazon

LED panels
Also known as Video lights these are brilliant for providing backlighting in rooms and tunnels etc. Usually provide a huge wall of light that fills a room.

CN160 Video Light - £20
160 Led video light that comes with a hot shoe mount fitting so it can go on the top of you camera as well as attaching to a tripod. Powered by either 6 x AA or one NP F550 Sony Camera battery (Recommend these over AA's). Normally comes with different coloured filters. Very useful if you go underground a lot. Sold on Amazon

Andoer Video Light - £25
Similar to the CN160 except has adjustable tints from 3200K to 6000K. Uses NP F500 batteries. Sold on Amazon

References and information

Parametrek: If you are looking for something very specific there is a site here that filters by various spec out of over 2000 torches.

r/Flashlight on Reddit - The subreddit for all things flashlights and torches. I spent more time on here than I care to admit. Good resource though with a good community.

A good index of terms and a general resource:

The BLF forum - Another good resource and forum.

Hugh Jorgan

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Feb 2, 2015
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Aberdeen, Scotland
Interesting and well documented. I have a Cree 18650, a LED panel video light and a few other smaller LED torches and that does me.


Sep 20, 2005
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Bristol, UK.
Great guide, thank you for taking the time to put it together.

It's a shame all the headtorches are mounted off centre, I'm looking for a new one but they don't fit my needs. Fine for bumbling around derps, terrible for running through woods at full speed.


Sep 20, 2005
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Bristol, UK.
Superb stuff Gromr. Given that so much of urbex photography takes place in dark/near pitch-black surroundings you really can't understate the importance of having a good torch.

Or even two good torches! Always a dangerous game to rely on just one.


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Dec 7, 2014
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Great guide, thank you for taking the time to put it together.

It's a shame all the headtorches are mounted off centre, I'm looking for a new one but they don't fit my needs. Fine for bumbling around derps, terrible for running through woods at full speed.

No problem at all. I'm a proper nerd when it comes to torches haha.

How come you need a headlight that's centre mounted?

If you want one that's central mounted, try the Nitecore HC65 (
or the Fenix HL60R.

I've got an Armytek wizard Pro and the beam is easily wide enough to run through woodlands and see everything clearly.
Last edited:


Sep 20, 2005
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Bristol, UK.
No problem at all. I'm a proper nerd when it comes to torches haha.

How come you need a headlight that's centre mounted?

If you want one that's central mounted, try the Nitecore HC65 (
or the Fenix HL60R.

I've got an Armytek wizard Pro and the beam is easily wide enough to run through woodlands and see everything clearly.

If the light is off centre is really throws your perception off when moving fast. Trust me, I've tried.


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Dec 7, 2014
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That's interesting, never thought that would be an issue! Makes sense if your hurtling through woodland and need to avoid tripping on every branch and log.