Do you know you can reduce your chances of contracting bladder cancer if you regularly take a pee in the middle of the night? That's where having a great, dim, LED flashlight really comes in handy.
I've been researching and buying quality LED flashlights for a number of years and so I know what I'm talking about. Most of them tout how bright they are. Few of them brag about how dim you can make them, but a dim flashlight is just what the doctor ordered for taking a pee in the middle of the night.
I'm going to talk about two little gems that really put out some quality low level light. The first is the Surefire U2 Ultra, one of the finest palm-size LED flashlights that money can (almost) buy. I say almost, because you need a lot of money to buy it. Here's its WEB page so you know what I mean:
I've owned this flashlight and used it for my nightly excursions to the toilet for about four years, and have only been through a couple sets of lithium batteries. Low light doesn't wade through batteries very fast and lithium batteries in particular don't age! If they run out of juice it's because you used it up.
The other flashlight I want to compare the Surefire to is the 4Sevens Quark 123-2 (for two lithium 123 batteries). You can read about its specs (and find out how much it costs) here:
I just got this little gem a few days ago, based on the bravado they exhibited in describing its exquisite low light output performance, claiming that it only puts out an almost unbelievably dim 0.2 lumens on its lowest setting. They call it their "moonlight" setting (it's actually dimmer than moonlight). The Surefire on the other hand can only brag about their lowest setting going down to 2.0 lumens, ten times as much output as the 4Sevens flashlight! I always wanted to find a flashlight that wasn't quite as bright as the Surefire U2 on its lowest setting, and this Quark really promised to deliver the goods.
So how do these two flashlights compare? First of all, for the price the Quark is pretty amazing. It is not as luxuriously finished as the Surefire U2 Ultra, but of course the price is less than 1/4 the Surefire. For example of where it doesn't quite match the quality of the Surefire, changing brightness isn't as elegant as the Surefire. On the Surefire you rotate a ring that has a silky smooth, precision feel to it. For the 4Sevens you depress the end button repeatedly (without clicking). The end button doesn't have the precise feel of the Surefire's end button, but it's easy enough to engage. Also the clip is clumsy and cheap looking compared to Surefire's masterfully designed clip and I wish you could take it off the 4Sevens flashlight but there doesn't seem to be any way to do it.
The size of the Quark is truly diminutive compared to the Surefire, and about 1/3 the weight. Quite a feat of engineering. Both flashlights take two lithium 123 batteries.
On the other end of the scale, the Quark is rated at almost twice the brightness of the Surefire: 190 lumens compared to 100. The Quark is evidently taking advantage of more recent advances in LED technology. 190 lumens out of a flashlight only 4 1/2 inches long and 3/4 inches in diameter is just mind-boggling.
Side by side I could see that the Quark was brighter, but it didn't look twice as bright. On the other hand, the beam was quite a bit wider and so maybe it was. I'd say that the quality of the beam was about equal in both flashlights, which is really saying something for the Quark since the quality of the beams in Surefire flashlights is legendary.
A nice touch is that you can stand the Quark up on end like a torch. You can't do that with the Surefire, because its end button sticks out and is rounded.
The color temperature of the Quark is not as white as the Surefire. In the lower settings it is definitely on the orange side. Maybe that's all right because it's not so harsh and you're using the lower settings in a dark room anyhow. You want a warm light in the middle of the night. The Surefire is the same pure white color throughout its brightness range, which is probably a real feat of engineering to accomplish such uniformity.
Regarding the lowest setting, if the Surefire's lowest setting is indeed 2 lumens as they advertise, then the Quark's 0.2 lumens is at best 1 lumen. It's not that much dimmer than the Surefire. But the beam is more spread out and softer and so it is easier on the eyes than the Surefire in the middle of the night when you're half-awake.
I can't finish this review without talking about the other end of the brightness scale on this Quark. Unlike the Surefire, the Quark has a strobe setting that is just maddeningly rapid and powerful enough to drive you crazy in a small room like a bedroom. At 190 lumens per flash, it's a real knockout! The Surefire doesn't even have a strobe setting, something I've always missed (not that it has any use at all, unless you want to jog with it and scare the daylights out of onrushing cars). The U2 Ultra's successor was supposed to have a strobe but that flashlight is 18 months overdue for release and I can't even find it on the Surefire WEB site anymore. Don't know what they're up to.
So my recommendation for you low light enthusiasts is to get the 4Sevens Quark 123-2. It is less than 1/4 the price of the Surefire U2 Ultra and has a wider range of brightness, low to high. On the other hand if price is no object and you appreciate absolute elegance, flawless engineering, and smoothness of operation, then get the Surefire. It has served me well in my nightly excursions for over four years, and on only two sets of batteries!
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