Many of you might know of the Light Painting Brushes tools for light painting. Well one of the most common questions I get is “what lights do you recommend that fit the Universal Connector”. I am personally biased because I mostly use Coast lights so I wanted to get an unbiased review. I couldn’t think of anyone better than Light Painter Stephen Knight! Stephen is a flashlight guru with extensive knowledge of all sorts of different lights so I reached out to him and asked if he would share his knowledge! He came back with this amazing and detailed 2018 Universal Connector Flashlight Guide! Thank you very much Stephen, Jason Rinehart, Riley Bangs and everyone else that helped put this guide together, Enjoy…
The Light Painting Brushes (LPB) Universal Connector is a great invention that allows for the connection of a wide range of flashlights (torches) to many different light painting tools. A question often asked is which flashlights are the best for use with the Universal Connector? The Universal Connector allows for flashlights with a circular shaped head diameter of between .975”/24.7mm to 1.5”/38.1mm. I’ve personally has success with connecting flashlights of down to 24.1mm head diameter. Things that need to be considered when purchasing flashlights are the required brightness, tools used, user interface, whether you want to use colours, and whether you require PWM or strobe effects. Opinions discussed in this article are based on either testing by myself, other flashlight enthusiasts and light painters, based from product information, and discussions with manufacturers. It should be noted that manufacturers do sometimes change the specifications of flashlights, and that new flashlights are released onto the market very frequently. Thanks to those who’ve assisted with providing information for this article.
Brighter is generally better (within reason), though even the dimmest of flashlights can still be used for light painting. However, be aware that the lower the light’s total brightness (lumens/lm) and peak beam intensity (candela/cd) will require use of a wider aperture and/or higher ISO during photography. This can impact on image sharpness or noise respectively. If you are using multiple light painting tools you will need to manage the brightness of each tools so that they match. Thankfully, most flashlights have multiple output modes (e.g. high, mid, and low) to allow this. If you are photographing in high ambient light conditions, such as around street lighting, then you will require relatively bright flashlights. Another thing to bear in mind is that the claimed brightness by manufacturers is recorded at 30 seconds, and most flashlights step-down the brightness rapidly to avoid overheating or running the batteries flat quickly.
Lights that use commonly found AA and AAA (alkaline or rechargeable NiMH) batteries are popular with many light painters, and those new to flashlights. AA/AAA zoom lights that will fit the Universal Connector include the Ledlenser P7-2017 (450 lm) and MT6 (600lm), Coast G32 (355lm), G50 (355lm), HP5R (185lm), Polysteel 200 (320lm), Polysteel 400 (375lm), and TX9R (300lm). AA/AAA non-zoom lights that fit the Universal Connector include the Coast G26 (120lm), Energizer Vision HD 2AA (400lm) and 3AAA (250lm), Zanflare F2 (200lm), and Jaxman M2 (350lm). If you are on an extreme budget, there is a wide range of cheap aspheric lens zoom lights available online (usually with highly exaggerated lumens ratings and low quality LEDs) such as the $8 Meco XM-L T6 1600LM flashlight, but these will typically only be between 80 and 230 lumens. Many cheap flashlights that will fit the Universal Connector can also be obtained from hardware stores, supermarkets, and grocery stores for less than $10, but they are usually not very bright.
Lithium ion based flashlights (usually using rechargeable 18650 batteries) allow for much higher brightness, but also result in heat! They are generally much better value for money than AA or AAA based lights, but require knowledge of the risks of using li-ion batteries. Bright non-zoom 18650 lights that are in the 1000 lumens range (+/-200lm) that can be used with the Universal Connector include the Convoy S2+, Thorfire TK15S, VG10S, and VG15S, Sofirn SP31 and SF36, Atactical/Wowtac A1S, Thrunite TC12v2, Eagtac P25LC2, Klarus XT11S, Nitecore P10GT, Nextorch TA30, and Olight M2T. These will all run close to maximum brightness for at least a couple of minutes before automatic or manual brightness step-down, allowing for use in longer light painting scenes. Zoom lights that can reach 1000 lumens include the Ledlenser P7R and MT10 (note that the step-down occurs after 30 seconds), Walther Pro SL66r, and the impressive budget Wowtac A3S. There may be a few more bright zoom lights introduced during 2018 from quality flashlight manufacturers.
Lights that fit the Universal Connector in the 1500-2000 lumens range include the Klarus XT2CR, Klarus XT11GT, and Olight M2R. These are great in high ambient brightness situations, but can step-down in brightness from around 30 seconds due to the large amount of heat produced (the Klarus XT11GT will step-down more gradually due to having a larger head). These lights may provide up to a 1 stop photographic exposure advantage compared to previously mentioned 18650 flashlights. They can also burn holes in cellophane or lower quality colour gels very quickly. I would not recommend any current flashlights over 2000 lumens (such as the Emisar D4) for use with the Universal Connector due to the excessive heat produced by the LEDs, and step-downs occurring within seconds.
Flashlights have different beam profiles, and thus some are better illuminating some tools than others. A whole article could be written on this subject alone! Flashlights vary between floody beams (wide angle and less intense hotspot) to throwy beams (narrower beam angle and more intense hotspot). Zoom lights will allow for both, and whilst being very popular with light painters, they are far from being mandatory for use with light painting tools.
Zoom lights may illuminate tools more optimally at different parts of the zoom range depending on the optical design – for example the Ledlenser P7.2 illuminates LPB Plexiglass tools and Light Swords more evenly in the middle of the zoom range. For non-zoom lights, longer, narrower tools such as the LPB Light Sword are generally illuminated better by more throwy flashlights. The same goes for tools with a narrow diameter for light input such as LPB Light Pens and Light Whip. Plexiglass tools and fibre optics are generally better illuminated by a more floody beam profile that allows for a more distributed illumination of the edges or fibres respectively. However, experimenting with different beam profiles may produce interesting results.
User interface is critical to some light painting scenes. There are three locations of switches in flashlights, the side, tail, and remote pressure switches.
Side switches are somewhat hit and miss for use with the Universal Connector. Depending on the switch design, location, and diameter of the flashlight, they may be inaccessible or difficult to press whilst in the Universal Connector. Thus caution needs to be taken when purchasing side switch lights, especially if using the side switch function is required during the photographic exposure. However, don’t completely rule out side switch lights, and many of the lights listed in this article use side switches for either on/off or mode change functionality.
Tail switches are more easily accessible, and allow for the light to be turned on and off, or modes to be changed during the exposure. As you should be holding the Universal Connector with one hand, you may need to use your other hand to press the switch. Some flashlights such as the Klarus XT series have dual tail switches for more functionality. Even better, especially for use with Plexiglass tools, is a remote pressure switch. This switch is connected via a cord, and can be fixed to the outside side of the Universal Connector by tape. These are great for on the fly changes, such as changing from high to strobe, and back again. Advanced multi-function remote pressure switches include the Nitecore RSW2 for use with some P series lights, and Klarus TRS1 for use with some XT series lights.
There are two other useful features that some flashlights have for light painting – mode memory, and momentary switches. Mode memory allows the light to turned on in a memorised mode (usually the last used mode). This is essential if you need to turn the light on in the required mode during the photographic exposure. Lights that have reliable mode memory include the Thorfire TK15S, VG10S, and VG15S, Sofirn SP31 and SF36, Atactical A1S, Thrunite TC12v2, and Nitecore P10GT.
Momentary switches (also known as “forward clicky” or “tactical” switches) allow for more control over on and off, with a half press of the switch. These are very useful for light drawing or light writing. Lights with momentary on high include the Ledlenser P7.2 and P7-2017, Olight M2R and M2T, Klarus XT2CR and XT11GT. Lights with momentary on all memorised (non-flashing) modes include the Thorfire TK15S, Sofirn SP31, Atactical/Wowtac A1S, Thrunite TC12v2, Fenix PD35TAC, and Nitecore P10GT.
Colours and Colour Temperatures
Many LPB tools are available with integrated high quality colour gels, reducing the need for flashlights with coloured LEDs. However, colour changing flashlights can add to creativity. The popular Ledlenser P7QC has red, green, blue, and white LEDs. It is possible to turn the light on in any preselected colour, and also easy to change between colours. The smaller Ledlenser T2QC is a slightly cheaper option, but you have cycle through the colours from off to get to the chosen option. The Coast TX100 has white, red, and blue LEDs. The TX100’s blue is more towards the lighter end of the blue spectrum which is preferred by some over the (lens flare inducing) “forensic blue” in some other lights. For very bright coloured light, the Jaxman E2L Color is available in individual red, green, blue and yellow, but an O-ring may be required around head of the light to fit the Universal Connector’s minimum dimensions. The pricey but zoomable Maglite XL50 Spectrum Series light is available in individual red, green, and blue options. For those with P60 compatible flashlight hosts, it is possible to buy coloured P60 drop-ins. If you want a flashlight that can fade between lots of colours, then the Colorshine Flashlight is a popular choice. Be aware that this light is cheap, unreliable, has terrible PWM (see next section), and is only 30 lumens. If you are lucky and get a sample that works correctly, then excellent results can be obtained in very dark locations by using wide apertures and/or high ISO.
Most flashlights are available in cool white tint (approx. 6500k CCT), which can be quite harsh, and often has hints of green, blue, or purple. If you want a more “daylight like” beam, then look for flashlights with neutral white tint options (4000-5700k CCT). Examples are the Thorfire VG10S and TK15S, Sofirn SP31, Olight M2R, Thrunite TC12v2, Energizer Vision HD lights, Zanflare F1 and F2, Jaxman M2, plus the Convoy S2+, M1, M2, and zoomable BD4 (choose xx-3x or xx-4x emitter options). Flashlights with warm white (3000k CCT) LEDs are much more rare, but are available in most lights made by Convoy (choose xx-7A tint emitter), Sofirn SF36W, and the zoomable Maglite XL50 Spectrum Series warm white model.
PWM and Strobe
Flashing modes can add to the creativity in light painting scenes. This can be achieved via strobes, bike flashes, or Pulse Width Modulation (PWM). In the last few years there has been a trend for strobes that alternate between two frequencies. This can be creative, particularly for use with Plexiglass tools, but is undesirable for most light painting where a single frequency strobe is preferred. Lights with single frequency strobes include the Convoy S2+ (10Hz with older 3/5 mode user interface), Thorfire VG15S (10Hz), Thrunite TC12v2 (12.5Hz), Atactical/Wowtac A1S (12.5Hz), Zanflare F1 (10Hz), Ledlenser M7RX (20Hz), plus Walther Pro PL50, PL55r, PL60, and SL66r (20Hz). If the strobe is instantly accessible via momentary functionality, this can be very useful for creative light drawing. The following lights allow for momentary access to single frequency strobe – Olight M2R (9Hz), Nitecore P10GT (10Hz with 33% on time), and Nextorch TA15 and TA30 (10Hz). The Nextorch myTorch range allows for programming of the strobe frequency, though the programming software appears to be limited to MS Windows.
Some flashlights have a bike flash mode that can create interesting pulse effects. Examples are the Convoy S2+ Desert Tan (with newer Biscotti user interface), Sofirn SP31, Thorfire TK15S and TK18.
PWM is found in some flashlights and used to dim the output by pulsing the light on and off very quickly. It is usually found in lower output modes. The pulsing is fast enough that you can’t usually see it if the light is stationary, but it can be seen as a stuttering effect in the light trails during light painting. Examples of lights with PWM in lower modes include Ledlenser lights with “smart light technology” and the Klarus XT11GT. PWM is also found in many cheaper flashlights, but as these are rarely reviewed on flashlight forums it is difficult to recommend specific models. PWM is undesirable to non-light painting flashlight users, and the number of quality flashlights available with PWM is in decline – don’t throw out old lights with PWM!
There is a wide range of lights suitable for the LPB Universal Connector, at all price points. In fact this article only mentions a fraction of the hundreds of flashlights that will fit the Universal Connector. There is no “do everything” light, and thus I would recommend building up a collection of lights to meet as many of your requirements as possible.