Tuesday, December 28, 2010

4Sevens Quark Mini123: 3rd world style review

Yesterday I finally ran out of luck. I’ve been hearing stories of people nearby going without power for 24 hs. or more. Even worse, some people have been without water for over a week! I’ve been dodging the blackout bullet so far, at least until yesterday around 8 PM.

The Quark Mini123 is small, but it packs a lot of lumens.
I was on the computer as usual, suddenly it was all dark and my 2 year old son cried out for dad. My oldest one being eight is already used to this and he just stayed with his brother telling him everything was ok.
On top of my desk I had a plethora of preparedness stuff: An emergency bandage, Celox gauze, ammo, a box of 12ga buckshot, a couple lighters, half a dozen knives and about the same number of flashlights all just a few inches away. I don’t believe many people have the problem of thinking “Darn, which LED do I pick?” when caught by surprise by a blackout.  :-) I’ve been everyday carrying the Quark Mini123 for some time now and had it in my pocket, so I decided to use the opportunity to test that. As I got up to go check the kids, my wife was already on the way with a little keychain LED. I twisted the tinny light and the low mode was enough to get around. Its funny but today, there is such a thing as too much light. With a +80 lumen light (give or take) you soon find out that moving around indoors with a LED that is too bright often reflects back to you (specially in white walls) and kills your night vision, makes it hard to adjust to the general low light level again. In medium, the R5 LED provides 40 lumens for 8 hours, and that’s enough to see well. 

Low: 8 lumens
Medium: 43 lumens
High: 135 lumens... too bright!

The Quark Mini123 has low medium and high modes, and if you cycle through it 3 times it goes to the hidden modes (Strobe, S.O.S. beacon) for a total of seven Output Modes: Low: 8 OTF lumens, 150 hours Medium: 43 OTF lumens, 6 hours High: 135 OTF lumens, 2 hours, Special (hidden) modes: Strobe 2.4 hours SOS 7.2 hours Beacon (Hi) 12 hours Beacon (Lo) 60 hours.
Putting the kids to bed, washing the dishes, and other chores are easier done with a headlight that leaves both hands free, but the small size of the light makes it very practical none the less. For example, for taking a shower, I just left it on medium mode pointing towards the roof. This light can stand on its tail and that’s a advantage that makes things easier. A high efficiency LED that can stand on its tail can be left safely in a room or corridor to provide lighting. I left a couple AA LED on doing just that on low mode. Again, notice the importance of having different modes and not just a “look, it’s brighter than the sun!” mode.

Besides the obvious quality issues, one of the differences I noticed between quality LED lights and cheapo ones is the quality of the light itself. First you have the color. Cheapo LEDs often have an ugly purple/blue tint. Use that during a blackout and it makes it even more depressing. The best Cree LEDs have a nice white color and for that reason most well known brands are using them. Some cheapos also have Cree brand LEDs, but their poor or older drive circuitry makes for a pulsating, uneven light. I realized this before but only during last night’s blackout did I notice how annoying it gets, even makes your eyes and head hurt in the long run. LEDs achieve their low and medium modes by pulse-width modulation (PWM), fancy word for turning on/off very very fast in a way the human eye doesn’t detect the actual strobe effect, but just a dimmer light.  If the frequency isn’t properly set the human eye will see this to some point and yes, drive you nuts. The Quarks I own don’t have such problem.
Another thing I like about the Mini123 is that it is a single cell light. I remember in the old days what a pain it was when you only had just one D cell left but the light required two. Sometimes one battery is all you have.

Disadvantages? Sure, the CR123A battery. For disaster/emergency use you want commonly available batteries.  I’ve got a generous supply of CR123A batteries. Seems that everyone heading this way thinks I can put them to good use so thanks to them I’m in no short supply of the powerful little batteries. Since they aren’t easy to find around here and quite expensive when you do, it’s a much appreciated gift.  Now, for a real extended SHTF flashlight, you must have AA or AAA lights. Even if you have enough CR123A batteries and even Li Ion ones to recharge, availability is important. I solve this by having a CR123A as my EDC light, but also a AAA Fenix LDO1 in my keychain in case AAA is all I can get my hands on.
The second disadvantage I find is that as capable as it is, a tactical light it is not, but that’s something that will be covered in another post.

All things considered, I’m happy with my EDC choice. Puts a lot of light downrange, has days worth of light in low mode and you wont even remember its in your pocket until you need it.
Take care folks.



EN said...

I give out flashlights instead of flowers and candy. Funny thing about that. As soon as people start using a keychain light they quickly go to two and even three. They're easy to carry and if you make one in Red/blue/green it won't affect your night vision. You can't have too much light when the power goes out. Nothing worse than being in a foreign country and losing the power for many hours. One starts feeling very alone without light.

Weaseldog said...

I recently purchased a set of rechargeable LED lanterns. These have a crank on the bottom so they can be recharged by winding. They can also be recharged with a 6 volt DC power source.

I've left these lamps in different rooms for emergency use.

Anonymous said...

Here's a good tip on a light: the new Icon Irix2 headlamp. It runs on a single AA battery for up to 100 hours on low. It also has variable output, which means it has the circuitry that lets you use lithium AA batteries without overclocking the LEDs. Uses rechargables, too. It doesn't say this on the package, but it does mention it on the Brightguy.com website. You can buy them on amazon as well.

-Scott in Tennessee

Anonymous said...

Your comment about too much light makes lots of sense to me. I've needed a very short term light source when camping, and the 9V PAL light works great for this. Often times, don't even need to turn it on, its locator light function is enough to get me around what I needed to do, and doesn't cancel my night vision.

Anonymous said...

Good info on the small lights, they are usually enough. Most tasks just don't require a huge light. For my vehicles though...I use A large 3 "D" cell LED Maglight. It's very bright for the needs you will have when on the road and out and about. It also makes a good umm...tire thumper, yea thats' it. If a "D" cell is too big for some people, there are "C" cell versions also.