Keeping in the tradition of my Multi-stage 1AA Review - Part III: Runtimes, beamshots & more!, here's a round-up of some of the current <$20 single-stage 1AA and 2AA Cree/SSC lights available at DealExtreme and Kaidomain. Note that although I've generally given the links & sku numbers for DX, many of these lights are also available at Kai's site.
For comparison sake, I've also included the results of some my mods. I'm not advocating modding here - just giving you an idea of what to expect compared to the current crop on Cree/SSC lights.
The 1AA contenders:
From left to right:
SKU.1993 UltraFire C3 Cree 1xAA 1x14500 Flashlight (with Holster) $17.00
SKU.1995 MTE 1xAA SSC-P4 42180-U Flashlight $14.50
SKU.4596 Aluminum 1.25W Cree Flashlight (AA) $10.95
SKU.1892 DX Cree 1-Mode Enhanced Flashlight (1xAA) $13.95
SLU.4949 DX Simply Cree Flashlight (1xAA) $8.95
SKU.927 1W Ultrafire 1AA Green Tail Black $14.71 modded with DX SSC U-bin SWO
SKU.1120 1W 1-AA MXDL "ELLY" Flashlight Silver $7.24 modded with DX Cree P4 WD
Note the Elly can be bought already upgraded to a Cree here: SKU.2098
The 2AA contenders:
From left to right:
SKU.4452 UltraFire Cree C3 Flashlight with 2xAA Extension Tube Bundle $20.50
SKU.927 1W Ultrafire 1AA Green Tail Black $14.71 modded with DX SSC U-bin SWO and C3 extension tube
SKU.889 3W Ultrafire 601A 2AA Black $16.18 modded with Kai Edison Opto KLC8
Kai SKU.2081 Optical 1.5W Nichia LED Flashlight (2AA) $15.78 modded with DX Cree P4 (FYI, this is the same stock light at the Aurora/RiverRock 2AA Nichia)
Note the extension tube for the Ultrafire C3 (which also fits the 602A1 tail) can be purchased separately here: SKU.4438
All beamshots are taken in the same order as the lights up above.
As you can see, there's a lot more tint variability on these cheap lights compared to the premium tints on my multi-level 1AA review. Here's a lower exposure to show you the hotspots better:
The Simply Cree beamshot is missing since the first unit I was shipped had the wrong emitter (replaced by DX). I haven't bothered to re-take the beamshots, since it doersn't look appreciably different from the other lights
Note that I sputtered the reflector of the 601A modded with the KLC8 slightly, to help with very noticeable yellow corona. The Aurora-Cree mod throws the Cree die "space invader" image as shown in this mod review thread. Again, here's a lower exposure to show you the hotspots better:
Summary Chart for 2500mAh Sanyo NiMH
Method: All my output numbers are relative for my home-made light box setup, a la Quickbeam's FR.com method. My relative overall output numbers are typically similar to his, although generally a little lower. You can directly compare all my review graphs - i.e. an output value of "10" in one graph is the same as "10" in another.
Throw values are the square-root of lux measurements taken at 1m using a light meter.
Note: Although the output looks lower on Aurora Cree-mod, I suspect that's just because the light is such a thrower. I find my home-made lightbox doesn't accurately report output for extremely tightly focused throw lights like this. From a ceiling bounce test, it's not that much dimmer than the others.
- No way around it - you get what you pay for. The Ultrafire C3 Cree and MTE SSC are the only two <$20 lights I consider of acceptable minimal quality to recommend for purchase. FYI, the battery tube on the C3 is a bit tight - not all high amperage NiMH may fit.
- The Aluminum 1.25W, Enhanced Cree, and Simply Cree all showed considerable flickering upon arrival. I was able to get the latter two running reasonably stably after much effort, but the Aluminum Cree was just hopeless. All three lights carry current through the screw threads (body and tailcaps don't make direct contact with the too-short battery tube), all have mis-centered emitters with crudely adjusted reflectors. The Aluminum and Simply Cree had lots of debris within the head (i.e. trapped behind the lens in the reflector area).
- The Ellys (DIY mod or pre-modded) are good performers for the price, but build quality can be poor (I've had a number of DOA units, only some of which I could restore to usefulness). Caveat emptor ...
Output vs Runtime
- Generally no surprises here for the 1AA lights - the lower the initial output, the longer the battery lasted.
- The Simply Cree was definitely the low output runtime king, but build quality issues prevent me from generally recommending it.
- The older 2AA models typically were not better overall output/runtime performers than the newer 1AA lights, except for the C3 and 602A1 where the 2AA extension tube greatly increased runtime - but with negligible effect on overall output.
Output vs Throw
- None of the 1AA are throw monsters, although the modded Elly has pretty good throw for it’s overall output.
- The Aurora Cree-mod has quite good throw with relatively little spill, but projects the die image unless you put a diffuser film over the center of the optic (I find Glad press 'n seal works well ).
- The lower quality stock Cree lights tended to have poorly adjusted reflectors, resulting in even less throw than you might expect for their lower overall output.
Modded vs stock
- None of the 1AA lights could out-throw or out-output my SSC modded 602A1, although the C3 and MTE were pretty respectable.
- The Cree-modded Elly is good all-around performer. If you already have one, you may not feel inclined to go with the stock Cree single-stage models.
- No one of the modded 2AA lights was a particularly better performer than the others in overall output/runtime, although the Aurora Cree-mod threw pretty far.
- For either Output or Throw fans, the C3 and MTE are your best bets among the stock Cree/SSC lights. Both have acceptable build quality, although nothing spectacular
- I can't recommend any of the lower output lights for runtime, since they all had build quality issues
- If you already have a modded 602A1 or Elly, you may not see much of a benefit to getting one of these stock Cree/SSC lights.
- The 2AA extension tube is a good buy if you already have an Ultrafire C3 or 602A1, since it increases runtime (but has no effect on overall output).
- If you can afford it, I'd recommend one of the better quality multi-stage 1AA lights reviewed here.
Hope that was a helpful comparison. I have a number of the recent cheap multi-stage lights from DX and Kai, and may do a review of these if I have time. FYI, build quality is typically similar to single-stage versions shown here. I still recommend the higher quality multi-stage lights.