UPDATE May 16, 2013: The CR123A testing results in this thread have been superseded by a new 2013 comparison posted here. Please refer to that thread for more up to date info.
UPDATE SEPT 29, 2012: New results based on a December 2011 comparison have been added to the end of the review.
Reviewer’s Note: Following up my initial CR123A/AA Battery Shoot-out, here I provide a more detailed comparison of how three of the more popular made-in-China cells (4Sevens, Titanium Innovations, and Tenergy) compare to the top-of-the-line USA cells that I routinely use (Duracell & Surefire).
For more information on the differences between the various USA brands (including estimated capacity loss over time), please see my earlier review listed above. All USA brands perform well in my testing, but some fall into a second-tier category where overall capacity seems to be ~5% less than these top-tier Surefire/Duracell cells, when matched for age.
All batteries were purchased new within the last three months from major distributors. Duracells and Surefires used in this study both have a manufacture date of August 2008, and were purchased from cfrlights and Tetragon (local Surefire distributor), respectively.
Made-in-China batteries do not have a manufacture date, but all were purchased within the last one month. 4Sevens batteries were from 4sevens.com, Titanium Innovations batteries were from batteryjunction.com, and Tenergy batteries were from 4sevens.ca.
I have chosen four single-cell CR123A lights for comparisons. Each light has a different type of regulation circuitry. All light were run on Max/Turbo settings.
- 4Sevens Quark Q123 (R2)
- LiteFlux LF3XT (R2)
- Olight T10 (Q5)
- NiteCore EX10 (Q5)
All my output numbers are relative for my home-made light box setup, a la Quickbeam's flashlightreviews.com method. You can directly compare all my relative output values from different lights - i.e. an output value of "10" in one graph is the same as "10" in another. All runtimes are done under a cooling fan.
In addition to time to 50% output (the standard runtime measure), I have also done an area-under-the curve measure (labelled as AOC – I can’t spell ). This gives you a relative measure of the total capacity for each cell in each light. It is in completely arbitrary units (as it integrates my relative output values over time), but it will allow you roughly compare overall capacity within each flashlight model.
UPDATE JUNE 28, 2009: Added a "Med-Hi" runtime on the NiteCore EX10 (Q5), to see how the batteries fare until a lower current load.
UPDATE JULY 10, 2009: Added a "Med-Hi" runtime (L4) on the Olight T10 (Q5)
USA Cells (Surefire/Duracell)
As mentioned in my original CR123A/AA Battery Shoot-out, Duracell and Surefire cells typically have equivalent performance that is among the best I’ve seen for made-in-the-USA cells. These are the standard by which I compare other batteries. Please see my earlier review for how other USA brands compare.
Titanium Innovations cells:
On Max, the Titanium cells consistently provided equivalent runtime and overall capacity to the top-tier USA cells. In fact, they were the only China-made cells to do so. But they do have a slightly different runtime pattern – as the cells near depletion, they drop in output more rapidly than the USA cells (which tend to enter a longer “moon mode” of gradually reducing output). So while time to 50% and overall capacity are similar, expect to have a more rapid drop-off as the Titaniums near depletion. Note that I have tested 3 different lots of Titanium cells so far, and the “average” batch (in terms of capacity) is shown above. Performance was generally similar on all three batches when run on Max.
On the Med output EX10 and T10 runs, the Titanium Innovations cells showed lower capacity and runtime than the Surefire or 4Sevens cells. Although difficult to generalize from the limited testing above, it seems that the Titanium cells are best suited to high drain situations (although are still quite reasonable at these lower drive currents).
The new 4Sevens cells do remarkably well in the 4Sevens Quark lights. In fact, they are basically indistinguishable from the top-tier USA cells in terms of time to 50%, overall capacity, and runtime pattern.
However, when tested on Max in the Olight T10 and LiteFlux LF3XT, their total capacity appears to be ~10% lower than the top-tier USA brands or Titanium cells. I am not sure of the reason for this discrepancy. I have tested several batteries from the same lot, and get identical runtime traces each time in the lights above.
Interestingly, in the Med output EX10 and T10 runs, the 4Sevens cells performed better - fairly close to to the top-tier USA, in fact. This suggests that the 4Sevens cells perform best at less-than-maximal drive currents, except in some lights (like the Quarks), where their performance is consistently top-level at all outputs. Note that the runtime pattern of the 4Sevens cells remains similar to the USA brands in all lights (i.e. good long moon mode).
Tenergy cells consistently under-performed in all 4 lights. Total capacity of the Tenergy cells appears to be consistently ~25-30% less than the top-tier USA cells. They also tend to drain much faster than the other batteries once the circuits drop out of regulation.
Bottom line: I think you could do well with either the Titanium Innovations or 4Sevens cells. The 4Sevens cells have a pattern very reminiscent of the USA brands, but with slightly lower overall capacity on Max in some lights. The Titanium cells were consistently in line with the top USA brands in all lights on Max, but performed a little below on the lower outputs.
Back in December 2011, I did some additional comparison tests of these cells in a few newer lights. Sorry I never got around to posting the results here, but here they are:
As you'll see, modern made-in-the-USA cells continue to consistently match each other's performance. The older Energizer cells fall behind in the max current draw example above (which may be due to age effects, or more likely improvements in the more recently manufactured cells).
The Titanium Innovation cells continue to do at least as well as the name-brands on Hi current draws. The issue I noted in my original review was slightly lower performance on the mid-level current draws. At least in the case of the Foursevens Quark 123-X above, you'll see the more recent Titanium Innovation cells are doing quite well now.