Reviewer's Note: The ITP A6 Polestar was provided for review by GoingGear.com. Please see their website for more info.
Warning: very pic heavy, as always
Manufacturer Specifications: (taken from GoingGear's website)
- Cree MC-E LED, life span up to 50000 hours
- Function Three Brightness Levels(Low-Medium-High) and Strobe Mode
- Output and Runtime:
- High Mode 700 Lumens/1.5 Hours,
- Medium Mode 160 Lumens/8 Hours,
- Low Mode 12 Lumens/50 Hours
- Strobe 10HZ/10Hours
- Finish: HA Type
- Reflector: Aluminum alloy Orange Peel Reflector with Perfect Beam
- Lens:Anti-shattering ultra clear lens, anti-scratching and anti-slip
- Water and Dust Resistant: IP68
- Switch: Side Switch
- Mil-spec: MIL-STD-810F
- MSRP price: $80
The ITP A6 Polestar is basically a “budget” version of a high-output light using the Cree MC-E emitter – in this case on standard AA batteries. Has ITP recreated their success in the 1xAAA market with low-priced EOS? Scroll down to find out.
The external styling and appearance of the A6 is fairly basic, in keeping with its budget status. But note the presence of the control switch near the head of the light instead of the tailcap. This makes sense if you want to appeal to the mainstream market, which is more familiar with this front head button format.
Packaging is fairly basic, but the light does come encased in foam inside a hard cardboard box, with a good quality wrist lanyard, basic belt pouch with closing flap, extra o-rings and manual.
Here is how it looks in my hands, and compared to a couple lights of its class:
From left to right: Duracell AA battery, AW 18650 protected battery, ITP A6, ThruNite Catapult, Olight M30, JetBeam M1X, EagleTac M2XC4, JetBeam M1X (all in base configuration, no extenders)
A6 Weight (no battery): 209.9g
A6 Dimensions: Length 174mm, Width (bezel) 48.0mm, Width (tailcap) 37.8mm
The A6 is fairly compact in size and relatively low weight, consistent with its relatively thin-walled construction.
The A6 uses a plain flat tailcap that allows tailstanding, but also has a wrist strap/lanyard attachment point. The tailcap design is pretty basic, consistent with its budget status, but at least screw threads are anodized for tailcap lockout.
Given the use of six AA-cell batteries, a battery carrier was required.
Note that the A6 was originally launched with a cheaper quality black battery carrier that necessitated a recall (as a result of defective contacts on many of the carriers). The new revised battery carrier (in clear plastic) is what I would consider as minimally acceptable. It is better quality than a number of cheapo ones I have seen on budget lights from the discount sites, but it certainly still nothing to write home about.
Note that you must take care when loading cells into the carrier to insure the correct orientation. The light’s instruction manual simply says to place the positive battery terminals toward the head – not very helpful or clear. You have to pay attention to the current path, and put all six cells in the correct serial sequence. Basically, the negative battery terminal goes facing the springs in the carrier. This is common for almost all carriers.
If you look down the battery tube in the pic above, you will see the contact disk in the head is a simple piece of metal bent down and tacked in place. This does not inspire confidence for long-term stability, but has worked reliably with the carrier in my testing so far.
The ITP A6 Polestar comes with a very familiar looking reflector – it is in fact identical to the Olight M30. This should result in a similar well-rounded beam profile, with relatively low throw but also relatively little sign of hatching or other artifacts.
Here are some comparison beamshots to the Olight M30, both lights taken on Max on 2x18650 AW protected Li-ion (M30) or 6x Sanyo Eneloop (A6). Distance is about 0.5 meters from a white wall.
The A6 actually has a slight advantage in spillbeam width, due to the lower profile opening at the head of the light (the M30 features a crenelated stainless steel bezel – this narrows the overall beam somewhat). Otherwise, the beams are indistinguishable – you get a nice smooth transition from hotspot to spill, with no sign of the infamous “donut” hole with MC-E/P7 lights.
I haven’t tested the A6 outdoors, but here are some outdoor shots that include the Olight M30. For all intents and purposes, it will look the same as the M30 at the given range and focal length (centre point is ~10m feet from the lights).
To give you another idea of what to expect from the hotspot at a medium range distance, I’ve taken a few indoor beamshots of a target “gremlin” at 10m (1/5sec exposure, f2.7), this time including the A6. Click on the images to bring high resolution photos.
Note that the A6 is not that much dimmer than the other lights – it is just that its hospot is more diffuse and its spillbeam brighter. So at a distance (zoomed in with the camera above), you will see less light on the target. The A6 – like the M30 – is best suited to light up a broad area in the near-mid range (i.e. it is not a thrower).
UPDATE: Some additional long-distance beamshots, to show you how the light compares to others in its class.
Please see my recent 100-yard Outdoor Beamshot review for more details (and additional lights).
The ITP A6 Polestar has a slightly different interface from most lights in this class, due to the single front-ended switch. The switch acts as a reverse clicky, so the light comes on after the switch is clicked and released.
To advance modes, simply press-and-hold the switch down (while on). The light will then advance through all output modes in the following sequence: Lo > Med > Hi > Strobe, spending about 1 sec on each mode before continuing. To select the one you want, simply let go of the switch. The light has mode memory, so it will come back on at whatever mode you left it.
Output modes are slightly revised from the Olight M30, with the Med mode being a little brighter. The strobe has also been reduced to ~9.5 Hz.
But for all intents and purposes, the output levels and sequence are very familiar to the M30.
Unlike the M30, which has a fairly noticeable PWM of 104Hz on its Lo and Med modes, I am unable to detect any signs of PWM on the ITP A6 by eye or instrument. That suggests the light is current-controlled, or that the PWM frequency is quite high (in the multiple thousands of cycles per second at least).
Testing Method: All my output numbers are relative for my home-made light box setup, a la Quickbeam's flashlight reviews method. You can directly compare all my relative output values from different reviews - 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.
Throw values are the square-root of lux measurements taken at 5 meters from the lens, using a light meter, and then extrapolated back to estimate values for 1 meter. This will be my standard way to present throw on these types of lights from now on. The beams don't really have a chance to fully converge until typically several meters out
Some of the other lights take a couple of minutes to settle into their regulated output state (i.e. their initial output is higher, but not for long). As such, all my output and throw numbers are taken after 2 mins of continuous runtime (on 2x18650 AW Protected cells).
Throw/Output Summary Chart:
Consistent with what you saw in the beamshots, the A6 is basically the same as the Olight M30, with just slightly less max output. Overall output is still well within the range of other MC-E/P7 class lights (if toward the low end), while throw is definitely at the lowest end of the class.
UPDATE 12/15/09: As expected, alkalines were not able to provide sufficient power on Hi to keep the light at a regulated output level. I doubt it's a good idea to run alkaline cells on max for any period of time, but at least they work in a pinch. Excellent regulation with alkalines on Med.
UPDATE 12/19/09: Low mode runtime on alkaline lasted at least 3 days before depleting the cells. Didn't do a continuous lightbox test, so no runtime trace to add above, but light appeared to be very regulated over this time.
Overall, no surprises here - runtimes as expected based on ITP stats.
Note: Although the ITP A6 Polestar runs on 6xAA, I have decided to compare it to the 2x18650 for all the other members of this MC-E/P7 class.
All 18650 runtimes were done on AW protected cells (2200mAh). The A6 was run on 6xEneloop (2000mAh).
The light uses a plastic battery carrier to hold the cells. Long-term stability is unknown, and the original (black) shipping carrier had to be recalled and replaced with this (clear) version. As with all carriers, you need to pay particular attention to how you orient the cells (i.e. negative battery terminal toward the springs).
Build quality seems lower than most lights of the MC-E/P7 class – in keeping with its budget status. Of particular note are the simple metal contact in the head and the thin-wall construction.
The light is not particularly "grippy" (i.e. ridge detail is minimal)
For what it is – a budget MC-E light that runs on common AA cells – I think the ITP A6 Polestar fulfills its mandate rather well.
The light has a lot of nice features – most notably the excellent floody reflector (identical to the Olight M30) which minimizes the infamous MC-E/P7 “donut hole”. Of course, there is a trade-off here: peak centre-beam throw is among the lowest I’ve seen for this class of light.
Ergonomically, the front-ended switch will feel more familiar to general flashlight users. A bit unusual to hold the switch down to switch modes, but it is pretty straight-forward when you get used to it.
The choice of output levels and sequence (Lo – Med – Hi – Strobe) is similar to the M30, but with a more traditional mid-level Med and slightly slower strobe (although still quite “tactical” at 9.5 Hz ). More importantly, PWM is undetectable on my A6 sample - so either the light is current-controlled, or the frequency is too high to detect. In contrast, the M30 suffers from a very noticeable ~104 Hz PWM due to its dual-switch design and tailcap processor.
Coupled with the A6's memory feature (light remembers last mode used), I think this is a good mix of output levels and basic user interface that should suit the general user quite well.
No complains about the overall output/runtime efficiency, although I don’t really have much to compare to here (e.g. I don’t own the Fenix TK40). The runtimes and relative output estimates appear to match ITP’s numbers. The Lo/Med runtimes on standard alkalines were very impressive (i.e. fully regulated, and relatively long-lasting).
So what’s not to like here? In a word, the rather basic construction (ok, that’s a couple of words ). Clearly, ITP is doing everything it can to keep the costs down, but I wish they had sprung for a more robust way to connect the batteries to the light (i.e. I don’t like the simple connector interfaces from the carrier to the light). I also find the aluminum body wall construction to be rather thin – I would have preferred something a little more traditional in thickness (like the Olight M30 or Lumapower Mentor, etc.). And it would be good if the body had a bit more knurling or ridge detail – I find it a little smooth in handling as is.
Bottom line, it's a fun little light - but it doesn’t have the same quality feel as the more substantial Li-ion based options in this space. However, I certainly can’t argue with the price – at $80 list, it is probably the most affordable brand-name MC-E light out there.