Single 18650 lights tend to fall into two main categories; Quality branded lights and cheap generic lights. Balder have been striving to up the game and provide quality and great value for money. The Balder SE-2 uses the very popular format of a single 18650 and an XM-L emitter, and gives us another price point choice and a very accomplished one at that.
Despite the many choices in this format of light, Balder have managed to create a distinctive look. The battery tube, so often made to be the 1” tactical standard, is actually smaller than this at around 22mm. This combined with the head, which is slightly larger than the common P60 hosts, give the SE-2 its distinctive look.
Being a bit of a tool geek, I even like the unusual packaging, as it is just like the packaging many machine tools are supplied in; simple, reusable and useful.
The stainless clip is well finished and gives the SE-2 a pleasing two-tone effect.
What is in the box:
The SE-2, like most of the other Balder lights, comes in a two part plastic case.
It is supplied with a replacement switch cover, o-ring and instruction card.
The slim waisted SE-2
Taking a closer look and looking inside:
Starting off by looking into the business end, the XM-L LED is seen in the deep reflector. The SE-2’s bezel is plain with no crenulations.
The clip is very well finished and the contrast of plain polished stainless and the anodised body looks good. The body has a series of grooves to provide grip rather than knurling.
Looking at the tail switch, there is a wide ring of metal surrounding the forward-clicky switch. The switch is slightly recessed.
But still protrudes enough to make tail standing unstable.
The contacts look very good quality with a sprung brass post for the negative contact
Threads are bare aluminium and are just slightly truncated. A single o-ring provides the seal.
Looking deep into the battery tube shows the positive contact which is again a sprung brass post allowing flat top cells to be used.
The SE-2 is designed to have the reflector housing removed to expose the LED and provide full flood lighting.
For scale the SE-2 is shown next to an AW IMR 18650.
Modes and User Interface:
This is actually the second SE-2 sent to me by Balder. The reason being that Balder are always looking to improve the quality of their products and have now released a version with much improved UI.
In this second version (2nd to me, so possibly there are other versions), there are a total of 6 modes available, but 3 of them are in a hidden set of modes.
As out of the box, the SE-2 has 3 output levels, High - Med – Low, and using the forward-clicky you cycle through them in a typical fashion of switching on, then off and on again within 2s to change output level. Once the desired level is found, fully click the switch to use it on this level.
When you switch the light off, as long as you don’t turn it on again within 2s, the last output mode is remembered. This behaviour is consistent whatever mode is selected.
To access the hidden modes, first switch to low and after 2s the light will briefly go off. Now when you start to change output modes you can access all the modes:
High – Med – Low – Strobe – Pulsing strobe - SOS
The SE-2 will stay in the extended set of modes until you again choose low, wait 2s for it to briefly switch off. Now when you change modes you will only have the main three modes.
If you are using the SE-2 on low, and see the hidden mode signal (the light switching off briefly) as long as you don’t change modes, it will not enter the extended set of output modes.
Batteries and output:
A simple choice of one 18650, the SE-2 does not support 2 x CR123. Testing was carried out using protected and unprotected cells and all cells were accommodated without issue.
To measure actual output, I built an integrating sphere. The sensor is a photo-diode restricted to visible light only (so Infra-Red and Ultra-Violet will not register). This was chosen as our eyes can only use the visible wavelengths of light so this is generally the only useful output. The integrating sphere was calibrated using 12 different reference sources and taking an average of the factor used to convert the measured voltage output to Lumens. Output figures are quoted as ANSI lumens where the measurement is made 30s after turning on the specified output level. Initial figures when first switching on are always higher, but all quoted measurements are ANSI.
Please note, all quoted lumen figures are from a DIY integrating sphere, and although every effort is made to give as accurate a result as possible, they should be taken as an estimate only. The results can be used to compare outputs in this review and others I have published.
Balder SE-2 I.S. measured ANSI output Lumens PWM frequency (Hz) High 632 N/A Med 222 N/A Low 33 N/A
The strobe output is at 15.1Hz. All output levels are regulated with no detectable PWM.
The Pulsed strobe output has 8 pulses at 14Hz spaces 1s apart.
The following runtime graph includes the initial version of the SE-2. I have included this to show the improvement in output characteristics implemented in the second version.
For the second version there are two lines, one using a 3100mAh Xtar cell, and the other using an AW IMR.
Notice that the SE-2 V2 has a high level regulated output around 580lm which is maintained for around 20 minutes, then the output gradually declines to the next regulated level around 210lm.
In this graph the 3100mAh output is terminated at the point the output starts to pulse. This characteristic can be seen in the IMR curve all the way down to a few lumens.
In The Lab
In an attempt to quantify the actual beam profile I developed the following test. There are probably many flaws in my method, but it is simple and easy to carry out and seems to provide a good enough comparison.
The method used was to support the light 1m off the floor and 1m from a wall, with a tape measure on the wall. The zero of the scale is placed in the centre of the hotspot and a lux meter is then positioned at points along the scale, with the measurements recorded. Beam shots are often taken with the light shining on a flat white wall, so this method is simply measuring the actual intensity across the beam on a flat surface, not the spherical light emission.
The results are then plotted on a graph.
For the best throw you want to see a sharp peak with less of the distracting spill. For the best flood light the trace should be pretty flat.
For comparison the SE-2 is shown next to the Fenix TK-21. The SE-2 has a sharp peak, giving it good throw, but coupled with a good amount of mid-spill.
Taking this a little further, I calculated an approximate factor to apply to the lux measurements, as each measurement gets further from the centre of the beam, it corresponds to a larger area onto which the light is falling. It seems to me that this should also be taken into consideration, so I applied these area corrections and came up with this odd looking graph.
The key quantity here is the area under the graph line. This should correspond to the total light output.
Compared to the TK21, the SE-2 has less wide spill, but the central area is brighter.
The SE-2 has a relatively narrow beam. The beam is well formed with a distinct hotspot and the narrow spill is well illuminated. Despite having a bright hotspot, in use this is not blinding.
What it is really like to use…
The battery tube grooves do not provide as much grip as knurling, but for the stylistic element this is an acceptable compromise.
Its proportions make the SE-2 comfortable to hold and the wide tail provides a comfortable grip.
Considering the value Balder has achieved with the SE-2, one slight disappointment is that the switch is pretty stiff and although the momentary action is easy enough, it needs either a fingertip to jab it on, or a very firm press.
The mixture of a set of three or six output modes and the memory of the last mode used, along with the constant modes being current controlled (so no PWM at all) gives the SE-2 overall a really good user experience. This is a really usable light.
The full flood mode is a nice feature although it leaves the emitter fully exposed so you need to be careful.
In creating the SE-2, Balder have achieved quality and value. Functionality and performance is far better than the very common budget alternatives and the SE-2’s price might surprise you.
Test sample provided for review by Balder.