The SC5 is the latest refresh of the Zebralight 1xAA line, replacing the earlier SC52 as their top-performing AA light.
The SC52 was a very impressive light for the time, and the SC5 promises even more. Let's see if it lives up to that billing!
Manufacturer Reported Specifications:
(note: as always, these are simply what the manufacturer provides – scroll down to see my actual testing results).
- LED: Cree XM-L2 Cool White (Nominal CCT 6300K)
- User Selectable Levels: 3 main levels (High, Medium and Low). Each main level can be programmed to one of its two sub-levels. The second sub-level of the each main levels can be further programmed to different brightness levels.
- High: H1 535 Lm (3min, then 325lm, total 0.8 hr) or H2 325 Lm (0.9 hr) / 200 Lm (1.8 hrs) / 115 Lm (3.5 hrs)
- Medium: M1 48 Lm (8.5 hrs) or M2 20 Lm (16.5 hrs) / 8 Lm (42 hrs)
- Low: L1 3.2 Lm (4 days) or L2 1.1 Lm (16 days) / 0.3 Lm (50 days) / 0.1 Lm (4 months)
- Beacon Strobe Mode: 4Hz Strobe at H1 / 19Hz Strobe at H1
- Light output are ANSI out the front (OTF) values. Runtimes tested (and parasitic drain estimated) using Panasonic Eneloop Pro AA batteries. Remaining battery power, about 10-20%, after step-down are not counted towards the runtimes.
- Operating Voltage Range: 0.7V - 2.0V
- Battery: One AA size NiMH, lithium or alkaline battery. Panasonic Eneloop or Eneloop Pro is highly recommended. Batteries are not included in the box.
- Parasitic Drain: Negligible (much less than the self discharging of a battery)
- Beam Type: 80 degree spill, 10 degree hot spot
- Dimensions: Head Diameter: 1.0 inch (25.4 mm), Length: 3.2 inch (81.3 mm)
- Weight: 2.0 oz (58 gram)
- Battery capacity indicator (LED flashes 1-4 times, 4 short clicks to start)
- Automatic stepping down from High to Medium, and from Medium to Low when battery capacity is low
- Durable electronic soft-touch switch
- Smart user interface provides fast and easy access to all brightness levels and beacon-strobes.
- Precision machined unibody casing from premium grade aluminum bar stocks
- Proprietary heat sinking design bonds the LED board directly to the unibody aluminum casing
- Durable natural hard anodized finish (Type III Class I)
- Sealed and potted LED driver circuitry
- Battery reverse polarity protection
- Tempered optical grade glass
- Preinstalled bezel down pocket clip
- Smooth reflector
- Battery power can be disconnected by slightly unscrewing the tailcap to prevent unwanted activations or parasitic drain
- Waterproof to IPX7 (2 meters, 30 minutes)
- MSRP: ~$69
- This light has 3 main levels (High, Medium, and Low) and a beacon-strobe mode. Each main level can be programmed to one of its two sub-levels. The second sub-level of each main levels can be further programmed to different brightness levels.
- Basic Operation
- One short-click turns on the light to High or turns off the light.
- Two short-click turns on the light to Medium.
- Three short-click turns on the light to the beacon-strobe mode.
- Press and hold (for over 0.6 seconds) turns on the light to Low and then Medium and High. Release at the desired level.
- Advanced Operation and Configuration
- Press and hold to cycle from Low, Medium and High, release at the desired level to set. When press and hold, the light always cycle from Low to High regardless which level you are currently in.
- Double click to toggle and select between the two sub-levels for that main level. Sub-level selections for the 3 main levels are memorized after the light is turned off and through battery changes.
- The second sub-level (H2, M2 and L2) of each main levels can be further programmed to different brightness levels. At a main level, double-click 6 times to start configuration. On subsequent double-clicks the light will cycle through different brightness levels. Short click to turn off the light when finishing configurations. The selections for the second sub-levels are memorized after the light is turned off and through battery changes.
- This light uses the main LED (flashing 1 to 4 times) to indicate the estimated remaining capacity of the battery. To start the battery indicator, (from Off) short-click 4 times without pause.
- Beacon-strobe mode can be accessed from 3 short-clicks when the light is Off. Once in the beacon-strobe mode, you can double-click to cycle through different types of beacons and strobes. Beacon-strobe settings are memorized when the light is turned off and through battery changes.
The SC5 came in the standard "eco-friendly" packaging that has been standard on Zebralight for some time now. Included in the simple (but firm) cardboard box was the light with removable clip (attached, with screws), two extra o-rings, a one-page instruction sheet and battery warning. My review sample came with a couple of Eneloop Pro AA NiMH batteries, but these are NOT included with the shipping lights.
From left to right: Panasonic Eneloop Pro AA NiMH; Zebralight SC5, SC52, SC51; L3 Illumination L10; Skilhunt DS15; Olight S15; Thrunite Archer 1A V2.
All dimensions are given with no batteries installed:
Zebralight SC5: Weight 58.3g, Length 81.5mm, Width (bezel): 22.6mm, Width (max) 27.0mm
Zebralight SC52: Weight 39.5g, Length 79.0mm, Width (bezel): 22.6mm, Width (max) 25.4mm
Zebralight SC51: Weight: 37.4g, Length 80.5mm, Width (bezel) 21.1mm, Width (max): 22.6mm
Fenix LD12: Weight: 52.3g, Length: 99.9mm, Width (bezel): 21.6mm
Nitecore MT1A: Weight: 54.6g, Length: 104.6mm, Width (bezel): 22.7mm
Olight S15: Weight: 46.4g, Length: 87.0mm, Width (bezel): 23.1mm
L3 Illumination L10: Weight: 20.7g, Length: 79.4mm, Width (bezel): 17.1mm
Lumintop ED15: Weight: 59.7g, Length: 100.2, Width (bezel): 21.9mm
Skilhunt DS15: Weight: 52.0g, Length: 92.1mm, Width (bezel): 24.0mm
Thrunite Archer 1A v2 CW: Weight: 66.9g, Length: 109.6mm, Width: 23.1mm
Thrunite Neutron 2A 2014 (1xAA form): Weight: 57.6g, Length: 95.6mm, Width (bezel): 25.6mm
The overall build of the SC5 has been updated from the earlier 1xAA Zebralights, and is now a bit larger and heavier. It also has actual knurling over the whole body, of reasonable aggressiveness. I understand the extra space was required for the circuit, to add additional functionality (and I'm guess more heatsinking as well).
Anodizing (on my sample) has returned to the more traditional Zebralight gray "natural" finish. Previous lights were a bit more gray-green.
Switch is an electronic switch, recessed to reduce the risk of accidental activation, as before.
Tailcap now has a number of small raised buttons, with some spring action underneath each one. These are apparently known as "pogo-pins", and help save some length. Contact in the head has changed as well – please see my video for more details.
Tailcap threads are anodized as before, allowing for tailcap lockout. The light can both tailstand and headstand.
The light comes with a removable metal pocket clip, held in place by two regular Phillips head screws, as before.
The head is wider now, with a wider and deeper reflector on the SC5. Reflector is smooth now on my sample (was lightly textured before). The cool white XM-L2 emitter was not perfectly centered, but was more than acceptable.
The SC5 uses the latest variant of the Zebralight interface (i.e., very similar to my SC62). While it may sound a little complex when first described, it is actually quite easy to use.
As always, On/Off and all mode switching is controlled by the single electronic clicky switch. The main level choices are Lo – Med – Hi. There are two possible memorized outputs at each level, commonly referred to as 1 or 2 (e.g. L1/L2, M1/M2, H1/H2). And for each of the second levels, you can choose between 2 or 3 options. This gives you a total of 11 constant outputs to choose from. There are also 2 blinking modes.
I know that may sound confusing, but the interface is actually well laid out for simple operation. Let me walk you through everything:
By default, the light is set to come on in a Hi, Med or Low mode. You could therefore easily use the light as a simple, straight-forward three-mode light, if you want.
To get Hi initially, do a quick single click from Off. A double-quick-click from Off gets you Med. A slightly longer press and hold from Off (i.e. >0.6 sec) turns on the light in the Lo mode.
At any time when On, simply press-and-hold to advance through Lo > Med > Hi, in a repeating loop. Release the switch to select the level. As before, a quick click turns off the light.
A triple-quick-click from Off gets you Beacon/Strobe mode.
As with everything on a Zebralight, it takes a bit of use to get the timings right. For example, if you click again too soon after a turning On, you may get an unexpected mode (i.e., need to wait a sec before trying to turn Off).
When On, a quick double-click at any time switches to/from the secondary mode for that level (referred to as 1 or 2 for each level). So for example, double-click to move from H1 to H2. The light will memorize your choice and return to it next time you cycle or turn on at this level. The memory even lasts through battery changes.
As with other Zebralights, you also have a few choices as to what the secondary mode can be for each level. There are 3 possible H2 levels and L2 levels, and 2 possible M2 levels.
To enter the programming feature, double-click the light 6 times rapidly in any given level. Now, every additional double-click will advance you through the two/three programmable options for that level. To select the mode you want as the secondary level, simply turn off the light once you have made your choice. When you next turn it on, that last level will have been memorized (as H2, M2 or L2), and returned to automatically.
This same maneuver works for selecting the blinking modes as well (accessed as triple-click from Off). So, you switch between the four blinking options by double-clicking the switch once in the On state (a single click or press-hold reverts you to the constant output modes). Mode sequence for the blinking modes is: Fast Strobe > Slow Strobe, in repeating sequence.
Another feature is a relative battery life remaining indicator. Quadrupule-click the switch from Off, and the main emitter flashes out a relative battery strength (flashes 1-4 times, with 4 being nearly fully charged).
And that’s it – it is really very simple in practice, once you get used to the timings.
For information on the light, including the build and user interface, please see my video overview:
As with all my videos, I recommend you have annotations turned on. I commonly update the commentary with additional information or clarifications before publicly releasing the video.
As an aside, if you want to get an instant notification for every new review that I post here on CPF, you can subscribe to my YouTube channel (the vids go public at the same time). Just mouse over my logo watermark on the top right-hand corner of the video for the subscribe feature to open up. You may need to tap or click, depending on the platform you are using to watch.
As with my other Zebralight lights, I don't see any signs of pulse width modulation (PWM) on any the lower output modes. The light appears to be fully current controlled at all levels.
The fast strobe mode is a disorienting ~15Hz tactical strobe.
The slow strobe is 3.9 Hz on my sample.
A standby current drain is inevitable on the SC5, due to the electronic switch in the head. Unfortunately, my DMM's uA port was fried on my last review, and I'm still waiting on a replacement. I do not expect there to be an issue though, given how low the previous two models performed:
SC52: 20.2 uA on Eneloop NiMH
SC51: 14.2 uA on Eneloop NiMH
Assuming a Panasonic 2500mAh Eneloop Pro NiMH, those currents would translate into over 14 years minimum. I do not expect any issue on the SC5.
As before, you can fully break this current - and physically lock-out the light - by twisting the tailcap a quarter turn.
All lights are on Max output on Panasonic Eneloop Pro AA NiMH. Lights are about ~0.75 meter from a white wall (with the camera ~1.25 meters back from the wall). Automatic white balance on the camera, to minimize tint differences.
As you can see, that's a stunning amount of output from single NiMH AA battery! Scroll down for testing results.
All my output numbers are relative for my home-made light box setup, as described on my flashlightreviews.ca website. 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, except for any extended run Lo/Min modes (i.e. >12 hours) which are done without cooling.
I have devised a method for converting my lightbox relative output values (ROV) to estimated Lumens. See my How to convert Selfbuilt's Lightbox values to Lumens thread for more info.
Throw/Output Summary Chart:
My summary tables are reported in a manner consistent with the ANSI FL-1 standard for flashlight testing. Please see http://www.flashlightreviews.ca/FL1.htm for a discussion, and a description of all the terms used in these tables. Effective July 2012, I have updated all my Peak Intensity/Beam Distance measures with a NIST-certified Extech EA31 lightmeter (orange highlights).
That is a remarkable max output increase on NiMH – nearly double the max output of the SC52, which had been the previous class champ.
To put that in perspective, here is how it compares to typical 1x14500 lights (including the older SC52):
No doubt about it, Zebralight has managed to produce the first 1xAA light that can reach output levels previously only attainable by 1x14500. Given the increase work capacity of current NiMH batteries, 1x14500 has been rendered completely obsolete.
As you will see above, my lumen estimates are pretty close to Zebralights specs (at least for non-moonlight modes). But as always, note that my lumen estimation method is just an estimate based on the calibration of my lightbox. As such, don't get caught up on the absolute difference between lights or levels, as I can't guarantee absolute accuracy. Focus instead on the relative differences, as that is internally consistent across all my reviews.
Fortunately, I have been moving my NiMH AA testing to the newer Panasonic Eneloop Pro NiMH anyway (2550mAh typical capacity). Below I will show results for both these cells and the older Sanyo Eneloop 2000mAh capacity cells.
Note that all my standard runtimes are done under a cooling fan, as always.
The performance of the SC5 is simply outstanding. Overall efficiency and regulation are comparable to the SC52 on the lower levels (which was always best in class). But at the highest levels, the SC5 blows away anything in the class in terms of output.
UPDATE JUNE 28, 2015: For those of you wondering how the SC5 on Eneloop Pro compares to the SC52 on AW 14500:
UPDATE JULY 1, 2015: For those of you wondering if there is an undocumented and uncalibrated PID that could still kick in on non-cooled run, here is a comparison:
Although there is a slight drop-off in output over time (after timed step-down), the light never triggers a typical PID step-down in my testing. Since it is hard to see the initial difference on the graph above, here is blow-up, on a 1-sec scale resolution
Basically, there is no difference. I've done a couple of re-tests, and the small jump up can occur at variable times (i.e., doesn't seem to be heat related).
UPDATE JULY 2, 2015: Repeated re-starts on H1 are compared below:
As you can see, there is no evidence of a PID being engaged at any point. The eventual step-down to lower levels occurs as normal. Note that I got just under ~25 mins on my Eneloop Pro before the light dropped to the lower levels (with only a few seconds for each step-down before re-starting). Note that I do NOT recommend you force repeated restarts of the H1 level on the SC5. This is clearly not what the manufacturer intends, and it is not good for a NiMH to be driven to those kinds of levels indefinitely.
The voltage limit has been lowered to 2V, so 14500 is NOT supported. But given the incredibly high output level on NiMH, there would be no point anyway. Newer NiMH cells have a greater capacity to do work than 14500. Do not attempt to use 14500 cells in the SC5.
Given the heavily-driven nature on the highest levels, stick with good quality NiMH. Alkaline batteries will not perform well at all on these levels. Fresh L91 lithium shows a lower H1 max output initially (likely due to the low resting voltage), but it rises over time as you drain off some capacity.
Light uses a timed step-down from the highest output level (unlike other recent Zebralight models, where all output changes are controlled by a PID).
The SC5 is slightly larger than earlier 1xAA models (although still reasonable).
Switch timings take a little getting used, if you aren’t already familiar with Zebralight.
The SC5 is another hit-out-of-the-park home run for Zebralight in the 1xAA class.
I was impressed with the earlier SC51 and SC52 models when they were released. Although both lights had some small issues, each was an improvement over earlier versions – and each helped set a new standard for efficiency and max output on regular AA batteries. With the SC5, Zebralight has succeeded in making 14500 obsolete – you get equivalent max output, with greater runtime, using regular NIMH batteries here.
With the slightly larger head of the SC5, Zebralight was able to use their current regulation circuit (with its temperature sensors and 384 possible sub-levels necessary for PID regulation, as used on the PD62 and SC600-II). In this case however, they haven't calibrated a PID for the SC5, and have opted instead for timed step-down on the max H1 level (which is a lot simpler to program, apparently). I do not recommend you attempt to circumvent this with regular restarts of the H1 mode on the SC5 - the light (and NiMH batteries) are not intended to be run at such high drain levels indefinitely.
Output/runtime efficiency remains top-of-class for the SC5, very similar to the SC52 on the lower levels. As always, I quite like the low battery voltage step-down feature (on all levels), as it means you will never get stuck with no light without warning. Regulation patterns are excellent, in my view. Keep in mind however than only standard AA/NiMH batteries are supported now (i.e., no 14500). But that's hardly a loss, given the equivalent output they have managed to achieve.
The switch feel and user interface is basically unchanged from the other recent Zebralight models – and will seem very familiar to Zebralight owners.
Due to the larger head and smooth reflector, the beam pattern of the SC5 is slightly "throwier" than the earlier 1xAA models. It's not a huge difference - although the greater max output also helps to further extend the max reach of the light.
When it was released two and half years ago, I was very impressed with what the SC52 could do on standard batteries. But this new SC5 effectively doubles the max output on a regular NiMH AA battery. I am just blown away by what they have achieved. Coupled with its outstanding efficiency and excellent regulation, the SC5 seems like a no-brainer for this class. If you want to impress people with how far AA lights have come, you will want to have this light.
SC5 was supplied by Zebralight for review.