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Thread: BLF/TLF FW3A impressions

  1. #1
    *Flashaholic* idleprocess's Avatar
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    Default BLF/TLF FW3A impressions

    I've had the FW3A in my hands for about a week and it's become my favorite flashlight. Thought I'd share my impressions along with a few photos I took at my desk.


    The TL;DR
    The BLF/TLF FW3A is a well-crafted utilitarian flashlight that delivers performance and where it counts and polish on the inside – the UI that you’ll interact with. The similarities between the FW3A and the Emisar D4 are sufficiently strong that they are difficult to avoid.


    The Unboxing Experience

    In keeping with its nature, the FW3A is packaged plainly. A minimal brown sleeve over the box has an isometric line drawing of the light itself.


    The box simply has the Lumintop logo on the exterior. Upon opening you will see the contents – the FW3A itself, the comprehensive instruction manual, 2 spare O-rings, and a supplementary instruction card stressing that one should only remove the head to change the cell.


    Initial Impressions

    The FW3A is an object crafted almost exclusively for its physical form as a “triple” 18650 flashlight with a tail switch. The housing is minimally machined to this end. 7 major pieces of metal form it – the bezel, the head, the outer and inner tubes, the clip, the tailcap, and the switch. Without the clip the exterior features of the light would have perfect radial symmetry – no flats, no axial grooves, no screenprinting. Relieved of tension from the tailcap, the clip can be oriented however one likes, although the temptation is likely to align it with the LEDs. The two spots of knurling are located where needed – on the head and the tailcap for assistance loosening and tightening the light during cell changes. The closest to adornment that the entire thing features is a radial groove at the top two-thirds position on the tailcap and a slight angle on the tailcap terminating at the base.

    The Lumintop branded versions of the FW3A that are surely coming in the future will likely make cosmetic alterations to the design – the bunny logo will likely make an appearance on the tailcap at the very least.


    One almost immediately learns the two intuitive ways to hold the light. The cigar hold will be more familiar to most with the body of the light between index and middle finger with the thumb against the tail. The tactical hold will also be intuitive – light held with all fingers curled around it, tailswitch against the thumb for easy on/off. The cigar hold will allow for more natural pointing but the tactical hold is more secure. It is of course possible to use the more conventional flashlight hold – essentially the opposite of the tactical hold – but manipulating the switch is an exercise left to the pinky finger.

    The tailswitch has a pleasing audible and tactile click to it. There is a slightly different feel whenever one clicks off center, but I find that my thumb either naturally gravitates towards the center or the perceptible edge encourages application of force towards the center. You will quickly appreciate the feel of the switch since the UI depends on counting clicks quickly and accurately.

    The clip has appreciable grip in my experience. It’s more like a pocket knife clip than most flashlight clips I’ve encountered – suitable for casual one-handed insertion into the likes of jeans pockets but too much grip for a T-shirt pocket. The contact point is just shy of the inflection point between body and head, thus the clip doesn’t interfere with head removal.


    The beam pattern is a function of the optic – in this case a commodity Carclo 10511 which produces a relatively narrow spot with a relatively uniform hotspot and some falloff into what would be referred to as spill with a conventional reflector.


    The UI
    Like the Emisar lights, the UI on the FW3A is a variant of Narsil/Ramping OS – Anduril . Included with the light is a handy graphical flowchart and detailed instructions. It might be intimidating at first, but know that most of the complexity lies in one-time or occasional setup options that you’ll not be using routinely.

    The UI : Daily Use
    At its simplest, click once to turn on the light. Click and hold to adjust brightness up; click and hold again within ~1 second to adjust brightness down. Click once to turn the light off. Or if you prefer discrete light levels, turn the light on, click three times in succession then enjoy 7 levels of discrete output; triple-click again to revert to smooth ramping. Of course, both smooth ramping and stepped ramping are configurable for floor output level, peak output level, and (for stepped ramping) number of steps. Smooth ramping will have a just-perceptible blink in the middle of the range indicating a switch between regulated mode I to direct drive (high output / FET); this is completely normal and not at all indicative of malfunction.

    Users of turbo modes will almost immediately notice that, like the Emisar D4, the FW3A gets hot and starts to ramp down output within seconds. Users should be aware that peak sustained output for the FW3A is apt to be in the region of 300 lumens due to its diminutive size – a limitation that the FW3A shares with all other lights in its general class – there’s only so much thermal mass to conduct the heat from the LEDs/driver and only so much surface area to convect the heat away.

    A critical function for the FW3A – and really any high-output LED or Li-Ion powered light – is the lockout. Unlike Emisars, a simple physical lockout isn’t practical since the ground doesn’t break contact with a fractional turn of the body. From off, four quick clicks will enable lockout. If you at all put the FW3A it a pocket, bag, or anywhere else that it’s likely to be jostled or accidentally activated you will want to use the lockout lest you run down the battery, melt something – or worse start a fire – because the light activated and helpfully ramped to peak output dissipating >50W of heat somewhere you wanted no heat.

    Knowing the cell voltage can also be handy. Three clicks from off will enter the “blinkies” mode – the first of which is a readout of the voltage. The light will blink a number of times, pause, blink another number of times, pause longer, then repeat. The first series of blinks is the first digit of the voltage, the second series is tenths of a volt; an extremely short pulse indicates a zero. 4 blinks followed by two blinks indicates a fully-charged li-ion cell at 4.2 volts, 3 blinks followed by 6 blinks indicates a cell at ~50% capacity of 3.6V, and 3 blinks followed by a pulse indicates a nearly-empty cell at 3.0V.

    The UI : Configuration / non-daily use
    The FW3A has numerous configuration options, however there is only one critical option to set – temperature calibration, something you will need to do when the light is at approximately ambient temperature. The temperature sensor on the microcontroller ships with a random calibration and is not calibrated by Lumintop prior to shipment, thus the firmware defaults to an extremely conservative setting to prevent any lights that badly under-sense the temperature from cooking themselves. To enter thermal config, click 3 times from off to enter blinky mode, then double click 3 times to scroll past voltage check, sunset, and beacon modes to thermal check. In temp check the light will blink out the temperature reading in degrees centigrade. Click the switch 4 times to enter thermal config; the light will begin strobing rapidly. Click N times for N degrees centigrade and wait for the light to blink twice. The light will again begin strobing – set the threshold temperature for N + 30 degrees centigrade by clicking N times (i.e. click 15 times for a 45C limit). Once the strobing ends the light will return to the temperature check blinky. Note that the UI is quite happy to let you set the temperature limit to a value capable of damaging the light, the driver, the li-ion cell, and even yourself; the factory default of 45C seems sensible.

    The “Muggle mode” is helpful if you need to loan the flashlight to someone not familiar with the user interface and/or not experienced with compact high-output flashlights. Six clicks from off will enable this mode which restrict the output to approximately 300 lumens and limit the operation to on/of with ramping brightness control. Six rapid clicks with “Muggle mode” enabled will return to normal operation.

    As for the other options - read the manual. In particular pay close attention to the use of subtraction for setting the ceiling on ramp configuration.


    Care and Feeding

    Like Emisar lights, The FW3A requires an unprotected high-current Li-ion cell since turbo mode essentially shorts the cell to the LED and only lets up once the thermal protection kicks in. The tight design parameters leave little room for button top-cells. Better peak current means higher peak brightness in turbo, but like all pocket rockets the FW3A can’t sustain turbo for long, thus higher-capacity cells with lower peak current ratings are likely a better choice. The Samsung 30Q is often mentioned – at 3Ah and 15A rated peak current it offers the benefit of long runtime over lesser-capacity cells with greater rated currents, however for the kind of short bursts of turbo the FW3A can manage, its far greater real peak current rating closer to 25A is advantageous.

    It is worth noting that the FW3A’s electronic tailswitch can be finicky and the supplementary instruction card advising against disassembly should be heeded. There are two common issues with the first batch of lights that are easily remedied by the user. The first is the driver retaining ring is not consistently tightened – use of a jeweler’s screwdriver or any other instrument that can engage the notches in the retaining ring can be used to snug it down. The second is insufficient contact for the switch connection, typically solved by loosening the head, tightening the tailcap firmly, then tightening the head – something that is likely to need to be done regularly since the switch contact at both ends of the free-floating tube does not benefit from springs like the battery nor threaded surfaces accepting of a wide range of positions.

    The optic can be swapped in seconds if so desired – for a few dollars each with shipping. Relative to the stock Carclo 10511, 10507 should offer best throw, 10508 more flood, 10509 even more flood, and the 10510 an elliptical spot.


    If you must remove the tailcap for curiosity’s sake or if you just can’t live with the clip (which will introduce some possible issues with a visible gap and additional stress on the switch PCB), it is possible to disassemble the tailcap with some care. Note that by its nature the clip exerts some force against the tailcap and will deflect some ~5 degrees in the process of disassembly. Note that there is no retaining ring for the switch, thus it will fall out of the tailcap with slight provocation. Within the tailcap is the metal switch cover, a rubber boot with inset friction-fit “nib”, and the switch PCB. Do not lose the “nib” – the switch will not work without it! Within the body the inner tube should slide out relatively freely – note that it is directional with a flange at the switch end and a small white O-ring that resides within a groove at the base of the flange. The clip has a similar O-ring that sits between its ring and the tailcap, and helpfully wedges itself into position due to spring tension against its retaining ring.
    I apologize that this letter is so long; I did not have time to write a short letter

  2. #2

    Default Re: BLF/TLF FW3A impressions

    My fw3a flickers, and more noticeable on turbo. Does yours do that?

    Sent from my SM-G970U using Tapatalk
    TM36 Lite | Vish's ThruNite TN36UTVN | Olight S1-Cu Baton Raw Copper | Olight S1-Cu Baton Exclusive Raw SS Copper

  3. #3

    Default Re: BLF/TLF FW3A impressions

    Thanks for the review - and for the heads-up. I didn't know that they were available for order, much less already shipped out.

    Sent from my LG-V520 using Tapatalk
    I got nothing else to say...

  4. #4

    Default Re: BLF/TLF FW3A impressions

    I have one each of the 3D and 7A. Love both. Very easy use the interface. Tremendous middle light comes on the front of both. I may try different Optics just to experiment a little bit. A little more throw might be nice.

    Just ordered a Nichia to round out the set. $35 on Neal's with code.
    NDFW3A
    Last edited by JimIslander; 05-25-2019 at 05:55 PM.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: BLF/TLF FW3A impressions

    Quote Originally Posted by trailhunter View Post
    My fw3a flickers, and more noticeable on turbo. Does yours do that?

    Sent from my SM-G970U using Tapatalk
    Tighten the drivers retaining ring and or tailcap

  6. #6
    *Flashaholic* idleprocess's Avatar
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    Default Re: BLF/TLF FW3A impressions

    Quote Originally Posted by trailhunter View Post
    My fw3a flickers, and more noticeable on turbo. Does yours do that?
    Can't say I've experienced that, however slight interruptions of contact with the tailswitch tend to register as clicks, thus maintaining proper tension on the tail and head cuts down on erratic behaviors.

    Quote Originally Posted by adnj View Post
    Thanks for the review - and for the heads-up. I didn't know that they were available for order, much less already shipped out.
    The "clean" BLF editions are probably still available at Neal's Gadgets for sure; can't speak to other retailers that may have them in stock.
    I apologize that this letter is so long; I did not have time to write a short letter

  7. #7

    Default Re: BLF/TLF FW3A impressions

    No flickering on either of mine.

    FYI: a 1/8 turn of the head is enough to lockout the switch. And since parasitic drain is very low... below the self discharge of a li-ion cell ... you can basically treat it as a physical lockout for all intents and purposes.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: BLF/TLF FW3A impressions

    As there's already a 3 page general info thread going, I'll move this to "Reviews"..
    "Rage, rage against the dying of the light..."

  9. #9
    *Flashaholic* idleprocess's Avatar
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    Default Re: BLF/TLF FW3A impressions

    Quote Originally Posted by scout24 View Post
    As there's already a 3 page general info thread going, I'll move this to "Reviews"..
    Thank you.
    I apologize that this letter is so long; I did not have time to write a short letter

  10. #10

    Default Re: BLF/TLF FW3A impressions

    Quote Originally Posted by Fireclaw18 View Post
    No flickering on either of mine.

    FYI: a 1/8 turn of the head is enough to lockout the switch. And since parasitic drain is very low... below the self discharge of a li-ion cell ... you can basically treat it as a physical lockout for all intents and purposes.

    It's even better than that. Less than 1/32 turn will lock it out. Of course for actual lockout I'd use 1/8 or so. Also easy to do with one hand. Head doesn't have to be overly tight to work perfectly, so this is a very easy and reliable lockout method that can always be done in milliseconds with one hand.

    NOTE: If the light is on when you twist the head, you lose the switch in less than 1/32 of a turn, but the light will stay on for about 2.5 turns of the head.

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    Default Re: BLF/TLF FW3A impressions

    Quote Originally Posted by JimIslander View Post
    I have one each of the 3D and 7A. Love both. Very easy use the interface. Tremendous middle light comes on the front of both. I may try different Optics just to experiment a little bit. A little more throw might be nice.

    Just ordered a Nichia to round out the set. $35 on Neal's with code.
    NDFW3A

    I'm ready to order, but undecided whether to choose the 3D or Nichia. I wonder if this tradeoff is only about higher CRI vs. higher output, or if there is more to consider? People seem to be all about the HP-L Hi variants (re: FW3a), but for other lights I see people singing the praises of the Nichias. I'd love to hear non-technical comments. I'd also like to know the usable lumens (as opposed to maximum) of the two. In photography doubling or halving the quantity is one f stop, which is hardly perceptible to the eye. Is it the same in this application, or does doubling the lumens appear significantly brighter?

  12. #12
    *Flashaholic* idleprocess's Avatar
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    Default Re: BLF/TLF FW3A impressions

    Quote Originally Posted by salparadise View Post
    I'm ready to order, but undecided whether to choose the 3D or Nichia. I wonder if this tradeoff is only about higher CRI vs. higher output, or if there is more to consider? People seem to be all about the HP-L Hi variants (re: FW3a), but for other lights I see people singing the praises of the Nichias. I'd love to hear non-technical comments. I'd also like to know the usable lumens (as opposed to maximum) of the two. In photography doubling or halving the quantity is one f stop, which is hardly perceptible to the eye. Is it the same in this application, or does doubling the lumens appear significantly brighter?
    Similar to photography, doubling lumens is perceived as an incremental change in brightness. It's my understanding that it takes a ~4x increase to be perceived as double.

    The tradeoff for high CRI Nichia vs Cree will be heat production and runtime. The Crees are more efficient thus won't force stepdown due to thermal load as fast. This also means more runtime for a similar brightness level with Cree, although this difference may be mostly academic.
    I apologize that this letter is so long; I did not have time to write a short letter

  13. #13

    Default Re: BLF/TLF FW3A impressions

    The tailswitch has a pleasing audible and tactile click to it. There is a slightly different feel whenever one clicks off center, but I find that my thumb either naturally gravitates towards the center or the perceptible edge encourages application of force towards the center.
    Great write-up, thank you for taking the time. Does the tailswitch bind or fail to actuate if all of the press force is on the edge of the button? And how hard is it to accidentally activate?


    More of a bigger picture question here: is this light and lights like the Emisar D4 the eulogy for handmade custom-triples/quads?

  14. #14
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    Default Re: BLF/TLF FW3A impressions

    On my copy, the tail switch has been without fault. No binding, no need to hit it dead center. Well executed design of the metal button. 👍
    "Rage, rage against the dying of the light..."

  15. #15
    *Flashaholic* idleprocess's Avatar
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    Default Re: BLF/TLF FW3A impressions

    Quote Originally Posted by waxlight View Post
    Great write-up, thank you for taking the time. Does the tailswitch bind or fail to actuate if all of the press force is on the edge of the button? And how hard is it to accidentally activate?
    The axial engagement is tiny relative to the width so there's no binding whatsoever wherever I click. The tactile feel is strongest in the center since at the end of the day it's a snap-dome on the PCB rather than a snap-action or clicky switch and off-center invariably changes the dynamics up a bit.

    You're going to want to lockout this light for anything other than placing it on a shelf - the switch is large and easy to actuate through jostling.

    Quote Originally Posted by waxlight View Post
    More of a bigger picture question here: is this light and lights like the Emisar D4 the eulogy for handmade custom-triples/quads?
    As best I can tell, inexpensive triples and quads have been around since before Emisar and the FW3A. Convoy, Emisar, FW3A and others are designed around low cost, lacking the design flair, exotic materials, and deliberately labor-intensive machining/fitting/assembly processes that the high end incorporates as a matter of distinction. Barrel, Hanko, Prometheus, et al seem to still be going strong based on my observation of the secondary market where they start at some ten times what these low-end lights go for.
    I apologize that this letter is so long; I did not have time to write a short letter

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    Flashaholic* Rexlion's Avatar
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    Default Re: BLF/TLF FW3A impressions

    I fear that I would forget someday and unscrew it in the wrong spot.
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  17. #17
    *Flashaholic* idleprocess's Avatar
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    Default Re: BLF/TLF FW3A impressions

    Quote Originally Posted by Rexlion View Post
    I fear that I would forget someday and unscrew it in the wrong spot.
    I perhaps overstated the propensity for the tailswitch components to fall out. The lack of a retaining ring means they fall out when poked, not that it's going to fly apart on you once the tail is removed.
    I apologize that this letter is so long; I did not have time to write a short letter

  18. #18
    Flashaholic* vadimax's Avatar
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    Default Re: BLF/TLF FW3A impressions

    Quote Originally Posted by Rexlion View Post
    I fear that I would forget someday and unscrew it in the wrong spot.
    As Russians say if your hands don’t grow up out of your bottom you will assemble it back with ease And yes, as people say parts do not go flying if disassembled. They are not spring loaded.

    But just in case parts go this way:

    1. Metal button cover;
    2. Rubber insert protruding dome down;
    3. The switch assembly membrane dome down.
    Last edited by vadimax; 06-07-2019 at 10:41 PM.

  19. #19

    Default Re: BLF/TLF FW3A impressions

    Quote Originally Posted by JimIslander View Post
    I have one each of the 3D and 7A. Love both. Very easy use the interface. Tremendous middle light comes on the front of both. I may try different Optics just to experiment a little bit. A little more throw might be nice.

    Just ordered a Nichia to round out the set. $35 on Neal's with code.
    NDFW3A
    Recieved the Nichia 219C 4000 today. Not impressed so far. XPL 3D 3500 is almost incandescent ; I like it better. Need more time with the Nichia to decide if I like it. A bit red and not nearly as warm as I expected.

    UPDATE: OK, I love it indoors. Color rendering is very pleasant. Will try it in the yard tonight.
    Last edited by JimIslander; 06-08-2019 at 05:45 PM.

  20. #20

    Default Re: BLF/TLF FW3A impressions

    Got my nichia today too. Lovely. Pics tomorrow

  21. #21

    Default Re: BLF/TLF FW3A impressions

    I’ve swaped LED’s on mine. WW is orange, not warm at all.
    Anyhow, fellow flashahic flashed the driver for and i’ve reattached everything so SST-20 3500K with Amber secondaries... sweet

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