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Tesco 3 Watt LED Aluminium Torch.  Model FT-MN-2C. Rating: 70%


This particular light does a lot to show how far LED flashlights have come in recent years.  Lights using 5mm LED's are generally pretty low powered and dead handy for attaching to your keyring to find the keyhole in the front door when you get home late from work in the middle of the winter, but not all that much use beyond that and other close range tasks.  There are of course exceptions to that rule, certain lights use high efficiency LEDs and additional optics to concentrate the beam.   Then high power LEDs started to come on the scene, in quite a different format to the common 5mm LEDs, making use of external optics or reflectors to focus their beams.  Initially these lights used 1W high power LEDs called Luxeon Stars produced by LumiLEDs.  Since then however a plethora of alternatives have appeared, including 3W, 5W versions of the Luxeon Star, and high power devices from Seoul Semiconductors, ISP Korea and Cree to name but a few.

It was the introduction of high power LEDs like this which have started to make LED flashlights a real alternative to their incandescent ancestors.

When these high powered LED flashlights appeared on the market, even the 1W versions where very expensive, one of the first low cost examples being the CMG Reactor, which still retailed for around 20.  Of course, more and more manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon since, bringing us to our subject here.  A sturdy aluminium bodied 3W LED based flashlight being sold in Tesco stores in the UK for only 12.

Product Info:

Manufacturer: Tesco Stores Limited - Unknown who actually makes it for them though
Available from: Tesco Stores (review example bought from Inverurie store)
Price: 12.00 GBP
Size: 175 x 40 mm
Number of lamps: 1.
Lamp Type: 3W Seoul Semiconductor ZLED with refractive optics.
Peak Beam intensity: Not stated.
Total Luminous Flux: Not Stated.
Lamp Current: Not Stated - Unable to measure readily due to circuit design
Lamp Colour: Cool white.
Body finishes available:  Black.
Battery type: 2 C size - Supplied.
Battery life: Not Stated.
Switch Type: Click action push button on tailcap - intermittant off.
Water Resistance: "Weatherproof"
Approximate Beam angle: Medium flood
Notes: Light is supplied with nylon belt pouch, wrist strap (fitted) and Raymax brand alkaline batteries (installed).
Review Date: 23rd August 2009

First Impressions:

Tesco do a pretty good job of trying to make sure you don't spot this light...the light's black, the backing card's black.  The only thing which really picks it out at all is the one line of orange text at the top.  It's classy enough as packing goes - but doesn't do a good job of making it jump out at you compared to the other big brand lights sitting next to it on the shelf.  There also wasn't a pricetag on the shelf in the case of our example, requiring me to wander around the store for nearly fifteen minutes until I got hold of a member of staff who could tell me what it cost.  On the back of the card, there are the usual warnings about not mixing batteries and such in a variety of languages.



This is one of those sonic welded plastic blister packs which we all hate.  Getting into this bare-handed quite simply is not going to happen as the plastic is really quite thick.  Go find yourself a good, sharp pair of scissors and cut carefully around the edge.  Careful that you don't cut the lanyard, the holster or of course your fingers.

Batteries:

This light comes with the batteries already installed, however you need to remove a little plastic disc which stops it from switching on and running them down while in the pack before you can use it.  This resides in between the negative end of the cell nearest the tailcap and its spring contact.  To remove this disc, simply unscrew the tailcap and pick it out.  I was going to take a photograph of it, however haven't the foggiest idea where it went when it dropped out...and I don't think any of you are going to be heartbroken that I've not included a photograph of a little 15mm diameter piece of clear plastic.

It was only after I'd done this that I actually read the instructions...such as they are...and realised that you're actually meant to unscrew the head to change the batteries.  I don't see any reason really that there's an advantage to removing either the head or the tailcap...either works!  It's worth noting however that the head and tailcap have to go into the correct ends of the body tube, as the threading is longer on one end than the other.

In fact, it's possible to dismantle this light to quite an extent, though I'd recommend against removing the bezel from the head, as both the LED and the optics are quite easily damaged - I've done this only to demonstrate what's in there (and to find out what sort of LED it was)...and of course to prove that it could be done.



Changing the batteries is simply a matter of unscrewing whichever end you decide to use, then catching it when it tries to roll off the desk, dumping out the old batteries and inserting two new C cells with the positive end facing the head.  Then screw either the head or the tailcap back on, and you're done.

There's no mention of battery life made on the packaging, so I think some experimentation will be needed there.  

It's worth noting that the two C cells which this flashlight uses only produce around 3 volts - nowhere near enough to light the LED.  To get around this problem without requiring additional batteries (and hence a larger, heavier light), there is a clever little circuit built into the head which boosts the supply voltage to the correct level to feed the LED.  The current the LED is being supplied with, the efficiency of this boost circuit and its drop out (the minimum voltage it needs to see from the batteries to function) will all contribute to determine the runtime on a set of batteries for this flashlight.  The characteristics of this circuit will also determine whether the light starts out brightly and slowly dims over a period of time, or whether it mainains a relatively constant level of brightness for a set time, before suddenly dropping very quickly to nothing.

At this point, this is rather a blank slate!  I'll have to do some testing then come back!  Things are looking good for the light though in that it uses relatively cheap and readily available batteries, and that they're easy to change.  My gut feeling at this point is that the battery life should be pretty good.

I've noted a tendency for the batteries to rattle quite a lot in this light, this causing a corresponding flicker sometimes.  This is dead easy to solve though - just fold up a quarter of a sheet of A4 paper and stuff it in beside the batteries - problem solved.  While this wouldn't really be acceptable in a high end light...I think we'll forgive this one given its price.  It's more of a niggle than a problem.

Switching on:

Lights don't come much simpler than this.  No fancy multiple modes or things like that, just one button.  Admittedly, said button isn't hugely obvious being smoothly integrated into the base of the flashlight, but generally people will find it within the first ten seconds of the light being handed to them - about a second later they're seeing spots because they looked into the business end when it was switched on.  That's really not a good idea in the case of this flashlight, as it's really quite bright - for that reason there's no doubt that you've switched it on even if you're in a brightly lit room.

Actually switching it on is simply a matter of pressing the button moderately firmly until it clicks, then releasing it - you'll then get a considerable amount of light.  Ceasing the photonic assault on your eyeballs is a simple matter of pressing the button until it clicks and releasing it again.  The switch in this case has a nice tactile click which you can both hear and feel, even through gloves.  The metal cap of the button does tend to rattle just a little though.  It's not a problem, just something to be aware of.



Signalling with this light is possible, however the switch is of the "intermittant off" type, whereby partly depressing the button when the light is on will result in it going out until the button is released.  Not really an issue for every day use, however some people are not keen on switches of this type, so it's worth mentioning.

There are no lockout functions or other operating modes on this light, so there's no need to waste time looking for them.  Despite the lack of a lockout mode, I wouldn't be too worried about the light getting switched on in a backpack or pocket, as the button needs to be depressed beyond the level of the metal around it and requires a reasonably firm press.  If the light is kept in its holster, this will almost completely eliminate the possiblity of accidental activation.

Performance:

As I stated earlier, the days of LED flashlights being dim little things you could use to find change in the bottom of your wallet or save having to fumble around finding the keyhole in the back door when it's dark are long, long gone.  What we've got here is a flashlight which can quite easily knock the socks off (well, if flashlights had socks anyway) of a huge number of incandescent flashlights, including many costing many times its own price.

While there are many LED flashlights, both in 3W and 5W flavours which produce more light than this, they're not generally lights which you can wander into your local supermarket and pick up for the same price as one of last year's popular movies on DVD.

In terms of sheer power, simply pointing this light at the ceiling and switching it on provides quite ample illumination to wander safely and easily around a medium sized room.  I'd say that in terms of total lumen output that it's actually beating a 5W fluorescent tube into second place, though it's hard to really quantify the difference thanks to the human eye being such a non-linear light sensor!



It's bright though, make no mistake.  A little 4 LED based 2AA light I have is quite sufficiently bright for wandering around the house with, or peering down the back of car engines to see where that screw that you just dropped went.  If I shine these two onto the wall across the room however, I can barely even see the light from the smaller light, it being completely drowned out by the Tesco one.

For most every day tasks in and out the house, I can't see this light lacking in the power stakes.  Hunting for stuff in the shed or the attic, wandering around the house in a blackout, walking to/from the car, walking the dog, working on the car, or just leaving it sitting on the desk and waiting for someone to pick it up and dazzle themselves - does them all quite easily.

If you really need more light than this produces, to be honest you're not really going to expect to find it at this price - you're going to be looking at high end incandescent or HID based flashlights.  This produces more than enough light for everyday usage.

Beam Profile:

The beam profile of this light is quite typical of lights using optics of this type.  The beam I would consider to be either a narrow flood or a wide spot - basically tailored to give you a light that's ideal for wandering around with, giving a good flood of light so you can see where you're going, but in a narrow enough beam that you do have at least some range.  I'd say that if your eyes were adapted to a low light level that the beam's usable for a good 50-60 feet, with a high level of light for around 20.  Beyond that though it's really too broad to be of much use - you need a spotlight for that.

The photographs below give an idea of the beam profile.  The beamshot is taken from approximately 1 metre, underexposed to show the beam details.  The 30cm ruler's shown for scale.



The same photograph, but filtered via the GIMP to highlight the beam details.



The photograph below is taken from approximately five metres (the furthest I can get from anything inside!).



Finally, the image below is looking out at an area of disused land to the back of my apartment - the fifteen metre measurement is rather approximate, but I don't think is far off.



There is no means to adjust the beam angle of this light, it's preset by the optics chosen by the manufacturer, so it's important that they get it right for its intended purpose.  On this occasion they seem to have done so.  The soft central hotspot is just about the ideal size for targeting what you're looking at in a room or on the footpath in front of you, while there's plenty of spill light so that you don't stub your toe on the end of the bed or trip over that drain grating.

The beam's quite a cool white, as tends to be the case with cheaper lights.  The lower colour temperature LEDs with a higher colour rendering index being more desirable for general lighting applications, hence attracting a higher price.  For low costs lights like this, LEDs with a less desirable tint tend to be used, this one has a fairly pure white hotspot, with a band of warmer white in the immediate corona, before somewhat a cooler white in the general sidespill.  While some people find colour variances such as this annoying, it doesn't in any way detract from the usefulness of the light, and I feel in such a cheap light is quite acceptable, it's hardly noticeable afterall if you're not accustomed to looking for faults in flashlights!  People in general don't seem to mind things like this too much...just take a look at the beam profile from a certain hugely popular incandescent flashlight afterall...compared to that this thing produces a flawless flood of light.

Lamps:

When I saw that this was claiming to be a three watt LED light, I wasn't certain what type of LED it would be using.  Thanks to a very easy to dismantle design, I was able to get into the head and track down that it's a Seoul ZLED.  The precise bin of this LED (the bin code allows you to compare to a datasheet and find the electrical and optical characteristics of the LED) unfortunately I've been unable to find as this is printed on the back of the "star" board on which the LED itself is mounted, and this is very firmly attached to the heatsink.  



The LED itself cannot run directly on the 3V supplied by the batteries in this flashlight (especially if you're using rechargeables which have a slightly lower forward voltage), to provide the higher voltage of between 3.2 and 4V needed to light the LED there is a small boost circuit which is mounted below the LED inside a small aluminium cylinder.  This cylinder is in turn screwed into the head of the flashlight, the two holes you see in the circular surround being used to provide the leverage to do so.  No doubt in the factory a special tool would have been used for this - careful use of a set of needle nose pliers was enough to get it out in the case of this light though - be careful though as you don't want to slip and hit the LED.  It's not hard plastic like your typical 5mm LED, but is actually a soft, silicone material and is really quite vulnerable to damage from things like pliers, screwdrivers and soldering irons.  Obviously though most users will never be dismantling the light, so that's not a huge issue!

All of the light that comes out of the front of this flashlight comes from the little yellow square you can see above.  Yes...before you even say it - I know what you're thinking "But the light is white."  You're quite correct, however there's no such thing as a high power LED which can create white light directly.  As a result of this, LEDs such as this are actually made in two parts - there's a blue LED at the heart of the device, this is covered with a phosphor which glows yellow when exposed to blue light.  If you mix blue and yellow together, you'll get what is essentially white light.  You can actually see the two parts to the light in the spectra shown below.  There are two distinct parts to the image - the deep blue, this is produced by the LED itself, and the broader section spanning the red and yellow part of the spectra - this is the phosphor being excited by the blue light from the LED.


Ergonomics:

This light follows a pretty well established design to be honest - wider head at one end, cylindrical barrel and a switch at the other end.

The 2C form factor is one that I've always liked.  It's small enough that unless you've got extraordinarily small hands you can get a good comfortable hold on, but big enough and with enough of a weight to it that it feels reassuringly solid.  



The switch being mounted on the tailcap means that the easiest way to operate the light one-handed is to use a "tactical" grip as shown below, with your thumb operating the switch.  This is the default grip I tend to use when looking around a room for something, with the light held up over my left shoulder.  Just wandering around though, just holding it like any other flashlight though it's perfectly comfortable.  Just accept that you're going to need to use your other hand to switch it on.



The centre section of the body is knurled to help retention if your hands are wet or oily, it's not very aggressive knurling, but should help you hold onto it, without having the tendency to shred pockets and such as can be a hazard with more aggressive machining on flashlight bodies in some cases.

The only real ergonomic grumble on this particular light is that there's no form of anti-roll device whatsoever, so it tends to roll off across whatever surface you've put it on if it's anything other than absolutely level.

Durability Department:

While you might not expect this light to stand up to quite the same level of punishment as a $250 Surefire, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.  The walls throughout are pretty thick, the thinnest point I can find on the body itself is around the threading just below the head - and even there it's a full 1mm thick - most places nearer twice that.  The thinnest bit of metal on the entire light is actually on the bezel, which is only around 0.5mm thick.  The odd ding in that though isn't likely to cause any problems though.  The tailcap and the button on it are both aluminium as well, the whole lot being anodized black.  This is only a type 2 anodized coating however so isn't all that durable, though it'll probably fare better than most painted finishes.  If you've got this light rattling around in a toolbox though it'll get scratched up pretty quick.  The quality of the anodizing isn't great either - there's a little "splodge" down near the tailcap where it's not covered the body perfectly.  I've photographed this blemish, it's shown below.



I do have one major concern about this light - and that's the lens.  There doesn't appear to be a separate lens between the front of the light and the refractive optic, rather that this has been used as the lens itself.  If this gets scratched up too much, that will have an effect on the beam, and if it cracks it could well damage the LED as well.  I think the lack of a lens here, while it might have saved a few pence on the production costs really has introduced a signifcant weakness in the design.  In the real world however, the vast majority of us are unlikely to put our flashlights through enough in their lifetimes that this will be an issue.  This optic appears to be a standard type for use with this type of LED, so should be available from a number of sources if it does get damaged, however it's worth noting that it'll probably cost more than the light did to buy to replace!

There are O-rings at all of the body joints and a suction test has showed no leakage from either end of the light, including when the switch is operated, so it shouldn't be bothered in the slightest by the odd downpour when you're out walking the dog or getting dropped in a puddle when you're out camping.

Leaving the light at the bottom of my bathroom washbasin for a couple of hours didn't reveal any signs of leakage whatsoever.  However the light is advertised as being weatherproof - it doesn't mention any depth rating, so I'd advise agaisnt taking it diving with you!

The supplied lanyard really does appear rather whimpy, and sure enough giving it a reasonably determined tug snapped it - however that's easily replaced with something more durable if you're likely to use it to carry the light by it a lot.  I've yet to see a cheap light of this sort of size which actually has a lanyard which feels up to the task!  For something to hang it from in a tent or to hang it from a hook by the door it's more than enough.

While the lack of a replaceable lens in front of the optics bothers me - it's worth thinking about who this light is aimed at...it costs 12, and it's probably going to replace that old 2D flaghlight which sits in the cupboard under the sink and gets grabbed a couple of times a year when the power goes off, or be used now and then in the winter when you need to venture out in the dark in the evening.  Folks looking for the ultimate in endurance flashlights are likely to be looking more towards the high end manufacturers...not a light that's this cheap.  For a light that costs this much, and it aimed very much ar Mr & Mrs. Average, this is plenty durable enough!

Overall:

At this price?  An absolute bargain I reckon!

It's bright, comfortable to carry, waterproof, and is more than tough enough to shrug off the knocks and bangs that a flashlight should be expected to deal with.  While the batteries tend to rattle a bit, the anodizing isn't perfect and I'd like to see a separate lens over the optics...I've seen a lot more expensive lights with more fundamental flaws, which actually make them annoying or awkward to use.

Just be careful not to scratch the lens, and this light should serve you well for a long number of years.

All in all, this looks like a score of around 7 out of 10...hugely respectable for a light at this sort of price.

Pros:

+ Bright.

+ Feels great in the hand.

+ Waterproof.

+ Sensible beam pattern.

+ Uses common batteries.

+ Bargain basement pricetag.

Cons:

- No protective lens over LED optics.

- Supplied lanyard feels very flimsy.

Niggles:

> Batteries tend to rattle.  Easily sorted with nothing more than a sheet of paper.


Ratings:

Beam Quality: 7

Build Quality: 6

Battery Life: 7

Durability: 5

Value: 10

Overall: 35/ 50 = 70%


Long Term Testing:

23rd August 2009: Review started.

5th January 2021: Page retired and moved to Site Archive.