I have always found it handy to keep a small flashlight in my pocket as part of my EDC [Every Day Carry]. When you do so, you find yourself reaching for it many times daily. That tiny screw you just dropped on the carpet, forgetting to have turned on the back porch light when you come home in the dark, making sure you don’t stumble over a resting cat when you enter a dark room… the list is endless, and the benefits immense.
My own preference is for a light powered by AAA batteries. Their size makes it proportionately smaller than those with the AA’s, and since I also carry a small multitool, a lighter and a pipe-tool, I don’t like the feeling of an overloaded pocket. For several years now I have carried an MX Power ML-108 with a Cree Q3-WC emitter [on LED flashlights the bulb and it’s accompanying electronics are unitary… that together is the emitter]. The ML-108 is rated at 150 lms, which is fairly standard on a AAA, and a fully charged battery will give me daily use for the better part of a month. MX Power [along with SingFire, UltraFire and Raysoon] is one of the Chinese manufacturers of low-cost, but surprisingly well-made flashlights and they are all marketed by DX.com. Sadly, as you will see if you have clicked the link, the ML – 108 is no longer available. On DX, when things are shown as temporarily out of stock, it generally means you will not find the same item again. It makes me grateful that I had bought a couple of extras. At the price, they were just add-ons to my next purchase; ones that I could keep or give away as gifts.
As you can see in the photo below, my old daily MX has banged around a lot over the years. So, I was thrilled when I saw that UltraFire was introducing a new AAA light that was even smaller, and it came in the new burnt-orange anodized color that makes it easier to see if it’s set down… especially outdoors. I pretty quickly talked myself into getting one. and my new UltraFire SA-1 came in the mail today.
Other than the size and shape, the major difference between the two units is that the SA-1 twists on/off by turning the front inch or so of the tube, while the ML – 108 has what’s called a “rear clicky”… a click-on/off push button with a rubberized cap on the rear-end. The milling and fit of the “Aircraft grade aluminum” parts on the SA-1 is first rate. There is a soft, silicon O-ring underneath the twisty head to keep it watertight, if not waterproof and the diamondcut knurling provides a secure finger grip as well as one-handed use of the twisty head. While the photo does not make it clear, the anodizing is not actually as a bright orange as it might appear. Rather, it is a burnt orange or copper color. It makes for a nice alternative after the years of black and silver anodizations on most lights and tools.
Just like the MX, the SA-1 is a 150 lm light and AAA powered. However it uses the newer XP-G R5 emitter. The difference between the two versions of the emitter does mean that the two lights cast very different illumination pools. Here they are side-by-side, each with a freshly charged Eneloop AAA battery.
If you are unfamiliar with the newer generation of small LED lights, the illumination that they provide is truly astounding. This is not your father’s Ray-O-Vac D-cell. My tiny little ML –108 will spotlight the side of my barn 50 yards away. Since I haven’t had a chance to use the SA-1 at night yet, the jury is still pretty much out. I anticipate that it will light up the wall of the barn, but without the spotlighting focus. I expect something much more diffuse. However, even though it may be more widely spread out, it is still a remarkably bright illumination pool for a light not much larger than its own battery.
While I am in no way dissatisfied with the service I have gotten from the ML– 108, the real selling point with SA-1 was the smaller form factor…. and, besides, the orange color was really cool! I was perfectly fine with the trade-off in the location of the switch, but less so with the lanyard attachment point on the butt of the SA-1. The MX will “tail-stand” and toss back a great reflective illumination from a ceiling or the overhead foliage. Because of the lanyard loop, the SA-1 will have to be poked into the dirt, or will need to lean against something in order to cast the light upward.
So far so good. The SA-1 makes it on lighting efficiency. A big win on the smaller size. Nice, bright color. Fit and finish is great. All at a cost of just over $10… so it meets my criteria of getting the 90% usability for way, way less than 50% of the cost of lots of other name-brand flashlights.
So? What’s not to like?
Well… One great big, glaring, unfortunate design flaw means that this nice little light probably won’t get carried in my pocket all that often. [or at least not until my ML 108 actually dies on me]
The problem was immediately obvious to me as soon as I inserted a battery. I twisted the front of the light to turn it on, twisted it enough in the opposite direction to turn the light off, only to find that just the slight pressure of my index finger against the front of the light would cause it to come on without twisting at all. Unless I rotated it back at least a full half-turn of the circumference, the smallest sideways pressure would cause it to blink back on. The possibility of it lighting up the inside of your pocket unbeknownst to you, as you move through your daily grind, is all too predictable… and a drained out battery just when you need the light is just what you don’t need. I’m sure I could get used to that massive effort of adding the extra quarter turn to assure that my pocket didn’t have that “refrigerator glow”, but I find it annoying that, on an item as nicely made in all other respects as this one is, it would have such a quickly obvious defect. However, and especially, because I use the extremely long-lived Eneloop rechargeable AAA’s, I will probably give it a try out to see how long the battery actually lasts in comparison with the ML – 108… and I’ll keep watching my pocket for the telltale glow. Nothing ventured, nothing gained… Hey, it’s paid for! I’m certainly not going to send it back for a fairly trifling irritation, However, I probably won’t be buying anymore backup units of this light.