THE FOLLOWING MAY NOT BE REPRODUCED
WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM THE AUTHOR ©
The Power Source
First realise that the term "flashlight" came from the fact that early incandescent lamp filaments burned out easily. This was worse with portable lights because the lamps used had to be smaller with correspondingly shorter filaments. These filaments had to be rested on a regular basis to prevent them from overheating and breaking. So users had to press a momentary-contact button to switch on the light, then had to release it a few seconds later to allow filament cooling. Thus, users would continually flash the light on then off while in usage.
As for modern stage purposes, it may appear that any flashlight will do; after all, each emits light and is powered from batteries. However, some lights may be suitable for the user and his purpose, but those same lights may not be suitable for his surroundings -- and vice versa. Both criteria must be considered.
In addition, using a cell phone as a flashlight (even though most have
lights built in), is uncool and smacks of amateurism. It also often requires
menu mining to select the "Light" feature, which means it is not ready at a
moment's notice. A cell phone is more difficult to hold and do tasks at the
same time(*), and it definitely cannot be held between one's teeth while
being aimed to the right position -- regardless of how much of a big mouth
one is! Then there is the fact that the phone projects a very wide beam;
this will be an issue where spill and glare are not acceptable.
Instead, consider buying one of the lights discussed below.
Flashlights come in incandescent and LED styles. (There are also fluorescent models, but these fall under the category of "Lantern" and will be discussed near the end of this article.) The incandescent models are the traditional types and typically use `PR'- or 222-style lamps. In addition, krypton (KRIP-tawn} and quartz halogen (kortz HAY-loh-jenn) lamps came into usage as better replacements for the `PR' style. These latter two produce a brighter beam with a higher colour temperature, and they have longer lives. However, most all have been supplanted by the LED flashlight.
Modern, single-LED flashlights can be bright and generally have good beam patterns. They draw far less current than other lamp types for a given light output and so offer the longest battery life. LEDs also do not suffer from filament-shock burnouts. These occur when an incandescent light is dropped while switched on, or rolls off a roadcase, and forcibly hits the floor or another hard object. Because LEDs have no filaments, there is nothing to deform and break under mechanical shock conditions. This does not mean though, that the LED element cannot be damaged via mechanical shock -- just that it is more robust, and thus is less susceptible to mechanical failure. Regardless, refrain from dropping these models, as well.
Multiple LEDs: Don't select ones with multiple-LED sources for stage usage. They spill far too much light. A multiple-LED model can be used for other purposes though, and some cheaper models provide a brighter beam than even high-output, single-element ones.
Single LED: For the single-LED models, look for one with the LED source and reflector recessed into the body. This limits that annoying outer glow (side spill) around the main beam. The glow seen is the direct radiation from the LED plus unwanted reflections. A good design will gather the glow and add it to the main beam where it is concentrated into a central circle.
Some single-LED flashlights have been introduced that have the LED well inside the body and a lens near the front. These lights have excellent shielding, a very smooth, round beam with a well defined edge, and limited, or virtually no, spill. Try one of these to see if the brightness suits your backstage purposes.
Road/Tool Case: A less-bright, single or multiple LED light can be used for in-case purposes. That is, one can be kept in a toolbox or roadcase to be used when conditions are dark and one needs to look through the contents. I have these less-bright models in my main toolbox and Designer Kit.
Extra Features: There are LED flashlights which have switches for dual brightness levels, built-in laser pointers, or automatic flashing circuitry. Some even have all three in one unit. Buy one of these if you have usage for those features, but they are not recommended for typical gig purposes. The reason is that one often has to push the switch multiple times so as to get to a steady light, or push multiple times to cycle past extra features in order to turn the light off. Given all the selecting that is required, switch life then becomes a factor.
I actually have used one of these multi-feature models but it was kept in my Designer Kit and brought out only when I need one of those features. I do find a laser pointer handy when precisely designating to a client, co-worker or student those objects that are at a distance. However, the multi-feature models bothered me, so I now have a laser pointer separate from my flashlight.
Switch Issue: Regarding switches, you may have to clean them often because it takes little corrosion and/or dirt to interfere with LED current draw. Thus, these lights tend to flicker or produce reduced output after a while in service. I use contact cleaner in the switch and swab a bit onto the threaded portions to maintain good electrical contact. The best LED models use quality switches, so this is less of a problem, but when you find it happening, use a bit of the cleaner to strengthen the electrical path. (See the Tips section, farther on.)
Close to Hand: Most road crew members will want something that can be easily suspended from a belt, worn in a holster, or held in a tool pouch or waist wallet. The reason is so it is at the ready when working. Generally this means a light not larger than those powered by double D-cells down to a single A-cell penlight or LED model.
Flashlight Material and Style: The body type should be aluminum or a durable plastic so as not to rust, and should have flat sides or something to keep it from rolling when laid down. This is important if one has placed the light on a table or case so as to point toward some task. It's best to not have your light roll off on to the floor and into some inaccessible area, or become damaged by the fall.
Small Model: Regarding penlights: Try to find one that has a soft outer covering so that it may clenched in the teeth for hands-free working. If you do a lot of this type of work, think about using a miner's style headlight that attaches with a headstrap. Test to see that the beam is tight enough and is well shielded to avoid spill. Also, assess the headband to see that it will keep the light in place for your skull size and hair type & thickness.
Non-LED Models: Incandescent lamps for `AA'-batteried lights are typically rated around the 1-watt mark. LEDs can be .5 to 5 watts, as well as outside that range. Today though, ratings are for the light output and are in lumens. For stage work not during a performance, one can use pretty much any light one wants and at any wattage because brightness and spill are less objectionable, if at all.
For near-stage during performances, select the lowest brightness necessary to be able to do your work. I have found a middle amount that allows me to see well into out-of-reach corners, but that is not blinding at close quarters. I like a PR-2 incandescent, or for a little more light, its krypton or quartz version. The PR-2 incandescent is rated at 1.2 watts. (As mentioned earlier, because LEDs have taken over, flashlight krypton or quartz lamps are harder to find now.)
LED Models: A decade ago I began buying LED models to try out. At first I settled on a 3-watt unit. It was too bright for most stage work (over 100 lumens), but it did have a lower light-output option. However, I eventually found a 500-milliwatt, single LED unit. Called Task-Light, it's from the Streamlight company. Using two `AA' cells, it shines at 25 lumens, and has a lower output as well. For myself, this functions well for most backstage situations, and it gives me good battery life in a low-weight unit of 133 grams. Because of these features, it is now my gig flashlight of choice and I have purchased two backups in case of loss or damage.
Low Output: How brightly a flashlight shines will depend on lamp type, reflector size and shape, and upon the power source. The weakest are the 222-lamp, dual `AAA'-cell penlight, and the low-output, single LED -- typically also using one or two `AAA' cells. These are fine for closeup work where a tight circle or oval are suitable, and these work well for inside a toolbox. I recommend under 10 lumens for this purpose. However, for longer distances or wider areas, these will probably not be bright enough; plus the LED model may spill too much, especially if the element sits proud of the flashlight body.
High Output: The brightest flashlights of this type use two `D' cells powering PR or high-output LED light sources. These are better for work requiring higher intensity or larger coverage, but must be kept far enough away from a stage and audience during a performance to prevent spill on to the performance area and into the house, and so as not to spoil the "night" vision of the crew back stage. These units can output several hundred lumens, and more.
Medium Output: In-between models use two `AA' cells with PR or LED sources. The best of these are very suitable as a general, personal, backstage light. They are small and slim enough, and are lightweight. They emit a good quality light with a tight beam, and are well suited for hanging from a belt. As such, these have become my favourite models. Light output ratings for backstage usage without excessive brilliance are in the 20- to 60-lumen range. Some AA-cell lights can deliver well in excess of 100 lumens for those needing more power; however, battery life will be reduced.
Your First Gig Flashlight: For a starter model though, I would recommend a 50/25-lumen, dual output model because it will give a brighter beam that many techs prefer. After a few shows, the user can then decide to go brighter or dimmer as personal preference and actual usage dictate.
For stage work, the beam should be concise, generally round, and be free of shadows and bright spots. Wider patterns are acceptable for work farther from an audience or for vehicle inspections and repairs on the road. Colour should be white, although LED bluish-white is not rejected by some. Personally, I prefer good colour rendition when working, and as mentioned, LED colour rendition has improved to a point where almost all models provide a good white. However, before buying, test your proposed model for suitability.
Directionality: Your light should shine only upon your work. It should never spill into an audience or on to a stage, nor shine into anyone's eyes. This requires a concentrated light source and/or good shielding. Light sources well recessed into a reflector are a start, but the front edge of that reflector should have a shrouded rim to contain spill emanating from its sides. (It would be nice to see in the future a double `A' powered, sealed-beam flashlight.)
Making a Shield: Shrouding is most critical with 222 or LED sources, both of which cast a good beam, but can also radiate light to the sides too much. If you are considering a light which fits all the preferred criteria, but exhibits the spill problem, it can be modified using heat shrink. Select a tube that is matte black in colour and of a size that will fit over the barrel of the light. Slide it up to the front. Turn the light on in a dark room and shine it on to a flat, light-coloured wall. Move the shrink tubing forward and watch the wall. Slide until the main beam is encroached upon, then back it off a bit and observe the halo outside of the main beam. Adjust the tube to obtain the least halo but so as to still give a full, bright main beam. Now while holding the shrink in place, use a heat gun to tighten it in place over the barrel, leaving the extended part not shrunken.
The only issues are whether the tube will stick to the barrel and how far out it protrudes. You may find that a band of black electrical tape might be required to secure the heat shrink on to a slippery flashlight body. Excessive length of tubing beyond the front of the light can get deformed in use and spoil the beam shape and/or shielding of spill light. So adjust the shrink extension to the minimum required to shield the light being projected so as to show just its main beam. If it is too long after shrinking, one can always cut the tube shorter.
Preference: This is mostly a matter of personal choice. However, it is suggested that the push-button be considered for most purposes and that it be recessed and be near the reflector. The reason for this position is that when the light is held comfortably, the thumb naturally goes to the top and front end of the cylinder that makes up the body of the flashlight, so it's right on top of the switch.
I also suggest a unit with a button that pushes because it is more likely able to be manufactured as one of the make-before-lock types. This type of switch requires only a slight depression by the thumb to produce light, and then its release to stop it. However, when it is pushed farther, it locks the switch in the "on" position. Thus, one has the choice of momentary or continuous light. The circuit is *made* (light comes on) before the switch *locks*. `Momentary' is great when all that is needed is a quick flash of vision in a dark area. A make-before-lock switch eliminates the annoyance of clicking on and then immediately clicking off in this situation.
Other Types: Some flashlights use a slide or a toggle switch. The latter is usually only found on lantern types of flashlights and will be discussed in that section. Slide switches are found on smaller lights and are OK. However, they rarely come with make-before-lock switch mechanisms. Regardless, some techs prefer these. If you are one and don't care about momentary usage, then select a flashlight with a slide switch. Be sure though, that the sliding action is stiff enough not to come on inside a case should it happen to rub against some other item in that case during transit. This can happen even with a recessed switch.
By the way, some slide switches can be coaxed to make contact before locking, but my experience shows these to have action that is not resistive enough. Thus, lights with these switches can come on during transit and burn out the batteries. )-:
Twist: The twist-on type of switch is not favoured because one must focus the light and defocus it every time it is turned on and off. The nuisance of this becomes evident for those using their lights on a continual basis. It also requires two hands versus the one for a push button. Yes, I realise that the dexterous can twist their lights on with one hand, but it is awkward and wastes time for those instances where just that fast flash of light is required. Plus, the hassle of having to focus the beam every time places this type of light in the "undesirable" category.
Magnetic: Never buy flashlights with magnetic slide switches. The magnet can be handy to stick the light to a steel surface, but in a toolbox, it invariably attaches itself to something and gets switched on during transit. Some are even able to be switched on when magnetically attached to a surface in a vertical position. The weight of the light and its batteries are enough to cause this. Either will result in weak or dead batteries at the next gig. In addition, a magnet that is strong enough to attach and hold the full weight of the light increases its heaviness which is not a wanted attribute on a toolbelt crowded with other items.
Switch Position: Another type to avoid is that which has the push button in the end of the body. This is generally an awkward position, especially for one-handed usage, and this is worse when it's worn on a belt. Again, a dexterous person might use a thumb to manipulate the switch while holding the barrel, but this places the light up to an awkward, overhand position.
Clip: When carrying a flashlight with you, a belt clip is the better method as opposed to employing a holster, or using either the lanyard or pocket clip that some lights already have. Make a belt clip from a snaplink and a keyring. A snaplink is like a chain link but with a spring-retained, thumb-operated mechanism that temporarily opens one side of the link so as to attach it to an eyelet or similar. (These are also known as `snaphooks'.) A keyring is a round ring that is wound around beside itself twice into a coil and the ends are not attached to one another. One can pry it apart to slip a key on. Once the key is captive, the coils spring back together.
Use a small snaplink having a flat-bladed spring clip and having an enclosed end ring. The end of the bladed clip will dig into a belt or pant waist, making slippage and loss be less likely. Use the keyring to attach the light to the snaplink. To do so, remove the light's lanyard and then spiral a small keyring through the remaining hole and then through the snaplink's end ring. Orient these in such a way so that when the light hangs from the belt, its switch is out front and in a place where the thumb can comfortably rest on it. (Rotating the light to find the switch every time is annoying.) It should hang so that the hand falls naturally around the light with the thumb touching the switch. You did buy a light with a thumb-operated switch positioned near the reflector, didn't you? (-:
Holster: Should you prefer a holster, get one that allows a belt to be threaded through it. Keeping it securely on your waist is necessary when crawling around within tight spaces, or if needing to squat down frequently. Make sure it has a cover so your light can't slip out. I recommend a snap closure as opposed to velcro because the latter gets dirty too easily and becomes loose; plus velcro is hard on the skin if you touch it frequently.
An alternative is the arm-band holster. These are liked by techs that have too many items on their waistbands, and/or who work in tight spaces where they can't reach their waists easily. light
What supplies voltage for your flashlight makes a difference.
Different batteries have advantages over others. Not all are
replaceable, meaning the entire unit must be thrown out when
the battery or lamp dies. Within the non-disposable-light group,
some batteries have to be replaced, some can be recharged by
a crank, while others must be taken out for charging, or the entire
unit must be taken from service to be placed into a charger cradle.
Below are discussions of each.
Let's get this out of the way first. Given that this planet's inhabitants really need to recycle things in the 21st century, I can't recommend any throw-away models. Recycling aside, these lights are simply not cost effective anyway; it is cheaper to keep a light and to recharge or replace batteries as they deplete. Please don't buy disposable flashlights.
For non-rechargeable power sources, I recommend replaceable Alkaline (AL-kah-line) or Lithium (LITH-ee-um) cells. Both have an excellent shelf life, a gradual discharge curve (although Lithiums have a sharper voltage drop-off point than Alkalines at the end of their service life), and they offer reasonable cost effectiveness for use. Shelf life is important for batteries stored in road cases. Batteries should be at or near full charge when put into service, even if they've been stored for some time. In particular, Lithiums and Alkalines are excellent for this capability. General Purpose (carbon-zinc) batteries are not.
Alkalines discharge at a slow, even rate. When the light begins to dim, Alkalines provide usable light for a while, although at a lower intensity. However, they are good enough to provide working light, usually through the remainder of the performance, until the light can be taken aside to change batteries.
Even if you use rechargeable batteries, I recommend having at least a few flashlights with Alkalines. Typical shelf life for the latter stored in a cool environment is five years!
Stay away from carbon-zinc cells. Often marketed as "Heavy Duty", they are cheap and attractive. However, carbon-zincs have a short shelf life, don't perform well in hot conditions, and simply don't last long enough in frequent usage.
As mentioned, there are batteries that use another element: Lithium. These can be found in some smaller flashlights meant to be throw-aways. They last a long time but are expensive. Given that many seem to be in non-replaceable flashlights, I have issues with tossing out an entire light just because the batteries have died. Thus, I have never tested Lithium's cost effectiveness in these types of lights. As well, the styles, beam patterns and switch locations have failed to impress me. If someone has found an acceptable one, I am open to changing my mind: AIEL@chebucto.biz, Subject: Flashlights
Replaceable Lithium cells don't require one to toss out an entire light when they die. Various Lithium-cell models are advertised to have double to triple the shelf life of Alkalines, so they are best used for devices that are in storage between gigs. They also allow longer current draw which means that they are replaced less often. One manufacturer is advertising up to ten times longer service life. You will have to juggle their cost effectiveness over the service life as dictated by your work to see if the higher price is justified. Consider though, that if one couples a low-lumen LED flashlight with Lithium cells, the usable life can be extraordinary. (So far, this has been my experience.)
Rechargeables are very convenient in that one need not remember to run to your local supplier to get a cache of batteries before a series of shows or a tour. They are also cost effective, even given the higher initial price of the cells and their charger.
The disadvantage is that rechargeables used for flashlights in storage don't generally hold a full charge for more than a month, or even just a few weeks. That means one must remember to charge batteries before any show occurring more than a few weeks after the previous. A discharged light is not a situation you need to encounter when you require a portable light source after considerable time between shows.
Another disadvantage is that as rechargeables begin to die, at some point they suddenly dip and then fail quickly. This discharge curve is unacceptable when using a flashlight in the middle of a repair or other critical situation during a performance.
Then there is the issue of the charger type. One should have a charger that shuts off once the battery has arrived at full voltage. If it keeps "topping off" the batteries, this can lead to decreased service life. Otherwise, one must monitor the charge and remove batteries when they are full. This is a nuisance one should not have to endure during the flurry of activity that is associated with most shows in this business.
Even considering the disadvantages, I should point out though, that rechargeable battery technology has improved greatly in recent years. I have not tried newer models but have been given favourable reports. Try them for yourself; they should:
- Be replaceable cells -- not entire lights
- Last for a day without needing replacement or a recharge
- Recharge quickly
- Handle many discharge/charge cycles
- Be cost effective
In addition, a type of rechargeable flashlight on the market is the wind-up. If the light dies, one can extend a crank, turn it for a while, and bring the light back to higher brilliance. I don't like these for tech work because I am unwilling, and sometimes unable, to pause for a wind-up session. In addition, the ones I have tried did not give longevity of light, so frequent cranking was necessary. You will have to determine if this type of power source is for you. When considering, be sure to include the preceding criteria regarding the type of light, its switch, and the replaceability of the cells if choosing a wind-up.
Yet another rechargeable type requires that the entire unit be placed into a charger unit. This might be a hinderance if you have no other flashlights available. It is better if you can replace batteries and momentarily be back at work as opposed to waiting for your light to recharge, or having to carry a stock of extra lights. Most of this type require a dedicated charger instead of a more universal charger meant for standard AA, AAA, C and D cells. They can not usually recharge more than one or two flashlights at a time, so one may require two or more chargers. Having to have an extra charger will also be a deterrent for some.
Batteries: When the cells in your flashlight become too weak to provide a suitable beam intensity, it is not always every cell that is weak. Sometimes there remains one or more that are still useful. To determine which to keep, buy a battery tester. Get one with a meter, and one that provides a switch with positions to match the battery types you use. Such a meter will load each cell type in a manner that simulates the typical current drawn when in use. This method is better than just testing each one with a volt meter because this type of meter does not load the cell as it would be when in a flashlight. By not throwing out batteries prematurely, the cost of the tester will be regained.
Please store your tester in a protective case to prevent damage
to the meter's display -- especially if taken on the road.
A use for weak cells is to reduce light output in a flashlight that is too powerful and does not offer a light-reduction setting. Keep a selection of weak cells to use to replace one full-charge cell. Whenever the light becomes too dim, swap it out for a weak cell from your stock. Label each weak cell so you can tell them apart from the others.
Contact Points: If the light become intermittent or fades in and out, it is likely a switch or contact problem. Take the light apart and inspect every contact point. Clean them with emery cloth, or in a pinch, use a pencil eraser or fingernail emery board. Remove any debris left by any of these. Now swab(*) a bit of contact cleaner onto each surface. Put a small amount of cleaner into the switch and work it on & off. Remove excess cleaner and reassemble. Test the light by turning it on, then shaking it, gently tapping it on a hard surface, and switching it on & off. If the light output remains steady, you have solved the problem.
(*) A word on swabs: Please use technical-grade swabs. Personal ones bought in a drug store or department usually leave strands of swab that will interfere with the operation of the light.
Given the abundance of counterfeit goods today, always buy batteries from a reliable source. This usually means an industrial company as opposed to a retail store. That low price may be enticing, but counterfeit cells typically don't last as long, are prone to premature leakage, and generally are not as reliable. Their sale might also be funding terrorist groups, but regardless, counterfeits undermine legitimate manufacturers.
Ways to spot counterfeit products are:
As mentioned earlier, there are also the lantern and fluorescent type of portable lights. These are less suitable for backstage tech work during a show run, although they are useful for repairs because of their increased light levels and long battery life.
The lantern type typically uses a 6-volt power source, has a large reflector, plus a toggle, push-button, or slide switch. There is also the type that disperses light in an omni-directional pattern. As just mentioned, all these are better used for purposes other than during a show because they are typically too bright (some even have sealed-beam, PAR 36 lamps!), and are fairly large and heavy. They are well suited for vehicle repairs at night on the road, though. A big advantage is very long battery life; even carbon-zinc lantern batteries can give a reasonable life due to their size. LED lantern lights are now on the market; they give good light, weigh less, and provide excellent battery life.
The same goes for the fluorescent models. These are usually available from stores selling camping supplies, and often incorporate emergency flashers and reflector spotlights. They are good for back-stage repairs where wide-angle dispersal of light and the increased size and weight are not issues. However, they are not suitable near an audience or performance area where spill would be a problem. As with the lantern types, outside of a venue, fluorescent lights can easily handle the largest of tasks where a portable, general light source is needed.
In 2017, I bought an ultraviolet LED flashlight. It is multi-element which I don't like, but because I got it just as a toy, it is fine. I am quite surprised at the UV output. It brightly shows fluorescent paper well across a dark room. If you have need to fluoresce things, or just want to have fun with a portable blacklight source, I recommend one of these. The cost to me was $10 Canadian.
A Final Comment
To repeat an opening thought: A trend today is for some would-be techs to use their cell phones as gig lights. Not only is this near the bottom of being Uncool, it is really not professional.
It is also very inconvenient. One must take out the phone, thumb past
some screen icons to get to the "Flashlight" setting and then turn it on.
It is awkward to hold in position, spills too much light, and it sucks
battery life. The latter for a busy tech may mean loss of communication
at a critical point.
Buy and Use a Proper Gig Light -- Please!
A professional flashlight aids a tech in
his or her work but does not hinder, annoy
or interfere with co-workers and their tasks.
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