Are LED flashlight years like dog years?

Elderly Arc-AAA

This is the Arc-AAA LED flashlight I reviewed back in 2001. It's been in my pocket pretty much constantly since then, which is why it's now more silver than black. I suppose it now qualifies as a "vintage" LED flashlight.

(I've still got the Arc-AAA Limited Edition somewhere, too. I hardly used that one at all - it might be worth something to some nut enthusiast on eBay. The Arc-LS still works A-OK, too, though its rubber switch-boot perished some time ago. It's happy as a clam with a rechargeable CR123 cells, just like the Mr Bulk LionCub that came out when "RCR123s" were still a bit exotic.)

There's nothing to break in an Arc-AAA. The only maintenance it needs is an occasional dab of fresh solder on the contact on the back of the lamp assembly. Its on/off "switch" is of the simple turn-the-lamp-head type; you might think that the screw threads might wear out, on a flashlight like this one that's made of aluminium. But it still seems fine to me. (I've cleaned and oiled the threads pretty often, to keep abrasive crud off the threads; an unmaintained Arc-AAA would probably be pretty dodgy by now.)

The LED itself should just very slowly dim as its hours of use mount up. Extremely slowly, actually, for an LED like this that isn't on for more than a few minutes a day, and isn't even driven particularly hard except when the battery's brand new.

So my Arc may still work when it's as old as my genuinely elderly flashlight.

In the years since I reviewed the Arc-AAA, Arc Flashlight went broke and were, a while later, reborn under new management. They now sell an updated Arc-AAA, plus an excitingly expensive light called the Arc6.

The current Arc-AAA is probably quite a lot brighter than my old one, with the same or better battery life. White-LED lumens-per-watt have improved very fast over the last ten years. I bet you don't even need a soldering iron to keep the lamp contact shiny any more.

You no longer have to buy an Arc or a Peak if you want a single-AAA-cell LED flashlight, either. There are umpteen other on- and off-brand options in the 1xAAA size. A lot of them have a "one watt" super-LED instead of a 0.1-watt-ish 5mm unit, too. A one-watter in a 1xAAA light will probably be running at a fraction of its rated power, or else it'll frighten the battery to death in no time. But single-AAA "one watt" lights will probably still give you a lot more light than even a modern 5mm LED is likely to manage.

But I still like my old Arc.

27 Responses to “Are LED flashlight years like dog years?”

  1. Changes Says:

    As one of the nuts enthusiasts you mention, I feel it's my duty to mention the Fenix E01, basically an Arc-AAA without the horrendous price tag (horrendous, that is, to the more sane of us; CPF is full of people who routinely spend $500 or more in lights that, amazingly enough, do not have HID lamps in them).
    The LED is a Nichia GS, the most efficient 5mm LED you can buy today, and isn't driven very hard - the regulated converter draws about 80mA from a fresh cell. This is in contrast to the updated Arc-AAA, which drives the LED for all it's worth, whipping the AAA to death much faster.
    IMO, the E01's approach makes a lot more sense - 5mm LEDs are good for efficiency, not output; if you want that, you want a high-flux LED... which is likely to be, as you say, drastically underdriven. So you might as well go for a 1xAA light instead; they aren't THAT bigger, and if they can take LiIon 14500 cells they can actually drive the emitter close to spec.

    I'm currently writing a comparative review of the E01 and two no-brand 1xAAA small-LED cheapies. I should have it ready, oh, hopefully before the coming of the next ice age.

    By the way, allow me to ask: why didn't you use the Premium version of the Arc-AAA instead of your current one? It's bound to be more efficient.

  2. Microfrost Says:

    I have an old Arc-AAA that's as battle scarred as yours, as well as an updated one I got in November 2007. The brightness of the newer LED is startling compared to the old; I think the moon mode on the updated Arc is about as bright as the sun mode on the old one. On the other hand, I've had to clean/resolder the contact on the updated Arc much more often. I recently added a drop of bulb grease to the contact, and that seems to have helped.

  3. Elkabong Says:

    Just to let you know, I have an original Arc "AA" model. I haven't done a lick of maintenance to it besides change the battery. Attached to my key chain, it's not quite as worn as yours, but it works like new.

  4. alastair Says:

    OMG, you've stolen my photo!!!1!!one!eleven!!!

    Oh wait, no you didn't. But they are spookily similar.

    Anyway, much lovin' for the Arc-AAA. As you can read from my post, the service is excellent too. Other keyring lights may be cheaper, but this is by far the best.

  5. Microfrost Says:

    I forgot that I got the Premium Edition this time. That certainly explains the brightness increase.

  6. Changes Says:

    Huh, after talking about the E01's price I should have probably actually said how much it costs. $15 shipped worldwide, from (to whom I'm not affiliated).

  7. Noodles Says:

    I thought my Arc-AAA Premium would last forever, but unfortunately it was recently destroyed by a Duracell battery that "structurally failed" while inside the flashlight; it caused a nice "explosive decompression" of the top of the Arc-AAA (sent it shooting across the room)! I luckily had my older standard Arc-AAA as a backup.

    It wasn't all bad news though. After examining the situation, Duracell Australia/P&G are reimbursing me for the cost of a new Arc-AAA at today's exchange rate (which is only slightly worse than it was years ago when I purchased the Arc-AAA Premium). Since the Premium is out of stock I ordered the Premium w/GS LED, so it'll be interesting to see the difference when it arrives! *patiently waits*

  8. Red October Says:

    I'm not sure, but I guess LED flashlights will eventually become greatly collectible since unlike even the oldest flashlights of the last centuries, once their lightsource fails they will mostly become useless. I have several flashlights from my grandparents (including the Ray-O-Vac "Sportsman" model that is always hitting the ground in old horror flicks, another Ray-O-Vac that's about a metre in length and as bright as a car headlamp, and a couple oddballs certified for explosive environments) that all can be used today. Fitting them with mag-lite bulbs in fact makes them quite excellent. Since the LED itself will take many thousands of hours to become useless, however, I suspect that it may be our children who see our everyday torches become collectibles. I wonder if they'll have trouble finding CR123 batteries?

  9. Itsacon Says:

    And there I am with my old-fashioned Mag Solitaire with a tungsten bulb in my sleeve pocket...

    Are there LED upgrades available yet for that old workhorse?

  10. OrgAdam Says:

    Long time listener, first time caller.

    @ ltsacon: Agreed! I'd love to know where I can upgrade my Mag to v. 2.0.

  11. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Yes, you can get drop-in LED upgrades for Mag Solitaires. The early ones weren't very elegant, but now you can get versions for around $US25 delivered that just sit in the middle of the standard reflector.

    This eBay seller has them (this isn't a particular recommendation - it's just the first vendor I found).

  12. Itsacon Says:

    Interesting. How's the light-output? Or haven't you tried one?

  13. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Nope, never touched one. They're a pretty mature product now, though, so I bet they're much better than the stock Solitaire globe.

    I'm quite confident in this prediction, because the stock Solitaire globe is really quite miserable. There's the usual low-battery low-light problem, where half-voltage may mean roughly quarter-power, but you get much less than quarter-visible-light, because there's even more useless infra-red now. But the real problem with these tiny bulbs is that the physics of incandescent bulbs just doesn't work well at those scales, especially when you've only got 1.5 volts to play with.

    The 3V Mini-Mag grain-of-wheat bulb was a great achievement (for an affordable mass-market product) in its day, but it just couldn't be scaled down even further and still work right.

    I'd be very confident about buying one of the current Solitaire drop-ins, sight unseen, for $US25.

    (If Itsacon or OrgAdam buy a LED lamp and conclude that it actually sucks, I hereby pledge to buy it from either or both of them, but only for $US5 plus postage. :-)

  14. Itsacon Says:

    I've got a better idea.
    Just bought one for myself, and since I was logged in on Paypal anyway, I dropped you 20 euros (price I paid including shipping). Now go buy one and write up a (small) review.

  15. FuzzyPlushroom Says:

    I gotta say, I can't really justify $25 to upgrade my Solitaire. Maybe someday, 'cause I could use a smaller keychain light than the three-AAA no-brand LED cheapo (albeit aluminum) one I have now...

  16. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Your wish is my command, Itsacon. I've bought one of the lamps, and was also pleased that I was actually able to find my old Solitaire :-).

    I've never actually measured the brightness of the stock Solitaire. I wonder if it'll be able to beat the old CMG Infinity?

  17. Changes Says:

    Fuzzy: indeed, spending €20 for the LED mod when you can get a whole flashlight for considerably less seems a bit daft, though I guess I can understand why someone who's grown affectionate to the thing would want to upgrade it even if it's not the best option there is.

    If I were in the position of wanting to LED-ify a Mag Solitaire I'd hack a LED in myself, either using a Joule Thief-type circuit (if there's enough space for it in the light) or a 10440 LiIon cell and a resistor.

  18. Itsacon Says:

    @Fuzzy/Changes: One thing the Solitaire offers over several other brands is being waterproof. The ARC for example, having an open front, won't think to kindly about being submerged, I imagine, while I've regularily dropped several of my Maglites in water.

    @Dan: Glad to hear it. If only because, at the very least, that'll mean there will finally be a proper image of this drop-in actually mounted in a Solitaire (with the front cap still removed). I've unleashed a lot of Googling on the matter, but I can't find any picture like that online, even though the drop-in is obviously a bit bigger than the standard bulb.

  19. Itsacon Says:

    One more question:

    Is the Arc-AAA turned on by loosening or by tightening the head? One thing I always liked about the Solitaire is that it is turned OFF by tightening it. Since the ground state of the light for me is off, I like the fact I can screw both ends on as tight as possible to avoid it falling apart while in my pocket.

    (One reason the Petzl E-lite" was a disappointment. First time I really needed it, the battery door fell apart when I pulled it out of the container, leaving me to hold the lamp body while I heard the two small lithium cells roll away in the pitch dark room...)

    I'm beginning to sound a lot like a Maglite fanboy here, which is not my intention. They're good devices, but ridiculously expensive here in Europe. I bought both of mine (4D and Solitaire, 4D already has had the LED treatment) before I found out about Ebay and other offerings.
    Mags are certainly not worse than what you can get online, but much less value for money. But since I have them, they work perfectly and they last forever, I might as well use them.

  20. Microfrost Says:

    @Itsacon: The Arc-AAA is waterproof to 100 feet. The head seems completely potted in epoxy save for the contact and threads, and has an o-ring like a Maglite. See this (old) review for a picture with the head removed from the body.

  21. Itsacon Says:

    ...and so we live and learn.

    As I said, Mag is not necessarily better than the `internet options'... (but luckily not worse either).

  22. Changes Says:

    Itsacon: the Fenix E01 is waterproof as well. ;)

    Oh yes, one reason to prefer the Mag mod might be that SMJLED-based upgrade kits are available. SMJLEDs use a multi-die design that allows them to be driven at a hundred milliamps or so, making them rather brighter than single-5mm-LED lights (or much more efficient if driven at lower currents, as happens in the Solitaire).
    The SMJLED plugin is also rather cheaper than many less performing alternatives (especially if you use a CPF coupon code), even including international shipping.

  23. OrgAdam Says:

    Congratulations! You have won:
    SOLITAIRE MAGLITE LED UPGRADE BULB SOLITAIRE LED BULB c 250360905536's like getting approved when you buy a slab of beer on your credit card - the warm, fuzzy sense of achievement is overwhelming as all and sundry acknowledge that your signature matches the back of the card.

    I was driving through Katoomba today Dan, but clearly am not yet packing MagLite Solitaire heat. I will conduct a full review of said LED and report back in short order.

    OrgAdam out.

  24. OrgAdam Says:

    Well, it arrived quite promptly in the post.

    I must say that it's a massive improvement over the stock bulb. I can't measure lumens, so that full review won't be happening...

    The bulb doesn't change out quite like the standard bulbs. It has a small metal plate that, once installed, makes the MagLite head stick out a couple of millimetres. It also serves as a switch, as opposed to the stock unit relying on the turning head... poor explainantion I know.

    Slightly annoying to have the torch longer in length than I'm used to, but the benefits are worth the $30.

  25. Chewy Says:

    I totally agree. I was skeptical to get my first just beause of the size increase, but I am so glad I did. I love how they are coming down in price too. The step up in cost is far from what they used to be.


  26. Itsacon Says:

    In the original configuration, the rear of the reflector serves as the switch. That's why the Solitaire is turned on by LOOSENING the head.

    I Dremelled of a bit of my reflector to get the flashlight back to its original size... :-)

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