Head-To-Head Testing: How We Test
Objective testing was done at Wilger Testing Co., an accredited, independent facility in Sarasota, Florida. Lights were tested using an integrating sphere, an industry-standard testing device that measures a light’s total output without regard to beam angle. To gauge the output and burn time of lights, each light was tested twice—once with fully charged/ new batteries, and again after discharging for a continuous 60 minutes. Because dive lights are designed for use in water, many will electronically reduce output after a brief period of burning out of the water to avoid overheating. For this reason, measurements were taken immediately after turning on each light. After the first test, lights were recharged or had batteries replaced, then allowed to burn on full power underwater for an hour, then tested again.
Ergonomic testing was conducted at Devil’s Den in Williston, Florida. Test divers equipped with underwater slates scored each light in the following categories:
Ease of Use Intuitiveness and ease of operation of switches and controls. Ease of selecting various power levels or modes (for example: activating emergency flash)
Comfort/Security of Grip Size, shape of grip; weight, balance and ergonomics; usefulness of lanyard attachments
Beam Size and Shape Usefulness of the beam’s illumination underwater
Light Output Brightness, color, penetration and quality of the light’s beam
Power Levels The ability to regulate the beam’s brightness in useful increments
Power-Level Indicator Usefulness of power-level indicator or warning, if equipped
Overall Suitability Overall usefulness as primary dive light
How We Score
The graphics accompanying each review shows light output (in lumens) with a full battery and after 60 minutes’ discharge. The bar graphs show each light’s score for ease of use and beam shape and size, with scoring as follows:
5 – excellent
4 – very good
3 – good
2 – fair
1 – poor
Rechargeable dive lights usually require travelers to pack charging cradles for their batteries, but some lights in our test provide ways to charge their batteries without packing anything more than a cable. The Sherwood ST2800 has an integrated micro USB port hidden under the tail cap so that users can top off the charge without needing to remove the battery from the light. The Kraken dive lights we tested use a slightly different approach. The specialized batteries in these lights feature special built-in USB-C ports that allow users to plug charging cables directly into the batteries.
Q: What’s the point of having multiple power modes?
A: Bright, powerful lights are great for lighting up dark environments, but can be absolutely blinding when you’re trying to view something at close range, say a dive slate or your SPG. Lights with wide coverage also tend to wash out in silty water, reducing visibility further in murky conditions. Lights with multiple power levels provide maximum versatility, allowing divers to adapt the output to best suit the task at hand and current dive conditions.
The ST1000 literally outshined the competition. It produced the brightest lumen output in its category, and that output was almost 20 percent over the manufacturer’s claims. After burning for an hour, its light output had only decreased by 25 percent and was still the leader of the pack. In the water, test divers were equally impressed by the 12-degree beam, scoring it very good for light output and beam size and shape. “Beam was terrific. Very penetrating with good concentration of light and low glare. Beam angle was spot on,” was how one test diver described it. An intuitive one-button operation easily cycles between 100 percent and 50 percent power, SOS and off. The power levels are distinctive, but testers felt the light could have benefited from another lower-level setting for up-close work. “Hot spot is blinding on slate, even on low,” one test diver noted. The rounded light head is integrated into the handle, which makes it easy to hold and suitable for extended use as a primary light. It scored very good for comfort/security of the grip. Taking the highest score in almost every category and overwhelmingly chosen as a favorite by test divers, the ST1000 is our Testers Choice for compact dive lights.
HOG1000—LUMEN LED RECHARGEABLE LIGHT DL-20
A recessed switch protects this light from accidental activation without interfering with normal operation. The multifunction button is ergonomic and responsive and provides quick, easy access to three power settings and three emergency flash modes. The design is well-balanced, with just enough to hold onto for a very comfortable, supportive grip. “Feels good in the hand and easy to operate switch,” one tester said. Though compact, the light’s wide clublike head could make it harder to stow in a tight pocket. Test divers scored the light very good for light output and beam size and shape. “Beam is perfect shape, brightness” and “good hot spot” were typical tester comments. A favorite among testers, with above-average performance across the board, the DL-20 is our Best Buy for compact dive lights.
This heavy-duty light is depth-rated to 656 feet, and the front of the light is designed to act as a glass breaker in an emergency. Testers scored the handle, which features deep grooves that gently rise in diameter toward either end of the light, very good for comfort/ security of grip. “Nicely weighted and feels surprisingly good in the hand,” one tester said. The rotary switch turns a quarter-turn in either direction (counterclockwise for high and medium, clockwise for SOS and low). Rotating back and forth quickly toggles between secondary modes. The switch is quick and responsive. With practice, it can be operated with a single hand. Test divers scored the beam very good for light output and size and shape. “Terrific beam really pierces the gloom” and “nice penetration with soft hot spot” were typical comments. The S9 was a favorite of test divers.
With practice, this light’s rotating magnetic switch can be operated with just a flick of the thumb. However, it can also easily be activated by accident when stowed in a bag or pocket. Testers scored it very good for ease of operation and described it as “easy to use and intuitive.” Our sample was powered with two single-use CR123 batteries, but also accepts a single rechargeable li-ion 18650. In the water, test divers couldn’t distinguish one power level from another, but did score the beam good for both light output and beam size and shape. “Beam is soft and even,” one tester said. The light features a built-in sliding light shade and comes with a screw in wide-angle diffuser. Though compact, the T-60 is large enough that it can be held comfortably for an extended period for use as a primary light.
Measuring just over an inch in diameter and weighing only 6 ounces, this slim-bodied torch travels easily while providing plenty for test divers to hold on to. It scored very good for comfort/security of grip. The light’s single push-button cycles easily between three distinct-looking power settings. A brief hold is needed to turn on the light and prevents accidental activation. A slightly longer hold provides access to an emergency strobe and SOS flash. “Covers all the basics with a simple operation,” one test diver commented. The diffuse 15-degree beam provides good peripheral vision in clear conditions but tended to wash out in poorer visibility. Testers scored it very good for output and beam shape and size. Compact, with lots of functionality, the NR-1000 was a favorite of multiple test divers.
Measuring just over 41⁄2 inches long with a 1-inch diameter, this teeny tiny light has an integrated clip and is easy to carry on every dive. The simple twist-on/twist-off operation is a two-handed procedure that scored good for ease of operation. The compact plastic body weighs less than 3 ounces and has a built-in thumb rest. “Grip is surprisingly ergonomic,” one test diver said. Output was one of the lowest in the test, but was still 30 percent brighter than expected. (We tested the 250-lumen model, but a new 400-lumen model is available.) In the water, the light didn’t penetrate far, but test divers appreciated its smooth, even beam. “Bright enough for writing and close work,” one tester commented. Compact, economical and easy-to-maintain, the Attitude is powered by four AAA alkaline batteries.
Simple and easy-to-use, the R3’s push switch cycles between two power modes, an emergency flash and off. If left on a single setting, the next push defaults to off. “Very responsive” and “liked the simple operation and ergonomics of the switch” were typical comments. Test divers appreciated the marked difference between its 100 percent and 30 percent settings. “Low is good for close-up, and high for wide,” one tester said. A simple mechanical lock rotates to prevent the switch from moving. The small handle and front-heavy light head feels “just a bit awkward to hold,” as one tester described it. The beam was a bit wider than average, which reduced its ability to penetrate through murky conditions. “So-so visibility” one test diver commented. In the lab, the R3 burned 20 percent brighter than expected.
This tiny torch measures 4.1 inches by 0.8 inches. The narrow beam has a smooth, wide hot spot with a gradual falloff. It scored very good for beam size and shape. Pushing the tail-mounted push switch down halfway will cycle modes, while a full push turns the light on and off. Holding the Dash like a penlight allows for one-handed operation, but testers attempting to hold it like a traditional torch found it awkward to operate. The same was true of the comfort and security of the light’s grip. The light outputs at full and half power and provides a high-speed emergency flash. While not exceptionally bright, the light is super compact and lightweight, and depth-rated to 328 feet, making it easy to carry on every single dive. “Teeny tiny, if that’s what you’re after,” is how one test diver summarized the Dash 2.0.
This small, lightweight torch scored very good for ease of operation. “As simple as it gets” and “couldn’t be easier” were some of the ways test divers described the light’s single push-button operation, which is stiff enough to prevent accidentally turning the light on when stowed. In the lab, lumen output was exactly 50 percent less than expected. Considering that the light has both a full- and half-power setting, it is possible that output was accidentally set to the lower setting during the reading. However, during our in-water dives testers felt that the two light modes looked very similar. Output decreased by only 20 percent after an hour of use. The light is well-balanced, and scored very good for comfort and security of grip. With the addition of an emergency strobe, it would make for a handy backup light.
Earning the highest score for ease of use, the CX2’s simple push switch allows users to quickly access power modes, an emergency strobe and off. “Switch has a precise easy-press feel,” one tester commented. “Push-button comfortable for multiple presses,” another tester said. The light’s 8-degree beam scored excellent for light output and easily penetrates through the dark. “Cuts clear across the den even in the worst viz ever,” one diver commented. The large handle provides plenty of grip, but the light can also be attached to a hand mount. The four distinctive power levels are versatile. Test divers praised the light’s ability to “light up the whole cavern” while also appreciating its lower power levels, which allow users to see up close without blinding themselves. A favorite among test divers, with outstanding performance, the CX2 is our Testers Choice.
HOG—1600 LUMEN SUPER BRIGHT LED DL-35
Solidly constructed and simple to use, this torch covers all the basics. Its multifunction switch quickly steps through three power settings and provides access to three emergency strobe functions. It scored very good for ease of operation. Test divers liked the variability between brightness levels. “Good adjustment” was typical of tester comments. In the lab, the light measured right at its claimed output. Due to technical issues, we weren’t able to take a second reading. In the water, test divers appreciated the light’s wide, even output. “Very wide. Good for seeing everything nearby,” one tester said. The broad beam hurt the light’s ability to penetrate silty water but has decent reach in normal conditions. The long aluminum handle can be a bit heavy for smaller divers. It scored good for comfort/security of grip.
This light uses a rotating switch similar to its smaller S9 counterpart, but also includes a switch lock, which requires the user to push the switch toward the light head while simultaneously rotating the switch to change modes. This prevents accidental activation, but also makes it trickier—although not impossible—to operate with one hand. It scored good for ease of operation. In the lab, the output was within 20 percent of the manufacturer’s claims. In the water, testers really liked the light’s narrow spot beam. “Powerful and bright with good penetration,” one test diver observed. “Beam is nice shape and light has good quality and color,” another tester said. The light is made of durable anodized aluminum and depth-rated to 660 feet. The S15 earned good performance scores across the board.
By twisting the light head of the NR-1500z, divers can quickly and easily adjust the beam angle anywhere between 10 and 45 degrees. “Love that you can modify the beam on the fly and adjust coverage as conditions change,” one tester said. The big light head is counterbalanced by a long handle, which helped the light score very good for comfort/security of grip. The simple multifunction button cycles between three power settings and three hidden emergency strobes. Test divers praised the quality of the light. “Great color and penetration,” one tester said. Illumination is smooth and even throughout, with no discernible hot spot in either spot or wide-angle. Falloff is minimal and very gradual. Versatile, with an easy operation and a comfortable grip, the NR-1500z was a favorite among test divers.
LIGHT & MOTION—SOLA DIVE PRO 2000
Set up on the included mount, this light is a powerful, user-friendly option for hands-free illumination. Lightweight and easy to adjust, the light scored very good for comfort/security of grip. “Really well balanced. Almost weightless in the water,” one tester noted. The spring-loaded switch easily steps through three power levels and an SOS flash. Three colored LEDs indicate the current setting and battery life. A digital lock can inhibit activation for travel. This light had one of the highest outputs in its category. However, the power-hungry light would only run at a reduced output after 60 minutes. Testers loved the light’s bright, penetrating beam. “Spot is thick and powerful, like an underwater search-light,” one test diver said. With good scores across the board, this light was a favorite of test divers.
At 61⁄8 inches, the D710 just made it into our “full-size” category. In reality, its size is equally suitable for use as either a primary or secondary light. It scored very good for comfort/security of grip. “Easy to hold and operate,” one tester said. The torch has three power levels, with no emergency flash. Holding the button down activates a high-intensity 3,000-lumen mode until the button is depressed. The light also features a digital activation lock. The switch includes a colored battery-indicator light, but it can be hard to see in ambient light. In the lab we found that the D710 was within 15 percent of the manufacturer’s stated output, but it was reduced significantly after an hour. Divers liked the narrow, piercing beam. “Simple, powerful light with tight beam and pretty good power,” one diver said.
PRINCETON TEC—TORRENT 500
With only a single brightness powered by eight AA batteries, this light’s operation is very easy to grasp, just flip the switch on or off. There are no emergency functions. A small lock integrated into the switch prevents unintentional activation. Testers scored the light very good for comfort/security of grip, but some found the large, rounded handle a little too big. “Kind of fat in my hand,” one tester said. The beam features a tight hot spot and illuminates peripheral vision with a wide, even falloff. “Doesn’t throw as far, but good,” one test diver noted. The light came within 17 percent of its claimed output and even burned slightly brighter after 60 minutes of use. “Not enough power to serve as a primary, but size and lock make it a possible backup,” one tester said. Available in black and high-viz yellow.
SCUBAPRO—NOVA 850 TEC
This durable, heavy-duty torch is depth-rated to 1,000 feet. The light’s twist-on/twist-off operation couldn’t be more straightforward. “Stupid simple,” one test diver said. The long metal body is well-balanced and provides plenty of grip for large gloved hands. It scored very good for comfort/security of grip. “Sits nicely in hand” and “hard but good shape,” were some ways divers described it. An octagonal ring on the tail-end of the light prevents it from rolling away when set down on a smooth surface. The light is powered by three C-cell batteries. In the lab, output was right at the 850 mark, but was significantly dimmer after an hour. The beam is wide but has a brilliant, penetrating hot spot. The Nova scored very good for light output, but where it really shines is its foolproof simplicity and rugged reliability.
This light had the brightest output in our test. It was so bright that even after running for an hour, it still outclassed all but one light’s fully charged output. “Like the sun,” was how one test diver described its brilliant, blinding beam. The bright and wide beam has a soft but noticeable hot spot and a wide falloff. It scored very good for both beam size and shape, and light output. However, divers noted that the powerful beam quickly washes out visibility in silty water. The heavy, beefy grip can be a handful over a long dive. It scored good for comfort/security of grip. A rubberized ring on the light head prevents the light from rolling when set down between dives. Two power settings—both of which are blindingly bright—and an emergency strobe are accessed by a lockable sliding push button.
SEALIFE—SEA DRAGON MINI 1300S
A favorite of test divers, this light’s size and shape make it suitable for both primary and secondary use. Its textured handle took top score for comfort/security of grip. Users have access to three power levels and two emergency flashes. Testers felt the three levels were distinct and useful. The light scored very good for power levels. In the lab, output was within 20 percent of the manufacturer’s claim. The beam has a powerful hot spot and a gradual falloff. Testers scored it good for light output. “Nice narrow spot cuts through the murk with just enough peripheral vision,” one test diver commented. “Perfect size and shape,” another said. Offering solid all-around performance with a good balance between ergonomics, power and price, the Sea Dragon Mini 1300s is our Best Buy for full-size dive lights.
Outputting the second-brightest beam in our test, the ST2800 is incredibly bright and powerful, even after an hour’s use. The 12-degree beam has a bold hot spot and a wide, even falloff. Test divers scored it very good for light output and good for beam size and shape. The wide, powerful beam penetrated well into dark, clear water, but less so in silty water. The single push-button is simple and responsive, and scored very good for ease of use. Test divers felt the bright light could have used some additional low-power modes beyond 100 percent and 50 percent power and emergency SOS strobe. The big, balanced aluminum body is 11⁄2 inches in diameter and scored very good for comfort/security of grip. “Very capable dive light with decent power and simple operation,” is how one tester summarized the ST2800.
TEKTITE INDUSTRIES—EXPEDITION STAR 500 LUMEN FLASHLIGHT
This light’s long handle holds three C-cell batteries and features lots of texturing for an easy, secure grip. “Good grip” and “great feel in hand” were some of the ways testers described it. The twist-on/twist-off operation scored very good for ease of use. A rubberized coating on the light head makes for an easy grip when twisting, especially for divers wearing gloves. An octagonal ring behind the light head prevents the torch from rolling when set down. In the lab, light output was just below the manufacturer’s claims and only dimmed by 35 percent after an hour of use. Divers felt the beam was a bit too broad and diffuse compared to the other lights—fortunately for divers looking for a piercing spot beam, this light can also be ordered with a 240-lumen 6-degree beam. The light is depth-rated to 500 feet.
This light’s sliding push switch incorporates a small mechanical lock to prevent accidental activation. The ABS-plastic grip is slightly beveled, which makes for a surprisingly comfortable shape. It scored very good for comfort/security of grip. Light output was slightly below expected, and the light actually burned brighter after running for an hour. In the water, testers liked the size and shape of the light’s beam. “Piercing narrow spot is concentrated and bright with just enough peripheral vision,” is how one tester described it. Powered by three AA batteries, the light has a stated run time of 3.2 hours on high. Test divers really appreciated the variation between the light’s two power modes, although there is no emergency strobe. Comfortable, capable and affordable, the Coralite is a great option for divers looking for a budget- and user-friendly dive light.