The Ultimate Photographer’s Flashlight

As I find myself under dark skies quite often, I carry not one but two flashlights in my bag. One of them is a Petzl Zipka headlamp, used for close range work, such as setting up the camera or finding something in the bag. But there are several other usage scenarios that a headlamp won’t fit into: navigation while you are getting to a location or walking home, searching, warding off uninvited visitors (be they curious humans or hungry animals), and even light painting.

I used several different sized flashlights with different feature sets during the last decade (I’m using the Zipka for more than a decade and it’s still running off of the original batteries), but more than a year ago I found a light that is quite possibly the ultimate in features and durability.

Enter the Nitecore SRT7

The high-end of the flashlight business in dominated by Chinese companies. But these are not the usual low-quality knock-off products you might associate with China. They are top of the class both in design and in manufacturing (the SRT7 is so simple and elegant that it could even carry an Apple logo).

Nitecore is one of these manufacturers, with some unique features in their lights. First of all, the SRT7 is part of their tactical offerings. Nowadays I tend to gravitate towards tactical and military products because of their durability and well thought out features. Not that I would need pistol magazine stabilizers in my pants’s pockets or uninterrupted light during shotgun recoil for a flashlight… Well, actually those magazine holders are pretty darn useful for holding various items…

The Nitecore SRT7 flashlight

The Nitecore SRT7 flashlight

You can see the light above. It is waterproof, shock proof (I exercise both features regularly) and in all aspects built like a tank. It feels well balanced in my hand, and have enough grip on the surface even when wearing heavy gloves.

Along with a very powerful white LED (960 lumens – easily outshines my car’s headlights), you have three colored LEDs: a red, a green, and a blue one. I was interested in the red one when I bought the lamp, and use it heavily during astrophotography. Never used the blue or the green one. The white LED in on the cool side.

But it’s user interface is why I bought it in the first place. It consists of a switch, a rotating ring and a LED. The switch is on the tail of the lamp, and is used to cut power off completely, so that it won’t drain the battery while sitting in the bag. The red LED starts to flash when the battery is starting to run out of juice. The ring is the centerpiece of the user interface.

It is used to switch between the different modes, as well as to continuously adjust the light’s brightness. The continuous adjustment is smooth, with good perceptual uniformity. Turn the ring to the right to increase brightness. At the end of the scale is a “turbo” mode as well as a stroboscope mode (the latter can be useful in self-defense situations). Turn the ring to the left to access the red, green, blue, police-like red/blue flashing and beacon modes. It’s that simple.

Powering the flashlight

The SRT7 can be powered with two CR123 lithium batteries or with a rechargeable 18650 battery. The latter is a standard industrial battery type with added protection circuitry – and is a quite common flashlight power source among Chinese manufacturers. I bought two Nitecore NL189 3400mAh batteries along with the lamp.

18650 battery in an Xtar WP2 II charger

18650 battery in an Xtar WP2 II charger

I’m using an Xtar WP2 II charger for those, as it can provide 1A charging current (compared to the 0.5A of most other chargers). The 1A current is well within the battery’s specifications, and I don’t like to wait for batteries to charge…

This charger has another neat feature: you can turn it into a power source to charge any USB-connected device (such as emergency recharging your phone). The output is a standard 500mA USB port.

Conclusion

It’s hard to add anything else for a flashlight – it’s just a flashlight. Albeit a good one. Highly recommended.

Leica Monovid 8×20 Review

I have been using a small rubberized 10×25 Canon binocular since I began photographing birds. As part of my ongoing camera bag weight reduction project I wanted something to replace the Canon – something that’s smaller, lighter and optically better.

Why a monocular?

Well, for two reasons, which are the following three: weight, size and because there’s no need for constant diopter adjustment that drives me crazy with most binoculars. I can work much faster with a monocular than with a bino – and speed is important to me because I use these kind of instruments for quick glances. It is a bit trickier to hold monoculars steady, and you need to look through them perfectly on-axis (like a riflescope) to avoid “blacking out”.

Why Leica?

I spent an entire weekend on researching the subject of monoculars. Man, there are tons of cheap monos out there! But they were ruled out pretty fast as I wanted something that’s small, light and has great optics.

5D3_1417_8082

Leica Monovid with the optional neck strap

This left only two choices: Zeiss and Leica. I’m not a huge fan on push-pull focusing used on Zeiss monos, so I bought a Lecia Monovid three months ago. For about $500 it’s definitely not a cheap one, but lives up to my high expectations.

In use

Build quality is first class. The focusing ring is smooth but have enough resistance to allow precise and quick focusing. Unfortunately focusing ring rotation is just the opposite of my Canon lenses (have to turn counter-clockwise to focus closer). You can easily grip both the tube and the focusing ring.

While we are at focusing. My preferred holding method that provides both steady image and easy focusing is the following: hold the Monovid in my left hand, between the tips of my index/middle/ring fingers (above the tube) and thumb (below the tube), and rest my hand on my forehead and nose. And focus with my right hand.

It is waterproof, nitrogen filled to prevent fogging and lenses have dirt and water repellent coating. But you get only an eyepiece cup. I would like to have a front lens cover too (actually it’s not a big deal as it usually hangs from my neck). Well, another missing thing is a neck strap. You receive a hand strap in the package, but I found the neck strap to be invaluable.

Most importantly, it is very good optically. The image is bright and with high contrast. My Canon produces a bit hazy view, and the Leica is much better. Colors are rich and deep. On the negative side, it has pronounced pincushion distortion and slight chromatic aberration towards the edges. All in all, it is a pleasure to look through the Monovid.

Minimum focusing distance is 1.8m – which is more than enough for me. But there’s a close-up lens in the box which reduces the MFD to 25cm. This lens (along with the supplied leather case) usually sits in the drawer. For those interested, the case has a belt loop and you can screw in the close-up lens into the case’s lid.

Conclusion

The Monovid weighs about 1/3 of my former Canon bino, for 3x the price… But it definitely worth the steeper price. It’s compact, lightweight, has superb image quality, and built in a way that lasts generations. Highly recommended.