Best Flashlights for Light Painting Photography 2021
Updated: Feb 18
The 2022 edition has now been published >> click here
This is the late 2021 update to the Flashlight Buying Guide for Light Painting and Night Photography. This is an updated version of my original article published on Light Painting Blog which has been running since 2017. Flashlight/torch ratings are based on feedback from light painters, flashlight enthusiast reviews, and my own testing. As a few light painting companies now produce flashlights that rival companies don't want you to know about, as well as some light painters re-selling commercial grade flashlights, there is a lot of poor or obfuscating advice on flashlights for light painting. This buying guide is the most trusted source of information on flashlights for light painters, and feedback is always welcome.
Each light’s description includes the maximum brightness in lumens (lm), battery type, and typical retail price in US$ (excluding tax and and shipping). Lumens for multi-colour/colour fading lights have not been quoted as colour lumen ratings are not directly comparable to white light lumens. Please be aware that most flashlights step-down from their maximum brightness after a few minutes, or in some cases, in 30 seconds or less!
This article contains some affiliate and non-affiliate product links. Commission made through purchases via affiliate links allows me to test more flashlights for the benefit of the light painting community. You are not obliged to use affiliate links, and in some markets, import and tax duties may mean that these prices may not necessarily be the best available. These links have no influence of product ratings.
1. Best Flashlights for Light Painting Systems
This section is for flashlights / torches that are suitable for use with various light painting systems to create light trails and light drawings. Each light is described in one of four categories, followed by a matrix showing which featured lights are compatible with each of the following light painting systems:
Light Painting Brushes (Universal Connector).
Light Painting Paradise.
Light Painting Tubes.
T8 Tubes (North American sized).
I've also added flashlight head diameter information to the matrix for light painters who like to make their own tools or connectors, or for any other light painting systems I may have missed. Light painting systems that are only compatible with one light source, or vice-versa, are out of scope of this article as they don't need a buying guide! LED Pixel Sticks, Scanners, Light Pens, and Calligraphy Lights are also out of scope.
Commercial grade flashlight designs are progressing away from being useful for light painting. However, there are still a handful of commercial flashlights that have good features for light painting, and an increasing number of lights designed specifically for light painters. Lights recommended in this section have one or more of the following useful features - accessible switches, constant frequency strobe, last mode memory, momentary switch, and well spaced brightness levels. See each description for more detail. Most of these lights use Li-ion instead of AA/AAA batteries, as they are more powerful and better value for money.
Best Flashlight for Strobes >> Light Painting Paradise LightPainter – Ryu’s Lightworks (1,200lm, 18650, $125)
This versatile light was designed specifically for light painters, with very positive feedback from users, and is my personal favourite flashlight for creating light trails. Tail switch for on/off/momentary. Side switch for changing modes. Four strobe modes - Strobe with 50% on/off (adjustable 4.5Hz-50Hz), Flash with "motion freezing" 5ms on time (adjustable 9-66Hz), Ribbon Flash (adjustable 6Hz-66Hz), and Trigger Mode with one 5ms flashlight per side switch press. Adjustable strobe brightness from 50lm to 1200lm, mode memory, momentary switch, and no brightness step-down. Battery and charger included. (Disclaimer: I am a product ambassador for Light Painting Paradise, however the prototype Ryuslightworks V2 was my favourite flashlight before I had any involvement with the company). Product link - 10% off with code "Stephen Knight".
Light Excursion Strobe Master (1,200lm, 18650, $150) – designed by Light Excursion for light painters. Two strobe modes (5m or 15ms on time). Adjustable strobe frequency and strobe brightness. Momentary switch. Excellent heat handling, internal charging, plus an auxiliary jack. Best used with an unprotected 3500mAh 18650 battery. Product link.
Noctigon KR1 (2,200lm, 18650, $50) - the SST-40 6500k version is my favourite flashlight for when I need lots of light in a light painting tool, outclassing the Klarus XT11GT and XT2CR. Tail switch light with the complex Anduril user interface. Multiple effects modes include the super bright (1,900lm) tactical strobe with 33% on-time (adjustable 2.3Hz-80Hz), and not so bright "motion freezing" party strobe with 1.3ms on time (adjustable 3.5Hz-90Hz). Momentary can be enabled for any mode setting - but you have to hold the switch down for strobes. Can produce very bright "fairy dust". Excellent heat handling. Too large for T8 tubes. Best used with a high current unprotected 18650 battery. Product link.
Lumintop (TLF/BLF) FW1A (1,200lm, 18650, $60) – the XP-L HI 6500k version is the most optimal of Lumintop's extensive FW series of flashlights for light painting due to having a tail switch, single emitter, and fits most light painting systems. Sadly, the latest version has declined in quality with a de-focused reflector, and firmware not matching the new FET+1 driver. Tail switch with the complex Anduril user interface. Multiple effects modes include the bright tactical strobe (750lm) with 33% on-time (adjustable 2.5Hz-110Hz), and not so bright "motion freezing" party strobe with 1.3ms on time (adjustable 3.5Hz-90Hz) which I use to create "fairy dust effects. Momentary can be enabled for any mode setting - but you have to hold the switch down for strobes. Heat handling is poor, so it steps down after just 25 seconds on Turbo. Best used with an unprotected 3500mAh 18650 battery. Product link (affiliate).
Lumintop FW1A Pro (3,500lm, 18650, $50) - Similar to the FW1A above, but with a larger XHP50.2 LED that produces more maximum lumens (for about 25 seconds), but with lower peak beam intensity. Strobe performance is similar to the FW1A. Best used with a high current unprotected 18650 battery. Product link (affiliate).
Lumintop FW3X (2,800lm, 18650, $80) - an evolution of the FW3A with the Lume1 driver, Anduril user interface. With triple emitters it is more suitable for T8 tubes than other light painting systems. Multiple effects modes include the bright tactical strobe (1,000lm) with 33% on-time (adjustable 2.5Hz-110Hz), and not so bright "motion freezing" party strobe with 4ms on time (adjustable 3.5Hz-90Hz). Momentary can be enabled for any mode setting - but you have to hold the switch down for strobes. Best used with an unprotected 3500mAh 18650 battery. Beware, the light has no battery reverse polarity detection! Product link (affiliate).
Best RGB Colour Changing Flashlight >> Antsonamelon RGB Critter (18650, $120) – Colour changing light with large selection of colours, fades, strobes, and brightness levels controlled by 3 on-board buttons. Can save custom settings. Native tool attachments available, firmware updates, and reasonable price. Limited lifetime warranty. Good feedback from testers, and now expected to ship in early-2022. 18650 battery included. USB charging. Product Link.
Light Excursion Deluxe (18650 or 21700, $150) - Very popular handmade colour changing light. Colour fade, pulse, and flash modes controlled by an RF remote. On-board momentary switch, and 3 rotary dimmers for RGB channels. Very pretty beam patterns with the LE version. Best used with an unprotected 3500mAh 18650 battery, or included 21700 (North America only). Internal charging. Product Link.
Threeworlds Concentrate C5 (AAA, $30) - fantastic programmable effects modes, cheap, uses a single AAA battery, but not very bright. Needs DIY padding to fit in light painting connectors, though can be purchased with a compatible Fusion glow staff. Product Link.
Ignis Shop Color LED Torch (internal, $149) - similar range of effects as the Light Excursion Deluxe controlled by a RF remote, but with a simple on/off switch. Internal battery and charging.
Best Commercial Grade Flashlight >> Nitecore P10v2 (1,100lm, 18650, $55)
Successor to the Nitecore P10GT, this is my favourite "consumer grade" light for light painting. This dual tail switch light that makes it easy to switch between turbo and 19Hz strobe modes on the fly in "Tactical" mode. "Daily" mode has last mode memory and momentary functionality for all 3 brightness settings. Can be used with the Nitecore RSW2 remote pressure switch. 3 minutes until brightness step-down. Noticeable Pulse Width Modulation (PWM). Requires button top protected 18650 batteries if not included. May be discontinued soon.
Klarus XT11GT Pro (2,200lm, 18650, $95) – latest version of the XT11 series compatible with the Liteblades KYO system. Dual tail switches for instant access to Turbo or Strobe. No side switch on this version. Optional Klarus TRC1 remote pressure switch. Strobes are alternating frequency unless the strobe switch is held down, and there is no direct access to Mid or High Modes. Only manages 2,200lm for a few seconds, and drops from 1,700lm to 750lm after 30 seconds. Battery included. USB charging. I prefer the older XT11GT (2,000lm, 18650*) and XT11S (1,100lm, 18650*).
Klarus XT2CR Pro (2,200lm, 18650, $75) – "update" to the Klarus XT2CR, which was my "go to" flashlight if I required lots of light in a light painting tool, until the Noctigon KR1 came along. It is basically the XT11GT Pro (above) with a smaller head. Battery included. USB charging.
Olight Warrior 3 (2,300lm, 21700, $120) - two stage tail switch allows for momentary for turbo and 10Hz strobe, or turbo and medium modes. There is a side switch too. Optional remote pressure switch. 60 seconds until brightness step-down to 800lm. Uses an Olight proprietary 18650 battery. Magnetic charging. After Olight ruined the Warrior Mini 2 and Seeker Pro 2 with a brightness limiting proximity sensor that could activate in light painting connectors, the Warrior 3 is proximity sensor free - yay!
Olight Warrior Mini (1,500lm, 18650, $80) - two stage tail switch allows for momentary for turbo and 10Hz strobe, or turbo and medium modes. Optional remote pressure switch. 90 seconds until brightness step-down to 550lm. Uses an Olight proprietary 18650 battery. Magnetic charging. May be discontinued soon. Avoid the Warrior Mini 2 and its annoying proximity sensor. Product link (affiliate). .
Nextorch P80 (1,300lm, 18650, $59) - recommended for the Lumenman system. Dual side switch with instant access to either momentary high, medium, or constant frequency strobe. No mode memory. Battery should be included. USB charging.
Acebeam Defender P15 (1,700lm, 18650, $115) - the optional one-touch strobe switch and/or remote pressure switch allows for direct control of 1,200lm constant frequency strobe or 1,700lm turbo mode. Last mode memory for 45lm, 200lm, and 600lm continuous modes. Proprietary 18650 battery included, with USB charging. Product link (affiliate).
Best Budget Flashlight >> Sofirn SP31 V2.0 (1,200lm, 18650, $25) – I generally no longer recommend flashlights for use with light painting tools if you cannot directly access strobe from off (which sadly seems to be the majority of new flashlights produced in the last few years). However, this budget light is fantastic for creating continuous (non-strobe) light trails. Five well spaced brightness levels. Mode memory and momentary on all continuous modes. Unfortunately the strobe is alternating frequency and not memorised. XP-L HI version is most recommended. Battery and charger are optional, or use an unprotected 3500mAh 18650 battery. Product Link.
Convoy S2+ (700-1,000lm, 18650, $13-$20) – very popular budget light, with a confusing range of options. The Clear S2+ XP-L HI (V2 1A, 8*7135) includes a side clip for T8 tubes, has a 10Hz strobe, but the last mode memory will only memorise the setting if the light is on for more than 3 seconds. The CSLNM1 emitter options, with 12 Group user interface are a great choice for lightsaber like tools, have last mode memory, but the strobe is alternating frequency. These are available with White, Red, Green, Blue, and Orange-Yellow emitters. Best used with unprotected 3500mAh 18650 batteries. Other S series options incl. with batteries.
KDLITKER E6 w/Triple Cree XP-E2 (280lm, 18650, $25) – cheap and relatively bright P60 based light where you can choose 3 emitter options, built to order, from Red, Blue, Royal Blue, Green, Amber, Warm White, Neutral White, or Cool White. 3 second mode memory timer can be annoying. Good choice for lightsaber like tools. Best used with protected or unprotected 3500mAh 18650 batteries. Product Link.
Folomov 18650S (900lm, 18650, $28) – quirky budget light that includes a USB rechargeable battery, and can move between 7Hz strobe and continuous "on the fly", or momentary operation using the tail switch. Gets hot very quickly.
On The Road M9 (1,100lm, 18650, $28) - there are quite a few flashlights available with constant frequency strobe, but with no direct access to the strobe from off (including the Wowtac A1S, Soonfire MX66, and Magicshine MTL30). The On The Road M9 is the best and cheapest of this bunch, with an accessible tail switch user interface, and mode memory for all constant modes. Strobe is accessed by a double click from on, and it is possible to switch between strobe and memorised mode "on the fly". Battery included, with USB charging. Product link (affiliate).
Light Painting System Compatibility Matrix
2. Best flashlights for illumination
This section recommends the best flashlights for illuminating scenes instead of being connected to light painting tools, relevant to urbex, night landscape, and low level landscape lighting genres of photography. "The Art of Illumination" article explains these techniques in more detail. There has never been a better time for flashlights for illumination purposes, with a huge range of suitable lights - far more than what I can fit in this article! I'm expecting even better lights to be released in 2022. These "best in class" lights have one or more useful features including compatible diffusers, tripod mounting options, high colour rendering (90CRI+) emitters, different colour temperature options, and decent sustained brightness. Sustained brightness is the tested brightness (based on flashlight enthusiast reviews) after 10 minutes of continuous use.
Best Compact Flashlights for Illumination >> Convoy S2+ (600-1,000lm, 18650, $13-$20)
Lots of emitter options from warm to cool white, high-CRI, 4 colours, even UV and IR. My pick for white light, are the floody 90CRI LH351D versions (12 Group user interface) which are bright enough to illuminate a castle, and available from 2700k to 5700k. The Nichia 219B 4500k version produces a beautiful rosy beam. The throwy CSLNM1 red, green, blue, and orange-yellow options are also very useful for coloured illumination. The UV version is also one of the best UV lights available, though I personally find that blue lights actually work better with UV reactive body paint and clothing. The S2+ can typically sustain 50% of max brightness. Compatible 24.5mm diffuser, and fits U-shaped tripod mounts. Best used with unprotected 3500mAh 18650 battery. Other S series options incl. with batteries.
Emisar DT8 (1,800lm-6,700lm, 18650, $79-$99) - best 18650 "pocket rocket" light that can outperform many larger lights in terms of brightness, but with a resulting short runtime. Excellent range of LED emitter options including high-CRI, and a large range of colour temperatures. Complex Anduril 2 user interface. My picks are the 70CRI XP-L HI 6500k for max output (6,700lm max, 1,000lm sustained), "special order" 90CRI LH351D 5000k (6,000lm max, 900lm sustained), the rosy ultra-high CRI 219B 4500k (2,500lm max, 700lm sustained), and very warm E21A 2000k (1,200lm max, 600lm sustained) . A tint ramping version where you can switch or ramp brightness between 2 different channels, with colour options, is coming soon! Compatible with 22-50mm diffusers, and U-shaped tripod mounts. Best used with an unprotected high current 18650 battery. Product Link.
KDLITKER E6 w/Triple Cree XP-E2 (280lm, 18650, $25) – cheap and relatively bright P60 based light where you can choose 3 emitter options, built to order, from Red, Blue, Royal Blue, Green, Amber, Warm White, Neutral White, or Cool White. 3 second mode memory timer can be annoying. The Blue is a much nicer Blue than the almost Purple "Forensic Blue" found in most RGB lights. However, the Royal Blue is best for illuminating fluorescent clothing. Compatible with D37 diffusers, and U-shaped tripod mounts. Best used with protected or unprotected 3500mAh 18650 battery. Product Link.
Ledlenser P6R Core QC (270lm, 18650, $100) - the only RGBW zoom light that I'm aware of. Successor to the non-zoom P7QC. Expensive, but with a very good warranty. Battery included. Magnetic charging.
Acebeam E70-AL (4,600lm, 21700, $75) - one of the best looking flashlights around, compact, with good sustained brightness (but may not be bright enough for outdoor backlighting). Can sustain 1,200lm with 70CRI 5000k and 6500k XHP70.2 emitters, and 900lm with 95CRI 4500k GT-FC40 emitter. Best purchased with the optional $20 Acebeam 21700 battery with USB charging. Compatible with D35 diffusers, and U-shaped tripod mounts. Product link (affiliate).
Best Flashlight for Backlighting >> Convoy M21D XHP70.2 (3,800lm, 21700, $41) - best value for money single battery (21700) flashlight, that can rival the sustained brightness of 3 or 4x18650 "soda can" style lights (such as the BLF/Sofirn Q8 and Sofirn SP36). Choice of 4 colour temperatures between 3000k to 6500k. Can run on max output for 4 minutes, and then sustains an impressive 1,400lm. Fits U-shaped or clamp tripod mounts. The beam is narrower than I would prefer at 60 degrees, but still good for backlighting, bright illumination, and an excellent choice for use with backlight scanners. USB Charging. Best used with optional unprotected 21700 battery. Product Link. Product Link with Battery.
Zebralight SC700d (3,000lm, 21700, $119) - best 90CRI sustained lumens to size ratio. This fairly compact light with a 5000k 90CRI emitter can sustain 1,450lm on H2 setting, and fits U-shaped tripod mounts. Best used with an unprotected 21700 battery. Only available in a limited number of countries including the USA.
Thrunite T2 (3,757lm, 21700, $70) - good <70CRI sustained lumens to size ratio, but only in cooler conditions. This fairly compact light with a choice of 5000k or 6500k 70CRI emitters can sustain >1,600lm on high setting in cooler/breezy conditions. Can only sustain 900lm in worst case conditions. Uses proprietary 21700 batteries which should be included. USB charging. The chunkier, and harder to tripod mount Thrunite TC20 V2.0 (4068lm, 26650, $90) has been tested to sustain nearly 2,000lm in cooler ambient conditions.
Best "Soda Can" Sized Flashlight >> Acebeam X50 (40,000lm / 20,000lm high-CRI), internal, $369) - I'm not sure why you would need 40,000 lumens, but if you do, this is a very high quality option. Can sustain a whopping 5,400lm, and is available in 5000k or 6500k colour temperatures. Includes a tripod mount hole, and carrying handle! The 4500k 95CRI version is 20,000lm. Internal battery and charging. Product link (affiliate). High-CRI Product Link (affiliate).
Fenix LR35R (10,000lm, 2x21700, $200) - popular and easy to use consumer light. Whilst it can only manage max output for 30 seconds, it can sustain more than 1,500lm. Cool white only, and no tripod mount. Batteries included. USB charging. The new Fenix TK35UE V2.0 (5,000, 2x18650, $140) can also sustain more than 1,500lm, but non-included batteries add another $40.
Olight Marauder 2 (14,000lm, internal, $360) - impressive flashlight that can switch between being floody or throwy. Can sustain an amazing 3,500lm on L5 flood mode, or throw light 800m in L7 spot light mode. Lacks a tripod mount. Internal battery, and USB charging. Product link (affiliate).
Ledlenser P18R Signature (4,500lm, internal, $300) – popular but very expensive zoom light. Successor to the MT18. Only manages 4,500lm Boost mode for 10 seconds, and not sure how long it can sustain 2,600lm Power mode before stepping-down to 1,000lm. Light Painting Paradise make a filter holder and colour filters for this light. No tripod mount. Expensive, but with a very good warranty. Batteries included. Magnetic charging.
Best Cube Light >> LumeCube 2.0 (estimated 650lm, internal, $90) – best photography cube light option - a compact 95CRI 5600k floody light, great for drone attachment (or attaching to pretty much anything), waterproof, can be remotely controlled via Bluetooth, and lots of low brightness modes for astro photography. Large range of accessories. Not as bright as advertised, but can run at max brightness until the battery runs out. Internal battery and USB charging.
Best RGB LED Panel Light >> Weeylight RB9 (1,200lux/0.5m, internal, $85) - LED Panel lights are fantastic for very floody, low to medium brightness illumination. The RB9, made by Viltrox, is regarded by independent testing as being one of the brightest and best value for money portable RGB LED panel lights available. Adjustable colour temperature between 2500k and 8500k, RGB colour mixing, brightness and saturation control, plus lots of effects modes. Internal battery and USB charging.
Yongnuo YN360 (3,380lux/0.5m, NP-F750, $98) - a very bright RGB Light Wand, popular with urban photographers. Adjustable colour temperature between 3200k and 5500k, and RGB colour mixing. No saturation control. Sony NP-F750 compatible batteries and charger can bump up the price though. I prefer the original Mk1 version as the (otherwise more advanced) Mk3 has no mode memory. The Mk2 has an internal battery.
Best LEP Flashlight >> Lumintop Thor Ant Man LEP (165lm/81Kcd, 14500, $130) - Laser Excited Phosphor (LEP) lights have an intense "laser like" pencil beam with no spill beam. I prefer not to recommend LEPs as they are Class 3B lasers and should only be used by responsible users, but I keep getting asked! LEPs can be useful for fine illumination of distant objects, however most LEP lights are very expensive and overkill. This tiny LEP flashlight produces a more modest beam that can illuminate up to 500m. Best used with optional USB rechargeable 14500 battery. Hopefully 2022 will bring better budget LEPs. Product Link (affiliate).
Best Pen Light for Miniature Scenes >> Wurkkos WK02 Penlight (300lm, 2xAAA, $20) - pen lights are useful for illuminating miniature scenes - flowers, fruit bowls, etc. The budget WK02 is most recommended with the 95 CRI 4000k SST-20 emitter option. Always turns on in low mode.
Klarus P20 (230lm, 2xAAA, $30) - 90CRI penlight with last mode memory. I've had good feedback about this light, but it seems to be out of stock in most stores at the moment.
Not Forgetting >> Protomachines LED8 (2×18650, $559) – very expensive professional colour mixing RGB light with advanced features including exposure timers. Intermittently out of stock for long periods. Used by Troy Paiva for his amazing junkyard photos.
3. Best Headlamps
Headlamps are an underrated piece of equipment for when out at night. 200lm or more will help with focusing lenses in the dark.
Best Compact Headlamp >> Nitecore NU25 (360lm, internal, $37) – best multi-purpose lightweight headlamp. Compact and rechargeable. Excellent for short outings and running (8h at 38lm). Brighter than usual Red (13lm), and high CRI auxiliary lights. Internal battery and USB charging.
Best Very Bright Headlamp >> Nitecore HC65 V2 (1,750lm, 18650, $85) – updated version of the excellent Nitecore HC65. 5 well spaced brightness levels from 1,750lm to 1m (28h at 50lm). Brighter than usual Red (11lm), and high CRI (35lm) auxiliary lights. Battery included. USB charging.
Olight Perun (2,500lm, 18650, $85) – very efficient headlamp, with high brightness (2,500lm max, (steps down at 2 minutes) or long runtime (66h at 30lm). Battery included. Magnetic charging. Product Link (affiliate).
Best Headlamp for Red Light >> Sofirn D25LR (500lm, 18650, $25) - Excellent value for money budget headlamp with 90CRI neutral white (500lm) emitter, and super bright (150lm) SST-20 660nm Deep Red emitter. Moonlight modes, last mode memory for both Red and White,and easy user interface. May require manual brightness step-down if it gets too hot! Optional battery and USB charging. Product Link.
Olight Array 2S (1,000lm, internal*, $80) - Centrally located spot and flood white emitters (1000lm), plus a super bright red (200lm) emitter. Last mode memory. No moonlight modes unfortunately, and the hand gesture sensor can be more of an annoyance than being helpful. Internal battery and USB charging.
This article has listed many flashlights or torches that will make light painting much easier. Your light painting techniques will determine which lights are most suitable, and I would advise building up a collection of lights that meet your requirements.
I usually state which flashlights are used for Light Painting photos on my Instagram account, so check that out if you are interested to know which light was used to create a specific effect.
If you need more information about batteries and chargers, please have a look at my Battery and Charger Buying Guide.