Best Flashlights for Light Painting Photography 2021
Updated: 5 days ago
This is the 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 currently 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.
Each light’s description includes the maximum brightness in lumens, battery type, and an asterix (*) if the light has internal charging capabilities or is supplied with a charger. 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. 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.
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 drawing. 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 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! Commercial flashlight designs seem to be 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, mode memory, momentary switch, and multiple 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.
These lights all have adjustable strobe frequency/speed, last mode memory and/or momentary switches, which are all extremely useful for light painting.
Light Painting Paradise LightPainter – Ryu’s Lightworks (1,200lm, 18650*) – best flashlight for strobes. 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. (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*) – 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. Product link.
Noctigon KR1 (2,200lm, 18650) - the SST-40 6500k version is my favourite light for when I need lots of light in a light painting tool, outclassing the Klarus XT11GT and XT2CR. Tail switch light with the "love it or hate it" 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 for any mode setting. Can produce very bright "fairy dust". Excellent heat handling. Product link.
Lumintop (TLF/BLF) FW1A (1,200lm, 18650) – Update Oct' 21: the latest 2021 version of the Lumintop FW1A has a sub-optimal reflector, and the latest 2021 versions of the FW1A and FW3A have a less efficient FET+1 driver with firmware that doesn't match the hardware. Thus performance may be degraded compared to the previous review, below: The FW1A is the most optimal Lumintop FW series light for light painting due to having a single emitter, and is my favourite light for creating "fairy dust" effects. Tail switch with the "love it or hate it" Anduril user interface. Multiple effects modes include the bright tactical strobe 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). Fixed strobe brightness at 750lm with the XP-L HI 6500k emitter. Heat handling is poor, so it steps down after just 25 seconds on Turbo. For "T8 tube sized" light painting systems, the triple emitter Lumintop FW3A (2,800lm, 18650) will very briefly output more lumens, though strobe is at 750lm. The newer and more expensive triple emitter FW3X (2,800lm, 18650) has much better heat handling, 1000 lumen strobe (party strobe has a 4ms on-time), but has no battery reverse polarity detection. FW1A Product link (affiliate). FW3X Product link (affiliate).
Commercial Grade Flashlights
These lights from reputable flashlight manufacturers are not as flexible as the featured "strobe monster" lights for light painting. However, these lights all have one or more useful features such as remote pressure switches, specific light painting system compatibility, ability to switch between strobe and continuous modes "on the fly", or zoom optics.
Nitecore P10v2 (1,100lm, 18650) - successor to the 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. Another mode group has momentary functionality for all brightness settings. Can be used with Nitecore RSW2 remote pressure switch. 3 minutes until brightness step-down. Noticeable Pulse Width Modulation (PWM).
Olight Warrior Mini (1,500lm, 18650*) – 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. Uses an Olight proprietary 18650 battery. Product link (affiliate). Unfortunately the new 1,750lm Warrior Mini 2 has a proximity sensor that may lower brightness when placed in some light painting connectors, thought it may be defeated by placing black tape in front of the sensor.
Klarus XT11GT Pro (2,200lm, 18650*) – 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 iteration. 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 after 30 seconds. I prefer the older XT11GT (2,000lm, 18650*) and XT11S (1,100lm, 18650*).
Klarus XT2CR Pro (2,200lm, 18650*) – "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.
Nextorch P80 (1,300lm, 18650*) – recommended for the Lumenman system. Dual side switch with instant access to either momentary high, or constant medium. Can enter and release strobe from any mode.
Ledlenser P6R Signature (1,400lm, 18650*) - contrary to light painting folklore, zoom lights are far from essential. However, if you really need a zoom light, this light is much improved over previous Ledlenser models in terms of sustained output, user interface, no PWM, and CRI. Very expensive, but with a 7 year warranty.
Other lights with mode memory and momentary switch, but no direct access to their constant frequency strobe modes, include the On The Road M9 (1,100lm, 18650*), Wowtac A1S (1,150lm, 18650*), Thrunite TC12v2 (1,100lm, 18650*), Soonfire MX66 (1,060lm, 18650*), and Magicshine MTL30 (1,000lm, 18650), or with alternating frequency strobes the Sofirn SC31T (2,000lm, 18650*), Wurkkos FC12 (2,000l, 18650*), Fenix PD32 V2.0 (1,200lm, 18650) and PD36R (1,800lm, 21700*). With tail switch access to turbo and strobe modes consider the Nextorch TA30 V2.0 (1,300lm, 18650), Nextorch TA15 (600lm, 14500), Olight M2R Pro (1,800lm, 21700*), and Olight M2R (1,500lm, 18650*). With tail switch access to strobe and all modes except for turbo, consider the Acebeam P15 + One Touch Strobe switch (1,700lm, 18650).
These lights all cost less than US$35, and are produced by reputable budget flashlight manufacturers. There is currently a lack of budget flashlights with direct access to decent strobe modes, so I would recommend saving up for a "strobe monster".
Folomov 18650S (900lm, 18650*) – 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.
Convoy S2+ (400-1,000lm, 18650) – popular budget light, but with a confusing range of options. Biscotti/12-group user interfaces have mode memory, but alternating frequency strobe. 3/5 mode user interface has a 10Hz strobe, but annoying 3 second memory timer. XP-L HI or CSLNM1 emitters (the latter with White, Red, Green, Blue, and Orange-Yellow options) are best for longer tools. Clip accessory required for Light Painting Tubes/T8 Tubes. Product Link.
Sofirn SP31 V2.0 (1,200lm, 18650*) – budget light that uses the same flashlight host/body and LED as the Light Painting Paradise LightPainter. XP-L HI version is recommended. Mode memory and momentary on all continuous modes. Unfortunately the strobe is alternating frequency and not memorised.
KDLITKER E6 w/Triple Cree XP-E2 (280lm, 18650) – 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. 50% brighter than the far more expensive Ledlenser P7QC! Product Link.
These lights can all colour mix, fade between colours, and have other useful effects modes for light painting.
Light Excursion Deluxe (18650* or 21700*) - Very popular handmade colour changing light. Colour fade, pulse, and flash modes controlled by (a sometimes temperamental) RF remote. On-board momentary switch, and recently updated with 3 rotary dimmers for RGB channels. Product Link.
Antsonamelon RGB Critter (18650*) – 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. Currently expected to ship in late-2021, and I can't wait to test it out! Product Link.
Threeworlds Concentrate C5 (AAA) - fantastic programmable effects modes, cheap, 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.
Other colour changing light options include the Ignis Shop Color LED Torch (internal*), light units from the Fiberflies Pixelwhip Rev 4 (18650*) and GloFX Space Whip Remix (18650*) light sources, and the cheap'n'nasty Colorshine Flashlight (3xAAA).
Light Painting System Compatibility Matrix
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. There has never been a better time for flashlights for illumination purposes, with a wide range of suitable lights - far more than what I can fit in this article! These "best in class" lights have one or more useful features including compatible diffusers, tripod mounting options, high colour rendering (CRI) emitter options, and decent sustained brightness. Sustained brightness is the tested brightness after 10 minutes of continuous use.
Non-zoom lights for illumination
Convoy S2+ (1,000lm, 18650) – best value for money light for illumination, with lots of emitter options from warm to cool white, high-CRI, 4 colours, and even UV. My picks are the 90CRI LH351D emitters, and CSLNM1 red, green, blue, and orange-yellow colour emitter versions with 12-group drivers. Compatible 24.5mm diffuser, and fits U-shaped or clamp tripod mounts. Product Link.
LumeCube 2.0 (estimated 650lm, internal*) – best photography cube light option - a compact high-CRI 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.
Fenix LR35R (10,000lm, 2x21700*) - popular and fairly expensive consumer light. Whilst it can only manage max output for 30 seconds, it can sustain more than 1,500lm. Cool white only, and not easy to mount to tripods.
Convoy M21D XHP70.2 (3,800lm, 21700*) - best 1x21700 flashlight for backlighting and for use with backlight scanners. It can rival the sustained brightness of 3 or 4x18650 "soda can" style lights (such as the BLF/Sofirn Q8 and Sofirn SP36). Choice of colour temperatures from cool to warm white. 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. Product Link.
Emisar DT8 (1,800lm-6,700lm, 18650) - best 18650 "pocket rocket" light for when you briefly need lots of lumens in small package. Excellent range of emitter options including high-CRI options, and large range of colour temperatures. Complex Anduril 2 user interface. My picks are XP-L HI 6500k for max output (6,700lm max, 1,000lm sustained), "special order" 90CRI LH351D 5000k (6,000lm max, 900lm sustained), and the rosy ultra-high CRI 219B 4500k (2,500lm max, 700lm sustained). Compatible with 22-50mm diffusers, and U-shaped tripod mounts. Product Link.
Lumintop Thor II LEP (769Kcd, 18350/18650) - best value for money Laser Excited Phospher light, best purchased with optional 18650 tube. This light produces a very powerful pencil beam for illuminating objects a long distance away. It is a Class 3B laser and should only be used by very responsible users. Product Link (affiliate).
Weeylight RB9 (1,350lux/0.5m, internal*) - regarded as being one of the best RGB LED panel lights, and made by Viltrox. Adjustable colour temperature between 2500k and 8500k, RGB colour mixing, and lots of effects modes.
Protomachines LED8 (2×18650) – very expensive professional colour mixing light with advanced features including exposure timers. Intermittently out of stock for long periods. Used by Troy Paiva for his amazing junkyard photos.
There are a few more super bright 1x21700 battery lights available. These include the "two lights in one" with colour emitter options Noctigon K9.3 (7,400lm, 21700), the Zebralight SC700d (3,000lm, 21700) which can sustain 1,400 high-CRI lumens on H2 setting, compact high-CRI Acebeam E70-AL with CRI95+ (2,800lm, 21700*), and compact low CRI WildTrail WT3M (6,800lm, 21700*). In the unlikely event you need even more maximum or sustained lumens consider the Lumintop BLF GT3 (18,000lm, 4x18650) which includes a tripod mount, Olight Marauder 2 (14,000lm, internal*), and Acebeam X80-GT (32,500lm, 4x18650). The popular Yongnuo YN360 (2,600lm, NP-F750) light wand is also a very useful tool for illumination.
Zoom lights for illumination
Ledlenser P18R Signature (4,500lm, internal*) – 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.
Ledlenser P7R Work (1,200lm, 21700*) and P6R Work (850lm 18650*) – the only high-CRI zoom lights that I’m aware of. Not cheap, but well built and with a 7 year warranty.
Ledlenser P6R Core QC (270lm, 18650*) - the only RGBW zoom light that I'm aware of. Successor to the non-zoom P7QC. Expensive, but with a very good warranty.
Convoy Z1 (2,300lm, 21700) – best budget zoom light. Can sustain 1,000lm. Product Link (Affiliate).
Headlamps are an underrated piece of equipment for when out at night. 200lm or more will help with focussing lenses in the dark.
Nitecore NU25 (360lm, internal*) – best lightweight headlamp. Compact and rechargeable. Excellent for short outings and running (8h at 38lm). Brighter than usual Red (13lm) and high CRI auxiliary lights.
Armytek Wizard C2 WR (1,020lm, 18650*) – both white (1,020lm) and red (230lm) lights are very bright in this L shaped headlamp. Armytek make many other headlamps including high-CRI versions.
Acebeam H60 (1,250lm, 18650*) – first headlamp with a 97+ CRI SunLike TRI-R light source. Product Link (affiliate).
Nitecore HC65 (1,000lm, 18650*) – excellent all-rounder, and my personal favorite headlamp. Bright, or long runtime (16h at 80lm). Red and high CRI auxiliary lights.
Olight Perun (2,500lm, 18650*) – very efficient headlamp, with high brightness (2,500lm max, (steps down at 2 minutes) or long runtime (66h at 30lm). Product Link (affiliate).
Olight Array 2S (1,000lm, internal*) - Centrally located spot and flood emitters, plus a very bright red (200lm) emitter. Sadly, no moonlight modes.
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.