Best Flashlights for Light Painting Photography 2022
Updated: 5 days ago
This is the 2022 edition of the flashlight/torch buying guide for light painting and night photographers. Now in its 6th year, this buying guide is the most trusted source of information on flashlights for light painters, and the only buying guide that covers a wide range of light painting systems. Other light sources such as LED panel lights, tube lights, and pixel lights are also now included. Ratings are based on feedback from light painters, flashlight enthusiast reviews, and my own testing. This buying guide is updated when suitable new lights are released and reviewed, so bookmark or check back at any time during the year if you are interested in purchasing new lights.
Each light’s description includes the maximum brightness in lumens (lm) or lux, 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 (marked as such) 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. Affiliate links have no influence on product ratings. I do not make any commission through non-affiliate links.
1. Best Light Sources for Light Trails
This section is mainly for flashlights/torches that are compatible 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.
Light Painting King.
T8 Tubes (generic 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'm not aware of. 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. Light Pens, and Calligraphy Lights are out of scope of this article. Pixel LED Lights and Tube Lights now have their own categories.
Lights in this section have one or more of the following functions suitable for light painters.
Accessible on/off switches (when in light painting connectors).
Constant frequency strobe - some lights even have adjustable strobe frequency and brightness.
Last mode memory - so that the light turns on in the last used mode.
Momentary switch - more fine control of on/off.
Well spaced brightness levels.
See each flashlight description for more detail.
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 and saving settings. 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. Product link (affiliate) - 10% off with code "Stephen Knight".
Ants On A Melon RGB Critter (18650, $120) - this light is winner of the RGB category, but also deserves a place in the strobe category. Multiple colourful strobe presets, an adjustable strobe frequency of between 0.5Hz and 173Hz, and ability to save effects makes it fantastic for strobes, though the user interface (UI) is rather complex. More information in the next category.
Noctigon KR1 (2,200lm, 18650, $50) - the SST-40 or SFT-40 6500k versions are excellent for getting lots of light into light painting tools, 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). There is no mode memory for strobes, but you can adjust strobe settings, enter momentary mode, and then hold the switch down when you need to use strobe. Slight unscrew/re-screw of the tail cap is required to exit momentary mode. Can produce very bright "fairy dust" on slowest party mode setting. 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 sub-optimal reflector and 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. There is no mode memory for strobes, but you can adjust strobe settings, enter momentary mode, and then hold the switch down when you need to use strobe. Full unscrew/re-screw of the head is required to exit momentary mode. Heat handling is poor, so it steps down after just 25 seconds on Turbo. Best used with an unprotected 3500mAh 18650 battery.
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 until step-down. Strobe brightness is similar to the FW1A. Best used with a high current unprotected 18650 battery.
Best RGB Colour Changing Flashlight >> Ants On A Melon RGB Critter (18650, $120) – Commercial grade, colour changing light with an impressive selection of colours, effects, and adjustable strobe frequency, controlled by 3 on-board buttons. Can save custom settings. Native tool attachments available (including the Sol Saber, BitWhip, Jupiter Rope, and Plexiglass Blades). Conditional compatibility with other light painting systems - see review. 18650 battery included, with micro USB charging, which can also allow for future firmware updates. Basic use is fairly easy, but more advanced features are complex to use. Product link.
Ignis Shop Color LED Torch (internal, $149) - Colour fade, pulse, and flash modes controlled by an RF remote. Simple on/off switch and no momentary. Internal battery and charging. Product link.
Light Excursion Deluxe (18650/21700, $220) - Very popular handmade colour changing light, which has good compatibility with multiple light painting systems. Colour fade, pulse, and flash modes controlled by an RF remote. On-board momentary switch. 3 rotary dimmers for RGB channels. Very pretty beam patterns with the LE version, though the LP version is slightly brighter. 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 and pretty cheap. Unfortunately it only uses a single AAA battery and is thus not very bright. Has a tricky single button user interface. Needs DIY padding to fit in light painting connectors, though can be purchased with a compatible Fusion glow staff. Product link.
Whilst I would generally recommend flashlights from the above 'strobe' and 'RGB colour fading' categories, some of the lights in the 'other flashlights' category offer one or more features such as remote pressure switch compatibility, KYO compatibility, budget prices, or simple to use UI.
Nitecore P10v2 (1,100lm, 18650, $55) - 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, and no internal charging. Product Link (USA) (affiliate).
Klarus XT11S (1,100lm, 18650, $70) / XT11GT (2,000lm, 18650, $85) / XT11GT Pro (2,200lm, 18650, $95) / XT11GT Pro V2 (3,300lm, 18650, $90) – I only recommend these lights for use with the Liteblades KYO system, as there are better options for other systems. There are now four iterations of the Klarus XT11 series. Each generation gets more maximum lumens, but shorter time until the brightness falls of a cliff. I prefer the older XT11S and XT11GT models. Dual tail switches for instant access to Turbo or Strobe. No side switches on the Pro versions. 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. Battery included. USB charging.
Klarus XT2CR Pro (2,200lm, 18650, $75) – one of the best flashlights for (briefly) getting lots of light into a light painting tool. It is basically the XT11GT Pro (above) with a smaller head. Battery included. USB-C charging.
Olight Warrior 3 (2,300lm, 21700, $120) - two stage tail switch allows for momentary control of 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. Avoid the newer 3S version, as Olight have brought back the annoying proximity sensor! Olight USA (affiliate). Olight AU (affiliate).
Ledlenser P6R Signature (1,400lm, 18650, $170) - contrary to light painting folklore, zoom lights are far from essential. However, if you really need a zoom light, this is the best option available. 20Hz strobe. Very expensive, but with a 7 year warranty. Battery included. Magnetic charging.
Fenix PD36R (1,600lm, 21700, $100) - good consumer grade flashlight for continuous (non-strobe) light trails. Five well spaced brightness levels, mode memory and momentary. Unfortunately the strobe is alternating frequency and not memorised. Battery included and USB-C charging. However, there are similar budget lights that are nearly as good...
Sofirn SP31 V2.0 XP-L HI (1,200lm, 18650, $25) – this budget light is fantastic for creating continuous (non-strobe) light trails, and is also compatible with connectors designed specifically for the LightPainter - Ryu's Lightworks flashlight. Five well spaced brightness levels, mode memory and momentary on all continuous modes. Unfortunately the strobe is alternating frequency and not memorised. Battery and charger are optional, or use an unprotected 3500mAh 18650 battery. Product Link.
Convoy S2+ XP-L HI/CSLNM1 (700-1,000lm, 18650, $13-$20) – very popular budget light, with a confusing range of options - which is why I've provided lots of links to the product pages. 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, optionally with battery. Best used with unprotected 3500mAh 18650 batteries. No internal charging.
Folomov 18650S (900lm, 18650, $28) – quirky budget light that includes a micro 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 T4 SST-20 (420lm with 2xAA, $21) - the best budget AA/AAA flashlight I've tested. 420lm with no step-down with SST-20 6500k emitter option. Default mode has 4 brightness levels with mode memory. 12 other mode options, but strobe is alternating frequency. Side clip expected to be available in the future. Product link.
Light Painting System Compatibility Matrix
The next two categories are for light sources that are not compatible with light painting systems, but can be used to create light trails.
Best LED Pixel Light >> Fotorgear Magilight (800lm, 2x26350, $309) - best addressable LED pixel light (by default as the Pixelstick is out of stock) which allows saved images to be drawn in mid-air. 144 LEDs along the 100cm length, dimmable, and with adjustable strobe frequency. Included charger and 2x26350 batteries. Fotorgear also make the RGB colour fading Lithub which connects to a small range of light blades and fiber optic brushes. Product Link.
Best Tube Light >> Nanlite Pavotube T8-7X (350lux/0.5m, internal, $95) - a budget LED light wand aimed at creators, and already popular with light painters. Not the brightest LED wand for illumination, but great for creating color fading light trails. Onboard, wired, or Bluetooth wireless control. Product Link.
2. Best Light Sources for Illumination
This section recommends the best light sources for illuminating scenes instead of creating light trails. This is also relevant to urbex, long exposure night landscapes, astro, and low level landscape lighting genres of photography. These "best in class" lights have one or more useful features including:
Different colour temperature options e.g. cool 6500k, neutral 4500k, or warm white 2700k (Correlated Colour Temperature = CCT).
High colour rendering (>95CRI) white LED emitters - better colour rendering of illuminated objects (no more "washed out" night photos).
Colour LED emitter options.
Compatible diffusers - turns flashlights into an omni-directional "lantern" light source
Tripod mounting options.
Decent sustained brightness - tested brightness after 10 minutes of continuous use.
Included/optional batteries and/or internal USB charging.
Most commercial grade flashlight manufacturers such as Olight, Nitecore, Klarus, and Fenix are lagging behind in high CRI options and are thus mostly missing from this section. Convoy, Acebeam, Emisar, and Noctigon are currently ahead of the game!
When buying lights for illumination you also need to consider the beam profile for what you are illuminating. Pencil beams or throwy beams are better for illuminating distant objects, or more fine control of light. Floody beams are better for near to medium illumination. Diffusers can turn flashlights into omni-directional light sources.
Lights have been categorized by size or type.
Best AA Flashlight for Illumination >> Convoy T4 519A (420lm max, 300lm sustained, $20) - quite possibly the only AA flashlight (uses 2xAA) with 95CRI LEDs, choice of 7 CCTs from 2700k to 5700k, and 4 brightness levels by default. Compatible with Convoy S21A/B diffusers. Product Link.
Best Compact Flashlight for Illumination >> Convoy S21E 519A (1,100lm max, 600lm sustained, $25) - many people have asked for a Convoy S2+ with USB-C charging, included battery, and a side switch. Convoy have now delivered, though in a slightly larger 21700 battery format. 95CRI Nichia 519A LED options in 7 CCTs from 2700k to 5700k. Floody beam profile. Stepped or ramped brightness levels. Compatible diffuser, and fits U-shaped tripod mounts. Product Link.
Convoy S21D (2,100lm max/850lm sustained, 21700, $39) awesome light for illumination that hits the sweet spot between size and lumens. I recommend the 95CRI 519A emitter versions, with 8A CC driver, available in 7 CCTs. The 60 degree lens option is great for backlight scanners and floody illumination. The 10 and 30 degree optic options will be more throwy. Compatible with D37 diffusers and U-shaped tripod mount. No internal charging, so you will need a dedicated Li-ion charger. Product Link.
Acebeam E70-AL (4,600lm max/1,200lm sustained, 21700, $75) - the best consumer grade flashlight in this category. High output 70CRI (XHP70.2) options have a choice of 5000k and 6500k CCT, and has an amazing lumens to size ratio. The 95CRI (GT-FC40) 4500k emitter version with 2700lm max/900lm sustained is also worth considering. Floody beam profile. Best purchased with the optional $20 Acebeam 21700 battery with USB-C charging input. Compatible with D35 diffusers, and U-shaped tripod mounts. Product link (affiliate).
Emisar D1, DT8, D4V2, and Noctigon KR1 - if you know you know, if you don't, look elsewhere.
Best Medium Sized Flashlight for Illumination >> Convoy M3-C (4,400lm max/1440lm sustained, 26650, $46-$52) - Convoy make many excellent flashlight models for illumination, of which the chunky M3-C is the best option in the medium sized category. This solid budget flashlight with a floody beam, can manage max output for 90secs before gradually decreasing to sustained 1,440lm lumens. This makes it useful for super bright illumination, backlighting, and for use with backlight scanners. 70 degree spill beam could be wider though. The powerful 70CRI XHP70.2 emitter is available in 4 CCTs from 3000k to 6500k. 95CRI GT-FC40 versions are also available in 4 CCTs from 1800k to 5500k, with approx. 2100lm max/1000lm sustained (though unless you need the USB charging and side switch, the smaller S21D 519A has similar performance). Stepped or ramped brightness levels. Compatible diffuser. Requires a clamp (such as a SmallRig Super Clamp) for tripod mounting. USB-C charging. Product link with battery. High-CRI product link with battery.
Thrunite TC20 V2 (4,000lm max/1,700lm sustained, 26650, $90) - best consumer grade 26650 flashlight, shorter than the Convoy M3-C, but limited to 70CRI 5000k and 6500k options. Can sustain more than 3000lm for 3 mins on Turbo, or more than 1,600lm for 30mins on High before brightness step-down. Requires a clamp for tripod mounting. Battery included. USB-C charging.
Best Lumen Monster Flashlight for Illumination >> Acebeam X50 2.0 (45,000lm max/5,600lm sustained XHP70.2, internal, $379) - This is the highest quality flashlight in the >30,000lm category. The X50 2.0 70CRI version (choice of 5000k or 6500k CCTs) can sustain an amazing 5,600lm in Mid2 mode. The X50 2.0 High CRI (GT-FC40) 4500k version is 21,000lm max, 2,200lm sustained. Both can be used as a PD 60W powerbank. Floody beam profile. Includes a tripod mount hole, and carrying handle! Internal battery pack and USB-C charging. Product link (affiliate). High-CRI Product link (affiliate).
Olight Marauder 2 (14,000lm max/3,500lm sustained, internal, $330) - impressive consumer grade flashlight that can switch between a floody beam or throwy "spot" beam. Can sustain an impressive 3,500lm on L5 flood mode, or throw light 800m in L7 spot light mode. Cool white 70CRI only, and lacks a tripod mount. The 30 second lockout can be annoying. Internal battery, and USB-C charging. Can also be used as a powerbank. Olight USA (affiliate). Olight AU (affiliate).
Best Cube Light >> LumeCube 2.0 (est. 650lm max/sustained, internal, $90) - 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. Advertised lumens is over-exaggerated (I tested 650lm), but can sustain max brightness until the battery runs out. Internal battery and USB-C charging. If you don't need the mounting options or waterproofing, you might be better off with a RGB LED Panel Light.
Best Portable RGB LED Panel Light >> Weeylite RB9 (1,200lux/0.5m, internal, $85) - RGB LED Panel lights are amazingly flexible for very floody, low to medium brightness illumination. There is a lot of good competition between brands. The RB9, made by Viltrox, is one of the brightest portable panels at 1000lm max/sustained (x3 brighter than the Aputure MC), and excellent value for money. Note that the lowest 1% output level may be verging on too bright for some astro-photography/low level landscape lighting scenes. >95CRI. Adjustable CCT between 2500k and 8500k (which can result in a slight magenta tint), RGB colour mixing, brightness and saturation adjustment, lots of effects modes (including rainbow colour fade), on-board or app control. Includes a diffuser, mini-tripod, and cold-shoe mount. No magnets. Internal battery and USB-C charging. The smaller, cheaper, and 50% less bright Weeylite S05 is also worth a look.
Specialist lights that don't fit in the above categories:
Best Pen Light for Miniature Scenes >> Wuben E19 (200lm max, 2xAAA, $25) - pen lights are useful for illuminating miniature scenes - flowers, fruit bowls, etc. The Wuben E19 uses a 4000k high-CRI emitter, and has 4 brightness levels with last mode memory. Requires 2xAAA batteries.
Best Professional Colour Mixing Light >> Protomachines LED8 (2×18650, $559) – very expensive professional colour mixing RGB light with advanced features including exposure timers. Used by Troy Paiva for his amazing junkyard photos. Batteries not included, and no internal charging.
Best Coloured LED Flashlight >> Convoy S2+ CSLNM1 (1,000lm max/500lm sustained, 18650, $13-$20) - the throwy beam CSLNM1 red, green, blue, and orange-yellow flashlights are useful for coloured illumination, optionally with battery. Compatible 24.5mm diffuser, and fits U-shaped tripod mounts. There are over 200 other Convoy S2+ configurations including Ultraviolet and Infrared. Best used with an unprotected 3500mAh 18650 battery. No internal charging, so you will need a dedicated Li-ion charger. All Convoy S series options incl. with batteries.
Best LEP/Pencil Beam Flashlight >> Natfire SF2 (Internal, $80) - at last, a decent and affordable Laser Excited Phosphor (LEP) flashlight, with a pencil beam of light for long distance illumination up to 1200m. It makes expensive zoom lights look rather pathetic! Internal battery and USB-C charging.
3. Best Headlamps
Headlamps are an underrated piece of equipment for when out at night. 200lm or more will help with focusing camera lenses in the dark.
Best Ultralight Headlamp >> Nitecore NU25 (360lm max, internal, $37) – despite being an old model, I still think this is the best multi-purpose lightweight headlamp. Compact and rechargeable. Excellent for short outings and running. Brighter than usual Red (13lm), and high CRI auxiliary lights. Internal battery and micro USB charging. Product Link (USA) (aff).
Knog Bandicoot 250 (250lm max, internal, $45) - Knog make some very ergonomic and lightweight silicone headlamps, of which the Bandicoot 250 is the mid-range model. Good for short outings and running. The ModeMaker app allows you to add/remove modes, and adjust brightness levels for added flexibility. Unfortunately there is noticeable PWM, and mediocre red output. Internal battery and USB-A charging.
Best Very Bright Headlamp >> Nitecore HC65 V2 (1,750lm max, 18650, $85) – updated version of the excellent Nitecore HC65. 5 well spaced brightness levels from 1,750lm to 1lm. Brighter than usual Red (11lm), and high CRI (35lm) auxiliary lights. Battery included. USB-C charging. The brand new Nitecore HC68 (2,000lm) with focusable beam also looks impressive. HC65 V2 (USA) (aff). HC68 (USA) (aff).
Olight Perun 2 (2,500lm max, 18650, $85) – very efficient headlamp, with high brightness - 2,500lm max, (steps down to 800lm at 2 minutes) or long runtime (66h at 30lm). No red light. Battery included. Magnetic charging. Olight USA (affiliate). Olight AU (affiliate).
Best Headlamp for Red Light >> Olight Array 2S (1,000lm max, internal*, $80) - Centrally located spot and flood white emitters (1000lm), plus a super bright red (200lm) emitter. Last mode memory. No moonlight mode, and the hand gesture sensor can be more of an annoyance than being helpful. Internal battery and USB-C charging. Olight USA (affiliate). Olight AU (affiliate).
Sofirn D25LR (500lm max, 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. Can get very hot on the highest modes, so not the best consumer option. This is currently my most used headlamp! Optional battery and micro USB charging. Product Link.
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 often use 3 to 4 different flashlights per light painting photo!
If you need more information about batteries and chargers, please have a look at my Battery and Charger Buying Guide.