- Stephen Knight
Best Flashlights for Light Painting Photography 2023
Updated: 3 days ago
This is the 2023 edition of the flashlight/torch buying guide for light painting and night photographers. Now in its 7th 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. Non-flashlight light sources such as LED panel lights, tube lights, and pixel lights are also included. Ratings are based on feedback from light painting and night photographers, 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), 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 lumens are not directly comparable to white light lumens.
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. I do not make any commission through non-affiliate links. Affiliate links have no influence on product ratings.
1. Best Flashlights for Creating Light Trails
This section is for flashlights/torches that are compatible with various light painting systems or homemade tools, to create light trails and light drawings. At the end of this section is 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. Light Pens, and Calligraphy Lights are out of the 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 features suitable for light painters. See each flashlight description for more detail.
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.
Multiple, well spaced brightness levels.
Most new consumer grade flashlights either have a hidden strobe and/or alternating frequency strobe, and are thus not particularly useful for light painting. Please be aware that most flashlights rapidly step-down (dim) from their maximum advertised brightness. Generally, the higher the brightness/size, the shorter the light will operate at maximum brightness before step-down. Also, there are many factors that affect how many lumens actually end up in the light painting tool, and thus more lumens is not necessarily better.
Best RGB colour changing lights:
Ants On A Melon RGB Critter 2.0 (18650, $125) – The best flashlight currently available for light painting photography is the Ants On A Melon (AOAM) RGB Critter. This is the first consumer grade, colour changing light with an impressive selection of 39 colours, 93 preset colour effect modes, plus adjustable effect speeds, strobe frequency, and brightness. Controlled by 3 on-board buttons. Can save custom settings. Native tool attachments available including the Sol Saber, Lumi Saber, BitWhip, Jupiter Rope, Fiber Optic Dusters, and Plexiglass Blades. Conditional compatibility with other light painting systems - see review. 18650 battery included, with micro USB input, which can also allow for firmware updates. The new firmware/UI and raised buttons in the the Critter 2.0 are a massive improvement over the original. Ants On A Melon (affiliate) - 5% off with code "KNIGHT"
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.
Threeworlds Concentrate C5 (AAA, $30) - Tiny, single AAA light source with fantastic programmable effects modes. Unfortunately it is not very bright, and 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. Threeworlds.
Best flashlights for adjustable strobe frequency/speed:
Noctigon KR1 (2,200lm, 18650, $50) - The SST-40 6500k version is 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). Can produce very bright "fairy dust" on the slowest party mode setting. Excellent heat handling. Too large for T8 tubes. No internal charging. Best used with a high current unprotected 18650 battery. Intl Outdoor.
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. Tail switch with the complex 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) which I use to create "fairy dust" effects. Heat handling is poor, so it steps down after just 25 seconds on Turbo. No internal charging. Best used with a high current unprotected 18650 battery.
Noctigon KR4 (2,000lm, 18650, $55-$85) - The W2/Boost driver option is the most optimal (and most expensive) configuration of the KR4 for light painting. Tail switch with the complex Anduril user interface. Multiple effects modes include the bright tactical strobe with 33% on-time (adjustable 2.5Hz-90Hz), and not so bright "motion freezing" party strobe with 3ms on time (adjustable 4Hz-90Hz). Excellent heat handling. Squeezes into T8 tubes. No internal charging. Best used with a high current unprotected 18650 battery. Intl Outdoor.
Lightpainting.me Strobelight PRO (1,200lm, 18650, $135) - Interesting custom built light with a flashlight (25mm head diameter default, or 23.5mm option) connected to a handheld remote by cable. Strobe frequency adjustable between 5Hz and 57Hz using rotary switches. Strobe (50% on/off), Flash (5ms on), and Ribbon modes. Momentary functionality. Brightness is switchable between 1200lm, or 800lm. Lightpainting.me.
Sadly the Light Painting Paradise LightPainter – Ryu’s Lightworks has been discontinued. If you can pick one up second hand, it is an amazing light with 4 strobe modes, adjustable strobe frequency and adjustable strobe brightness.
Best consumer grade flashlights:
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. Nitecore Store USA (affiliate).
Klarus XT11S (1,100lm, 18650, $70) / XT11GT (2,000lm, 18650, $85) / XT11GT Pro (2,200lm, 18650, $95) / XT11GT Pro V2 (3,300, $90) – I generally only recommend these if you plan to use the Liteblades KYO system, as there are better options for other systems. Each generation of the XT11 has more maximum lumens, but shorter time until the brightness falls of a cliff. 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 from the tail switch. 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 input.
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 input.
Nextorch P80 (1,300lm, 18650, $49) - 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-C charging input.
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. Note: there are similar budget lights that are nearly as good.
Some discontinued consumer grade flashlights with direct access to constant frequency strobes include the Olight M2R, Olight M2R Pro, Olight Warrior Mini (not 2), Olight Warrior 3 (not 3S), Olight M1X Striker, Nitecore P10GT, and Nitecore MT22C. Maybe we might see a comeback from OIight in 2023?
Best budget flashlights:
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 directly compatible with the "All In One" adapter designed 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. Production has ceased, so may sell out soon. Sofirn.
Sofirn SC32 (2,000lm/900lm, 18650, $31-$33) - If you want a budget flashlight with direct access to 3 continuous brightness levels of 900lm, 450lm, and 90lm, USB-C charging, optional battery, and side clip, then this is a good choice. Unfortunately there is no single click access to 2,000lm Turbo mode, or strobe, which is alternating frequency. Sofirn.
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 Convoy's Aliexpress 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. Be aware that S2+s tend to accidentally change modes if shaken a lot! 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. The newer and brighter Folomov Hero flashlight doesn't make the cut for this article due to a change to a downgraded UI.
Convoy T4 SST-20 (420lm with 2xAA, $21) - The best budget AA/AAA flashlight I've tested. Sustained 420lm 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 near future. Aliexpress.
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.
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.
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 (urban exploration), long exposure night landscapes, astrophotography, 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 (CRI) >95CRI/R9080 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 to 15 minutes of continuous use.
Included/optional batteries and/or internal USB charging.
Unless specified otherwise flashlights in this section have a floody beam, useful for near to medium distance illumination. Diffusers can turn flashlights into omni-directional light sources. Throwy beams are better for illuminating distant objects, or more fine control of light.
All featured flashlights in this section have decent sustained brightness/size, and realistic lumen ratings. There are many non-featured flashlights advertised with either highly exaggerated lumens, or the lights step-down (dim) from max brightness too rapidly to actually be useful. Don't be fooled by maximum advertised lumens!
Best Compact Flashlights for Illumination:
All of these flashlights use a single rechargeable 18650 or 21700 Li-ion battery, and fit U-shaped tripod mounts. Except for the Olight, these all have high CRI LED options.
Convoy S21E 519A (1,150lm max, 21700, $25) - This is my favourite flashlight for urbex photography. 95CRI Nichia 519A LED options in 7 CCTs from 2700k to 5700k. Can sustain 500-600lm. Side switch, with stepped or ramped brightness levels. Compatible diffuser. USB-C charging input. Optional 21700 battery. Aliexpress (no battery). (with battery).
Convoy S21D 519A (2,150lm max, 21700, $30-36) - Supercharged high-CRI flashlight, with quad 95CRI Nichia 519A LED options in 7 CCTs from 2700k to 5700k, and tail switch. Choose the more efficient 8A CC driver. Choice of 4 optics from very floody 60 degree (great for portrait lighting) to throwy 10 degrees. Can sustain approx. 750-850lm. Compatible with Kaidomain D37 diffusers, and also a good choice for backlight scanners. No internal charging. Optional 21700 battery. Aliexpress (no battery) (with battery).
Acebeam E70-AL (4,600lm max, 21700, $75) - Best consumer grade flashlight in this category. The 70CRI (XHP70.2) options have a choice of 5000k and 6500k CCT, with 4,600lm max/1,200lm sustained. The 95CRI (GT-FC40) 4500k emitter version with 2700lm max/900lm sustained is also worth considering. Best purchased with the optional Acebeam battery with USB-C charging input. Compatible with U-shaped tripod mounts. E70-AL at Acebeam (affiliate).
Olight Seeker 3 Pro (4,000lm max, 21700, $139) - Popular consumer flashlight. 70CRI 6500k. Can sustain 1,200lm. Included 21700 battery, and USB-A to magnetic charging. Olight USA (affiliate). Olight AU (affiliate). - "PUML10" for 10% off at Olight AU.
Wurkkos FC11 (1,300lm max, 18650, $20-24) 90CRI and available in 3 CCTs from 2700k to 5000k. 350lm sustained. Stepped or ramping brightness. Magnetic tail cap. Optional diffuser. USB-C charging input. Optional battery.
Flashlight enthusiasts will also be aware of the impressive Emisar D4V2, D4SV2, D4K, DT8, DT8K, Noctigon KR1, and KR4. Not for muggles!
Best Medium Sized Flashlights for Illumination:
All of these flashlights use a single rechargeable 26650 or 32650 Li-ion battery, and can be mounted on tripods with clamps (such as a SmallRig Super Clamp). These lights are mainly 70CRI and built for both impressive maximum and sustained lumens.
Olight Marauder Mini (7,000lm max, 32650, $199) - Hugely popular and feature packed flood/throw flashlight, with 7,000lm floody beam, 600m spot beam, as well as Red, Green, and Blue (RGB) LEDs (though no last mode memory for RGB). Awesome sustained output - can sustain 6,000lm for the first 4mins on L7 mode, or 2,700lm for the first 23mins on L6 mode! 70 CRI. Battery included, USB-A to magnetic charging. Olight USA (affiliate). Olight AU (affiliate). - "PUML10" for 10% off at Olight AU.
Convoy M3-C (4,400lm max, 26650, $46-$52) - Best option in this category for warmer CCTs, diffuser, and backlight scanner compatibility. 70CRI XHP70.2 versions available in 4 CCTs from 3000k to 6500k and can manage 4,400lm max output for 90secs before gradually decreasing to sustained 1,440lm lumens. Stepped or ramped brightness levels. Compatible diffuser. USB-C charging input. Optional battery. Aliexpress (with battery).
Sofirn SP33S (5,000lm max, 26650, $49) - Good budget 26650 flashlight, 80CRI 5000k or 70CRI 6500k options. 5000lm max, and can sustain 1,700lm/2,000lm respectively for the first 15mins on high mode. Compatible diffuser. USB-C charging input. Battery optional. Sofirn.
Best Lumen Monster Flashlights:
These large flashlights use rechargeable battery packs, and have impressive maximum and sustained brightness and/or very long runtimes at lower brightness levels.
Fenix LR40R (12,000lm max, 4x18650 battery pack, $270) - Large flood/throw flashlight, popular with urban explorers, with 11,000lm floody beam, and 640m spotlight. Simple user interface with 2 switches. Can sustain >5,500 lumen for the first 30 minutes on High II and Turbo modes. 70 CRI. No tripod mount. Battery included, USB-C charging, and USB-A powerbank functionality.
Acebeam X50 2.0 (45,000lm max, internal battery, $379) - This is one of the highest quality flashlights 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. Includes a tripod mount hole, and carrying handle! Internal battery pack and USB-C charging. Acebeam (affiliate). High-CRI version at Acebeam (affiliate).
Best Flashlights for Coloured Illumination:
Ants On A Melon RGB Critter 2.0 (18650, $125) – The first consumer grade, colour changing light with an impressive selection of 39 colours and last mode memory. AOAM Orb Tool, DIY Connector, and Illuminator tools can be used to manipulate the light's beam. Ants On A Melon (affiliate) - 5% off with code "KNIGHT"
Convoy S2+ CSLNM1 (18650, $15-$20) - 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 Cube Light:
LumeCube 2.0 (650lm max/sustained, internal battery, $90) - A compact 95CRI 5600k, very 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 Pocket LED Panel Lights:
Weeylite RB9 (1,200lux/0.5m, internal battery, $85) - The best value for money portable RGB panel light. Its very floody beam is x3 brighter than the Aputure MC! 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/HSL 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.
Pilotcine Atomcube RX7 (2,100lux/0.5m, $180)- The most professional pocket RGB panel light. >95CRI. Adjustable CCT between 2500k and 8500k, adjustable Green/Magenta tint, RGB/HSL colour mixing, brightness and saturation adjustment, on-board or app control. Includes a diffuser and cold-shoe mount. No magnets. Internal battery and USB-C charging.
Best Pen Light for Miniature Scenes:
Wuben E19 (200lm max, 2xAAA, $25) - Pen lights are useful for illuminating miniature scenes - flowers, fruit bowls, etc. This light is also good for medical use. The Wuben E19 uses a 4000k high-CRI 219C emitter, and has 4 brightness levels with last mode memory. Requires 2xAAA batteries. Wuben (affiliate). - 10% off with code "STEPHENKNIGHT"
Best "Throwy" Flashlight for Long Distance Illumination:
Sofirn IF22A (2,100lm max, 21700, $35-$39) - Excellent budget throwy flashlight with bright pencil beam and dim spill beam, which can illuminate up to nearly 700m. USB-C charging, included 21700 battery. Sofirn.
3. Best Headlamps for Night Photography
I would advise using headlamps/head torches with at least 200 lumens for finding your way in the dark, and for camera focusing - many headlamps will fit that requirement. These headlamps have the edge for light painting, with high brightness, last mode memory, and relatively bright red output.
Best Headlamp for Red Light:
Olight Array 2 Pro (1,500lm max, internal, $89) - Centrally located spot and flood white emitters (1500lm), plus a super bright red (200lm) emitter. Last mode memory. No moonlight mode is only major omission. You might need to cover the battery charge indicator with black tape. Internal battery and USB-C charging. Olight USA (affiliate). Olight AU (affiliate). - "PUML10" for 10% off at Olight AU.
Olight Array 2S (1,000lm max, internal, $79) is the predecessor of the Array 2 Pro, also with 200lm Red emitter, and is also worth considering. Olight USA (affiliate). Olight AU (affiliate). - "PUML10" for 10% off at Olight AU.
Best Budget Headlamp:
Sofirn D25LR (500lm max, 18650, $25) - Excellent value for money budget headlamp with 90CRI neutral white 500lm LED, and super bright 150lm SST-20 660nm Deep Red LED. Moonlight modes, last mode memory for both Red and White, and easy user interface. Can get rather hot on the highest modes. This is currently my most used headlamp! Optional battery and micro USB charging. Sofirn.
Best Ultra-light Headlamp:
Nitecore NU33 (700lm max, internal, $50) - Fantastic lightweight headlamp with 700lm max primary LED, 60lm high-CRI auxiliary light, and 13lm red light. The red light isn't as bright as the other featured headlamps in this category, but is still more than twice as bright as the red light on most headlamps. Internal battery with USB-C charging. Nitecore Store (USA) (Affiliate).
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.
If you need more information about batteries and chargers, please have a look at my Battery and Charger Buying Guide.
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