Camping Flashlights: Bulb Types Explained



In the past our blog series on flashlights has done a great job covering the basics of the many different types of flashlights on the market today, but so far we’ve glossed over the issue of brightness and the classification system of flashlights overall.  That ends today!  By taking a look at the different types of bulbs and their light source ratings, you can be that much more prepared to purchase a flashlight that better meets your specific needs.  Campers all have their own style after all!
Lumens and Candela Explained
Before we explore the bulb universe, let’s start with the units of measurement that help us rate different flashlights at different brightness levels: lumens and candela.  We’ve spoken about lumens in the past, but a lumen is a measure of the total quantity of light emitted by a single light source that’s visible to the human eye.  In the case of a traditional incandescent bulb, lumens reflect the measurement of the entire output of light (the total light shining in every direction), whereas the lumens of an LED reflect the measurement of all of the light only inside of the beam angle.  As an extension of lumens in both LED and incandescent bulbs, the candela refers to the peak beam intensity rating of the brightest spot in a focused beam of light.


Common Bulb Types

Going all the way back to the 1800’s, the incandescent light bulb is arguably the oldest and most successful bulb type on the market today.  These bulbs use a tungsten filament in a gas-filled glass shell that radiates light when an electrical current passes through it.  Most of the energy used in these bulbs is converted to heat rather than light, but because they are extremely inexpensive to produce, lower-end and average quality flashlights tend to use incandescent bulbs in their flashlights to keep costs down without sacrificing lumen ratings.

Light-Emitting Diodes were mostly used as indicator lights in computers and other electronics for decades because of their long life and relatively-low power consumption, but around the turn of the century companies began looking at the technology as an alternative to long-life lightbulbs.  Today’s LED’s have undergone numerous evolutions, but still last 10 times as long as an incandescent bulb and are much more durable than incandescents.  Their energy efficiency is also much greater, with very little energy radiated as heat. 
Right now the flashlight market has a roughly-even distribution between LED and incandescent bulb use, but all signs point to the much higher-quality and energy-efficient LED becoming the mainstream bulb design very soon.  Cost-wise incandescent bulbs are still cheaper to make however so it’s unlikely they’ll disappear completely any time soon, but LED costs are plummeting.  Which one is better?  You decide, campers!

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