Want To Know The Brightest Flashlight? Here Are Four Ways To Compare.

In high school, I played electric guitar. Everyone was into how powerful their amplifiers were. We would always compare wattage. So for instance a 100 watt amp was better (ie read ‘louder’) than a 50 watt one! But there was a problem. All the manufacturers started quoting higher wattages, but the amps didn’t SOUND louder.

Flashlights are the same. Its not about the watts. Heres’ why we don’t use wattage for rating flashlights. Wattage describes how much power a device uses, not how much visible light it makes. As an example, an electric portable heater might be rated at 1500 watts, but produces little to no light. That’s why we don’t use wattage.


Instead, we use lumens, lux, candelas and luminance.

And what I’ve done is this. I’m going to explain the four methods for measuring the brightness of a flashlight. Hopefully you can use this guide as something to help you get the best and brightest flashlight for your budget. I’ll give you some examples for your survival kit along the way. And at the end, I’ll share a few extreme examples of the brightest flashlights. So let’s get started.


Lumens are a measurement of total light emitted. Bottom line is that its the total amount of light output. Lumens is the total amount of light that is radiated. And here’s how it’s measured. For instance, imagine you are standing in a 1 meter x 1 meter cardboard box. And you are holding a birthday candle. One lumen is the light that falls on the cardboard box. The more candles you hold, the more lumens you will shine onto the board and the brighter the light gets. So a 60 watt incandescent bulb will put out 890 lumens. A 40 watt bulb will put out 460 lumens.

Why does this matter?
Well, just like in my old electric guitar amplifier days, nowadays, cheap flashlight makers game the system by quoting bogus numbers. They want to present their flashlight as being brighter than it really is. That’s why the ANSI-NEMA/FL1 standard was created. And within this standard they have 2 levels of lumens brightness. “Emitter” and “Out Of The Front” or “Torch” lumens.

Emitter Lumens

Emitter lumens is the potential output of the emitter its self. This includes LED, hot filaments, various gases, and more. It is not what you end up with when you turn the flashlight on. Moreover, the cheaper the components, the more light you lose. As a matter of fact, its possible to lose 60% of the emitter lumens before you get useable light. That’s why there’s a second kind of lumens. Torch lumens or “out the front” lumens. So let’s talk more about torch lumens.

Torch Lumens

Torch, ‘Out The Front’ or OTF lumens refers to what really comes out of the whole system after some losses occur. What are those losses? They can be at the reflector, out the back of the reflector, light used to heat up the reflector, light used up to heat the front lens, light that bounces back to the emitter and losses through the lens or losses at the bezel.

For this reason, a rule of thumb has come out. Its called the 2/3 rule and it goes like this. Take 2/3 of the emitter lumens and that will be your ‘torch lumens’ number. Just remember that this is just a rule of thumb though. Another consideration is that most lights these days have multiple settings of high, medium and low. Minor point.

Here’s an old forum thread where MrGman has put together a list of flashlights with his own measurements within a 6” sphere system. http://bit.ly/1tzQV0w

An Example of the brightest:
The Torch – 4100 lumens at $200.  the good part is you can fry an egg with it. The bad part is the battery is $100.

Oh, and by the way, check this out. You can use a 4,000+ lumens flashlight to light a fire, just by aiming it at paper. If you think about it, who needs matches? What do you need a fire starting kit for? During a rain storm, just aim it at some soaking wet wood and dry it out!
Which flashlight is it? The SureFire Annihilator.


Lux is the amount of light that strikes a point on a wall. 1 lux equals 1 lumen per square meter and typically gets measured with a light meter. Its a measurement that tells us what we see as the brightness of a beam. In the past, lux has also been known as “foot candles”.

Why does Lux matter?

Lux is important because if you are looking for a flashlight that “throws” as far as possible, then this is what you want to look at. It describes how good the flashlight is at projecting light over a distance.

Lux Explained

Lux measures the magnitude of light over distance and how tightly the beam is focused. It’s not going to tell us anything about the overall brightness or quantity of light that’s being produced. It just describes the light in the task area, not the equipment itsself.

Some Examples of Lux

So let me give you two examples. First, a high lux light will travel further but have a smaller footprint. In the second example, low lux lights will travel shorter distances but have a larger footprint. Let me give you a few more examples. On a clear night, a full moon will illuminate the earth’s surface at about 1/4 of 1 lux. In contrast, a normal living room will be illuminted at about 50 lux and direct sunlight in the daytime will be about 130,000 lux.

To help you out a little bit I’ve included a link to a chart that lists flashlights with lux ratings. Throw chart

And to give you an example of a high lux flashlight, check out the AE PowerLight PL24/6-S, 24 Watt HID


Candelas are about light emission.
Strength of the Light emission.

Why does this matter?
Candelas are important because they are a measure of the concentration of a beam of light. So when you have a high candlepower light, the measurement is usually at the center of the beam, where its the brightest. Not all flashlight beams disperse the same way. Some have an even distribution of light. Others have a moderate beam around the edges, but an intense beam at the center.


Luminance simply describes the intensity of light which is leaving the surface. It can also describe light intensity.

Why does this matter?
When it comes to flashlights, its not a critical measurement. Oftentimes brightness and luminance are used for the reflection of surfaces.

So there you have it. The four ways to measure the brightness of a flashlight. And just to summarize, the four ways are:
1. Lumens
2. Lux
3. Candela
4. Brightness/Luminance

Now if you want to do your own tests, here are a couple of items you might want to pick up. These will help you measure the output of any flashlight.

  • CEM DT-1300 digital lux light meter $20-$40 on ebay
  • Wavetek Meterman LM631 Digital Light Meter $40-$60 on ebay

In the meantime, why don’t you start hitting the camping stores and looking into the different flashlights available. Do some research into the lumens ratings. See if you can find OTF ratings. Do you remember what OTF means? Out The Front.

Once you find a few, light them up for yourself and get a feel for how much light you’ll get for any given rating. Then send me a comment on facebook, and tell me what you found.