Streamlight Survivor Flashlight

Concept: 2 out of 5
Execution: 3 out of 5
Yeah, but: Flared base for safety.

The Long Version: I've said this before, but it bears repeating. If you're looking for a 'tactical' flashlight because you think that someday you might be in a position where your best course of action is to hit someone with it, then you've made fundamentally poor life choices. In fact, if you're looking for punching-people things in general, this isn't the sporadically-updated reviews blog for you. Go away.

The Streamlight Survivor is a particular type of flashlight that's designed for firefighters. The right-angle light is designed to be worn, not carried, and throws an uncommonly tight beam that's designed to cut through smoke. Yes, the yellow one looks like a cross between a sex toy and a Minion, but sometimes greatness comes at a cost.

I am not a fire fighter, making this a slightly odd flashlight for me to own. But I like ugly utility lights, and it answers a particular need. I'm a photographer, and have been working with night photography in a remote wilderness location, and the Survivor lets me light up trees that are over a hundred metres away from my camera. It's an excellent tool for light painting, especially with the warming amber 'smoke-cutter' installed. While it shows as a ring in these photos, the little CTO disk does average out into the beam at a fairly short distance, making it a nice temperature for mixing with ambient light.

And yes, Streamlight calls those in-beam light modifiers "plugs". Maybe they do have a sense of humour.

The Survivor has both a heavy-duty plastic clip, which is spring-loaded and rugged, along with a metal loop for hooking. The metal loop is attached to the top of the clip, so when it's upright it gives a little extra leverage for attaching or removing the clip from clothing. The upright clip also makes it harder to turn the light on with a one-handed hold, but that's life.

One design shortfall of the Survivor is that nothing on it glows in the dark. Pelican lights are the masters at this, but even a few other companies have figured this out, so it can't be patented. I've addressed this shortfall by applying some photoluminescent tape to the back of the light, which helps, but a glow bezel would be better.

And there's a funny story about me applying that tape. I wanted to clean the body to ensure that the tape would stick properly, so I wiped it down with a paper towel that had been touched with rubbing alcohol. It worked – the tape sticks nicely – but the alcohol also took off all of the black paint that usually highlights the name on the front of the light. I really expected a tool that's designed to be used in hazardous environments to be a bit more resilient than that, even if it is only cosmetic. My Pelicans are all tougher than this.

There are a couple of powering options for the Survivor. I chose the basic 4xAA setup since I'm putting it through fairly light use, and the bespoke rechargeable options are quite expensive. But regardless of which option you choose the light itself is the same, with the pass-though charging contacts on the base, so if I ever find myself running a fleet of these things I can upgrade it to a rechargeable battery pack instead of needing to buy a new light. On the other hand that does mean that the 4xAA cells are housed in a bulky carrier that needs a little pry to open when it's time to change them.

The Survivor is a bulky light, much larger than the 4xAA battery power would suggest. This isn't strictly a negative, since it's designed to be handled by people wearing gloves, but it's worth keeping in mind for civilian use. While the 4xAA light does lose its safety certifications when running with anything but disposable batteries, it works just fine with my usual choice of low-discharge rechargeable batteries – ready whenever I need it, no matter how long it has been sitting idle.

Just like a sex toy.

last updated 20 october 2017


Fujifilm X100F

Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: I like it not because it's perfect, but because it's good.

The Long Version: There are hundreds of Fujifilm X100F reviews already. I’ve started a half-dozen myself in the six months that I’ve owned the camera, but always give up halfway through. Really, what more is there to say?

It’s an excellent camera.

Twenty-four megapixels is enough for almost everything.

Limitations can be powerful.

The sort of things the F can’t do will be fairly obvious. The things it can do can be fairly surprising.

“More Zoom” is never the correct answer to any question.

You can stand on the X100F as a foundation, figuratively speaking, but you can’t lean on it as a crutch.

Using one won’t make you a better person, but it will make you a better photographer.

Should you buy one? If you’re ready to argue with these first few points, probably not.

Carry as much as you’ll need and as little as possible: the F is an excellent camera to travel with.

Even when staying home, the F is superbly easy to live with.

The X100F might fit in a jacket pocket, but you’ll have to confirm on a case-by-case basis.

Colder climates have an advantage for jacket-pocketability, but small buttons and dials are not kind to gloves.

Despite moving its buttons to the right side the F still isn’t a one-handed camera.

The more powerful battery makes the F snappier than the earlier models. Even the shutter sounds a little crisper.

Battery life is about the same as earlier models. Sticking to the OVF squeaks out a few extra shots per charge.

If you’re used to SLRs, carry two or three times as many batteries as you’d expect to need.

The logistical burden of an unused battery is minor compared to carrying around an inert camera.

35mm-equivalent is the least interesting focal length ever created. Not wide enough to be eyecatching, not long enough to be isolating. It’s fundamentally unexciting.

A 35mm-e is versatile, though. There’s a reason why it’s a rangefinder classic.

Upgrades from the T that convinced me to buy the F: the new sensor, W126 battery, lift-turn iso dial, and acros. In actual use only the first two have mattered, though the others are sometimes nice to have.

Choosing a camera because it will let you take sneaky photos of people that they wouldn’t knowingly allow you to take is a moral failing.

There are words to describe people who do things to others without permission, and none of them are good. Don’t earn them.

The X100 looks pro enough that the people you ask for permission to photograph should assume you’re capable, without being so over-the-top that it’s intimidating.

It’s not Weather Sealed, but I put mine through the wringer at Niagara Falls and it’s fine. YMMV.

Setting the camera to jpeg-acros is a fun way to spend a drizzly summer night in the city.

Build quality generally is excellent, although I loathe the front and rear command dials.

Buttons should click, dials should turn. Fujifilm insists on getting this wrong.

It could really use a thumb ridge. One from any of the other x-series cameras would do nicely.

Daylight fill flash with a leaf shutter is awesome.

Overpowering daylight with a built-in flash is even more awesome. It’s possible at close range, but watch for shadows from the hood.

The flash control interface, sadly, is not the F’s strong point.

The [Q]uick menu “Flash Compensation” item allows control over TTL flash levels, but not manual flash power.

You also need the “Flash Function Setting” item enabled in the [Q]uick menu to turn the flash on and/or change modes.

The Fuji EF-X20 flash is perfect for the X100, but needs a refresh with a wider EV comp range.

Canon-compatible TTL cables work with Fuji; Canon TTL remote triggers do not.

You may need the ND filter to keep the shutter speed within the flash-friendly mechanical shutter range in bright sun.

The built-in three stop ND filter is real but only moves into place at the moment of exposure.

The ND filter should have an ‘auto’ mode, but doesn’t. Assign it to a function button and get used to checking to see if it’s on when it shouldn’t be.

Three stops of darkening is almost enough to play with slow shutter speed and motion effects. Almost.

Three extra stops can add significant oomph to screw-on ND filters.

A serious ND filter on the front of the lens auto-darkens the viewfinder into unusability in daylight. Assign the LCD/EVF brightness to a [Q] menu option.

The frame lines in the OVF remain too bright to use in the dark. The LCD/EVF brightness option in the [Q] menu doesn’t help with this.

The EVF/OVF/OVF+ selector should be a three-position toggle, not a momentary switch.

The OVF frameline and focus point need to wait for focus to show their parallax correction.

The “electronic rangefinder” LCD-in-OVF always shows the correct focusing point location regardless of defocus or focusing distance.

The ERF can also “zoom out” to show an accurately-framed but tiny view of the full image; this is rarely useful.

The histogram switches sides when changing between OVF and EVF. Sloppy.

I like the idea of the OVF, but usually use the EVF instead.

If I crop for more magnification I always want the crop to be off-centre. This rules out the “digital tele-converter” even if it worked with raw files.

The optical wide and tele add-on lenses substantially defeat the point of an X100, but they’re an option.

Almost all of the important camera settings can be seen, and even changed, when the X100 is powered off. That’s uncommon.

Manual mode is relatively easy to use here, but there’s rarely a reason to work that hard. Don’t go chasing the needle unless you really need to.

As a dense little camera with a leaf shutter the X100F is awesome on even a lightweight tripod for long exposures and night photography.

Fuji doesn’t make a tripod plate hand grip for the F. The RRS one is very nice but expensive; the eBazon knockoffs are less so of each.

The position of the tripod socket will make generic QR plates block the battery door, but it’s very close to the camera’s balance point.

There are lots of ways to trigger the X100F shutter remotely. A clone of the Canon RS60 is my favourite.

Using a threaded shutter cable reminds me just how often I still need to tap the shutter button when doing night photography.

When using Bulb mode the elapsed exposure time counts up on the rear LCD. No more need for a stopwatch; not as clever as the live displays that micro four thirds offers.

When the shutter speed dial is set to “T” the LCD counts down the exposure time remaining; it would be really nice if it could do this in Aperture mode long exposures as well.

Setting the self-timer when the camera is in a continuous drive mode makes it fire a burst of photos. Clever.

Cameras that blink the AF Assist light during the two-second self timer haven’t properly thought things through. The X100F, sadly, is no exception.

When the ears of the aperture ring are level the lens is at f/5.6. Set it by feel.

The lift-turn iso dial works and is useful. (Even some of Fuji’s tame camera-likers have had problems with this one.)

“Iso” and “raw” are words, not acronyms. Please write and pronounce them accordingly.

The Nikon DF’s design team is laughing at Fuji for including twin command dials on the X100F.

Needing to use the scroll wheel to change [Q]uick menu items is maddening. None of the other menus need this awkward extra controller.

Customize the [Q]uick menu. Most of the default options aren’t raw-relevant if that’s how you work.

The Q menu is also handy for checking that your electronic settings are correct.

The focusing joystick really does make the four-way controller redundant for menu navigation, but having those extra function buttons is nice.

Being able to reassign the custom function of a button by holding it down for a few seconds is brilliant.

The top-deck function button, right next to the shutter, can’t be used for video recording. There’s a message there.

If you’re shooting at the minimum focusing distance, wouldn’t you normally stop down anyway?

In-camera charging via micro-USB is very useful, and it’s fantastic that Fuji includes a proper charger as well.

The back indicator light turns green when the battery is charging in the camera, and turns off when it’s full. The wall charger light works the same way.

The W126 batteries have an orange square or circle that matches up with the orange battery latch on the camera. These little touches are so nice.

The Fuji X100F leather case has a good feel and adds a little extra protection to the camera body. It also looks better with age and extensive use: a goal to aspire to.

Having the half-case on the body also protects the focus mode slide switch, which otherwise likes to change position on its own.

The solid hood made for the X70 barely blocks the viewfinder any more than the vented X100-designed ones do, but only the solid hood blocks reflections when it’s pressed up against glass.

I’m proud of every nick and scratch my hood has earned. That’s secretly the reason why I use one.

The X100F is conspicuously pretty. It should come with an "Ask Me About My Retro Camera!" shirt to wear while using it.

I’d wear that shirt all the time.

It’s a premium camera. Don’t insult it with off-brand accessories.

(Except for a good third-party shoulder strap. That’s mandatory.)

Attach the strap in the Nikon manner, with the free end fed downwards through the buckle. Much neater than the way the Fuji manual shows.

The the exposure compensation dial needs skip spaces or a stronger detent to mark its zero position so that it can be set without looking.

A camera launched in 2017 should have a level that also shows pitch, not just roll.

Labeling both on and off power switch positions is redundant.

Electrical tape is a close match to the slightly shiny finish of the all-black camera.

A little silver sharpie on the power switch position needle makes the on/off position much easier to see.

Add a little highlight to the exposure compensation indicator while you’re at it. Check out the other x-series cameras to see how it should look.

Shadow and highlight tone adjustments are now sensibly named. A positive value increases contrast, negative shifts things closer to midtones.

Even if you only shoot raw, these jpeg settings affect the in-camera histogram and image review.

Raw to jpeg conversions are easy and a good way to play with film simulation modes.

When reviewing photos the [Q] button becomes a shortcut to the raw conversion menu, and the top-deck FN1 button activates wifi. Knowing this is like learning about the “J” shortcut in Lightroom. Transformative.

Wireless transfer only works with jpegs, naturally.

Wifi camera control works well as a remote viewfinder if you hate battery life, but doesn’t trigger quickly enough to capture action.

I remain happy with the 24mpx sensor results at about one stop higher iso than with the 16mpx generation.

A little barrel distortion remains even with after the software lens correction.

The evaluative metering is really good, and the sensor is forgiving. The exposure compensation dial still remains your friend.

I’ve assigned White Balance to one of the function buttons, but have rarely really needed to take it off of Auto.

Having WB on a button is the easiest way to set a custom value, though.

Should you buy one? If you’ve read this far, then probably yes.

The X100F is my favourite camera for practicing the Stephen King method of photography: Put myself in an interesting situation and wait to see what happens.

People from Fujifilm do pay attention to feedback and suggestions from photographers, and actually use it to make their cameras better. Try saying that about companies with the letters “on” in their names.

A camera that you feel enthusiasm about will take photos that are 37% better than those from a camera you dislike.

Statistics can be false and true at the same time.

Spend less time reading camera reviews.

Try not to care, and also don’t forget, that the most passionately adored electronics today will be outdated and set aside in a few short years.

Limitations are powerful.

The Fujifilm X100F is an excellent camera.

last updated 20 oct 2017


2016 Pelican 3310PL – 378 Lumen Edition

 Pelican 3310PL, lights on

Concept: 5 out of 5
Execution: 5 out of 5
Yeah, but: Pelican Ugly.

The Long Version: The Pelican 3310PL is the best flashlight ever created. It's probably also the least sexy flashlight ever created, but even that’s part of its appeal. There have been a few generations of the 3310PL, so make sure you're buying the new one with “378 Lumens” clearly marked on the packaging.

That headline feature, the 378 lumen output, is a tremendous output from such a small light. It’s easily the brightest light I own. But better than that, it also has the most useful light output of any I own. It combines a very tight long-throw beam with a very usable and smooth spill that's brighter than my favourite flood headlamp. It’s rare to find a light that gets one of these right, let alone both. Perfect for exploring a haunted house. And, sensibly, the light defaults to high power when it’s turned on, but has two more settings as well.

The low-powered setting on the 3310PL puts out 39 lumens, which is still better than the best efforts of so many lights from just a few years ago. That's enough for a huge range of tasks, and much better than the full output if you need to use it at close range. At this level it’s useful but not blinding, while the spill still provides enough oomph to light the peripheries. So whether I'm looking for a pair of shoes in the back of the closet, or lighting a stairwell in a power failure, the 3310 is effective and useful.

The third mode is a 1hz strobe. This is a bit unfortunate, since it needs to be clicked through when switching from low power to high, but at least it's a slow flash. It could be used as a location marker for an air drop or rescue attempt, reflecting the 3310's serious-yet-practical possibilities. My other flashlights might do a faster strobe, intended to disorient my enemies in combat, or a cutesy "SOS" pulsing pattern that I'd rather not use for a great many reasons. So while I would prefer not to have the strobe mode complicating things at all, it certainly could be worse, and perhaps some day it might actually be useful.

The three options in the "pick two" joke for flashlights are usually Bright, Small, and Long-Lasting. The Peli 3310 really does pull off all three. It's not small enough to be an “everyday carry” penlight, but it can be tucked in a back pocket easily enough when needed, and adding it to a jacket or a bag is trivial. And it can run on high for eight hours, which is amazing, and will last eight days on low power. Yes, days – or about two hundred hours. On just three AA batteries.

While the light doesn’t seem to have a regulator to keep its brightness level constant, there’s clearly still some kind of witchcraft involved in making this output and run time possible. Personally, I approve. And I don’t mind a light that gradually dims rather than suddenly dropping to nothing, especially when it’s this bright, for this long, and runs on batteries that are as cheap and abundant as AA’s. I have an eight-cell charger and fistfuls of low-discharge rechargeables, so forget those spendy and toxic specialty disposables.

 Pelican 3310PL, lights off

So: about that appearance. Yes, it's ugly. But it's a flashlight that glows in the dark. That's freaking awesome.

Pelican, like knife maker Spyderco, isn't afraid to experiment with practical and functional designs that don't take aesthetics into account. That's awesome, because like knives, flashlights have a bad case of the Mall Ninjas. Frankly, too many lights are pandering to people who imagine themselves to be the last warriors standing on the brink of civilization, ready to wage a battle that only they can see coming. The result is a sea of toughguy-grade aluminum torches with serrated bezels that are designed for hitting people — as if that's ever a sensible life choice. Those who want Combat-Ready Tactical Lights will absolutely hate the look, feel, and construction of the polycarbonate 3310PL. And good riddance to them.

The 3310PL is ugly and amazingly practical. Its body has a flat profile that won't roll when it's put down. The photoluminescent plastic is a little smooth, so it has thick ridges that provide a solid grip, even with gloves, but it's only ridged on the edges so that they don't interfere with its pocket-friendly shape. The result is a light that’s nice to touch, durable, light, won’t scratch, and sealed against brief water immersion. The only way I'd change its design would be to give it a flat base so that it could tail-stand more easily. This light has ample power to light up a room, and enough run time to make that a practical option. But Pelican does know a bit more about flashlights than I do, and they probably concluded that even if the tail was flat the narrow body of the light wouldn’t properly balance the wider head, and they’re probably right.

Batteries load through the back of the light, which twists to open in a way that’s only slightly disconcerting. The back detaches, but remains tethered to the body, and the battery contacts move a little differently from the rest of the tailcap. The back also locks in place with a secondary mechanism, turned with a screw driver or the plastic tab on the lanyard, but this isn’t needed to keep it closed.

And have I mentioned that the entire body glows in the dark, which means it can be found immediately when the need suddenly arises? Try that with some black metal tacticool milspec battery-eater. There’s a reason why nobody sells those things with a case and hardware to mount it as an emergency lighting station for factories, which Pelican provides as the 3310ELS variant. This is a well-designed and mature light meant for real emergency preparedness, not just enthusiast preppers.

So how much would you pay to own the best flashlight yet made? Would you pay between $50-100? Most of my lights fall in this range, and the new 3310 comprehensively outperforms them all. How about over $100? It's easy to spend that much on a "serious" light if you want to. Over $200? There are lots at that level as well — there's really no upper limit. But the Pelican 3310PL costs less than $40. All that and it's one of the cheapest lights I own.

I want to buy one for every member of my family and every room in my house.

last updated 14 september 2016

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