If youve ever powered down the Intracoastal Waterway at night in the rain or came into an inlet from the sea looking for channel markers during a storm, you already know the value of a narrow-beamed spotlight with reduced backsplatter (scatter). Theyre the only kind to own as far as were concerned. So why is it that so many of the spotlights on the market provide minimal splatter protection?
Some manufacturers seem not to understand this concept, so well take a moment to explain it.
How a Spotlight Works
A basic spotlight employs a parabolic reflector, which has the unique property of reflecting all of the light it sees from its focal point in the same direction. However, some light can get away and go in a direction wed like it not to go, making it difficult to see in rain or fog. We call this splatter; some people call it glare or scatter. Splatter lights up things we don’t want to see, which also disturbs our ability to look in the distance and see what the spot is supposed to be illuminating.
The perfect spotlight would cast a spot no bigger than the diameter of its reflector. This isn’t practical, however, because a single small spot in the distance doesn’t give us a sense of dimension, so some beam angle is needed to light up an area. This means either a compromise in the perfect parabolic reflector or spreading out the point of light source. The combination wide-angle floodlight and spotlight uses two filaments, one mounted away from the focal point.
One way to control splatter is by mounting a tiny reflector in front of the bulb, which returns the light back through the source to the parabolic reflector and out along the beam. Depending on design, the lens might also be painted around the edge or tinted to block light splatter. There are different ways to do it but few manufacturers have paid much attention to this problem. Rather, they seem absorbed in impressing us with candle power (CP) statistics.
What We Did
We collected 16 spotlights targeting the marine industry-battery operated, rechargeable and 12V plug-ins. We measured beam angle and relative light intensity and subjectively examined splatter and package quality. If a light claimed to be waterproof, we dunked it.
What we couldn’t measure is the integrity of a switch. However, exper- ience has taught us that any unsealed switch subjected to water is doomed.
Measuring Beam Angle
Figure 1 illustrates our means of establishing beam angle with simple trigonometry: Dimension B minus dimension A divided by distance D yields the tangent value of the beam angle. (Before we get letters: We know that Tangent = opposite/adjacent in right triangles and were not dealing with a right triangle here. However, the angles are so small, it doesn’t make much difference. Generally, a tighter beam is better, providing crisper illumination of targets.) The angle is looked up in a trig table. We calculated two angles. Dimension B is somewhat subjective in that no spotlight projects a sharp-edged spot. We therefore measured the brightest area and ignored the blurry edges. As a point of reference, a 1 beam will illuminate a circle 17′ in diameter at 1,000′.
Measuring Relative Light Intensity
We configured a handheld light meter with a scale of 1 through 20. The meter looks at a small reflected area a couple of inches in diameter; we held it 12″ away from the brightest area projected onto a flat white surface from 21′ by the spotlight under test. Here’s the relative scale:
1 = total darkness.
2 to 3 = Starlight on a partly cloudy night. Distant but dim lights.
11.5 = a bare 60-watt bulb 4′ from a white surface.
17 to 18 = bright overcast day.
20 = midday sunlight
At night, it is difficult to distinguish the brightness between lights just one number apart, but two is discernible.
Other Examined Qualities
We looked for weatherproofness and ruggedness, narrow beam and back-end-loaded batteries to protect the reflector from exposure. We like a good resealable O-ring.
About batteries: Be they alkaline, Ni-Cad or gel, there is no necessity to make them unique. If we can’t buy replacement batteries, we don’t want the product.
On the question of corded versus cordless (battery-powered) spots, there really can be no direct comparison of what are essentially different products. A battery-powered lantern gives you free range, but limited lifespan (and a somewhat heavier unit). But bring a spare battery or have a means for recharging.
Pelican Products: Pro 4000 & Laser Pro 4D
We deemed these products the ideal marine, battery-powered spotlights. The Pro 4000 uses eight D cells and the Laser Pro four. Pelican says to use alkalines but we think rechargeable alkalines or Ni-Cads would work quite well also.
A dual-filament xenon bulb is employed for redundancy, and the assembly is rugged and waterproof, backed by a lifetime warranty. The beam is focused by rotating the head, which loosens the seal. It needs to be re-tightened for use under water.
We liked the rugged and re-configurable handle that allows several holding positions. Best of all, youre not tethered to a 12V outlet.
ACR/L-6A Super Beam Gun
We like this unit because it is obviously made for underwater use and brutal conditions. It employs a magnetic switch and a sealed beam with a hose clamp to keep the water out. We were impressed until we needed to install the battery. Ours didnt come with one so we went on a goose chase. Shucks, it is just a standard 6V lantern battery with terminal posts instead of springs. Half a day later we found one.
The Super Beam Gun works well, with a tighter and brighter beam than Pelican. We recommend it to anyone with a convenient battery source.
LSI Ultimate Nite Tracker RC-1100N
We tested two sets of LSI spotlights. When we informed LSI of our concerns with the first set (warnings on the packaging that continuous use can cause smoking and discoloration, mild steel screws in the case, case separation), they sent us a second set, with stainless screws and stickers on the box saying Marine Grade. LSI told us any light so marked will have ss screws, but not for all models.
Generally, we were pleased with the construction of the marine grade LSI units. The cases fit together better and the hardware is stainless. LSI told us that their products are weather resistant, yet neither their literature nor boxes say anything about it. Neither the trigger switches nor the cases are sealed, but when asked about them, LSI said they have no problem with water.
The RC-1100N 1 million CP rechargeable unit has a halogen bulb behind its 5″ lens, but there are no features to reduce splatter. When first turned on, however, it was the brightest of all of the lights we tested and easily illuminated an overhead cloud during our tests.
We saw no evidence of the smoking or discoloration LSI warns of. In fact,we do not think the unit heating was unreasonable during continuous operation. The unit puts out a lot of light, but the beam isn’t as focused as others weve tried.
Not the best.
LSI Nite Tracker III SP-300
This unit advertises only 300,000 CP yet it was almost as bright as the previous unit using a 12-volt battery measured at 12.21V. Under charge, with the battery voltage at 13.6V, this unit was the brightest, which underscores the futility of believing in advertised candle power. It is packaged similarly to the RC-1100N except it uses a sealed beam with a cup over the filament to reduce splatter.
Its performance was quite good. On the light we tested, the cup used to block splatter was skewed and splatter was not symmetrical. However, this is a standard Philips bulb we have used elsewhere with good performance. Splatter intensity is normally low. There was no sign of smoke or discoloration during our continuous tests. If its not dunked, we give this unit a strong thumbs up.
LSI Nite Guard CE-4400GF
This light-as-a-feather 400,000 CP unit employs a halogen bulb behind its 4″ lens plus a banding of blue tint around the perimeter of the lens to reduce splatter.
As with the previous two units, this units instructions point out that the light is intended for intermittent use only. The packaging doesn’t say what this means. When asked to define intermittent, an LSI technical representative said, about 10 minutes. In our tests, it did not smoke, though there was some bubbling between the blue splatter band and the lens.
For an inexpensive spotlight, this one works pretty well. The splatter is down, and because of its light weight, any kid could hold it all night without complaining. The intensity is reasonable. Recommended.
Optronics Night Blaster QR-5000
This rechargeable (AC/DC charger provided) Ni-Cad-powered, wide-angle spotlight (16 high, as measured in our tests) comes with a three-year warranty (less bulb) but makes no claim for weather-resistance.
The metal hardware is plain steel and the case moldings fit loosely. Rated at 500,000 CP, the beam was much wider than most and the splatter intense.
Not our choice.
Optronics Night Blaster IR1201
This three-year warranted unit, rated at 1.2 million CP, is designed for saltwater use. Its waterproof with non-rusting hardware (except for the hanger clip), booted switch, and a coiled 10′ heavy-duty 12V plug-in cord. It employs a bright, narrow-beamed GE sealed beam but there is no provision to control splatter, which is intense. It floats and works underwater without any signs of problems. (Never dunk them hot, though, or the bulb explodes). We give this a conditional recommendation if the user can deal with peripheral splatter. If not, get the next unit.
Optronics Blue Eye Beam KB-4001
This cord spot has a three-year warranty, sealed beam with splatter controls, is identically packaged as the last unit and has a tight bright oval beam rated at 400,000 CP. We like it. This spotlight exemplifies how a buyer might judge a unit without turning it on. Stare down the business end and all you see is a giant magnified filament which stays in focus at any distance. Skew your vision off the beam and the filament disappears and you see the cup blocking the splatter. Lens coatings further reduce stray splatter. Note the beam intensity compared to the IR1201 that claims to be three times brighter. Recommended.
Optronics Night Blaster QH1000 & West Marine Illuminator II
These are nearly identical large-diameter units with different names. Both have a three-year warranty and claim weather resistance but we doubt they are suitable for the marine environment since the hardware isn’t sealed and plain steel clips and screws are used. Optronics claims 1 million CP with a coiled cord, and West 800K with a straight cord. Both tested narrow and bright but the splatter was awful. Not our choice but among the better of the plain utility units.
Guest Spotlight 219
We like this unit for its rugged simplicity and lack of a fancy name and claims. Its both flood and spot with its sealed dual-filament beam and two-position push-button sealed switch. It can be ordered with a lighter plug or a waterproof 12V deck plug. No candlepower is given, but it tested excellent except for the annoying splatter. We recommend it anyway for its sturdy, waterproof case.
Guest Great White 235
The 235 is waterproof, floats and works underwater, has an 8′ coiled cord, its pistol grip is a curious hollow handle, the switch is booted and the housing well-made. Still, at 300,000 CP its not as bright as the 219 and the beam is looser but the splatter is down with its shielded sealed beam. We like it. Theres no specific warranty information, but the box says lifetime. Recommended.
Brinkman Big Max & Black Max
These identically packaged rugged spotlights come with 15′ straight heavy-duty cords, slide switches, butdifferent sealed beams. Brinkman says they can be submerged (we did it and they seem okay), but we can see metal in the slide switches and wonder about long-term reliability. In spite of this, they are among the best lights weve seen. Both are rated for 400,000 CP.
The Big Max exhibits considerable splatter where the Black Max has both a filament shield and lens treatment to reduce splatter. They tested identically on spot intensity but differently on beam shape. We liked both spotlights. We recommend the Black Max over the Big Max for foul weather usage, but if the user can deal with its splatter, the Big Max is okay.
Brinkman Max Million
Although this unit uses the same package as the previous two, clearly it is not weatherproof with its vented lens and single halogen bulb. Despite its 1 million CP, it tested no better than the previous two.
Among the true spotlights, we liked the Optronics Blue Eye, which offered a tight, bright beam with minimal scatter. Good second choices would be the Guest Great White, which is very rugged, and the Brinkman Black Max, which provides an excellent beam.
Of the battery-powered spots, we favor the rugged Pelican Pro 4000, which should last years, followed by the ACR L-6A, which also had excellent performance.
Contacts- ACR Electronics, 5757 Ravenswood Rd., Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33312; 954/981-3333. Brinkman Corp., 4215 McEwen Rd., Dallas, TX 75244; 800/527-0717. Guest Co., 95 Research Parkway, Meriden, CT 06450; 203/235-4421. Lectro Science, 6410 W. Ridge Rd., Erie, PA 16506; 814/833-6487. Optronics Inc., 350 N. Wheeler St.. Fort Gibson, OK 74434; 918/683-9514. Pelican Products, 23215 Early Ave., Torrance, CA 90505; 310/326-4700.