Update On Flashlights For Photographers—Two New Lights That Will Light Up Your World!

Click here for an updated flashlight comparison chart and priority-buying list.

Back in February, I came out of the closet regarding my addiction to quality flashlights. It’s a constant struggle for me, and although I have it mostly under control, sometimes I just can’t help myself. If manufacturers would just stop making new models, it would make my life much easier.

But nooooo, my flashlight maker of choice, Coast Portland, has just giving me the ultimate temptation. They’ve created two new flashlights that are, in my opinion, the ideal light painting flashlights. One of them is now the workhorse I use in nearly every light painting.

Great, just what I need. More flashlights!

In Choosing LED Flashlights For Light Painting Photography – Part One, I talked in detail about the features to look for in flashlights for photographers. I’m pretty biased about this, and I understand that some photographers are fine using lights that don’t follow these guidelines. That’s fine with me. I’m not telling you what you should do. I’m telling you what I do. Here is a brief recap:

  • Bulb: LED (Definitely NOT incandescent)
  • Power Source: Standard battery (AA, AAA, C, D)
  • Optics: The most crucial design element. The lens must focus the light evenly.
  • Beam Pattern: The most useful lights have a zoom lens that can focus from wide-angle to spot.
  • Lumens: The brightness of the light is not as important as the optics and beam pattern, but you want a light that has a least 100 lumens for general light painting.
  • Light Color: An LED bulb will impart a white light, but the optical system of some lights imparts a color cast, usually yellow or red. You don’t want that. Start with white and you can alter the color as you choose using gel filters.
  • Casing Material: The best lights are made from aluminum. Avoid plastic, except for waterproof dive lights.
  • Switch: Ideal placement is on the barrel where it is easily accessed with the holding hand. Many lights have the switch on the end cap. For photographers, the best switches are simple on/off, or on/high/off and then on/low/off.
  • Price: The main consideration for some people, but it shouldn’t be. With so many different lights to choose from and so many shady companies selling them, price is simply not a good indication of quality. A quality light for most light-painting situations is going to run in the $35 to $65 range. A really good light, like my workhorse, will add another $50. You should have a good reason before spending any more or less.

In Choosing LED Flashlights For Light Painting Photography – Part Two, I discussed eight flashlights that I recommended for photographers. Coast Portland, a relative newcomer in the quality flashlight marketplace, manufactures all of these lights. After extensive research, I determined that Coast has the best quality/features/price ratio of any company out there. They certainly did their homework before entering the market and, in my opinion, they offer the best lights available, regardless of price.

Well, Coast just came out with two new lights that have me reworking the list. If they had let me design the HP7R and HP314, there wouldn’t have been much difference in the outcomes. (I do have gripes about them—more on that later.) Each of these new lights have some really cool features that make them great for light painting, but one attribute in particular makes them stand out from most of the lights offered by other companies. They feature long-range focusing optics, where the light beam is focused to a far point and with little spill-off, all while keeping the light even across the beam field. This makes them ideal for light painting because you get more distance and have precise control over the light, without having it affect the surroundings.

(Full disclosure. Yes, I sell all these flashlights in my online store. But don’t think I’m recommending them just to make a sale. I handpicked these lights for my own usage long before I decided to start selling them. If you run into to me in the field, you’ll find these lights in my pack, so I would be recommending them to you regardless.)

Coast HP7R LED Flashlight

The HP7R is my new workhorse light. My best friend. My constant companion. My cuddling partner when Patricia isn’t around. (Okay, I might be getting a little carried away, but you can see that I LOVE this light.)

The light’s long-range focusing optic projects the light beam over 1,000 feet, but more important, it keeps the light even across the zoom range and projects a tight beam at full focus. With this light, I don’t have to use a snoot to control the light beam and prevent spillover when painting. The total light output is 201 lumens, which is actually less than my old workhorse HP7 (251 lumens), but the focusing optic of the HP7R is so good that when you use it at full distance it appears just as bright.

The “R” in HP7R stands for “Rechargeable” and if you read my earlier articles, you know that I’m not a fan of rechargeable lights. Rechargeable lights generally cost more up front, the batteries often do not carry a charge as long and are not as powerful, and you have to have a charger. I don’t know about you, but I have enough chargers to keep up with as it is. Admittedly, I was hesitant in even trying out the HP7R for this reason, but boy, am I ever glad I didn’t listen to myself!

With the HP7R, Coast created the ideal rechargeable light. Called the Flex Charge Dual Power system, the light comes with two lithium ion battery packs that pack a huge punch and can be recharged using AC, DC, or USB power sources, and it includes all the connectors needed for all three. So I can charge the battery from my laptop, car, or home outlet. Pretty cool! But here’s the best part. The flashlight also comes with a standard AAA battery pack, so I can use it with regular batteries if needed, just like my other lights. Now that’s a good idea.

The HP7R has some other nice features, like coming with a car/wall mount (I used mine to make a tripod holder), belt clip, and sheath. And it features the push/pull focusing system that I require as standard issue. But the long-range focusing optic and the Dual Power system are what make this light my new fav.

Of course, there’s always a negative, right? With the HP7R, I’m afraid there are two of them. First, all of this extra functionality comes at a price. The HP7, my old workhorse, sells for $53.97. The HP7R goes for $105.97. That’s a big jump, and it’s why I carry only one HP7R and still use the HP7 as the backup. Still, even at double the price, I think it’s more than worth it.

The other negative is that the HP7R has a ridiculous strobe function built into the switch. As long as you turn it off and then wait a few seconds before turning it back on, you’ll get the simple on/high/off function that is all a photographer needs, but every once in a while I’ll forget and activate that dang strobe and start cussing. For this reason, I can’t call the HP7R the “perfect” light-painting flashlight.

Coast HP314 LED Flashlight

Need to replace the light in a lighthouse? Maybe the take-off and landing lights on a 747? Or perhaps you own a demolition company and need a new sledge hammer. Well, have I got the light for you!

One stat says it all for the HP314. It comes with a shoulder strap. Not a wrist strap. A shoulder strap. And you’ll need it, too. This baby is a monster. At 17 inches long and over 3 lbs, this is not a light you’ll stuff in your pocket, or even your camera pack. You’ll probably want to keep it in the included fitted carrying case, which you’ll need to make room for in the trunk of your car, assuming the trunk’s big enough.

So, does size really matter? Well, yes and no. For 90 percent of light painting tasks, most photographers can get by easily with the HP7R or another light. But when you need a huge amount of light and you need to project that light far into the distance, you need a light like the HP314.

Using 4 D-cell batteries and featuring Coast’s Long Range Focusing Optics, the HP314 has an output of a whopping 1,132 lumens and projects that light 2,240 feet! That’s nearly a half mile! I’ve never been crazy about huge lights like this, and I honestly didn’t think I would like this one, but after cuddling with it for a while, I’m finding a lot of uses for it. Photo situations that I would not even consider before are now coming into play. In addition to being able to light paint a subject far away, I’m using the light for other things, like backlighting objects and creating light beams in fog.

I’m liking the HP314 so much that I’ve stopped using and recommending the HP17 (615 lumens and 882 feet focusing distance) and HP14 (339 lumens and 574 feet focusing distance). The HP7R renders the larger HP14 useless in my opinion and the HP17 is so large that if I’m going to carry a big light like that, I might as well have one that is as bright and focuses as far as the HP314.

The negatives for the HP314 are the same as the HP7R. It has that stupid strobe function and the price is steep, coming in at $249.97. So it’s a light for serious light painters only, but then, serious is the only way I know how to be.

Click here for an updated flashlight comparison chart and priority-buying list.

Now, go light up your world!

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2 Responses to “Update On Flashlights For Photographers—Two New Lights That Will Light Up Your World!”

  1. marsusf Says:

    Have you checked http://www.protomachines.com/ ? That’s the one I cuddle if my wife is not around. Actually, she might cuddle it when I am not home since we’re both into light painting.


  2. Kevin Adams Says:

    Hey Manu,

    That light looks interesting. Will have to look into it. I need something else to cuddle with!


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