Solomon was renown for saying “There is nothing new under the sun.” He was right of course, This is especially true once you start looking at fields as established as flashlights. Once in awhile though, despite not being able to be called truly “new”. A light comes across my desk that is a fresh enough concept to require a more in-depth look.
Meat and Potatoes
The Sunwayman T25C is the second light I’ve reviewed in the entire history of this venture that offers variable focus. This feature used to be a staple of popular “high-end” flashlights in the 2-D cell, Krypton Incandescent bulb era. The reasoning behind that however, was that it was really a necessity. Flashlights using that as a light source required the focus ability as a means to attempt to overcome the number of quality reducing artifacts they possessed. Once stippled reflectors and tiny Xenon bulbs hit the scene, fixed focus was the preference du jour. LED lighting solidified this, by inherently producing far fewer beam artifacts, even without reflector stippling. The only question was choosing a light that had the focus you wanted.
Sunwayman promises to eliminate that quandary from light selection. Their T25C contains a built-in aspheric lens designed to send your lumens forth in whatever pattern you desire, based on varying the focal length between source and lens. Also, they promise to do so by offering lumens to spare, maxing out at around 880 in Turbo mode. What’s not to like?
Technically speaking, this light isn’t anything to write home about. It’s a basic 18650 powered, 4 mode light with mode memory, using a Cree XM-L2. The nice forward clicky tailcap switch feels solid, with only a little bit of mush, and the modes change by rapidly cycling the power off and back on again from any point. From off, you can rapidly triple click the light on to access a hidden strobe/SOS/beacon mode without mode memory. This is fine to have, but honestly, it’s one of those things you’ll likely never end up using, so I’m happy they tucked it far enough into the background to not be intrusive. The outputs all range fairly high, from 880 in turbo (dropping to a 480 lumen high after 3 minutes), down to only 200 lumens in medium. That’s a whole lot less gap than you might imagine, visually. Low is the most distinctive difference, but it’s a still-bright 17 lumens, rather than any kind of moon mode, to truly make use of that flood beam.
Build quality is mostly superb. The machine work on this light is some of the best I’ve yet seen. The artistic cuts on the head and tailcap easily place it near the top of my list aesthetically, and the anodizing is flawless, even through a number of drops and falls while in the woods gathering firewood late at night. I do have some issues with the lens itself however. I suspect it was just a 1-off case of quality control, but my lens has some distinct optical distortions when you look at it (while off, of course) and I suspect these are what’s showing up as slightly off-center beam artifacts in some of the focal positions. It doesn’t cause much disruption to usability, however there are definitely a few places it’s apparent. I do have to dock a few points from the light for using that horror of horrors, the partially crenellated tailcap (not recessed enough to be stable for tailstanding, and not protruding enough to be comfortable using from any angle. Once again, it’s the worst of both worlds
Variable focus sounds great on paper. It’s a laudable goal designed to condense even more usability into an already useful tool. In practice though, I haven’t seen it play out nearly as well yet. Using the lensing is a far superior take on this concept than trying to alter focal length in a parabolic reflector. The physics of that scenario don’t work in your favor. This is somewhat better, though not as much as I’d like. Fully flood is found by tightening the head to the inmost position. It’s a medium-wide complete wall of light. There is no variation from edge to edge, just smooth and bright. This sounds great, but it’s those edges that cause me trouble. They are a very hard-edged complete drop off from 100% illumination to 0. Tightest focus occurs at somewhere between 3/4ths and 7/8ths of the way extended. It’s actually so well focused that you can see the exact shape of the LED, down to shadows from the bond wires. It does wonders for throw distance, but it isn’t great in practice. That particular beam shape doesn’t have any decent amount of light spread at all, leaving one last option. In my opinion, the best beam shape, the one that’s the most useful, and has the most in common with a traditional flashlight beam, is the fully extended position. It has a traditional center hotspot, smoothly blended into a wide corona, and a perpetually diminishing spillbeam. Of course, if this is the only focus you really want to use on the light, why get a variable focus? The others can be useful I found, but 90% of the time I left the light focused here and didn’t touch it.
The other biggest gripe I have about this torch, is an unintended byproduct of the aesthetic design. Surrounding the focusing lens is a series of holes, designed to function similarly to the crenellations found on most modern lights. Their main purpose is to allow light to leak out while the torch is face down, letting you know when you’ve left the electricity flowing. That way you can take action as necessary and prevent unintended battery loss. The net result of this new style change, combined with the inherent properties of the new focusing lens, is that it’s far too easy to accidentally shine yourself in the face with wayward beams from the LED. Using this light, especially in the higher modes, is an exercise in caution. You have to be perpetually careful not to hold the light at the wrong angle or rotation to preserve any semblance of night vision.
I want to like this light. I really do. Like I said, physically this light is one of the best I’ve yet used. It looks good, and offers variability to extend its usefulness beyond most any light it competes against. In practice, however, I keep getting tripped up on the little things, that awkward perfect focus and hard-edged light. The stray beams to the face when held wrong. It’s just enough to make me frequently opt to carry another light instead.
Provided for review by the kind folks at Sunwayman.