Goal: Lighting for my bike for an occasional ride an hour before sunup and/or to go several hours in the night. I do not plan on using these that often. Desire -- something (1) bright, (2) simple [cables/battery packs = yuck], (3) easy to remove and transport in bag, and (4) as low cost as possible. After reading the forums, I decided to go with AA flashlights mounted on TwoFish Lockblocks on the bike and a TwoFish Bikeblock on the helmet. So, "Which light?" I narrowed it down to the Ultrafire C3 Cree Q5 at dealextreme.com for about $20 shipped (bought 3 at slight discount) or the Fenix L2D Premium Q5 for under $60 (w/coupon). This review will be as comprehensive as possible, hopefully covering everything you would ask and also that which you wouldn't even think to ask. Note: I have no prior experience with flashlights/bike lighting so this will be an amateur review in every sense of the word.
The Fenix comes in a prettier box. The Ultrafire comes in a small white box with hand-written Chinese on the end (presumably to identify the contents). Fenix wins the first impressions award. Also, Fenix orders arrive in 3-4 days. Dealextreme ships from Hong Kong, which is always a crap-shoot, and my 3 Ultrafires took a whopping 18 days to arrive.
The size, weight, and material the lights are made from is virtually identical. Looking straight at the head (light off, of course!) the head of the Fenix has a very, very slightly larger diameter (no photo, sorry). Each light body has different points of thicknesses and relief. The Ultrafire has a thicker, textured surface about 1/3 the way from the tail. This is where I (originally) mounted the light on my Lockblock, so (at the time) I liked the Ultrafire better in this regard. However, on a test ride during the day I rode with the lights mounted off-balance and sure enough, after continuously going over bumps the "heavy end" of the light ended up pointing the light farther down toward the ground, so I found it better to keep the flashlight balanced by mounting in the middle of the light. The Minoura bar is very smooth, so with constant jarring and an uneven load, it appears slipping does occur (if mounting to handlebar tape or another non-smooth surface it probably wouldn't move at all).
Screwing/unscrewing the different parts of the light together, the Fenix feels better constructed, with a finer fit of the threads and a tighter O-ring fit. The finer threads actually makes the Fenix more difficult to put back together, like when changing batteries. It might take me 5-7 seconds to get the threads started on the Fenix while the Ultrafires went together first try every time. However, if you have seen the YouTube video of the Fenix running underwater, I would not be as confident to try that with the Ultrafire as the O-rings do not cause as much resistance as the Fenix ones do.
As for the tail-clicky, the Ultrafire is a 5-mode and the Fenix is a 6-mode. The lights turn on and off and changes modes in a different fashion from each other. With the Ultrafire, you click the tail switch and it goes from Mid > Lo > Hi > Strobe > SOS and then starts over. If you turn the Ultrafire light off and turn it on "soon" it will remember where you left it last and go to the next mode. So if you shut it off at Hi, if you turn it back on 1 minute later it will start in Strobe mode and then you have to cycle through to get back to Hi. Inconvenient!
The Fenix has two modes accessible by turning the bezel. Turned for general mode you get Lo > Med > Hi > SOS. If you turn the light off on any mode and then turn it back on in General mode, it always starts at Lo. Turned to Turbo mode you get Turbo > Strobe. If one primarily uses the the Turbo and/or strobe mode, the Fenix is much nicer because you do not need to cycle through all the other modes to get to it. The Ultrafire has to cycle through Mid > Lo > Hi to get the brightest setting, or, if turning on soon after shutting off from hi, you have to go through all 5 modes. Overall, its not THAT big of a deal, but still a little nag and the Fenix is easier to operate.
Both lights come with a hand strap, and with the Ultrafire it comes already attached to the light. For use on the bike I removed the hand strap from the Ultrafire. The Fenix has the addition of a snazzy holder for your flashlight. I could see storing the light in here and then placing it in a bike bag when not in use. I have not messed around with the content of the box (nor instructions) but have read the Fenix light also comes with 2 additional O-rings, a nice touch.
Below are photos of how I mounted the lights. I tried different positions, including mounting the lights on the outside tops of my wing bar with the Lockblocks (no photos showing this), but doing that makes my hands somewhat cramped if I want to be on the tops, so mounting there is not ideal. (You'll notice I cannot mount directly in the middle of my handlebar due to a handlebar bag.) I chose to install a Minoura SwingGrip ($17 from LBS) to attach the lights to. I want to mention I also tried the ViewPoint Spacebar that Performance sells shown on varuscelli's page, but that bar did not have the reach to position the lights under my handlebar bag -- the Minoura bar is longer and more adjustable.
Now, on to performance:
With the photos below, the Ultrafire light is on the left, the Fenix on the right. I did not doctor the photos except to change the photo resolution. I am no photographer, and the point-and-shoot Canon SD800 did not capture the spill very well, but the hot spot is a good representation of how the lights compare. Each light was at its maximum brightness for the tests, the Fenix in Turbo mode, and the Ultrafire in High mode. The first photos are from about 15 feet, the latter ones from about 25 feet. The photos from farther back capture the spill better. Also, note the Fenix light has a more yellow tint, while the Ultrafire is more bluish-white. This was visible with the naked eye as well.
I shot these photos on my detached garage that is behind my house with a small amount of light pollution from the streetlights, which even the spill of the lights seemed to wash out. The Fenix was brighter in the hotspot, and, as to be expected, the spill of the Fenix was also brighter.
Running for a period of time in a stationary location, the Fenix lights got very HOT. I am talking too-hot-to-hold hot. It makes sense that higher output produces a hotter light. The airflow from a moving bike should keep the Fenix light cool enough to handle, but note that if you stop for a time and leave it on Turbo, it will heat up. The Ultrafire also got very warm when stationary in high mode, but it was not too warm for me to hold indefinitely.
In later testing I took the lights out for a ride in as dark of conditions as living in the city limits of Houston will allow (on the Braes Path between Chimney Rock and Rice Ave). In dark conditions is where the lights really shine! (pun intended) I started with one Ultrafire on the helmet and 2 Ultrafires mounted to the bike (all bike mounting was on the Minoura bar positioned under the bike bag). On high the lighting was very good, and I would feel comfortable riding up to 20mph on familiar roads/paths. I then switched to the Fenix lights on Turbo and WOW! what a difference. Much brighter, and I could see farther up the path. I also put the two Fenix lights in High mode on the bike and compared them to the Ultrafire lights on high. The pair of Fenix lights on High were brighter than the Ultrafire lights on High. Also, I prefer the yellow beam of the Fenix lights to the blueish-white beam of the Ultrafires.
Guess which light is which? The above photo was taken during one of my indoor run-time tests. The Fenix is on the left this time.
Lastly, run time. My batteries are new, high capacity 2600mAh Tenergy AA rechargeable batteries. I tested the lights several times and used different sets of batteries (fully charged). I could not babysit the run-time so only have generalities. The Ultrafire does not list a run time on the DX website. I found that they lasted well over 2 hours on high mode. I checked them at 2hr:20min and it was still running on high. Came back at 2:50 and the Ultrafire had reduced brightness but was still running. I got similar results when repeated.
The Fenix L2D states a run time of 2.4 hours at the 180 lumen (turbo) setting. Hmmm, guess they don't say what batteries they are using. At 1:10 the Fenix was going strong. I went back at 1:45 and the light was already shut off! I thought that maybe it overheated. I tried to turn it on and nothing. I put in new batteries and it ran just fine. I tested again, and this time the Fenix was greatly reduced at 1:30. I don't know exactly when it was lowered in power. I thought maybe it was the battery brand, so I put in a pair of 2500mAh Lenmar batteries charged a couple weeks ago. This set barely lasted an hour before I noticed it had dimmed.
After some forum discussion, I re-ran the run times with a stopwatch and fresh batteries. I got about 1:15 useable runtime out of the Fenix light, and about 2:20 out of the Ultrafire. See my post below for more details. This was with freshly charged 1.2v 2600mAh Tenergy NiMH AA rechargeable batteries. By 1:30 the Fenix had no useable output and the bulb was glowing like a little ember with these batteries. The Ultrafire finally quit shining sometime after 4 hours, and it gradually got dimmer and dimmer, while the Fenix lights seemed to use all of the available battery power, and then died out rather rapidly.
One thing I came to realize is that I had been testing these flashlights on the highest setting -- Turbo for the Fenix and High for the Ultrafire -- to compare run times, and expected them to be the same. But in reality, the Fenix light adds the Turbo mode while the Ultrafire is lacking that high of a power all together, so it was really a better comparison to put both lights in their high modes and then compare, especially since their outputs are closest this way. Comparing high mode to high mode, with the one test I have been able to run so far, the Fenix was going strong on high power at 2hr30min, while the Ultrafire was already in reduced lighting mode at this time. I had to leave the house, so don't know how long the Fenix actually lasted in High mode, but it certainly was longer than the Ultrafire. So battery run time for the Fenix is better than the Ultrafire in similar mode setting.
CONCLUSION: To justify the higher cost of the Fenix light, it would have to be significantly brighter, run longer, and/or offer other advantages. Here's how they stack up in my book:
• better build quality
• brighter than the Ultrafire (both on high mode), and Turbo mode outshines them all
• longer runtime than the Ultrafire (both on high mode)
• better on/off/mode management
• 3 times less expensive (can buy 3 Ultrafires for the price of 1 Fenix)
• umm... more eco-friendly packaging? (trying to give it at least 2 pros)
After my initial testing I was very impressed with the Ultrafire lights and thought I would keep them and resell the Fenix lights. However, I mistakenly thought the Ultrafires ran longer, but I was comparing Apples (high mode) to Oranges (turbo mode). Once I realized to run the Fenix lights in high mode I came to see the Fenix lights actually run longer in High mode with the advantage of being brighter than the Ultrafire lights in that same mode. Plus, high mode is more than adequate for me for night riding. In turbo mode I am only getting 1:15 run time, but according to others, if I try a better quality battery I could see up to a 2-hour run time in turbo mode.
The Ultrafires would work OK for me, but after seeing the Fenix lights in action, I am willing to spend the extra money and go with the Fenix lights because I feel they are worth the increase in cost. If you are on a super-tight budget and want to spend less than $100 on front lighting, I think the Ultrafire lights would work fine, especially if you mainly ride on city streets with streetlights.