Sunday, August 14, 2011

Quark Mini 123

Many of us are familiar with head lamps.  Typically, they can be had at the sporting goods stores for decent prices and they have different features, like strobe, colored LED's, and high/low power.  However, once you put on the big boy pants, it's time to move up in the world of compact lighting and understand that if you really want to throw light from a small package, you need to get a 4Sevens Quark Mini 123 flashlight.  Even now as I write this, my particular model is obsolete because mine will throw 180 lumens of light from it's 2.3" body; 4Sevens now offers the miniX 123, which is capable of 200 lumens!  Wow!

Still, that does not change the fact that this little flashlight is 1 3/4 times more powerful than my Maglite LED 3 D cell flashlight, which compared to the quark mini 123 is more of a caveman's metal club than a flashlight.  Indeed, the Quark Mini is an impressive little sucker. 

This flashlight has 6 operating modes.  There are 3 power levels, which are selected by twisting the front of the body within 1 second of each other.  It starts on low power, which is 3.5 lumens (perfect for reading in the dark), then goes to about 45 lumens (perfect for getting around the campsite without blinding yourself or others), and then 180 lumens (which is ideal for spotting or navigating open terrain).  Then you have 3 other (secret) modes, if you do so desire.  These are S.O.S., strobe, and beacon modes. 

The quark mini 123 runs on a single CR123 battery (note, do not use rechargeable 123A batteries).  This gives it the approximate total run times in the following modes:

3.5 lumens: +-40 hours
45 lumens: +- 6.5 hours
180 lumens (210 for the miniX): +-1 hour
S.O.S.: +- 4 hours
Strobe: +- 2 hours
Beacon: +- 10 hours
Beacon Low (for miniX users): +- 50 hours

Now mine doesn't have high/low beacon functions, and I really don't need them; mine is just a beacon, and it is very bright.  I rarely ever use the hidden functions of any light, but for the occasions that I do, it's there.  As it runs on only 1 CR123 battery, the size is pretty small.  Mine measures in at about 2.3 inches long and .80 inches in diameter.  Even with the battery, it weighs mere ounces.  In fact, without the battery, it only weighs .62 ounces; not even an ounce.

If there was one downfall to this light, it would be the run time.  1 hour on high is pretty short, and if you find yourself way out in the bush, you may need to pack extra batteries for extended trips.  But that's the give and take with modern flashlights.  They are intensely bright, but they consume batteries like crazy!  That's just the nature of the beast.  I'll tell you what though.  When it comes down to it, light quality beats light quantity.  It still runs fo 40 hours in reading mode.  Compare that to the Maglite's consumption of 3 D cell batteries in 72 hours.  Have you seen a CR123 battery?  It's not very big.  The size and weight penalty of running a 3 D cell maglite is astounding.  And even though it throws 104 lumens, the light quality isn't great.  Much of that has to do with the reflector in the flashlight.  The quark mini 123 has a nice orange peel style reflector to reflect and scatter the light in such a way to maximize the potential of the LED.

So, what about hand's free operation?  It's a flashlight - not a headlamp.  True.  You will need to buy a head band and mounting apparatus to make it work hand's free.  Fenix makes a headband that works perfectly.  Just follow the link that I put over the word FENIX.  Of course, I don't run my setup as shown in the picture.  I'm not a fan of the band that goes over the head.  The Fenix headband ships with all the parts detached from the main band.  All you do for the parts you want is thread the band throw them.  It's very simple.  I opted for less weight and bulk on my head, so I mounted the universal flashlight mount so the light is on my left hand side.  You can also adjust it forward and backward relative to your head to aim the light in different places.  I definitely recommend using a ball cap or some hat with a brim, especially if you wear glasses.  Unlike conventional headlamps, which orient the light directly on your forehead, this puts the flashlight back above your ear, or just in front of it.  It's a trade-off, yes, but you can also rotate the light around 360 degrees.  If you need your beacon or SOS function at night, you can point it straight up to the sky and keep signaling while you are on the move.  Another cool go-fast feature is that Fenix ships two flashlight mounts, so you can mount two lights and have dual zone illumination.  This is handy because you can use one flashlight forward for navigation, and have one on low power for rear identification.  This is especially important for nighttime backpacking because I tend to move faster than the main group.  Giving them a point of reference so they can see me when I'm beyond their head lamp's illumination range is nice.  Of course that means buying another quark mini flashlight.

Price wise, the quark miniX 123 can be purchased through 4Sevens at $45.00 plus shipping.  A quick google shopping search shows that price is fair.  You might find one cheaper on a closeout, but this is rare.  These little flashlights have become quite popular.  In fact, I purchased mine through the PFI store as a packaged bundle with the Fenix head band. 

Now, for those of you who desire, 4Sevens does make a similar flashlight that runs on a single AA battery (and is on my short list of lights to buy)  This one is obviously bigger and less powerful, but it also runs on more economically priced and readily available AA batteries.  Width is not much more than the mini 123, so it will work in the same mount as it's smaller brother.

There is also an exceptional review of not only the mini 123, but also the AA as well as the Preon AAA powered pen light, conducted by youtube's famous Nutnfancy, who is notorious for beating the piss out of his equipment.  If you have some time, check it out. 



-James

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