June 17, 2010

Mehr Licht (more light) part 1

***** Update 2013 *****

I noticed this old page is getting some traffic lately. I just want to say, all of this information has been completely obsoleted by Ruifan in 2012. The 12-color KingBlade X10 was a huge breakthrough which pretty much dominated the penlight market, and allowed entire sets of flashlights to be replaced by a single product. Now companies like Lumica are playing catch up and responding with their own versions like Lumica Ace, while Ruifan seeks to keep their advantage with frequent and substantial improvements like X10 Mk. II. There's a penlight arms race going on in 2013 and we get to benefit.

***** End of update *****

Momoi and UO on the shores of Waikiki Beach. Photo by tenton

Lately, I've been thinking about how to plan my upcoming seiyuu driven related trips and that lead to thinking more about concert lighting.

While glowsticks have been used for fan participation in idol concerts since at least the 80s, they are especially heavily used for Momoi concerts and even carry a bit of emotional significance. Momoi generally thinks of a concert as a two way exchange where the feelings of a performer connect with the energy of fans, and she often mentions her first experience of cheering on her favorite idol with lights as an eye opening moment that is one of her fondest memories as a child. Since then, just consider some songs, like "Kagayaki Cyalume", "Yume no baton", "Lumica", "Me-ar-ri-hi-to" and you might notice from the theme that Momoi has been quite busy indoctrinating her audience with the same ideas. So it's no wonder that Momoists myself included probably have a bit of interest in lights.

Current inventory:

Yellow High 10 Firefly 30 minute chemical light stick
Orange High/Ultra 2 Fenix LD20 LED flashlight + orange diffuser wand
Orange Ultra 20 Firefly 5 minute chemical light stick
Blue Normal 1 Concert pen light
Pink Normal 2 Concert pen light
Blue High 1 Pocket Neon light
Pink High 1 Pocket Neon light
White Normal + 1 Party wand (Multiple LEDs)

To start from the basics, the standard instrument would probably be the chemical light glowstick, which comes in a variety of colors and three flavors. There's the 6 inch, 6 hour glowstick, a cheap long lasting stick which usually forms the staple of cheering. A 6 inch, 30 minute high intensity glowstick, which is a brighter version of #1. It's more expensive and harder to find, but generally used on a song-by-song basis to match some color. And finally, there's the 6 inch, 5 minute ultra high intensity stick (usually orange) - a military grade signaling flare that we call UO. It costs $1 - 3 a piece depending on where and who you buy from and produces blazing results.

At some point a while back, a shift happened where some fans started to feel that it was more cost effective and environmentally friendly to use electronic lights, and we slowly saw pen lights start to take the place of traditional glowsticks. Still, as many songs required the use of UO or high intensity lights, this wasn't a complete solution. Then, somebody had an idea to start using high powered flashlights. One thing led to another, and today, there are a lot of fans out there with gigantic penlight collections, dozens of flashlights, custom designed and patterned diffusers, and even home-made LEDs rigged to a tube.

A pen light insert being signed by Momoi. From her twitcast

Custom engraved LD20 gifted to Momoi by a fan (Silli) during Desucon in Finland. From her twitcast

Speaking more personally, among some friends, there has been a collective goal to get 100% transition from chemical light sticks to electronic alternatives without sacrificing the brightness and convenience of the former, but it has been an ongoing process of trial and error with flashlight models and application.

As a note, I am not being paid in any way to recommend anything in this post.

The latest model that seems to be favored by Momoi fans (in the US at least) has been the Fenix LD series, specifically the LD10 and LD20. As electronic light sticks, they do satisfy three important attributes.

1. Re-usability

Re-usability comes down to more than just being able to turn it on and off through multiple sessions. They should be easy to service, replace, and easy to customize. If it falls short in any of these areas, you will always be tempted to go back to chemical lights. But, when done right, electronic lights will mean less waste, less garbage to dispose of, fewer liquid-related messes, and longer lasting light.

In the LD20 and LD10, the 21.5mm flashlight head fits for Fenix's own various diffuser attachments, but can also take a tube from a standard pen light (the kind that you buy at concerts) with a little bit of tape. You can see the comparison shot later down showing how effective it can be to swap out the standard bulb. Second, its AA batteries can be found in any convenience store, and the replacement process is a simple tool-free unscrewing of the end cap by hand.

2. Brightness

For the most part, brighter is better. But when thinking about brightness for a concert light, there's usually a time and place for regular light, and ultra light. The natural thinking is that you should always be on maximum brightness, but sometimes it's better to have different levels. For one, you might be blinding the people next to you and annoying them. After all the point of the lights is to support the artists along with the fans in a synchronized manner, not break the harmony and distract them. Ultra might not match the mood of the performance. For a slow song when everyone switches to blue for a calming "ocean effect" you don't want your light to look like an emergency flare. And consider a song like LOVE.EXE - usually everyone will switch from regular glowsticks to ultra orange. When this happens, you will get really pumped after suddenly feel a major shift in the tone because the whole room just lights up. If you were just using ultra mode the whole time, the effect is diminished. Rather, it's better (and cheaper) to go with the flow of the concert*.

As for an LD, the lowest setting at 9 lumens is satisfyingly bright without standing out too much, and the turbo mode at 180 lumens, while no match for a freshly cracked UO, can ably compete a few seconds in. Fenix LDs aren't special in this area, and there are other models that do have multiple output modes, and even higher brightness. However, with LDs priced between $40 - $60 a better deal hasn't popped up yet...or has it (more on that later).

* Of course there are always a few hardcore dudes who are willing to burn through tons of UO* to do Wolverine (glowstick between each finger, aka Balrog as Momoi calls it, aka wada-san) for the entire duration of an event. If you want to buy 8 flashlights to do this and can actually hold on to them all, more props to you.

3. Handling
This is determined by the durability, size, weight, general form of a light so that it is comfortable to hold and but also able to withstand force and potentially impact while it is being waved around. LDs are generally suitable, but not without shortcomings. As far as the LD-20 goes, its size and finish create conditions that are not optimal for concert use. The long handle, weight, and finish seem trivial at first, but after 2 - 3 hours the hard metal becomes irritating to the hand and the unbalanced weight makes keeping a grip difficult. You will find yourself gripping by the wand instead of the handle. Additionally, on lower settings, the light can flicker on impact. We're still not sure what causes it (it usually doesn't happen while in turbo), but multiple owners have confirmed this to be the case on their own models. LD-10 fares much better, suffering from no issues with flickering, and is much lighter and comfortable to hold and much more recommended for long term use while LD-20 should probably be reserved for UO due to its higher output. In both flashlights, heat is a problem while if in Turbo mode for more than a few minutes and this places a limit on how long you can stay in UO. This is usually not a problem, but sometimes you get back to back UO songs and have no choice but to deal with it or switch to chemical backup. We're still looking for sleeves or grips that can provide some insulation.

In terms of durability, so far both of my lights have been excellent and have survived being dropped, launched as projectiles, and other accidents. The orange traffic wand attachment on the other hand, while advertised as being made with "Bayer plastic used in bullet proof applications" is actually pretty brittle and has broken three times on relatively minor impact (once with each other). Even the tubes that come with penlights are probably less prone to breakage. Luckily they are cheap to replace.

Overall, Fenix LD series is probably currently the best choice available that I know of. If I had to choose one, I'd say the LD-10 slightly edges out LD-20 due to much better handling at the cost of UO brightness. In terms of alternatives, there are definitely others, such as the Surefire series which may meet or exceed in some of these areas. However the Surefire carries a high premium for its construction and name brand, so it will probably cost at least twice as much. It's not a bad choice if you have a lot of other uses for the flashlight and go hunting/camping regularly, but unless you have cash burning a hole in your pocket, I don't recommend it due to higher cost yet when used solely as a concert light.

Comparison of LD flashlight at 9 lumens with standard concert pen light. Identical exposures


Even though I consider Fenix my primary workhorse light, it's not always convenient to swap color covers in the middle of a concert, and it's definitely not economical to buy a new flashlight to premount each color. Sometimes, you have to settle for other lights. Many people contributed to buying and trying the various items listed. I've collected some that have worked decently. They serve well for misc colors, backups, or even as a main light if you don't really think buying LDs are justified.

Concert Pen Light
This is the standard light that's always sold officially by idol seiyuu like Momoi, or Mizuki Nana, or Tamura Yukari, etc. for their concerts. The source is not very bright, and can be prone to going out if the wiring is loose. They are passable if you forgot to bring your own lights, and they will last the entire duration of the event since they have quite a long life. But I doubt you will ever reuse them once the battery goes dead. You need to take the whole thing apart including the knob to replace the battery, and by then you'll have probably bought a new light anyway for the next event. Though it's not recommended in as a light source I listed it here anyway because you might still want to buy the light as a souvenir, or (if you went the flashlight route) to unscrew the tube and get that tube insert so you can put on your own light. Just keep in mind every time you get one you're going to get another unneeded piece of plastic, so I'd limit ownership of these to 4 or 5 max. There are better ways to support the artist than buying too many of these.

Cyalume Classic Penlights
They're decently bright and are designed to look just like a regular glowstick. If you're in Japan and need glowsticks in a pinch, they can be found in nearly any store that sells glow sticks in Japan for about 1000 yen. However, they only take button cell batteries. Although they are manufactured by Omniglow, I haven't seen these sold anywhere outside of Japan. They're good, but not worth importing. If you are in Japan and want to buy a glowstick around that price, I'd consider the Pocket Neon unless you really prefer the cyalume shape.

Pocket Neon
These are a great inexpensive choice, and quite commonly seen at concerts in Japan. Even Misato Aki was using them. They were originally recommended to me by a Japanese Momoi fan and became one of my first electronic light stick purchases in Japan. They served very well on the 2 included AAA alkaline batteries during Animelo for nearly 3 continuous hours before finally dimming down (will last even longer on Lithium). They are very bright as you can see below in the comparison, far surpassing the standard concert pen lights and the Cyalume Classics. From my experiences with them, they are sturdy and can withstand most impacts without any permanent damage. The only problem I have with these are the unpredictable wait times during a cold start, which can sometimes take up to a minute (and then you forget if you turned it on or off). They are also somewhat short, though it's not noticeable in the dark because the glow aura appears much larger.

Left to right: Concert pen light, Concert pen light, Pocket Neon, Cyalume Classic. From To-zen Nikki

There have also been some lights that simply didn't pass the test. For two lights to avoid:

Happy Camper light sticks
Probably one of the first results you'll find if you search for lights in English on the internet. They are cheap, and easily available in the west, but their brightness is average and they only take button cell batteries. They are also a bit fragile and can cut out if you wave them too hard. They might be well and fine for camping as the name suggests, but not recommended for concert use. On the bright side, they go for about $5. Just be warned you get what you pay for.

Nite Ize LED wand
Had some experience with these from another owner. They're manufactured by Inova which also makes higher end flashlights. While they're sturdy, the grip is difficult to get used to. And unlike pocket neons they are not bright enough to make up for the shortness of the tube. They also leak light at the tip and need to be capped. Not recommended in general, but if going the budget light stick route, they are probably more reliable than Happy Camper mainly since they don't randomly turn off.

In part 2, I'll post about what is still to be done, environmental concerns, problems we've yet to solve, battery tips, and ideas for future. And I'll be trying out a new light. Can there be a brighter UO substitute than Fenix LD20 for a reasonable price? Maybe...

Two lights on full turbo. Guess which one is new.

Posted by Paranda at June 17, 2010 12:05 AM


Technical nit picking here, but those are not neon lights. They're CCFL (Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lamp):
+ highly efficient
= have half-life in double-digit thousands of hours (dims to 50% brightness in that time).
- requires good high-voltage inverter to stability
- generally cannot have multiple brightness levels
- contains trace amount of mercury in the tube

White LEDs are supposed to dim as they age, too, but the effect should be much less pronounced.

Despite causing sale of possibly hundreds of Fenix lights, I no longer buy their lights.
* Their electronic mode gets in the way. Momentary lapse in battery connection will cause the light to switch modes. Strobing UO is just a no-no in my opinion.
* They do not have any neutral tinted lights (TK20 was discontinued). This has nothing to do with concert use, but I just prefer neutral white LEDs for normal use. I'm basically saying that I'm disappointed with the company in general.
* And frankly, I don't think they treat a good customer right, if you know what I mean. ;)

I dumped the light source from Yukarin official light and attached the stick to LumaPower LM301 (very old tech stuff). It has two modes, controlled through mechanical switches (resistor), so it cannot accidentally change mode, and it does not have useless modes like strobe/SOS. I don't recommend LumaPower either, but I'm just mentioning it to say there are other options with different positives and negatives.

Posted by: catsspat at June 17, 2010 9:09 AM

ポケットCCFL just doesn't sound as good as a brandname though :)

Are there any high powered lights without strobing these days? That is one feature that I don't see a purpose for even in military applications or whatever the target market is for these things. I've only seen one person use strobe UO and that may have been by accident (again a problem with Fenix's switch). I want someone to make exactly two modes: 9 lm, 265 lm. Two modes and an actual switch where you know the difference by looking at the position instead of guessing. But I'll save my complaints and wishlist for part 2.

Posted by: paranda at June 17, 2010 11:08 AM

It's hard (impossible?) to find consumer to enthusiast models without all the garbage modes or flaky control interface.

Surefire LX2 LumaMax:

Looks good on paper. Only two modes (15 & 200 lumens). Pure mechanical two-stage screw-on switch for the two modes. These should be absolutely reliable.

Very expensive, though.

Posted by: catsspat at June 17, 2010 8:32 PM

I just bought china made LED flashlight that using Cree XP-G R5,

here is the web,

145 CNY, about 22USD,

base on the web,

have 5 mode,
5%(50lm)/30%(150lm)/100%(340lm) output, if china's web can be believed,
and flashing/SOS,

powered by 18650 Li-ion battery,
each battery is about 8 USD, charger about 10 USD,
18650 is commonly used on laptop cell,
kind of dangerous,
this web suggest how difficult to choose right charger,
the one without any brand mark on it works best?
WTF, and the fake floating the market,

due to battery is still charging,
I haven't fully test the run time and do comparing with UO,
but I can tell at 100% for 30mins, the heat is tolerable,
I can still hold it without a glove,
no flickering when shaking,

head about 24mm, only fit on old penlight model's tube,

1. flashlight with penlight tube
2. penlight before 2008
3. penlight since 2009

I guess I have to buy another with 22mm head to fit the new penlight tube,

the primary cons I think is it made by china,
mostly a DIY stuff, maybe it will explode during the concert lol,

it's really trouble me on searching a suitable tube,
any suggestion?

Posted by: AndCycle at July 2, 2010 4:48 PM

@AndCycle We are trying to find a suitable tube ourselves. Saw down half a lightsaber tube maybe? It's a work in progress.

Posted by: paranda at July 5, 2010 8:08 AM

@paranda looking forward for part2 :p

here are the major penlight manufacturer company

before 2008

since 2008

I guess the worst case is to buy more penlight for the tube lol,

just tested a fully charged 18650 playing with 100% output,
it can sustain 2.5hours for 100% output(1A current),
enough for any standard concert,

the battery used is 2600mah,
at lower gear 30%(400ma) and 3%(80ma)
it should hold for 6.25hours and 30hours,
almost long enough for holding 1 day animelo,

and, I am wrong, it's hot, really hot after an hour of running with 100%,
have to be held with glove or something,
at this high temperature, the LED lifetime will decrease dramatically,

I will upload some photo or video for comparing with UO when I have some free time :X

Posted by: AndCycle at July 5, 2010 11:54 PM

Good info. For heat, I think it's ok as long as you can go about 5 minutes since turbo should only be used briefly anyway. I like more easily swappable batteries like AA. So far I think single AA battery (like LD10) is probably the best for general use.

Still for UO, I got a pretty good test run with the new lights. I do still need to put up part 2, I'm just distracted because I went to AX this weekend.

Posted by: paranda at July 6, 2010 10:00 PM

yup, battery is certainly a issue,

this 18650 Li-ion generally have no protection board on it,
most protection are done at the other side due to the size issue,
there have to be over charge/over discharge/short circuit protection on the flashlight and the charger,

I do prefer AA too,

but I haven't found any cheap china DIY AA led flashlight with circuit that can keep stable output utile the battery drains out,
and AA with 400ma output for 2 hours definitely impossible,

18650 just looks so promised,

here are some discussions about flashlight

original info about the LED,
looks like the lumen info is referred by manufacture

here is the equipment

I just made a footage to compare under 30%,

Posted by: AndCycle at July 7, 2010 2:33 AM

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