+ Light and compact size
+ Easy to operate
+ Two switches
+ Great bike light
– Turbo only works with certain batteries
– Turbo very hot
This light was kindly lent to us by: ktl-store.com
Chinese flashlight makers are among the best in the world. It is therefore hardly surprising that, given such a dynamic economy and an almost insatiable demand for torches among flashaholics worldwide, new Chinese companies have regularly emerged to snap at the heels of their well-established compatriots.
Spark is a case in point. They wisely decided to enter the market through the back door with a range of headlamps, which, by all accounts, were very well-received. They then attempted to build on this momentum by launching a range of torches, including the SL6 reviewed here. I was quite curious to see how it would fare, especially since there is already a wide variety of 18650 lights aimed at different users. Would this LED flashlight have what it takes to stand out from the crowd?
Specifications/Features (taken from the Spark website)
The SL6 is powered by a single 18650 rechargeable battery or two CR123A lithium batteries.
- Length: 12.5cm (4.92inches)
- Width: 3.1cm (1.22inches)
- Weight (without battery): 75g (2.64oz)
The light also has the following features:
- LED: Cree XML T6
- Lens: impact resistant glass
- Water-resistance: IPX-8 to 1m
The SL6 came in a smart presentation box and included a holster, two spare o-rings, a diffuser lens and a manual.
I was at first rather taken aback by the size. This is the smallest 18650 torch which I have seen. The picture below shows the SL6 next to the Olight M20 Warrior and the Nextorch myTorch. They all have the same battery configuration, so this should give you some idea of how the size can vary in this category of torches.
I did, however, like this compactness and the overall rugged impression. The light feels good in the hand due to various grooves, ridges and knurling along the bezel, body and tail cap. The anodising is type III and seems excellent.
As you may expect from the torch’s size, fitting a best 18650 battery is rather a tight squeeze and involves applying some pressure to the tail cap in order to screw it tight. The same also applies with two CR123A batteries. On a positive note, although the latter seem too thin for the body, they do not rattle inside.
There is a very small lanyard hole at the bottom. I tried fitting my thinnest lanyard but it didn’t go through, so I assumed this one had to be proprietary. Spark confirmed this in an email.
You can carry the SL6 bezel-down with the clip supplied. I tried it on my shirt and trouser pocket. There is slight movement but it is unlikely that the torch will work itself free. Without the clip, the torch still has good anti-roll properties on a flat surface.
The operation of the light is rather unusual, and in my opinion, very user-friendly. You have the choice of pressing the tail switch or another switch on the bezel. Both of these have identical functions. You tap either of them once to switch on. The amount of pressure required is less than for other torches I have tested and the click is certainly quieter. This may be relevant for those who want to switch on discreetly.
Hold the switch down to cycle through the modes and then release it once you have reached the desired light level. This is very easy and enables one-handed operation.
If you quickly tap either switch twice from any given level, the torch goes into turbo mode. This double-click took a little practice, for me at least, as I sometimes switched off the torch while trying to access turbo.
The SL6 automatically memorises the last level used. Momentary activation is not possible.
The light can be used in candle mode on a soft or hard flat surface. It works, for example placed on a folded t-shirt on an ironing board.
Spark offers a replacement within 7 days of purchase and a one year warranty.
SL6 Output and Runtime – These are as follows:
- Turbo: 800 lumens for 5 minutes
- Max: 500 lumens for 1.4 hours
- Med 2: 220 lumens for 3.5 hours
- Med 1: 70 lumens for 10 hours
- Low: 20 lumens for 36 hours
I tested the SL6 with two types of batteries, namely an Ultrafire, which is not recommended by Spark, and an AW, which is: (more later)
1. Ultrafire 2600mAh
I tested the SL6 on maximum mode. It is supposed to run for 84 minutes with a 500 lumen output. I measured 75 minutes until it started to run visibly lower. The flashlight became very warm after about 15 minutes but this was not uncomfortably so except for the bezel area.
2. AW 2600mAh
The SL6 had similar heat issues with the recommended battery but the runtime exceeded the manufacturer’s figures by at least 20 minutes.
This is the first time that my Ultrafire battery has not been able to come close to the manufacturer’s alleged runtime on maximum, so I was interested to see how it would perform on the even higher mode.
On turbo mode, with the Ultrafire 18650 battery, the SL6 only managed about 40 seconds, instead of the advertised 5 minutes and became very warm.
I also tried it with CR123A batteries. Curiously, it worked for about 15 seconds, became very warm and then started blinking, at which point I switched it off.
It appears that my experience with a 18650 battery is not unique. Other users on various blogs have also reported that their 18650 batteries do not function for long on turbo mode.
I then tried the torch with an AW 2600mAh battery and was more successful. The turbo mode did indeed work for the full five minutes. The bezel became unbearably hot during this time despite the cooling vents, but it was still possible to hold the torch body. After I switched off, it took five minutes to cool down to normal temperature.
I could not find any information about this difference in performance on the Spark website so I emailed them. They replied that AW, Redilast, Sanyo and Solarforce 18650s would work.
I also looked at online flashlight retailers in three different countries to see if they mentioned the need for certain batteries in turbo mode. Some appeared to ‘overlook’ this, while others merely contented themselves with the observation that CR123A batteries may not work. In my opinion, this hide and seek game with essential customer information is unacceptable.
I was therefore relieved to find that the company which sent us this light: www.ktl-store.com specifically warns of this matter with both sets of batteries.
I went to the local fields on a clear night, switched on the maximum mode and found that the SL6 produces a veritable wall of light. Everything close-up and up to a medium distance appears almost as in daylight. I would estimate the lighting distance at about 80 metres, but I was able to see the outline of a tree from about 100 metres away.
Medium 2 mode was good for 60 metres. I was able to register the eyes of an animal and its size from this distance. I could not, however, see what it was.
A few minutes later, on Medium 1 mode the puzzle was solved. The little black kitten came ever closer to the light and I could see it from 40 metres away.
Medium 1 is very good for up to 25 metres.
All four of these modes produce a broad floody beam.
I was also interested to see the difference between maximum and turbo mode. In theory there ought to be a considerable visibility improvement if you switch up from 500 to 800 lumens. In practice there was little. To give an example, I shone the light on the same tree 100 metres away but was not able to perceive much more than on maximum. Turbo mode did, however, produce slightly better results at near distances.
I had high hopes for the SL6 as a bike light and I wasn’t disappointed. I tested it both with the Fenix AF02 and the Twofish Lockblocks bike mount.
The low mode is ideal for cycling with normal street lighting and produces a brighter and broader beam than my dynamo lighting. I also found it more than enough on slightly lit paths, from traffic or nearby lighting, where the terrain is known or predictable.
The two medium modes were certainly the most useful for this test.
The medium 1 mode delivered a very wide beam for unlit paths on even ground, with slight bumps.
The high medium mode would be useful for those cycling in the forest in complete darkness. It offers the ability to detect potential dangers, such as branches, stones or mud with a very good lighting distance.
I did not use the maximum or turbo mode for biking as it would only have scared animals or blinded people coming towards me.
I also deliberately cycled along a very narrow and slightly winding path alongside a shallow brook to see how the one-handed operation worked. I found changing modes very easy with both switches and both hands.
How tough is it?
I was not able to perform waterproof or temperature tests with the SL6 as I had to return it, but everything appears well-sealed so I assume it must be at least dunk-proof.
Despite the small switches, operating the torch with thick gloves worked with no hitches.
This must be one of the smallest and lightest 18650 flashlights on the market, making it well worth consideration for those who favour minimum size and weight.
The overall quality of the SL6 is also undeniable. I imagine that Spark spent a lot of effort at the design stage to make this torch attract considerable attention in an already saturated market.
In many respects they have been very successful. The output will certainly not disappoint those seeking a mini light cannon. The dual switch concept provides versatile operation and I found myself using both of them, depending on how I held the torch. In addition, both enable one-handed operation to facilitate switching between modes.
The SL6 is also one of the best flashlights which I have tested for biking. The one-handed operation, well-spaced modes and compact size make it ideal for cycling in the dark and stowing in your pocket afterwards. I was also pleased that the SL6 does without the annoying strobe and SOS modes as most people do not need these.
Moreover, it has all the features – good quality anodising, waterproof capabilities and a smooth beam – which you should expect from a premium torch.
However, the price may be a deterrent for those on a budget, especially if you have to buy a charger and the correct battery.
In addition, after discussing the battery issue with Mike, we both agreed that Spark would have better dispensed with the turbo mode. In view of the runtime and the heat build up, it should be seen as an ‘impress your friends at the evening barbecue’ type of feature rather than a serious add-on for the great outdoors.
Nevertheless the benefits of the torch more than make up for this weakness and it will be interesting to see if Spark are able to sustain their initial success.
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