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LED INSPECTION LAMPS BUYING GUIDE

LED INSPECTION LAMPS BUYING GUIDE

by Gary Stretton, 8th February 2017

Portable lamps with LED technology are evolving constantly, driven by the importance of having energy efficient light sources for a multitude of pursuits. The days of wincing at the cost of long-life batteries are gone, and the white light created by LEDs is closer to daylight, such is their superior colour temperature. Being able to recharge them using 240 volts or 12v power provides the confidence needed to use a lamp at short notice for prolonged periods of time, whether at home or on the move. I chose the six lamps on test here for a variety of reasons and according to their functionality. An inspection lamp no longer needs to look like a bulb on a lead in a wire cage, that will break the first time it is dropped or a liquid accidently spilt on it. It simply has to meet your needs and your lifestyle. The prices shown include VAT and are typical of online prices. It’s always worth shopping around.


WHAT WE NEED TO KNOW:

Lumens and Watts:
LEDs are measured by their Lumens output, which is the amount of light produced. Traditional bulbs are measured in Watts, the power they consume. Rule of thumb is that a 40-watt bulb is the equivalent of 450 Lumens.
 
Charging:
The latest rechargeable batteries are invariably Lithium-ion technology, meaning they can be charged at any stage of their duty cycle, rather than waiting for them to discharge first. In addition to mains charging, a 12v auxiliary socket for in-car charging is preferable, whether in the form of a USB adaptor/lead or traditional cigar lighter fitment. Li-ion rechargeable lamps should be fully charged every three months or so to prolong battery life and function.

Attachment issues:
Inspection lamps have to illuminate the nether regions of an engine bay, the underside of the car or inside a wheel arch, and they need to stay in the most convenient position while you work. Aluminium bodywork, being non-magnetic, gives Land Rover owners another problem if steel can’t be found, so alternative methods of attachment are important.
 
Versatility:
An LED light has many uses of course, not just as a convenient inspection lamp for automotive chores. The chances are that if you invest in a decent rechargeable version, you’ll want to use it for DIY, camping and non-garage activities. The lamps on test have been selected with this multi-purpose character partly in mind, so the more features, the more versatility.



FESTOOL SYSLITE KAL II
Typical price: £130

Because of its brick-like dimensions, this is the most stable light on test when on a flat surface. Classed as a work light, its large, weighty integral battery means it doesn’t fall over easily. The high light outputs both offer an excellent 170 degree pool of brightness. The large power button is easy to access and use. Part-rubber casing and lens corners offer vital protection against knocks and drops. At extra cost, additional 10.8v and 18v batteries are available with the necessary charger, offering continuous output.
 
Key features:
• Output 310 or 769 Lumens
• Operating time 240 or 90 minutes (integral battery)
• Charge time 200 minutes
• Size: 80 x 100 x 150 mm
• Integrated lithium-ion battery 7.2v
• 230v and 12v car chargers
• Integral hook (removed when the additional batteries are used)
• Tripod mountable
• Transport bag
• No magnet (available as an option)
• No cover for charging socket
 
Search for:
Item 500722 www.festool.co.uk



^ Quality package includes useful storage case



^ Optional magnetic base or tripod mounting hole



^ Integral hook is removed if additional power packs are used



RING MAGFLEX TWIST RIL 3600HP
Typical price £40

This all-rounder has the features to warrant its reputation. In its upper end is a handy 1W torch for directional use. The main lamp offers 250 Lumens output, and it can be positioned on almost any axis thanks to its 360 degree rotation on a 180 degree ratchet. The base magnet holds firm while altering the lamp’s angle, and a second magnet provides an alternative fixing point. Construction feels solid, with well-protected edges and a chunky feel from the grip.
 
Key features:
• Output 250 Lumens
• Operating time 180 minutes
• Charge time 270 minutes
• 1W torch • 3W COB LED
• Integral hanging hook
• Two magnets
• 240v and 12v charging adaptors
• 180 degree ratchet
• Size: 243 x 50 x 44 mm
 
Search for:
Item RIL3600HP www.ringautomotive.com



^Compact kit packs a punch



^Twist action allows the 360 degree movement



^ It stays where you put it thanks to two powerful magnets



CLARKE RWL36LI
Typical price £29.99
 
Although this affordable lamp is the most fragile on test because of its non-shatterproof casing and exposed lenses, it still offers good value for money illumination. It features two opposing lamps – one on each side of the head – which can be switched individually or simultaneously, offering a wide pool of light. They also flash via a manual button. Light output is given as a vague 1600 Lux, but it’s more than sufficient for close working and general illumination in small areas. A little frustratingly, a 12v in-car charging adaptor is not included. On the plus side, however, the lamp is equipped with two hooks, and although it has only the single magnet, it does a reasonable job in most situations.
 
Key features:
• Output 1600 Lux
• Operating time 120 or 240 minutes
• Charge time 270 minutes
• Double, single or flashing lamp modes
• Two integral hanging hooks
• Size 250 x 50 x 50 mm
• 240v charger only
 
Search for:
Item 010813056 www.machinemart.co.uk



^ Packed with features, Lumens and hours of operating time


 
^Clever knuckle mechanism provides the 360 degrees movement



^ Three magnets, two hooks and a battery indicator



LASER COB 15W
Typical price £118

ANOTHER QUIRKY design on test is Laser’s chip-on-board COB work light. The COB15 packs a serious punch. Easily the most powerful lamp here, it’s a floodlight of a beast with 1200 Lumens on tap. The round lamp head and integral battery pack can be removed from the strong magnetic base if required. The slim head can then be used in confined spaces, although there is neither magnet nor hook for attaching it to anything. The two universal joints, however, allow lockable multi-positioning for most workshop scenarios.
 
Key features:
• Output 600 or 1200 Lumens
• Chip-on-board (COB) offers high output, low battery consumption
• Huge, focused light pool
• Operating time 270 or 150 minutes
• Charge time 360 minutes
• Warning lights for battery condition
• Universal joints for multi-positioning
• No hanging hook
• 240 v and 12 v in-car chargers
• Spare batteries available
 
Search for: Item 6760 www.toolconnection.co.uk



^COB’s quirky design shouldn’t be overlooked



^Universal joints provide the multi-positioning


 
^The brightest lamp on test, offers lifestyle versatility



SEALEY LED 360 PLUS
Typical price £66

Similar in design to Ring’s 3600HP and only slightly larger, Sealey’s take on the 360 degree concept is excellent. It offers a 120 degree spread of high and low light outputs, a powerful directional torch and huge operating times. The ‘pull-up and rotate’ ball and socket mechanism creates the 360 degree capability and seems rigid without any locking mechanism. Three magnets and two integral hooks allow plenty of options for attachment. Also included is a USB charger with in-car adaptor, in addition to the standard 12v and 240v chargers.
 
Key features:
• Output 150 Lumens for the torch and 300 or 600 Lumens for main light
• Operating time 840 minutes for the torch, or 360 and 720 minutes
• Charge time 360 minutes
• Three integral magnets
• Two integral hanging hooks
• USB charger with in-car adaptor
• Battery life indicator • 240v and 12v in-car chargers • Size 256 mm height
 
Search for:
Item LED360PLUS www.sealey.co.uk



^Packed with features, Lumens and hours of operating time



^Clever knuckle mechanism provides the 360 degrees movement



^Three magnets, two hooks and a battery indicator



FACOM 779.SIL
Typical price £133

This striking lamp will enthrall pros and design aficionados alike. It can be placed in the smallest of gaps in cluttered engine bays thanks to its extremely narrow 12 mm head thickness. It is resistant to oils, fuels, brake fluid, white spirit and other potentially hazardous liquids, and the soft integral hook will not damage wiring and pipes. The lack of a magnet is so that the lamp doesn’t interfere with sensitive ECUs. The strong casing withstands knocks, drops and being stood on (as I did). An indicator gives 15 minutes warning of imminent charging required. It provides eight hours of low light mode, or four hours of boosted output. Also included are USB, car and mains chargers.
 
Key features:
• Output 120 or 240 Lumens
• Operating time 240 and 480 minutes
• Charge time 180 minutes standard, or 360 minutes via USB
• Integral soft hook
• Spare batteries available
• Size 329 x 29 x 12 mm
 
Search for: Item 779.SIL www.facom.com


^USB charging as standard with 12v and 240v, too



^ Incredibly thin lamp head is only 12 mm deep



^A tripod mount hole is included



> LRM VERDICT

With prices ranging from £30 to £150, finding a lamp to suit your needs might seem a difficult choice. Regular users of such lamps will tell you to buy one that’s able to withstand knocks, drops and scrapes. On that basis alone, the Clarke lamp falls short because of its vulnerability. As a once in a while lamp, though, it’s worth a look. The Festool KAL II work lamp is a quality piece of kit, offering excellent light output in a rugged casing. Hanging from a bonnet or placed under a vehicle, it provides big lighting for most tasks, and it’s useful for most leisure and DIY pursuits, too. Professional users will be delighted by the two quirkies on test. Facom, in its 779.SIL, has created the modern vehicle owner’s dream lamp. Clever by design and function, it will go where others can’t and shouldn’t. It offers good battery life and resilience to daily use in busy environments. Laser’s COB15 was the big surprise here, with its huge light pool capability. Perfect as a general work lamp, excellent as a leisure lamp, it’s only let down by a lack of attachment options when removed from its base. The big battle, though, is between the popular heartland of such lamps as demonstrated by Ring and Sealey with their clever, versatile 360 degree versions. Both have as many features as most of us will ever need in an inspection lamp. Both are a winning combination of shape, size and output. Both feel tough and solid in use, and both will serve numerous lifestyle pursuits, if necessary. Sealey’s LED360PLUS steals it for me, by doing everything the MAGFlex Twist can, but with that huge operating time and superior Lumens outputs. Though more expensive than the MAGFlex, the LED360PLUS’s inclusion of a USB charger and battery power indicator, shows how contemporary this big spec package is.

 
^ Light outputs compared. Left to right: Laser COB15, Ring MAGFlex, Sealey LED360PLUS...


 
^ Light outputs compared. Left to right: Clarke RWL36Li, Facom 779.SIL and Festool Kall II

>THE LRM AWARDS


BEST ON TEST: Sealey 360LEDPLUS
BEST VALUE: Ring MAGFlex Twist
PRO CHOICE: Facom 779.SIL