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Fenix PD35 (XM-L2, 1x18650, 2xCR123A/RCR) Review: BEAMSHOTS, RUNTIME, VIDEO+ —by selfbuilt,CPF

Publish Time:2014-03-04

To my mind, the PD35 is one of the "flagship" lights from Fenix – a very popular workhorse in the common 1x18650, 2xCR123A/RCR class. So popular in fact that a number of other makers have released similar compact models in this battery class, with comparable dual-switch interfaces.

The current PD35 (XM-L2 U2) has be out for a little while now, but I have only recently got my hands on one for testing. Let's see how it compares to the recent competition in this class. 

For additional general comments on how several of the current dual-switch lights in this battery class compare, please see my post #2.

Manufacturer Reported Specifications: 
(note: as always, these are simply what the manufacturer provides – scroll down to see my actual testing results).

  • LED: Cree XM-L2 (U2) LED
  • Uses one 18650 rechargeable Li-ion battery or two 3V CR123A Lithium batteries
  • Output/Runtime: Turbo 850 lumens/1hr 15min – Hi 450 lumens / 2hr 30min – Mid 170 lumens / 7hr 45min – Lo 45 Lumens / 29hr – Eco 10 lumens / 140 hr – Strobe 850 Lumens
  • Beam Distance 185m
  • Beam Intensity: 8600cd
  • Impact Resistant: 1m
  • Waterproof: IPX-8, underwater 2m
  • Digitally regulated output - maintains constant brightness
  • Low-voltage warning function to remind you to replace the battery
  • Reverse polarity protection guards against improper battery installation
  • Over-heat protection to avoid high-temperature of the surface
  • Anti-roll, slip-resistant body design
  • Tactical tail switch with momentary-on function
  • Side switch on the head
  • Made of durable aircraft-grade aluminum
  • Premium Type III hard-anodized anti-abrasive finish
  • Toughened ultra-clear glass lens with anti-reflective coating
  • Dimensions: 139mm (Length) x 25.4mm (Diameter)
  • Weight: 87-gram weight (excluding the battery)
  • MSRP: ~$75

Packaging is fairly standard for Fenix. The orange and black cardboard box has a lot of specs and an overview of the light. Inside, included with the light are spare O-rings, basic wrist lanyard, holster with Velcro closing flap, pocket clip (attached), spare forward switch boot cover, product inserts, warranty card, and manual.

From left to right: AW Protected 18650 2200mAh; Fenix PD35; Nitecore P12; Eagletac TX25C2; Sunwayman V25C; Olight S20 2014; Eagletac D25LC2; Sunwayman C21C; Foursevens Quark Q123-2.

All dimensions directly measured, and given with no batteries installed:

Fenix PD35: Weight: 82.7g, Length: 138.1mm, Width (bezel): 25.4mm
Eagletac D25LC2: Weight: 50.0g, Length: 116.3mm, Width (bezel): 22.5mm
Eagletac TX25C2: Weight 93.6g, Length: 120.4mm, Width (bezel): 31.6mm
Foursevens Quark Q123-2 X (Regular tailcap): Weight: 44.6g, Length: 112.7mm, Width (bezel) 22.0mm
Foursevens MMR-X: Weight 90.8g, Weight (with 18650): 138.5g, Length: 138.6mm, Width (bezel): 31.5mm
Foursevens MMX Burst: Weight 145.8g, Length: 153.3mm, Width (bezel): 38.7mm
Nitecore P12: Weight: 89.7g, Length: 139.4mm, Width (bezel): 25.4mm
Olight M20S-X: Weight: 124.1g, Length: 145.4mm, Width: 35.5mm (head)
Thrunite TN12-2014: Weight: 80.0g, Length: 140.5mm, Width (bezel): 25.4mm
Zebralight SC600 II: Weight 79.3g, Length: 101.8mm, Width (bezel) 29.7mm

The PD35 is a fairly compact light. Anodizing has a black finish, hard anodized (i.e., type III) – with no chips or damage on my sample. Body labels are fairly subtle (i.e., light gray instead of bright white). Knurling is relatively aggressive on the body tube. When combined all the other grip elements (e.g., cooling fins in the head, side switch cover, pocket clip, etc.), overall grip is excellent.  The fins in the head also have an anti-roll feature. The pocket clip holds onto the light very firmly.

Tailcap screw threads are square cut and anodized for tailcap lock-out. There are also a good number of threads – more than typical on a light this size. 

The P35 uses a protruding forward clicky switch, so tailstanding is not possible. There are raised areas on the sides of the switch, but these are just for the lanyard attachment. I'm not sure why they didn't design this to allow tailstanding, as most other makers have. 

On/off is controlled by the physical tailcap clicky switch, but all mode switching is done by the electronic side switch in the head. The mode-changing switch in the head has pretty good feel for an electronic switch. It is relatively easy to locate by feel or sight, and has a definite click, with typical traverse. Please see my User Interface section for a discussion. 

There is a spring on the contact board in the head, so flat-top cells can be used. The reverse polarity protection system must be circuit based, not physical. The body tube is wide enough to accommodate all size 18650 cells, but you may find really long cells under tight pressure with the dual springs.

The overall head is not very large. Reflector is smooth, and of moderate depth given the size of the head. Coupled with the XM-L2 cool white emitter (which was well centered on my sample), I would expect a fairly typical beam pattern. Scroll down for beamshots.

The PD35 comes with a flat black aluminum bezel.

User Interface

The PD35 has a straightforward interface. Turn the light on/off by the forward tailcap switch. Lightly press and hold for momentary, click (press and release) for constant on. Click again to turn off.

To change modes, click the electronic switch in the head, while the light on. Mode sequence is Eco > Lo > Med > Hi > Turbo, in repeating sequence. The light has mode memory, and returns the last level set after turning the tail switch off/on.

Press and hold the electronic switch to access an oscillating Strobe mode. A single click exits you from Strobe back into constant output.

Video: 

For information on the light, including the build and user interface, please see my video overview:


Video was recorded in 720p, but YouTube typically defaults to 360p. Once the video is running, you can click on the configuration settings icon and select the higher 480p to 720p options. You can also run full-screen. 

As with all my videos, I recommend you have annotations turned on. I commonly update the commentary with additional information or clarifications before publicly releasing the video.

PWM/Strobe

As with other Fenix lights, the PD35 is current-controlled. There is no PWM, on any level. And unlike my recent LD12review, there is no sign of circuit noise on any level either. 

Strobe

The strobe is an oscillating strobe, switching between two frequencies every 2 secs or so (6.5Hz and 14.8Hz). Here is a blow-up of each strobe frequency:

There are no additional blinky modes on the PD35 (unlike my LD12, which had an additional SOS mode).

Beamshots:

For white-wall beamshots below, all lights are on Max output on an AW protected 18650 battery. Lights are about ~0.75 meter from a white wall (with the camera ~1.25 meters back from the wall). Automatic white balance on the camera, to minimize tint differences.

Beam pattern is good, about what you would expect for a light/reflector this size. The PD35 has a fairly wide spillbeam, with a somewhat wider than typical hotstpot. The PD35 is probably one of the "floodiest" options in this size class, with the most consistently "clean" beam (i.e., lowest number of artifacts and rings). But the difference to other recent lights is not that great. Max output on turbo seems to be quite bright for this class – scroll down for detailed output and throw measures.

Testing Method: 

All my output numbers are relative for my home-made light box setup, as described on my flashlightreviews.ca website. You can directly compare all my relative output values from different reviews - i.e. an output value of "10" in one graph is the same as "10" in another. All runtimes are done under a cooling fan, except for any extended run Lo/Min modes (i.e. >12 hours) which are done without cooling.

I have devised a method for converting my lightbox relative output values (ROV) to estimated Lumens. See my How to convert Selfbuilt's Lightbox values to Lumens thread for more info. 

Throw/Output Summary Chart:

My summary tables are reported in a manner consistent with the ANSI FL-1 standard for flashlight testing. Please seehttp://www.flashlightreviews.ca/FL1.htm for a discussion, and a description of all the terms used in these tables. Effective July 2012, I have updated all my Peak Intensity/Beam Distance measures with a NIST-certified Extech EA31 lightmeter (orange highlights).

The PD35 is clearly driven very hard on Turbo – it has one of the highest 1x18650 outputs I've measured in this class. That's quite impressive for such a compact light. Note as well that the PD35 is even brighter on max on 2x battery sources than 1x18650. 

Throw is quite reasonable for the class, given the size of the head and reflector.

Let's see how all the levels compare to the official specs, on 1x18650 in my lightbox:


There is a generally good concordance between my estimated lumens and Foursevens published specs – except my measures are all somewhat higher.  As always, you have to consider my estimated lumens as a source of relativemeasures between lights (i.e., not to be taken as absolute values). Note that the Turbo mode of the PD35 steps down to the Hi level (see my Runtimes below for more info).

One thing I would like to see is a lower Lo mode. Fenix refers to their 10 lumen level as "Eco", which is a cute way of saying long runtime. But I would prefer a true <1 lumen "moonlight/firefly" mode instead.

Output/Runtime Graphs:

To start, here is a comparison of four of my highest output recent lights in this class; the Zebralight SC600-II, Fenix PD35, Nitecore P12, and Thrunite TN12-2014:

Given the incredibly high drive level of these lights on Max, it is not surprising that all of them either show a direct-drive-like pattern (i.e., the TN12-2014), or have a defined step-down (either timed or thermal-managed). It just isn't possible for these small lights to maintain that sort of output (and heat) on a single 18650 in a fully regulated fashion for long. The Fenix PD35 and Nitecore P12 have a very similar pattern of gradual step-downs from Max, with at least the first step timed. 

The PD35 shows excellent efficiency and regulation at all levels, roughly comparable to the 18650-only SC600-II.  

Let's see how it does on 1x18650 against a wider range of lights (omitting the comparisons already shown above):

Again, the PD35 is an extremely efficient member of this class. 

Here are a couple of comparisons on 2x battery sources:


Thanks to the set of step-downs on Hi, you can safely run 2xCR123A or 2xRCR cells in this light. Efficiency is again excellent, on all battery sources.

Potential Issues

The PD35 lacks a true "moonlight" mode.

There are a series of step-downs from Turbo on all batteries (i.e., rapid step-down to Hi, and then a subsequent step down to Med). 

The PD35 can't tailstand in its native form, despite the raised lanyard attachment points on the tailcap. These seems like an odd omission, as access to the switch is reduced by the raised side posts (i.e., why reduce access this much, if you aren't going to support tailstanding?).

Preliminary Observations

As you can see above, there really aren't too many issues that I can find with this light – the PD35 is a very respectable (and leading) member of the compact 1x18650, 2xCR123A/RCR family of lights. 

Build quality is top-notch, with good attention to detail. Hand feel is fabulous, with top of class grip. The only thing I would change physically about the light is tailstanding – for some odd reason, they have built up the edges of the tailcap high enough to interfere with access to the switch, but not enough to allow tailstanding.  You could probably adjust this yourself by opening up the switch internals and adding an appropriately-sized spacer, but it is odd that you would have to. 

Also, given the price premium this model commands over competing products from other makers, I think a better quality wrist lanyard and holster would be nice. Anyone else fondly remember the old Fenix open pouch design with elastic sides?

I find the PD35 user interface very intuitive. The mode-changing electronic side switch was pioneered by Fenix some time ago, and they have certainly figured out how to do it right. Switch feel is good, and the interface is straightforward. I'm glad the "tactical" strobe is hidden behind a press-hold. But I wish makers of general purpose lights would put a slow signaling strobe or fast beacon in there instead (or at least, in addition).

The circuit also performed admirably in my testing. There is no sign of the "flicker" effect that plagued the recent LD12upgrade – all levels were rock-solid stable on my PD35. Output/runtime efficiency was excellent as always, with very flat regulation (note that the light steps down significantly from Turbo). Fenix was always a leader in regards to regulation and efficiency, and I'm glad to see they have kept it up on this latest version of the PD35 family.

Beam pattern is good, well suited to a general purpose light. The nice wide hotspot is suitable for a lot of tasks, even without a diffuser. And since the PD35 is based on an established build, there are plenty of Fenix diffuser/filter/cone accessories that are available. 

One thing that I am a little surprised at is the max output – the PD35 nears the top my charts for 1x18650, coming in just slightly under the Zebralight SC600-II (at least initially).  Of course, the PD35 has a defined step-down on turbo, but that initial ~1000 lumen output was unexpected given the size (and 850 official lumen spec).

At the end of the day, there is a lot to here to commend the PD35. I'm not sure why Fenix hasn't moved to a true "moonlight" mode (like a number of their current-controlled competition). But as it is, the PD35 is still a top performer, and highly recommend for this class. 

P.S.: I know a lot people are wondering how the Fenix PD35 directly compares to Nitecore P12 and Thrunite TN12-2014. In addition to all the objectives measures included in this review, I've added some general comparison comments in post #2.

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PD35 provided by Fenix for review


Original text link:http://www.candlepowerforums.com/vb/showthread.php?381867

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