Fenix TA20 Review:
I recently purchased the FenixLight TA20 for EDC.
I chose this light because I liked the very simple interface. Twist the ring and the brightness instantly changes. There are no odd combinations of clicks or twists to remember, and no specific order through which I’d have to cycle with each use to get to the desired output.
I purchased it for use as a general purpose, EDC, and outdoors light, as well as for defensive uses inside and outside the home. My current HD handgun doesn't have a rail, or I would have probably just stuck with the TLR-1. I find it comfortable and effective to use in a Harries Grip with my handgun.
(Various light grips: http://www.nrapublications.org/si/HB_handgun.html )
Fenix puts out two similar lights: the TA21 and the TA30.
The TA21 is almost identical to the TA20, except has 12 different light settings rather than 4. However, when I’ve been simply using the light around the house or the backyard, there isn’t a huge enough difference between 4, 50 and 225 lumens to really justify half a dozen more settings in between. (Now, I wouldn’t mind swapping out the 4-lumen setting for maybe a 1-lumen setting and a 10-lumen setting for a little more low-light versatility). However, by far the largest drawback is the 360-degree rotation of the selector ring. That means if you need the light in a hurry and it is very dark, there is no way to tell by feel whether you are about to get 4 lumens of soft light, or a blinding 225-lumen strobe. If you are just looking for your car keys, it might simply be an annoyance. If you are trying to identify a potential threat out in the woods and get the strobe when you only wanted 4 lumens, and then lose your night vision for several minutes while you hear footsteps or light growls coming from the bushes, it might be cause for some worry. If you are trying to hide from someone and need a quick burst of dim light to check your path in a dark building, but instead illuminate the entire area with a bright strobe, it might keep you from walking out of there at all. In any case, just understand I am trying to say I don’t like that there is no way to verify what level of light it will put out, just based on feel.
With the TA20, cranking the ring all the way to the dim end of its range (or verify that it is in this position) will instantly guarantee it is going to put out a minimal amount of light when the button is pressed. Twisting to the stop in the opposite direction provides the highly effective strobe. As an example, if a partially-resolved fight suddenly began to re-escalate, there would be no reliable way to rapidly switch from 50 lumens to strobe function while using the TA21. Again, with the TA20, crank the ring and it will stop on the strobe, guaranteed.
The TA30 has an almost identical setup as the TA20, with four modes selected within a 90-degree sweep of the selector ring. The only physical difference is its added length to accommodate the third battery. Primarily, I did not get the TA30 because it would have simply been too long for pocket EDC. However, I also really wanted the lowest “low” setting possible, and the TA30’s minimum is 9 lumens, vs 4 lumens with the TA20 and TA21. Not a huge deal, but for general night-time lighting use it means the TA30 won’t last quite as long as the TA20 or TA21 (advertised 115 hours vs 170 hours at their respective minimum settings), and residual night-vision will be slightly further reduced by the brighter light of the TA30.
I was actually surprised at how well the 4-lumen setting worked. I thought it would be too dim for anything but the most basic tasks in the dead of night. Instead, I’ve found I can easily and safely navigate my darkened house or even backyard, when it would otherwise be too dark to identify obstacles or potential threats. Further, it would easily be bright enough for security checks (status of doors and windows, and even the immediate areas beyond them) or to perform tasks like preparing small meals or, as I’ve verified, to field-strip a firearm with no other light. I can shine the 4-lumen light as the ceiling of my bedroom and get enough general illumination to probably get dressed if I wanted. I was able to easily locate my chapstick off my dresser. At night, the maximum practical range is probably about 20 yards or so.
The 50-lumen setting is probably the second most generally usable. I’d imagine it would be plenty to search a large building or room (say you are searching beneath the bleachers for your keys after your kid’s football game), or performing more intensive tasks like changing a tire or making emergency engine repairs. It is also useful when either there is no risk to the loss of night vision or, similarly, when your eyes are not adjusted for the light. An example might include walking in from daylight into a darkened home, or having to search a dark storage closet in an otherwise well-lit building. Really, there are two major benefits to this setting. First, while the 4-lumen setting would require more direct aiming to see clearly, the 50-lum setting is easily bright enough to simply shine at the ceiling and light up the room enough for everyone inside to do whatever basic tasks they need to do (moving a piece of furniture, closing all the windows, etc). Second, if you need to see further away, this is a huge step up from the 4-lum setting. From just playing with it in and behind my backyard, I’d say it would be very useful to 50+ yards. That is, you could almost surely identify whether it is your wife or a stranger at this distance, especially if your eyes are already adjusted to the dark.
The 225-lumen setting would IMO really only be useful for lighting up a very large room for multiple parties to function (again, shining the light off a large surface), or making identifications at much further distances.
The strobe function is my definite go-to for defensive purposes. Not only is it significantly less tolerable to have directed into your eyes (based on numerous accounts in the last several years, and my own personal testing), but this setting is at the very end of the range of motion for the selection ring so with an aggressive twist of the ring, it will naturally land on the strobe rather than the constant-on setting. After numerous tests on myself and friends I can definitely say it begins to get painful to stare into the light for much longer than 1 full second. After blinding myself with it, it took about 10 seconds before I could see clearly enough (in the center of my vision) to continue typing this review.
As far as battery life, I figure a safe estimate would be maybe 20% less than advertised. I know they do their tests with the best possible batteries possible, under probably the most ideal conditions as possible. I am using cheap bulk-pack batteries, so I’ll take that 7-day runtime at 4-lumens to be more like 5 days or so, the 12-hour runtime @ 50 lumens to be maybe 9 or 10 hours, and the 1.5 hours at maximum brightness to be closer to 1 hour. In reality, of course, those numbers are all pretty useless, since I would never use it consistently enough and only on one setting to actually be able to make an estimation. In any case, I am quite confident that, in an extended power outage, I could easily go a week using the one light for everything I needed, including using it as a lamp for several hours per night, and perhaps a moderate-brightness tactical light for occasionally checking my surrounding area.
How does it do as an EDC light? I worried it would be a little large, but it actually fits surprisingly well inside the front pocket of even my dress pants. It prints less than my smart phone (which does, admittedly, have a fold-out keyboard and is a little thicker than, say, an I-phone). I have been carrying it along with a 4” folding knife in my front-right pocket. When I am just out and about, the clip works well to hold it inside my pocket with a little bit exposed. The ONLY potential concern I have is that the strike bezel will begin to wear holes in the bottoms of my pockets if kept bezel-down. Carrying it bezel-up seems a little more awkward to grab, since you have to move your hand past the larger end while being careful not to jam your fingertips into the bezel if in a hurry, but this would eliminate the risk of torn pockets. Using the belt clip would almost surely eliminate this as a potential issue, as the weight of the light would no longer be supported by the bezel against the bottom of the pocket.
Some extra notes about the light:
1) This is probably pretty standard, but I wish it was more difficult to actually “click” the switch. It isn’t oversensitive by any stretch, but especially under the stress of having to search one’s own home I worry that it would be too easy to accidentally fully depress the switch. With consistent practice it probably wouldn’t be a big deal, but I would hate to try to do a quick flash, and end up locking it on right as a threat steps out from around a corner.
2) The beam is highly focused. Now, I can see that it would not perform as well as a long-range searching light, or as a disorienting defensive light, without this narrow beam. The overall beam is very smooth, but for general use I feel a more flood-like beam would have been just fine. Perhaps a good compromise would be if the beam was widened such that the maximum useable distance at the highest brightness was more like 50 yards. That way it would still be plenty for positive identification from across the street, and the strobe function should still be pretty effective, but the light would be more usable for searching. As it is now, with the 4-lumen setting in a pitch-black room of maybe 12x12, across the room there is about a 2’-diameter circle inside which I could easily identify the color of markers, the titles of movies, etc. The outside of this center circle is so much dimmer that it takes a second for your eyes to adjust before you can really pick out objects. Going up to 50 lumens, as mentioned above, solves this issue and gives a pretty good view of the entire room. Though, if one is concerned about maintaining night-vision then he must be careful to avoid looking into that small circle of the most intense light.
This second issue can be largely remedied by some of their accessories, like the diffuser tip that makes it act more like a standard light bulb in your hand (http://www.fenixlight.com/viewproduct.asp?id=53 ), as well as their red filter lens (http://www.fenixlight.com/viewproduct.asp?id=52 ). I intend to purchase both of these just to have as accessories. The diffuser would make lighting up an area very easy (like to use as a lamp inside a tent, car, or dark room), and would be more efficient than shining it off the ceiling. The red filter lens would largely eliminate the risk of losing night vision, especially from looking into the center part of the beam.
Overall, the light pretty much does what I’d want it to do, and I would definitely recommend it as a solid, widely-usable tactical light. I am extremely pleased with the usefulness of its varying brightness and that it is still small enough for pretty easy EDC. Surefire’s U2 Ultra (http://www.surefire.com/U2-Ultra) is the closest thing to match the TA20 for size, batteries used (2x CR123), and user interface (rotating selection ring with variable outputs). Still, compared to the TA20, it costs about three times as much, is less than half as bright at peak, and lacks the strobe feature. I haven’t really put the Fenix through its paces yet, but other reviews (probably one of the best being those by Nutnfancy on Youtube) suggest the Fenix lights will keep functioning as long is its user can.
Price: I won mine NIB for $76 (shipped) through an Ebay auction, but most online stores seem to carry them for under $90, shipped.