One to Watch: oLight S1 Baton
Tony Sculimbrene 08.31.15
Spyderco is famous for iterating on great designs. Some might bemoan this as a lack of innovation, but for those of us that have had Spydercos for a decade or longer (in my case, two decades), we appreciate the refinements. This sort of patience and attention to detail is found almost nowhere in today’s modern, zip-by-at-the-speed-of-a-text world. Refinement, over time, doesn’t comport with a bountiful bottom line.
Or does it?
In the gear world it seems like it might. Maybe aficionados are the kind of people who appreciate innovation over time, or maybe amortizing the cost of new parts over a series of products is good for the bottom line. The optimist says the former and the cynic says its the latter.
Lumapower, a small potatoes flashlight brand, has been iterating on their truly excellent Incendio light for more than five years. OLight has taken a similar approach to its standard bearer EDC light, the S10 Baton. There were horsepower upgrades, new emitters, a rechargeable battery kit, and the like, but the form factor stayed the same. These were all plug and play upgrades, nothing that really altered the light’s output (other than making it brighter). But with the S1 (formerly the S11) that has changed.
The major upgrade here is the inclusion of a total internal reflector (TIR) optic. Here is more about TIR optics. Over the years in which I have been covering the flashlight world, this has been one of the most unsung upgrades. Perhaps it is because it is harder to understand than MORE LUMENS or the obligatory but often pointless emitter upgrade. But aside from the widespread use of Hi CRI emitters, nothing has improved flashlight as much as the TIR optic.
The benefits are threefold. First, generally they are easier to manufacture and cheaper than traditional reflectors (initial costs might be greater, but they do appear to be easier to batch out). Second, they can greatly reduce the size of a flashlight head, thus reducing the light’s overall size. Third, because they are essentially thick pieces of glass or acrylic, they tend to be more durable. There are no real drawbacks in my experience. The light produced is equally bright and when the TIR is well done, there are no more artifacts or holes in the beam as compared to a traditional dished metal reflector.
Surefire brought TIR to the flashlight world a few years ago, and we are not starting to see it spread. The excellent budget AAA, the D25AAA, has one, as does the Fenix E05 (2014 edition only). And now we get the venerable S10 form with a smaller head and TIR optics. The basics still carry over–a side switch and a magnetic flat bottom for tailstanding and attachment to metal surfaces. The TIR’s advantages are on full display. This takes a small light and makes it even smaller. This in turn makes the S1 one of the most pocketable CR123a lights on the market. There is still the raved-about UI and mode memory, along with blue anodized parts to distinguish the S1 from its predecessors.