What flashlights do you use for spotlighting?

A lot of mammals are only spotted at night, usually by spotlighting.   In places like Africa where one is often going in a safari vehicle, they typically have handheld spotlights that are powered by the vehicle through a cigarette lighter port, or other connection.   In Sabah, they often run wires directly to the car battery terminal.     Most of the dedicated spotlights that I have seen my guides use are bright, but have a very poor quality beam for photography – uneven light across the beam, and tungsten color temperature.  I either make do with them, or use flash for the actual photo.

I have been using LEP (laser excited phosphor) flashlights which are quite small handheld units, but which have an incredibly narrow beam. The Fenix HT30R is a small (5.5 inches long) handheld unit that can throw a beam 1600 meters (1 mile).   They are much brighter and have a much cleaner beam than the usual guide spotlights.  This is good for lighting a shot of a mammal that you know is present, assuming you are using a very long lens, but by the same token it is way too narrow for actually finding the mammal in the first place.

I want to get a wider beam LED flashlight, with a wide enough beam for searching.

If I am in Africa, the purpose will be to hand my guide if his or her spotlight is bad.  In the US where I generally have no guide, it is for me to use.

There is a bewildering array of LED flashlights on the market, and a huge list of flashlight enthusiast sites that review them.  Unfortunately, a lot of the reviews emphasize raw light power, which is not actually that important for finding mammals – sure, you need some brightness, but you also need it to last a couple hours at least, and there is such a thing as too bright a light.  Another factor is how wide a beam you use – I am frankly not sure what the optimal beam width is for spotlighting.  Too narrow is clearly bad, and you want some width.  Yet at the same time you don’t need to light up areas larger that you can’t see clearly.

I am curious as to whether anybody on the list has a favorite.

Post author

Nathan Myhrvold


  • Tigrillo

    I have two torches that I bring. One is the Olight SR52 Intimidator which is great for spotting. With freshly charged batteries and set to max, its beam is further than that of the headlights high beam on a car. For a wider beam and a much smaller torch I use for closer up and not as powerful a light. I don’t remember which one it is right now but I can find out for you.

  • Michael Dagnelie


    It doesn’t have to be wide light vs narrow spotlight, I use both of them: a wider headlamp and a very narrow spotlight. I use a Fenix HM70R headlamp, which spotlight is wide enough to do searching and look around. Furthermore, it also has a very wide light, which is useful for camping/hiking/cycling. With the headlamp I have my hands free for my binoculars, camera or for hiking/climbing/cycling. And when I see an animal not particularly close to me or want to have more light on it, I put my Noctigon K1 spotlight on it, a spotlight going as far as 1.5 km. Both are not particularly lightweight or compact, but still lightweight and compact enough to bring on my hiking/cycling adventures. It is a solid combination. The headlamp and spotlight brand and type might be changed in the future, but the combination of headlamp and spotlight not. See also lumen1.com for some good reviews of spotlights.



  • Jonatan den Haan

    Hi Nathan,

    Personally I use the Fenix HT18, a 1500lm hunting flashlight with a narrow beam with a range of 1km and a replaceable + usb-rechargeable battery. Many of my friends also use this flashlight and it works wonders. When spotlighting I put it on the second lowest setting, which will clearly reflect any eyesight that might occur. When you see eyeshine you simply bump up the brightness to it’s fullest. So far I have found no difficulties taking photo’s of mammals with this light. You can buy another battery if you want, and simply replace it if it runs out while you charge the other one. They are not very expensive at around €18 per usb-c-rechargeable battery.

    If you want a slightly less narrow beam I can also recommend the Nitecore P30i. Basically the same flashlight but with a little less narrow beam, might be a little better if you do a lot of photograhy. It is more expensive though.

    Happy mammalwatching!

  • BWKeelan

    Hi, Nathan,

    I recommend the Ledlenser P7R or another flashlight in this family. These are zoom units that quickly adjust from wide angle for scanning and illuminating trails while walking, to a narrow beam once you have an animal located. The beam quality is superb at all zoom positions — uniform, with virtually no light outside the main beam (reducing backscatter in dust or mist), and with good color balance for photography. The sides are smooth, so with roof prism binoculars you can tuck it in the groove between the barrels and have perfectly aligned light.
    Link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01MQXQP34

    Good luck! — Brian Keelan

  • Charles Foley

    I have also recently bought a Fenix HT18 after seeing Jon Hall use it to great effect in West Papua. I previously used the Fenix LR35R which is small and light and throws a much wider beam, but has the tendency to get so hot on the highest setting that you can’t actually hold it – which is rather inconvenient for a flashlight. As Jonatan says, the HT18 has a very focused beam which is great for mammal spotting. It also comes with a small plastic converter that allows you to use the smaller ARB-L18 batteries that many Fenix flashlights used in the past. I have plenty of those lying around and I now take 3-4 of them with me so I don’t have to worry about running out of juice when in the field.

  • Nathan Myhrvold

    Thanks so much for the great answers. I will check out the Fenix HT18 and Ledlenser P7R. In the past I have used Coast flashlights with lenses. I had recently ordered a Fenix LR35R but have not tried it yet. I can imagine that it would be hot on the highest setting but I am not sure that the highest setting is one I would use much because it also does not last very long. In general, for any of these flashlights the very highest setting seems to be either an emergency usage thing, or a gee-whiz statistic that is part of the marketing message but not that useful.

  • Paul Carter

    I use an Acebeam L18. It is similar to the Fenix HT18 but I prefer (based on the published stats) the Acebeam because it has a higher candelas, higher CD/LM, 10% longer throw, narrower head (so easier to hold against a long lens), weighs less at 147g vs 220g (weights without batteries) and costs less ($90 vs $130 when I last compared). In forest if I want better flood then I use my headlight (Fenix HL60R). But I rarely use my headlight for finding mammals as I use a thermal most of the time. All my gear is detailed at http://www.pacapix.com/home/gear/

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