Ever increasing lumens in hand held illumination, Spark Technologies is raising the bar with some pretty big numbers. Does the rest of their light live up to their big claims in output?
Meat and Potatoes
The SL6-800CW is a megalight in a mini package. Boasting a top end of 800 lumens and yet firmly ensconced in the 2 cell duty light size range. It definitely shows that output for this class is steadily increasing.
Powered by your choice of 1-18650 Lithium-ion rechargeable, or two standard CR123A cells, the SL6’s first noticeable feature is the inclusion of not one, but two electronic activation buttons. One is occupying the standard location on the tailcap, however Spark has given the user the option of using a head mounted side switch also. While this may conjure opportunities for unique programming or user interface options for each switch, this is not the case. Both buttons act in exactly the same manner, simply activating the light in its last used mode. Pressing and holding will cycle through the 4 available standard modes from low to high. Always starting this cycle in low is an excellent option because it essentially gives you a shortcut to the minimum 20 lumen output level. Also, Spark has included a “Super” output level accessible by quickly double clicking the switch once the light is on in any level. More about that later though.
Sitting nestled in a lightly textured reflector is the relatively large Cree XM-L LED. This powerhouse I believe currently holds the top honors as being the most efficient power LED generally available. Its large die format, especially when coupled with the SL6’s not overlarge reflector, provides a beautifully floody beam profile. Its hotspot is rather wide and it has an enormously diffuse transitional corona. With very few artifacts to distract the user, this beam is really a thing of beauty. The light is not a thrower, that much is for certain, but with this many lumens available, it doesn’t seem to do too terribly bad at distance illumination. I wouldn’t pit it against some of the real lumen powerhouses, but it holds its own very respectfully.
The SL6 comes packaged with a few nice extras. The most notable is the available frosted glass diffuser lens. If the smooth floody beam already emanating from the bezel isn’t quite smooth or floody enough, this option is perfect for you. As I stated in my review of the Spark ST6-500CW, the frosted diffuser spreads the already wide beam into a veritable wall of perfectly smooth light. Any semblance of throw is instantly decimated. Also included are a decent pocket clip that, though only tension mounted, manages to function quite well, and a durable holster emblazoned with the Spark logo.
As I mentioned earlier during discussion of the UI, double clicking the switch in any output mode sends the light into a “super” mode that gives you 5 minutes of access to the full 800 lumen top end before stepping back to an easier to manage 500 lumen high. This is time limited like this because the heat dissipation capabilities of such a small light are not able to keep up with this much heat being generated. It is a protective measure to help insure your LED isn’t permanently damaged by these high temperatures. Unfortunately I have discovered that many 18650 cells are also unable to keep up with the amount of current being used by the SL6 during this full-on sprint. Nearly every time I activated Super mode during testing it would only stay there for 10-20 seconds before turning off entire. This was the protection circuitry on the 18650 cell kicking in to keep the cell from being damaged by a significantly high discharge rate. Upon further research my experience with this was far from unique. Apparently only the highest quality cells are going to stand a chance of matching this discharge rate (I’m using EagleTac 2400mAh cells that I didn’t think were lacking before this point). A Spark representative has specifically stated that use of CR123A cells is not recommended for Super mode so that eliminates that option. I have heard of other high-discharge capable Li-ion chemistries, but unfortunately I don’t personally know anything about them. What this all boils down to is that you have to play it safe and only count on your SL6 being a 4 mode light with a top end of 500 lumens. This is still pretty impressive in and of itself, but a 38% reduction in advertised power is a bit disappointing.
The aesthetics of the Spark series and the SL6 in specific are quite excellent. The appearance is instantly likeable. However excellent the artistic aspect of the machine work is though, there is something about handling this light that calls its durability into question. All the edges seem a little bit on the rough or sharp side, and the walls of the light feel uncharacteristically thin. As was the case with the ST6 headlamp, I believe that the light could stand to be fleshed out a bit more. I prefer my illumination tools to be over engineered rather than just adequate.
Bright and quite floody, the SL6 is an extremely versatile light in a fairly small package. Build quality could be better and I wish that I had use of the super mode with the lights actual top end, but even without it this light is still impressive.
Provided for review by the kind folks at Spark Technologies.