Project Lumen

If you spend any time watching low light videos on YouTube, or reading articles by “experts”, you will notice two differing opinions on the requirements of a home defense light.  Some will say too many lumens will reflect back into your face and blind you; others say it doesn’t matter and you should go with the brightest possible.  So which is it?

I wanted to find out and decided to do some testing of my own – Project Lumen.  With this article I will lay out the goal and some ground rules.

The Goal

Can have too many lumens at night?  Will too bright a light lead to self-induced blindness?  Are the opinions of other based in fact, or just regurgitated internet tripe?

This experiment will hopefully answer those questions while also helping me to determine what the best illumination for my house is.  Keep in mind your house may be different.  You may have more, or less, shadows; your house is likely a different color and sheen on the interior walls.  I have real wood floors throughout my house.  If you have carpet the reflected light will be different.  You may have mirrors that reflect light.  In my house we have a set of French doors leading into what has become the kid’s playroom.  Will the light reflected off of those doors be problematic?

Nitecore nvg

Ground Rules

It is worth noting that while I can’t test every flashlight ever made, I have gathered a decent spread of different types and lumen outputs to evaluate.  This testing will not be done in a sleep lab or a scientific dark room; no, instead it will be performed in my home, under realistic “bump in the night” conditions.  I will get to the actual test procedure in a minute, but certain aspects will be beyond my control; things such as:

  • How much moonlight is present through the windows.
  • Is there cloud cover?
  • Are my neighbors flood lights on or off?
  • How well, or how deep, was I sleeping when the test begins?

You may not agree with the results and it is entirely possible that your results would differ from mine. Still, I hope that you take the information and processes used and decide to test your own environment, draw your own conclusions, and ensure the best for your protection.

I want to give a quick note to those that might complain about my methods.  I am open to completely redoing the test in a perfectly controlled environment.  Just tell me what lab you are paying for and provide me with airfare, per diem, the address, a rental car, lost wages, and the brace of lights you want tested… ‘nuff said.

To make things simple I will use two parameters to define the test flashlights – lumens and bulb type.  Lumens is not the “be all, end all” of lighting; but it provides a number that can be used as a reference.  Bulb type will allow me to determine if the coloration of the light effects the result (for more on light color and mood click here) on the surrounding environment.  I will neither test nor document; run time, durability, candlepower, watts, weight, size or cost.  I have also made a conscious decision not to test a weapon mounted light.  This test is to determine the effects of light reflection and overall lumens on my eye sight; thus I see no reason to increase the element of error, and danger, by introducing a weapon into the test when I can get the same results with a flashlight.


Lumen – :  a unit of luminous flux equal to the light emitted in a unit solid angle by a uniform point source of one candle intensity.  The Wikipedia page actually has a lot of quality information about lumens for those that want to geek out.

Candlepower – illuminating power expressed in candelas or candles.

The Contestants

Before I get to the test, which is remarkably simple, I want to list the players. I will test one flashlight per night.

  • Streamlight TL-3 (incandescent xenon gas-filled pen bulb, 211 lumens)
  • Streamlight NF-2 (incandescent xenon gas-filled pen bulb, 78 lumens)
  • Streamlight ProTac (C4 LED, 180 lumens)
  • Streamlight Micro Stream (C4 LED, 45 lumens)
  • Streamlight PolyTac (C4 LED, 275 lumens)
  • Nitecore SRT3 (CREE XM-L2 T6 LED, 550 lumens)
  • INOVA XS Micro (LED, 80 lumens)
  • NEBO Classic (LED, about 100 lumens)
  • Mag Light – 3 D Cell (incandescent, around 45 lumens)
  • A borrowed Streamlight Stinger DS LED (C4 LED, 350 Lumens)
  • Maybe a Q-Beam if I can borrow one (Bright!)

The Test

For as long as this article has become, the test is actually pretty easy.  I will stage one flashlight on my bedside table at bedtime. I wake up at 5:00 AM, well before anyone else in my house; so, when my alarm goes off, I will simply proceed to “clear” my house.  I will take the same path during each test. With nine flashlights and the potential for more this will take a couple of weeks, but my goal is to update what I learn as I go and offer a final conclusion at the end.

The test begins tonight.


  1. The actual answer is: The internet is dumb.

    Yes, it sucks to splash yourself. When I was doing low light indoor room clearing force on force (mouthful) I splashed myself many times with a SF E2D. You know what else happened? I forgot to breathe. I never saw my sights, not once. I was ambushed at the top of some stairs and hit before I knew what happened. I thought I saw someone hiding in a door way and sat there yelling at them to come out but it was just shadows. And at one point executed a home invader, accidentally sort of.

    No, it’s not even remotely a big deal. You have reduced night vision once you flash your light once. You need the light on in flashes or snapshots to see, you try and not splash yourself. It’s just part of what you do. If you move up to a wall and are peeking around with your light, eyes, and guns all on the same vertical plane – you just don’t flash the wall – just as you wouldn’t be coming around with your gun into the wall.

    I did the same shoot house with a 120 lum light, a weapon mounted 500, and a handheld 500. Handheld all the way, but lumens didn’t matter. What did matter A TON are those stupid “settings” that stupid lights have. Press 3 times to go to strobe or whatever. Those lights are straight garbage.

    A little bit of training goes a long way.

    1. Thank, that was very insightful. I definitely need to get more low light training, but a key point in this experiment is that it is based on my house. I know the low light areas, where I cast shadows and I leave a couple of low wattage lights on so my kids can get around in the dark if they are sick in the middle of the night.

      My test parameters might be different if I was concerned with issuing a search warrant or kicking doors in a dark lit alley. Most low light training seems to be geared toward those scenarios and not ones involving a building you can find your way through with your eyes closed.

      1. Well you bring up a great point. You can game your house.

        Who besides you and your family can move inside your house with the lights off? Who knows where dog or kids toys usually are? Who knows how far your couch sticks out? And how many steps there? Where door handles are? Etc? No one. Definitely develop a game plan for your own house. This is why if you have an issue in low light, you don’t turn all the lights on – that would remove your advantage of knowing your own house.

        To that concept, you know where mirrors are, where windows are, walls, etc. Things that will splash your light back on you. So game these too. If I know there is a hall way with a big mirror in it, I won’t flash that, but I’ll hit the cieling or floor or adjecent wall no issue.

        I wouldn’t change anything because X light was brighter than Y. Basically, that’s what it comes down to. The light used isn’t going to change my technique unless we’re talking a Surefire Hellfighter or something! 🙂

        The technique in your home or not should be light (flash), move, always. The light should never stay on. Keep in mind of where you moved to and what direction you can flash next. Pretty simple really.

        (Bonus: When you do have a light that is too bright, hit the ceiling to light the whole room, this lights you too which is bad in a “tactical” situation, but handy all the rest of the time)

  2. Many years ago, in one of the popular gun magazine I could obtain here, which I can’t remember (Shooting Times, Guns & Ammo or Guns World) I read an article with a comparisson between different types of ammo used in the night and their flash, which sometimes left you blind!

    Together with your test, which I await the results it will be important for any person who wishes to be ready to repell intruders!



  3. I did notice that, with the exception of the one NiteCore light, most of your lights are what I’d call moderately to low powered, compared to most of the offerings out there. Heck, my single-cell EDC lights will all put out 400 lumens on command.

    Running a multi-mode flashlight is really no different that learning and ingraining the manual of arms for a defensive handgun. I have all sorts of flashlights stashed in various places (computer bags, pockets, backpacks, kitchen counter, etc.) However, my beside the bed light is a high powered version with the light set in memory at 520 lumens, although three lower settings are possible.

    My light strategy in my own home at night isn’t really to be searching – I can figure out where an intruder would be pretty easily by sound and ambient light alone. The intent of the light is target identification and shock value. I don’t have to worry much about flashing myself light absorbing walls (we live in a log home) and high cathedral ceilings. YMMV.

    1. Funny that what you call low powered were considered quite bright just 8-10 years ago. Is more better? I hope to answer that question for my own sake. Ultimately, each person will have to draw their own conclusions.

      As for your last paragraph. Sound? I seriously question anyone’s ability to locate an intruder by sound after being awoken out of REM sleep at 3:30 am. Unless you’re being burglarized by The Three Stooges or you happen to be Jason Bourne.

      1. Hey C.J., actually, I think I am Jason Bourne – just can’t seem to remember though….

        As far as sound – a Peltor headset with the amp cranked up is pretty useful for identifying sound, as well as preserving your hearing if you do happen to shoot indoors.

        I look forward to seeing the rest of your article!

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