The Best CREE LED Comparison

Shopping for a new flashlight can often be confusing. But what about trying to make sense out of understanding what type of LED the light is equipped with? This is where the best CREE LED comparison can help.

led

Standard flashlight bezel and LED

Forget ‘Grease’ – CREE Is The Word!

CREE, Incorporated was founded in 1987 at North Carolina State University. The research that went into the development of cheaper and more efficient ways of producing light, have almost become a household word! For those interested in handheld flashlights, the CREE LED has become the dominant force responsible for bringing the devices into the 21st century!

When You’ve Seen One, Have You Seen Them All?

With regards to some things, yes. With regards to LED’s, no. Some will say that LED’s have become smaller over the years. Some will disagree by adding that it’s the “die size” that has increased. LED’s vary in size. These differences, when coupled with the size and shape of the reflector, are what give YOU the user, the beam that you prefer.

Read on to discover how to determine this when shopping for an LED flashlight.

Alphabet Soup

All this wonderful technology has created quite a  challenge for consumers. It’s not enough for flashlight seekers that they must understand terminologies that relate to lumens, battery types, run times etc… but trying to make sense of the LED models themselves can be quite mind boggling!

CREE XP-G R5 LED

This is a CREE XP-G R5 LED

 

Here a basic roll call of the XLamp LED models that CREE has introduced over the last decade or so.

Basically in order of consumer appearance, are XR-E, XP-E, XP-G, XM-L. These are the LED models, so to speak. Each model however has several luminous flux bins. Please don’t ask me to define that terminology, just know that it exists and it’s one of the components that you should have a basic understand of when looking at flashlight specifications.

 

Flux Bins Rule!

If you read the paragraph above, then you’re already familiar with what flux bins are. If you didn’t…scroll up and read it before continuing.

The flux bins are (more-or-less) brightness codes…in the form of a rating.

There’s no denying that flashlights have become brighter over the years. And although the reasoning behind the naming of the codes means nothing to consumers, just try to remember that with each sequence of codes, the lights have added more lumens!

An example of the flux bin codes that have accompanied the LED models (as noted earlier in the article) have had naming references such as Q2, Q5, R2, L2, U2, T6, etc. These codes always follow the model number. Over the period, there have been many combinations of bins assigned which have not become flashlight components. Below, are the combinations which you are more likely to see, or have seen.

Dissecting The Bins

  • XR-E (R2)

A light with this LED (if there’s still one in the clearance closet) will be several years old. Its highest lumen count will be around 300, using lithium batteries. It WILL however have excellent throw! (enabling the beam to travel at a great distance)

  • XP-E (R2)

Not much different than XR-E except for its size. Performance about equal.

  • XP-C (Q4)

If you should see a flashlight with this LED…pass on it. The XP-C is a low-power LED which offers a much lower maximum drive current than others in the XP family. It’s also much cheaper to produce. It won’t offer a lot of lumens and is capable of over-heating itself to death (causing permanent failure) due to the cheaper mounting material used in the assembly. On the retail level, flashlights with this LED have been known to be sold at cost-conscious big-box stores. Check labeling carefully!

  • XP-G (R5) and XP-G2

The ‘G’ and ‘G2’ line feature a boost in lumens. The ‘G2’ offers up to 20% more than the ‘G’. This line also offers throwing capability much closer to that of the older XR-E. Note that the size of the ‘G2’ is a tad smaller, producing a slightly smaller beam.

  • XM-L (T6)/(U2)

    CREE XM-L2 T6

    An XM-L2 T6 LED

Virtually all flashlights made today use an XM-L LED. This LED produces a full-flood beam, with less throw than the XP-G.  Total lumen output for the original XM-L peaked at near 700. Differences in the T6 and U2 flux bins include higher brightness. The T6 cannot output more than 910-975 lumens. (*see note) Meanwhile the U2 bin is 7% brighter than the T6. Overall beam distance (throw) has increased since the XM-L. Both of the more recent bins have less flood overall.

Part of what makes the XM-L visually distinctive, is its slightly larger size and a six-line grid across the die.

  • XM-L2 U2/U3

Similar in size (5mm x 5mm) to the XM-L, the L2 has increased brightness by about 20%. It has also omitted the “grid” found on the XM-L.

The T6 bin is present in both the XM-L & XM-L2 emitters. T6 output within the L2, peaks between 1044-1119 lumens.

The U3 bin has now appeared in many flashlights. Brightness has modestly increased again. Top output is 1193-1268.

  • XP-L/HI

Continued advances in LED technology made the XP-L LED available in the spring of 2014.

CREE XP-L HI

CREE XP-L HI

The XP-L is the same size die as the XM-L2, but it’s placed onto the smaller size board of the older XP-G. Whereas the XP-G is king when it comes to “throwing” capabilities, the XP-L doesn’t throw quite as far, but it makes up for it in brightness and the fact that it can be driven at much higher currents.

About a year after its introduction, a “high intensity” version was released. This is now known as XP-L HI. In some new flashlights, including Manker’s T01, you’ll find the “HI” LED. Their are various versions of it, and the T01’s brother (U11) features a “HI” in V5, which puts its highest available output between 1176 and 1227. The T01 is 900 lumens, the U11 is 1050.

When Tints Were King 

Two tints; neutral white & cool white

LEFT: Neutral White — RIGHT: Cool White

Not so much with today’s XM-L technology, but varying tint bins were all the rage with XP LED’s. Many new variations of popular lights were released with neutral white and some warm white LED bins. Although a popular alternative to the standard cool white LED color, the warmer tint bins featured less lumens due to the thicker LED coatings.

* I always feel it’s useful to know that there are an abundance of cheaply made flashlights in today’s marketplace. The internet is full of them. Many of these lights feature a XM-L T6 LED. And many that do, routinely inflate their lumens to 1600 and above. As noted in the XM-L section, the T6 bin is limited to slightly less than 1000 lumens. The consumer should be aware of these blatant inaccuracies. For more information click this link.

Something else to keep in mind, are the output estimates from CREE. In many flashlights, “out the front” lumens are less that the given output which sometimes gets absorbed by the reflector.  Some lights have better designed optics to alleviate lost output.

 

What did you think of the best CREE LED comparison? Was it helpful? Do you have any questions or comments relating to anything discussed here? If so, please fill out the fields below.

 

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12 Comments:

  1. nice info, im glad to hear there is more efficient ways of producing light. Lots of stuff here I didn’t know about!

  2. Wow, that’s a lot of info! Thanks for sharing it!

  3. very informative, thank you! it would helpful to know what amount of run time we could expect on a given battery. meaning how long the bulb would produce bright light using for instance an 18650 battery. i also noticed that many flashlights use an aluminum reflector. whereas most flashlights use an aluminum vapor coated plastic one. i have to assume this is because of the amount of heat produced by the LED. i also know that Halogen automotive lights use aluminum vapor coated steel or glass (solid glass drop in headlamps), so it seems that the aluminum vapor coating is the standard. do LED’s make so much heat that a vapor coating will not hold up?

    • Thanks for commenting! LED’s DO create a fair amount of heat, and the best flashlights do what they can to minimize (and prevent) any possible damage caused by excessive heat. Your question about runtime is usually answered within the specs of most lights. How long the brightest output is good for depends on many factors…including the battery.
      I wish I could comment more intelligently on the subject of vapor coating. This is (admittedly) something I’ve not heard much about…but thanks for mentioning it, it’s worth looking into!

  4. Thanks for the info. Very valuable.

  5. Thank You very much.

  6. Very useful information. I appreciate you taking the time to write it up. One thing that might be helpful (for others) is if you very clearly state what the brightest lights available today are (for headlamps, etc). From what I could gather from the above info, it’s the XM-L2 U2/U3 (?).

    I also appreciate that you took the time to state that many of the lumen output specs for lights on ebay are bogus (I noticed that, too!). So it helps to know what lighting tech they use to estimate brightness.

    • Thanks for your comment! I’m glad you found the post helpful. Unfortunately it’s the type that needs tweaking now and again, since the technology doesn’t stand still for long! I can’t say that the brightest LED’s today are XM-L2’s etc… In recent months, XP-L (and its various “bin” types) have generally surpassed them. Then, I’ve seen several recent lights with XHP LED’s! Some as XHP-35 and some, XHP-50. The outputs on THESE lights, are way surpassing anything with an XM-L2.

      I’ll try to keep this post as up to date as possible, but sometimes these changes occur without much fanfare. So until new lights are suddenly introduced with the new technology, then it’s not easy to know it has happened.

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