How good could something be if it simply made no mistakes?
In terms of film two of my favorite directors are David Lynch and the Cohen Brothers. The difference between the two speaks to why the E16 is great.
Lynch is great because when he soars he does so higher than any other director (maybe save Terrance Malick). Some of the imagery from his movies, even his less than great movies, is so visceral they are almost ancestral memories. The scene in Lost Highway when Patricia Arquette gets out of her car with Lou Reed’s version of “This Magic Moment” wailing in the background is, in and of itself, a film, a moment, what philosopher Gilles Deleuze called a movement image. It is striking in its power and accessibility. But then there are moments in Inland Empire that seem like someone left the camera on during a visit with your most boring relatives. Lynch is great because his highs are so high.
The Cohen Brothers, on the other hand, are steady, consistent directors. They have a vision of the world, certainly, and more interestingly, an ear for the sound that accompanies that vision, whether it is in heavily accented dialog or interesting soundtracks (or both), but there are very few moments in a Cohen Brother’s film as riveting as any of the best 100 moments in Lynch’s opus. There is nothing like the closet scene from Blue Velvet or the headlights in the desert sex scene from Lost Highway. The Cohen Brothers build nice films, stitch them together with the passion of a craftsman and tend to the details. There is never a wasted shot or boring moment. Lynch, on the other hand, discharges his vision like electrical fire shot from his brain to the screen and then into your brain. Coherence and continuity aren’t necessary. The Cohens make no mistakes. Their films are solid, from beat to beat until the credits. They are the E16 of directors.
There are lots of other analogies I could use here to convey the greatness of being error free—Tom Petty, the early 2000s Minnesota Twins (those teams when Torii Hunter was a great defender), the amazing consistency and greatness of the Porsche 911, and most importantly in the gear world, the vaunted Sebenza. Greatness is not always the lightning storm of amazing. Sometimes you find it when you just don’t make mistakes.
The Fenix E16 is a test case in achieving greatness by avoiding problems. Its good, really good, yet utterly unremarkable at the same time. It typifies was Patrick Rohne highlighted when he talked about good gear being boring.
Here is the product page. There is a rechargeable version, the E18R, which is a docking charge light (mistake Fenix—all lights should use the ubiquitous Mini USB port). It costs $39. Here is a written review. Here is a video review. Here is my video overview. Here is a link where you can buy the Fenix E16. And here is the review sample (purchased with my own funds, two year old gift cards...I am a hoarder of gift cards):
Twitter Review Summary: Small, simple, and great.
In many ways this feels like the slow and steady culmination of flashlight designs that go back a decade starting with the first Zebralights to arrive on the scene. The small torch with virtually flat emitter plus a sideswitch is a formula that has worked for a long time, but the E16 does it better because it marginally improves the formula in a bunch of different ways.
First, the form factor is smaller. Not a ton smaller, but smaller. It moves below the oLight S1R to be about the same size as the 47s twisties. Second, the switch feels better. No gushiness or hot pocket thanks to a good debounce time. Third, the optic is better. Your never going to get a throw beast in this market category, but what you get here is far above average. And then there is the fact that it makes no dumb choices or mistakes. A series of marginal improvements on an already successful formula without being hampered by any major flaws is a very, very good thing.
The performance ratios are good, given how small and light this torch is. Max lumens output is found on high (which is a rarity: 700 lumens for 90 minutes). The lumens to weight ratio is awesome at 564.5 (700 lumens/1.24 ounces with battery).
Fit and Finish: 2
I have not always been impressed by Fenix torches, but this little bugger is actually quite well made. The threads, though not of the robust ACME variety, are easy to thread and have no slop in them. The switch has a nice feel (and better debounce times). The machining is nice, nothing over the top, but almost pinstripe-y in its appearance. Overall, this is a very solid, mistake-free light in terms of how it was built.
With tiny torches, grip is really limited. You can pinch it between your index finger and thumb or you can “Green Lantern” it, and that’s about it.
Given those limitations though the texturing on the E16 and the switch make things quite easy.
It came with a friction fit pocket clip, which, as is par for the course, I removed immediately. It now resides in the EDC detrius bin in my home office which is basically shitty sheathes, bad lanyards, overstuffed knife padded cases and three dozen friction-fit pocket clips.
The real travesty here is that this is a light that really is too small for a normal pocket clip. If someone at Fenix really wanted a clip on this light they should have looked at how the Aeon Mk. 3 did its clip, because the lights are basically the same size. Absent some very clever solution like that, this is a light that needs no clip. Clipless carry here is excellent.
The light actually carries quite well, I am just taking the point off because the suggested carry method stinks.
The issue regarding output has moved away from “high bright is this thing” to “how well spaced are the outputs.” Everyone is knock-you-back bright and the E16 is no exception, but here you get a very competent low that lights the way but doesn’t rob you of night vision, a decent medium, and a flamethrowing high. Sure, there are now a few lights in this market segment that are marginally brighter on paper, but given how the eye perceives lumens, they are not practically brighter. The output is yet another display of mistake free construction—Fenix chose well here like they did everywhere else on the E16.
Thanks to well-chosen outputs, we don’t have anything silly here. In looking back on the MBI, which is still one of the craziest lights ever made, I am not convinced that the 600 lumen high that lasts five or ten minutes is a good idea. And here, Fenix made the right call and decided not to burn down the house with a ludicrus high. Its going to happen, its just a matter of time.
Someone is going to decide to make one of these thumb-sized lights output 2000 lumens for a blink of an eye and then I’ll be in a review pickle where I have to make a decision about the priority of unparalleled high output over runtimes directly. In fact, EagleTac may have already done it with the hyper-modded DX3B Clicky Pro, which not only has a 2500 lumen high, but it also specs out the new quick charge protocol ported over from the latest cellphone tech...it is, however, not a thumb-sized light. I think I know what light I am going to review next...who doesn’t like a review conundrum?
Beam Type: 2
This is one place where the E16 isn’t just better but clearly better than the competition. The TIR optic and the heavy texturing gives you a truly versatile beam, ideal for EDC. I am not going to say this is a thrower, but it is also better than the oLight by about a mile. Over the past two years I have come to really dread these thumb-sized lights because while they have a ton of firepower they have the range of a squirt gun (and its not even a Super Soaker squirt gun). Here you get a truly balanced beam between throw and flood and something that can actually help find that which goes bump in the night, even if you have a larger than postage stamp sized yard.
Beam Quality: 2
Both in terms of tint and pattern, what you get with the E16 is an absolutely beautiful light. It is a perfectly round, error free pattern with a nice balance between hotspot and spill. Its not the tight punch of a hotspot you find on Surefires, but it is pretty darn good. I also don’t have complaints with the tint. Its not Hi CRI, but it is more than fine with not a bit of pre-Prometheus 47s disco purple or sickly green. Mistake free...see the theme?
Side switch lights always have issues with UI. Because their switches are so accessible, it is possible to accidentally bump them and turn on the light. The two solutions normally taken are both problematic. Some companies deeply recess the switch which makes it hard to reach and usually adds bulk to the light. Other companies really stretch the debounce times for the switch requiring long, awkward presses to both activate the light and switch modes. Fenix modified the second approach and created a UI that timed the debounce time perfectly—long enough to prevent virtually all accidental activations, but not so long as to require a waiting period before your light comes on or switches outputs. The result is the best UI on a side switch I have seen. It is again, a small and subtle sign of the mistake-free nature of the E16.
Hands Free: 2
With a magnet, a true anti-roll body, and a flat-as-Kansas tailcap, the E16 isn’t about the walk or roll away from you. Given the competition you’d think someone would have figured out just how basic this body shape is and still works.
Fidget Factor: Low
Flashlights always perform poorly here as there is no much for fingers to do and when you don’t have that nice satisfying click from a McGizmo clicky things get especially boring. If you have some attention issues or long commutes or both, pair this torch with a flipper or your fingers will get bored.
Fett Effect: Medium
Compared to most flashlights, the touch of copper on the E16 gives some sign that this light has been carried and used. Think about the HDS Rotary by comparison—I have had that slide down the face of cliff (not on purpose), left it outside in the snow (on purpose) , and carried it in the worst places for more than 6 years and it looks sparkling new. Some folks like that. Others want stuff to show wear. The E16 is right in between.
Simple, easy, and decent at everything, the E16’s price is not out of line for what you pay for other lights this size from large production companies, but when you consider how most other lights in that market segment have some sort of forehead-slapping mistake the E16’s value is better than average.
Overall Score: 19 out of 20
Its not perfect. There is a slightly larger rechargeable model. But beyond those small preference differences the E16 time and again makes no major mistakes or gaffs. Its just solid. The beam is quite good and the debounce times on the side switch are intuitive making the UI great. If you are looking for a CR123A light, this is a great choice.
The meta question here is whether you should be considering other kinds of lights. Emitter tech has improved to make the performance difference between 1xAAA lights and this style of light pretty insignificant (not in lumens, but in real world utility). And then there are the built in battery models. The RovyVon is nearly as bright and half the size.
Setting that question aside, the E16 is right where the market should be for lights like this. This is my first Fenix, after all these years, that is a no brainer recommendation.
The competition here is stiff—the oLight S1R II, some light from Zebralights that starts with SC (is it SC53 right now? God their product naming protocols are inscrutable), and a small torch from Klarus. If you broaden the range of things to include all small CR123a lights and not just the side switch ones you should include the twist 47s number. The problem with each of these compared to the E16 is that each has some kind of problem and, as is the theme of this review, the E16 does not. The bubble switch on the oLight is meh, the UI on the Zebralight is, to use that word again, inscrutable, and the 47s is, well, a twisty. I think the Klarus is the best of the bunch but, and this is a big deal, the clip (which is a washer style clip) is bezel up. If you want to get gunk on your light’s lens, this is an excellent idea. If you don’t it is a bit mystifying. Then there is the fact that the E16 is about ten dollars less than everything else. In the end, the E16 squeaks out ahead of these lights because each includes a self-inflicted design mistake and the E16 is blandly mistake free.