Miscellany: Quark AA Tactical Flashlight Review
4Sevens.com is one of the most successful flashlight e-tailers, and they have a longstanding relationship with CandlePower Forums, which does for flashlights what TFL does for firearms. 4Sevens has probably made a boatload of cash selling the popular Chinese-made Fenix, Nitecore, and Olight brands, so it's not too surprising they decided to jump into the flashlight market with the "Quark" line. Partnering up with some Chinese makers, they drew up some specs and designed a flashlight that combines many of the features of its competitors. Is it a home run? Read on to find out...
I ordered a Quark AA Tactical direct from 4Sevens, and it arrived in a nice, slick-looking black box (the fold-out flap even has little magnets to hold it in place - cute). Pulling out the clamshell containing the flashlight and its accessories was easy. The light came with a Duracell battery, a lanyard, a holster, a rubber finger loop, and extra rubber o-rings - it was a pretty impressive package.
The flashlight, like almost every one of the newer LED torches, is made of anodized aluminum. The knurling is aggressive, but not enough to really tear up your clothing. The head and tailcap are interchangeable, so the pocket clip is "reversible" in the sense that you can reverse the head/tailcap orientation for bezel-up or down carry; the clip itself, however, only has one position on the body where it fits.
It's a small light, but not as small as the Nitecore D10 (the AA Quarks share the same body diameter as the CR123A versions, and are longer to boot because of the conventional tail switching). At just over 2 ounces, it rides easily in the included holster, but I usually find myself clipping it bezel-down in my back pocket. The D10 is better if having a flat pocket is important to you, but the Quark can work in the pocket carry role.
Durability-wise, this is a pretty tough light. Brief jaunts in the fridge and the shower didn't seem to harm it, nor did a day of being locked up in a car. I didn't test resistance to impact, but I couldn't see how it'd be any worse than other digitally regulated LED lights.
The Tactical Quarks allow you to program two settings - one with the head tightened, and one with the head loosened. Programming is a little involved (see the above video), but it's easy enough after a little trial and error. Once you've got your selected settings dialed in, the tailcap's forward click switch allows both momentary-on (depress the switch slightly) and constant-on (depress switch until it clicks).
It's much simpler than the multimode UIs that are becoming common in LED flashlights, and I appreciate that simplicity. You still have full access to a boatload of modes should you need them. The tailcap loosens and tightens easily, and the forward click has good travel so it won't come on accidentally in your pocket.
(For more detailed beamshot comparisons, check out UnknownVT's excellent review of the Quark series)
Quark AA vs. Fenix LD10
Quark AA vs. Nitecore D10
As you can see, the Quark AA Tactical isn't quite as bright as its main competitors, the Fenix LD10 and the Nitecore D10. I find that the beam on my Tactical is free of distracting halos or rings, and mostly free of artifacts. The hotspot is reasonably well-centered, with a large halo of useful light extending around the object being illuminated.
If you need more brightness, the Quark AA can actually take the expensive 3.6V 14500 cells (max rated voltage for the light is 4.2V). With these batteries, the Quark is brighter than the LD10 and the D10. Unfortunately, these specialty batteries are difficult to find in stores and are typically not rechargeable. I usually just stick to common AAs in day-to-day use.
While the Quark is outperformed by the LD10 and D10 in terms of sheer brightness, it offers the best low or minimum mode of the bunch; The LD10's lowest mode is still fairly bright, and even the Nitecore's lowest settings are brighter than the Quark's. The "Moonlight Mode" of the Quark is ideal for reading a program in a darkened theatre or navigating a bedroom without disturbing someone who's asleep. You can also (mostly) preserve your dark-adapted vision if you need to read a trail map or something while you're hiking at night.
I say "mostly" because the Quarks, like many other multimode LED flashlights, has "preflash" - a brief flash of a brighter mode before settling in to the lower mode. If you use the light on max, for instance, the Quark'll probably flash to the max mode momentarily before going to say, Moonlight mode. It's a little annoying, but again, this problem is not limited to just the Quark line.
Picking a flashlight involves a series of compromises. Do I want to use common and inexpensive AAs or less common CR123As? Do I want a dozen modes for different applications or the simplicity of a single brightness setting? Do I want a double cell battery (which will probably require a holster) or a single cell (which may not provide enough light for my usage)?
Making a flashlight is just as tough a balancing act. 4Sevens made some smart design choices in the Quark AA Tactical, neatly solving the problems of having a good reversible clip, of managing a half-dozen disparate lighting modes, and of providing good runtime and good brightness. It's also priced at or below its competitors, and comes ready to go right out of the box (in the past, Fenix and Nitecore have not included pocket clips on their AA lights; this may be changing, however).
Despite the name, I'm not so sure this would be a good "tactical" light. I think if you want something that would hold up reliably in a gunfight, you'd better get a CR123A-based torch. Still, some light is better than no light, and I have no problems carrying the Quark AA Tactical as a complement to my standard CCW gear.