M1911.ORG Looks at the Fenix PD35 Tactical Edition Flashlight

1,000 Lumens in your pocket

Reviewed for M1911.ORG by Harwood Loomis

As I have commented in previous product reviews, the overwhelming trend today is toward “tactical” firearms, devices, and accessories. Unfortunately, other than the standard dictionary definition, there is no consensus as to precisely what “tactical” means, which leaves manufacturers free to decide for themselves what products are “tactical” as opposed to … whatever the opposite of “tactical” is. This extends from firearms to toothbrushes, and pretty much everything in between.

One product group that seems to have latched onto the “tactical” label in recent years is flashlights. It seems that nearly everybody today is selling “tactical” flashlights. The problem is that we have no way of knowing just what a “tactical” flashlight is. In my case, I was a World War 2 baby. I was born during the war, and my father was sent overseas when I was six months old. My family was fortunate; my father returned home after the war, all in one piece. As a young child, I had the opportunity to play with a few bits and pieces of what the British would call his “kit” – meaning, essentially, his tactical equipment. One of those things I was allowed to play with was his flashlight and, given that it was issued to him in a war theater during time of war, I think it’s fair to say that it was legitimately a “tactical” flashlight.

This was still the standard, Army-issue flashlight two decades later, when I served during the Vietnam conflict in the late 1960s. By today’s standards, though, it was rather crude and hopelessly inadequate. The bulb was an old-fashioned, tungsten filament lamp. It ran on two carbon-based D-cell batteries. The tailcap held different lenses in four colors, plus a spare bulb. There was a belt clip, and a three-position switch: off, on, and momentary (for flashing, but this was done entirely manually, by pressing and releasing the button).

By today’s standards, however, those old WW2 TL-122s and Vietnam era MX-99s are pretty anemic. Believe it or not, the rated output of a conventional, tungsten-filament 2 D-cell flashlight is a whopping 9 lumens. That’s correct: nine. As in, single digit light output. But … they were mil-spec and they were issued to our troops, so they were by most honest definitions “tactical.”

But “tactical” does not equate to “tacticool.” A measly nine lumens of output is not going to satisfy anyone today, and with good reason — it’s not enough light to be useful. As an example, I can cite my own experience. I live several miles outside of a small city. The house is set well back from the road, and the overhead electric and telephone wires run from the street across two poles on the property before getting to the house. Several years ago we were hit by an unseasonably early, heavy, wet snow. The heavy snow brought down the power lines, not just at my house but all across the state. A repair crew finally showed up at around 11:00 o’clock at night. At the time I kept in each of my vehicles an original Maglite. At the time, that was what most police departments used, and it was considered a huge improvement over the old tungsten bulbs used in the Army angle-head flashlights.

I took out my trusty Maglite and led the foreman of the repair crew out to the pole where the wires had fallen. To my dismay, my police-grade Maglite barely reached to the top of the pole. Then the repair guy switched on his Maglite. SHAZAAM! The difference was like night versus day. I asked him what he was using for a flashlight, and he said it was a 3 D-cell Maglight LED. And that was my first introduction to the wonders of LED flashlights. (I have since upgraded all my Maglites to LED bulbs, and the results are fantastic.) I’m sure that my father’s old TL-122 wouldn’t have reached more than halfway up that pole with any useful amount of illumination. A new 2 D-cell LED Maglite is rated by the manufacturer at 168 lumens. That’s a lot more than … 9.

When Maglites were first introduced, their proprietary “Krypton” bulbs were a huge step up from the standard, tungsten-filament flashlight bulbs that had served us for generations. They were brighter, and the light was whiter. They were, in fact, the state of the art for about a generation. And then along came LED flashlights.

“LED” is an acronym for Light Emitting Diode. Greatly oversimplified, instead of passing an electrical current through a piece of tungsten wire to heat it up and generate light, an LED passes current through a solid state electronic module. Unlike a tungsten filament, a diode is a one-way device; if the connection is reversed, the diode won’t allow current to flow, and (if it’s an LED) there won’t be any light.

The advantages of LED lighting are many. They are small. They last tens or hundreds of times longer than tungsten filament bulbs. They use less power than conventional filament bulbs, allowing longer run times from the same batteries. Of course, not all LED flashlights are created equal. At the low end of the spectrum we can find 3- and 9-LED flashlights that sell at places like Harbor Freight Tools in packs of two for $2.99.

Nine LEDs sounds impressive, but the light generated by these little toys is anything but impressive. They operate on three AAA batteries, and they put out enough light to see where you’re walking in a dark room, but not much more than that. The beam can’t be focused, and the useful range is between five and ten feet.

On the other end of the spectrum we can find high-end LED flashlights that sell for $100 and up. It is in this price range that we encounter most of the self-styled “tactical” flashlights. What is it that makes these lights “tactical”? Let’s generalize a bit.

Today, the product group that has come to encompass “tactical” flashlights generally shares a few traits among lights: They are typically housed in a strong, anodized aluminum body. They use a single, high-output LED lamp (almost always a Cree brand lamp). While some lower-end lights may run on one or two 1.3-volt or 1.5-volt AA batteries or three AAA batteries, most of the high-end lights use more powerful 3-volt CR123A lithium batteries. The combination of the high-tech Cree lamps and the higher power results in some very impressive light output. Modern tactical flashlights typically are compact, between five and seven inches long and only about one inch in diameter. And they typically offer three or more modes of operation, usually controlled by a single switch housed in the tailcap. I have a few relatively inexpensive LED flashlights around the house (in addition to my trusty converted Maglites). Selling for around $20, these run on three AAA batteries and generate between 100 and 200 lumens. Although the beams can be adjusted from a tight spot to a wide flood, they only have one mode of operation: ON or OFF. There is no lower-power setting to increase run time, and there is no strobe mode – which is a mode that’s considered essential for any self-respecting “tactical” flashlight.

With that as background, what is the Fenix PD35 TAC flashlight?

The Fenix PD35 TAC

The Fenix PD35 measures 5⅜ inches long and 1 inch in diameter at the lens bezel and at the tailcap. The forward edge of the bezel is slightly crenellated. A sealed, rubber pushbutton switch is set in the tailcap, protected by two surrounding “ears” (both of which are slotted to accept a lanyard, which is included in the package). To my surprise, the light pattern is not adjustable; turning the bezel less than an eighth of a turn out from the fully-inward position simply turns off the light. The majority of the light output is generally concentrated in the center of the beam, but there is a sort of halo of lower intensity light surrounding the bright center portion of the beam. Of course, with 1,000 lumens being sent downstream, what’s a little spill light? It might be argued that the halo is an advantage, providing better situational awareness in a tactical situation. (There’s that word again.)

In operation, the PD35 offers a number of options … but it’s not exactly intuitive. There are five (5) different levels of constant-on illumination, ranging from slightly more light than a single candle on a birthday cake all the way up to “melts the paint off your car at 10 meters” bright. Since all self-respecting “tactical” flashlights these days need a strobe function, the PD35 also includes a strobe function. It’s a dual-rate strobe, in fact, that automatically alternates between a slow rate and an extremely fast flash rate. The primary purpose of a strobe function is to cause disorientation when the light is shined into an assailant’s eyes. The dual-rate strobe of the PD35 seems to be very effective in this regard. In fact, without even looking into the light (which alone would be blinding), I found just looking at the strobe being projected onto a light colored wall a few feet away to be very disorienting.

However, changing from one mode to another is, as noted above, not intuitive. Like anything, I’m sure that with time and practice it could become easier, but during my testing I found it to be very confusing.

Most simple tactical flashlights to which I have been exposed offer one or two levels of constant illumination and a single strobe mode. Switching from one to another is generally accomplished with the pushbutton in the tail cap. Not so the PD35. The PD35 also has a mode selection pushbutton on the side, in addition to the tail cap switch. Rather than trying to describe the operation accurately, perhaps it would be better to simply repeat what the instruction card says:

Mode Switching
When the light is on, long press on the side switch for 3 seconds till the LED flashes twice at Low output, and then to cycle through Tactical Mode—>Outdoor Mode. [Note: In my testing, I was not able to get the light to respond to this sequence the way the instructions indicate that it should respond.]

Tactical Mode

Fully press on the tail switch to turn on the light, press once again to turn it off.

Output Selection
Slightly click the tail switch to turn the light on temporarily, release it the light will go out, click the tail switch again the light will cycle through Turbo—>Strobe—>Low.
Continue to fully press on the tail switch after selecting the needed output mode, the light will last on present output mode.
Notice: 1. Under this mode, Turbo mode is defaulted when the light is turned on.
2. Under this mode, the side switch only works on mode switching.

Outdoor Mode

Slightly click the tail switch to turn the light on temporarily, release it the light will go out.
Fully press on the tail switch to turn on the light, press once again to turn it off.

Output Selection
With the light on, single click the side switch to cycle through Eco—>Low—>Mid—>High—>Turbo.

Strobe Mode
With the light on, long press the side switch for 1 second to enter Strobe mode, click the side switch again to turn back to general mode.
Notice: 1. Under this mode, the flashlight memorizes the last used output mode and the next time you turn it on, it will recall that previously used output.
2. Turbo Mode: This output mode work within the LED tolerance in accordance with the battery capacity. If it is not Fenix ARB-L2-3400 18650 rechargeable Li-ion battery, the light brightness will gradually decrease because of the battery capacity limitation. Due to the protective setup of automatically to High from Turbo after working 5 minutes, the runtime of the Turbo brightness level is the accumulated time.

Unfortunately, I don’t have access to any sort of light meter that’s capable of measuring the output of a flashlight. All I can do is offer my perceptions of comparisons between the Fenix PD35 and some other LED lights in my possession.

For comparison, I have a 100-lumen pocket-size flashlight from The Sportsmans Guide Company, a similar-sized 200-lumen light from the same company, and a 3-D-cell Maglite with an aftermarket LED conversion lamp. Not having any sort of metering available, I resorted to stepping out of my front door on a dark night and shining each light toward the far end of my driveway, which is almost exactly 100 yards from the house. I was, frankly, astonished at the results.

All three of the other lights can be focused from a wide area to a tight beam, and I have always kept them on a tight beam. All three of them throw usable light the 100 yards to the end of the driveway in the tight beam focus. The two small ones each use three AAA alkaline batteries; the Maglite, of course, uses three D-cell alkaline batteries. The Fenix uses Lithium Ion batteries, but for the short period of testing that’s not a consideration.

For the 100-lumen flashlight, the beam at a distance of 100 yards covers approximately 15 feet. Within that beam spread, there is enough light to see if something is there, and probably to identify what it is but not much more. The beam spread for my 200-lumen flashlight covers about the same spread at 100 yards, but gives off significantly more light. Outside of the beam spread, both fall off very quickly to darkness.

The 100-yard output of the Maglite fell somewhere between the first two. Remember, this is an old-style Maglite with an aftermarket LED conversion lamp in it, so I don’t know the lumen rating. The beam spread from the Maglite, even on tight focus, is somewhat larger than the other two, measuring about 25 feet. Within the beam spread, the illumination was somewhere between that of my 100-lumen and 200-lumen flashlights. As with the small flashlights, outside of the beam the illumination level from the Maglite quickly fell off to nothing.

Then I fired up the Fenix PD35. All I can say is, “Holy sun spots, Batman!” I was completely unprepared for what I was going to see. The PD35 doesn’t focus down to a tight beam like the others to which I compared it. I initially considered that to be a drawback but, after seeing the PD35 at work on a dark night … maybe it doesn’t need a tightly focused beam. At a distance of 100 yards, the bright portion of the beam encompassed approximately 40 to fifty feet, and the surrounding spill light “halo” extended that to about 100 feet.

Within the central part of the beam area, the light output at 100 yards was basically like daylight. I was stunned. In “turbo” mode, that little, hand-held flashlight was putting more light on the subject at 100 yards than my Jeep Cherokee with two high-output, halogen sealed beam headlights.

Naturally, all that output comes at a price: heat. After just a minute or two of testing in turbo mode I could feel the forward end of the PD35 getting hot. That’s something I have never experienced with my lesser mini-flashlights or any of my the Maglites. Fenix is aware of this; turbo mode has a timer that limits use of the brightest setting to 5 minutes. I don’t think I would want to use it for even that long. There’s plenty of light available at one or even two steps below turbo mode, so I consider turbo mode to be something that’s not regularly used, but nice to have available when you really want to light up the night.


The Fenix PD35 provides an astonishing amount of light in a small, handy package. With a sturdy, anodized aluminum body the unit appears to be well-made and durable, although this was not a long-term test so we didn’t evaluate it under real life use conditions. With the number of different operating modes available, the PD35 also offers a lot of flexibility.

That said, I have to say that the flexibility is perhaps overkill. Although the instructions say there should be two ways to access the several levels of illumination, I was never able to make the second method work. That meant for me I could only use the tailcap switch to turn the light on and off, and for cycling through the light levels I then had to use the button on the side of the flashlight body. That button is small and flush with the surface of the body. In an emergency, or a dark night, having to fumble around to find that button when you need to switch to another mode RIGHT NOW is not a good thing.

Consequently, our evaluation is that the Fenix PD35 is a fantastic tactical-ish flashlight for people who want a lot of light in a small package but, for professionals who work the dark streets every night and who may need to deploy a tactical light at a moment’s notice, we consider the control setup of the PD35 to be a bit too complex for ease of use.

Disclosure of Material Connection:

We received the Fenix PD35 for free from Fenix Lighting Inc., in consideration for a gear review.

Please go to this thread on the M1911 Pistols Organization discussion forum to discuss this article: http://forum.m1911.org/showthread.ph...664#post989664

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Fenix Lighting, Incorporated
161 Market Street
Monticello, AR 71655

Open Air Brands
8250 East Park Meadow Drive, #100
Lone Tree, CO 80124

MSRP (as tested): $71.95
MSRP (w/ two 18650 batteries and charger): $107.80
MSRP (w/ two ARB-L18 batteries and charger): $125.80