There was a period of time, from 1964 to 1973 or so, where the U.S. automotive industry was locked in what is now referred to by some as the “Muscle Car Wars” A muscle car was, by loose definition, a hugely powerful motor stuffed under the hood of a mid-sized American car; brawn, bravado, and outright performance in a rowdy package were the name of the game.
Muscle cars were hugely successful – legendary even – with wild variations by myriad manufacturers. But the name of the game was always one attribute: power, power, and more power.
Today, we’re finding ourselves in a similar horsepower war with flashlights. Hearken back a mere 10 years, and you’ll remember most outdoorsmen, tradesmen, and people who needed a general-purpose flashlight sported an incandescent bulb powered Mini-Maglite in a nifty nylon holster on their belt.
These 15 lumens of fury were deemed sufficient at the time; however, along the way the power-sipping LED emitters and high-output Lithium-Ion batteries became readily available in inexpensive formats, and the race was on. Today, flashlights that offer a ridiculous amount of power in small and mid-sized packages are commonplace, with 1000 lumens being the starting point.
The Musclecar of Flashlights
Our review subject – the Acebeam K30-GT – is the embodiment of the muscle car theme in a flashlight wrapping. The Acebeam K30-GT offers an incredible amount of quality, performance and horsepower in a mid-sized package – but in a format that might not be practical for everyone’s flashlight requirements. Let’s dig in and see why.
Acebeam – a newer player on the big illumination stage (having been on the market since 2010) is a company based out of China – as are many of the larger personal illuminations companies out there, such as Fenix, Olight, and others. Seemingly more transparent than other Chinese companies,
Acebeam provides an address, phone number, business hours, and email contact info right on the website for your company contact needs. Acebeam’s offerings run an incredible gamut – from the smallest pocket clip lights to keychain lights, headlamps, bike lights, and pen lights all the way to handheld photon-blasting monsters that boast an incredible 40,000 lumens of light, Acebeam seemingly has all your lighting needs covered.
The K30-GT sits in the middle of the Acebeam performance spectrum, marketed as a handheld outdoors and EDC flashlight. The Acebeam K30-GT is a bit larger than your traditional “EDC” flashlight, being 6 ⅛” long, with a handle width of 1 ¾” and a bezel diameter of 2 ¼”.
These are beefier dimensions than most 1” diameter EDC lights, but there’s a good reason: the handle of the K30-GT encompasses a battery module that contains THREE 18650-sized batteries. These three batteries, combined with a high-tech driver and larger-than-you’re-used-to LUMINUS SBT-90 GEN2 LED emitter to provide some serious illumination horsepower.
How much horsepower? I’m glad you asked. The Acebeam K30-GT is capable of harnessing the juice from three 18650 batteries and converting it into a massive 5,500 lumens/262,144 candela. The K30-GT is a “thrower” flashlight, meaning it projects its beam a further distance, instead of illuminating an area in a flood light. The 5,500 lumens of output means that the K30-GT is every bit capable enough to illuminate a river bank or hillside at an advertised 1,024 meters, or a shade over 3,300 feet – five-eigths of a mile.
Holy crap. I’ll say that again: Holy crap.
5,500 lumens in a hand-held flashlight the size of a 12-ounce soda can is just about unfathomable to me when I think back on the fact that not long ago, I thought a 300 lumen Streamlight TLR-1 put out a ridiculous amount of power.
This kind of perspective leaves one truly appreciating the technology available to us these days for reasonable amounts of money…and makes you wonder where lighting will be a further 10 years from now. This sort of high-horsepower-in-a-mid-sized-package concept is why I think of my Acebeam K30-GT to be my muscle car flashlight.
No Free Cake
Yes, the Acebeam K30-GT is, unquestionably, a magnificent performer in a smallish package. But there’s always a cost for performance; in the muscle car days, incredible acceleration came at the cost of dismal gas mileage and higher insurance rates. For high performance flashlights, power comes at the cost of heat generation and increased battery power consumption – and the Acebeam K30-GT suffers from these maladies.
Light production equals heat radiation – this has been the case from the day the first of modern man’s ancestors discovered how to make fire. Incandescent bulbs heat up – surely you’ve tried to change a light bulb immediately after it blows and gotten a nice toasty digit? The same carries on to LED lights.
While a small LED emitter in a home light bulb only running on a few watts of power won’t get very warm, you can bet your bottom dollar that a light pushing out 1000+lumens is going to start to get toasty after a couple of minutes. You can see that heat is an issue with modern high-performance lights; “HOT” warning stamps on flashlight bezels, heat-dissipating fins or vanes built into flashlight bodies, and output moderation/throttling back are all hallmarks of heat production solutions.
The K30-GT on full-boat 5,500 “Turbo” mode will warm at a serious rate – less than a minute after double-tapping the power button to activate this highest setting, and the bezel becomes a very nice handwarmer. Place your hand in the beam an inch and a half from the lens, and you will have a VERY warm hand – leave your hand cooking there long enough and low levels of pain is certainly coming. This is a serious piece of gear with serious output – so serious heat can be expected.
Acebeam knew this was coming and designed cooling fins into the body of the light – but after two minutes, the business end is damned near too warm to touch, and the body of the flashlight itself is warmer than any Hot Hands handwarmer.. Keep that in mind around children and animals and people who might brush up against the light while it’s being used.
Acebeam also included a removable aluminum handle that can screw onto the body of the flashlight, so you can keep your hands off the body of the flashlight and still use the light while it’s being used at very high output levels. The K30-GT also throttles back its output automatically as time goes on in an effort at self-preservation – too much heat can damage internal circuitry and batteries.
No bueno. In my experience with the light so far, all the power levels the K30-GT provides except the “Ultra-Low” 50 Lumen and “Low” 150 Lumen settings put out decent levels of heat; just know that going in.
The other Achilles’ Heel to the light is a direct function of high output as well – battery life. Acebeam designed the K30-GT to envelop three 18650 batteries in its chunky barrel handle – and all of them are needed to provide the reserve capacity and voltage necessary to hurl a beam with focus over half a mile.
Acebeam states that its Turbo setting – provided you use the recommended Acebeam ARC18650-310A 3,100 mAh batteries – will chew through its power reserve in one hour, 15 minutes – and this includes the reduced output time when the light throttles back to reduce heat production. There’s a price to pay for power, and here it is.
Using the “High” 2000 lumen setting instead of the Turbo mode won’t buy you much time – just an hour and a half later, and you’ve plowed through all the juice three 3,100 mAh 18650 batteries can offer.
But using lower-output modes on the K30-GT and saving the high-output blasts for special situations will make better use of the light’s immense battery capacity: 400 lumen output will make the batteries last just under 12 hours, and the 150 Lumen Low setting will more than double that, with almost 25 hours of reserve capacity.
Of course, there are higher-capacity 18650 batteries out there – I have a couple 5,000 mAh 18650s from other manufacturers that did work in the K30-GT, and these would theoretically increase run time.
However, Acebeam recommends you make sure that any batteries you purchase for the K30-GT (it doesn’t come with batteries, by the way) are high-drain batteries with at least 12 amps of current; lower output protected batteries engage the K30-GT’s “ECO” mode and won’t produce the full output possible. For instance, the “Turbo” mode goes from 5,500 lumens to 3,700 lumens, and it loses 29% of its candela output.
You can, of course, purchase the correct batteries through Acebeam; I recommend this action if you want the full potential of the K30-GT available to you.
Staying In Control of the Acebeam K30-GT
The engineers at Acebeam did their homework and provided the user just one interface to control their beastly flashlight: a simple, flush-mounted button. Holding the silver button down will cycle through the main output levels at definitive, noticeable rates: Low/Mid1/Mid2/High.
A double-tap of the button engages the Turbo mode, and a triple-tap engages the strobe. With the light off, press and hold the button for 5 seconds to engage the light lock, another 5 seconds to disengage. The light’s memory remembers the last setting you had it on (Turbo and strobe excluded), and re-engages at that level when you turn the Acebeam K30-GT on again.
The Acebeam K30-GT does not have an onboard USB recharging setup; its battery casing setup precludes this function, I’m guessing. This means that the batteries must be removed from the flashlight for recharging. You can purchase USB-rechargeable 18650 batteries from a number of sources if you wish, or you can do yourself a solid and purchase Acebeam’s A4 Advanced Multi-Charger.
This little wonder will let you recharge everything that’s rechargeable in the battery world from AAA to 21700 batteries. The A4 Charger has a digital readout display, cycling through the power level of the batteries being charged, the volts per battery, charging current, and charging time.
There is also integrated circuitry that prevents over-charging, charging with incorrect polarity, and over-current. Even if you don’t have a K30-GT, one of these charging stations is highly recommended to top off your rechargeable batteries; it works, and works well.
So, yes, the K30-GT requires some additional investment: three 18650 batteries and a system for recharging them are required. Again, something to know going in.
Running the Acebeam K30-GT
The Acebeam K30-GT is a wonder and a bit of an anachronism; it sits squarely on the division line between an Every Day Carry light and a huge-output spotlight. Though it’s marketed as an EDC light, in truth the K30-GT is just too big to fulfill this function – especially since it doesn’t come with a belt holster or any other method of carrying other than the screw-on handle.
And the K30-GT’s power output and throw are certainly in the spotlight realm, but its limited runtime in the high output modes means you’re not going to be scouring the nighttime at long distances for very long.
Where the Acebeam K30-GT really shines (pun intended) is a great all-around utility flashlight for camping or outdoor around-the-house duties. The huge LUMINUS LED emitter has a bit of a voracious appetite, so having the light perform its role in an area where a recharging station is a nearby asset is a good idea, unless you want to bring extra batteries along with you on your trip.
Acebeam was kind enough to actually give me some time with the flashlight for actual testing (unlike some other flashlight companies we won’t mention here which only give a couple of days before a deadline). As such, I was able to get some experience with the light so I can report back a bit more accurately.
First off, though it could be used for just about any purpose you’d need a flashlight for, the Acebeam K30-GT really does its best work in heavy-duty, non-stressful applications. With the handle on and being used as, well, a handle, the control button for the light is on the OPPOSITE side of the light as the handle; this means that you’re going to need to shift your drip to the handle of the flashlight (a problem if the light is hot from high-output use) to change the output level on the light or turn it off.
If, for example, you’re walking an alerted, pulling, barking dog while trying to control a nighttime situation, you’re gonna struggle. But if you’re in a boat at night traversing shallow or rocky water, and you need a light with the horsepower to overcome the darkness and spot potentially hazardous underwater obstacles, the K30-GT will be positively brilliant.
Lighting up a nuisance coyote for a long-range shot for pest control would be a perfect use for the beastly Acebeam; using it to walk yourself to a car in a parking garage probably isn’t. I could go on and on with different scenarios trying to shoehorn the K30-GT into a category in which is cleanly falls, but the simple fact is this: if you need a powerful flashlight and can support its power needs and the large-ish size isn’t an issue, the Acebeam K30-GT will be a dynamite flashlight for you.
I did try using the K30-GT to walk my two dogs while taking my boy trick-or-treating this past halloween, and once I got the output to a functional level (the 400 lumen setting worked well), the handle truly helped the handling attributes of the light; I was able to wave it at oncoming traffic, illuminate bushes and dark areas to look for sketchy people, marauding skunks or porcupines, and maintain control over my pups and the light simultaneously.
Illuminating an entire street was a breeze – once I had a free hand to adjust the grip and punch the button to change the power setting to turbo. The K30-GT is super impressive within its envelope and your personally handling situation.
Illuminating deer at night while (legally!) scouting before hunting season was an easy proposition with the K30-GT; whitetail deer were easy to spot in fields even a quarter mile away at night time with a quick blast on Turbo mode.
In a survival capacity, the Acebeam K30-GT probably should be left at your house or BOL to provide high-power illumination at a moment’s notice to identify threats or game in a survival situation. The K30-GT would be a good bug-out bag light, provided you had the room to house its dimensions and support its battery hunger. This light is certainly worth every penny of its $180+ price tag – it will find a home and use in many capacities for anything you need a solid, well made flashlight for.
Wrapping It Up
Honestly, if you’re not needing that half-mile-plus throw, most will probably grab that single-battery or rechargeable flashlight for outdoor duty – especially if it clips to a pocket or a pack easily. But if you’re a nighttime hunter, farm owner, or someone who needs that blast of light to search a long, open area quickly – the Acebeam K30-GT is without peer within its size and price brackets.
The beefy Acebeam has become my go-to house flashlight; it lives by my door so I can grab it to check what the dogs are barking at, identify shadows walking across the street, or just go take a leak in the woods when my wife is camping in the bathroom.
All in all, the Acebeam is a magnificent illumination tool. The beam is well harmonized to provide an incredible throw distance, but with a corona that allows area illumination in a pinch. The quality is genuinely outstanding, the product is well thought out and effective within its envelope, and its utility is without question.
My buddy Jarhead Survivor always asks me one question when I show him gear: “Is it worth a damn?” And honestly, if you don’t read anything more than this last “TLDR” paragraph, here’s how I can sum up my experience so far with the Acebeam K30-GT: hell yeah, it’s worth a damn. It has its place, just like the muscle cars of yore; but once it finds its place, it will rock your socks off with its performance.