Alex Holden (alex_holden) wrote,
Alex Holden
alex_holden

Review: Silverpoint Camp II Lantern

I spent the past couple of days camping in the Yorkshire Dales (more on that in a separate post later). I've somehow mislaid my orange rubber RAC torch that I used to hold up Lintilla's exhaust pipe during the MITHOS rally, plus it was no good as an in-tent lantern and I've never been happy with the safety of using my gas lantern inside the tent, so I've been on the lookout for something more suitable. On the way up to the campsite I stopped off at an outdoor supplies shop in Settle and spotted the Silverpoint Camp II for twenty quid. Not the cheapest torch available, but having used and examined it closely I think it's worth the price. It's cleverly designed and well built with a nice range of features.

In its normal configuration it's a white LED torch (flashlight for any Americans reading) with two modes: bright and very bright. Slide it apart and it becomes an LED lantern. It also has a relatively dim red LED beacon/lantern mode (just about bright enough to read by without spoiling your night vision) and a slightly gimmicky morse code SOS beacon mode. In lantern mode you can either stand it upright on a flat surface or hang it up by a metal loop (my tent has a convenient attachment point at the apex inside which I used). It has a built in rechargeable battery, which can be recharged via the supplied USB cable (which I plugged into a car adaptor I already had with me for charging my phone in the car) or by a cunningly designed compact dynamo built into the handle. It has a luminescent band so you can find it in the dark, it's rainproof, and it has a decent wrist strap. It's a good size and weight - a bit on the large size for an LED torch but smaller than most camping lanterns, easily pocketable, and it feels right in my hand.

I'm not a fan of torches that have to be recharged by cranking a dynamo in the handle (I say this as someone who once built my own hand-cranked torch for a school project!), but I can't deny that it's a useful backup to have in case you ever find yourself trying to descend a steep rocky track in the dark and your torch battery has run out (it's happened to me, and although I laughed about the incident later it wasn't much fun at the time!). They claim a fully charged battery is good for 2 hours at maximum brightness and 6 1/2 hours on low brightness, but I think I actually got significantly more than 2 hours out of it (I was reading a book in the tent and didn't pay attention to exactly when I switched it on). It seems to have a smart charger because when you are charging it from USB the charge indicator light eventually changes from red to green (this is significant because dumb chargers on gadgets that let you trickle charge the battery forever are a major contributor to NiCd cells 'wearing out' and failing to hold a charge any more, plus I find it irritating not knowing when the battery is fully charged).

Like any gadget it does have a few flaws: unlike my previous torch it's not coated in impact resistant rubber, so it probably wouldn't fare so well if dropped onto concrete or stone, or used to hold a Morris Minor exhaust on. The rubberised power button is a bit fiddly to locate in the dark and I'm not enamoured of the user interface - clicking the button multiple times cycles through its five modes: off; low white; high white; red; SOS. The luminescent band could be brighter. The charging socket is only accessible when it's in the lantern configuration, and its rubber cover tends to get jammed when you slide it back to torch mode if you aren't careful to close it properly first. The light pattern in lantern mode isn't ideal - there are definite lighter and darker areas which I found a little bit annoying in the tent (it was illuminating the walls better than the pages of my book). I was going to say there's a dim spot in the middle of the beam in torch mode, but I've just discovered it only does that when it's not quite slid all the way back into torch mode. It would be nice if the USB charging lead somehow coiled up inside the handle - I just know I'm going to lose it or forget to bring it on a trip with me, and then I'll have to resort to charging it with the dynamo. For that matter, it would be cool if the charging socket was a standard micro-USB port so that I could use the same cable I use to charge my phone.

Curious about the innards and with a couple of screwdrivers to hand (what can I say? I'm an engineer!) I pulled it to bits. In hindsight I probably should have taken some photos to show you. It's nicely designed and laid out inside. There are four PCBs: one simply holds the big 0.5W white LED (which has a very cute little aluminium heatsink!), one has the three red LEDs and the LED controller chip, one has the dynamo rectifier and battery charging controller (possibly also a switch-mode voltage regulator, though that's a guess), and the final one just holds the power switch. Neither of the controller chips had a part number that meant anything to a Google search, so they're either ASICs or (probably more likely) they have been given an OEM part number to discourage cloners. The LED controller handles driving the main white LED in both brightness modes (I believe driving those things efficiently is a bit more complicated than you might think), reading the button and sequencing between different modes, and generating the "SOS" morse code sequence. That could be done with a fairly complicated chunk of custom logic, but I reckon it's more likely that it is a simple 4 or 8 bit microcontroller. A torch with a computer in it - whatever next? :D

I have no connection to Silverpoint (who, curiously, don't seem to have a website) - I'm just impressed by a cool gadget I found and had an urge to write about it.
Tags: camping, engineering
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