Review of the Fenix TK15 Tactical Flashlight
Back in October of this year, when I was on the hunt for a good tactical flashlight option for use at my local gun range’s “Tactical Training Tuesday” league I picked up a Fenix TK12. It’s a fantastic flashlight – I did a tactical flashlight comparison article on the TK12 here on ThruMyLens,and the TK-12 was head and shoulders above my other flashlight, the eGear XT-130. As my luck would have it, about a month after I picked up the TK12, Fenix announced a new and improved TK15. I tried in vain for a few weeks to resist the urge to buy yet another flashlight (really…how many do you need??) but eventually caved and purchased one off eBay.
Fenix made a surprising number of enhancements to the TK15 over the previous TK12. First let me state for the record that the TK15 doesn’t necessarily replace the TK12 – Fenix still offers both in their product line up. The differences in the user interface (UI) between these models is different enough that they will likely appeal to different buyers depending on their “philosophy of use” (with apologies to the Nutnfancy Project for the use of the term he’s popularized). The TK15 uses the new CREE XP-G R5 LED, and generates 337 lumens as compared to 280 lumens on the TK12. Having tested both flashlights, I can tell you that there’s not a huge difference in the perceived light output between the TK12 and TK15. Doing a side-by-side comparison of the two, you’ll see some difference in output but it’s not as though the TK15 is vastly and noticeably superior. The TK15 lists a 215 meter maximum beam distance, while the TK12 lists “over 200 meters” – so you get around 10 meters of extra distance – again, not a huge difference. And to be honest, while “more is always better” it wasn’t the lumen output which made me want to purchase the TK15, but rather the user interface.
The TK12 user interface is somewhat complicated to use in my honest opinion – it has several different modes of operation that you can switch between – “default mode,” “camping mode,” and “hunting mode.” All of which are accessed by quickly performed sequences of loosening then tightening the flashlight head in defined intervals. Don’t ask me how to do it right now because I couldn’t – when I first got the TK12 I set it to “hunting mode” which has two settings – maximum output, and strobe (who uses a strobe light when hunting??). I bought the TK12 to use as a tactical flashlight, and the maximum output setting, and the strobe setting are the only ones I was really interested, so I never bothered to memorize how many twists back and forth I needed to do to change modes. Now, if you’ll recall, when I reviewed the ITP SC2 flashlight, I talked about how much better I liked the side button on the SC2 which allows you to cycle through the different output levels each time you push the button. Well, Fenix put the same sort of UI feature on the TK15 and the side button interface really was the big selling point for me. In my opinion, Fenix even improved upon the side button interface operation over the ITP design. The ITP design has three settings of ever-increasing brightness which you cycle through on the UI, followed by the strobe mode. So you have to cycle through the strobe mode each and every time you want to change the brightness level. On the Fenix, there are four brightness levels on the UI, with a variable-frequency strobe mode accessible by simply holding down the silver side button. So you can cycle through the four brightness levels without ever having to activate the strobe mode – a distinct advantage in my mind. The TK15 UI is not inherently better than that of the TK12. Depending on your use, you may prefer the twist UI vs. the side button UI. Gloved users for example may prefer the TK12 UI. In many tactical situations, you don’t to have to fumble around with finding the maximum output – you just want it bright! For my use however, the TK15′s UI is preferred.
Outside of the differences in the output and user interface, the TK12 and the TK15 have a very similar and distinct form factor – the TK15 is however slightly longer, thicker, and heavier than the TK12:
Like the TK12, the TK15 comes with both a pocket clip and “cigar grip ring” which allows a better grip when holding the flashlight like cigar or plunger – both the clip and grip ring can be removed. Since I keep the TK12 in my car, and I don’t EDC (every day carry) a flashlight on my person (I wear a suit most every day) I removed the pocket clip on the TK12. I may carry the TK15 around more when I’m at home, so I’ve not yet decided to remove the pocket clip. I’m sort of ambivalent regarding the grip ring (some people seem to not like it) but I did order some spacer rings which can be used on either the TK12 or TK15 if you replace the grip ring.
The reason for the size difference is that the TK15 now accepts not only two 3V CR123A Lithium batteries but also a single 18650 Li-ion rechargeable battery which is not an option on the TK12 I purchased. I gave a lot of thought about going with the rechargeable option, but quite honestly for my usage, I didn’t see much of a cost benefit – you have to go through quite a few CR123A batteries to come ahead on the cost of a couple of 18650 (I’d always want to have one in the flashlight, and one charging). Not to mention that I still have to buy CR123As to go in my other flashlights. So for now, I’m holding off on the rechargeable option, though it may well be an ideal option for others.
The retail price goes up slightly on the TK15 – $100.00 vs. about $95.00 on the TK12. That price increase may seem modest, but keep in mind the TK15 does not come with a pair of CR123A batteries as did the TK12. Otherwise, the included accessories with the TK15 mirror the package you receive with the TK12 – belt holster, lanyard, and orange tail cap:
A few months ago I would have laughed at paying that much for a flashlight, but now I really do see their value. Fenix is a Chinese made flashlight brand which has established itself as a top tier manufacturer, particularly among other Chinese competitors but also compared to US brand and market leader Surefire. Overall I’m quite pleased with my TK15 and am impressed with the quality and value of Fenix flashlights.
As a supplement to this written photo review, I’ve also produced a video review which you can watch below: