Spotlights for Game Viewing & Wildlife Photography

Checking for the elusive Pels Fishing Owl on the Luvuvhu River Bridge in the Pafuri area.

We could not imagine staying in the parks and not photographing after the sun goes down!

We have photographed lions, leopards, cheetah, caracal, porcupine, African wild cat, genets, bush babies, civet, owls and more, mostly from the camps, what we call the ‘Sofa Safari’. 

The issue of using spotlights and flashes can be a hotly debated one but I think it’s like anything else, some people will abuse the item while others will use it responsibly.  

I think these comments from Brendon Cremer sum up the situation nicely… 

“In recent months we have once again seen photographers come into the firing line on social media platforms regarding what some people see as unethical / conservation issues which are completely unfounded statements or are rather based on personal opinion rather than based on fact.

Some of these being the ongoing bashing of photographers for the use of spotlights and flashes on nocturnal animals, which is said to blind and disable them, a statement that is complete nonsense…  

Please people, let's rather look at all the good that photographers do for conservation through various efforts around the world… the point is, lets focus on real issues rather than seeking attention with biased and personal opinions”. 

Here is a balanced article, based on scientific research, that discusses whether flash photography harms animals.

Over the past 20 years, we have tried many game viewing spotlights, some even claiming to be 3-million candlepower but none of them even come close to the Lightforce spotlights, which are made in Australia.

We have been using the Lightforce Blitz 240 for the last ten years and it is a true one-million candlepower, is light to carry and the beam can be widened or narrowed. In terms of lumens I would estimate it to be in the region of 400-500 lumens.

If you are serious about viewing nocturnal animals and night photography on your African safari you will need a powerful light.

The Lightforce Blitz is very bright so you should be aware that you could temporarily blind animals if they are close to you.

When we photograph animals that are close to us we shine next to them and the grass, tree trunk, leaves, water etc reflects light onto them.

We have seen on some forums that there are people who are requesting advice on which spotlight to get but the 'advice' seems to be 'don't use a spotlight' or 'leave your torches at home'.

Diesel vehicles are 'noisy and smelly' and they could chase animals away or upset other visitors, so should we also say 'leave the diesel vehicles at home'? People try to be reasonable!

Keep in mind that a torch is like a gun or car - it can be used responsibly or irresponsibly.

We have had neighbors that would shine their 5-million-candle power light in every direction blinding us and other people and then you have the responsible users that shine only towards the bush and, if there is an animal, the beam is pointed next to the animal, providing enough light to see/photograph it but not blinding the animal.

When we photograph animals at night that are close to us we tend not use a flash, or use it at reduced power, as this can be even more intense than the torch beam! (I suppose the advice here would be 'leave camera flashes at home!?')

We have had neighbors thanking us for having our spotlight and allowing them to also get nocturnal photographs of leopard, caracal, owls and porcupine.

The one year at Okaukuejo waterhole in Etosha, a male lion was stalking a springbok after the sun had gone down - there was much anticipation and excitement - and then the lights malfunctioned and there was darkness! Fortunately we had our Lightforce Blitz with us and the visitors did not miss the action. There were many happy people there that night!

The following photograph demonstrates the responsible use of a bright spotlight. The Civet was photographed in Punda Maria camp about 20 meters from us and you'll see that the spotlight beam is pointed behind the civet and there isn't even a reflection in his eyes.

There is a red filter that you can buy as an accessory, BUT this filter will cut down the light intensity by up to 50% and if you are photographing you will end up with a red subject!

This red filter is used primarily by hunters who do not want to spook the animal - if you shine a bright light at an animal in the Kruger they are accustomed to lights so in most cases will not run away - and if the beam is annoying them they will simply turn their back - animals are not helpless!

I hope this page convinces you that we don't need to be paranoid about using spotlights in national parks and therefore we don't need to 'leave our spotlights at home' or ban night drives!

For those people who don't like spotlights - don't buy one. When the sun goes down you can have your braai and then go to sleep while the rest of us enjoy the nightlife.

When we stay at Lower Sabie tents we see crocs, hippos, elephants and lions across the bank as the light beam just makes it to them.

In the Kgalagadi the closest waterholes are at Urikaruus and Gharagabcamps, which are 50 and 70 meters away respectively and the light is just right. At Kielie Krankie and Kalahari Tented Camp the waterholes are over 100 meters away - here you need all the light you can get!

The Lightforce spotlight also has a nice feature in that the beam can be widened and so is less intense for the animals. The 100 watt bulb can also be replaced with a 50-watt bulb which is much less bright and will also save on battery life. The 50-watt is NOT powerful enough even for Urikaruus so we do recommend you use the 100-watt bulbs. There are ways to reduce the beam intensity but not to increase it!!

Some of the other brands are big, heavy and the candlepower claims, when compared to the Blitz, are simply false – the 1-million candlepower Blitz is brighter than all the competitor’s 2 or 3-million candlepower spotlights that we tested!

Here is a picture of Jenny shining the light from the family bungalows in Skukuza camp to the old railway bridge...

Lightforce Blitz shining over 700 meters

The bridge is about 200 - 250 meters away, depending which cottage you are at, and the light is reaching it – this Lightforce spotlight is powerful!

We often have our neighbors in the camps approaching us and asking what type of light we have as they are using the alleged ‘3-million candlepower’ of other brands and they see our beam is much brighter and shines further.

Lightforce Blitz 240 - LED Lenser X21 Comparison

Another option is for you to get the LED Lenser X21, which costs a bit more than the Lightforce - about R2600,00. It looks like an over-grown torch but it is as bright as the Lightforce - for the first few minutes - read on to find out what we mean by this...

led lenser x21 torch

The X21 has an advertised range of - wait for it - 535 meters and it has over 900 lumens - more than double that of the Lightforce 240 Blitz! The X21 is bright but in our opinion does NOT shine further than the Lightforce Blitz 240.

We bought an X21 as a back-up light when we went to Boulders Camp in the Kruger park during September 2011 and we had both lights with us. The waterhole is exactly 120 meters from the cottages and both spotlights could reach the waterhole but not much further. The Lightforce has more penetration and so lights the subject better than the Led Lenser X21. My camera could not autofocus when I used the X21 but with the Lightforce the camera had no problem focusing on the subjects.

Please don't be misled by the advertising claims - we went back to the shop where we bought the X21 and mentioned how disappointed we were in the 500 meter claims and the manager told us that they had a 'lumen meter' to test the torch's light output and the X21, with fresh batteries, showed 950 lumens but within a minute or two this had dropped to 700 lumens. By comparison, the Lightforce has a constant lumen output and will only start fading when the battery runs out.

There are three advantages with the X21:

1. it takes just 4 D-cell batteries so if you are staying in the Kgalagadi wilderness camps where you cannot charge batteries this is ideal. (But keep in mind that you can charge the battery the next day with an power inverter in your vehicle or you can ask the camp manager to charge it for you).

2. The light is white compared to the Lightforce's more yellow beam. This has not been a problem for us as my Nikon SB-900 flash cancels out the yellow color.

3. The X21 is less bulky than the Lightforce spotlight. It is a bit heavier but is much slimmer so it packs better. If you take the external battery packs of the Lightforce into account then the LED Lenser is the lighter and less bulky option...

Lightforce spotlight vs LED Lenser spotlight

Lightforce Blitz 240 vs LED Lenser X21

...BUT you primarily want a spotlight that performs with reliable backup and service and this is where Lightforce shines.

The bottom line is that I am much happier with my Lightforce Blitz 240. I have had it for over 10 years with no problems, it is a true 1-million candle-power spotlight and the service from Lynx Optics in South Africa is five-star. By comparison the LED Lenser X21 does not perform to the advertised claims of the beam reaching 500 meters and the backup service leaves much to be desired.

After raising my concerns to the LED Lenser agent in South Africa a few days after we had bought the X21 the response was "my X21 beam can reach a warehouse 500m away". That's great, but I am more concerned about my brand new X21 that CANNOT reach even 200m away! As the agent he should be as concerned as I am but he simply told us to take the unit back where we bought it for a 'warranty repair'.

The unit has not performed from day-1 so there should be no 'repair' but a new unit that can perform as the advertising claims it can.

In the end, after unanswered emails and unfulfilled promises, we took the X21 back to the dealer for a refund.

At the end of the day Lightforce, in our opinion, is THE BEST SAFARI SPOTLIGHT in the world for viewing animals.

There is no other torch or spotlight that outshines the Lightforce Blitz in product quality and service!

Should you wish to get the eBook, click on the book cover above, then click 'Add to Cart' where you'll see a button called 'Add Promo Code'. Click on it then add the word K2K and the 33% discount will be automatically applied. This code is valid until the end of the month, so don't delay!

"Planning a Kruger trip? A new guide by pro photographers holds the key to good pictures. 

Learn from the folks who spent 517 days in the park and make your photos sing!" 

- Romi Boom, Editor of Wildcard Magazine, South Africa

Candlepower and Lumens - who has the brightest?

There seems to be many false claims in terms of candlepower and lumens when it comes to spotlights so you may be interested to download this Spotlight Comparison Chart that compares the most common spotlights that are used for game-viewing on African safaris.

It does not include the more modern LED torches - just the traditional spotlights.

You can also click here to download the Lightforce use & safety tips PDF.

Tip number two states "DO NOT place light face down on ANY surface. If the light is switched on the intense heat generated may ignite the surface and cause a melt down of the lamp body."

We found out the hard way as we initially would place the torch face-down on a table after using it and then found the plastic lens had started to warp ever so slightly!

The new Lightforce Xenon HID handheld Spotlight

Lightforce have just released (October 2011) the new Lightforce HID handheld spotlights.

Using HID technology they deliver a massive 50% increased lumen output with 30% less power draw - meaning batteries last longer!

The HID light is also a whiter light, closer to daylight and, for photography, it is ideal as it is the same colour light as that which is used in camera flash's

Here are some comments from their press release:

“The HID handheld spotlights also feature a low current draw for extended battery life.

In fact, the internal 35-watt HID bulb is more powerful than a regular 100-watt bulb, yet has half the current draw of a light with the same output.

This means that when run on a Lightforce 9a/h sealed lead acid battery, the HID handheld spotlight will exceed two hours battery time, far more than the traditional 40 minutes of battery power on many other handheld spotlights.

The custom made HID bulb is also available in two reflector sizes – 170mm and 240mm – and has been specifically designed for use with Lightforce parabolic reflectors to provide extreme light penetration and an output light strength of 3200 lumens.”

Spotlight Battery

OK, you’ve got the one-million candlepower Lightforce now you need a battery. Well most outdoor shops sell the small SLA (sealed lead acid) batteries that weigh about two kilograms and sits in a cloth holder with strap that slings over your shoulder, but with the 100 watt bulb you will have only about 40 minutes of battery life. This is fine if you are in one of the main camps that have electricity but if you are staying in one of the bush camps in the Kruger or Kgalagadi you will need something that lasts longer. Here we have found the Waeco Coolpower36 to be a star.

On some trips we have used the battery for 1-2 hours per night for three or four nights in a row before it needed recharging. We have also used it to power our laptop when the laptop battery had died on us, to charge our camera batteries and also to power a portable fan in the Kalahari.

The 13 kilogram Waeco battery

The downside of the Waeco Coolpower 36 is its weight of 13.6 kg!

It is portable as it has a built-in handle but can be heavy when you want to move around the camps. Our Waeco lasted us about three years and now seems to be discontinued so now we use the smaller SLA batteries as we need portability around the camps – bush babies and genets don’t sit still so we have to follow them around the camps!

We have, however, bought three SLA batteries. What we have done is wire two SLA batteries together as our primary battery thereby giving us about 2-hours light and then we have one single SLA battery as our backup. Both are small and very light...

Lightforce light with small SLA battery


Some people will not be able to justify the cost of a Lightforce game-viewing spotlight or may just want to explore the camps at night and don’t need a beam that shines for over 700 meters.

Here most people think of Maglights and the Petzl but there are a lot of newer torches that are brighter and cheaper than these two old brands.

These small torches are handy when walking around the camps, in the bungalows or at the camp fire when cooking. The Maglights are effective but you need to hold them in one hand.

There is an accessory headband that allows you to thread the Maglight into but we don't like this, we much prefer the smaller and lighter Petzl and Liberty or LED LENSER H-series headlamps that free up both hands.

A problem with most of our Maglights was that the batteries corroded inside and we either had to send the torch to the agent for repairs or throw them away. We no longer use Maglights.

Newer makes such as the Fenix and the LED LENSER are very bright yet very small and light. For game viewing we recommend the Fenix TK40 or the LED LENSER M14 / P7 / P14.

All the LED LENSER models that we have recommended plus the Fenix TK40 and the Lightforce spotlight have a beam range between 200 and 300 meters.

If you are photographing nocturnal animals in the camps these smaller torches are great as the Lightforce, and the LED LENSER X21, may be overkill!

An option on the Lightforce spotlight, however, is for you to use a 50-watt bulb instead of the 100-watt bulb when walking around camp, if you don't want to buy a second torch/spotlight. We rather leave the 100w bulb in the Lightforce and carry a smaller torch around camp.

Our Petzl head torches lasted a few years but then the hinges to the battery compartments and the on-off switches broke. We now use the Liberty 115 Lite Express that is very bright (150 lumens) and seems more rugged...

Using the Liberty 115 Lite Express headlight in Etosha

Most of the above torches sell for about R200-R300,00 each but if you are on a budget and you want a strong torch beam then we can recommend the SmallSun ZY-C81 Cree 3-Mode 80-Lumen LED Flashlight Torch. It is very bright and we got ours at a flea-market in Johannesburg for R60,00 (US$9.00).

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