Fenix CL26R camping light | Expert Review by Koen van der Jagt
As I am writing this review summer is really starting to kick in. Time to go out with your bicycle, caravan or camper or by foot. Or simply time to stay at home in the garden. A couple of years ago I introduced you to a great travelling companion in one of my previous reviews: the Fenix CL25R. Unfortunately this winner is no longer sold. However, it got a suitable successor with the obvious name of CL26R. Knivesandtools once again gave me the honour of introducing the youngest member of the Fenix 'camping-line'. In this short review I will show you what this versatile lantern can do, of course with the help of many photos.
The CL26R is wrapped in nice cardboard box with a viewing window to make sure potential buyers can see the light in advance. The including parts and the manual and warranty card are hidden in the bottom part of the box. The light comes with a 18650 battery, charging cable, spare o-ring and an attachment ring to attach the light to your bunch of keys. Fenix assumes that everyone owns a plug for the charging cable. Would have been practical if it had been included, because many users never pay attention to the amperage of a charger and because it is still important. But nothing to complain otherwise, we are good to go. Here you can also find the contents of the box.
In comparison to its predecessor the CL26R appears to have shrunk, also visually. This is mostly due to the fact that the CL26R is more rounded; the light does not have any protruding edges, but does have a smaller diameter. As such the CL26R fits even better in your coat pocket. Despite the fact that the light feels 'smoother' than the CL25R it won't roll away as easily when it is placed on its side. This is due to the position of the charging port and the switch which are both located on the sides. The light is mostly made from polycarbonate, with only one metal part, like the hook to hang it and the screw thread for the tripod mount. The material is incredibly decent and not that sensitive to scratches. The CL26R even survived after the crew of Knivesandtools drove over it with a car! So the construction quality is just fine. Despite the fact that the design looks very austere I think it looks great and more contemporary than the older model. The seams nicely fit, there are no sharp edges and the lettering is nice and straight. On top of the light you can find the mount for a tripod or, for instance, a gorilla-pod; thanks to this screw thread the attachment options of the CL26R are almost endless. Here you will also find the hook you can use to hang the light, even though I do find it a little small. If you want to hang the light from an overhanging branch it is best if you use a lanyard or a large split ring in combination with the hook. On the side you can find the micro-USB port to charge the light that is covered with rubber to make sure it is protected from dirt and water. Even though USB-c is also gaining in popularity this port will do just fine.
The other side contains a rubber switch. Initially I thought that the switch had a built-in power-indicator. This, however, is an optical deception. One of the remarkable features of the CL26R can be found at the bottom of the light: that is where you can find the second light. You can't see much of the light sources used, because here the LED lights are also covered by diffused plastic. With a little help from the hook you can easily open the CL26R. The thing you immediately notice in the battery compartment (unlike the CL25R) is that an icon tells you how to place the battery. Two gold-plated springs ensure that the light stays intact during a fall and the battery compartment is also reinforced with aluminium. Fenix did this to better isolate the battery when you are planning to use the light in extreme cold circumstances. Because the screw cap has been enhanced with a magnet the battery will 'stick' when you open the light. With average use the light doesn't have to be opened that often because you can immediately charge the battery. The light closes with a clear 'click' and immediately everything will be nicely in place again. My conclusion of this chapter: The CL26R is nicely constructed, I cannot find any flaws in terms of construction and finish. Below a couple more photographs to clarify!
User experiences/ possibilities
As I mentioned before this camping light feels great in hand, even though it is slightly smooth in terms of texture. As such it is not meant to be held in hand continuously. It nicely fits in your jacket pocket and can also be attached to your jeans or keychain with the included ring. Another great feature is the weight which, unlike your average camping light, is much lower.
The CL26R is not a complicated product you need to use a manual for before you understand how it works. Keep in mind that the 18650 battery is protected from accidentally turning on during transport with the help of a plastic cap. You need to remove this cap before you continue. After that it is fairly simple: Plug the included cable in an appropriate charger and the process will start on its own. The four indicators will tell you how full the battery is. Fully charging the battery takes about three hours, so you will have enough time during the day to do just that. It is, however, practical to always carry a set of CR123 batteries for emergencies. You cannot charge these in the light but they can come in useful when the battery is dead and they will do their job in the freezing cold. You can always easily check the batteries when the light is turned off by shortly pressing the power button. If only one light is still flashing during use it is time to charge or replace the battery.
The CL26R has one power button and many options. This means that the manufacturer had to come up with a properly functioning interface to check all functions. You can turn the light on and off by pressing the button for a longer period of time. The light will always start in the lowest white mode. The advantage of this is that the CL26R will never start in the brightest mode, something which can be quite annoying when you are asleep and your roommate wants to read in the dark. I personally would have loved to see the memory-mode, something the Cl25R did have. When the light is turned on you can select your favourite light mode by clicking continuously. The order is from low to average, followed by high and, as Fenix calls it, 'front'. In this mode you also have some residual light coming from the light because of the use of diffused material; it is a great find. If you click again in this mode the light will turn on the bottom light ('down'). What you will immediately notice is that the secondary light has a beam that is much more focused and that the light has a warmer colour. This option is therefore great as a reading or ceiling light. The light starts in the lowest mode and is followed by the highest. As expected the total light output for the lower light is a lot less, but that is also what it is meant for. After that we are back to where we started in terms of white options. To turn on the red ligh modes you therefore first need to start in the white mode. With a double-click you will start with continuous red light, the next click leads you to a flashing light. The red options are great for marking or when you want to read in the dark without blinding the person sitting or lying next to you. The light output in red is not that high, and I think the light could have easily been enhanced with a brighter mode. You can easily leave the light on for a longer period of time in the higher modes, the CL26R will barely heat up.
The fact that you barely need to use the manual says enough about how easy it is to use the CL26R. However, I would have love to see the option of starting the light in the last used light mode: now some light modes are simply too far away and even so-called 'instant-modes', which are meant to quickly turn on a specific mode, are missing.
Light image / beam shots
The light image of the CL26R, as you might expect from a camping light, emits diffused light. As such you are left with a beam of up to 20 meters of even light. Perfect for that long night in the garden or on the campsite. In the higher modes the light could be a little blinding if the CL26R is placed at an eye level; I usually solve this problem by hanging the light a little higher. If you are looking for 'atmospheric light' (the colour of the main light is slightly cold), I recommend hanging it and using the light in the base. You can also go with the 'front-option', to make sure you can turn the light away from you if it is too bright. I love using the base light in the dark (when reading a map) and at night when I don't want to disturb anyone. In that case red is also a good option, you will see enough yourself and won't wake anyone. The flashing red light can easily be used for marking; if you are in trouble, for instance, but also as a safety light during a walk in the woods.
Time to see how it performs! A caravan shed seemed like the appropriate location to see how the CL26R functions in the dark.
We start with the CL26R in the highest possible mode. As you can see the light produces a surprising amount of light for such a small light. In a small tent or caravan this mode could be too bright; so more suited for outside
Below the light when the front-option is turned on. Here it is good to see that the light mostly shines toward one side, even though you do see some residual light at the back.
The red option is fairly weak in terms of output, but at a short distance you will see just about enough.
Also interesting to see: the base light or the down-option. I decided to hang the CL26R from the ceiling in a caravan. Here you can see the difference between the more focused light of the down-option compared to a similar light mode of the main light. I think that the more focused light will be favoured here. Also pay close attention to the colour of the light for both options: You can nicely see this in the curtains, the benches and the cabinets.
Let's head outside! This time the light is placed on some grass in between two rows of trees approximately 15 meters away. Here I will show the light modes of the main light from low to high. This time the camera slightly struggled to properly capture the light, you can see some diaphragm spots; you won't find these in real life. The photographs clearly show that the Cl26R can light up approximately 15 meters in the highest mode.
You can see the red option from far away, but it won't give you any useable light. It is therefore better as a warning or marking light.
This light proves that a camping light does not need to be massive or heavy, a surprising amount of light comes from the small CL26R! In addition, it is indestructible and has many options. Charging and using the light is very easy, even though I still would have preferred it if the light saved the mode last used. Something its little brother, the CL23 does have. The mountings options, with the help of a screw thread, magnet and hook have made the Cl26R an incredibly versatile light. As such you can also use this camping light for tasks in and around the house, while fishing or in the car. During these tasks the front light will definitely come in handy. With regards to the red light, I would have loved to see an additional light mode that draws a little more attention to itself. I also miss the economical moonlight mode that the Cl25R does have. Fenix made the right choice in adding two light colours because it allows you to create a nice atmosphere and properly light up your surroundings with this compact lantern.
A light like the CL26R really shouldn't be missing from your travel gear. It will always fit and you will enjoy it immensely.
Ever since he could walk Koen has been interested in lights, wires and batteries. As a child he was always working with dyno torches, bike lights and electrical boxes. The krypton and halogen lights were replaced by LED lights. A couple of years ago he discovered the ‘professional’ stuff. His first brands were Led Lenser and Fenix. Photography is also one of his hobbies. In addition to nature and meteorology Koen loves to show others what a light can do and what its beam looks like at night. Koen’s reviews can often be found on forums such as candlepowerforums.com and taschenlampen-forum.de. Throughout the years Koen has collected lights in practically any category: from small and compact to enormous powerhouses.