Okluma DC0 (1×14500) Review: So Close, Yet So Far

Introduction.

Alright, wow. It’s been a good while since I’ve done a flashlight review – or anything flashlight related for that matter – so forgive me if I’m a bit rusty. The hobby’s taken a backseat for me as I’ve never really seen the appeal of the whole “flavors of the month” thing, and honestly, I’m pretty happy with what I have. Still, while not much stands out to me these days, the DC0 is a flashlight I’ve had my eye on for a long time. In fact, I fondly recall Okluma teasing a AAA flashlight no less than four years ago; even then, I knew I wanted something similar. Well, it’s here now, and better late than never.

But it’s also no secret that my stance on the state of the hobby has matured, or simply become more…harsh, over the years. The DC0 is one of the few (if any) custom 14500s currently on the market, which honestly speaks volumes to the rate of innovation in the custom flashlight world. Does it have what it takes to shift my jaded paradigm? Let’s take a look.

Disclaimer: As usual, I bought this light with my own money, and what follows are my honest thoughts and opinions to the best of my ability.

The Tangibles.

Over the years, Okluma has steadily stepped-up their presentation game, and the end result is one of the best unboxing experiences in the game: Removing foam incised with the Okluma logo, you’re greeted by a cigar box nested between another layer of foam. Inside the cigar box is a micro-fiber baggy, and inside that is the DC0. And of course, you get a few goodies like an Okluma coaster, magnet, and card of authenticity for the flashlight. I love the presentation, and this is leaps ahead of most custom makers.

Those of you who have read my reviews before know that I like to take a more critical approach. This allows you, the reader, to more effectively calibrate your expectations of a product even if you have the exact opposite preferences of my own. If the flaws that I note are not issues for you, well, that can only be for the better! I don’t necessarily encourage seeking out said flaws or trying to find issue with something you’re happy with.

Physical Design.

Dimensions: 100.87mm (length) x 18.56mm (width)

Measured off of Mitutoyo calibrated calipers.

Weight: 39g (w/o battery) / 56g (w/ battery)

Subjectively? The ergonomics of the DC0 are interesting. Perhaps by virtue of a design I’m not used to, or heck, simply how thin the DC0 is, it does feel like getting a grip on the light itself can be difficult. Not doing this any favors is the double-edged sword that is the recessed tail switch. You’ll note that the DC0’s overall diameter is significantly shorter than a standard 1” OD light, so there’s not as much room for your thumb to work with to actuate the switch. I often find myself trying to cigar-grip the light in an effort to depress the switch in a more linear fashion; unfortunately, I subsequently get the impression that the light almost wants to jolt out of my fingers. Said issues are only exacerbated when wearing gloves and the lack of sufficient lateral width at the taper.

By comparison, note the strong taper on the DC1 which facilitates comfortable use of the cigar-grip hold.

Thankfully, there is a trade-off at hand here, and it’s that the DC0 utilizes the excellent McClicky switch. It’s no secret that this is my favorite switch, and it’s impressive that Okluma has managed to fit it in the DC0 given the aforementioned, smaller diameter. The other benefit of the recessed tail cap switch is, of course, tail standing.

Outside of this, there’s the usual attention to detail that makes a custom flashlight, well, a custom flashlight. The aluminum finish is perfectly consistent over the body of the flashlight itself to the inside of the tube. Knurling is on-point, striking a good balance between lending itself to grip and not being overly abrasive. Unscrewing the tail cap of the flashlight will reveal a plastic, battery bumper in the tube. This is to mitigate excessive shock which can damage the spring of the McClicky switch. And of course, I’ve raved to no end about 7075 aluminum – the aluminum being used for the DC0 – in the past. This is the ideal metal for an EDC flashlight in my opinion, striking a wonderful balance between its strength-to-weight ratio and thermal conductivity.

A little hiccup I will point out, however, is the clip itself. There are small machining marks present on the edge of it; the surface finish is not consistent. Frankly? I don’t really care because it’s not affecting the flashlight’s performance, and the clip’s always worked fine for me. Less forgiving individuals, however, might suggest it impresses the notion of something less than refined. Okluma has noted they will be addressing this issue eventually and will replace the clip free of charge.

In short, the overall build quality and design fundamentals of the DC0 are good; however, the flashlight seems to be plagued with the usual limitations of cutting down on size.

Physical Design Grade: B

Technical Performance.

LED: 1 Nichia 219c 4000k
TIR (total internal reflection) optic
Modes: ML / L  / H (with off-time memory)  
Output on High: ~ 350 lumens 
Forward Clicky Switch 
Cell: 1 14500 ICR Lithium Ion (included)

SwitchMcClicky forward clicky (supports momentary ‘on’)
User-InterfaceMoonlight/Low/High
Mode MemoryYes (comes back on to last used mode)

My strongest reservation about the DC0 was the stock driver. I’d intended to snag a model that used a FET driver w/ guppy3drv firmware; unfortunately, they sold out almost instantly leaving me with the short end of the stick. “But you haven’t even talked about the stock driver!” you cry. And right you are. But between the stock driver and a driver I’ve never even played with, I can tell you which I prefer and which is more technically proficient. Hint: It’s not the stock driver.

The stock driver limits you to three output levels that go something like 1/25/100 (by way of percentage). The modes-spacing, surprisingly, is quite good. The moonlight is an actual moonlight, the type that you can use without shocking your half-asleep eyes. Shocking, heh, how many manufacturers can’t seem to get that correct. Low is actually something much closer to a medium to my eyes, and it works well for most close-up tasks. And although the original, estimated output was lowered for High, it’s surprisingly bright to my eyes, more than sufficient for most every EDC task.

No cooling, measurement taken using a Reed Instruments SD-1128 light meter. Output is non-regulated and curves satisfactorily in my opinion.

The problem? As well-thought out as the spacing is, none of it changes the fact that its darn inflexible relative to what could’ve been with guppy3drv. To make a point, the stock driver’s mode memory can be unpredictable. Let’s say you forget which mode you last had the flashlight on; given that you have a moonlight mode in the mix, it makes for a poor clash of programming. Cupping my hand over the DC0 or shining it elsewhere when I want moonlight so I don’t blow my retinas is cumbersome; the flexibility of guppy3drv would easily rectify these issues. And speaking of flexibility, the DC0 only supports 14500 batteries. Nowadays, most AA flashlights support compatibility with both 14500 cells and their Alkaline/Ni-MH counterparts. Admittedly, this is something that doesn’t bother me much; however, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it, as I know this’ll be a big deal for a lot of users.

Something else I want to note is that I hear a high-pitched whine coming from the tail cap, almost like I’m hearing electricity running through the switch. The whine is somewhere around 17-19kHz, likely outside the audible range of most middle-aged to older individuals. While I don’t think this will bother most people (especially if they can’t hear it altogether), it’s especially annoying for someone like me who’s pretty sensitive to this stuff, and something I’ve not heard from a McClicky switch before.

This is a RTA (real time analysis) done off of my IEC-711 measurement coupler through REW. Note the spike (in red) at ~17kHz. This is something not present on either my DC1 or BOSS 35 – both use McClicky switches – which I ran the same test on.

The DC0’s saving grace, then, is its terrific beam pattern (with the stock 30 degree optic). Obviously you trade some punch, but the trade-off is a beam that excels at close quarters. It’s devoid of any nasty artifacts and lends itself to excellent peripheral vision. It stands that beam patterns are more subjective, as you might prefer something with more throw (in which case you can swap in a 10 or 20 degree optic), but there’s not much to nitpick on this front. As for the LED itself, it’s a Nichia 219C. The one in my DC0 is not Hi-CRI though, and this presents itself in the tint of the beam: There’s a certain plasticky-ness, to steal a term from the audio hobby, that’s exacerbated by the warmer tint. Overall not bad, and I’ll certainly take it over – god forbid – a 6000K emitter, but not great either.

Tech Grade: C+

Assessment of Value.

At $250, the Okluma DC0 is not a cheap flashlight. However, it stands that this is actually a $50 decrease from that of the Okluma DC1. I certainly won’t go so far as to say the DC0’s easily accessible – after all, that’s relative – but added value to the consumer is something you don’t see often. I can also count on one hand the number of 14500 custom flashlights on the market (which to be fair, I haven’t kept up with lately). While I don’t think the DC0 is by any means groundbreaking or revolutionary, it’s always refreshing to see a maker step out of their comfort zone.

★ (Worth the price)

The Verdict.

My whole issue with the DC0 is not that it’s a bad flashlight – far from it – but rather, that there are a plethora little mistakes here and there that add up. The end result is a flashlight that I really want to like, and that I think could be so much more, but just isn’t. As for what could be done, specifically, to improve upon these issues…frankly, I’m not too sure. Needless to say it’s not my job to report to you how something needs to be fixed, so much as it is what needs to be fixed. Luckily, Okluma has demonstrated in the past (and I believe outright stated) that they are open to touching upon issues later down the line.

Bearing that in mind, I would still recommend the DC0 with caution. If you’re going to buy one, I recommend taking advantage of the various customizations that Okluma offers – pending availability of course. The ideal set-up, at least for my preferences, would probably go guppydrv3 >> Nichia 219c 90+ CRI >> 10mm optic. And after all, as the name “custom flashlight” would imply, this is the allure of a truly custom flashlight, one with which I wish most makers would cater to more often.

Cumulative Grade: B- ★ (Worth the price)

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