Lumens Vs Candelas – What’s the Difference?


More often than not, when you see marketing and reviews for tactical flashlights you’ll see LUMENS as the selling factor. Maybe you’ve even found a really powerful LED flashlight and purchased it only to find out when it arrived that it doesn’t look quite as bright as your less powerful flashlight. This is because lumens is not the only factor in LED flashlights, though it is still an important one. One factor that can be quite important, but gets overlooked is candelas and that’s what we’ll be talking about today. I’ll be reviewing what lumens and candelas are, the difference between them, and how to choose the right tactical flashlight with these measurements. 

What are Lumens?

So let’s start with lumens because they’re the most common feature everyone talks about. Both lumens and candelas are a measurement of light, but they measure different aspects of the light. Lumens measure the total visible light that a device, such as an LED flashlight, emits. This means that the lumen count does not take into consideration beam pattern at all. 

What are Candelas?

As I said before, candelas also measure light, but they measure the focused part of the beam where most of the light shines through. In other words, it measures the amount of light that is focused in a single direction which, for an LED flashlight, would be the hotspot. So a flood light and a throw light could have the same lumen count, but the throw light would have a higher candela count because most of the light emitted is focused in the hot spot.

Candela is also known as candlepower which is a word you may have seen before if you’ve searched for reviews of the best tactical flashlights or browsed flashlight forums. Fun fact: one candela is approximately the same amount of light from a single candle. There’s more to it then that as the single candle to which it’s measured has certain dimensions. Nevertheless, it gives you a good idea of how much light one candela is. There’s also a formula supposedly that gives you the general amount of lumens one candela is, but I’ve seen different answers so I wouldn’t rely on it.  

What’s the Difference Between Lumens and Candelas?

So the major difference between the two is exactly what they measure. The best way to remember it in my opinion is that lumens measure the total output of light while candelas measure the intensity of the hotspot on the LED flashlight. By looking at the candlepower, you’ll get a better idea of what kind of beam you’re looking at.  

Flood vs Throw Klarus flashlights
Both of these flashlights were taken at the same distance from the wall. As you can see, the G20’s beam is so wide that I couldn’t fit it entirely in the image! The light is so dispersed and the hotspot smoothly combines with the spill which is why the G20 has a lower candela rating.

I’ve put a picture here of two different beams from two different flashlights, both with a similar lumen output. The image on the left is the Klarus G20 3000 lumen floodlight and the one on the right is the Klarus XT11X 3200 lumen tactical flashlight. As you can see above, while they both have a very similar output, their candela count is quite different. The one with the focused hotspot has a higher candela rating than the one without. For this reason, some LED flashlights can appear brighter than others even if they have a lower lumen output.

I’ve put another example below comparing two Klarus flashlights, one is the Klarus XT11GT that delivers 2000 lumens and the other is the Klarus XT11X. The reason I want to look at these two tactical flashlights is because the XT11GT can seem brighter than the XT11X even though the XT11X has a higher lumen count. This is because of the beam pattern. As you can see below, the XT11GT has a peak beam intensity of 24964cd whereas the XT11X has a peak beam intensity of 20022cd. The XT11GT has more light intensity in the hotspot than the XT11X does which may make it appear brighter. Nevertheless, the XT11X is actually emitting more light, but it’s just more diffused making the light intensity less.  

Klarus tactical flashlights
While both lights feature a fairly prominent hotspot, the XT11GT has a more focused and intense hotspot which is why the candela rating is so much higher for the XT11GT.

Choosing the Right Tactical Flashlight with Lumens and Candelas

Now that you know the difference between lumens and candelas, let’s talk about how to better implement this knowledge when choosing a tactical flashlight. First, you need to decide what kind of beam pattern you want your tactical flashlight to have. You can have an extremely focused beam that won’t light up the area around you quite so well, but will allow you to see greater distances in the dark. There’s also a wide beam that will be the opposite so you won’t be able to see quite so far away, but you’ll see every nook and cranny in front of you. Finally, you have the beams that are a happy balance between the two, giving you a nice hotspot with a good amount of spill. Based on the pictures I posted above, you can get a good idea of what lumen and candela count you may be looking for.

klarus xt11x tactical flashlight specs
Specs for the Klarus XT11X Tactical Flashlight

When shopping for a quality tactical flashlight, you’ll want to make sure the flashlight has the FL1 standards. This is short for ANSI/NEMA FL 1 standard and this is a set of guidelines for LED flashlights. You’ll see these FL1 standard symbols usually on the back of the flashlight box but you can also find them in the user manual or manufacturer’s website. If you look at the image above, you can see the symbols on the left and the specs that they represent on the right.

Even with the knowledge of candelas and lumens, it can still be tough to figure out what the beam pattern of a tactical flashlight would be, especially when shopping online. Another way to get a good idea is by checking the reflector. A smooth reflector will give you more of a hotspot than a textured reflector which will give you a diffused beam. Also, a shorter reflector will give you a wider beam than a longer reflector as well. Taking these tips into consideration, shopping online for tactical flashlights will become a bit easier.  

difference in reflectors klarus led flashlights
The Klarus XT11X is on the left with a textured reflector and the Klarus XT11GT is on the right with a smooth reflector

Tactical flashlights come in all shapes and sizes and vary in features. Beam pattern is an important feature to consider. Don’t just look at the lumens an LED flashlight delivers! Make sure to check the maximum beam distance, reflector, and candela rating to be sure you’re getting the right tactical flashlight.