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Information - Review: Fenix HL50 headlamp

Discussion in 'Kit / Clothing / Equipment' started by vanoord, Aug 29, 2014.

  1. vanoord

    vanoord 28DL Full Member
    28DL Full Member

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    This review was originally for publishing on AditNow and as such the primary criteria are for mine exploration. An additional paragraph has been added to the end of the review.

    Specifications

    Type: Headlamp
    Batteries: 1x CR123A or 1x AA
    Emitter: Cree XM-L2 T6
    Stated output: 4 modes -CR123A - 4 lumens (150 hours), 60 lumens (9.75 hours), 170 lumens (3 hours), 365 lumens (burst mode) /Ni-MH AA - 3 lumens (110 hours), 55 lumens (6.33 hours), 170 lumens (2 hours), 285 lumens (burst mode)
    Dimensions: 64mm × 32mm × 30mm
    Weight: head - 77g without battery
    Waterproof: IPX-8 (2m immersion for sustained periods)
    Price: £44.95



    Declaration

    The headlamp used in this test was provided for testing and review by Fenixlight Ltd for the purpose of review and it will be retained by me. The light was supplied via the UK Distributor for Fenix lights.



    Introduction

    It’s now five years since Fenix entered the headlamp market and they have expanded their range to an offering of twelve headlamps, split between the HL series (integral batteries) and the HP series (separate battery packs).

    While the HP series lamps have the battery capacity to enable impressive outputs, the HL series tend to be lower-powered, presumably limited by the weight of batteries that can be comfortably included in the headset.

    Fenix’s solution to this has been to make the HL50 its first CR123A headlamp - giving good output for minimum battery weight. The resultant maximum (burst) output is 365 lumens - and the ‘High’ setting of 170 lumens is enough to make this a genuine contender for use as a main light.

    [​IMG]

    For those who don’t like CR123s, the light comes with an adaptor tube which allows the use of AA batteries. Okay, the outputs and run-times are lower, but the convenience factor may be greater for some users.

    One down-side is the HL50’s inability to use rechargeable CR123s (16340s) - battery size may be the issue, but Li-ion AAs are deemed incompatible as well so there may be a battery chemistry compatibility issue.

    On paper, the result is an intriguing headlamp that promises to mix compact size with impressive output - but what’s it like in real life?


    Design

    Take a look at the headlamp and there’s an obvious comparison to be made to some Zebralights. However, this isn’t the first Fenix to adopt the tube-with-a-side-emitter design, as the HL10 has already done it. In reality, there are a very limited number of ways you can build a headlamp - and this is one of them.

    [​IMG]

    The emitter uses a smooth reflector, although the size is such that this isn’t going to be optimised for throw. The clicky switch is on the end of the tube above the emitter; and the opposite end has a knurled cap for the battery, sealed by an o-ring.

    The design allows the HL50 to be stood upright to provide fixed illumination and it’s small enough to be pocketable even with the AA adaptor tube, which takes the overall length from 64mm to 80mm. Fenix claim it can be also be used as a keychain lamp - but this needs the erstwhile clip that holds it to the headband and it proves an ungainly solutions.

    [​IMG]

    The adjustable elasticated headband is simple, with a stainless steel mount and bracket that clamps around the HL50’s barrel. The bracket at first looks a bit fragile, but on inspection it turns out to be more than sturdy enough.

    Up/down adjustment of the light is by rotating the barrel in the clip - as this is stainless steel against the anodised body, there’s a risk of some marking eventually but the clip is rounded enough that this is going to take a long while.

    [​IMG]


    Although the mounting clip seems to be strong enough on its own, there’s also a retainer that attaches to the headband. This has a ring that the light barrel fits through, then the battery case cap is screwed on to ensure the light can’t be detached.

    The retainer seemed to be overkill but it can be - and was - easily removed, taking care to remove the o-ring from the tube beforehand, otherwise there’s a risk of damaging the seal.

    Overall, the design is neat and compact: the whole package is small enough to be carried in a pocket, which is particularly neat given the output.


    Performance & use

    First impressions start with a press and hold of the ‘on’ switch - which results in a burst of blinding light and letting go of the switch, at which point darkness returns. This, it turns out, is the ‘Burst’ mode of 365 lumens.

    The User Interface is - initially - slightly confusing as switching the light on requires a single short press of the switch, but not long enough to activate ‘Burst’ mode.

    Once the light is on, a short press cycles between the three main modes; a slightly longer press switches it off; and a slight longer again press reaches ‘Burst’ mode again.

    Where it gets a bit confusing is that ‘Burst’ mode is preceded by a brief moment of darkness, which is what you’d expect if you were trying to switch if off. After a while, you do get used to the UI and it’s not easy to conceive a different way in which the interface could have been set up to give the same range of output modes from a single switch.

    The switch is easily operable with a thin glove on and its location on the end of the tube makes it easy to find.

    The ‘High’ and ‘Mid’ two output levels using a CR123 are entirely sufficient for use underground - I favoured the ‘High’ setting, partially because the group included a gentleman with a lighthouse on his head, which made relative brightness more of an issue than absolute brightness.

    The light output is a ‘neutral’ tint: although my preference has been for a cooler tint, I’m growing to like neutral tints, particularly for photography.

    At shorter distances, the lamp does have a defined hotspot, which isn’t optimal for close-up work. That said, if you’re only intending to do close-up work, a 365 lumen headtorch isn’t the right starting point and you’d be a lot better off with something like a Fenix HL10.

    However, the hotspot comes into its own in larger underground chambers, where the throw is impressive for such a small lamp. In a big slate chamber, the spill is enough for all-round vision, while there’s plenty of light cast onto the back wall 30m away.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Chamber images 8 sec / F2.8 / ISO100 / +1.0 EXP

    Similarly, in more confined passages, the hotspot gives light to down the tunnel while the relatively wide spill keeps peripheral areas lit. Although I’ve not found a figure for beam angle, it seems to be around 90 degrees.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Tunnel images: 8 sec / F5.6 / ISO100 / +1.5 EXP


    The usefulness of the ‘Burst’ mode is dependent on what you want: it’s certainly not comparable to a time- or thermally-limited ‘Turbo’ mode that switches itself off, but it does add the ability to sight something more distant and it can also lend itself to be used for photographic lighting.

    Run times have been tested elsewhere and appear to be in line with Fenix’s claims.

    During the test, the light was operated on both AA and CR123A batteries and the difference in performance was particularly noticeable as I’d inadvertently picked up a very cheap AA - which gave up surprisingly quickly.

    I swapped to the CR123A and used the HL50 initially to supplement my helmet-mounted Stenlight, then used the HL50 as a sole light for the journey back to the surface, running at the ‘High’ setting without any drop in output. There was no obvious build-up of heat.

    I did test the light with a Wama RCR123A and a couple of issues arose: firstly the cell is a slightly wider diameter than a standard CR123, sufficiently tight to introduce the worry that if anything happens to the cell, it's never going to come out (this may be a problem unique to this particular cell). Secondly, although the RCR123A initially appears to work, when 'Burst' mode is selected with the headlamp on, it switches off entirely rather that reverting to the previous mode. The simple conclusion here confirms that rechargeables aren't compatible.

    Whilst my underground testing was done using a helmet, the HL50 is - of course - designed for wearing without one and the headband design is such that only the strap is in contact with your head, which makes it perfectly comfortable for prolonged wearing. The weight is sufficiently low that it’s also going to be suitable for more strenuous activities, without too much risk of it bouncing around.


    Conclusions

    Much of the assessment of a lamp comes from the criteria against which it’s judged. The HL50 doesn’t set out to be a primary mine-exploring / caving headlamp and it’s not fair to judge it as one: that’s mainly down to the run-time, which is never going to match an external pack - even though the light output is enough for most users.

    However, as a reserve it’s more than capable and will give as much light as you’d ever need for even the largest chambers. In emergency, the near 10 hour run time on ‘Mid’ will also get you out on a single battery although it would always be wise to have at least one spare.

    From an underground use point of view, where the HL50 comes into its own is as a pocketable headlamp for brief trips, for example the sort when you’re not planning an underground foray but when you happen across something that justifies a look. On occasions like that, the Fenix isn’t ever going to seem like a second-best option.

    The reflector, whilst small, still manages to strike a decent balance between throw and spill, giving decent distance vision as well as all-round spill that’s more than sufficient.

    Similarly, as a general above-ground headtorch, the HL50 is going to take a lot of beating, particularly at the price - which is the same as the new Petzl Tikka+. In comparison, the Fenix is much better built, more compact and has the significant benefit of IPX8 waterproofing. The ‘dual fuel’ capability is an added advantage as it boosts the run-time.

    Whilst some might have a reservation about having to use CR123As to get the best out of the HL50, it’s a simple fact of physics that you need to use decent batteries to get the best results. The performance on a single AA cell is as pretty much good as you’re going to find for a lamp powered by these, so there’s no reason for marking it down on that score.

    In addition to the HL50’s all-round performance as a headlamp, the ability to use it as a free-standing light source is another plus.

    Overall, it’s a compact and powerful headlamp, which can be used for many leisure activities and still take any abuse that’s thrown its way. Whether it be walking, camping or working in the dark, it’s got both the output and the runtime to satisfy most requirements.

    From an underground point of view, the HL50 would be a great back-up light as well as an excellent choice of a primary lamp for a bit of impromptu exploration. Both uses benefit from its relatively compact size combined with its more-than-respectable output. The clincher is the price: compared to what else is on the market in the same bracket, it’s ahead. Overall, a great little bit of kit.

    From an Urban exploration point of view, the HL50 would tick a lot of boxes: it's got a decently high output but is still pocketable; used in CR123A mode and without the headband, it's a really compact powerhouse. The momentary 'Burst' mode from 'off' is also a handy feature feature, although the a 365 lumen blast might not be the height of subtlety!
     
    #1 vanoord, Aug 29, 2014
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2014

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