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Fenix HL21 LED Yellow Headlamp Review

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I bought the Fenix-HL21 to light my way during my early morning runs.  My reason for choosing it is that the headlamp uses just one battery and the output is regulated so it wouldn’t slowly go dim and fade out.  The one battery means that the headlamp is light which means it won’t bounce around when running. I bought the headlamp in December of 2011 and I’ve now had it for about a year and a half.  I use it semi-regularly at night and for general work when I need extra light for a dark space.

Fit and Finish

Overall the lamp is decently but not well built.  Unlike other Fenix products which have an aluminum body, the lamp body and battery compartment is made of plastic.  The plastic is thick and feels decently rigid in my hand.  The casing around the LED is made of aluminum and this is done to facilitate heat dissipation. The cap on the battery compartment has good sized threads which makes it easy to open and close.  The plastic construction probably allows the big threads, most aluminum lights have tiny threads that are easy to mis-thread when screwing on the cap.  The big annoyance is that the lamp attachment to the headband is not secure and the lamp can come off if you are not careful when handling it.  I’ve had issues with my past Fenix lights where the negative terminal spring wears out and no longer makes contact with the battery.  It hasn’t happened yet but I fear that it will happen one day.

Light

This is my second headlamp, my other lamp is a Zebralight which is floody and perfect for indoor work. Compared to the Zebralight, the light on the HL21 is highly focused and projects a decent distance.  It is very diffuse and dim at the lowest 3-lumen dim setting but brightens up at the 43-lumen mid setting with the 90-lumens high setting being the brightest.  It is hard to tell the

Fenix HL-21

difference between the 43-lumen and 90-lumen settings except that the 90-lumen is slightly brighter.  This may be due to the logarithmic nature of our brightness perception.   There is very little flood which means there is little light for your peripheral vision which means you’ll be swivelling your head back and forth when you are outside.  In addition there is a small gap around the cap of the LED which means there is a ring of light that leaks out around the gap.  If you don’t adjust the light high enough on your forehead this leakage shines into your eyes which is annoying.

Battery Life

Battery life in the HL-21 is decent.  It is not great and definitely does not match the product listing, I can expect an Eneloop battery to last about 1 1/2 hours on medium and an hour on high.  The light has a tendency to turn off abruptly instead of dimming gradually.  This is probably due to the active circuitry used to maintain constant brightness and the non-linear discharge of rechargeable batteries.    Low mode is incredible though, I’ve had the lamp stay on for two whole days with juice left over in low mode.

Comfort

The primary reason I bought the HL21 was because I expected it to be light due to the single battery design.  The headlamp is indeed light and is ideal for running and night expeditions.  The headband however only loops around the head without a piece that goes over the top of the head. This means that the lamp has a tendency to slip down my forehead unless I tighten it to the point

Fenix HL-21 Back

that it cuts of circulation to my head.  In addition, the area where the lamp attaches to the cord is not padded and it leaves a mark on the forehead.  The mark is especially deep when you wear the lamp for long periods and the mark persists for a while afterwards.  Imagine going for a run in the morning and then heading to work with a strange red mark on your forehead.

Overall

Overall the HL21 is a decent headlamp for its price.  it has a couple annoyances that shouldn’t be present at this price point but its worked out well so far.

Pros:
Multiple light modes
Light single battery design
Solid construction
Good focused light
Solid, decent construction

Cons:
Annoying headband
Possible weak internal spring
No peripheral light
Gap around lens cover shines light into eyes
Doesn’t work well with rechargeable batteries

Fenix HL-21 Night Shot

Fenix HL-21

Fenix HL-21

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Written by M Kapoor

June 27, 2013 at 7:19 pm

Posted in Flashlight, review

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Fenix Digital LD10 Premium Q5

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While researching the NiteCore SmartPD EX10 R2 I was also looking for a 2nd flashlight that took AA batteries.  The AA battery form factor is bulkier than the CR123 batteries that the NiteCore uses but the advantage is that AA batteries are far cheaper and easier to find.  The low cost and easy availability of AA batteries makes a AA light an excellent companion for traveling.  After some research I found a light I felt was perfect, the Fenix LD10, and decided to purchase it from Outfitter Country on Amazon.com.

Background:
The Fenix LD10 is a follow-on to the popular Fenix L1D, the LD10 features a redesigned exterior and improved reflector.  I don’t have a L1D so I cannot compare the change in the reflector. However, looking at pictures of the L1D I can see that the exterior has been updated to put a multi-sided surface around the head of the flashlight.  The surface makes the flashlight easier to hold and it prevents the light from rolling around when you put it down on a flat surface.

The LD10 still uses the Cree Q5 LED that the L1D used and doesn’t come with the R2 version used in the NiteCore EX10.  I can see a definite but not significant difference in brightness between my NiteCore EX10 and the LD10.

A really cool feature of the Fenix L series  is that the heads and bodies are swappable with other L series lights and most of the P series lights.  So, I can use the head of my LD10 with the body of a 2xCR123 Fenix P3D or PD30.  This will give me longer runtime and up to 220 lumens out of my LD10 head because the CR123 battery can source more current than a single AA.  So I can pack different bodies and carry what I need based on my plans.

Features of the LD10 include:

Conventional push button switch.
Durable aluminum body.
Access to 6 light levels – min, med, max, turbo, S.O.S, and strobe.
Waterproof.

The strobe mode only works at the turbo light level. This video shows off the different modes available on the Fenix LD and L1D series of lights.

Personal Impressions:
I’ve have the LD10 for for a few weeks now, almost as long as I’ve had my NiteCore EX10, and I’m happy with it.  Just like the EX10, the LD10 is solid, well built, and gives me loads of light on a single battery.  However, unlike the EX10, the LD10’s controls are easier to use and are much more reliable.  I always know where the light is going to start and I can easily switch between modes by soft-clicking the tailcap switch.

The fact that AA batteries don’t store as much power as CR123 batteries is readily apparent in this light.  I can get barely 20 minutes of light out at turbo mode before turbo mode is dims down to be just as bright as the high light mode.  The battery type doesn’t seem to matter, I’ve seen the same result using both lithum and eneloop brand rechargable batteries.  I don’t think we’ll see an improvements in the duration of light output until large gains are made in LED efficiency.

The low mode is great for getting around the house and the high/turbo mode is good for night walks and general outdoor night tasks. In addition, The strobe mode is great for biking or walking at night – it really grabs attention which ensures drivers will notice you. For hands free operation, Fenix sells both a bike mount and headband that you can use to attach the light to your bike or body.  Strobe mode is also great for alerting other drivers when you have to pull off the road in your car – the anti-roll design means that you can just turn the light on and put it on your car trunk or roof to alert fellow drivers.

I really like the fact that Fenix offers a variety of acceseories to modify their lights to fit your needs. Besides the interchangable bodies, headband, and bike mount I mentioned earlier; Fenix also has diffuser tips for general lighting, filters for night vision, and a pressure switch for remote activation.  It would be nice if they had a magnetic mount I could use to attach the light to my car or other metallic surfaces for when I need both hands free and don’t have a flat surface for the light.

Conclusion:
While a little bulky to use as a everyday carry light, the Fenix LD10 is great for travel and general use around the house and outdoors.  The AA form factor makes it cheap to operate but it also means that the maximum light output is unsustainable for long. I really like the strobe mode and available acesseories – I plan on at least getting the bike mount or headband for night biking during the winter.

Pros:

  • Variety of accessories – headband, bike mount, bodies, and diffusers.
  • Uses easily available AA batteries.
  • Amazing light output for a 1xAA battery light.
  • Reverse polarity protection.

Cons:

  • Expensive!
  • Very short lived turbo mode.

Written by M Kapoor

June 26, 2009 at 2:29 am

Posted in Flashlight, review

Tagged with , ,

NiteCore SmartPD EX10 R2

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I have been looking for a small flashlight I can carry with me at night and use to light up dark areas.  After doing some research, I decided to purchase a NiteCore SmartPD flashlight from http://www.4sevens.com about two weeks ago.

Background:
The PD in SmartPD stands for Piston Drive.  Piston drive is a new switching technology that uses a piston to drive a switch on the flashlight head to communicate with the flashlight microcontroller.  The Piston Drive technology is supposed outlast the push button switches used on  conventional flashlights.  However, I don’t see why it would last longer since the Piston Drive also uses a switch that is built into the head to drive the flashlight.

NiteCore makes two flashlights with the PD technology, the D10 which uses 1 AA-battery and the EX10 uses a CR123 battery.  I chose the EX10 over the D10 because it is smaller and has a longer run time.

The exact model I got was the SmartPD EX10 R2.  The EX10 indicates that it takes CR123 batteries and R2 means that it uses a CREE R2 type LED.  The CREE R2 type LED in the EX10 is rated at 145 lumens which makes this one of the brightest small flashlights I could find.  This light has several advanced features including:

  • Instantly jump to max or min brightness.
  • Ramp to 100 light levels between min and max.
  • Light turns on at the last light level.
  • Waterproof.

The light can also be used in momentary or intermittent mode where the light is only lit when you push the piston down.  This video shows off the interface.

Personal Impressions:
The flashlight is is well built and feels solid in my hands.  I feel that I could drop it and it would still keep working.  The flashlight is unbelievably small, I can carry it around in the change pocket of my jeans and it will fit entirely in my palm.  The piston drive is stiff and has very little travel so it takes a while to get used to it. The max mode is very bright and will illuminate pretty much any room.  Does it outshine a 3-D LED maglight? No.  But is it bright enough to replace a 3-D maglight in most situations? Yes.  Likewise, the min mode is really dim and will really squeeze out every erg of energy out of a battery.  4sevens claims that the light is good for 90 minutes of illumination at max light mode – however, the 90 minutes counts till it is at 50% brightness.  In reality, the light is good for about 20-30 minutes of bright light on a fresh battery, after which it starts to noticeably dim.  This means that you have to use the bright mode sparingly and instead rely on a dimmer setting for most of your work unless you plan to replace your battery often.  Or, use the bright mode and then end up working with just a dim light until your battery runs out.

Occasionally, the light refuses to go into high/low mode using the shortcuts.  I think this is because the processor gets confused and needs to be reset.  This seems to be the case because it can be fixed by unscrewing till the light turns off to cut off power to the CPU and then screwing it back in.   Another annoyance is that the light is prone to roll around if placed on a flat surface which makes it unsuitable for any kind of work where you can’t hold it in your hand.  In addition, the black anodizing looks like it will easily wear off – I’ve already noticed a couple worn off specks just from carrying the light around in my jean’s change pocket.

Another caveat is that the microprocessor is always on so it draws current from the battery even when the light is turned off.  I’ve read that a new battery will power the microcontroller for ~400 days while the light is in standby.  I couldn’t find a statement on how much light I would get from the light after ~400 days or even ~200 days, I imagine it wouldn’t be much.  This makes the light unsuitable to use as an emergency light. Some say that you should store the battery separately, but do you want to be fumbling around for a battery in the dark when the light goes out or if you are in an emergency situation?  They may also tell me to unscrew the head a couple turns so that the head doesn’t make contact with the battery, but I think that should be unnecessary in a $60+ flashlight.  Just look at Fenix (a NiteCore competitor) which makes great flashlights that don’t drain batteries when turned off.

Summary:
The NiteCore EX10 is a nice small flashlight that is useful if you plan to use and carry it daily and don’t mind keeping it at low/medium most of the time in order to be able to access max mode when needed.  I wouldn’t recommend it for non-handheld uses since it has a tendency to roll around, or for long term storage in an emergency kit.  I like it because it is solid, tough, and has min/max brightness modes.  I don’t like it because the PD switch isn’t as great as it is made out to be – it is stiff and relies on a mechanical switch despite NiteCore’s hype about PD being superior to mechanical switches – and it will drain your battery if you are not careful.  Overall, I feel that this is an overly hyped light and I would recommend against purchasing it.

Pros:

  • Small, tough, and waterproof.
  • Extra bright when you need it.

Cons:

  • Expensive!
  • anodizing is prone  to wear off.
  • Short lived max mode.
  • Poor candidate for long term storage.
  • Unknown long term reliability of piston drive.
  • No reverse polarity protection.

Sources:
There is an extensive review of the D10 (AA-battery version of the EX10) and EX10 over at CandlePowerForums.  I consulted this review before choosing the EX10 over the D10.

Written by M Kapoor

May 29, 2009 at 4:06 am