Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Review - Olight H2R Nova [LED Headlamp]

Olight has been around for a long time as far as LED flashlights go. They started out with high end military-type tactical flashlights, then they bought up a few companies like iTP and expanded their product lineup to include mostly consumer models. For a while it seemed like their build and design quality was all over the map, but I've seen their mainstream consumer products really mature in about the last year or so.

This review is for the Olight H2R Nova Headlamp, provided by Olight.

Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Product Link


Product Description

Price: About 90 dollars

This H2R Nova model uses 18650 lithium-ion cells, which puts it in a very competitive field of 18650 based headlamps, all with very similar specs, and some with a cult following. This one seems to fit the mold of what I'd expect: Cree XHP50 LED emitter, TIR reflector, glass lens, top-mounted electronic switch. Where this model is unique is with its magnetic USB charging system. The included headband and pocket clip are pretty much standard, and the included 3000 mAh Olight branded cell is a nice touch.

Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Product View

Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - EDC Friends
Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Outdoors


Official Specs (From Olight)


(Sorry, Olight put their specs in a weird format)

Beam Distance (ft)501
Beam Distance (m)153
Max. Performance (lumens)2300
Charge typeMagnetic USB charge base
Compatible Batteriescustomised 18650
Light Intensity (candela)5850
Light FormWide/broad hotspot. Perfect for up close illumination.
Lens / Reflector TypeTIR bead lens (wide/broad beam)
Mode OperationFront Switch
Form/Size FactorMedium size (Permanent Marker)
SeriesSeries H (Headlamps, Multitasking)
Unique Characteristics


  • Huge beam spill (TIR with diffuser lens)Smaller than a pinky finger.
  • Optimal for packstrap/pocket/headlamp
  • Pocket light and headlamp in one with magnetic charging. Buy one light and get two!
  • Magnetic tail fix, 90degrees light illumination direction
  • LIGHTING LEVELS
    LEVEL 1 (lumens)2300
    Run-time LEVEL 1
    2300 lumens(~750lm) - Cool White
    2000 lumens(~750lm) - Neutral White



  • 1h50m (1m)
  • LEVEL 2 (lumens)600
    Run-time LEVEL 2
    600 lumens - Cool White
    550 lumens - Neutral White



  • 2h30m
  • LEVEL 3 (lumens)150
    Run-time LEVEL 3
    150 lumens - Cool White
    140 lumens - Neutral White



  • 10h
  • LEVEL 4 (lumens)30
    Run-time LEVEL 4
    30 lumens - Cool White
    27 lumens - Neutral White



  • 50h
  • LEVEL 5 (lumens)1
    Run-time LEVEL 5
    1 lumens - Cool White
    1 lumens - Neutral White



  • 45 days
  • StrobeNo
    SOS / BEACONYes
    TECHNICAL CHARACTERISTICS
    WaterproofIPX8
    Weight (g / oz)64 / 2.26
    Length (mm / in)110 / 4.33
    Head Diameter (mm / in)25 / 0.95
    Body Diameter (mm / in)23.2 / 0.91
    LedCree XHP50

    First Impressions


    The H2R comes with a semi-charged 18650 cell. There's a little tab you pull off, so it was just a few seconds before I double clicked the switch to see the output of the turbo mode. My first thought was "wow, this output is incredible for a light this size." My second thought was "wow, the circuitry is really generous holding the turbo on for so long before step-down." My third thought was "owww my hand really hurts because the light is so hot."

    It's pretty much a no-brainer figuring out not to keep the light in turbo mode for more than a a quick burst of light. You'll certainly cook your brain with it. But I actually like the super-duper-turbo mode because it's kind of like having having a fast car: you may not always drive it fast, but it's nice knowing you can if you need to. High mode is still generous output-wise, and the light only gets slightly warm.

    This looked a candidate to replace the headlamp in my survival bag, so I've set out from day one with this review sample to beat it up, and give the charging circuitry some extra scrutiny, too.

    The second thing I did out of the box was triple clicked the switch to see if it had any "disco" modes like strobe, and it seems to go into SOS mode ... which is more useful than a strobe in an emergency (like being lost in the woods) but still not as useful as a true beacon mode. But either way, thank you Olight for not putting a strobe mode on a headlamp.

    Other than the heat issue on turbo--which I was more surprised than disappointed with-- I had a very good first impression of this light.




    Build Quality


    I've seen a noticeable increase in build quality in the last few flashlights and headlamps from Olight. But this is a 90 dollar headlamp, which puts it into a class of headlamps with companies like Zebralight and Armytek who have great reputations in this 18650 based headlamp space.

    The build quality is good overall for a light in the category. It's not a tank like my go-to Nitecore headlamp I've carried for several years, but it's still built well. So I'm not sure I'd consider this a tactical flashlight (though it did pass the drop test,) I think the quality is good overall for the high end consumer product this is. Like most of their products, I wish the aluminum stock were a little thicker, and the anodizing a little thicker.

    But aside from a couple small gripes, this is a solid product. The machining is excellent. There's no tool marks, nicks, gaps, mis-cut threads, crappy o-rings, lens aberrations or anything rough about this light. The electronic switch is excellent. It's rubberized with a superb feel.

    This model uses a TIR style reflector with an old-school stippled glass lens. It's hard to see the reflector and LED through the textured lens, but everything I can see looks great. The build quality of the clip is even really good.

    The quality of the light itself, the clip, charger, and headband are all good. The Olight branded 18650 cells are good products in their own right, and the 3000 mAh included cell is pretty high end--most likely a re-wrapped Panasonic. Everything is where it should be quality-wise for this price point, down to the square cut threads.

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Build Quality 1

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Build Quality 2

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Build Quality 3


    Fit & Finish


    Again, this is a 90 dollar light, so I'm holding it to a higher standard. And I think it holds up to the extra scrutiny. There's really nothing I can think of to pick on. I've always said their anodizing is too thin, but the only nick in mine is from tossing it in the air over a concrete driveway, and that didn't even dent the body.

    The finish is fantastic overall, even down to the small details like the the blue anodized accent rings around the switch and bezel. The rubberized electronic switch has a feel as good as I've seen on any light. The glass lens looks high end, the tail threads are smooth, lubed o-rings, and the two-way clip is nice and tight. Also, the magnetic charging base makes a good connection with the magnetic tail on the H2R.

    For a budget light, this level of finish would be impressive, but I would expect this level for a light at this price point. For what it costs, I would expect to see attention to detail, and I do.

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Tail Cap 1

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Tail Cap 2

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Switch


    Included Battery


    The H2R Nova includes a high quality Olight branded 18650 lithium-ion cell with a stated capacity of 3000 mAh. Most of the big name brand cells use the same great quality re-wrapped Panasonic cells, but some of the really good re-wrappers like KeepPower, Olight, Nitecore, etc., use higher quality protection circuits in each cell. Even the best lithium-ion cell money can buy can catch fire from a catastrophic malfunction of the device it's in, so I appreciate that Olight throws in a good cell with a quality protection circuit with these models. And having a 20 dollar battery included makes this model a better value.

    I did a rough capacity test on the battery as part of my tests on the charger, and the capacity checks out by my rough calculations. Normally I'd put the cell on the analyzing charger for 15 hours, but the Olight cells have been really consistent, and I wanted to focus on the charger for this review.

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Included 18650 Cell


    USB Charging


    Olight has switched most of their models to include a good quality battery and built-in charging via a standard USB interface. Which is a good feature because it means these models can be charged anywhere a smartphone or tablet can be charged, which is pretty much everywhere. I have several large USB power packs and it makes them more useful being able to charge more devices. And I even have a 40 watt solar charger that I could plug this light into. USB charging is great, even if most devices use a low charge rate.

    The current generation of the R model charges uses a neat design. Magnets in the tail cap of the headlap and in the charger base automatically make a charging connection on their own if you get them within an inch or so of each other.

    Functionality-wise, the charger itself is pretty simple, connect the charger to the headlamp, plug the other end of the cable into any 5v USB compliant power source, and wait until the little LED light in the charger base goes from red to green.

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - USB Charger


    Note that these R model chargers are picky about types of battery chemistries they will charge. For example, it won't charge lithium-ion hybrids, which is weird because most other chargers will. But all their models seem to use the same model charger, so it will charge at least a couple different chemistries that I know of.

    This charger seems to be the same one included with all of their R models.

    Magnetic Tail


    Most of Olight's EDC style flashlights and headlamps come with a permanent, rare-earth magnet in the tail cap, which allows their lights to clamp onto any ferrous metal, like steel. Even steel screws in the wall in some cases. As a long time computer engineer, for many years magnets played havoc with some types of electronics and any type of magnet storage, like hard drives, cassette tapes, etc. So I was hesitant about having something with a powerful magnet in my pocket, but for the most part, there's not much risk to the electronics most of us carry day-to-day.

    Now I'm a huge fan of these magnetic tail caps, and on a headlamp that's 3 separate ways to hold the light in place: the head band, the clip, and the magnetic tail. I still don't like magnets around the debit cards in my wallet, so I still won't carry one of these lights in the same pocket. But it's fine in the other pocket and a small price to pay for being able to clamp it onto something and use it as a portable source of light for hours or days at a time.

    The magnet in the tail cap has another benefit unique to Olight's class of "R" models: the little charger base also has a magnet, and the two also seem to find each other (sometimes on their own) and make a good connection for charging. I didn't like their models with the larger charging base, but I love this compact magnet-on-magnet USB charging design.

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Magnetic Tail


    Modes / User Interface


    The H2R Nova has 6 modes. It has the standard low, medium and high modes, but it also has 3 special modes: turbo, moonlight, and SOS. A single click on the electronic button turns the headlamp on and off, and holding down on the button changes modes. Holding the button down when the headlamp is off will activate the moonlight mode. Some manufacturers use electronic switches being held down to turn their lights on and off, so it's possible for a new user to turn light on in moonlight mode during the day and not realize it. But I like this for the user interface because it makes moonlight mode more useful.

    Turbo is accessed any time double clicking the switch, and another double click takes it back to the last mode. SOS mode is accessed by triple clicking the switch.

    As someone who did user interface design for computer software most of my career, I can appreciate how far user interfaces have come with flashlights and headlamps.

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Modes Animation


    Circuitry 


    Normally I like to see constant-current circuits on high end lights. It's no secret that I despise PWM circuitry for various reasons.

    I do all my PWM tests using a cell phone camera. What I would expect to see for a light in this price point would be constant current on the very low modes, which increases run time, and maybe PWM on some of the medium or higher modes where it helps the tint a little with some of the larger die LEDs. This sample seems to have it in every mode. It's low frequency enough for me to barely see with my eyeballs with moonlight mode. But most people aren't that sensitive to it, and I can only see it with my eyes on that one mode, and only in certain scenarios.

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Cell Phone Test
    Interference patterns on the cell phone test on moonlight mode


    So, I don't know if it's just noise in the circuitry or they are indeed using PWM to play with the tint. With a stated run time of 45 days on moonlight mode, I guess it makes sense to sacrifice a small bit off efficiency for better tint since LEDs, circuitry, and reflector designs keep getting more efficient.

    Olight advertises a low battery warning with an extra LED embedded in the switch, but I haven't tested it, as I'm OCD about running lithium-ion cells all the way dead. I want to maximize the lifetime of the expensive cell it comes with.

    Output


    On turbo, the output is fantastic ... for a very short period of time. The output on high is about what I would expect a light this size could do without overheating. The output on moonlight is a little higher than what I normally like, but 1 lumen is certainly acceptable.

    The output mode spacing is very good overall, and the stated run times are what I would expect given the mode outputs. This thing is a beast.

    Tint


    The tint is good for a cool white headlamp. It's not a weird greenish or blueish color like on some flashlights and headlamps. It seems to sacrifice a little efficiency with the circuitry for the PWM voodoo it seems to use to make the tint more pleasing. However they accomplish it, my sample has about as pleasing of a tint as I've seen in a cool white model. I usually ask manufacturers for neutral white review samples, but most of them have really low stocks of those, since most consumers aren't "tint snobs" like me!

    Drop Test


    I hate to do it, but for something I'm considering for a survival bag, I need to know if it's going to let me down. So I stood on my concrete driveway at night with the light on, held it out in front of my head and flicked it up into the air. It bounced off the concrete and didn't do anything weird like power off or change modes. It's been over a month since then, and it's stayed attached to my range hood in the kitchen where it serves duty from everything from a night light for the girlfriend to lighting up the yard to see that a cat is fighting a squirrel. The test to me is not just that it survive a drop test; it has to keep working in normal use.

    Charge Test


    Just like the drop test, something destined for my survival bag needs to charge reliably and predictably. My 72 hour survival bag includes a solar USB charger and USB power packs, so this model seems like a really good fit for that.

    For the test, I hooked it up to a Samsung USB power outlet and my handy dandy USB analyzer widget. The results were a little better than I expected. I'm happy to see anything above 500 mA and this charger delivers.

    This test also roughly measured the capacity of the included 18650 lithium-ion cell. I didn't test the battery separately, but Olight cells always test well, and my rough calculations put the included cell right where it should be for what I'm guessing is a re-wrapped Panasonic 3000 mAh cell.

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Charging Test
    5 volts and 770 mA -- right on the money

    Pocket Clip


    This model has an included, snap-on type, 2-way pocket clip. It's good that they included a clip for their headlamp, because I think these products are as good or better for EDC as they are for headlamps.

    Overall I really dislike snap-on type clips. Many of my previous flashlights were damaged or lost due to the clips falling off at the worst time. At best, I lose the clip, and at worst, I lose the light. This H2R, and the last few products of theirs I've gotten in for review have much tighter clips. It's still not as good in my opinion as a mounted clip, it's getting pretty close. At least I'm back to being confident about carrying this or the S1R Baton in my pocket for my EDC purposes.

    So, kudos to Olight for making the clip tighter on all your EDC models, but it would still be great to see a mountable clip, even for a headlamp.

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Pocket Clip 1

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Pocket Clip 2


    Usability


    This thing is a BEAST on turbo. I don't use a light sphere to test output, but I believe every lumen of their 2300 lumen claim. It's also as bright on turbo as my 3 LED Lumintop PS03 beast with the same stated output. But on turbo the light gets really hot, really fast. Not a big deal if it's attached to the side of your truck using the magnetic base, but it gets almost too hot to hold before the circuitry even kicks it down, so it can only be used sparingly.

    The included headband is good quality. Some people say that the 18650 headlamps are a little heavy, but those people have never used one for hours at a time, day to day. When I lived in a cabin in the woods for a year, having a headlamp was a necessity. It had an outdoor kitchen. And unloading a truck in the dark with a flashlight in your mouth gets old after a few times. And when I had to unload the truck and do the dishes on the same night, or do any amount of work in the dark, my smaller capacity lights would go dead, usually at the worst times. So for a casual user--maybe a weekend camper--the smaller, CR123A sized headlamps might be a better solution, but for serious use, this form factor is the only one I'd consider.

    So, having said all that, I haven't used this model much as a headlamp, because I don't live in a rural area and work in the dark nearly as much. But I certainly appreciate the fact that this is a very capable headlamp, even if I use it mostly for EDC. I keep the headband of this one nearby.

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - In Hand 1

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - In Hand 2



    And it's been good for EDC as well. I live in a big city now, and day to day I don't need the extended run time of a larger flashlight or headlamp, so I use the S1R most of the time. But the cool thing is that both are attached to the range hood in my kitchen with their magnetic base. Depending on the situation, I grab one or the other. I used to be a critic of lights with the magnetic tail, but I've been a believer for a while now. We've had a couple power failures where the H2R has served as the kitchen light, and it's also come in handy as a night light for guests. I haven't tested their 45 days on moonlight claim, but I've left it on for days at a time.

    Conclusions


    This is a very well designed and functional headlamp. Because it looked well suited for survival / emergency applications, I put it through more scrutiny than I usually give a product, and it did a great job. It's probably necessary that they make a solid product, because there are so many other respected manufacturers making great 18650 headlamps at this price point.

    When I first looked at the specs, I intended this one to live in my survival bag, upgrading a Crelant headlamp that I have in there now. But it's spent its whole life attached to the range hood in my kitchen next to its brother, the S1R, and I'm going to keep that arrangement.

    Saturday, June 17, 2017

    The Outdoor Nerd on Facebook

    I left Facebook for about a year when I got separated. It's pretty awkward having all your family and friends see your marriage fall apart, so it was a good choice at the time. But I'm back now, with a new page for the blog, too. I've got tens of thousands of photos, which I'm gradually uploading to the page.

    https://www.facebook.com/pg/OutdoorNerd


    Wednesday, June 7, 2017

    Review: ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight

    There used to be a saying in the flashlight community: "Never trust any brand with FIRE in its name." I've pretty much followed that advice with only a couple exceptions: I used to buy the TrustFire lithium ion batteries back before all the clones, and the ThorFire brand.

    I don't know why ThorFire muddied the waters with the name they chose, but they seem to be one of the more consistent budget flashlight brands. I've purchased and used a few of their products like the ThorFire PF04 and I've had a favorable opinion of them for a while now. This review is for the ThorFire TK4A, supplied by ThorFire.

    This 4xAA style of flashlight is one of my favorite form factors. I've done a few reviews for this type of flashlight, like the Sunwayman D40A and the Lumintop SD4A. You get the best of both worlds: the output of a lithium-ion powered light with common AA batteries you can find anywhere. Plus, AA batteries are safer to use and store than lithium-ion cells. I wouldn't give my elderly mom a lithium-ion based flashlight, but I would give her a multi-cell AA or AAA flashlight.

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Product View

    Product Description

    Price: About $40 online

    The ThorFire TK4A flashlight is a 4xAA "soda can" style flashlight, which have really gained popularity in the last few years, with good reason. Unlike most of its competitors, the TK4A has only a single electronic switch to operate the unit. It also features the battery cage built into the unit.

    Other than a couple differences, the TK4A is the typical 4xAA flashlight, with its Cree XP-L LED emitter, smooth reflector and constant-current, regulated circuitry, giving it the performance people would expect for a light in this format, and with this price tag.


    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Product View 2



    Official Specs (From ThorFire)


    Specifications
    Modes: Low(30LM)-Mid(200LM)-High(600LM)-Turbo(1100LM), hidden Strobe(600LM) and Moonlight(1 LM)
    Lifetime: with a lifespan of 20 years
    Battery: Uses 4*AA Ni MH / Ni Cd/Alkaline(Not Included)
    Material: Made of Aircraft-grade aluminum
    Size:approx 115mm(Length) * 41mm(Body Diameter) 
    Weight: 178.5-gram weight (Excluding the battery)
    Water resistant: IPX-8, underwater 2m
    Impact resistant: 1m
    Intensity: 11600cd (Max)
    Distance: 460m (Max)

    Battery Capacity Display
    The switch button have a battery indicator light. The light will displaying “Green”, if the battery capacity is higher than 60%. If it is lower than 60%, it will turn to “Orange”. When it less than 15%, it will changed to “Red”.

    Initial Impressions


    After hunting down and charging 4 of my Panasonic Eneloops, I opened up the TK4A and was surprised to see no battery cage. The design reminds me of a couple Nitecore lights I've had. There's 2 pegs in the tail cap that line up with two holes in the built in battery cage. I kind of fumbled with the batteries and the cap, but it's not rocket science. I wonder why they did it this way. Doesn't seem to be any lighter without a separate battery cage. I guess it's one less point of failure though.

    ...and that's what struck me immediately about this design--it's very minimalist. No separate battery cage. No extra mode switch. As an engineer I can admire these kinds of austere designs.

    ...and that's the second thing that hit me with the TK4A: The design makes it a little clumsy putting the batteries in and operating the light with its single stage electronic switch.

    Either way my first impression was being kind of impressed with a few of the little design differences. ThorFire isn't scared to mix it up.

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Unboxing 1

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Unboxing 2


    The Cree XP-L is a large die LED, so a light in this format with this LED is never going to be a "thrower," meaning it's not an ideal light (or form factor in general) for seeing extreme distances. ThorFire still does what it can with the smooth reflector and lens, and just like its competitors, achieves some measure of success being a little "throwy" just by sheer brute force.

    Another thing that left me scratching my head with this light just out of the box is the single switch with the non-standard user interface. In fact, I didn't like the user interface out of the box, though now I like it a lot.

    So, overall this gave me a good but strange first impression. ThorFire doesn't seem to be copying anyone or following any set rules, which is kind of surprising given that this is a budget brand. Bravo!


    Build Quality


    Overall good. The material and machining are good. Nothing to see here. What surprises me is the overall design. There's no stainless steel bezel ring like other brands. Even the high end lights seem to get those wrong about half the time. The entire unit is basically just a big chunk of aluminum, with the battery cage itself machined into it. I like my Lumintop SD4A but the battery cage is a little cheap.

    So,  ThorFire seems to have sidestepped any big quality concerns just by leaving out the stuff their competitors get wrong. Note that probably makes it less mod-friendly for the people who like customizing their flashlights.

    The other things I look for quality wise are good. The electronic switch looks like it's good quality, though the action feels a little cheap. The stainless steel ring around the switch is well done. The reflector and lens look beautiful, definitely on par with higher end models. The lens has the standard anti-reflective coating I'd also expect.

    Everything else is there: The tail cap machining is good, the threads are well cut and lubed. Springs look good and so do those two weird alignment pins in the cap.

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - With Lumintop SD4A

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Whitebox 1

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Whitebox 2

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Whitebox 3

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Whitebox 4

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Whitebox 5


    Fit & Finish


    Overall, good. The switch feels a little cheap. That doesn't mean I think it's cheap. It just feels a little cheap. The anodizing is passable but not spectacular. Same with the knurling.

    If the TK4A doesn't pop overall finish-wise, it's easy to forgive it when I look at the business end. The LED is machine-centered, and the reflector and lens are well above average for a budget light.

    The stainless steel ring around the switch is also a little above average. It really gives the single switch a high end feel, even if the switch itself has a weird feel to it.

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - TailThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Switch


    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Battery Tube


    Battery Tube

    There's no separate battery cage for this model--it's built into the body. It's not very elegant but it gets the job done. It works even if it's something I fumbled through a couple times.
    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Battery Tube 2ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Tail Cap




    Circuitry


    Most flashlights of this type use efficient constant current circuits, and the TK4A is no exception. I could detect none of my pet peeve PWM with my cell phone camera. As far as I can tell, ThorFire didn't try to cut any corners on the circuity, which other budget makers like to do.

    LED


    This model uses a Cree XP-L larger die emitter, which seems well suited to this form factor.

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Emitter Closeup


    Modes


    The TK4A has 4 normal brightness modes: low/medium/high/turbo as well as a "moonlight" and "strobe" mode. Extra points for the low-low moonlight mode. I'm not a huge fan of strobe modes, but at least it's tucked out of the way with a double click needed to activate it.

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Moonlight

    User Interface


    Most of the single switch electronic lights I have owned use a long press to turn the light off and on, with short presses to change modes. The TK4A uses a quick press to turn the light on, which is great once I got used to it. On this light a long press from off puts the light into moonlight mode. This model has a nice, low, moonlight mode, which I love! But a low moonlight combined with a non-traditional user interface meant that I kept turning light on moonlight mode meaning to turn it into its normal modes.

    So, turn the light on with a short click and turn it off with a long press, and use short clicks to change modes with the light on. A short double click with the light on or off will put the light into strobe mode.

    Moonlight mode is kind of a special case because you press and hold from off to activate it, and then you have to turn the light off with a short click before you can do anything else with it.

    There appears to be a mode memory, which is nice.

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Mode Animation


    Tint


    The tint on mine is good, and leans toward being neutral white. In fact, I had to go back to the box to check to see if this is the neutral white version, and it doesn't seem to be. Close up there's the sickly colored rings you'd expect with this type of reflector and circuitry--a small price to pay for an efficient circuit.

    Beam


    Lights of this type have a unique beam on a good day, due to the foot print of putting 4 AA cells together. You get a much bigger reflector than on say a 1xAA flashlight, but still not the large reflector you'd need to see huge distances with a big die LED like this model has.

    So, this model has about a tight of a beam as you can get with an oversize LED and an undersized reflector, and like other competing brands, it gets a good amount of "throw" just from brute force. The size of the hot spot seems to be roughly double my D40A, and 4 times bigger than my SD4A with the small die LED in it. And it seems to have about the same throw as its medium die cousin but with more output, a nice little trade-off.

    Usability


    The TK4A is a beast with the large die Cree XP-L emitter. Flashlights with the 4xAA form factor tend to see a pretty good distance just through brute force. This light has less throw but more force, so the usability and performance seems consistent with lights in this category. In fact, the XP-L seems like a fine choice of emitter because of the "beast mode" factor.

    Out of the box I didn't like the user interface at all, but it's really grown on me over time. It's not immediately intuitive, but it's well thought out, and it works well from a usability standpoint now that I'm used to it.

    Outside in general use, it's pretty much a wall of light. The better-than-average smooth reflector and  lens do what they can for the throw, so this light pretty much owns anything within about 100 yards. It would be nice if they followed other manufacturers' lead and offered a smaller die LED version. Either way, this XP-L version is a beast.

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - In Hand

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - In Hand 2


    Conclusions


    I've been so busy lately that some of these reviews are taking me 2 months. Apologies to ThorFire, but at least in this case I'm glad that I got to spend so much time with the light before reviewing it.

    Because this light grew on me over time. I disliked the single switch user interface, but the more time I spent with it, the more I liked it. Same with the feel of the switch. After some time with the light, the switch has a tactile feel that felt kinda weird/cheap at first.

    So, all things considered, I like this light, and I think getting to know its peculiar user interface was worth the time spent. And I also admire its minimalist design.When you design something with less stuff, then there's less stuff to go wrong. They're not just copying Nitecore or Lumintop.

    Really the only thing I would change about this light would just be to make it a hair wider in diameter to give the reflector a little more help with the large die LED.


    Monday, May 8, 2017

    Review: Olight S1R Baton EDC Flashlight

    I'll admit, I've never been a big fan of Olight's S series LED flashlights. I've always loved the concept, but the first few generations of the S series came up short for me. I bought one of the first S1A models in Titanium and loved it, until I realized it turned on just from being in my pocket. My next was an S30 which had the opposite problem: The switch was inset too much and I'd have trouble finding the switch in the dark.

    But Olight has been evolving the designs for the whole series: changing the reflectors, switches, and even adding a USB rechargeable tail. So I'm happy to take a look at this latest generation Olight S1R Baton they provided me for review. I noticed it also comes in copper and titanium, though they don't seem to come in the rechargeable R version.

    Olight S1R Baton - Product Image


    Product Description


    The Olight S1R is a CR123 style flashlight which features a Cree XM-L2 LED emitter, and alectronic switch, and a built in charging base with included USB charging cable. It's extremely compact and sports 6 different modes. This is the cool white version.

    Olight S1R Baton - EDC Friends

    Olight S1R Baton - With H1R



    Official Specs (From Olight)


    Cree XM-L2 LED
    -The flashlight can be charged through the magnetic contact charging port (other batteries may also be used in the S1R, but cannot be charged)
    -New 750mA portable USB charging cable
    -Six output modes: 900 Lumens ~ .5 Minutes, 600 Lumens ~ 55min 300 Lumens ~ 60 Minutes, 60 Lumens ~ 4.5 Hours, 12 Lumens ~ 33 Hours, .5 Lumens ~ 15 Days
    -Flat magnetic tailcap that allows it to be secured to ferrous metal surfaces as a hands-free option
    -Lockout mode can be activated on the side switch for accidental triggering protection, along with a low-voltage indicator underneath
    -Reverse polarity protection circuits
    -Timer Setting: Short (3 minutes) and long (9 minutes)
    -The standby current is below 30uA

    DIMENSIONS

    Length: 2.6in / 64mm
    Bezel Diameter: 0.83in / 21mm
    Body Diameter: 0.78in / 20mm
    Weight: 1.27oz / 36g (excluding batteries)
    POWER SOURCE: 1 x 550mAh 3.7V 5C RCR123A (1 x CR123A Optional non rechargeable)

    WARRANTY : 5 Year warranty

    Included Accessories: 550mAh RCR123A rechargeable Li-ion battery, Lanyard, User Manual, MCC Magnetic Charging Cable , Sheath

    First Impressions


    Olight S1R Baton - Product View 1

    Olight S1R Baton - Product View 2

    Olight S1R Baton - Product View 3

    Olight S1R Baton - Product View 4

    Olight S1R Baton - Product View 5

    Olight S1R Baton - Product View 6


    It seems like they solved most of the issues that I've always had with the S series. My biggest issue with this series has always been the switch. I love electronic switches, but they are very hard to get right on a flashlight. Especially for a model that's designed to go in your pocket.

    This latest generation has a slightly inset switch but with a little rubber boot covering it, so it's much easier to find by feel in the dark. It's still not perfect, but it's as close as I've seen on a side mounted electronic switch. Feeling around for the switch in the dark, my thumb kind of sticks to the rubber boot, making it easy to know I've found the switch. I've always mounted the clip on the opposite side of the switch, which makes it even easier to find it quickly in the dark.

    Which leads me to the clip. I'm not a big fan of snap-on type clips. It's the main reason I stopped carrying the S30: the clip would pop off always at the worst time, and it was usually very annoying.

    So, the clip on this sample seems much tighter, which is what I was expecting after reviewing a couple of their new headlamps, which is basically this same form factor. In a perfect world I would like this type of clip better, because it's reversible. From what I can tell so far, the clip looks like a huge improvement!

    The evolution of the series is apparent in most other aspects of the light. It's got the rechargeable tail cap, which I like much better now that it's just a charging cable and not a base station. The anodized blue accents are nice, too. With earlier generations it looked like they were trying to make a cheap light look higher end, but taken with the other improvements, it finally gives me that impression.

    One thing I noticed right out of the box is the odd reflector and lens. I'm not even sure what to call it. Maybe a "TIR hybrid"? Flashlights with this form factor aren't made for "throw," i.e. seeing objects at at large distances. The best I can tell, this odd design is meant to squeeze every last bit out output from the light, which it seems to.

    Overall, I have a very good first impression of this review sample S1R.

    Build Quality

    Olight S1R Baton - ReflectorOlight S1R Baton - Tail



    Overall, good. Earlier generations of their S series were decent flashlights, but they always seemed a little on the cheap side for me, even the high end titanium models. And it wasn't any one thing, either. The series had a bunch of little things that all took away from the overall impression of quality.

    But now here we are in 2017, and they have been making this series for several years. And now, looking at an obviously improved product, it's not any one thing that gives me the impression of quality.

    Other than their thin anodizing I always pick on, I can't find much to pick on about the build quality. The plating on the contacts of the tail cap looks a little thin. I plan on recharging it using the charging cable, so it's a non-issue for me since I'll never be taking off the cap. I guess if you use CR123A cells and change them every day, it might be an issue.

    All the stuff I look for is there. The machining is spot-on, even down to the square threads for the tail cap. Cheap clips are a real pet peeve of mine, and I'm happy to report that this one seems much higher quality than previous generations.

    The switch has a great, solid feel. The lens / reflector setup looks well built, though it is acrylic and not glass. One pet peeve of mine is low frequency PWM. This model uses high frequency PWM on most modes, though it does run constant current on moonlight mode.

    From what I can tell, Olight listened to its customers and stepped up its game.


    Fit and Finish


    Overall, good. The anodizing on their S series (headlamps as well) has always seemed to be a little thin. At this price point it should really pop. Same with the blue anodized accents.

    The knurling is well-machined, but a little too smooth on the tail cap. You could make the argument that sharper knurling wears your pocket out, and that the tail cap doesn't need to be taken off with a rechargeable base, but I still wish the knurling was a little sharper.

    Other than that, the fit and finish is basically immaculate. The look, feel and finish of the switch seems like a big step up from earlier generations. The clip is as tight as I've ever seen on a snap-on clip.The stenciling and knurling are precise, and all the anodizing is nice and uniform.

    The LED is machine centered, though the reflector does seem to have a small aberration which doesn't affect the beam or output.

    User Interface / Modes


    The S1R has 6 modes, 3 of which are "hidden" modes: moonlight, low, medium, high, turbo, and strobe.

    Normal use: Single click the switch to turn the light on and off, and hold the switch down to cycle through low, medium and high, in that order.

    Moonlight mode: With the light off, press and hold the button, and the light will come on in moonlight mode.

    Turbo: Double click the switch at any time and the light will come on in turbo mode, whether the light is on or off when you start. The light will stay in turbo until the circuitry decides to kick it down to high mode, based on the voltage of the battery and heat.

    Strobe: Triple click the switch at any time an the light will switch to strobe mode. I'm not a huge fan of these "disco modes" but it's tucked out of the way, and it's fun to impress your friends with.

    The mode spacing is pretty good on this light. I especially look for moonlight and low modes to be as low as possible, since I usually either need a small amount of light or I just triple click to turbo.



    Output


    The output of this model on Turbo is fantastic. I don't use a light sphere to measure output, but I have lots of CRxxx sized lights to compare it to, and it's the reigning output champ of my collection. So, I have no reason to doubt any of the specs.

    Beam



    The beam on the S1R is almost pure flood, due to it's odd reflector setup. This is a light meant for closeup EDC style tasks. It has a nice, smooth beam pattern for having such a shallow reflector, due to what I can only think to call a "stippled hybrid TIR reflector" design. It's an odd design, but it works well.

    Tint



    Olight shipped me a cool white version because they were short on stock for the neutral white version I requested. For cool white models my pet peeve is lights that have an icky blue-ish or green-ish tinge. This sample has what I would call a true cool white tint, probably due to the high frequency PWM. It's pretty good for a cool white.

    The photos below are a comparison between the cool white and neutral white versions of the H1R, but my S1R has the exact tint as the cool white H1R so these photos are a good comparison for tint.



    Detachable Clip


    This model uses a snap-on type clip. I seriously didn't like the clip designs on the older Olight models because the clip detached too easily when I'd carry them around in my pocket. I've noticed that the newer models have beefier clips which fit much tighter. It's still not my favorite style of clip, but it's performed well for me so far.

    Electronic Switch


    Anyone who knows my reviews knows that I'm a huge fan of electronic switches. I'm pretty hard on my gear, and while mechanical switches have a great feel, they just don't seem to last very long with heavy use. In fact, I think the only light I still have with a mechanical switch that I've used for any period of time and is still alive, is my trusty V11R.

    The electronic switch on the S1R is well designed and well implemented. It's still not ideal finding the side switch like this by feel in the dark, but I keep the clip rotated to where the switch is on the opposite side, so I can pick it up in the dark and turn the light on without fumbling for the switch.

    Circuitry


    This model uses high frequency PWM on most of its modes except moonlight mode. While I don't really like PWM in general because it's less efficient, many manufacturers use it to improve the tint of the beam. I only use constant-current lights for survival bags, because I want every minute of run time in an emergency, but for EDC it's fine, because I can just hook it to the charger if it goes dead while looking inside a cupboard. Moonlight mode uses constant current which is good.

    Built-In Charger



    All the "R" series from Olight contain a built in charger in the base, with a USB connector that attaches to the flashlight with a magnet. I didn't get a chance to test the charging much with the H1R review, but I put this one through its paces, and it performs well.

    For my test, I used the light until the battery was dead, then connected the charger through a USB meter, which measures the charge rate as well as the voltage. Both are where I'd expect them to be, and it actually is a little aggressive with the charge rate, which I like. Most USB chargers charge in the range of 500 mAh, so it's nice to see this one bump it up a little.

    The charger cable has a little colored LED that shows red for charging and green for fully charged, which is also nice.

    Olight S1R Baton - Charge Test 1
    The numbers are right on

    Olight S1R Baton - Charge Test 2
    The included rechargeable battery is a nice touch

    Usability

    Olight S1R Baton - Magnetic Base
    I keep mine on attached to the range hood above my stove

    Olight S1R Baton - In Hand
    This is a very compact flashlight


    I've been super busy lately, but one of the benefits of taking so long to do a review is that I have spent lots of time with this flashlight. I keep the H1R and the S1R both connected to the range hood above my stove to make them easy to grab when I need them. It's a great setup but I knock one of them off almost every day and it bounces off the metal stove, sometimes when I'm cooking.

    So, durability over time, check. My S1R has several nicks from being dropped repeatedly, but nothing concerning.

    One thing I noticed with the S1R over the H1R is that the S1R stays in turbo mode much longer than its cousin before it steps down to high mode, though it does get a little warm.

    This S1R has been my go-to EDC light for 2 months, I still can't decide whether I like the S1R or the H1R better. The H1R has a switch that's easier to find by feel because it's on the top of the light, but the S1R has better output and a longer lasting turbo mode.

    Conclusions


    This is about as close to perfection as I've seen for an EDC flashlight. When I lived in a very rural area, these types of CR123A lights didn't have quite the run time I needed. But in a city or the suburbs this is pretty much my favorite form factor for EDC, with the 2xAAA form factor a close second. But the power-to-weight ratio I think is a little better for CR123A. Sometimes I carry my 2xAAA Lumintop IY365 just because those pen light type lights are slimmer in my jeans pocket. If I'm wearing a jacket or cargo pants, this S1R is always in my pocket, and I'm happy to recommend it to others. It's taken a couple drops where I thought "there's no way it survived" and it's held up well.