Thursday, May 1, 2014

Review: Nitecore HC50 [1x18650 Headlamp]

Nitecore HC50 Headlamp Product Link
Nitecore HC50 Headlamp Product Link
My sister is something of an expert on survival, having spent many years in the Peace Corps being sent to the far corners of the globe with little or no resources. She likes to give me survival advice such as "don't befriend the food" and "always have a zip-loc bag handy." One day she was looking at my flashlight collection and observed that I didn't have a single headlamp. She claims that a flashlight is virtually worthless for setting up a camp or working on a car. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but I did kind of see her point. There are definite times where it would be good to work hands free in the dark. I normally do the small flashlight in mouth trick, or clipped to the brim of a hat trick, but sometimes it's much less of a hassle to have complete movement without having to concentrate on pointing the flashlight. I wanted to buy a solid performer and I saw a review on the HC50 and liked it, so I bought one from Amazon using our Prime account as usual. This one actually came in three days, which has been happening more often.

Product Description


This is a single unit headlamp that can take either two CR123A batteries or a single 18650 lithium-ion cell. It's a single unit, meaning there's no separate head and battery pack with wires going between the two like some models. I was really intrigued by the form factor and some of the design elements, like the twin red LEDs that sit to the side of the Cree XM-L2 main LED emitter.

Being my first headlamp, I had some questions: Would an 18650 sized headlamp be too clunky? Would it be powerful enough? 18650 based flashlights are usually plenty powerful, but I've seen lots of multi-cell headlamps that seemed like they would drive the LED much harder. I may know a lot about LED flashlights, but I felt kind of out my element with my first headlamp.

Official Specs (From Amazon)


  • Purpose-designed for hiking, climbing, camping and general outdoor recreation 
  • All metal high-performance dual-beam headlamp 
  • Aluminum "unibody" construction is highly rugged and provides excellent cooling performance 
  • Utilizes a premium CREE XM-L2 (T6) LED 
  • Powered by a single 18650 lithium-ion battery for up to 565 lumens of output 
  • High-efficiency circuit provides up to 400 hours of runtime 
  • A custom catoptrics-based system produces an extremely wide 100° beam angle 
  • Light housing provides 90° vertical movement to eliminate illumination dead-zones 
  • Direct access to red light mode with a runtime of up to 145 hours 
  • Innovative single button two-stage switch is remarkably user-friendly (patented) 
  • Ten rapidly switchable brightness modes to select from 
  • Integrated red/green power indicator light displays remaining battery power (patented) 
  • Power indicator secondary function displays battery voltage accurate to 0.1V 
  • Integrated temperature sensor and intelligent temperature control ensure stable and safe use 
  • High-efficiency regulation circuit provides unwavering output 
  • Toughened ultra-clear mineral glass with anti-reflective coating 
  • Constructed from aero-grade aluminum alloy 
  • Rugged HAIII military grade hard-anodized 
  • Comfortable chafe-free and breathable nylon headband 
  • Waterproof in accordance with IPX-8 (two meters submersible) 
  • Impact resistant to 1.5 meters 
  • Tail stand capability 
  • Length: 86mm (3.39") 
  • Diameter: 32mm (1.26") 
  • Weight: 130g (4.59oz)(without battery)
From Left: Sunwayman V20C, Roche F6, EagleTac D25LC2, Nitecore HC50 Headlamp, EagleTac 3100 mAh 18650 li-ion
From Left: Sunwayman V20C, Roche F6, EagleTac D25LC2, Nitecore HC50 Headlamp, EagleTac 3100 mAh 18650 li-ion
Nitecore HC50 Headlamp Unboxed

Nitecore HC50 Headlamp View 1

Nitecore HC50 Headlamp View 2

Nitecore HC50 Headlamp View 3
Nitecore HC50 Headlamp With Cap Off

Nitecore HC50 Headlamp With Cap Off 2
Nitecore HC50 Headlamp Tube 2Nitecore HC50 Headlamp Tube 1Nitecore HC50 Headlamp Button Lit



Nitecore HC50 Headlamp CapNitecore HC50 Headlamp BaseNitecore HC50 Headlamp Button Un-Lit




Nitecore HC50 Headlamp Battery Tube Closeup

Initial Impressions


Opening the box, I noticed the headlamp itself was a bit more compact than I had expected. I slipped the band over my head and ... it fit my head perfectly, and was surprisingly comfortable. As this is my first headlamp, I have nothing to compare it to, but I know what comfortable is.

I'm not ashamed to say that I needed to look at the instructions for how to use the modes. The HC50 comes with a two stage switch (like a camera) which Nitecore has used in other products like the EA4 and EA8, but with a twist: this one uses a two-stage reverse clicky. It takes some getting used to the switch and the interface. For example, to activate the red LEDs you need to full-click and hold the switch. Once the red LEDs come on, you can switch between solid and blinking by a half-click on the switch.

Build Quality


This appears to be a well-built product. Nitecore has really stepped up its game lately after having some quality missteps with some of their past models. No such problems with my build sample. It hits all the standard quality points I'd expect like good machining, square threads and a nice thick anodizing job.

Fit and Finish


Just like the Nitecore SRT3 I reviewed not too long ago, the fit and finish on my HC50 is near perfect. What's more impressive is that unlike my SRT3, this isn't even a high end headlamp, clocking in at only about 60 bucks.

The main XM-L2 LED is well centered in the reflector and my sample hits all the fit and finish points I'd expect on a higher end flashlight, such as well-lubed, anodized threads. The unit itself came without a single scratch, tool mark or scuff on the finish. The reflector and lens look flawless and I can see the blue tinge of the anti-reflective coating on the lens.

There was a little bit of what looked like flecks of white plastic stuck to the inside of the battery compartment, which I managed to rub off with just my fingers. That is as close as I can come to finding a flaw in the fit and finish. This is one of those happy surprises I wasn't expecting to see for 60 bucks.

Nitecore HC50 Headlamp Battery Emitter Closeup
The XM-L2 LED emitter on mine is well centered
Nitecore HC50 Headlamp Battery Threads Closeup
Square cut threads
Nitecore HC50 Headlamp Anti-Roll Feature
Nice anti-roll feature

User Interface


The HC50 features a two stage switch like you'd find on a camera, with a twist: The first stage is a reverse switch, where the second stage is a forward switch. It sounds complicated but it's actually more intuitive than I'm making it sound.

When the unit is powered off, quickly depressing the switch all the way powers on the main emitter, as well as a colored LED under the semi-translucent switch boot, giving you a green or red battery power indicator. Once the main emitter is powering on, half pressing the switch will cycle between low 1, low 2, medium, high and turbo.

To access the red LEDs, press and hold the switch all the way down with the unit powered off for a full second. With the red LEDs powered on, half-pressing the switch will cycle between blinking and steady red lights.

Beam shots below taken at ISO 100 f/5.6 1/4 sec. WB=Daylight



Batteries


Like other flashlights and headlamps with this form factor, the HC50 can take 2 CR123A primary batteries, 2 16340 lithium-ion batteries, or a single 18650 lithium ion battery. The ability to take the primary batteries is appealing because they have a 10 year shelf life and are still commonly used in cameras, so this model is a good candidate for my disaster bag along with a pack of CR123A batteries.

To put the batteries in the unit, take off the cap opposite the switch and put your batteries in positive side forward. There is reverse polarity protection on the unit so you will want to use button-top batteries. There's also a pin that has to be aligned in order to put the cap. It's required because the battery sits offset so the spring must be offset as well.

When you screw the cap on, the green switch indicator will flash two sequences to tell you the voltage of the battery. The first sequence is volts and the second sequence is tenth of volts. With an 18650 hot off the charger it should flash four times, pause and flash twice, telling you that the battery is reading 4.2 volts.

Run Times


Run times go here.

Usability


Since my vehicles haven't broken down and I haven't needed to set anything up in the dark since I purchased this product, it's been hard to find ways to test it. A few times I've randomly worn it around the house, which has earned some snarky comments from the missus. I've also used it cleaning and organizing the house and it was surprisingly useful. While I haven't worn it for hours on end, I have worn it plenty, and it's surprisingly comfortable. From talking to folks on the flashlight boards, Nitecore was making headlamp bands long before they started making actual headlamps, and I can believe it.

Nitecore HC50 Headlamp Mark 1

Nitecore HC50 Headlamp Mark 2


Conclusions


This is not only my first headlamp, but it's Nitecore's first headlamp as well. I may not be a headlamp expert, but I do know a thing or two about design, and this seems like a great design. A lot of other headlamp designs have a separate head unit and battery pack, with wires that run the length of the head band. Those split designs have more points of failure, and you can't use the unit separate from the head band. The HC50 is a completely self-contained unit.

I was really worried that this particular 18650 form factor would be too lopsided on my head and wouldn't be comfortable, but it's very comfortable. This headlamp won't cure me of my addiction to flashlights any time soon, but I am very glad that I purchased it. The next time I need to fix something or setup something in the dark--and it'll happen--this will definitely be the first thing I reach for.

In conclusion, the HC50 is well-designed, well-built, functional and comfortable. The red LEDs aren't really my thing but they don't get in the way of the main LED or take any functionality away. The two stage switch took a little getting used to but now I like it. I tend to always be able to find something wrong (which is why nobody is lining up to send me free samples) but in this case it's hard to find anything to pick on. Unlike the Nitecore SRT3, which had some design features I didn't really like but had a perfect fit and finish, this one combines a near perfect design with a perfect fit and finish. I've started to order more headlamps to play around with, but it's hard to see this one being dethroned for a while.

Gallery

Nitecore HC50 Headlamp Box 1Nitecore HC50 Headlamp Box 2



Nitecore HC50 Headlamp Next To Ruler

Nitecore HC50 Headlamp On Scale

Nitecore HC50 Headlamp Logo Closeup 1

Nitecore HC50 Headlamp Logo Closeup 2





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