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.

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