Reviewer's Note: The Titanium Innovations L35 HID was provided by MattK of batteryjunction.com.
Warning: very pic heavy, as always
This is my first HID review, so be gentle. We all have to start somewhere!
For those of you unfamiliar with HID (High Intensity Discharge) bulbs, they are basically a type of electrical lamp that produces a very white light by creating an arc between tungsten electrodes inside a transparent tube filled gas and metal salts. I believe they first came into wide usage on some very high-end car headlights. In fact, I suspect a lot of what people assumed to be “halogen” headlights on BMW, Mercedes and others a couple years back were in fact HIDs (early ones tended to be more towards the cool-end of the color temperature spectrum – ~6000-7000K - but they now come in warmer color temperatures as well). The L35 comes with the popular 4200K warm temperature HID (i.e. closer to "sunlight"), which may provide better color rendition and separation.
HID bulbs are also used in portable carrying devices (i.e. spotlights) because they don’t have filaments (and are therefore vibrationally stable) and are more efficient than incandescent bulbs. But they do require a ballast to act as step-up voltage transformer to generate the power needed for strong headlight output. In other words, they are going to be bulkier than your standard 2xAA.
The Titanium Innovations L35 reviewed here is a new model produced by Battery Junction, and could be considered as a successor to the older Amondotech N30 “budget” HID. Although the overall form-factor looks similar, there have been a lot of improvements (including the addition of a Li-ion battery pack, revised reflector design, better quality materials and construction, enhanced water-resistance, safety test certified, etc.).
Specs (from the manufacturer's website at batteryjunction.com):
- 3500 Lumen HID lamp with considerable throw
- Reflector optimized for a mix of throw and spill/flood with a Hardened glass lens
- Secondary LED array for short-range or emergency use.
- High Impact ABS thermoplastic housing with matte black rubberized finish
- Memory-free, maintenance-free & relatively lightweight Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery pack - can be recharged up to 500 times. Field changeable - buy extra batteries for extended runtimes
- Increased weather resistance
- Footed base for hands-free use
- 100-240V 50-60Hz Autoswitching AC adapter included - works worldwide with only a plug adapter. (European version has a standard 2 pin plug)
- 12V DC Car Charger included
- LED Battery Status Checker: Shows remaining battery life on button press
- LED Charge Status Indicator displays charging status shows red for charging, green for charged
- Safety tested and certified by ETL Labs. CE & RoHS compliant (lead free) for the EU market
- Weight is just under 3 pounds at 2lbs 13.5oz (1.285Kg)
Current Battery Junction sale price ~$285 (with CPF discount).
Inside the box, you will find the L35 (with Li-ion battery installed) carefully packaged in layers of cut-out heavy Styrofoam, along with an auto-switching 100-240V AC/DC power adapter, 12V DC car adapter, user manual and warning sheet (which reminds you to read the manual!).
The important point here is that the battery is shipped in a low-charge state (which is better for long-term storage of Li-ions). This is likely to be pretty close to the cut-off point for HID ignition, so odds are you will not even be able the fire up the light if it’s been sitting around for awhile on its way to you. In my case, the battery had dropped low enough to trigger the protection circuit. As instructed, you should fully charge the battery before trying to turn on the light. Typically, a full charge cycle should take a little over 8 hours with the supplied AC/DC power cord (do NOT attempt to use another one) – and may take longer the first time (again, see my discussion comments later in this review).
The key part to this light is the HID bulb, shown in the centre of the metal reflector, behind a glass lens. The reflector is actually fairly shallow for a light of this size. Surrounding the head is a rubberized bezel cover to help protect the light from impacts.
At the top of the light, where the handle is, you will find a small array of seven 5mm LEDs. These serve as general purpose light for short-range work (e.g. map reading, near-field illumination) or as a backup light should you run out of power to fire the HID. The main HID and secondary LEDs are controlled by two separate toggle power switches on other side of the handle. Let’s take a closer look at that HID …
As you can see in the pic above, there is an encased wire that runs from the back to the front of the bulb - this is the ignition wire. As you might expect, it will cast a bit of a shadow in the spillbeam (scroll down for beamshots). Should you ever open the head, be careful you don’t damage this wire or the actual HID bulb.
Speaking of opening the head, a word of caution here. The Li-ion battery pack powers a ballast that is used to raise the voltage up to the range where it will fire the bulb, which in this case is around 23KV. The advantage to this design is that technically both the bulb and ballast are potentially user-replaceable should either fail. But note the manufacturer does NOT recommend you do this yourself – after all, a 23KV ballast can store up quite a bit of energy, resulting in a very nasty electric shock should you accidentally discharge it. Be safe!
The back of the light is where you can access the removable Li-ion power pack. There is a battery test button and four LEDs to tell you the charge status. Beneath the fourth LED is the smaller charging indicator LED. To the right is the charging port, with a snap cover in place.
The key LED here is the charging status LED – it will switch from red to green during charging to let you know when the battery is fully charged. The battery test feature is really only useful for letting you know if the battery is still fully charged or not. Upon a test button press, the fourth LED (green) will only light up when the unit is fresh off the charger – anything more than a minute or so of runtime, and you will drop down to the 3 LEDs indicators (i.e. red, amber, green). From my testing, by the time the cell is about 1/3rd depleted (i.e. still has 2/3rd of the original capacity), you will only have the first red LED showing. The battery indicator will continue to show the single red LED until the protection circuitry is triggered, at which point even the battery indicator won’t function. So it is clearly not a very useful indicator of overall battery charge status – think of it more as an indicator to let you know if the battery is still relatively fully charged.
The Li-ion battery pack is meant to be user-removable, as you could buy and carry extra ones with you on extended trips. The battery can charge independently, even when not installed in the light.
In case anyone is curious, my battery pack reads at 12.7V when fully charged (I’ve seen reports in the 12.5-12.8V range, so this seems normal). The protection circuit seems to be tripped somewhere around 9.4V.
Overall build feels quite good to me. The light is sturdy and solid feeling, and all the parts fit together well. The handle, body tube and front bezel ring are particularly “grippy”, with a feel similar to what you'd find on some rubberized kitchen utensils. Size and weight are actually a lower than I expected, given the output (the 3 pound weight estimate feels about right). This latter point is significant, as it means that I can actually see myself carrying this unit around places.
There are two on/off toggle switches to control the light, located in the front sides of the handle. On my sample, the one on the left (looking down at the light in your hand) controls the HID, the one on the right controls the secondary LED array.
Note one peculiarity about HID bulbs – they take seconds to minutes to warm up to their max output and actual rated color temperature. I will show you full runtimes in a moment, but here’s a graph showing you the output for first 60 seconds after ignition.
As you can see, the HID doesn’t reach max output until at least 30 secs into the run. Even then, color temperature has not fully stabilized. To show you what I mean, I have taken a video of the first minute or so - click on the YouTube image below or this link to view it.
But first note that my camera automatically adjusts to overall light exposure, so you can’t gauge output by the video (i.e. shutter and f-stop keep adjusting to compensate as the HID output increases). My office wall used in this video is a pale yellow-beige color (the baseboard is a high gloss white), and the video was taken in diffuse daylight conditions.
As you will see, after an initial pinkish flash, the light turns a blue-cyan color that gradually warms to a warm yellow over time. The video is about 70 secs, and once it loads you can slide the view slider back and forth to see how it looks at various points over that time period. As you will see, the beam continues to get quite a bit warmer well after the max output of 30 secs is reached.
It probably takes a couple of mins to truly stabilize at its final color temp (~4200K in this case). Once it does so, it will remain constant for the length of the run. But if you flick it off and back on again you will restart the output/color ramp.
Note that the secondary light (white LED array) can still work for a long time even when the battery is nearly exhausted. However, if you actually let the HID drain the battery to the point when the protection circuitry is triggered, you will NOT be able activate the secondary LED array (or the battery test button for that matter – everything is shut down). You will need to at least begin a recharge cycle to get the battery voltage “over the hump” necessary to activate the secondary LED array. Just one second of charging is sufficient to release the circuit lock-out and allow you to use the LED light (in fact, my LED array ran for several hours at this point before I manually turned it off and started a full charge cycle).
(from left to right, 1x18650 battery, Lumapower MRV, L35, SunForce 1M CP spotlight)
I’m afraid this is my first HID, so I don’t have much to compare it to.
I do have a common $15 “1M candle power” spotlight (from SunForce in my case, but they are all pretty much the same). Typically, these come with a cheap automotive headlight bulb and a small rechargeable sealed lead-acid battery. Charge time is typically in the range of 15-20 hours, and total runtime is (at best) 30 mins direct-drive on a full charge. Reflectors are usually designed for max throw with little flood, but you shouldn’t expect a very pretty beam pattern – they typically have a lot of artifacts and can be rather distorted. What can I say - they are cheap, but they do put out a reasonable amount of light for a short period of time (as you’d expect for a small handheld car headlight and battery).
Not shown above, but I’ve decided to also include my JetBeam M1X in these comparisons, since it is the closest thing I have to a spotlight in the LED category. The M1X features a well-driven M-CE emitter and reflector optimized for throw – see its own review here.
For all the beamshot and quantitative testing below, the M1X and L35 were tested after 2 minutes of continuous runtime (to let them reach their regulated output levels). The 1M CP spotlight was measured immediately, since it decays in a direct-drive fashion.
I don’t think white wall shots mean much with a HID, but I thought I’d add in a quick comparison. Distance is about 0.5 meters from a white wall, with the M1X on max on 2x18650.
As you can see, the HID really lights up my closet! The L35 spillbeam is actually wider than the camera’s field of view. Not much you can tell about the beam, but you can notice the ignition wire shadow reflected in the top part of the spill. There are also a few artifacts in the beam up close, but these won’t really matter to you in practice (I don’t imagine you will typically be illuminating things two feet from your nose ). Because of the settling of the metal salts inside the HID bulb, you may see some color variation in the beam from top to bottom. In my case, there is a blue-green center to the hotspot, and yellow along the bottom margin (the latter settles with gravity if you rotate the beam around).
For outdoor shots, here are some longer exposures to help you better compare the beam patterns. What you are looking at below is a point ~30 feet from the lights.
Clearly, the HID does great job at smoothly lighting up my whole yard (and then some), with a strong hotspot. In contrast, the 1M CP spotlight throws an irregularly-shaped, narrow yellow beam. The M1X casts a good quality beam over a wide area, with good throw, but is nowhere near the L35 output.
Here are some lower exposures to show you the hotspots:
As you can see, the M1X and 1M CP spotlight have about the same throw – whereas the HID is a whole ‘nother ball game.
UPDATE: To give you a better idea of the strong "flood" characteristic of the L35, here is an up-close side beam shot of the primary HID and secondary LED array (the latter taken at higher exposure settings, of course compared to the M1X and 1M CP:
Note the exposure settings are lower for the remaining pics below, to better show off the beam pattern.
The point here is that while the secondary LED array is indeed very "floody" with not much of a hotspot, the beam width of the HID is even wider (i.e. approaching 180 degrees). This is much wider than the 1M CP or M1X (although the MIX does indeed have a faint spill at up to 180 degrees).
UPDATE: Some additional long-distance beamshots, to show you how the light compares to others in its class.
Please see my recent 100-yard Outdoor Beamshot review for more details (and additional lights).
Testing Method: All my output numbers are relative for my home-made light box setup, a la Quickbeam's flashlightreviews.com method. You can directly compare all my relative output values from different reviews - i.e. an output value of "10" in one graph is the same as "10" in another. All runtimes are done under a cooling fan.
Throw values are the square-root of lux measurements taken at 5 meters from the lens, using a light meter, and then extrapolated back to estimate values for 1 meter.
Throw/Output Summary Chart:
As with all my high-output “throwy” LED lights, I don't believe measuring raw lux at 1 meter means a lot any more. The beams don't really have a chance to fully converge until typically several meters out, so I am now taking readings at 5 meters and calculating back to an estimated throw/lux at 1 meter (the common reporting standard).
The 1M CP spotlight is indeed in the same range as the M1X in terms of throw and output, but the HID’s throw weighs in at a remarkable >230K lux (estimated). Ceiling bounce test is similarly stratospheric – more than six times the output of the other two lights.
Note that I can only provide lightbox estimates for the 1M CP spotlight and L35 HID, since their heads are too big to fit inside by milk carton lightbox. What I’ve done for runtimes is positioned the larger lights an inch from the opening of my lightbox, and adjusted the recorded values to the ceiling bounce relative results. This is NOT meant to provide hyper-accurate estimates of output, but it does give you a reasonable good idea of relative performance over the runs.
I haven't done comparison pics of the secondary LED array, but I find this puts out a good amount of "floody" light for relatively up-close tasks. Overall output is around the level of a typical Lo-Med setting on a 1xCR123A or 2xAA light, which is very useable for all sorts of tasks. Tint is slightly bluish, but not as bad as some other 5mm LEDs I've seen. As for runtimes, I would easily expect months of continuous use on a reasonable battery charge - I ran it for several hours at a point just above the battery protection circuit cut-off without problems.
The 1M CP spotlight shows a typical non-regulated decay pattern, and the run was manually stopped at 30mins to prevent it from over-discharging the built-in lead-acid battery. The JetBeam M1X has a nice regulated pattern on 2x18650.
But the real star here is the HID. After the initial 30 sec climb to max output, the light maintained regulated output until the protection circuit cut-out at 108 mins into the run. Note that this runtime was performed after my second complete discharge/recharge of the Li-ion battery pack (my first run was done in segments to gauge the battery tester function). My third continuous runtime lasted 108 mins as well.
The battery testing feature really only provides an estimate of whether or not the battery is fully charged (i.e. it does not report the overall charge level, as you might expect). Its use is really to let you know if you should top-up the charge of the battery before heading out to an area where AC or DC power is not readily available.
Triggering the protection circuit when running down the battery on the HID will prevent you from switching to the secondary LED array (unless you are near a power outlet and can briefly start a charging cycle). Given that the battery indicator doesn’t differentiate between a half charge and a nearly depleted battery, it may be hard for you to estimate when you are near to triggering the protection circuit. As long as you haven’t actually triggered the protection circuit, you can easily expect hours to days of runtime on the secondary LED (even on a nearly depleted battery).
The battery pack should take about 8 hours (+/- half an hour) to fully charge a depleted cell. But like a few other users here, mine consistently takes ~14.5 hours. I’m in contact with Matt on the issue, and will let you know of any updates I receive.
There’s only so much I can say at this point, given that I don’t have other HIDs to compare to. The L35 has a great beam with excellent throw and decent spill, fairly rugged construction with good build features, and a powerful and long-lasting battery pack. I would have to say I hadn’t expected this much output or this nice a beam pattern, given my experience with the cheaper 1M CP handhelds. It is also smaller and lighter than I expected, which is a big bonus for portability. I can honestly see this thing getting a lot of use (not so sure if I'd want to lug around some of the heavier competition ).
For those who aren’t familiar with HIDs, they certainly provide remarkable output for a handheld device. The bulbs do have a few quirks (i.e. the color-shift and output increase during the first few minutes after ignition), but their efficiency and stability makes them a good choice for spotlights. Obviously LEDs don’t compare as yet - although some of the newer M-CE lights can at least perform on par with the 1M CP handhelds.
The L35 shares a superficially similar overall form factor with the classic entry-level budget HID, the N30. But I believe the numerous build upgrades to this light (detailed in the various discussion threads here and on CPFMP) are significant. No, you are not getting a $1K-quality HID spotlight here, but you are getting a nicely performing HID in a reasonably small size with a decent feature set. It seems to me that the L35 offers more than just “budget” HID features, and I am sure it will be popular with members here.
Bottom line, the L35 has certainly met my expectations (as a HID neophyte ). There are obviously still a few quirks to be worked out in terms of the consistency of charging times, but the ability to buy extra batteries (that can charge independently from the actual light) is also plus in this regard. The storage capacity and perfectly flat regulation of the Li-ion power pack is also impressive. Some of the things I never liked about my 1M CP spotlight were its direct drive output/runtime and heavy, limited-lifespan sealed lead acid battery. The L35's battery solution is much more in keeping with what I would want to see in a HID. Combined the rugged design and relative low weight, I could see this light getting a fair amount of use in the real world.
I’m planning to do some longer distance shots to better compare the outputs – these will be added to the review when they are done.
P.S. One additional point I forgot to mention in the review - I'm pleasantly surprised at the relatively low heat level of the light, even when doing full discharge runtimes. Honestly, I had expected the body of the light to get a lot hotter than it did (note though that the lens does get quite hot - I wouldn't recommend touching it during use ). Matt informs me that the L35's body is molded from a high grade ABS thermoplastic resin that is flame retardent and rated to over 220 degrees farenheit.