PK Design Lab
Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 30 of 34

Thread: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

  1. #1
    Flashaholic* Bolster's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Mexifornia
    Posts
    1,505

    Default To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp.

    Many people shopping for a headlamp ask: “What’s the best headlamp?” There’s no global answer to this question, because the headlamp that’s right for you, depends almost entirely on your intended use. Answer each of the questions below, and you’ll get much better, targeted, customized answers from the CPF forum.

    1. Beam angle: Do you need throw, flood, either, or both?

    Throw: Are you moving quickly through dark spaces, like a kayaker, night skier, or bicyclist? Are you on a search and rescue team, where your hands are full but you need to be seeing into the distance? Are you a surgeon looking into a small space? Than you want a beam that throws a spot. Spot headlamps are a specialty need, since most enthusiasts want a headlamp to provide a floody beam or a mixed beam, preferring a handheld for throw.

    Flood: Are you working with your hands? Setting up camp? Doing crawlspace, attic, or electrical work in dark places? Jogging at night, and don’t want the “bouncing ball” effect? Working as an emergency tech, or underneath your car? Reading in bed? Or any other activity that requires peripheral vision? Then you want a floody, wide, even beam of 60-120 degrees that gives you lots of peripheral vision, lit at the same level as the center of your vision. Many inexpensive lights are sold as “flood” that have narrow beams of 30 or 40 degrees, so beware the claim. A narrow flood can be a disadvantage, requiring you to swivel your neck a lot to illuminate a close-up view. But, depending on your task, a narrow flood can also be an advantage (for example, using the computer at night--narrow flood lights just the keyboard but not the screen. Trail hikers also seem to appreciate relatively narrow floods).

    Do you want either flood OR throw? There are many inexpensive lights that will switch between beams, some better than others. Low-end lights that are both spot and flood usually employ compromises, compared to purpose-built lights. The manufacturer Spark has been innovating with interchangeable screw-on bezels that can change the light pattern from say, 115-degree flood, to an 18 spot/70 spill, giving you two “dedicated” lights with a bezel change. And then there are two-emitter high-end caver’s lights that do both tasks simply and brilliantly.

    Do you want both flood AND throw, simultaneously? Variously called “directional flood,” or “spot with spill,” it’s a compromise between flood and throw. Lots of models provide this function. Many put a hotspot in the center of a spill beam, but some (Petzl Pixa 2, 3 & 4) place a hotspot at the top of a spill beam. Others just fade gradually from bright center to flood. A few actually throw an even but narrow flood beam. These directional flood or spot-with-spill beams are often preferred by people who walk trails at night. But don’t try to read with them...it’s a frustrating experience.

    2. Battery type -- a majority of modern LED headlamps run on either AAA, AA, or CR123. (There are specialty cell sizes, too.) CR123 have the energy/size advantage, are getting easier to find in U.S. stores, and are pricier. If you weight performance over accessibility, then consider CR123s. If you’re traveling to out-of-the-way places, and not carrying cells with you, you probably want to stick to AAA and AA. Many enthusiasts seek 1xAA and 2xAA lights (which require more expensive circuitry to boost the voltage necessary to light the LED) because of the ubiquity and power of AA cells. In top quality lights, 1xAA cells are approaching the output of CR123 lights--the performance gap is closing. Others prefer AAA cells because of smaller size (although 3 are often called for) and the less expensive headlamps that can be built around them. Specialty rechargeable li-ion cells such as 18650s, 14500s, and others give high power options to enthusiasts willing to accept the additional care, risk, and hardware to run them. (Users of rechargeable li-ions are urged to thoroughly educate themselves in the ‘batteries’ subforum before purchasing.)

    3. Battery placement -- do you want a small, minimalist headlamp that feels like you’re just wearing a hat? Want to be able to lie down while using the headlamp? Then you want an up-front battery placement, perhaps a 1xAA, 2xAA, 3xAAA, or 1xCR123 or 1x18650. Do you want powerful light and long runtimes? Wearing a helmet? Not lying down? Don’t mind the weight on your head? Then you should consider back-of-the-head battery placement, or a belt-mounted battery pack with a connecting cable. The latter is necessary if you are in cold climates and need to keep your batteries warm. Be aware that cables are the source of failures and frustration, however.

    4. Beam tint & artifacts -- more and more enthusiasts are turning to neutral, warm, or high CRI tints in LEDs as top manufacturers make them available. They excel in the out-of-doors, where they allow the user to better distinguish shades of brown and green, and also for workers who must distinguish colors (of electrical wires, for example). They’re currently not as bright as cool-tints. Enthusiasts tend to shun green and purple tints which are frequently found in the cheap headlights available at the big box stores. Blue tints, a.k.a. ‘cool tint,’ are readily available and preferred by some for their brilliance. Beams with no discernible tint are highly sought after. Recently coming to the market, high-CRI lights (which come in a variety of tints from neutral to warm) attempt to more closely mimic the full spectrum of color that incans are blessed with, and do a better job of illuminating browns, oranges, aquas and reds; red emissions are particularly weak for traditional inexpensive white LEDs. Tint is very much an area of personal preference, as well as task. For example, does tint really matter when you’re using the light to read a book? But once you determine your tint preference, you may find tint preference becomes more important than a light’s brightness. It’s common to see enthusiasts giving up lumens for a preferred tint.




    Specialty red and green LEDs are available for people (such as astronomers, soldiers, sailors, and hunters) who are trying to retain night vision. Some manufacturers build a red LED into multi-beam lights, promising an all-in-one solution. However there are ongoing discussions here on CPF that Night Vision Green (NVG) may be superior, or that really deep reds are superior to the common orange-reds found on expensive lights. It’s important that night vision lights go low enough, so look for sub-lumen options. It’s been stated here on CPF many times that once you can see color, your light’s too bright for night-vision use.

    Many enthusiasts are intolerant of beam artifacts of any sort. Most manufacturers have figured out how to eliminate them. Mild artifacts are of little consequence if you’re hiking at night, but can be annoying if you’re trying to read with them, or check paint coverage on a wall, etc. Artifacts become worse at closer distances & on even surfaces.

    5. Brightness required (often discussed as lumens) depends on usage. Newbies think that brighter is always better, and sometimes, that’s true. Bicyclists, joggers, search-and-rescue, and cavers generally can’t get enough light, and crave multi-hundred (or even thousand) lumen headlamps. Newbies also tend to chase small increases in lumens between one light and another, relying on “brightest is best” as a judgment shortcut. But it’s a misleading rule of thumb, because the eye does not perceive brightness in a linear fashion (some say it’s a logarithmic relationship, other say it’s a 2nd power relationship, others say the relationship depends on the amount of ambient light, etc). Long story short: don’t chase small percentage increases in brightness. A 10-20% increase in intensity may be marginally detectable, if you’re concentrating on seeing a difference in a side-by-side or sequential test between two identical tints and beams in a controlled experiment. All else held equivalent, it takes around 100% increase in lumens before a beam looks significantly brighter (appearing about one-quarter brighter to the eye); this is a practical threshold at which you may wish to consider an upgrade on brightness alone. Intensity needs to be 300% to 400% to look twice as bright. And yes, a light can be too bright. If you are working in a crawlspace or attic, you may find anything above 50 lumens is too bright. If you’re reading in the dark, 10 lumens can be too bright. If you’re on a sailboat at night, observing stars, checking on your sleeping kids, or otherwise trying to preserve your night vision, you’ll probably find 1 lumen too bright. So make sure your light goes as low as you need it, not just as high as you need it. Enthusiasts value lights that will go to “sub-lumen” levels.

    6. Runtime & Regulation. Everybody wants the longest runtime possible, but it’s a compromise with brightness and your battery choice. If you work with your light from 8 to noon, then a 4-hour runtime would be important. If you’re caving all day long, then you’ll want a much longer runtime (and larger battery pack). If you can stop at any time to change a battery, then you’re fortunate, and can purchase a lightweight headlamp. 18650 cells give some of the longest runtimes available for headlamps. Enthusiasts tend to value regulated lights, where the brightness is kept at a constant output until the cells are exhausted. Regulation combats the “starts out too bright and then gets too dim” issue with yesteryear’s lights. But beware that some regulated lights suddenly extinguish, rather than dim gradually, which can be irritating or downright dangerous for some tasks. Unregulated lights are generally cheaper.

    7. Do you need a waterproof headlamp? If there’s a chance your lamp will get wet, or immersed, better look for a high IP rating. IP stands for either “International Protection” or “Ingress Protection,” depending on your source. Following IP, the first digit rates protection against dust (X = not measured, 0 = no protection, up to 5 = protected against dust, highest 6 = completely protected). The second measures protection against liquids (0 = not protected, 3 = rain, 4 = spray from any direction, 5 = water jets, 6 = forceful hose-projected water, 7 = 30 min immersion <1 meter, highest 8 = prolonged immersion deeper than 1 meter as defined by mfgr). So the highest possible rating would be IP68, but headlamp ratings often skip the dust rating, so IPX8 would be a good rating for a waterproof headlamp.

    8. Headband Attachment & Comfort. Your ability to move the headlamp up and down to illuminate your work becomes a vital issue, particularly if the beam is narrow. Narrow-beam headlamps (say, 40 and less) require constant adjustment for close tasks. Some lights use a click-stop adjustment, with plastic against plastic. Be suspect of these if you plan heavy use. Other headlamp mounts encircle the round body with rings of silicone, rubber, or plastic, allowing simple and long-lasting up/down adjustment from friction fit alone. Still others allow you to remove the light from its mount to use as a handheld, clip in a pocket, or set on the ground. Attachment adjustment and versatility is an important consideration, so don’t ignore it. You’ll understand when you get a loose adjustment that’s always dropping the light to illuminate the tip of your nose. Regarding the headstrap band itself, you want an adjustable, flexible strap that nonetheless holds firmly, but without giving you a headache. If your lamp is on the heavy side you’ll want an additional strap over the top of the head. The point of contact with the forehead is critical. Whether silicone, closed-cell-foam, open-cell foam, or other, try the strap before you buy, remembering that it will get more uncomfortable with long-term use. An uncomfortable strap gets old...quickly.

    9. User Interface. This is a minor issue to some, and a major issue to others. A frustrating user interface will, for example, require you to click through all modes to find the one you want...perhaps starting at the highest and blasting your night adapted vision in the process. Human-friendly interfaces get you to the mode you want with speed and ease. Many enthusiasts like the knob-style dials that are starting to appear on lights: they’re simple and easy to dial in the precise illumination wanted; yet they can inadvertently move the focus of the light in the process.

    10. Price & Reliability. These two factors are highly correlated. The least expensive but still functional lights will typically use 3xAAA to get voltage above the magic 4 volts needed to light an LED. Lights become more expensive as regulation and boost circuits are added (which allow an LED to be lit by a singe AA cell, for example). Quality multifunction lights are often pricier, as are lights with desirable beam tints, high-CRI, made in U.S.A., high brightness, and so on. The more expensive lights are generally thought to be brighter, more robust, with better seals, precision threads, sturdy electronics, larger heat-sinks, more aluminum and less plastic, O-rings, better tint, better warranty service, etc. Some lights have a known pedigree of quality. You have a wide range of quality lights to choose from in the $50-$120 range, although some lights provide remarkable value for as little as $20. In the range of $100 to $1000 are fabulously bright, sturdy lights that appeal to professionals, cavers, and others form whom performance is mission-critical. And of course you can have a custom light made to suit your particular needs, by contacting one of CPF’s custom builders.
    Last edited by Bolster; 11-28-2012 at 12:41 PM.

  2. #2

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    wow, that's fantastic! Great list, well written. I can only think of two possible additional criteria:

    1. Robustness and reliability. Some headlamps and manufacturers have a well established track record of solid engineering and high quality construction. If you have a mission-critical use where light failure has significant consequences, you may prioritize this over other considerations.

    2. Flexibility of use. Do you want a headlamp that can only function as a headlamp, or would you occasionally like to set it on the ground or hold it in your hand, or carry some other way?

    Ted

  3. #3
    Flashaholic* Bolster's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Mexifornia
    Posts
    1,505

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    Good points! I've rewritten #9 and #10 to include those factors. Thanks!
    Last edited by Bolster; 04-17-2011 at 06:42 PM.

  4. #4
    Flashaholic Glock27's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Central Missouri
    Posts
    396

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    Related to reliability: Warranty. If something goes wrong, where is it fixed and how long does it take?

    G27

  5. #5
    Flashaholic* Bolster's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Mexifornia
    Posts
    1,505

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    Added a segment on UI. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed that UI was important enough to include. The UI on my inexpensive Energizer 7-LED light is bad enough that I tend not to use it. Too many clickies for various modes that are nearly indistinguishable, and no control of brightness.
    Last edited by Bolster; 04-19-2011 at 01:13 PM.

  6. #6
    *Flashaholic* carrot's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Location
    New York City
    Posts
    8,957

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    Bolster, this is awesome. It should be stickied.
    [gearcarrot.com] Collector and distributor of (mis)information.
    The Guide to High-End Lights | Flashlight Story Collection updated Sept 28
    CPF Specials | 4sevens | LED Testing | EDCF | #cpf

  7. #7

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    Quote Originally Posted by carrot View Post
    Bolster, this is awesome. It should be stickied.
    +1 request to have this stickied.

  8. #8
    Flashaholic
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Oregon
    Posts
    402

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    I agree that this should be a sticky. It is still easy to find, but when it moves off the front page it's going to be hard to find. It's such a great introduction to the topic of headlamps.
    Looking for something, use a handheld. Actually doing something, you need a headlamp.

  9. #9
    Enlightened Artem's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Melbourne
    Posts
    32

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    Quote Originally Posted by Bolster View Post
    Longtimers: Having seen a lot of “What headlamp should I buy” questions from visitors on the headlamp subforum, I decided to make a list of questions that purchasers should consider before purchasing.
    This is a brilliant post, thanks for the effort!

    I keep noticing tidbits like this one in few forums actually, and that makes me wonder if it all could be consolidated into some sort of a Wiki?

  10. #10
    Flashaholic* Dioni's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Location
    Law Enforcement Front, Brazil
    Posts
    1,379

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    Great post!

  11. #11

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    +1 sticky all great points there

  12. #12

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    Awesome post, Bolster. Very well written indeed!

  13. #13

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    bump to request addition to "Threads of interest".

  14. #14
    Super Moderator
    DM51's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Location
    Borg cube #51
    Posts
    13,341

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    Quote Originally Posted by robostudent5000 View Post
    bump to request addition to "Threads of interest".
    Excellent suggestion - included!

    Edit: There were earlier posts recommending that this should be stickied; obviously, no staff member picked up on these - unfortunately, we don't have enough time available to read every post on CPF.

    The irony is that a peaceful and well-bahaved forum such as this one attracts less attention from moderators, and can sometimes be neglected for a while. That seems to be what happened here. It is good to see the Headlamps section ticking along so well, with fine contributions from members.

    Please feel free to PM me or any other moderator member with suggestions you may have for additions to the sticky thread.
    Last edited by DM51; 06-03-2011 at 04:11 AM.
    Resistance is futile...

  15. #15

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    Thanks OP!!! i am looking for a headlamp and came across this. Great post!

  16. #16
    Flashaholic* Bolster's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Mexifornia
    Posts
    1,505

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    Updating this thread-- any suggestions?

  17. #17
    Flashaholic*
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Location
    England
    Posts
    621

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    Looks like everything has been covered to me. Excellent thread
    I cannot pretend to feel impartial about tint colours. I rejoice with the brilliant ones and am genuinely sorry for the poor browns.
    ~Sir Winston Churchill

  18. #18
    Flashaholic ryguy24000's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Location
    HR, Oregon
    Posts
    383

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    Looks like you got it nailed. Durability maybe?

  19. #19
    Flashaholic DIΩDΣ's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    Location
    Ohio
    Posts
    253

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    Looks great. One suggestion would be to add under battery placement that the remote battery packs might be advantageous in cold weather usage to keep the batteries warm (like inside a coat pocket).

  20. #20
    Flashaholic* Bolster's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Mexifornia
    Posts
    1,505

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    Good point! I had forgotten about that. Added.

  21. #21

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    Reading about all the great headlamps has just about got me talked into getting a Zebralight. I have NiteIze flashlight holder headbands that work well but I'm thinking that the Zebralight would be better as it's much easier to adjust the beam and I like the idea that it's in the center of my forehead.

  22. #22

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    Very nice summary of issues when making a purchase.

    One point I'd add is that I'd feel very uncomfortable about strapping lithium batteries, especially multiple 18650s, to my head. It makes me shudder when I see lights on ebay claiming to drive XM-Ls at 3+A from Ultrafire 18650 cells sealed in a container and strapped to the back of the victims head. Not an issue for most sane headlamps, but likely that some will search ebay and go "OMG teh 1800 Lumenzz!!" without considering safety.

  23. #23

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    Quote Originally Posted by ProstheticHead View Post
    Very nice summary of issues when making a purchase.

    One point I'd add is that I'd feel very uncomfortable about strapping lithium batteries, especially multiple 18650s, to my head. It makes me shudder when I see lights on ebay claiming to drive XM-Ls at 3+A from Ultrafire 18650 cells sealed in a container and strapped to the back of the victims head. Not an issue for most sane headlamps, but likely that some will search ebay and go "OMG teh 1800 Lumenzz!!" without considering safety.
    No worries as long as their protected, right? It's only unprotected cells you have to worry about as far as I know. I only by protected betteries1

  24. #24
    Moderator
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Location
    Woodland, CA
    Posts
    9,811

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    You need to be cautious and monitor all Li-Ion cells, protected or not.

    Bill

  25. #25
    Flashaholic* Bolster's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Mexifornia
    Posts
    1,505

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    Quote Originally Posted by CapeCodJim View Post
    No worries as long as their protected, right? It's only unprotected cells you have to worry about as far as I know.
    I read a longish post in the battery section about how protected Li-Ions have their own set of problems. Zebralight recommended unprotected for their H60. So Bill's correct, you have to remain alert around powerful Li-Ions, protected or unprotected. There's lots of discussion about the safety of Li-Ion in the battery sub-forum so I'd refer you there.

    All the same, a note re: Li-Ions added to the battery paragraph, thanks for the reminder.
    Last edited by Bolster; 10-31-2011 at 09:27 AM.

  26. #26
    Flashaholic
    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    Location
    MD
    Posts
    336

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    Quote Originally Posted by Bolster View Post
    A 20% increase in intensity may be barely noticeable, if you’re concentrating on seeing a difference, but it takes around 100% increase before a beam looks significantly brighter, and intensity must be 300%-400% to look twice as bright.
    I assume this is for white light?
    You have a link for this? If a factor of 4 gives you twice as bright it implies perceived intensity = sqrt of actual intensity, SQRT(4) = 2, over some intensity range.

  27. #27
    Flashaholic* Bolster's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Mexifornia
    Posts
    1,505

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    This is what happens when you don't make footnotes--someone always wants the references! They're here, somewhere, on CPF. Here's one thread. And a second. A third. A fourth. Still haven't found the one I was reading while writing the above.
    Last edited by Bolster; 10-31-2011 at 11:03 AM.

  28. #28

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    Bolster, is there any reason why your threads don't mention headlamps with 18650's?
    I just ordered a Zb H600.
    I wanted more lumens than a Spark.
    The Spark SD6 seemed too floody?
    Plus, the H600 was only 39 grams; the lightest of the lot.
    However, you don't like 18650's?
    Also, do you know of a good headlamp with a spot beam for a surgeon?
    Anything apart from a HP11?

  29. #29
    Flashaholic* Bolster's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Mexifornia
    Posts
    1,505

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    Hi Peter. 18650 is mentioned under #2, battery selection. This decision list is aimed at people new to headlamps, and the rechargeable li-ions are enthusiast's power sources. More power to you if you want to go 18650.

  30. #30
    Enlightened
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
    Location
    UK
    Posts
    33

    Default Re: To Consider Before You Purchase a Headlamp

    I though IP stood for ingress protection?
    A very well written piece that just makes me want more lights!!!
    I think about McGizmo's almost as much as thinking about what men mostly think about!!

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •