For me, headlamps have to be one of the most useful sources of light; I would not be without one. As it happens, I have quite a few and this number has recently increased by one with the Fenix HP11, which arrived a couple of weeks ago.
In this review I will give my initial impressions along with some measured output figures and then look at how it has performed for me.
PART 1 – Initial Impressions:
The HP11 is Fenix's most powerful and latest headlamp. Compared to the completely self contained headlamps I am used to, the HP11 is a step up in performance and runtime with its separate battery box.
When running on Turbo the HP11 is very bright and its hotspot can be blinding, creating a limited field of view at close distances. Because of this, and the problem with the standard diffuser (as described in parts 2 and 3) my initial impressions were disappointing, however, with further use I have found the HP11 to be a very useful and versatile headlamp.
What is in the box:
The well presented Fenix box
The plastic carrier tray out of the outer sleeve
The HP11 parts out of the box (Headlamp with battery box, straps, cable clips and diffuser)
Detail of the top strap buckle which allows the band to be passed through the gap in the central bar.
The rear of the lamp and battery box, also showing that like the top strap, there are angled gaps in the band fixing points.
The English side of the instruction leaflet (click to get a bigger image)
Putting it together:
As shown above, the headlamp arrives with the straps not attached. Although not very complicated, it was a bit fiddly to assemble, and the instruction leaflet does not take you through any steps and all I had to go on was the one photo of it assembled on the leaflet.
Having read a report from one user that the top strap was way too small, I looked at this carefully and found that this strap needs to be reconfigured before attaching it, but this is not mentioned anywhere in the instructions. After reconfiguring it, the top strap is the right length. The main headband did not need to be reconfigured, only fitted to the lamp and battery box and the cable clips fitted.
The fact that the torch comes unassembled is a bit of a pain, but then again, it does mean you have to learn how to put it together and can then remove the strap to wash it.
The way it all fits together also means that only the strap itself is in contact with your head, so after using it for a while the strap can be removed and washed clean, and is comfortable to wear (unlike some manufacturers who make headbands with bits of hard rubber sticking into your forehead).
Fully assembled lamp
Battery box opened (by unscrewing the knob on the side of the box).
Overall quality is very good and it feels like it will survive pretty hard use, though I do wonder how tough the plastic fixing points are for the bands.
The LED is well centred.
The buttons are partially covered when the torch is in its most closed position. This seemed very odd at first, but would provide a degree of protection from accidental switching on of the light if carried in a bag. You have to angle the lamp by one click position to access the buttons.
Modes and User Interface:
The HP11 has two electronic click switches with the left one (when wearing it) turning it on and off, and the right one changing modes. The output modes are Low, Medium, High, Turbo and when accessing the hidden flash modes (by double clicking the power button) an automatically cycling strobe which alternates between a 15 Hz and 2Hz strobe, a slow strobe and an SOS. Turning it on and off again clears the strobe, so in normal use you never accidentally get to the strobe.
For a right handed person, this seems to work very well as when you reach up the on/off button falls under your finger tip easily, with the mode button needing a slight adjustment to find. As you are more likely to use a single mode most this works well.
The use of a separate mode-changing makes this light really easy to use, always coming on in the last used mode (apart from strobe). You might however accidentally change modes if you press the wrong button.
Due to complications of photographing myself wearing the HP11, I enlisted the help of a Baloon-Head that was inflated to roughly the same size as my own head.
And from above
For reference here is a Zebralight H51
and Ultrafire H3 (18650 powered)
Batteries and output:
The recommended power source for the HP11 is a set of high performance NiMH batteries but it will work with alkalines. I have been using a set of eneloops as my preference is for rechargeable batteries.
There have been some comments on this headlamp not taking certain batteries. I can confirm that inside the battery box there are some plastic braces which mean that if the batteries you use do not have a button sticking out, they would not make contact with the terminal (unless you cut away the plastic). In practical use, I have never seen this for AAs (only some types of Li-ion) and the eneloops I used had plenty of clearance and made good contact. Normal AA batteries should have no problems making contact.
When loaded with Eneloops the HP11 weighs 290 grams.
Indoors and just sitting on a table, the front of the lamp gets pretty warm after 15 minutes on Turbo, but never too hot to touch. Once it has reached this temperature it stays stable at that temperature and doesn’t get any hotter. (It reached 53 Degrees Celsius when running on Turbo and as a comparison, the Fenix TK45 gets to 49 degrees)
None of the parts in contact with the users head get hot.
The instructions have a confusing comment which I suspect has been copied from another torch's instructions incorrectly. It advises unscrewing the lamp head to avoid parasitic drain. I have applied reasonable force (and being 188cm tall and 100Kg in weight, is quite a lot of force) and the head would not unscrew. I did not feel applying any extra force would be good for the HP11 so think this must be a mistake in the instructions.
PART 2 – In The Lab
As in a previous review of the TK21, I decided to try and quantify the actual beam profile. There are probably many flaws in my method, but it is simple and easy to carry out and seems to provide a good enough comparison.
The method used was to put the light on the edge of a table 1m from a wall, with a tape measure on the wall. The zero of the scale is placed in the centre of the hotspot and a lux meter is then positioned at points along the scale, with the measurements recorded. Beam shots are often taken with the light shining on a flat white wall, so this method is simply measuring the actual intensity across the beam on a flat surface, not the spherical light emission.
The results are then plotted on a graph.
For the best throw you want to see a sharp peak with less of the distracting spill. For the best flood light the trace should be pretty flat.
The HP 11 comes with an optional diffuser which changes the beam profile considerably. Unfortunately its design means that the user is blinded as the edge of the diffuser glows brightly in your peripheral vision which has made it unusable for me.
Taking this a little further, I calculated an approximate factor to apply to the lux measurements, as each measurement gets further from the centre of the beam, it corresponds to a larger area onto which the light is falling. It seems to me that this should also be taken into consideration, so I applied these area corrections and came up with this odd looking graph.
The key quantity here is the area under the graph line. This should correspond to the total light output. Here you can see the diffuser has put more light energy into the spill and widened the hotspot.
PART 3 – The HP11's beam
My preferred use of the HP11 is without the diffuser. Here is the beam on Turbo.
The HP11's diffuser is flawed in my opinion as the edge of the clear plastic diffuser lights up brightly, and due to the lamp projecting forward, the diffuser is placed into your peripheral vision. Despite the diffuser working well, it becomes blinding and I cannot use it.
Here you can see the beam with the diffuser, but also notice how brightly the lamp itself is now glowing (and lighting up the balloon-head).
The diffuser is fitted, but flipped up, still catching the light strongly.
The beam is very well formed and when viewed on a white wall has a minor defect on the hotspot, but you have to look for it, otherwise the beam is excellent.
PART 4 – Using the HP11
Looking at it and a few graphs doesn't tell you much about what this is like to use and how it performs in different situations. This is a heavier headlamp than I normally use, but the extra weigh is comfortable distributed thanks to the separate battery box, making it very comfortable and even with the strap not being very tight it feels secure and has never felt it would come off even when bending over to pick things up from the ground.
The instructions list cycling, searching and caving as potential uses and the marketing material adds camping, hiking and fishing.
Most caving lights are fully waterproof (IP-X8) but the HP11 is only IP-X6, so this may limit its use in more extreme caving where you need to be able to submerge it.
The output is impressive and the fact it will do up to four hours on turbo also impressive. The turbo output would probably be excellent for caving as it has a good throw (see beamshots below) and enough spill to see your way, but I'll leave further comment on that to a real caver.
Primarily configured as a thrower and, especially on higher outputs, it does not work well at shorter distances, however if you keep it on low or medium, the brightness of the hotspot is far less of a bother, and in fact I have found myself using the HP11 on medium most of the time. If the diffuser was redesigned with the edge of the clear plastic part covered with opaque plastic (see comments below) this would work really well. I'll see if I can DIY this and post an update.
The angle is adjusted with click stops which are positive and well spaced and I have always been able to find the right angle for closer or more distant use.
For camping, hiking and fishing, this light will work very well, as none of these need specific headwear. The output settings are well spaced and very useful and I would imagine that once you have played with turbo for a bit that it will be one of the least used outputs, only coming into play occasionally. Don't get me wrong though, that maximum output is very useful to have on tap.
As I religiously wear a cycling helmet (and mine has a visor), the HP11 has not worked for this purpose as it does not fit securely onto my helmet, however, if you don't wear a helmet it certainly has the power to be a great cycling light.
My other headlamps are smaller and lighter (though less powerful and shorter run time), but their size makes them easy to pocket for intermittent use. The HP11 is much bigger and heavier and is something you would tend to put on for extended periods.
On the higher outputs you start to become aware of the beam of light projecting from your forehead. The tight hotspot means you see a narrow column of light projecting forwards, which is quite good fun :-) and a characteristic none of my other headlights have ever exhibited.
I'm going to keep on using the HP11 and update post 2 of this thread once I have some more comments to add....
(Note: this light was supplied by Fenix for review)