This is a mini review of Spark’s new SD52, neutral white version. This is a high performance enthusiast’s headlamp, and unusual in today’s market for at least 3 reasons: (1) It’s a very wide, unreflectored, unlensed full flood light, one of the widest lights on the market at 115 degrees (according to Spark) [UPDATE: An optional aftermarket screw-on reflectored bezel modifies the beam to 18° spot and 70° spill]; (2) it’s a 2AA light, which is somewhat rare; and (3) it puts out a lot of lumens (280 according to Spark, and 300 for the cool white version).
To me, these specifications indicate the SD52 is uniquely qualified as a work light. Since that’s the main use for my lights, I bought one. Whether you consider a light to be “good” or not, very much depends on your particular use for it. So I want to be clear with my criteria: does the SD52 function well as a work light or not? I will also try to get a perspective for the night hikers, but that’s not my emphasis.
People like me who work with our hands in dark spaces (whether electrical, HVAC, plumbing, under cars, or setting up camp at night) find we want plenty of peripheral vision to find tools and supplies--or spot rats, black widow spiders, dangling hot wires and nail tips as we crawl around above/below a house. Having no hotspot is a bonus, meaning my eyes don’t have to constantly readjust from spill to spot. Also a broad beam means that when my head is wedged in position under a joist, I don’t have to turn my head or readjust my body position to see the next work over. A “wall of light” means that wherever I may need to turn my eyes, the light’s already there.
The SD52’s advertised settings of 70 lumens for 7 hours, or 200 for almost 2, were both promising. I have been doubling up Zebralight H501ws to attain 30 lumens for an entire workday, and have been reasonably content with that beam. 30 lumens in an 80-degree beam is very usable in dark spaces (and it can be upped to 160 lumen for about 2 hrs when needed). For hand-work in the dark, blazingly high lumens are actually a disadvantage, so the mid-level 70 lumen option of the SD52 is attractive. On paper, the SD52 appears to be an overall improvement in performance over my dual H501w’s: more lumens, longer runtimes, and wider beam. But the proof is in the using. I had an attic job lined up, so within an hour of arrival, the SD52 went to work.
Initial impressions: The box was partially crushed; not surprised, as it’s relatively thin cardboard and the package had gone from China to Kansas and then back to California. However the dense closed cell foam packing inside was more than sufficient to protect the contents. The light has a quality feel, more or less equivalent to a Zebralight, but feeling beefier. Zebralight H501w for comparison.
You load the batteries one button out and one button in, and it doesn’t matter which well gets an out or an in, as long as one’s out and one’s in. Then the cap mates the body with two lugs and screws on; a nifty arrangement.
The fins make the light look considerably larger than it is; the fins add about 1/3 to the actual diameter of the body of the light. Amazingly the base of the fins are cut along a curve, hugging the contour of the two batteries. It’s a weight-saving detail that goes beyond what I’d expected. The dark anodized bezel is aggressively knurled and threads out easily, upon which you are staring at a bare emitter! Felt much like unthreading and threading a camera lens filter. I wish Spark would consider adding a plano-convex lens option as a screw-on filter, for when less beam spread is needed. That would go a long way toward keeping the night walkers, and others who'd like a more concentrated beam, happy. Spark says that a thread-on reflector is under development. [EDIT: Spark subsequently produced the aforementioned reflector bezel which gives an 18 degree spot and 70 degree spill.]
The SD52 has 4 levels in its normal rotation, accessible by holding down the button and cycling. The last used level is memorized by the SD52, so it turns on at whatever level it was turned off. A double tap gets you the 280 super mode, but I have not played with that yet, since it's not much more than the 200 midlevel. I don’t care that much about the top level--I care about the mid levels.
The over-the-top strap is just sufficient to get across my noggin, but I will have to find a longer replacement strap to get it to stretch across my helmet. So for now the helmet mount is the around-strap only. I do not like the somewhat floptical mounting on the helmet without the top strap. When I bump my head on a rafter the light jostles a bit because it’s not sufficiently secured without the top strap. So I'm hunting for a piece of elastic for the top. [Edit: Done, easy, found the elastic at Joanne's sewing supplies for cheap. Now a firm mount on the helmet.]
Here are some beamshots against my workaday Zebralight H501w. This is a particularly warm H501w, much warmer than others I own, but it was the one within easy reach. It makes the SD52 seem on the cool side of neutral, but even without the comparison shot, I’d have to say the SD52’s neutral beam seems dead neutral to me...not warm, not cool. Others have commented it has a slightly cool cast. First shot is the H501w at 80 lumen and the SD52 at 70 lumen, a little underexposed to show beam pattern and color. You can just see the image of the die in the center of the beam. You’d expect the narrower 80 degree 80 lumen beam of the Zebra to outshine the 115-degree 70-lumen beam of the SD52 by a considerable margin, and it does. Notice how the Zebra’s beam evenness is superior, with very similar illumination from edge to center. Part of that is because the H501 beam's a little overexposed in the photo.
The next comparison is the H501w on the same 80 lumen setting, but now the SD52 is on its second-higest setting of 200 lumen. Still underexposed to show pattern and color. Considerably brighter than the H501w on 80, but the big difference is how huge the beam spread is. It's around 44% larger than the H501w (80 vs 115) Still, the Zebra spreads its beam more evenly, which is an asset.
And one more shot of 80 lumen left, 200 lumen right, this time a little overexposed...which better replicates what the eye sees:
Raining off and on outside, so no good outside photos outside for now. I tried the informal “snake in the grass” test. Night-time, with non-darkness adapted eyes, on dark lawn, at 70lm level, felt I could see enough detail to distinguish a stationary snake in the grass out to around 5 yards/meters. At the 200lm level, I felt I could see well enough to distinguish a stationary snake in the grass out to about 9 yards/meters. This is very subjective. But some CPFers (jokingly) fretted that the SD52’s beam would be so diffuse that you would have a hard time seeing your own feet except on high settings. Don’t worry, you feet are very brightly illuminated with the 70lm and up levels. I’d not want to use the lower levels for walking unless my eyes were well dark adapted. In order to tell if the bottom .5lm level is on or not you have to stick the emitter in your eye. Spread out like it is, it’s exceedingly dim.
The wide beam is just...fab. For working. Absolutely lovely. Anywhere you look there’s light. The “down in the gopher hole” feeling of a narrow-beam light is gone. No need to adjust the light up and down; wherever you look, it’s lit. Even a Zebralight needs occasional up/down adjustment but not the SD52, it’s a real shotgun. Set it and forget it. I think the much discussed light-falloff issue has been exaggerated, at least for work use--it’s a non issue. Plenty of light is getting on target at the 70lm setting and that’s the setting it appears I’ll be using the most, even though there are two higher settings.
At the ends of my hands, it's very bright, and that's where I need it most of the time. First shot, which is underexposed, I'm sitting two or three joists back, and holding the camera behind my head (helmet the dark object bottom left). You can easily see 7 joists out...that's over 9 feet away, using the 70 lumen setting. Later, in a darkened room, with my eyes somewhat more dark adjusted, the 70 lumen setting was sufficient to easily see 8 yards away.
Next shot is on the 200 lumen setting, looking several yards across the attic. The camera lens won't go wide enough to show you the edges of the light.
The SD52 has been subjected to early criticism, which stems primarily from its potential use as a jogging or hiking light:
- “2AA up front would be too big/heavy.” If you’e used to a 1AA light, then the SD52 feels like a big light. If you’re used to an 18650 light, then it’s not. Can the SD52 be used for jogging? I wouldn’t use it for jogging because I never jog 7 hours--I’d use a smaller light with a shorter runtime. But could it be used for jogging? If you kept the top strap on, then yes, it sits very tight and secure on the head with the top strap. If you take off the top strap, then no, the light is too heavy at 4 oz and would bounce up and down on the forehead. So I think this is not a light suited to typical jogging, although the angle of view would be breathtaking. On a work helmet? Then the size is almost unnoticeably different from a single AA light, since its 4 oz weight spreads across the whole helmet.
- “This looks dim for 280 lumens.” I don't have an integrated sphere to test, but part of this may be the old lumens vs lux issue. When you take 280 lumens and spread them out over 115 degrees, the lux (brightness per area) is reduced. It's difficult to compare 280 lumens spread over 115 degrees to 280 lumens concentrated in the 15-degree hotspot of your favorite 2AA handheld, or even spread over 80 degrees as the H501w is. But for some reason, early commentary on the SD52 has focused on its inability to throw. True enough, with its bare emitter, the SD52 not a thrower. If you want lux, you need a focused beam. [UPDATE: Spark now offers an aftermarket SD reflector that does a fine job of focusing & throwing the beam.] But is the SD52 bright enough to function as a good work headlamp? Judge for yourself, attic shots roughly matching what my eye was seeing. It was difficult to give a sense of the wide angle view because my camera could not capture a wide enough field of view. Suffice to say it bathes a huge area with more than sufficient light to work by. First shot at the 70 lumen level, second looking further away with the 200 lumen level.
Now what about you woodsy owl types...you don’t work in attics or crawlspaces...you like to hike at night. Is this light for you? Honestly it’s not the light I’d take backpacking [UPDATE: With the optional reflector, it now is competitive], because what makes it remarkable is the runtime and field of view, taken together. I don’t think you’d need either extreme for backpacking, and you’d want a lighter lamp anyway. Neither would this be my night hike light, unless I had to hoof it all night long, and even then I’d prefer more light in a narrower beam. When the reflector for it comes out? Maybe then. But for a work light? Well if it proves to be durable, and the runtimes are as advertised, then it’s a workman's dream come true. It was almost fun to spend two hours in a cramped attic today. Near to across the attic, left to right, up to down, I could simply see everything...and that was primarily on the 70 lumen level.
Sorry the photos are missing. Cox Communications wiped out their FTP service without warning and I lost all my online photos.