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Thread: A week long comparison: Surefire Minimus Vision vs Zebralight H31W

  1. #1
    Flashaholic
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    Default A week long comparison: Surefire Minimus Vision vs Zebralight H31W

    This is a long winded review. More of a story of my experience.

    I just came back from a week long camping/backing packing trip, and the two headlamps I took along included a Zebralight H31W and a Surefire Minimus Vision. I've used the Zebralight for many trips, excursions, and nighttime workouts. It is a favorite of mine. The Surefire Minimus series, on the other hand, is a headlamp I have had nothing but negative things to say about. When I recently played with a Vision, I was truly surprised by the tint and brightness. Surefire really underestimates their lumens. Still, I couldn't get over the obvious flaws, and I thought I'd hate the headlamp, but after using it for a week, well, it has swayed my opinion.


    These are both single XX123A lights, and they are both warm tinted. The Surefire is a flood, whereas this particular model Zebralight has a spot (there is a H31FW version, which is a flood).

    Before the trip started, I spent some time in and around the house with these two lights. The Zebralight blew the Surefire away in nearly every category. It weighs less on the head, leading one to presume it would be better on the head for longterm use. In brightness, I was surprised to find the two headlamps equal in brightness; the H31W is a touch brighter, but the wall-like throw of the Surefire lights up a room better. The Zebralight also has a beautiful, smooth beam whose hotspot transitions very well into spill. The Surefire, by contrast, has no hotspot and has what can only be called an ugly beam. It is ringy, and has a silhouette of the LED that can be seen from 12 feet away (if not more). Further, the Vision has a prism past the edge of the beam that sits on my face and is distracting. The tints are different, but both are nice. The H31W is a neutral tinted light, whereas the Vision has a rosy hue to it. I like both tints a lot, and both triumph easily over cool lights. The UI of the Zebralight takes knowledge, but is one handed. The Surefire has an intuitive, simple, KISS UI, but takes two hands (try twisting the knob with one hand and the whole body twists). In short, I was already planning on selling the Surefire when I got back.

    First night of the trip, we are out 'til late and pitch our tents as the sun sets. Not complete darkness, but pretty dark. I pull out the two headlamps and let my girlfriend pick which one she wanted to use. Mind you, she is not a flashaholic (quite the contrary). So take her endorsement from that perspective. I showed her how each one worked, and she selected the Vision. I asked why, and she responded that it had a nicer beam and color. That put a thought in my mind that perhaps my complaints of the Surefire's beam is from the severe perspective of a person who has spent thousands on flashlights. Anyways, we pitch the tent and it was noticeable how her area was lit up better than mine.

    Fast forward to the second night in which we are out past sunset and need to pitch tents in complete darkness. The girls are doing their thing, so it's up to my buddy to set up his tent, and me to set up mine. I've used the H31W many times to set up tents at night, so I decided to give the Surefire Vision a go. It was this experience that turned my opinion regarding the Vision. With the H31W, turning it on too bright would sort of blind you. Thus I'm used to keeping it turned to the lowest usable level, which is a good thing in a way. I never realized how the H31W only illuminates where the hotspot is pointed. Turning in on brighter doesn't help because the hotspot gets brighter which drowns out the periphery. It's like tunnel-vision: the H31W gives you tunnel-vision and making it brighter only increases that perception, yet that went unnoticed until I tried the Surefire. The Surefire Vision really lit up my work space, including my periphery. If I'm looking at a stake, for example, the whole area around me (not just the stake) is also lit up. I didn't need to turn my head to find the hammer in the darkness. Now I had used the Vision at night before the trip and the ugliness of the beam was noticeable in nature, but actually working (not just focusing on the beam quality) and the Vision isn't so bad.

    The third night was similar to the second. I finished setting up my tent with the Vision, and then proceeded to help my buddy with his. He was using an off-the-shelf Black Diamond. His headlamp was casting a little blue spot of light on the ground. I walked over with the headlamp off, then looked down and turned up the power. The Vision illuminated his whole work space and swallowed his blue spot. Also, with only his cool tinted light turned on, the scene was really unnatural. When I turned up the Vision, it was like the afternoon sun suddenly clicked on; just beautiful. I'm going to reiterate this to drive-in the point: once the Vision was turned on, the whole workspace just came to life.

    The rest of the trip is filled with similar stories. When I needed light, it was the Surefire that was reached for. The number one lesson learned is the astounding superiority of a flood over a spot for a headlamp. For anything other than specialized activities (such as riding a bike at night), a flood is going to be so much better. Even as somebody who spends hours a week reading CPF, I just didn't realize how constricting a spot is for a headlamp. My next purchase will be an H31FW to compare it to the Surefire. I know tint is personal, but for outdoor use blue-licked LEDs are awful.

    I still shake my head at Surefire for the lack of testing/design/improvement of such an expensive product, but I have to admit I fell in love with the Vision, but it's far from perfect. It's great for a work light, but using it for a stand-still activity, such as reading, and the rings and imperfection of the beam become distracting. Somewhere along the trip, I took some black duct tape and placed it along the edge of the Vision's body facing the protruding lens, and that took care of the prism (but ghettoized the headlamp). I also need to place some oil on the threads and tighten the body to make it a one-handed light.

    Surefire absolutely needs to fix the flaws in their headlamps. The flaws are indicative of poor production: they are easily identified and fixed (and ought to have been during design and testing). Despite the obvious flaws, I ended up really liking the Vision and will give it a sort of back-handed recommendation. The usefulness of the Vision has benched my once favorite H31W.
    Last edited by Jeff S.; 07-31-2012 at 11:44 PM.

  2. #2

    Default Re: A week long comparison: Surefire Minimus Vision vs Zebralight H31W

    You must have received a bad sample. My SureFire headlamp puts out a solid wall of light with almost no imperfections--especially in the real world. The angle and brightness are fully adjustable. I also have an older Zebralight headlight. It's fine, but it is the one with the artifacts, not the surefire. Maybe the newer SureFire headlamps have improved. Some of the early headlamps I bought are almost useless because they throw well, but don't illuminate the camp. They might be better suited to some kind of hunting trip.

  3. #3

    Default Re: A week long comparison: Surefire Minimus Vision vs Zebralight H31W

    Thanks for the detailed review. I ended up using the same tape trick that you did to correct the halo of light shining on my nose. 2 layers of electrical tape did the trick. I had actually RMA'd the headlamp to surefire, but they sent me the same one back, so they must not think the halo effect is as big of a deal as the CPF community does.

  4. #4

    Default Re: A week long comparison: Surefire Minimus Vision vs Zebralight H31W

    Great write-up! Very helpful.

    But I think the post-title is a bit misleading, isn't it?

    What your story demonstrates is the superiority of flood to spot for campground tasks. The brand-names involved have little to do with it.

    (That's why you are considering a floody version of the ZL for your next purchase, right? It's not like you decided that brand is crap. And it's not like SF doesn't make plenty of throwers!)

    So the real story here might be called "A week around the camp shows why floody headlamps are better for task-lighting!"

    That nit-pick aside, it is great that you took the time to share your experiences.

  5. #5
    Flashaholic*
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    Default Re: A week long comparison: Surefire Minimus Vision vs Zebralight H31W

    In the future, I think Zebralight will only sell the 'F' models, especially with the upgrade xp-g2 LED.

  6. #6
    Flashaholic* skyfire's Avatar
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    Default Re: A week long comparison: Surefire Minimus Vision vs Zebralight H31W

    nice write up!
    my first ZL is a H501w. ive since purchased and sold about 5 other ZL. none was as satisfying to use, and its probably because i was spoiled by the h501w flood beam and tint.
    even with the h51w, which should have the same beam as your h31w, i felt the beam was too spotty, and did have a tunnel vision effect.
    while waiting for the H502w, i picked up a sf vision the other month, and am very satisfied with it. the beam on mine is far from perfect, but the rings are faint enough that it doesnt bother me during use, and im somewhat of the beam snob. its my dedicated headlamp for work, so i havent tried doing any reading with it.
    although the vision has a flood beam, it still has some intensity. it can clearly illuminate objects 30+ feet away. also, because there is somewhat of a shroud around the lens it not as blinding to other people.
    mine came with a stiff control ring, but a drop of lube fixed it right up.
    my only complaint is that its a bit heavier than i prefer, but its more comfortable on my head than ZL.
    Last edited by skyfire; 08-01-2012 at 12:43 PM.

  7. #7
    Flashaholic* cland72's Avatar
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    Default Re: A week long comparison: Surefire Minimus Vision vs Zebralight H31W

    When did you buy your Vision? I bought mine about a month ago and it doesn't have the issues you describe. In reading the "Surefire Minimus" thread, it seems that both isses you describe (light on your face, and ringy beam) were fixed with later iterations of the product.

  8. #8

    Default Re: A week long comparison: Surefire Minimus Vision vs Zebralight H31W

    I have the Surefire and it is my favorite headlamp.

    Anytime I leave the house I take the Surefire Minimus (wrapped in velcro), an Eagletac D25C Titanium (1 Surefire 123), and an Eagletac D25C (2 Surefire 123's).

    All my previous used Surefire's sit looking over weight and bloated.

  9. #9

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    ZL H series floody CRI model is really nice too, the 4000K Rebel led is more efficient than either warm or cool at M2 level.
    The brighter the light, the darker the shadow.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: A week long comparison: Surefire Minimus Vision vs Zebralight H31W

    Hotwire and Cland,

    It's a brand new Vision. It seems to be a hit or miss with the prism ring. Some say the problems have been eliminated because their sample doesn't have problems, yet many people with brand new headlamps are still citing problems. If a layer of duct tape can eliminate the prism-ring, then I'm thinking that dropping the lens deeper into the housing by a fraction of an inch would eliminate the prism. I've also noticed many people who, like me, find the problems less significant after use. Nearly a trend.

    LampeD,

    I see what you're saying, and it one of the reasons I want to try out the F version of the Zebralight. Don't get me wrong, I'm still a big fan of Zebralights. However, the Surefire, despite producing a wall of light, is not a true unfocused flood. The light is still directed and shaped by the lens. The shape of the beam is one of the best features of the Minimus Vision, and I have a feeling that a side affect to achieve that shape is the diode silhouette. I thought about placing some diffusion tape to smooth put the beam, but it would ruin the great shape. As for the H31W, I had considered it a rather floody light until juxtaposed with the Vision. Against my buddy's headlamp, the H31W was extremely floody. Just as with tints, the persception of a light's beam can change through comparison.


    One of the things I forgot to mention was the great fit on my forehead of the Vision. The Zebralight is so small and light-weight that one can almost forget he is wearing it. The Vision is big enough that you aren't going to forget it's on, but, nevertheless, it is very comfortable and stable on the head.

  11. #11
    Flashaholic* Bolster's Avatar
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    Default Re: A week long comparison: Surefire Minimus Vision vs Zebralight H31W

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff S. View Post
    The number one lesson learned is the astounding superiority of a flood over a spot for a headlamp. For anything other than specialized activities (such as riding a bike at night), a flood is going to be so much better.
    Ain't that the TRUTH!

    While I own several ZLs and no Saint, I'm certain that had I been in your shoes,
    I'd have chosen the warm flood over the spot/spill ZL, just as you did.

    Thanks for the writeup. (PS: I'd disagree that the H31w would be considered floody. An H31f would be floody. But I'm a serious flood-head who thinks a 60 degree beam as is on your Saint is a little too narrow.)
    Last edited by Bolster; 08-01-2012 at 10:21 PM.

  12. #12
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    Default Re: A week long comparison: Surefire Minimus Vision vs Zebralight H31W

    My favorite Zebra headlamps are a couple of older H30w models. Pure flood, neutral tint, simple 3 stage UI, light and compact. With all those pluses, I still reach for my Surefire Vision. The infinitely variable output, intuitive UI and durability win for almost everything except reading. The Vision beam is a little tighter, the emitter a little newer, consequently it has a little more range. If the Zebra had a more current emittter and a 60 degree beam like the Vision and a touch more durability this would be a draw for me. Neither is perfect, both are very good.
    Looking for something, use a handheld. Actually doing something, you need a headlamp.

  13. #13
    Flashaholic* f22shift's Avatar
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    Default Re: A week long comparison: Surefire Minimus Vision vs Zebralight H31W

    Alot of good real world feedback.
    I think 90 percent of the time a headlamp is needed(no wanted) for up close tasks requiring 2 hands.
    Maybe the new 502 would be nice for you when it comes out in warm.
    I would try the scotch tape on your h31w first as its the cheapest solution.

  14. #14

    Default Re: A week long comparison: Surefire Minimus Vision vs Zebralight H31W

    Mine was also loose. I called surefire they told me to rma it. I decided to search and found that a .035 hex keyk can tighten it right up take of the velcro and see if you have those set screws

  15. #15
    Flashaholic* Launch Mini's Avatar
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    Default Re: A week long comparison: Surefire Minimus Vision vs Zebralight H31W

    I have 2 ZLs and did have a St.Minimus ( it died & my AD couldn't replace it so I picked up an E1B intead).
    I used to use the SM and wife & daughter would use the ZL's at our cabin.
    Well, last time, my SM was gone, so I used one of the ZL's when we went caving. ( not serious caving, only about 140m deep).
    I was impressed with the ZL, but IMO, I felt they were a step down from the SM.
    When I replaced the SM with the E1B, I thought I would pick myself up a ZL headlight, but after that weekend, I think I will get another SF. Yes abit larger & heavier, but IMO, I liked it better.

  16. #16
    Flashaholic* Bolster's Avatar
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    Default Re: A week long comparison: Surefire Minimus Vision vs Zebralight H31W

    Sell me a warm 1xAA Saint, and I'm there, artifacts or not.

  17. #17
    Flashaholic* cland72's Avatar
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    Default Re: A week long comparison: Surefire Minimus Vision vs Zebralight H31W

    Quote Originally Posted by Bolster View Post
    Sell me a warm 1xAA Saint, and I'm there, artifacts or not.
    Agreed. I was disappointed when I saw the Minimus AA had a battery box I was hoping it would be 1xAA in the same format as the 123 version.

  18. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by cland72

    Agreed. I was disappointed when I saw the Minimus AA had a battery box I was hoping it would be 1xAA in the same format as the 123 version.
    As consolation, can you use it with AA and battery box Or CR123 with a second tailcap?
    I mean it looks like they just made a dummy cell, drilled a hole in the tailcap for power cord, and added an exterior AA battery case.
    The brighter the light, the darker the shadow.

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