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.