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Thread: Nitecore HC50 Headlamp (1xXM-L2 2xRed LEDs - 1x18650) review: RUNTIMES, BEAMSHOTS+

  1. #1

    Wink2 Nitecore HC50 Headlamp (1xXM-L2 2xRed LEDs - 1x18650) review: RUNTIMES, BEAMSHOTS+

    Warning: pic heavy, as usual.





    Nitecore recently announced their first headlight model – the 1x18650, 2xCR123A HC50. I have on hand a sample from their "global testing campaign" – although unfortunately, without the headband or packaging. So you will just have to imagine what it feels like on top of your head.

    Let's see how it performs compared to the competition …

    Manufacturer Reported Specifications:
    (note: as always, these are simply what the manufacturer provides – scroll down to see my actual testing results).

    • LED: CREE XM-L2 (T6) [reviewer's note: there are also 2 red 5mm LEDs]
    • Supports 1x18650 Li-ion or 2xCR123A 3V
    • Output/Runtime on 18650: Turbo 565 lumens (1hr 15min). Hi 350 lumens (2hr 45min), Mid 170 lumens (6h 15min), Lo 35 lumens (32hr), Lower 1 lumen (400hr)
    • Beam distance: 85m
    • Beam Intensity: 1820cd
    • A custom catoptrics-based system produces an extremely wide 100° beam angle
    • Light housing provides 90° vertical movement to eliminate illumination dead-zones
    • Direct access to red light mode with a runtime of up to 145 hours
    • Innovative single button two-stage switch is remarkably user-friendly (patented)
    • Ten rapidly switchable brightness modes to select from
    • Integrated red/green power indicator light displays remaining battery power (patented)
    • Power indicator secondary function displays battery voltage accurate to 0.1V
    • Integrated temperature sensor and intelligent temperature control ensure stable and safe use
    • High-efficiency regulation circuit provides unwavering output
    • Toughened ultra-clear mineral glass with anti-reflective coating
    • All metal high-performance dual-beam headlamp, constructed from aero-grade aluminum alloy
    • Rugged HAIII military grade hard-anodized
    • Comfortable chafe-free and breathable nylon headband
    • Waterproof in accordance with IPX-8 (two meters submersible)
    • Impact resistant to 1.5 meters
    • Tail stand capability
    • Dimensions: Length: 86mm (3.39”), Diameter: 32mm (1.26”)
    • Weight: 130g (4.59oz) (without battery)
    • Accessories: spare o-ring
    • MSRP: ~$60

    As mentioned above, my sample came without packaging or attachments. A number of vendors have these lights in stock, and there are a number of reviews already posted online, so I'm sure you won't have any trouble tracking down some pics of the assembly. They looks about typical for a modern headlamp.



    From left to right: Eagletac Protected 18650 3400mAh; Nitecore HC50; Zebralight H31; Spark ST5.


    From left to right: Eagletac Protected 18650 3400mAh; Nitecore HC50; Zebralight H31; Spark ST5, Olight H15S.

    All dimensions directly measured, and given with no batteries installed:

    Nitecore HC50: Weight 85.4g, Length: 86.0mm, Width (widest) 36.4mm

    1x18650 lights:
    Zebralight SC600 II: Weight 79.3g, Length: 101.8mm, Width (bezel) 29.7mm
    Eagletac D25LC2: Weight: 50.0g, Length: 116.3mm, Width (bezel): 22.5mm
    Eagletac TX25C2: Weight 93.6g, Length: 120.4mm, Width (bezel): 31.6mm
    Olight S20 (2012, XM-L): Weight: 51.8g, Length: 105.4mm, Width (bezel): 23.1mm

    Headlamps:
    Olight H15S Wave: (1xLi-ion, 4xAAA): Head alone: 42.2g, Battery compartment alone: 31.0g, Battery compartment alone with OPS-H15S Li-ion battery: 58.3g, Battery compartment alone with 4xAAA: 77.3g, complete unit (with basic headband and Li-ion battery): 118.1g
    Petzl Tikka XP2 (3xAAA): 52.3g, 88.4g with batteries
    Spark ST5 (1xAA): Weight, 41.5g, Length 58.4mm, Width 42.8mm (max body), Width 24.0mm (bezel)
    Zebralight H31w (1xCR123A): Weight: 28.6g, Length 66.9mm, Width (bezel) 22.1mm.

    The HC50 is fairly compact for a 1x18650 light. It is a bit wider than typical, given the emitter mounts along the side of the light (instead of the ends, as typical on a regular flashlight). This orientation is about what you would expect for a headlamp.








    The build is consistent with its headlamp function. Unfortunately, without the bundled headband, I can make no comment about how well it functions as a headlight.

    The light has a fairly glossy black anodizing. There is no knurling to speak of, but there are anti-roll notches built into both end pieces. Labels are fairly small, though clearly legible against the black background.

    One of the end pieces opens up to allow access to the battery compartment. There is apparent reverse polarity detectors in the "head", so flat-top 18650 cells won't work in the light. Only small button tops will activate in the light.

    The "tailcap" end has a small pin to line up the connector (required to hold everything in place as you screw together). The pin is fairly thin, so you may find it hard to line up in low lighting conditions. Screw threads are anodized for tailcap lock-out.

    The control switch is electronic and located on the "tailcap" end piece. It is two-stage switch, with a fairly firm press required to activate to the second level (i.e., a full click). This second stage is definitely more pronounced than some other Nitecore lights I've tested (e.g., TM15, EA4, etc.). There is a red/green LED under the switch that serves as a battery level indicator when activating the light or changing batteries (scroll down to my User Interface section for an explanation).

    The body of the light is a bit thicker than you might have expected – necessary to fit all the electronics and heatsinking in, between the battery and the emitters.



    In keeping with the headlamp design, the emitters are located on the side of the light, as shown below.



    The main reflector is smooth, but is clearly going to provide mainly a flood beam (given its small size). The two side emitters are red LEDs. Here are some close-ups.







    User Interface

    The HC50 uses a two-stage electronic switch to control all output modes. For the white LED, there are 5 constant output levels and 3 flashing ones. The red LEDs have one constant mode and one flashing mode. This makes for 10 levels in total, consistent with what Nitecore reports.

    To turn the main white beam on or off, do a rapid full click of the switch (i.e. press past the first stage and down to the second, and quickly release). This will turn the light on in its last memorized constant output white mode.

    To cycle between white modes, partial press and release the switch (i.e., press and release at the first stage only – a half-click). Output mode sequence is Lower > Lo > Mid > Hi > Turbo, in repeating sequence. There is mode memory when turning off/on.

    To access the flashing white modes, from On, do a quick full double-click of the switch (again, pressing fully to the second level quickly). This will give you a slow strobe mode (i.e., a signaling strobe). A half-click advances you to beacon. Another half-click advances you to SOS. As before, a full click turns off the light. Scroll down to learn more about the flash timings for these modes.

    One interesting note – a full double-click of the switch when On in the red mode will also bring up the white strobe (i.e., it doesn't matter which emitters are on, a double-click always takes you to white strobe).

    For red output, from Off, press fully and hold the switch for a couple of seconds (i.e., a second stage press and hold). The light will come on in constant red output (both side red LEDs will illuminate). A half press advances you the red strobe mode, which is similar to the white strobe (i.e., a signaling strobe). As always, a full click turns the light off.

    Note that for on/off or accessing the flashing modes, you need to press the button fairly quickly and firmly to register a full click (i.e., don't pause on the way to the second level of the switch).

    Battery Indicator

    As mentioned above, the on/off button has a green/red LED underneath it. When installing a cell, the switch light will flash out the voltage in green - first in volts, then in tenths of a volt. So for example, if the light flashes 4 times, pauses, then flashes another 2 times, that would mean 4.2V (i.e., the 18650 cell is fully charged).

    My sample seemed to read a little high, by a tenth of a volt (i.e., my DMM reports 4.2V, but the light would flash 4.3V, fully charged).

    During normal use, every time you turn the light On, the button lights up in either green (to indicate >50% charge remaining), or red (for <50% charge remaining).

    Video:

    For information on the light, including the build and user interface, please see my video overview:



    Video was recorded in 720p, but YouTube typically defaults to 360p. Once the video is running, you can click on the configuration settings icon and select the higher 480p to 720p options. You can also run full-screen.

    As with all my videos, I recommend you have annotations turned on. I commonly update the commentary with additional information or clarifications before publicly releasing the video.

    PWM/Strobe

    As with my other Nitecore lights, I don't see any signs of pulse width modulation (PWM) on any the lower output modes. The light appears to be fully current controlled at all levels.

    I did detect some faint circuit noise on the Med, Lo and Lower levels, as shown below.

    Med/Lo/Lower noise:


    Turbo/Hi:


    Again, it is quite common to see reoccurring signals like this on many lights. It is not PWM and it is not visible to eye in this case. I only report it above because I can measure it. On some lights, this circuit noise can be of high enough intensity to cause visual flicker – when that happens, I let people know. It is not an issue in this case – there is no visual evidence of this circuit signal.

    White Strobe:


    The Strobe mode is a slow signaling strobe, exactly 1 Hz (i.e., On for 1 sec, Off for 1 sec).

    Not shown here, but the red mode similarly has a slow strobe feature. The cycle seems to be slightly less than a full second though (i.e., ~0.9 secs, so a 1.1 Hz flash).

    White Beacon:


    Beacon is a very brief flash, once every 1.8 secs.

    Not shown above, but the white SOS is typical slow-speed SOS.

    Standby Drain

    Due to the electronic switch, the HC50 has to have a constant parasitic stand-by current drain when the tailcap is connected. In this case, the standby current was 170uA. For a 2600mAh cell, that would mean 1 year and 9 months before a fully charged cell would be completely drained.

    One peculiarity – there is an extremely faint glow to the main white emitter when first connecting the tailcap (or after turning off). I don't know if this glow lasts for an extended period, but you can see it in absolute darkness.

    If you are concerned, you can fully break this current - and physically lock-out the light - by twisting the tailcap a quarter turn.

    Beamshots:

    For white-wall beamshots below, all lights are on Max output on an AW protected 18650 battery. Lights are about ~0.75 meter from a white wall (with the camera ~1.25 meters back from the wall). Automatic white balance on the camera, to minimize tint differences.













    Overall beam pattern is indeed very floody, as you would expect. The HC50 is surprisingly bright for a headlamp – it's definitely the highest output headlamp I've tested.

    Scroll down to see my comparison summary output/throw tables.







    The red emitters give a fairly bright red beam for this class of 5mm LEDs. It's hard to provide lumen estimates of (relatively) dim 5mm red LEDs, but it is about what you would expect for two of them.

    Testing Method:

    All my output numbers are relative for my home-made light box setup, as described on my flashlightreviews.ca website. You can directly compare all my relative output values from different reviews - i.e. an output value of "10" in one graph is the same as "10" in another. All runtimes are done under a cooling fan, except for any extended run Lo/Min modes (i.e. >12 hours) which are done without cooling.

    I have devised a method for converting my lightbox relative output values (ROV) to estimated Lumens. See my How to convert Selfbuilt's Lightbox values to Lumens thread for more info.

    Throw/Output Summary Chart:

    My summary tables are reported in a manner consistent with the ANSI FL-1 standard for flashlight testing. Please see http://www.flashlightreviews.ca/FL1.htm for a discussion, and a description of all the terms used in these tables. Effective July 2012, I have updated all my Peak Intensity/Beam Distance measures with a NIST-certified Extech EA31 lightmeter (orange highlights).

    Let's start with a headlamp comparison:



    On Turbo, the HC50 is the brightest headlamp I've tested to day (by far).

    Despite that, the overall throw is no higher than a number of other headlamps I've tested. This confirms the beam is relatively "floody".

    Let's see how it compares to other 1x18650-class lights:




    Clearly less throwy than a typical flashlight, max output is at low end of current XM-L2 lights (as you would expect for a relatively small body light worn on your head).

    Let's see how it does on my estimated lumen scale:



    There is pretty good concordance with Nitecore specs.

    Output/Runtime Graphs:

    Let's start with a comparison of no cooling (as might be expected on your head) compared to my usual fan-cooled testing method.



    Basically, the HC50 has a thermal-sensor driven step-down when running on Turbo. This is superior the timed step-down on many lights. Note that the step-down is to the defined Hi level.

    While those steps may look pretty abrupt, you have to consider the time scale you are looking at. Here is a close up look at one of those "blips", on the same output scale.



    Doesn't look so bad now, does it? The light ramps down (and back up) over a 25-30 second time frame. This is gradual enough that you are not likely to notice to the output level change in practice.

    In my view, this is a very good approach to thermal management. No, it is not as sophisticated as the new Zebralight PID – but then again, what is.

    Let's see how performance compares to other lights in the 1x18650, 2xCR123A class. Again, all of these are done under a cooling fan.




    Performance is quite good. While not stellar for the class, it is still a relatively efficient current-controlled light.



    Even with a cooling fan, you'll note the obvious step-down pattern on Turbo on 2xCR123A. This is not surprising – primary CR123A will get hotter than a single 18650, due to the differing chemistries and capacities. Expect a faster (and more prolonged) step-down when running on 2xCR123A.

    Potential Issues

    As Nitecore didn't send me the headband, I have no way to assess how well this light works as a headlight. My subjective impression is that the HC50 is fairly large, so the headband will have to hold it securely to work well.

    One thing I can tell (even without the headband) is that it will be difficult to double-click the light for strobe while wearing it. You need to be quick and firm in your presses to activate strobe, and this will be hard to do with one hand above your head (given the size of the light, and stiffness of the switch). For that matter, even turning off or on could be challenging (i.e., if too slow or too little force is used, you may just change modes). Frankly, I wonder if a center-button placement wouldn't have been better, given the dual-stage switch design.

    The light under the switch cover is a useful feature (for voltage readout on battery change). But I'm not sure how useful the green/red is on standard activation, as the switch is above your eyes (i.e., you would have to look up, to see the reflection off your finger).

    Flat-top 18650 cells won't work in the light.

    There is a small standby drain when fully connected, but this can be broken by unscrewing the "tailcap" end a quarter turn. Strangely, the main white emitter glows ever so softly when the tailcap is connected (you can only tell this in absolute darkness). I haven't waited to see if it eventually extinguishes, but it is present as soon as you connect the tailcap, or after turning off.

    Preliminary Observations

    Welcome to the first headlamp from Nitecore. I am starting to see this more and more, as mainstream flashlight manufacturers move into the headlamp space (which was previously the domain of a select group of dedicated makers).

    As is the case with many initial forays into new fields, there are bound to be some learning pains. The true measure of the usability of a headlamp is how well it holds onto your head, and how easily it is to adjust and use in practice. On this front, I am at a severe disadvantage compared to other reviewers, as Nitecore only sent me the bare light without any packaging. One thing I can tell though is that it will be difficult to reliably turn the light off/on or double-click – the light is very large, and a fair amount of force and speed is required to do these maneuvers (i.e., you risk accidentally changing modes instead, by a partial press).

    Use of standard 1x18650 or 2xCR123A batteries are plus, although the size of the light may be an issue for some. Aside from this general size and interface issue, I suspect the HC50 will serve quite well as a headlamp for many. Performance is certainly very good, and there are a wide range of modes and output levels – including a couple of dedicated red modes, which is always a must for me in a headlamp.

    The max output level certainly tops the charts in my testing, with a very well implemented thermal step-down feature (see the detailed discussion earlier in this review). For a 1x18650-class headlamp, the feature set and overall design is very good in my view. There are a few things I would like to have seen done differently (e.g., given the dimensions, a top-mounted button would be better than side, and a more useful power indicator when worn would be nice).

    But headlamps are a tricky space - it is probably impossible to have one design that pleases everyone. I personally have gone through quite a few different models over the years – and continue to keep several models around for use in different situations and for different purposes.

    The beam pattern is quite good for a headlamp – very "floody" overall. But you still keep a reasonable throw distance, thanks to the very high max output (for a headlamp).

    On the whole, the HC50 is definitely a strong first entry for Nitecore into the headlight space. Hopefully the description and performance measures in this review will help you decide if it is right for you.

    ----

    HC50 provided by Nitecore for review.
    Full list of all my reviews: flashlightreviews.ca. Latest hobby: whiskyanalysis.com. New: Selfbuilt's Summer Sale!
    Gratefully accepting donations to my battery fund.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Nitecore HC50 Headlamp (1xXM-L2 2xRed LEDs - 1x18650) review: RUNTIMES, BEAMSHOTS

    Thanks for the review. I've the HC50 now for a while, I like the light. Although indeed, the button needs quite some force to change mode.
    Headband feels good, and holds the light secure.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Nitecore HC50 Headlamp (1xXM-L2 2xRed LEDs - 1x18650) review: RUNTIMES, BEAMSHOTS

    +1. The HC50 headband, specifically the band over the top of the head, effectively reduces the perceived weight of the HC50 with no slippage. My ZL Headlamps leave a dent in my forehead skin. Not so the HC50. Furthermore the headbands do not interfere with caps (when adjusted for length) or reading/working while looking up with the head resting on the ground/mat/pillow. I purchased 3 of these so far, no complaints from the "giftees". Only 1 of the 3 had a mis-aligned LED which made no meaningful difference on the beam pattern. The runtime on Med is good enough for a 'workday'. The High is getting kinda bright but good for working in/under dirty engines. I myself rarely use the max output. The glowing LED syndrome has been observed only ocassionally on 1 unit and means virtually nothing for real-world run-time.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Nitecore HC50 Headlamp (1xXM-L2 2xRed LEDs - 1x18650) review: RUNTIMES, BEAMSHOTS

    Quote Originally Posted by kj2 View Post
    Headband feels good, and holds the light secure.
    Quote Originally Posted by moldyoldy View Post
    +1. The HC50 headband, specifically the band over the top of the head, effectively reduces the perceived weight of the HC50 with no slippage.
    Thanks for the details guys. Glad to hear they did a good job on it.

    The glowing LED syndrome has been observed only ocassionally on 1 unit and means virtually nothing for real-world run-time.
    Yes, I seen some discussion of this online. In my case, the faint glow happens every time (i.e., after a battery change, or simply turning off). It is however extremely faint, and not in the least a concern for me. I simply reported it given the observation in the dark. Runtime is certainly not affected - the standby current I observed is reasonable.
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    Default Re: Nitecore HC50 Headlamp (1xXM-L2 2xRed LEDs - 1x18650) review: RUNTIMES, BEAMSHOTS



    great review as always!

    finally a comparison with other lights of similar output. just can't help but notice that the HC50 doesn't regulate very well at all especially considering that nitecore brags about it ("High-efficiency regulation circuit provides unwavering output").

    the SWM C21C and Eagtac D25LC2 both manage fairly flat runtime

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    Default Re: Nitecore HC50 Headlamp (1xXM-L2 2xRed LEDs - 1x18650) review: RUNTIMES, BEAMSHOTS

    The light regulates perfectly in the slighly darker High Mode.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Nitecore HC50 Headlamp (1xXM-L2 2xRed LEDs - 1x18650) review: RUNTIMES, BEAMSHOTS

    Quote Originally Posted by Overclocker View Post
    finally a comparison with other lights of similar output. just can't help but notice that the HC50 doesn't regulate very well at all especially considering that nitecore brags about it ("High-efficiency regulation circuit provides unwavering output").
    Quote Originally Posted by wertzius View Post
    The light regulates perfectly in the slighly darker High Mode.
    Yes, it is just the Turbo mode (on 1x18650) where the pattern looks more direct-drive. But this is really not an issue in practice - direct-drive on Li-ions is actually quite efficient, and you cannot see the very gradual drop-off over time.
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    Default Re: Nitecore HC50 Headlamp (1xXM-L2 2xRed LEDs - 1x18650) review: RUNTIMES, BEAMSHOTS

    Quote Originally Posted by selfbuilt View Post
    Yes, it is just the Turbo mode (on 1x18650) where the pattern looks more direct-drive. But this is really not an issue in practice - direct-drive on Li-ions is actually quite efficient, and you cannot see the very gradual drop-off over time.

    but it's not even efficient. the SWM C21C runs brighter, flatter, longer, and completely covers the HC50 curve under its curve

    yes it's not very noticeable in practice but it does show how inefficient and poorly regulated the HC50 driver is

  9. #9

    Default Re: Nitecore HC50 Headlamp (1xXM-L2 2xRed LEDs - 1x18650) review: RUNTIMES, BEAMSHOTS

    Quote Originally Posted by Overclocker View Post
    but it's not even efficient. the SWM C21C runs brighter, flatter, longer, and completely covers the HC50 curve under its curve
    yes it's not very noticeable in practice but it does show how inefficient and poorly regulated the HC50 driver is
    Yes, the efficiency of the HC50 is lower than many of the other other current-controlled lights run at equivalent levels (e.g. Zebralight, Olight, Eagletac, etc.) - particularly so on max. But those are some of the most efficient circuits out there. And compared to the current-controlled Nitecore MH25, overall efficiency doesn't seem that different (although again, the HC50 is not fully regulated on max).

    The most interesting thing to me is the lack of regulation on max. I wonder if this isn't due to some sort of overhead issue for the thermal regulation on the HC50 at this level (i.e., that may have affected efficiency somewhat, hence the move to the more direct-drive like pattern at this level to help compensate). Just speculation on my part, but it stands to reason the thermal sensor would have some sort of drag effect on performance.

    In general terms, I think the relative efficiency and performance of the thermal sensor on the HC50 are quite reasonable for this class. But I do note the HC50 - and Nitecore circuits in general - are nowhere near the performance of the recent Zebralight models. If one could afford the price difference, the new ZL headlamp model is likely to be a superior experience - on both these measures.
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    Default Re: Nitecore HC50 Headlamp (1xXM-L2 2xRed LEDs - 1x18650) review: RUNTIMES, BEAMSHOTS

    Quote Originally Posted by selfbuilt View Post
    Yes, the efficiency of the HC50 is lower than many of the other other current-controlled lights run at equivalent levels (e.g. Zebralight, Olight, Eagletac, etc.) - particularly so on max. But those are some of the most efficient circuits out there. And compared to the current-controlled Nitecore MH25, overall efficiency doesn't seem that different (although again, the HC50 is not fully regulated on max).

    The most interesting thing to me is the lack of regulation on max. I wonder if this isn't due to some sort of overhead issue for the thermal regulation on the HC50 at this level (i.e., that may have affected efficiency somewhat, hence the move to the more direct-drive like pattern at this level to help compensate). Just speculation on my part, but it stands to reason the thermal sensor would have some sort of drag effect on performance.

    In general terms, I think the relative efficiency and performance of the thermal sensor on the HC50 are quite reasonable for this class. But I do note the HC50 - and Nitecore circuits in general - are nowhere near the performance of the recent Zebralight models. If one could afford the price difference, the new ZL headlamp model is likely to be a superior experience - on both these measures.



    yes it makes me wonder too. i don't claim to have any knowledge on how a thermal sensor could somehow adversely impact the performance of a driver but here's your graph of the X10 which has a similar thermal sensor system. it doesn't seem like the thermal sensor negatively affects it at all because it just performs so well

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Nitecore HC50 Headlamp (1xXM-L2 2xRed LEDs - 1x18650) review: RUNTIMES, BEAMSHOTS

    I bought HC50 from HKequipment about 2 months ago, but return it because it was missing the medium low mode (the 35lm). So it was just an φff mode until I moved to the next mode. I experienced some trouble in getting back my HC50, HK forgot to return it back =(.
    But now the new HC50 is already shipped back to me. Without this "mode bug" I really like this headlamp. Feels good and comfortabe, fully featured, and extremely bright for daily activities.

    BTW, superb review!

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