Fenix HL50 Neutral White Headlamp - 'Compact Review' (1xAA or 1xCR123)

subwoofer

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Author's Statement for Transparency and Disclosure
The test sample/s featured in this article were provided for technical testing and review by "Fenixlight Limited". Test samples are retained by the reviewer following publication of the completed review for the purposes of long term testing and product comparisons.
Supply and Delivery was fulfilled by "MyFenix.co.uk", the UK Distributor for Fenix lights
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Fenix headlamps have been growing in number, and though not their first single AA powered headlamp, this is the first to use CR123. Oh, and not to forget their first 'dual-fuel' headlamp, with both AA and CR123 power options.

16-HL50angle.jpg


Much like the HL10 (previously reviewed here), the HL50 is effectively a compact right-angle flashlight with a headband mount, so can be used as a headlamp or as a small hand-held light.

Here it is shown with the AA extender fitted and attached to the headband mount.

20-HL50complete.jpg



Author's note: due to the general tendency for reviews to become ever longer, this review is presented in a different format to my previous ones, with all but a few images being animated to attempt to reduce excessive scrolling. You may need to wait for the images to load fully.

A quick look round the HL50

HL50GroupRotate-1s.gif


The reflector with XM-L2 Neutral White LED

HL50head3.gif



Taking a more detailed look:

The photos here show; the packaging, contents, headband mount, retaining ring, reflector detail, power switches, cooling fins, tail-cap, internal contacts, threads, AA extender, size comparison in CR123 and then AA configurations.

FenixHL50Overview-3sV4.gif



Now for a closer look at some details of the mount. A nicely finished all stainless steel mount, which holds the HL50 very securely. All edges are rounded and nothing sharp to catch the elastic or light on.

As standard, the HL50 light is held both by the main mount, and what I can only think is a 'safety retainer ring'. The first photo shows how the HL50 is still attached to the headband even when removed from the mount. I'm afraid the first thing I did was to remove this retaining ring as it made removal and refitting of the HL50 difficult.

Due to the mount design, only the headband contacts your head, so is very comfortable to wear for long periods.

The clamp of the mount is joined to the back plate with a 'clinch'. This is a method of joining sheet metal by pushing part of one sheet through the other and creating a form of rivet called a clinch. The clinch itself is well formed and very secure, and when seen from the back has not created any sharp edges to catch on the headband itself.

MountDetail-3s.gif




The beam

The beam is neutral white (The camera's white balance is set to daylight here in an attempt to represent the tint), and a very pleasant colour to work with.

There is a more defined hotspot than I would have liked for a single AA headlamp (considering it is for closer range use due to limited power). Though the hotspot is not too strong, it did make me aware of head movements which headlamps like the HL10 or HL30 do not.

28-HL50indoor.jpg


Outdoors the beam does run out of steam somewhat, with the exposure here adjusted to help show the beam shape.

27-HL50outdoor.jpg




Modes and User Interface:

There are 4 steady output levels, Low, Medium, High and Burst. The HL50's power switch is an electronic-click switch.

From OFF, click once to come on to the last used output level.
From ON, press and hold for 1s to switch off

When ON, a single click cycles through Low, Medium and High.

Press and hold the switch for 2s to enter Burst mode. As soon as you release the switch it will return to the previous state (OFF or other output mode).



Batteries and output:

The HL50 will run on any standard AA cell (obviously 14500 is NOT a 'standard AA') or primary CR123 (again RCR123 or any li-ion cells are not permitted). This allows you to have a ultra-compact high output light on CR123, or a slightly larger and cheaper-to-run version using AAs. The difference in output between AA and CR123 is so small, it means the choice is mainly regarding the size/weight, cost and required runtime (with CR123 offering smaller size, lighter weight and longer runtime compared to AA).

Keeping this test as much 'Fenix' as possible, the HL50 was powered using Panasonic 'Ready to Use' NiMh LSD AAs charged with a Fenix ARE-C2 charger. Typical CR123 Primary cells were used for output tests (Titanium Brand).

26-HL50withcharger.jpg


To measure actual output, I built an integrating sphere. See here for more detail. The sensor registers visible light only (so Infra-Red and Ultra-Violet will not be measured).

Please note, all quoted lumen figures are from a DIY integrating sphere, and according to ANSI standards. Although every effort is made to give as accurate a result as possible, they should be taken as an estimate only. The results can be used to compare outputs in this review and others I have published.

Fenix HL50I.S. measured ANSI output LumensPWM frequency or Strobe frequency (Hz)
Burst CR1233760
High CR1231740
Medium CR123610
Low CR12330
Burst AA3380
High AA1640
Medium AA600
Low AA20

Measure beam range comes in at 45m on AA, which, unusually for a Fenix light, is below specification. This is especially strange considering that all ANSI output measurements were above Fenix specifications for this light.

As there is an electronic switch, there is parasitic drain to be considered. Due to the lack of anodising on the threads, the HL50 has no lockout facility. The only way to stop the drain is to remove the cell.

With CR123 the drain fluctuated between 34uA and 29uA. Taking a worst case of 34uA the HL50 would completely drain a new Primary CR123 in 4.7 years.

With AA, the drain is a steady 29.7uA meaning it would take 7.3 years to deplete a 1900mAh cell.

This following runtime traces show three different scenarios. First is the ANSI cut-off runtime where the trace ends once the output drops to 10% of the initial ANSI output. Next these traces are continued beyond the ANSI cut-off to show the behaviour on low power. And finally there is a five minute trace of the burst mode, which I carried out to see how well the output is maintained.

ANSI output - High
29-HL50ANSIruntime.jpg


Extended output - High
30-HL50fullruntime.jpg


Burst mode for 5 minutes
31-HL50Burstruntime.jpg




Wrapping-up

Being a headlamp fan, and a fan of multi-cell-type lights, I was really looking forward to the HL50. With a removable light unit, all metal headband mount, simple choice of modes and the use of a neutral white LED, the overall package is attractive.

Though not having any particular preference for tint overall (as different tints can suit different applications), the neutral white LED is a great choice for the HL50. As a short range light, neutral output is easier on the eyes, and provides better colour rendition.

Compared to the HL10 where you need to hold the power button for about 1s to turn it on, the HL50 comes on with a simple click of the switch. This is much more intuitive and quick. Turning it off still requires a press and hold, but this is only a single button interface, so a press and hold is going to be needed at some stage.

As far as output level spacing goes, unfortunately in my opinion, it should have one additional level between low and medium of around 10-15lm, as the jump from 3lm to 60lm is too much for dark adapted eyes. In fact, even better would be the inclusion of a moon mode, and the 10-15lm mode.

I still can't work out the benefit of the retaining ring which keeps the HL50 attached to the headband once removed from the mount. When fitted it makes the removal and refitting of the HL50 difficult. The mount is secure enough that the light will not fall out by itself. Cell changes can be achieved while fitted to the mount, so the only time the HL50 is coming out of that mount is when you want it to use as a hand held light, in which case you will pull it out of the mount. However, this is easily removed, but I would recommend that you take the o-ring off the battery tube before removing the ring to avoid damaging the o-ring. This retaining ring however is the means by which the HL50 can be used as a keychain light should you wish to do so, so don't throw it away.

The beam does have a defined hotspot, which is really going to be a matter of personal preference. What I will say about this though is that compared to a very floody beam, the HL50's beam is far less dazzling to those people around you. A good test for this is to use your headlamp in front of a mirror, and you will see what I mean when comparing full flood and those with a hotspot.

Having an all metal mount does mean that in time, the HL50 will develop marks made by this mount. The mount itself though is very well finished, with no sharp edges, so at least it should take some time for this to happen. Once it is adjusted, personally I have not needed to keep adjusting it, and changing the battery does not require it to be taken out of the mount, or moved within it. The security and comfort of the mount far outweigh any potential for marking the anodising.

Good as it is, if Fenix could add a couple of extra output levels and include li-ion power support, it would be even better.

Overall the HL50 is a very nice light to use. At its heaviest (using NiMh AA) it is still light weight and very comfortable to wear for long periods. Thanks to its size, it doesn't need a top strap to add any further stability (I normally prefer headlamps to have a top strap). Again even when using AAs, it is very compact and easy to pop into a pocket ready for when you need it. Change over to CR123 and it becomes even smaller and has longer runtime. Whatever power source you feed it will depend on your needs and preferences. The beam's hotspot is soft enough to only need slight head position adjustment during use and this also has the added benefit of reduced dazzle for anyone that is with you.

Thanks to its instant on switching, simple interface and longer runtimes, the HL50 is usurping the HL10 as my every day headlamp.

22-HL50anglelit.jpg
 

subwoofer

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Reserved for updates...

Just to add to the Burst mode description:

If the HL50 was on, while holding the button to access Burst, it will initially go off, and then switch to Burst. The reason for this is that to turn the HL50 off, you press and hold the button. To access Burst, you press and hold the button, but for slightly longer than to switch off.

So if the HL50 is off, when accessing Burst, you only see the light come on, but if the HL50 was on already, first you see it turn off, then go into Burst. If the HL50 was on when accessing burst, as soon as you let go of the button, it will revert to the mode you were using.
 
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faucon

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Thanks, I appreciate your review as well as some others of this light. Based on all the excellent info I've gone ahead and ordered an HL50. I do have a question---I know the HL50 can't be used with 3.7V RCR123A cells, but what about my Tenergy 3.0V RCR123A batteries? It seems to me they ought to work fine without damaging the light.
 

subwoofer

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As far as I am concerned, The use of proper CR123 equivalent rechargeable 3.0v types should be fine, but unfortunately I can't try this for you as right now I don't have any usable ones.

This is Subwoofer mobile calling
 

rupertsilva10

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Thanks for that fantastic review. What I like about it, aside from its design is its range in lighting. It's far better than the ones I currently own.
 

Taz80

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I have the Tenergy 900mah RCR123 3.0V batteries, they work but you lose medium mode until the voltage drops a little. I didn't really test it that much because medium is the mode I use the most, so I've been using AA's.
 

faucon

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I have the Tenergy 900mah RCR123 3.0V batteries, they work but you lose medium mode until the voltage drops a little. I didn't really test it that much because medium is the mode I use the most, so I've been using AA's.
Thanks to you and Subwoofer for the info. I'll go ahead and try my Tenergy 3.0V cells---I can't see a down side to it. I'll also use my Eneloop XXX AAs since they give pretty good run time and I have plenty of them around.

Note: Received the HL50 today. Very nice! As you noted, the Tenergy cells work, but you lose the medium mode at first. So I'll probably use Eneloop AAs mostly. Even with the NIMH AA the headlamp still feels light and comfortable.
 
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subwoofer

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Thanks to you and Subwoofer for the info. I'll go ahead and try my Tenergy 3.0V cells---I can't see a down side to it. I'll also use my Eneloop XXX AAs since they give pretty good run time and I have plenty of them around.

Note: Received the HL50 today. Very nice! As you noted, the Tenergy cells work, but you lose the medium mode at first. So I'll probably use Eneloop AAs mostly. Even with the NIMH AA the headlamp still feels light and comfortable.

For me this light is being used as an AA light with the added bonus of being able to use CR123. I would carry a spare or two Eneloop AAs, as well as a CR123 for backup and if I need to use it them whip out the AA extender and pop in the CR123.
 

faucon

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That's an excellent idea, Subwoofer: normally using Eneloop AAs but carrying a spare CR123 as a small, long-lasting, and lightweight backup. I like the versatility of the two power options.
 

jn2

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Subwoofer, one of your graphs shows burst mode for 5 minutes, but it is not clear to me whether the cells discharge entirely after just five minutes of burst, as the graph appears to indicate, or whether you terminated the test at the five minute mark. Or, perhaps that is the HL50's internal limit on burst usage. Can you clarify?
 
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jn2

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On re-reading, I found my answer in the paragraph preceeding the graph, but I am still curious about overall runtime on burst.
 
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subwoofer

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Subwoofer, one of your graphs shows burst mode for 5 minutes, but it is not clear to me whether the cells discharge entirely after just five minutes of burst, as the graph appears to indicate, or whether you terminated the test at the five minute mark. Or, perhaps that is the HL50's internal limit on burst usage. Can you clarify?

On re-reading, I found my answer in the paragraph preceeding the graph, but I am still curious about overall runtime on burst.

:D I thought you would.

The issue is that the feature is designed for short periods of use and is made non-latching to prevent it being left in that mode. This should only be used for bursts of high output as it is taking the light to its limits.

When I have asked Fenix about clamping butttons on their lights with burst modes to measure the runtime they said it might lead to LED damage. I have therefore backed off this and went this the longest I could be bothered to hold it by hand.
 

jn2

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Gotcha. Thanks. I am new to shall we say better flashlights, having tolerated dollar or department store fare up until now. I must confess that I was puzzled when I discovered CPF and noted the incredible interest. But even having my Fenix HL10 for about a week now, I can appreciate the importance of a good flashlight and the subtleties that differentiate one from another. I have an HL50 on order.
 

jn2

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Another question for you subwoofer. In your two graphs showing runtime on high, there is a very sharp falloff at about 2hrs 20 min. My question is, what voltage would the battery have at the moment where the curve turns sharply down, if it were taken out and measured at that point?
 

subwoofer

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Another question for you subwoofer. In your two graphs showing runtime on high, there is a very sharp falloff at about 2hrs 20 min. My question is, what voltage would the battery have at the moment where the curve turns sharply down, if it were taken out and measured at that point?

This isn't something I measured at the time (as it would have meant interrupting the runtime test), so unfortunately I can't tell you.
 

jn2

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As fate would have it, I just burned through my first CR123 in the HL50. The battery clocked in at 2.084V. I used the light extensively over a few days and the battery seemed to stand up very well. I really like this light.
 
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