HDS ‘Epic’ Review – EDC Rotary and EDC Executive with new 2xAA and 18680(18650) tubes

subwoofer

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Joined
May 5, 2010
Messages
2,498
Location
Hove, UK
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Author's Statement for Transparency and Disclosure
The test sample/s featured in this article have been provided for technical testing and review by the manufacturer. Test samples are retained by the reviewer following publication of the completed review for the purposes of long term testing and product comparisons.

All output figures and test results published in this review are the sole work of the reviewer, and are carried out independently and without bias. Test results are reported as found, with no embellishments or alteration. Though best endeavours are made to maintain the accuracy of test equipment, the accuracy of these results is not guaranteed and is subject to the test equipment functioning correctly.
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To many flashaholics HDS Systems needs no introduction, but to the less ‘specialised’ user HDS might not be a name you recognise. Though always known as HDS Systems the name ‘Ra Lights’ has also been used. Renowned for their quality, durability, potted electronics, customisation and programmability, yet simplicity of use, HDS system’s EDC Executive and EDC Rotary set a standard by which others are judged.

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This review has been in the making for some time and takes me back to the SHOT Show Special Reviews for the very reason that the new 2xAA and 1x18680 (18650) battery tubes featured made their début at SHOT Show 2015.

(HDS Systems refer to the protected 18650 cell as an 18680. The 18680 is based on the 18650, but is longer than 65mm due to the protection circuit. Though not strictly correct, as the convention is to still refer to a protected 18650 cell simply as an ‘18650’, this is how I will be referring to them in the review).

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So this Epic HDS review really is a SHOT Show Special

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'SHOT SHOW Specials' are a series of reviews inspired by, or as a consequence of, my visit to the SHOT SHOW 2015.
These may contain photos taken while travelling, and may be of a slightly different format.


As there is so much detail to cover, there are going to be several more ‘detail’ sections in this review.


Taking a first look at what is in this review:

Both Rotary and Executive models are packaged in the HDS standard plastic clamshell blister pack.

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On the back of each pack are the specifications of each custom built light (customers can choose the emitter/output, bezel, clips etc).

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As well as the two lights, most of the HDS optional accessories were included (more on those later).

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Each light comes with only a printed instruction book and quick reference card.

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Side by side with the standard CR123 battery tube, the rotary is slightly longer than the Executive.

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The Executive and Rotary Looking super sharp with a flawless finish.

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Taking a more detailed look at the Executive:

Not to miss out on any details, first we look round the Executive. Deep rich anodising and an excellent finish leave you in no doubt this is a special light.

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This Executive CR123 tube has the low profile switch boot fitted.

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Quality machining is evident all over this light. Here you can also see the thin ‘filler’ o-ring at the base of the switch cap, which simply fills the groove where the pocket clip would be. As its function is purely aesthetic, it is removed if a pocket clip is fitted.

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The side profile of the Executive shows the waisted battery tube, which allows for a more secure grip for a normal or cigar grip.

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The reflector is lightly textured.

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This Executive is fitted with a 325lm XP-L LED.

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The central positive contact in the head consists of a spring with capping plate. The threads form the other main contact as the circular contact ring on the driver board is for the signal wire connection.

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Looking into the battery tube there is a similar capped spring for the negative contact. Inset into the edge of the battery tube is the signal wire used to communicate the switch clicks to the driver board.

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The signal wire protrudes slightly.

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Square cut ACME threads are used.

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The Executive next to a CR123 cell to get an idea of its size.

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A CR123 loaded and ready to go.

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Taking a more detailed look at the Rotary:

Switching over to the Rotary.

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The Rotary’s tailcap has a stop-screw to provide a reference for the position of the rotating tailcap. In the position shown its output is the minimum.

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As with the Executive, the Rotary was supplied with the low-profile button.

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This Rotary has the XP-G2 LED.

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Using the same textured reflector used in the Executive.

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As far as contacts go, there is no difference between the Rotary and Executive.

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The battery tube contact.

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The signal wire for the Rotary.

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This particular Rotary battery tube has anodising still on the top of the square threads. This makes no difference to function and only indicates a slightly different manufacturing process.

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A CR123 loaded and ready to go.

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Taking a more detailed look at the Tubes and Accessories:

The inspiration for this detailed review is actually the release of the long awaited alternative battery tubes for the HDS lights. In this case we have the Executive tubes with the standard CR123 tube fitted and next to that the 18650 and then 2xAA tubes. These are the pre-production tubes shown at SHOT Show 2015.

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In this photo the tubes are shown next to the cells they hold.

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With the Rotary shown for a constant scale reference, first the Executive is shown with its CR123 battery tube.

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Then the 18650 tube.

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And the 2xAA tube.

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This photo is packed with accessories:

Black Stainless steel bezel with black nitride finish.
Universal pocket clip, black.
Tactical ring.
Raised button.
Decorative pocket clip.
Pocket clip, black.

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Here the bezel has been swapped over on the Executive.

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The black bezel certainly gives the Executive a different look.

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For the Rotary you need to choose the universal pocket clip as you can’t remove the switch cap. The finish is as precise and flawless as the light it goes on to.

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To fit a pocket clip to the Executive, first unscrew the switch cap. Then you need to remove the o-ring to avoid pinching and damaging it, and slide the clip into place.

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Here the Executive is sporting the silver decorative pocket clip.

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Profile view of the decorative pocket clip.

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Next to the Executive is the black pocket clip and tactical ring.

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The grip ring can be fitted on the switch cap. (You should also fit the raised button if using the grip ring – the reason this was not done during the photography stage of this review was due to time constraints)

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Or alternatively towards to front, depending on how you want to improve the grip. (If fitted to the front the pocket clip should be removed)

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This photo shows why, when fitting the tactical ring, you should not have the pocket clip fitted, as the grip ring interferes with the pocket clip function. (Remember you should also have the raised button fitted).

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Due to its rotating tailcap, if you fit the pocket clip to the Rotary’s tailcap, the clip will rub on the head of the light as you adjust the output.

The universal clip is more versatile as you can fit it the other way round for a bezel-up hold. But, as shown, you still have rubbing while adjusting the light level, this time on the tailcap itself.

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However if you bring the mount just over the bezel, you can position the clip in to just sit on the stop screw.

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In this position there is no rubbing when adjusting the output.

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The 18650 tube has had the black pocket clip fitted.

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The Executive is shown with all its options of pocket clips, battery tubes and the black bezel.

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As before but with the Rotary included for reference.

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The beam

Please be careful not to judge tint based on images you see on a computer screen. Unless properly calibrated, the screen itself will change the perceived tint.
The indoor beamshot is intended to give an idea of the beam shape/quality rather than tint. All beamshots are taken using daylight white balance. The woodwork (stairs and skirting) are painted Farrow & Ball "Off-White", and the walls are a light sandy colour called 'String' again by Farrow & Ball. I don't actually have a 'white wall' in the house to use for this, and the wife won't have one!


Starting indoors with the Rotary. Its XP-G2 LED gives a coolish tint and strong hotspot.

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The Executive’s XP-L LED has a more neutral tint and wider hotspot and spill (as you would expect of the larger emitter).

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The characteristics seen indoors become even more obvious outdoors. The Rotary, despite lower output has better throw, but a narrower beam.

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With its broader beam, neutral tint and higher output, the Executive is very capable and is a very pleasant Every Day Beam.

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Modes and User Interface:

One of the reasons for the popularity of the HDS Executive and Rotary is that as well as being extremely usable on their default settings, there is the option to customise several features and output levels.

Both the Rotary and Executive have four preset output modes A, B, C and D. Due to the Rotary’s different output control, these are implemented in different ways.

We will get onto the customisation later, but for now, we are looking at default out-of-the-box settings.

The Executive turns onto Preset B. Various clicks or press-and-hold combinations give access to Presets A, C, and D (see ‘Basic Operation’ in the Programming Crib Sheet)

HDS lights have a total of 24 output levels available from the driver. These have been carefully chosen for optimum visually even level spacing.

From these 24 internal levels, the Executive’s default levels for each Preset are as follows.

________________________________________________________________
HDS Systems Executive OutputDefault Level (1-24 output levels)
________________________________________________________________
Preset A24
Preset B16
Preset C20
Preset D8

Due to the Rotary having access to all output levels via its rotary control, these Presets are used differently.

For the Rotary:
Preset A is set to the Maximum level 24
Preset B is the Rotary level
Preset C is a Beacon
Preset D is a Fast Strobe


Output customisation and feature selection:

Both the Executive and Rotary have customisation options. There are five important concepts to understand so you can get to grips with programming these lights.

1. Restoring Factory Settings – I start with this one as you should not be afraid of having a go at programming the light. At any time you can easily restore the light’s settings to default.

2. Reset – This tells the light something is changing. On a basic level it can be that the cell or cell type is being changed and also acts as a starting point for programming or restoring factory settings. The Reset itself does not change any customisations or settings.

3. Enable Customisation – does what it says. By default, customisation is disabled, so to make any changes you need to enable customisation. When disabled, the commands to enter the Options Menu or Change Brightness Levels won’t work.

4. Enter Option Menu – Gives access to change various features such as Turn-on preset, Automatic off, Locator flash, Pseudo Momentary, Burst and Customisation.

5. Customising Brightness Presets – allows you to adjust the level used for any of the presets.

Though the instructions provided by HDS are comprehensive, I found the small booklet and reference card difficult to work with, so inspired another ‘Programming Crib Sheet’ I produced, after testing all programming options, I put together one of these for the HDS.

Rather than include all the detail in this crib sheet in the review, you can access the crib sheet below.

Click on the thumbnail to open the crib sheet in a new tab/window and then use the magnifier to zoom in. You can save the image and print it as I find it easier on a piece of A4 paper.


Please also remember to visit HDS Systems website as it contains a wealth of detailed information about the lights and design aspects.

When you disable Turn On Preset, initially it can be slightly disorienting if you are used to always getting Preset B (the default) when turning it on. However, although the light comes on in the Last-Used-Preset, the other presets are still accessible in the same way as described in the ‘Basic Operation’.



Batteries and output:

Both the Rotary and Executive were designed as 1xCR123/RCR123 lights, with an input voltage range of 1.8V to 4.5V.

With the introduction of the new battery tubes the cell choices are now 1xCR123, 1xRCR123, 1x18650 and 2xAA. (NOTE: do NOT use 2xCR123 or 2xRCR123, or 2x14500 in the 18650 and 2xAA battery tubes as you will destroy to power supply)

When changing cell types from Li-ion to a lower voltage chemistry, CR123 or 2xAA, it is important to carry out a Reset so the circuit correctly identifies the cell type being used.

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.

In the following table there is information on how the levels are spaced in reference to the Maximum level. So you have Maximum minus ‘x’ levels until the output dropped below the threshold of my current integrating sphere.

________________________________________________________________________________________________
HDS Systems RotaryI.S. measured ANSI output LumensPWM frequency or Strobe frequency (Hz)
________________________________________________________________________________________________
Max (CR123)2820
Max -1 level (CR123)1830
Max -2 levels (CR123)1220
Max -3 levels (CR123)790
Max -4 levels (CR123)550
Max -5 levels (CR123)330
Max -6 levels (CR123)220
Max -7 levels (CR123)140
Max -8 levels (CR123)90
Max -9 levels (CR123)50
Max -10 levels (CR123)30
Max -11 levels (CR123)20
Max -12 levels (CR123)below threshold0
Max (RCR123)2790
StrobeNot measured17.2
BeaconNot measured1

Peak Beam intensity measured 4800lx @1m giving a beam range of 139m.

Parasitic drain measured at 8uA using CR123, and at this drain it would take 19.96 years to completely drain the cell.


For the EDC Executive we have the different battery choices to compare.

________________________________________________________________________________________________
HDS Systems ExecutiveI.S. measured ANSI output LumensPWM frequency or Strobe frequency (Hz)
________________________________________________________________________________________________
Preset A (CR123)3700
Preset B (CR123)100
Preset C (CR123)630
Preset D (CR123)Below Threshold0
Preset A (RCR123)3560
Preset B (RCR123)90
Preset C (RCR123)600
Preset D (RCR123)Below Threshold0
Preset A (2xAA)3560
Preset B (2xAA)100
Preset C (2xAA)630
Preset D (2xAA)Below Threshold0
Preset A (18650)3610
Preset B (18650)100
Preset C (18650)620
Preset D (18650)Below Threshold0

* Beacon and Strobe output measurements are only estimates as the brief flashes make it difficult to capture the actual output value.

Peak Beam intensity measured 3200lx @1m giving a beam range of 113m.

Parasitic drain measured at 4uA using CR123, and at this drain it would take 39.93 years to completely drain the cell.


For the runtime traces, the default ‘burst’ mode was disabled to maintain maximum output.

At the time of the review the Rotary 18650 and 2xAA battery tubes were not available, so only CR123 and RCR123 traces were measured.

Using RCR123 does provide a longer run at maximum output, but once the cell is depleted, the output drops quickly through the levels. On CR123 total runtime is much longer but with more time spent on lower levels.

HDS%20Rotary%20runtime.jpg



For the Executive, the relative output of CR123 and RCR123 are much like they are with the Rotary. The use of 2xAA gives approximately twice the runtime of RCR123, with considerable more runtime at maximum output, but shorter overall runtime compared to CR123.

It is with 18650 that runtime is significantly boosted for maximum output and total runtime. The graph speaks for itself.

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Showing one of its lower modes, the Executive’s XP-L LED.

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Similarly the Rotary on a very low level

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Troubleshooting

This is a new section I am adding to mention any minor niggles I came across during testing, in case the information helps anyone else.

No issues were encountered during testing.

As per the description of this section, this information is provided in case anyone else finds a similar 'issue' that might be fixed in the same way.



The HDS EDC Executive and EDC Rotary in use

Though not the most compact lights these really do set the standard for EDC thanks to their superb functionality.

In their default configurations, both lights are optimised for most users already. It took me a lot of time to decide on some customisations and I still might revert them to factory defaults. So, even though you have the ability to customise HDS lights, I would not take this as a reason to customise them, or think it is not worth buying as you don’t want to be bothered customising them. Out of the box these are highly usable and EDC focussed.

What I have settled on currently are the following custom settings:

EDC Rotary – Locator Flash enabled, Burst Disabled, Pseudo Momentary Enabled

EDC Executive – Turn On Preset enabled and set to Preset D, Locator Flash enabled, Burst Disabled, Pseudo Momentary Enabled

Both are left with customisation enabled to allow me to more easily tweak these settings.

The two types of button have me slightly torn between them. The standard low profile button is well protected, minimising the risk of accidental switch on. However this does mean it can become a bit straining on the thumb when carrying out multiple clicks and customisations. The raised button is much more accessible and makes it easier to quickly access multiple click modes and generally operate the light. Of course the raised button does increase the risk of accidental activation. For a EDC light you might prefer the safety of the low profile button, but for its ease of use I prefer the raised button.

Having changed the Executive to turn on to Preset D (which is set to a very low level), accidental activation would not worry me too much.

The Rotary is so simple to use and set the output as you want it, so I’ll leave this aside for the moment and concentrate more on the Executive.

I’d like to stress how well set up I found the Executive’s default configuration. Take the output levels chosen for each preset. By default it turns on to B. Preset B provides 10 lumens and is a great level for general close range tasks. If you need a bit more light, but not too much, double click to get Preset C at 63lm. In any Presets B, C or D, simply press and hold to get Preset A at maximum output. For my own EDC purposes, I rarely need maximum.

As a low output mode, Preset D has been set to level 8 out of 24. Having also tried D set to level 1 (the lowest) I found myself general preferring the default of level 8. The reason being that with non-dark-adapted eyes, this is still usable in darkness, and with fully dark-adapted vision, though a little brighter than ideal, it is not too bright to use, and does not induce any squinting or avoidance.

For my own purposes, I decided I wanted the Executive to come onto Preset D (set to the default level 8) as I prefer to start low and work my way up.

My reasons for the other (previously listed) customisations I have made are that, if I want maximum, I want it to stay maximum (so ‘burst’ is disabled). I like the ability to set a locator flash on lights I have with me when travelling in case I’m staying in an unfamiliar room. For standard switches, forward-clickies are my favourite as I like to be able to use momentary output, hence the pseudo-momentary being enabled.


You can now choose different sizes of light thanks to the battery tube options. Of course the most compact and EDC-able are the original CR123 tubes, but the extra size you get with the 18650 and 2xAA tubes make the handling better (in my opinion).

2xAA has long been one of my favourite configurations. This is because the tube length and diameter just make for a very comfortable grip. At this time, the 2xAA has become my favoured battery tube for general use, but should the total runtime be an important factor, I would switch to the 18650 tube. There is no ‘best’ choice in battery tube, only the one that best fits your needs for size/weight, grip and runtime requirements.

Also don’t forget the full tactical mode available. Rapidly clicking the button 6 times from off sets the Executive or Rotary into a mode where the switch is permanently momentary (no latching On at all) and the output is set to maximum. Once this mode is activated,bear in mind you need to carry out a Reset to return the light to normal operation.

Overall quality is to a very high standard and all of my expectations were met or exceeded. Manufacturing tolerances make the fit of all parts just right, precise and snug but not too tight which can make fitting accessories difficult.



Review Summary

______________________________________________________________________________________________
Things I likeWhat doesn't work so well for me
______________________________________________________________________________________________
High qualityNot the most compact CR123 EDC light
Default settings are virtually ‘ideal’ for EDCNot the brightest EDC light
Output/function can be customisedQuality comes with a higher price tag
Battery tubes for CR123, 18650 and 2xAAProgramming may appear too complex for some users
Durable, with fully potted electronics

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subwoofer

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Reserved for updates...

Just wanted to add a comment that in the runtime graphs where a trace looks like it is dripping down, this is where the output logging has captured low battery warning flashes. Only a some flashes get captured when the coincide with a measurement.

UPDATE - 16 Nov 2015: For many this won't be a surprise, but I have just found the HDS 'Easter Egg' undocumented feature 'candle mode'. Candle mode is a flickering candlelight simulation.

For the current interface, as documented in this review, to access candle mode from OFF click 9 times.
 
Last edited:

RI Chevy

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WOW! Absolutely one of the most thorough reviews I've ever read! Thank you for taking your time and using your resources to do this for all of us!
 

yoyoman

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Nice review. I especially enjoyed the runtime charts. The runtime on the 18650 2600 mAh is impressive. I assume that it didn't get too hot as the emitter is not over driven.

Yes, I've read the new ones come with a high polish bezel.

Thank you for taking the time to do this.
 

akhyar

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As always, excellent review @Subwoofer.
Thanks for taking the time for the thorough review. [emoji106]
 

subwoofer

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WOW! Absolutely one of the most thorough reviews I've ever read! Thank you for taking your time and using your resources to do this for all of us!

Thanks for saying so :D (I appreciate all comments and read all posts even if I don't reply to every one.)

Nice review. I especially enjoyed the runtime charts. The runtime on the 18650 2600 mAh is impressive. I assume that it didn't get too hot as the emitter is not over driven.

As I disabled Burst mode, the head of the lights did warm up a bit, but not a lot. As I need to ensure safety during my testing, I always run cooling fans (unless stated otherwise) to keep temperatures down. If you hand hold a light, you know if it is getting too hot and can take action if needed, but the run time traces have the light in a clamp.

Of course the HDS lights are safe to run constantly on maximum as they have temperature control, but I always prefer to keep things cool if I can.

Great review subwoofer! Is it just me or the emitters look off center in all models?

In both samples, the emitters are off-centre. However, in my experience, emitter centring is not as crucial as many people seem to think. The beams are both well formed as seen in the beam shots. With highly focussed reflectors used in specialised throwers, the emitter centring is more important, but on most general purpose lights it does not matter.
 

ganymede

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In both samples, the emitters are off-centre. However, in my experience, emitter centring is not as crucial as many people seem to think. The beams are both well formed as seen in the beam shots. With highly focussed reflectors used in specialised throwers, the emitter centring is more important, but on most general purpose lights it does not matter.

The emitter on my HDS Clicky Nichia 219B is off center as well, not a biggy but could be better.
 

recDNA

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Thanks for saying so :D (I appreciate all comments and read all posts even if I don't reply to every one.)



As I disabled Burst mode, the head of the lights did warm up a bit, but not a lot. As I need to ensure safety during my testing, I always run cooling fans (unless stated otherwise) to keep temperatures down. If you hand hold a light, you know if it is getting too hot and can take action if needed, but the run time traces have the light in a clamp.

Of course the HDS lights are safe to run constantly on maximum as they have temperature control, but I always prefer to keep things cool if I can.



In both samples, the emitters are off-centre. However, in my experience, emitter centring is not as crucial as many people seem to think. The beams are both well formed as seen in the beam shots. With highly focussed reflectors used in specialised throwers, the emitter centring is more important, but on most general purpose lights it does not matter.





Great review!


You commented on great fit and finish. Did the color of the head match color of the ano on your body tube?



Could you comment on how temperature control works with burst mode off? I somehow missed the 411 on temperature control.


Thanks for the tip on doing a reset before changing to a new battery type. I usually use primaries but tried RCR123 and neglected to do a reset.


I like the new shiny bezel rings. I hope my next HDS comes with one.

One last question. I like how you lined up the universal clip end with rotary head screw but does that interfere with sliding it in your pocket? In other words does the screw snag?
 
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pjandyho

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Oct 29, 2003
Messages
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Location
Singapore
Thanks for the taking the time and effort to do this review. Always something that I wanted to do but never bothered getting down to it. Great work subwoofer! Always love my HDS!
 

subwoofer

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May 5, 2010
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Location
Hove, UK
Great review!


You commented on great fit and finish. Did the color of the head match color of the ano on your body tube?



Could you comment on how temperature control works with burst mode off? I somehow missed the 411 on temperature control.


Thanks for the tip on doing a reset before changing to a new battery type. I usually use primaries but tried RCR123 and neglected to do a reset.


I like the new shiny bezel rings. I hope my next HDS comes with one.

One last question. I like how you lined up the universal clip end with rotary head screw but does that interfere with sliding it in your pocket? In other words does the screw snag?

On the CR123 tubes, yes the anodising was the same colour. The 18650 and 2xAA tubes there was a very slight difference. This might be due to these being the pre-production tubes and not final production versions.


Quoting directly from the HDS instruction book:

"5. Thermal Limits

Your flashlight monitors the LED temperature and the external flashlight temperature to protect the LED and to prevent the exterior from becoming too hot to safely handle. If either temperature nears the safety limits, your flashlight will automatically step down to a lower power setting to control the temperature. This is typically only necessary on the maximum continuous level when Burst is disabled. Your flashlight will automatically reset the thermal limit when it is turned off and back on again."


And for the clip question, as the stop screw is smooth and burr free, it did not interfere with clipping it to a pocket when I tired. I tend to slightly lift pocket clips when clipping them into place without even thinking about it.
 

Phlogiston

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Jan 7, 2015
Messages
602
Location
Scotland
Thank you, Subwoofer! I have too many things in the budget queue to justify an HDS light right now, lovely as they are, but I still enjoyed reading your review and learning about HDS' current state of the art.

For now, I continue to covet that 2xAA Rotary :)
 

sledhead

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CPF Supporter
Joined
Jan 20, 2007
Messages
1,801
Fantastic review! I have all 3 body tubes......after using them now for awhile I believe the 18650 is the most ergonomic. For me anyways!
 
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