NITECORE HC50 Headlamp Review (1x 18650 2x R/CR123)

subwoofer

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This is NITECORE's first headlamp, and first impressions are very good. The HC50's box proudly states a maximum output of 565 lumens, but a nice surprise is that during testing (using NITECORE's NL189 3400mAh cell) the measured output was 627 lumens.

Taking a single 18650, or two R/CR123s directly in the lamp unit (ie, without a separate battery pack), the HC50 is relatively large, but not overly heavy.

The large rubber mount and headband looks comfortable and easy to adjust and has a top strap for added stability.

There is the option of either white or red light giving a lot of flexibility and choice of output.

13HC50redledsangle.jpg




Taking a closer look:

Out of the box, the HC50 comes fully assembled with the strap and light together, ready to go. Also included are spare o-rings and the instructions.

01HC50withbox.jpg


Looking straight at the LEDs, there is the central white XM-L2 and each side a red LED.

03HC50LEDs.jpg


The rubber mount is easy to remove and the HC50 can be used like this as a separate light. Shown next to the HC50 is a NITECORE NL189 3400mAh 18650.

04HC50outofband.jpg


All of the strap buckles use the same C-clip shown in this photo, which allow you to easily disassemble the strap and take it off for cleaning or replacement. This is a very well designed strap with plenty of adjustment.

05strapdetail.jpg


Looking from the side, the cooling fins protrude more near the top.

06HC50findetail.jpg


The cap has plenty of grip for easy removal, and inside the cap, there is a rotating circuit board with a locator pin that engages with the main body to align the contact spring.

08HC50capopen.jpg


The battery tube is a snug fit for most protected 18650s and edges of the end of the tube are crisp and sharp. Due to this you need to watch out as you fit the cell not to damage it. One of the NL189s was slightly larger than the other and the wrap over the protection circuit strip down the side of the cell was scratched and nicked in one spot even when trying to insert it carefully.

90NL189scratch.jpg


Looking inside the battery tube at the positive contact, the physical reverse polarity protection can be seen. This means it is not possible to use flat top cells.

09HC50batterytube.jpg


The threads are trapezoid, cleanly cut and fully anodised. A single o-ring provides the seal.

10HC50threads.jpg


The HC50 is on a cm scale grid to show the size.

18HC50sizegrid.jpg


Like many other NITECORE lights, the HC 50 uses a two-stage button and this has either green or red illumination to indicate the battery condition. Here the HC50 is very happily green.

12HC50batterygoodbutton.jpg




Modes and User Interface:

There are 5 steady white output levels (Lowest, Low, Medium, High and Turbo), and two flashing modes (SOS and beacon).

After fitting a new battery, the HC50 will first come on in Medium.

There are two output modes for the red LEDs, steady on and flashing.


From off, to switch onto white output, fully click the switch. To cycle through the modes, half press the button.

To switch off, fully press the button. – One observation here is that if you do not 'stab' the button fully very quickly, the mode will be changed before it switches off. With the light on your head, it is not as easy to do this quick click as the button is awkwardly placed.

The button also has a loud click, so you won't be very stealthy using this light.

When switching back on, it will be in the last used mode, unless you have changed the battery, in which case it will come on in Medium.

To access the white flashing modes, when 'on', a quick double click (fully pressing the button) will give you SOS mode. A half press changes this to beacon. A full click switches the HC50 off.


To access the red output, from 'off', press and hold for about two seconds. It will then come on in steady red mode. A half press changes to flashing. A further full press will turn the HC50 off.


The button is also illuminated. When fitting a cell, the button will flash the full volts first, then the 0.1 V, so 4 flashes followed by 2 indicates the cell is at 4.2V. When fitting a freshly charged 18650, I have seen 4.3V reported (when I know the cell is at 4.2V or less), so this reading can be slightly high, but is a good enough approximation.

Every time the HC50 is switched on the button lights up either green to indicate more than 50% charge, or red, to indicate less than 50% charge.



Batteries and output:

The HC50 will run on 1x18650 or 2x R/CR123. The R/CR123 refers to both CR123 and RCR123.

Keeping this test 100% NITECORE, the HC50 was powered using the NITECORE NL189 3400mAh 18650 protected cell charged with a NITECORE i4 charger (both kindly supplied by NITECORE.co.uk for this review).

17HC50withi4andNL189.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.

NITECORE HC50 using NL189 18650I.S. measured ANSI output LumensPWM frequency or Strobe frequency (Hz)
Turbo6270
High4140
Medium1990
Low380
Lowest20
Red20
SOS flashes695N/A
Beacon flashes126N/A

With an electronic switch, there is parasitic drain. This measured at 0.165mA meaning with a 3400mAh 18650 it will take 2.35 years to deplete the cell.

When carrying out the runtime test I always use a cooling fan. A static runtime test is carried out in very unrealistic conditions in that a light would not be left indoors in a clamp running at full output for a long as the batteries last in normal use. To counter this unrealistic scenario, forced cooling is used. Even with a cooling fan many lights hit 60° C or more.

This runtime trace is on Turbo output mode and using a NITECORE NL189 3400mAh 18650. The trace is cut off at the ANSI rating point but following this cut-off, the HC50 continued to output light for a further 2 hours and at this time had dropped to around 2lm.

NITECOREHC50ANSIruntimeNL189.jpg




The beam

The indoor beamshot shows the HC50's beam has a very wide flood beam with a soft edged outer spill and a slightly brighter hotspot area.

19HC50indoorbeamwhite.jpg


The red beam is not as wide, but is surprisingly smooth and even despite using 5mm type LEDs.

20HC50indoorbeamred.jpg


Moving outdoors shows just how good an area light the HC50 is, nicely filling the area with light.

21HC50outdoorbeamwhite.jpg




Wrapping-up

NITECORE have drawn on their experience in making lights to produce a very effective headlamp. The beam is ideal for close range work, but also has the power to extend this range to a much larger area.

So far I've found for indoor use, and general outdoor tasks that the Medium, is more than enough and sometimes I use Low, with High and Turbo held in reserve for when you need more range.

The headband is incredibly comfortable, and makes the HC50 virtually disappear even on long periods of use.

Personally I find there are a couple of issues relating to the switch, and switch position. The switch has a very loud click (compared to most lights) so even having the Lowest mode you might wake up a sleeping partner. The switch operation is quite stiff for the full press, this combined with the position (when worn on the head), makes it a bit awkward to click it fully. If the switch were on the top of the light it would be easier to pinch/squeeze it with either hand. Finally, connected with the stiff operation and awkward placement, when trying to switch the light off, I find that frequently I end up changing modes and then switching it off. This means when I turn it back on it will be in a brighter mode. If I concentrate on stabbing the button in this does not happen

The HC50 may be a little battery fussy due to its relatively tight battery tube. All protected 3100mAh cells I have fitted without issue, but as mentioned earlier one of the two NITECORE NL189 3400mAh cells suffered some minor damage on inserting it into the HC50.

Regarding the UI, the issue described above leads onto a comment about the mode changing. As you have to cycle through all modes to go down in brightness, this starts to become annoying when coupled with the accidental mode change. Take the example of using the light in Low; Switching it off but accidentally changing to medium, now I have to switch it back on, cycle through High, Turbo, Lowest to get back to Low. Not a problem as such, but more noticeable thanks to the switch design leading to accidental mode changes.

Another observation which I need to investigate further is that having left the light off for several hours overnight, I have found the white LED glowing very very dimly. Much dimmer than the Lowest mode and something you only notice in complete darkness. Switching the HC50 on and off again removed the glow. I will be keeping an eye on this.

Despite the critical comments above, the HC50 is a very good light. The wide flood beam is excellent, with well-spaced output levels makes it really easy and comfortable to use. Optional red light output adds to its versatility. The flashing modes provided are excellent, with the red flashing working well as a rear warning light when walking/running/cycling at night and the white beacon mode being one of the best beacons I've seen with a brief snappy flash at a short interval. The headband is one of the best I have seen and remains comfortable for extended periods. Use of the 18650 provides a high energy density and plenty of power in a compact package. A gradual fading of output with no sudden cut-off means you won't be left in the dark.

Overall the HC50 works very well, and is going to be getting a lot more use. It looks like it will be deposing my previous favourite headlamp from its throne.


Since getting the HC50, strange, unexplained lights have been seen floating around. Will they be coming to an area near you soon?

23HC50strangeredlights.jpg



NITECORE HC50 test sample provided by NITECORE for review.
NITECORE NL189 3400mAh 18650 and Intellicharger i4 kindly provided by NITECORE.co.uk
 

subwoofer

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reserved for updates...

So the XML-L2 LED glowing when the HC50 is off, is a regular feature of the one I have on test:

Here it is next to a T100 tritium watch and a 12s exposure shows the glow is quite visible in dark conditions. I don't think I will be able to measure the increased parasitic drain in this condition.

EDIT: parasitic drain with the LED glowing in the OFF state is 0.63mA (compared to 0.165mA when the LED is completely off). These are not good figures, but with a 3400mAh 18650 still means 2.35 years to deplete the cell at the lower drain, and 0.62 years at the higher drain. If using regularly, these drains are relatively unimportant, and only matter if storing the light (but you can easily lock-out the light if needed).


24HC50glowwhenoff.jpg



The HC50's impressive trail lighting ability.

24Onthetrail.jpg


Update October 2014: So after nearly a year, I'm still using this light. After working out how I like to deal with the difficulty of turning off the HC50 without changing mode, and the glowing LED after switching it off, which is simply to take the HC50 off and unscrew the cap by half a turn, I've found that I enjoy using this light a lot. The headband and rubber mount are comfortable, and the quality of light very good.

Tightening the cap and turning it on before placing the HC50 on my head, and then whipping it off my head and unscrewing the cap has become a natural part of using this light. The benefits are not having any parasitic drain, and always having the HC50 locked-out, plus the ease of enabling it due to the grippy cap make this method work well for me. By activating it and switching it off, while not wearing it, I also get to see the status indications of the switch illumination. Altogether win win.
 
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subwoofer

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Post 2 updated regarding LED glowing when the HC50 is off. Has anyone else noticed this with their HC50?
 

Overclocker

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NITECOREHC50ANSIruntimeNL189.jpg


pretty crappy regulation considering it's "only" 565 lumens. should be in regulation longer than 30mins

restarting the light doesn't bring it back up to full brightness?
 

subwoofer

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pretty crappy regulation considering it's "only" 565 lumens. should be in regulation longer than 30mins

restarting the light doesn't bring it back up to full brightness?

Remember this is on Turbo / Maximum output.

"pretty crappy regulation" - Not really, for two main reasons:

A headlamp is the last light you want running at full regulation until cut-off when you then get plunged into darkness and have to fiddle unprepared with a battery change. The gradual decline is a far preferable trait for a headlamp that is being used rather than played with.

The gradual decline is due to the cell becoming depleted such that its voltage is lower than that required by the driver to keep in regulation. If you turn off the light, the cell voltage will initially recover enough to give a brief burst of full power but then enter the declining phase again. The driver has been designed well in this instance as it gives the user far more time to decide when to change the battery.


For my own purposes, I will only use a light with full regulation as a secondary light source, so that when it does fail and go completely dark, I will still have my primary light working. I tend to have a headlamp as a primary light.

That said, everyone is entitled to their own opinion :)

People often focus too much on maximum outputs. In fact, the more I use the HC50, the more I find I use mainly the low mode. Turbo, so far, has not had any real practical use.
 

Overclocker

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Remember this is on Turbo / Maximum output.

"pretty crappy regulation" - Not really, for two main reasons:

A headlamp is the last light you want running at full regulation until cut-off when you then get plunged into darkness and have to fiddle unprepared with a battery change. The gradual decline is a far preferable trait for a headlamp that is being used rather than played with.

The gradual decline is due to the cell becoming depleted such that its voltage is lower than that required by the driver to keep in regulation. If you turn off the light, the cell voltage will initially recover enough to give a brief burst of full power but then enter the declining phase again. The driver has been designed well in this instance as it gives the user far more time to decide when to change the battery.


For my own purposes, I will only use a light with full regulation as a secondary light source, so that when it does fail and go completely dark, I will still have my primary light working. I tend to have a headlamp as a primary light.

That said, everyone is entitled to their own opinion :)

People often focus too much on maximum outputs. In fact, the more I use the HC50, the more I find I use mainly the low mode. Turbo, so far, has not had any real practical use.



dude it's 2013 flashlights don't suddenly plunge you into darkness anymore. e.g. zebralights run FLAT regulated until when battery is almost empty then it steps down automatically to MEDIUM, then eventually to LOW.

here's the the foursevens, pic by ti-force:

QT2L-XvsQuarkXAW17670MaxModeGraph.png


runs FLAT for the majority of the runtime then drops off towards the very end, still giving you ample time to change batteries.

please. let's not be apologetic about the HC50

REMEMBER! there are 5 levels on the HC50. if user wishes a lower level then user could simply select the lower level. it just sucks when you need FULL OUTPUT and the headlamp can't deliver because it has a crappy driver
 
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subwoofer

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That graph has an odd scale on the x-axis. It goes up in steps of 2 for the majority then jumps to 10s after it reaches 30mins. Not sure I'd take have much faith in that.

Anyway 'dude', 2013 it might be, and I am not defending the HC50, I just don't see it as being 'crappy'.

The stepping down feature is useful if well implemented, and I would have preferred the HC50 to definitely step down to the next output level if it cannot maintain the current one - so agreed on that. My most used headlamp so far, the Fenix HL30 (which I much prefer over my ZLs and any others) steps down, clearly indicating low battery and the available modes also allow you to see the state of the batteries (ie, can I still get high, or just medium etc?). I would personally prefer NITECORE to implement this type of step down in the HC50.
 
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Overclocker

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That graph has an odd scale on the x-axis. It goes up in steps of 2 for the majority then jumps to 10s after it reaches 30mins. Not sure I'd take have much faith in that.

Anyway 'dude', 2013 it might be, and I am not defending the HC50, I just don't see it as being 'crappy'.

i've just tested my unit. it does fall out of regulation shortly after the 30min mark, using NCR18650B.

yep ti-force compressed/expanded certain parts to show the 30-second smooth ramp down

after using HC50 for a while, i have to conclude it's pretty CRAPPY. see below

To switch off, fully press the button. – One observation here is that if you do not 'stab' the button fully very quickly, the mode will be changed before it switches off. With the light on your head, it is not as easy to do this quick click as the button is awkwardly placed.

yeah i noticed this. very very annoying. if you spend just that millisecond longer in half-press position the HC50 changes modes. the next mode becomes memorized, so when you turn it back on it comes on with the wrong mode instead of the one you though you had saved. you're right, and the button is so stiff it's quite difficult to do this quick "stab" one handed
 

AbbyY

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Even it's not the perfect one, finally I like this flashlight. I have the HC50 and 2xArmytek Wizard Pro (regular and wide) in comparison. I love the beam pattern of HC50, the red light and special modes. Besides, it's my wife's favorite headlamp because of its red leds.
 

subwoofer

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"0.165mA" seems way too high; I guess you mean 0.165μA?

No, it is 0.165mA, and 0.63mA when the LED is glowing slightly when the HC50 is off. These are not good figures, but with 18650 still means 2.35 years to deplete the cell at the lower drain, and 0.62 years at the higher drain. If using regularly, these drains are relatively unimportant, and only matter if storing the light.

I am very particular about getting units right, so the mA is exactly what I meant. As it happens, thanks to another parasitic drain test I carried out recently, my two meters that can measure uA have currently got blown fuses. The one I had to use this time only does mA.
 

Disciple

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I am very particular about getting units right, so the mA is exactly what I meant. As it happens, thanks to another parasitic drain test I carried out recently, my two meters that can measure uA have currently got blown fuses. The one I had to use this time only does mA.

My apologies; I don't know what I was thinking last night. Sorry.
 

zeeje

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No, it is 0.165mA, and 0.63mA when the LED is glowing slightly when the HC50 is off. These are not good figures, but with 18650 still means 2.35 years to deplete the cell at the lower drain, and 0.62 years at the higher drain. If using regularly, these drains are relatively unimportant, and only matter if storing the light.

I am very particular about getting units right, so the mA is exactly what I meant. As it happens, thanks to another parasitic drain test I carried out recently, my two meters that can measure uA have currently got blown fuses. The one I had to use this time only does mA.
Hello subwoofer good review and very nice picture.
My measurement one my light whit led glowing it.s 0.165 ma or 165 microamps in another review made by Flashlion his measurement it s the same .
I want to ask you how you measure 0.65 ma or 650 microamps on your light.it s gest a quescion nothing else.Sorry for my bad englese.
Zeeje.
 
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subwoofer

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Hello subwoofer good review and very nice picture.
My measurement one my light whit led glowing it.s 0.165 ma or 165 microamps in another review made by Flashlion his measurement it s the same .
I want to ask you how you measure 0.65 ma or 650 microamps on your light.it s gest a quescion nothing else.Sorry for my bad englese.
Zeeje.

The 0.165mA is the constant parasitic drain and this is the lowest drain I have observed.

Getting a measurement of the drain while the LED is just glowing slightly when the HC50 should be off, was a little more tricky, but I found that when first connecting a cell to the HC50, this slight glow appears and following the last battery voltage indication flash, the glow remains for a few seconds. This is when I measured the 0.65mA increased drain.
 

matrixshaman

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As stated in another thread you can eliminate the moon glow by a couple methods. One IIRC was to turn it on and back off. Of course there is always loosening up the tailcap. Just bought one myself despite some whiney nitpicking ;)
 

subwoofer

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As stated in another thread you can eliminate the moon glow by a couple methods. One IIRC was to turn it on and back off. Of course there is always loosening up the tailcap. Just bought one myself despite some whiney nitpicking ;)

Agreed, I mentioned using the lockout in post 2, but the turning it on and off again is not a reliable method with the sample I have. Sometimes it does stop the glow, sometimes not. This also seems to depend on which output mode it is in. In the higher output modes, the glow 'seems' less liable to appear when turning off.

I measured mine today. 0.17mA drain, no glowing LED on mine.

The glow is not always there. Try using the lowest or low modes and turn it on and off a few times and see if you get the glow. It is very faint, so you will need to be in a dark room (see photo in post 2 comparing it to a tritium watch face).
 
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