Review: Fenix HL55 Headlamp (1x18650 or 2xCR123)

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

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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Fenix have been building up their line of headlamps, most of which have been AA/AAA powered. The HL55 is Fenix's long awaited first single 18650 powered headlamp, and keeps the design as simple and light as possible.

10-HL55view06.jpg



Author's note: many of the images used in this review are animated to reduce excessive scrolling. You may need to wait for the images to load fully.


Taking a more detailed look:

The photos here show:

The packaging
Full contents
HL55 and head mount assembled
Angle adjustment ratchet
The HL55 and its plastic mount
Power switch
Battery tube cap
Rear of head mount with straps removed
Front view
Close-up of XM-L2 LED and reflector
Battery cap removed
View into the battery tube
HL55 next to Fenix ARB-L2S 18650 cell
And the HL55 getting ready to go with the Fenix ARE-C2 smart charger, and a Fenix LD02 1xAAA light included for scale

HL55%20Overview.gif




And now for a little look at the front end of the HL55.

HL55%20sway%20200.gif




The beam

The HL55's beam is combination of flood and throw, and doesn't overdo either. There is a hotspot, but it is not so pronounced as to make the beam uncomfortable at close range, but gives it a bit more punch when looking further afield.

HL55%20Beam.gif




Modes and User Interface:

With a single built-in electric click switch, the Fenix HL55 has a very simple interface.

To turn ON, press the power switch for immediate activation of the last used normal mode.

There is no electronic lockout, but the battery cap can be loosened a half turn to provide a physical lockout.

To turn off OFF, press and hold for the main switch for 0.5s.

Press and hold the switch for around 2s to enter Burst mode. After 30s it will return to the previous state (OFF or other output mode).


When ON press the switch briefly to cycle through ECO LOW, MID, HIGH, back to LOW etc.

There are no flashing modes.



Batteries and output:

The HL55 uses either one 18650 or two primary CR123 cells. 3.7V RCR123 li-ion cells cannot be used.

Keeping this test as 'FENIX' as possible, the HL55 was powered using ARB-L2S cells charged with the ARE-C2 multi-chemistry charger.

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.


HL55 using Fenix ARB-L2S 3400mAhI.S. measured ANSI output LumensPWM frequency or Strobe frequency (Hz)
Burst8630
High4020
Medium1610
Low550
Eco100


As there is an electronic switch we need to consider the parasitic drain. The Fenix HL55 drain is 50.9uA, and using a 3400mAh cell it would take 7.62 years to deplete the cell.


The HL55 runtime trace was carried out using 1x 3400mAh ARB-L2S 18650 cell, and started on burst.

First the initial output detail for the burst part of the output. Showing the initial over 900lm peak dropping to the measured 863 ANSI output (which unusually for Fenix is slightly below the 900lm specification)

FenixHL55runtimeburst.jpg


Then showing the full ANSI runtime trace the majority of which is at the 400lm High output, dropping to Medium, Low and finally onto Eco when the cell can no longer maintain the higher output level.

FenixHL55runtimeburstintohigh.jpg




The HL55 in use

Unusually, I must start this section with a warning.

WARNING – The burst output is very intensive, and the HL55 has a small reflector. The result is a massively concentrated beam of light that generates significant heat. Fabrics and other flammable materials placed directly in front of the lens can easily be melted or burnt by the burst mode output.

I can personally attest to this as during testing the HL55 burnt a hole in my sofa as it fell forwards into the fabric while burst was activated and now I have a HOLE burnt into my SOFA!!! Following this I have burnt through dark paper held directly in front of the lens.

20-HL55burninghole.jpg


The switch only requires a gentle pressure, so accidental activation is quite likely. So, if you are going to transport this light in a bag, you MUST lockout the HL55 by unscrewing the battery cap. If you fail to do this, should the switch be pressed long enough to initiate burst mode you could find yourself spontaneously combusting.

21-HL55burningpaper.jpg


I've come across this in custom lights, but not in a standard production model before now, so be aware.

Moving on from the warning, the HL55 sample on test suffers from another issue which Fenix assured me has now been corrected. On Eco mode, the output is unstable appearing to pulses slightly. This is not PWM, nor is it a flicker (the output never goes off, but rapidly varies in brightness). Initially you may question that this is happening, but look at light coloured surfaces at close range and the pulsing becomes quite obvious. This is disappointing as the Eco level is an excellent low output. Fenix also declined from providing information on serial numbers which have the issue, and from what number the issue is fixed.


So we have a possible burning hazard and a first batch issue, but what does the HL55 do well?

Fenix have managed to make the HL55 surprisingly light weight, and to make the weight feel well distributed despite housing an 18650 cell. Having a top-strap allows the HL55 to remain incredibly stable even if the straps are kept looser. My own preference is to keep headband straps loose as I tend to wear a headlamp for extended periods, and with the top strap I don't feel any loss in stability. The HL55 can easily be used without the top-strap if you wish, but you will need a bit more tension in the band.

With the headband adjusted tighter, I found the mount started to dig into my forehead as the rear plate is not curved enough for my head. (I take a medium-large hat size). As I tend to wear the band quite loose in combination with the top-strap, this has not been an issue for me.

Compared to other headlamps that use friction from the mount's rings to keep the lamp in position, instead the HL55 uses a simple ratchet adjuster. Part of the mount engages with the ribbed aluminium housing. This provides positive click positioning and holds the HL55 in place, despite feeling almost too easy to adjust. In use I've never had the HL55 change position when I didn't want it to.

Eco mode is very good for going round the house, and the HL55 provides more than enough power when you are out and about.

Thanks to its 18650 power, the HL55 gives you excellent runtime and allows for that 863lm 30s burst. With a general purpose beam profile the HL55 is a very useful headlamp and doesn't feel heavy.



Review Summary
Things I likeWhat doesn't work so well
18650 powerDanger of burning when using burst mode
Powerful 863lm Burst outputInitial production batch has pulsing output on Eco mode
Physical lockout by unscrewing battery capNo electronic lockout
Secure head mount with optional top-strapEasy to activate accidentally
'Feels' very light when wearingPlastic mount can dig into forehead
Simple interface
Positive click angle adjustment



19-HL55beambeach.jpg



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Labrador72

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Thank you Subwoofer, your reviews are really great - I couldn't ask for more! : )

Moving on from the warning, the HL55 sample on test suffers from another issue which Fenix assured me has now been corrected. On Eco mode, the output is unstable appearing to pulses slightly. This is not PWM, nor is it a flicker (the output never goes off, but rapidly varies in brightness). Initially you may question that this is happening, but look at light coloured surfaces at close range and the pulsing becomes quite obvious. This is disappointing as the Eco level is an excellent low output. Fenix also declined from providing information on serial numbers which have the issue, and from what number the issue is fixed.
Thanks for pointing this out! I am somewhat disappointed by Fenix reply!
 

WhitedragonBC

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Do you have an HL21? If so how would you compare the beam shapes between them? I found the HL21 to be too throwy.
 

subwoofer

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Do you have an HL21? If so how would you compare the beam shapes between them? I found the HL21 to be too throwy.

No, but I did have an HP11 (now donated to a good cause). I always found the HP11 to have too much throw for indoor use, but when I went caving, actually found the beam very well suited to the task.

I've been happily using the HL55 indoors, so from my perspective that means it is not too throwy. Hopefully that gives you an idea. Have another look at the indoor and outdoor beamshots as well.
 

Palaeoboy

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No, but I did have an HP11 (now donated to a good cause). I always found the HP11 to have too much throw for indoor use, but when I went caving, actually found the beam very well suited to the task.

I've been happily using the HL55 indoors, so from my perspective that means it is not too throwy. Hopefully that gives you an idea. Have another look at the indoor and outdoor beamshots as well.

Have you had the opportunity to use th HL55 as a caving light? Im considering one for this purpose and is rare to find a caver with experience in lights such as this?
 

subwoofer

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Does the HL55 have low voltage cut-off ? I just ordered one and would like to use some unprotected Panasonic 3400s .


I don't think it has a specific low voltage cut-off and is intended for use with protected cells.......however, if you look at the runtime graph, the output steps down as the voltage drops, and you will want to swap out the cell long before you reach too low a voltage as the output will have dropped to a very low level. The only possible issue with this method is if you only use it on the lowest output level for extended periods as it can't drop to a lower level.
 

creed777

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I just picked up a Zebralight H600 Mk II. It seems to perform similarly to the Fenix HL55, but the heat sink built into the head means that it does not get nearly as hot. Much safer and it won't burn holes in your couch. Mine has been running for about half an hour and I can grab it with my fingers without fear of getting burned. No where near hot enough to burn paper (I tried).
 

subwoofer

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I just picked up a Zebralight H600 Mk II. It seems to perform similarly to the Fenix HL55, but the heat sink built into the head means that it does not get nearly as hot. Much safer and it won't burn holes in your couch. Mine has been running for about half an hour and I can grab it with my fingers without fear of getting burned. No where near hot enough to burn paper (I tried).

It wasn't the body getting hot, it was the intense focussed light beam burning my sofa, just like a magnifying glass focussing sunlight. The HL55 is very good at dissipating heat, so no concerns there.
 

KeepingItLight

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I feel you pain. Reminds me of a guilty puppy who just tore up the pillows on your sofa. Look at that guilty headlamp!

The thing that impresses me most about this flashlight is its perfectly flat runtimes. I really like having predictable illumination levels. The forced step-downs as battery voltage wanes are perfect. They give a user plenty of warning that it is time to change the battery.

Given that this light can be accidentally activated, I would have liked to see Fenix go to the next level. The light should turn itself off when voltage weakens in the lowest mode.

Thanks for another great review.
 

DellSuperman

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I used my HL55 for 3 nights out in the field & i am quite impressed with the mode spacings.
The lowest 2 modes are bright enough for close range usage without any heavy glare reflecting back & the higher modes is great for walking around in darkness.

The longest duration that i used the high mode was slightly less than 10mins & the light warmed up a little without over heating.

As mentioned by others, i did accidentally turn on my light when keeping it inside my bag but luckily it was on the lowest mode so nothing was burnt. Haha..

I hooked the light on my jungle hat the whole time & there are times when i forgot that it was there because it was quite light.

The thing that i did not like was the mode memory. I usually prefer my lights to start at the lowest so i dont accidentally blind everyone else around me.

After 3 nights of constant usage, my 3400 EagTec cell dropped to 3.9V..
 

subwoofer

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Given that this light can be accidentally activated, I would have liked to see Fenix go to the next level. The light should turn itself off when voltage weakens in the lowest mode.

Thanks for another great review.

As mentioned by others, i did accidentally turn on my light when keeping it inside my bag but luckily it was on the lowest mode so nothing was burnt. Haha..

I hooked the light on my jungle hat the whole time & there are times when i forgot that it was there because it was quite light.

The thing that i did not like was the mode memory. I usually prefer my lights to start at the lowest so i dont accidentally blind everyone else around me.

After 3 nights of constant usage, my 3400 EagTec cell dropped to 3.9V..

Accidental activation is easily prevented by locking out the battery cap. I actually do this to turn it off all the time, so never have the worry of accidental activation.

Interesting comment about the memory, and I'm not sure what I would prefer. I think it depends where I'm using the light. For my bedside table, it HAS to come on in lowest mode, and for EDC I also tend to favour this (or lights which have direct access to lowest). For headlamps, I tend to find that for a given activity I'm using it on the same mode most of the time, so memory works really well for me and the way I use most headlamps.
 

DellSuperman

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Accidental activation is easily prevented by locking out the battery cap. I actually do this to turn it off all the time, so never have the worry of accidental activation.

Interesting comment about the memory, and I'm not sure what I would prefer. I think it depends where I'm using the light. For my bedside table, it HAS to come on in lowest mode, and for EDC I also tend to favour this (or lights which have direct access to lowest). For headlamps, I tend to find that for a given activity I'm using it on the same mode most of the time, so memory works really well for me and the way I use most headlamps.

Yeah, i had to pack in a rush that i forgot to perform the physical lock-out. [emoji29]

And because i have been so used to starting on the lowest mode for all my lights, having mode memory needs something to get used to.
And because my activities through the night changes all the time, from standing in total darkness to listen for sounds to searching for stuffs in my bag to lighting up an area when i hear things. Hahaha...

But i do admit that this mode memory thing is a highly personal thing; to each his own..
I am just sharing my experience. [emoji1]
 

seery

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5-1/2 years later and the HL55 is still our all-time favorite headlamp.

Simple UI, controls are easily accessible with cold hands or large gloves, 160 degree tilt with positive stops, long runtime, perfectly balanced creamy white beam and built like an absolute tank.
 
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Lynx_Arc

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I have the HL60R which I believe is an "upgraded" HL55 with red leds and charging port and like it and wonder if the HL55 comes on with a quick (possibly accidental) push in what mode? The HL60R comes on in battery check mode with a quick push blinking alternating white/red for about 3 seconds then shutting off. It takes a long push (hold) for it to come on in the last memorized mode and tapping quickly circles through all modes from lot to high with red mode after turbo.
I also have a Wowtac A2S and use it most of the time as I like the UI and it (was) cheap to replace but for some reason you can no longer find the neutral tint version for sale. The modes and spacing is almost identical to the Fenix HL60 with the exception of no red leds.
 
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