ReviewTheLight: Nitecore HC50


Flashlight Enthusiast
Jun 3, 2011
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Nitecore has long been on the cutting edge of flashlight technology, usually among the first to adopt a new user interface or feature. However, Nitecore is here stepping back to fill what was previously a hole in their product lineup: a headlamp. The HC50 is Nitecore's first head-mounted flashlight, and they've made a solid entry into the field.

Thanks to Nitecore for providing the HC50 for review.

I’ll be reviewing the HC50 in two sections: first, I’ll discuss the light objectively (the facts about the light itself), then I’ll discuss the light subjectively (my impressions about the light's performance when used for specific applications). If you have any other specific applications you'd like the light tested for, let me know and I'll see what I can do.

Video Review

Below is a video review of the HC50. Due to my old image hosting site closing down, I've got new restrictions on image uploads and have replaced the "Construction" section of my reviews with a more detailed video review.

This video is available in 1080p HD, but defaults to a lower quality. To select the playback quality click the settings button (looks like a gear) after you've started the video.


Manufacturer's Specifications

Price: 60 USD


User Interface

The HC50 is controlled completely by a two-stage switch on one end of the body. The switch is covered by a translucent material that allows red and green LED indicators underneath to shine through, illuminating the Nitecore "N".

As I mentioned, the switch is two-staged, which means it can recognize being pressed half-way or all the way down. When the light is off, a half-press does nothing. To turn the light on, give a single quick full press, and the main emitter will turn on in the brightness mode you used last. To cycle through the brightness modes in the order Lower -> Low -> Mid -> High -> Turbo, you use a half-press to the switch. A full press will turn the light back off. When the light is on, two quick full presses will activate the hidden flashing modes, Warning -> Beacon -> SOS, which can also be cycled by a half press. A full press again will turn the light off.

When the light is off, holding down a full press for about a second will turn on the two red emitters. When they are on, a half press will cycle between Red Constant -> Red Signal, or two quick full clicks will switch you back to the main white emitter's Warning -> Beacon -> SOS cycle. A single full click will turn the red lights back off.

The Warning mode is a slow steady on-off cycle, the Beacon mode is a slow steady flash that will use little power over a long time, the SOS is a Morse code signal. The Red Signal is a slow steady on-off of the red emitters.

Whenever the battery compartment cap is tightened after having been loosened, the green LED indicator under the switch cover will flash in a pattern that indicates the battery voltage using two sets of flashes. For example, three flashes followed by eight flashes means the battery is at 3.8V. I found this indicator to be in agreement with my voltage meter.

Whenever the main emitter is turned on, an indicator LED in the switch will light to give the approximate battery condition:
>50% - solid green for two seconds
<50% - solid red for two seconds
Very Low - flashing red (recharge battery immediately)

Action Shots

You can click on any of these shots to see them full size. You may need to increase your screen brightness to see beam profiles on some lower output modes.

Light on Head
(waiting on receipt of headband)

White Wall (Red, Lower, Low, Medium, High, Turbo)
ISO 100, f/3.3, 1/20"



Indoor Shots (Red, Lower, Low, Medium, High, Turbo)
ISO 100, f/3.3, 1"

Outdoor Shots (Red,
Lower, Low, Medium, High, Turbo)
ISO 100, f/3.3, 2.5"

Long-Range Shots (
ISO 100, f/3.3, 5"


Submersion: I submersed the HC50 under a foot of water for an hour, using the switch and control ring during that time, and found no evidence of water damaging or entering the light.

Heat: The HC50 doesn't display any significant heat buildup on the lower modes. It has a built-in thermal protection circuit, so that when it reaches a certain temperature it will reduce the output. You can see this effect in the output graph for the Turbo mode.

PWM: I could not detect pulse width modulation on any mode of the HC50.

Drop: I dropped the HC50 on various surfaces (carpet, grass, packed dirt, hard wood) and it did not suffer any cosmetic or functional damage.

Reverse Polarity Protection: The HC50 uses mechanical reverse polarity protection to prevent the negative terminal of a battery from making electrical connection with the head. (This means it will require a button-top battery for the light to turn on.)

Over-Discharge Protection: The HC50 does turn itself off before over-discharging a lion, but as always, I recommend recharging the battery before this is necessary. The HC50 includes a built-in voltage indicator that blinks the button green to show the current battery voltage, so be sure to use it.

Spectral Analysis

All light that we see as white is actually made up of several different colors put together. The relative intensities of the different colors in the mix are what determine the tint of the white we see. For example, cool white LED's have a lot of blue, and warm white LED's have more red or yellow. This measurement was done on a home made spectrometer. The plot below the picture is corrected for the spectral sensitivity of the human eye. Note: the peak in the 900nm region doesn't really exist, it's a piece of the second-order spectrum that's showing up here because of the high intensity of the light source.

Output and Runtime

ANSI FL-1 runtime ratings are the time it takes for a light to fall to 10% of it's original output (counting from 30 seconds after turning the light on).

The vertical axis of the graphs below represents a relative brightness measurement using a home made light box. The horizontal axis is time in hours:minutes:seconds. Runtimes are stated in hours:minutes:seconds. These graphs may be truncated to show detail.

Mode Comparison




Throwing Distance

ANSI FL-1 standard for stating a light's throwing distance is the distance at which the peak beam intensity (usually at the center of the beam) is 0.25 lux. I calculate throwing distance and candela (lux at 1 meter) by measuring peak beam intensity at five different distances and using the formula lux*distance^2=constant.

Peak Beam Intensity: 2012cd
Throw Distance: 90m

This is slightly better than Nitecore's claim of 85m.

Subjective Review

Quick break down:

+ High max output
+ Low min output
+ Many modes available
+ Nearly perfect regulation
+ Good looks
+ Accepts lithium or lithium-ion
+ No awkward battery pack
+ Lightweight enough
+ Red output option
+ Battery indicator
+ Smooth beam
+ Cooling fins

- Large size
- Yellow on headband
- Beam could be floodier

It's about time Nitecore made a headlamp. Headlamps are tricky things, but the HC50 turned out very well.

Usually, I'm not too picky about the looks of a flashlight. I enjoy a bit of style, but I consider it a secondary attribute. However, that changes the moment the flashlight is mounted on my head. Headlamps tend to be even more socially unacceptable than high power flashlights, so if you want to use one (and you're not in an occupation where it is expected) you have to consider how it looks. Normally I'd say "it doesn't matter what people think about how you look", but in this case, you could make people pretty uncomfortable and that could have unfortunate consequences. So the conclusion is, when you wear a headlamp outside of a few special settings, you need it to either look good or not be very noticeable. The HC50 looks good. It's a bit intense, but no so much that you'll be making people worried. I do wish that the headband didn't have Nitecore's signature bright yellow on it (a good black/grey combo would have been less obtrusive), but it hasn't been much of a problem.

I've found myself mainly using the HC50 as a biking headlamp, a night reading light, or to do jobs outdoors at night where I want my hands free. In other, words, typical headlamp uses. For biking I'll usually set it on it's high output if I'm in a rural area where I need more light to see by, or I'll set it flashing if I'm in an urban area where I'm mostly concerned about being seen. For outdoor tasks the medium or low settings are usually pretty great, and for reading at night the low or lower work well. I mostly use the red when I want to move around the house without disturbing sleeping family members at night, because the lowest output setting isn't quite low enough for that.

As can be seen in the graphs above, the regulation on the HC50 is nearly perfect. The turbo mode isn't kept completely flat, but falls down towards the high level after a time, which is exactly what I expect from a mode labeled "turbo"-- an output level that is so high it can't be maintained for long. 635 lumens isn't as high as many 18650 lights are going these days, but it's certainly high enough for most tasks you want a headlamp for, and it's also very impressive in such a small light. The HC50 is a bit larger than what many would consider a standard headlamp, but it's actually quite small for an 18650 powered light. I'm sure Nitecore wanted to make the HC50 as compact as possible so that it would fit comfortably on a head, but this means less mass to soak up the heat produced by the emitter, and less surface area to dissipate that heat into the environment. Additionally, hair or a hat is not as good of a heat conductor as skin, so a headlamp is going to have more trouble dissipating heat that the same light held in a hand. The addition of heat fins help keep the heat down, but it's still something that goes towards limiting the max output of the light.

As I already touched on, size is an extremely important factor for a headlamp. Do I want a small one that will be lightweight but lack in output or runtime? Do I want a large one that will be heavy but more powerful? Do I want a battery pack in the back or all the batteries in the front? Of the headlamps I've used, I find that I don't really like having a battery pack in back, but it's definitely better than having too much weight in the front. I also prefer to have sing cell headlamps with high output, and just carry extra cells to swap in when necessary. There are certainly circumstances where switching cells in your headlamp could be inconvenient, but for me I find it's usually not too much trouble. This makes the HC50 pretty much my ideal battery configuration. It's a little heavier than I might like, but the strap goes both around and over the top of the head, so the weight is well distributed and doesn't really bother me even over long periods of time (I actually often forget I'm wearing it).

The beam of the HC50 is a bit on the warm side, which I appreciate, and it's got a very smooth transition from the hotspot to the spill. It is a bit more weighted towards throw than I would like, as most of the time when I use a headlamp I want a more floody beam, but of course that's just my preference.

As you can see, the HC50 is an excellent choice of headlamp is you don't mind a little size and weight. It's got a great output range and many modes, plus red output and a battery voltage indicator, and I would recommend it for just about anyone who's looking for a high power headlamp.

Long Term Impressions
I'll fill this part in after carrying the light for a while. If nothing get's added here, either I find nothing else worth noting about the light, or I end up not using it often.
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Flashlight Enthusiast
Mar 30, 2005
Northern NJ, USA
Thanks for this very complete review.
This looks like a great product from Nitecore - I'm glad they are finally producing a headlamp. Their D10 still finds its way into my EDC rotation. Since my son lost my Zebra H51w in Alaska, I'm looking for a small headlamp to replace it. Although a bit bigger, this also has more output & runtime so I may take that tradeoff. I like the battery voltage reading feature, too.

Thanks again,


Apr 21, 2011
sydney aus
Thanks for the review- been eyeing one of these for a while and finally got one to replace my zl h51 when camping. The little h51 is mighty but find myself using it flat out quite a bit - where as with the hc50 i can run it at 200 lmns for hours [6+] without any heat, i also really like the battery level indicator, comfy headband and generous artifact free spill, beam. It has a tough feel to it and could be pretty handy for a bike light with its various flashing red and white settings. For its price it delivers a lot of value when compared to others-must be considered imo.