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Thread: Princetontec Fuel - first impressions

  1. #1
    Flashaholic
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    Default Princetontec Fuel - first impressions

    I just got a PT 'Fuel' here in the UK at a very good (for this side of the pond) price. In fact about half price - so I got two, one in black and one in pink for the g/f

    It's for campsite/tent use and general walking up to get the milk in the dark etc. Thought I'd give my first impressions of it (ps. I took a load of pics but then found out I'd have to upload them all to somewhere like imageshack before being able to use them here Blow that for a game of soldiers... so sorry, no pics. UPDATE: OK, I relented and used imageshack ...but what a pallaver!! Come on admins, make it easier than this!)



    Packaging
    Professional card and plastic sealed hang pack. Don't expect to try a Fuel out and then think you can return it - because you have to rip the packaging apart to get at the goodies!



    Inside
    The headlamp, a single headstrap, 3xAAA Energizer batteries, instruction sheet.



    Appearance
    Looks neat and well designed, good quality finish, small and light though by no means the smallest or lightest. The 'barrel' design encloses the three LEDs and battery compartment in one casing, the LEDs protected behind a clear polycarbonate cover (I'm not sure if its a lense, don't think so).



    The barrel is held at one side only, and rotates through 90 degrees (45 up, 45 down from central position). I wouldn't say this one sided fixture is much of a selling point, but it seems sturdy enough. Altogether it feels a neat, compact little package.

    Loading Batteries
    A hinged side door at the end of the barrel is flipped off using the plastic adjuster on the headstrap. This reveals the battery compartment and the spring loaded contacts in the battery door, which are clearly (in good light) marked for polarity. My NiMH's fitted fine, as did the supplied Energizer alkalines. Snap the door shut and you're ready to go.
    However...this was the first 'suspect' thing about the lamp - the battery door hinge looks like a potentially weak area. The hinge has a small metal pin going through what look like very dubious plastic lugs. Hmmm....



    Switching On
    The switch is a rubber covered grey button flush to the top surface of the lamp and forward of the main battery barrel. Pressing once gets all three LEDs on high, and successive quick presses get medium, low and flashing settings. All three LEDs are used in all modes.
    Indoors, with bare hands, it all works ok, although the switch has a rather lifeless, unpositive feel to it.
    Outdoors in the dark or with gloves on, this switch is pretty awful. If you reach up to use the switch when the lamp is on your forehead, you find your hand groping around the main barrel where your fingers naturally fall looking for it. The flush fitting of the switch makes it very difficult to locate. When eventually found, the switch is on the tapering part towards the front of the unit...and, as you try to pinch the switch, your fingers slide off, not helped by the 'glossy' plastics of the unit. In gloves the switch is even harder to locate and use.
    Maybe the switch can't be anywhere else, but I see this as a major design flaw of the Fuel, and it's irksome right from the word go.

    Illumination
    Output is not bad, not bad at all. My unit is an 'old' 15 lumens version which is what is current in the UK. PT have upgraded the output to 35 lumens in new model, but this is not available here yet.
    But even in 15 lumens version this thing throws quite a decent bit of light. On a dark, squally, January night, but with some village lights creating a bit of ambience here and there, this little thing gave me vision upto what I step-measured as 30m. That was on high, and I imagine in true darkness of the countryside it would be plenty for finding your way about and even jogging down paths/trails. More than plenty for campsite and tent work. Even on low setting it was rather bright for reading close up. I was quite impressed, and wondered what the 35 lumens version would be like. Mmmm!



    Runtime
    Unknown. The packaging claims 50hrs on high, 110hrs on medium and 160hrs on low. I doubt whether you'd see much towards the end of these runtimes, but regardless....it's economical! I don't think we should fuss too much about runtimes of a 3xLED 3xAAA camp light, most of them will last a long time!



    In use
    Very easy to carry around and good output for its size. Batteries and headlamp all in one unit at the front make the lamp slightly front heavy. It's ok most of the time, but if you break into a jog you'll notice a bit of 'bounce' - not much, but just enough to let you know that everything is 'up front'. The slight downside (of all front heavy units I expect) is that you tend to tighten up the headstrap to eliminate bounce...and get home with a fine textured pattern on your forehead . The headplate is fairly small and perhaps this smaller contact area exacerbates the 'bounce'



    The switch is a nuisance, but I guess I can live with it. It works.
    The beam is floody and fairly good right back to your feet. It's also quite wide (if you shine this on a wall from 6" away (see pic above) you will see the distinct wide shape of the beam, not noticeable as you pull away but it nevertheless creates a wide field of vision). Interestingly, the three little LEDs also project a definite hot spot at the centre of the flood, so up to limits it can pick out detail in the centre of the flood. I quite like that.

    In summary
    A fine little headlamp which looks and feels well designed and illuminates nicely for what it is. I dare say it's even up to duties beyond the camp fire cooking, and certainly will be accompanying me on dark night walks and gentle trail running.
    Being critical: Plastics look a little brittle and dubious even if well finished, and I wouldn't be dropping this too much if I could help it. In particular the battery door hinge looks like a disaster just waiting to happen. The switch is awful, in my opinion, both in position and feel. And on this one feature alone you get the impression the lamp is a desktop design that was never field tested. Anyone who knows anything about outdoor activities knows that on a headlamp (or flashlight for that matter) you need an easily locatable, easily useable switch......don't they?

    I think I will love my Fuel for as long as that battery door lasts. But next time, PT, do go out and field test your designs before production!

    Score: 3.5 lords a'leaping
    Last edited by darklord; 01-31-2009 at 02:51 PM.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Princetontec Fuel - first impressions

    Nice review. It would not suprise me if your Fuel is 35 lumens even if the package says 15. The Fuel is PT's updated Aurora headlamp. The same UI and number of LEDs. However PT is slow to update the package and even Web site with new info. I checked one out at EMS that said 15 lumens and it seemed more. I went with the Tikka Plus as an upgrade for a little direct drive headlamp. I have 3 Auroras and still like them. The weakness of the older Aurora was the battery latch and adjustment hinge and think the Fuel was made to overcome this. I like Regulated headlamps but still feel the need for a small direct drive headlamp.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Princetontec Fuel - first impressions

    Yes, but how would you tell whether it's 15 or 30? i would very much like to know this - I need a yardstick.

    There's a number on the barcode sticker of the pack...would that be worth asking of PT?

    ps. how did you "check one out"...without opening the packaging! did they have a display model?

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Princetontec Fuel - first impressions

    EMS has all their headlamps on display with batteries on a bill board. I could only tell because there was other headlamps to compare like the older 20ish lumen Quad and it seemed brighter. Given the Quad has 4 LEDs and the Fuel has only 3 just guessed the 15 lumen was 35 and they never updated the package on any. But this is speculation as for a time PT was selling the updated EOS and Quad in the older package.

  5. #5
    Flashaholic nzbazza's Avatar
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    Default Re: Princetontec Fuel - first impressions

    Thanks for the excellent and detailed review.
    Is that a torch in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?

  6. #6

    Default Re: Princetontec Fuel - first impressions

    The Fuel was my first headlamp and I like it. I was impressed with the brightness of the 3 LED's and they put out more light than what I remember 5mm LED as having (and mine is the first release 15 lumen model). I like the compact size for 3 AAA's and simple operation.

    I was recently given a new Energizer headlamp (the 6 LED version - runs 2 whites in spot, 2 whites in flood, all 4 whites, or 2 reds). This must have new Nichia GS LED's since it is brighter on two LED's than the Fuel and impressive for a light with 5mm LED's. What I really like is that the tint is more natural without blue compared to the Fuel. The blue makes the Fuel seem harsh.

    I may see if I can swap the LED's since I don't like having to cycle all the modes on the Energizer. But the swap looks like it may not be easy on the Fuel.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Princetontec Fuel - first impressions

    thanks nzbazza! - more to come, I need to add a few things I thought of like waterproofness (or not!) and further 'in use' thoughts.

    regulator - funny you should mention the Energizer because I'm getting one of those, too! I probably wouldn't notice the tint of the Fuel unless I had something to compare it to. I do have an Alpkit Gamma which has one very blueish LED for white, and the Fuel is certainly 'whiter'. But I'll be interested to see the even warmer tone of the Energizer.

    It's a thing which crossed my mind just yesterday as I walked up the back lane to the shops with the Fuel. I thought "it's a feisty little bugger, this lamp!"....and I also thought "but LED lamps are such a cold light compared to incans and my lovely old caving carbide. if only they were warmer."

    Hmmm....!!

    ps. I don't muck about inside lamps, but the Fuel looks kinda hard to get into anyway. Good luck!

    pps. I am right in thinking that the Energizer doesn't have power levels, as such?....you have to cycle through to get combinations of two whites, two big whites, or all four whites?
    Last edited by darklord; 02-01-2009 at 12:24 PM.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Princetontec Fuel - first impressions

    I bought a pink one for my daughter for christmas.

    It is a great lamp. Bright, lightweight, and very compact design.

    Might even pick one up for myself

  9. #9

    Default Re: Princetontec Fuel - first impressions

    Hi Darklord. I wouldn't say the Fuel was as nasty as some of the cheap 5mm lights and in fact it was pretty decent. At the time I got mine I was happy with the tint for a 5mm LED. I now have a couple of lights with the Nichia GS LED's that lean more towards a pinkish/yellowish tone and provide a more natural light output - almost close to what a high power LED does. Maybe I got lucky with these - I don't know.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Princetontec Fuel - first impressions

    I've emailed Princeton with the number from my packaging, ask if they can check whether it's a 15 or 35 model. Hope they get back to me.

    The tint's not bad, but having walked the shops again tonight I guess it does err on the blue side of white - not unpleasantly so, but noticeably so.

    I'm ordering the energizer tomorrow so will be interested to see how it compares.

    Having done that second walk, I notice that while the beam is quite broad (as seen in the close-up pic in my review), it's height is somewhat limited - and in fact this does give you a short 'vertical' range of light, if you see what I mean. If you have the Fuel angled so that you can light your feet clearly it doesn't throw very far ahead. If you angle it to throw well ahead, your feet are in darkness. It's not such a big deal as your mind is usually ahead of and 'working' your feet! But the vertical range is limited, and perhaps a result of the wide but low window in front of the three LEDs. Be interesting if the window curved downwards, too, thus also throwing light at your feet.

    Demanding little lot, aren't we!!
    Last edited by darklord; 02-01-2009 at 10:10 PM.

  11. #11

    Default Re: Princetontec Fuel - first impressions

    Since I am pretty happy with the output of the original 15 lumen Fuel, I may have to pick one of these new 35 lumen models. 35 lumens is very impressive from three 5mm LED's and should be a noticable upgrade.

  12. #12
    Enlightened 154CM's Avatar
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    Default Re: Princetontec Fuel - first impressions

    I have a PT fuel and love it. Its my favorite torch for many things.

    I like it because it swivels on its center axis and not on its edge. This allows it to be more stable and not change its position when bumped. Like fixing the crap exhaust on your car for the third time. That and I like the size and shape of the light itself.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Princetontec Fuel - first impressions

    Quote Originally Posted by darklord View Post
    I've emailed Princeton with the number from my packaging, ask if they can check whether it's a 15 or 35 model. Hope they get back to me.
    Still no word back do they read emails posted from their web site form?...this is the second communique in two months, they haven't answered either.

    The tint's not bad, but having walked the shops again tonight I guess it does err on the blue side of white - not unpleasantly so, but noticeably so.

    I'm ordering the energizer tomorrow so will be interested to see how it compares.
    Regulator, energizer arrived and I see what you mean. it's remarkably white, and powerful, too. Rudimentary UI to say the least, but looks quite effective at throw (on the lens LEDs) and quite a nice flood (on the side LEDs). Didn't see much gain in having them both on at once, but perhaps they cancel each other out in a way. The hinge is very tacky and loose out of the box, but you get what you pay for! Am interested in seeing what the runtimes are for this headlamp. Great concept and design,and looks like strong output, albeit dubious build quality and unknown runtime.

    [/quote]

  14. #14

    Default Re: Princetontec Fuel - first impressions

    I was playing with the energizer last night and it puts out a lot of light for 5mm LED's. It puts out probably as much light as a high power LED headlamp - at least on fresh batteries. The color on mine is very nice and it can throw pretty good using the lens LED's. Pretty impressive considering the cost.

    I agree that the UI sucks since you have to cycle through all the settings to either shut it off or go to the next. I would not like using this light on a regular basis.

  15. #15
    Flashaholic* John_Galt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Princetontec Fuel - first impressions

    I purchased this unit as my second headlamp about a year and a half ago from a local REI, and found it to be somewhat disappointing. My main headlamp currently is a Princeton tec Aurora (which I purchased used, about 4 years ago, best $10 I ever spent). I may have gotten a flunky model, but it failed to outshine the Aurora on medium. (I tested it the night I got it, a friend and I took about a half mile walk through the quad trails in my area, to light some fireworks in a clearing.)
    I also found that it was also annoyingly blue/white when compared to the greenish/yellow tinge of the LED's in the Aurora, and my depth perception was hurt as well.

    i ended up giving the light to my sister as a reading light. Oh, well, I bought it with a gift card, so I basically got it for free.

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