Monday, August 4, 2014

Fenix HL50 Headlamp Review

The Fenix HL50 365 Lumen headlamp
Click on any of the photos for a larger version

Over the last few years, I've had the opportunity to buy and/or try out many different headlamps. If you don't own a headlamp and are into ANY outdoor activity (caving goes without saying), I would highly recommend you to give them a try. I used to scoff at them and pretty much considered them birth control but man, was I wrong...Once I tried one, you'd never catch me without one at night again.

When Fenix announced the new HL50 headlamp, it was something different that I usually wouldn't buy or own. The main reason is that in my outdoor pursuits such as night time photography, hiking, fishing and herping (snake hunting); I need the power that a multi-battery headlamp provides. Enter the HL50 with a claimed lumen power of 365! I thought no way, but I figured I'd give it a try to see.


 As with all Fenix flashlights that I have used and tested, this headlamp feels very well made. A new feature that I haven't seen before and I REALLY like is the option of being able to use two different commonly found batteries; either AA or CR123's; excellent idea!. It came packaged just like all the other Fenix headlamps I own except once open, this one required less assembly :)
The one thing you'll notice in back is the included adapter allowing you to use AA batteries. VERY nice idea Fenix.
The headlamp itself is made of very tough alloy aluminum with a bezel of stainless steel around the switch and the hardened glass to protect it from scratches. The HL50 weighs in at just under 2 ounces without a battery and around 3 with a battery (CR123 or AA). This is a very compact option for a headlamp. The strap is a typical adjustable elastic, comfortable strap. I'd say it's more comfortable than the headlamps with the battery packs on the back just due to the weight and zero issues if you wish to lay your head back. I've been using the HL50 exclusively for 2 weeks and am happy to report that it is extremely comfortable.

The headlamp is held in place by a sturdy metal clip and what is probably best described as a safety ring in case it comes unclipped. Fenix says that the "safety clip" thingy can be removed so you can use the HL50 as a keychain light. I gotta disagree with them here. I think it's a bit large and awkward for that purpose. That being said, there are many advantages to the clip including limitless amounts of pointing angles as opposed to predetermined angles like on most other headlights. Obviously, the ability to pop the light out of the clip while still wearing the head band is also a big plus. The safety ring is simply wiggled off the light once the end cap is removed.

Another use that I found was something that many law enforcement officers used to use many years ago. For years, officers would mount one of the old military style 90 degree lights to their lapel or tether it to a shoulder clip. They would do this to free up their hands for defensive purposes, to hold a clip board to write with or just for general patrol. The problem with the old lights for me was that they were too big and bulky; this one isn't. I've also seen many hikers who like this option as well tethered to their back packs. I found that with minimal adjustments to the metal clip, this option is available for the HL50 seen below on a camelbak. Maybe Fenix will make a MOLLE attachment for this light (hint hint). Fenix rates the HL50 as water resistant to 6 meters so it would should work fine in inclement weather.
Using the included metal clip as a MOLLE attachment with limitless turning angles available.
If Fenix comes up with a MOLLE attachment made for this setup, I think it would prove very popular with hikers, military and law enforcement officers. I'm putting the original clip back on the head strap :)


As stated previously, Fenix had the foresight to make this headlamp with the ability to use two of the most popular batteries available; CR123A's and AA's (with the included adaptor).
A single CR123A is the preferred and most compact power source for the HL50
When utilizing a CR123A, the light has a longer storage life, run time, more compact and a bit brighter.
Fenix includes an adaptor that threads into the body of the light that allows one to opt for use of a single widely available AA battery. The original end cap threads onto the adaptor. If I were storing this light for long periods, I'd keep using the CR123's for their longer storage life. Since I always have AA's laying around and I'm always using this light,  I'll probably stick with AA's for the time being. I'll definitely get a supply of CR123A's if I plan on an all night hike or herping trip.

The HL50 shown here with the AA adaptor with the end cap threaded on.

The HL50 show here using an AA battery. It stands on end very well and would serve nicely  as an emergency light.

The power switch is a very light clicky style electronic switch. A quick tap activates the light. Subsequent clicks scroll through the various power settings of which there are three; low medium and high. If you press and hold the power switch while in the off mode for approximately half a second, it activates one additional mode Fenix calls "Burst Mode" advertised at 365 lumens using a CR123 and 285 lumens using a AA battery. In this mode, one must keep pressure on the switch to maintain burst mode brightness. I'm assuming Fenix did this because pumping that much juice to the LED would cause it to heat up pretty quick, not to mention, drastically shorten the run time. Speaking of heat, you'll notice cooling fins behind the head to dissipate heat. I just used it on high mode tonight digging fence post holes on my property till it ran down and didn't notice any issues with heat on my forehead :)

To power off the light when in any of the three modes, just hold down the switch for approximately half a second. The HL50 "remembers" the last mode you used the light in when it is powered back on. All-in-all, I really like the switch and the user interface. It probably should be mentioned that since the switch is an electronic and not a mechanical switch, it is in constant current flow mode. The current however is so low that you will NEVER notice it. Many vehicles these days use the same type switches because electronic switches (in theory) are less prone to failure than mechanical ones (so I'm told).
A solid rubber boot surrounded by a stainless bezel covers the HL50's electronic switch.


Well, you may have noticed the surefire brand battery in the CR123 photo above. The reason is that in the two weeks that I have had this light, I've run through the supplied CR123A, four additional ones (that happen to be surefire) and am now on my 5th AA. The reason, this light is so compact and has so many uses I find myself using it all the time. The LED is a Cree XM-L2 T6 neutral white LED and is very bright! I just happened to be working nights at my job when I received this light and have found all kinds of uses for it.

The run times with the CR123's on high have averaged between 2.5 and 3 hours! Drop off in brightness didn't even begin until around the 2 hour 45 minute mark give or take a few minutes with different batteries. I'm VERY impressed! Using Alkaline AA batteries (I didn't have any Ni-MH), my run times have been around, 1 - 1.5 hours. Drop off in brightness started around the 40 - 45 minute mark. Quite the variance I know but they were alkaline; go figure. Pretty good for alkaline if you ask me.

The beam of the HL50 lies somewhere between a spot and a flood style light which is probably best for most applications. Like I stated earlier, I've been using it at work and it has worked great. It is currently August and as you know if you have been in south Texas in August, the heat would make the devil sweat. So for the past few days, I've been building fence and digging post holes in the late evening and at night to avoid the heat of the day. It's still around 100 in the evenings by the way..

Fence building in the south Texas heat is better done once the sun goes down with the aid of a headlamp :)
The HL50 proven to be extremely comfortable. I have several head lamps and this one is the most comfortable. I've also been out doing night-time photography with this light and it has worked well. Another advantage over the other style headlamps in this area is again, the ability to snap the light out of it's carrier, set it on the ground and aim it at your photographic subject; very tough to do with the regular style headlamps. I took the below photo at dusk to see if the neutral light affected the look of the photo. As you can see, it worked great!
Lighting by flash and HL50..great photography light.
Lastly, this light is great for hunting down night-time critters such as herping/snake hunting (one of my other hobbies). In the old days, I'd carry around a fluorescent wand connected to a 6 pound battery which would last half a night. With the HL50, I can throw three AA's or 3 CR123A's in my pocket and I'm good for the entire night. How does it compare to my current favorite herping light, the Fenix HP25 ? for herping and hiking I would definitely prefer the HP25 due to the option of flood, spot or even running both at the same time but for photography at night, I think I'd prefer the HL50. This being said, I would gladly go out herping with this light and not feel like I was missing anything. For camping, reading in bed (on low), working outside at night like I was for the last few nights or something that requires a compact headlamp, the HL50 would be the ticket.

OK, on to the beam shots.....

As you can see, the difference in brightness with an Alkaline AA and a CR123A isn't too much. The run-time is quite-a-bit different.
An older 2 AA powered Fenix L2D hand held light vs. the single AA powered HL50...
Two single AA powered lights compared; the HL50 and a Nitecore Infinity Ultra
Below is a comparison of my favorite herping light, the HP25 and the HL50. Keep in mind the HP25 has two LED's, one for flood lighting and the other for spot lighting. This comparison uses the spot option of the HP25 on it's brightest setting to show how amazingly powerful the single AA powered HL50 can be.

As you can see, while the HL50 isn't a spot style light, it has a very bright center. Now lets say you  were out herping and needed that little extra reach to see up in a crevasse or just to see a little further for a second or two. Slap on the burst mode and BAM!
Impressive brightness from a single AA No!??!
 Specs from Fenix:

·Utilizes Cree XM-L2 T6 neutral white LED with a lifespan of 50,000 hours
·Uses one 3V CR123ALithium battery or AA (Ni-MH, Alkaline) battery
·63.8mm×32mm×30mm(2.51inch x1.26inch x1.18inch)
·57-gram(1.83oz) weight (excluding battery)
·Digitally regulated output - maintains constant brightness
·Reverse polarity protection to protect from improper battery installation
·All-function switch in the head for easy and fast operation
·High output burst mode
·Made of quality aluminum alloy and stainless steel
·Premium Type III hard-anodized anti-abrasive finish
·Toughened ultra-clear glass lens with anti-reflective coating

Caving / Spelunking with the HL50, very comfortable

Fenix has again, produced a heck of a headlamp. While I would prefer my HP25 for night-time hiking and herping/snake hunting, the HL50 would work great in it's absence and it'll probably always be in my photography bag as a backup when I'm out. There in lies it's main strength, it's compactness and it's ability to snap out of it's harness. For such a compact single celled light, IT'S BRIGHT! For night time photography, a MOLLE light (vest, backpack or camelbac mounted light), night time reading light, camping light, or just a more comfortable light, the HL50 is your light. If Fenix produces a MOLLE attachment for this light, I'll be getting a couple. The ability to snap it off the headstrap, onto a vest or onto a pack, set it on the counter in a power outage, etc. would be extremely valuable. If you haven't guessed, I really like this light.
SIZE COMPARISION: The Fenix HL50 and a Spyderco Dragonfly 2 knife



  1. Thanks for the review, I've read it a few times and it helped make my decision. For $56 this is a great light, mainly for me becausw of the tint and balance between flood and throw. Very nice happy medium. For some reason I'm not a fan of full flood in general. I have many lights and am a tint junky, this tint is actually almost similar to the Nichia 219 (high CRI 90+ and my holy grail of tints). Not quite bit more than good enough for me. The modes are good and on Eneloops or Ny decent niMh aa it runs nicely staying bright most of the way till battery depletion. The ease of removal from the holder is a great plus as you detailed. Cheers.

  2. Nice post. Thanks for share your post.