5 head torches put to the test | Expert Review by Koen van der Jagt
In our previous review we looked at which popular flashlight is best for daily use, you can read more about it here. So yes, a good light is incredibly practical; however, you will often be faced with situations where you want to have both your hands free but still need light. Think of working around the house, exercising or reading a map. The solution: a head torch!
When it comes to head torches Knivesandtools also has a lot to offer. You can find dozens of head torches on the site in almost any price range. This could make your choice, however, slightly more difficult. That is why I will help you out by taking a closer look at five head torches from the popular price range and share my experiences. As usual I will discuss the first impressions, the options and the ease of use first. Afterwards I will discuss one of the most important aspects: the light output. To properly test it we will visit one indoor and one outdoor location to get a good idea of what the candidates are capable of. Enjoy!
At Knivesandtools you can choose from a wide range of head torches; varying from a simple light to expensive 'high-end' models. The approach of this test was to check out different models in the mid-range segment, well-suited for daily use. The prices are roughly between forty and sixty pounds; which is slightly more than when you purchase a light at the hardware store. However, each user will agree with me after purchasing a quality light that it was well worth the money. Let me introduce the candidates, from the cheapest to most expensive: The Nitecore NU25, the Fenix HL12R, the Petzl Actik Core E99ABA, the Princeton Tec EOS and the LedLenser MH6. Great options, with each their own features. Is the most expensive the best? We will see!
The 'USB age' also has its advantages when you look at head torches: most torches can be charged via a micro-USB port. With the Fenix and the NiteCore this is easiest; plug and play so to say. The batteries are built-in, the charging port located in the casing of the light. The advantage is that it prevents wear and tear and that the lights guarantee a better watertightness: you never have to open them. The disadvantage is that it is difficult or impossible to replace the battery. This is where the LedLenser and the Petzl stand out. They come with a directly rechargeable battery that basically replaces three AAA batteries. These can be rechargeable and non-rechargeable AAA batteries. So if your battery is dead you can quickly add a set of alkaline batteries and continue with whatever you were doing! Petzl and LedLenser definitely thought about this! The Princeton Tec works with three AAA batteries; these can be alkaline, rechargeable or lithium batteries. Here you also have multiple options. As such you are never 'forced' to use the same type of battery and you will always have multiple options. The Fenix and the NiteCore are easiest, you don't have to think about a battery because it is already built-in. However, the carefully thought out Petzl and LedLenser systems offer you more security when you need the light for a longer period of time and do not have a charger at your disposal. With a pack of spare alkaline batteries you can go a long way!
Also good when purchasing a head torch is looking at the light source it uses; there are namely dozens, if not hundreds of LED lights on the market today. The LED light influences the profile and the total output. I will discuss the light sources per light, the candidates in alphabetical order.
The Fenix Hl12R has, as a white LED light, the XP-G2 version in the neutral white version. A fairly commonly used light source in head torches because it supplies you with enough power and a fairly wide light image. The red light on the Hl12R is a Nichia LED light: Not very bright, but more to be seen or to use while reading. LedLenser, as we know, doesn't really give detailed information about the light source: The white LED of the MH6 is a 'Power LED light', the red isn't mentioned by name in the manual. The main light source has a cold-white colour, the red LED light is clearly more powerful than that of the Fenix. The NiteCore NU25 also has an XP-G2 (S3), which is fairly similar to the one used for the Fenix HL12R. Also in cold-white, but the NU25 has an additional white LED light with a high CRI, this means that it takes care of a very natural rendering of colours. The red LED light, which was not given a type number, gives pretty bright and more scattered light. The light sources of the Petzl Actik Core are also not listed; there is nothing mentioned on the box or in the manual. Both white LED lights have a cold light colour, the red LED light is fairly bright. The Princeton Tec has, according to the box, been enhanced with a 'Maxbright-LED light', so it is also not really clear what is hidden behind the lens of the EOS. The colour of the light is also cold-white for this head torch; the neutral-white lights are therefore a minority. A red light is missing from the Princeton Tec EOS.
Later on in this review I will talk more about the light sources and also show you more with photographs!
Light image and light colour
It is remarkable that all torches have their own light image, even more proof that each manufacturer has his own vision and deals with it differently. Each light, for instance, has its own beam angle: the larger the angle, the wider the path you light up with your torch. A narrower beam (so with a smaller angle) has more reach: Practical, for instance, when your speed is higher; you have more time to respond to obstacles if you see them sooner. The colour of the light is also an important feature you perhaps never paid attention to... A LED light with a more neutral colour makes everything you highlight in the dark look more natural, while a colder colour reaches further. In addition, a neutral colour works better in humid surroundings, think of fog or high humidity. Only two of the five candidates are enhanced with a neutral light colour: the NiteCore NU25 and the Fenix HL12R. The rest of the torches have a colder light colour. In the following chapter I will clarify with photographs
Now on to the most important aspect of a torch: the output and the light image! Among the five tested, there are still considerable differences in terms of lumens. Can you clearly see this? To give you a clear idea of what this looks like in 'real life' I will give you the so-called 'beamshots'. I take beamshots by placing the camera on a tripod and adjusting the shutter to a couple of seconds. To keep things fair I took all photographs at the same distance.
The first site is a storage warehouse with some caravans. This gives you a clear idea of how these head torches function on the camp site. A nice side effect is that the white caravans also clearly show you the colour of the torches. We start with the white LED light in the highest mode. To keep things clear the five torches in alphabetical order
Except for the Priceton Tec EOS the lights also have red light; there are clearly also some differences here. Below the photographs!
Let's head outside. The location is a footpath with stairs about forty meters away. Unfortunately it wasn't completely dark out here because of the light pollution of a large industrial area. Once again the lights at alphabetical order in the highest mode; this time really as a head torch!
Let's head to another site! This time two large trees located about 25 meters away. The photographs were taken from the back to make sure you can clearly see how the light image relates to the person.
Now for the red and/or secondary option of four lights. Because red often doesn't reach that far I took some photographs close to some white blocks that were lying in front of me.
Strengths and weaknesses/ Conclusion
When I take the strengths and weaknesses of all torches into account I am personally inclined to choose the more compact and light-weight torches. So the Fenix HL12R and the NiteCore NU25. Also in terms of ease of use these products do really well, they are a little easier to control and use than the other candidates. The Fenix feels a little more robust and a little more solid on your head, is easier to check thanks to the large buttons and will always remember the mode last used. You barely feel the NiteCore thanks to its weight, it has more light modes (among which a nice warmer colour) and it scores well in terms of red light. Charging is similar for both lights and doesn't cause any problems.
So are the other lights that bad? Absolutely not! However, they are little larger and also weigh more. In addition, their controls take some getting used to. The LedLenser has a unique focus system; the MH6 is better than all other lights in terms of reach. And what about the option of using both a rechargeable battery and AAA batteries? For many users this could be the reason to purchase this light. The same applies to the Petzl Actik Core, which also has a great red light and.. The emergency whistle in the headband. The Princeton Tec EOS is not the brightest, but is decently constructed and will definitely not let you down. The no-nonsense head torch from this test.
Hopefully my story will help you choose one of these five torches or any other from the extensive range of comparable head torches that Knivesandtools sells.
The only thing left for me to do is thank the KATO team for their support and giving me the chance to carry out this great test.
Koen van der Jagt
Ever since he could walk Koen has been interested in lights, wires and batteries. As a child he was always working with dyno torches, bike lights and electrical boxes. The krypton and halogen lights were replaced by LED lights. A couple of years ago he discovered the ‘professional’ stuff. His first brands were Led Lenser and Fenix. Photography is also one of his hobbies. In addition to nature and meteorology Koen loves to show others what a light can do and what its beam looks like at night. Koen’s reviews can often be found on forums such as candlepowerforums.com and taschenlampen-forum.de. Throughout the years Koen has collected lights in practically any category: from small and compact to enormous powerhouses.