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Optronics LED headlamp, LED flashlight, NightBlaster LED headlight

LED Headlamp Flashlight

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My garage has three big windows and a combination lighting scheme that includes overhead incandescent, fluorescent and halogen lamps.  But I never seem to have enough light when I'm working on a bike. 

Now it could be because I'm getting old and my eyesight isn't quite as sharp as it was, say, 20 years ago?  But I'd like to think that it has something to do with the nature of working on motorcycles.  After all, they're standing upright, and all the light is showering down from above.  

Combine that with bits of fairing, fuel tanks, and the jam-packed nature of motorcycle internals, and it's easy to make the case for a different type of lighting system.  

Or maybe it is my aging eyes...

Since I'm always tinkering with one bike or another, on projects ranging from ripping out a transmission to a installing a new set of grips, good lighting is important.  I've ended up with a collection of flashlights both large and small, incandescent and halogen.  

But until I grow a third hand, it's pretty hard to hold a flashlight and work on a motorcycle at the same time.  That's why I've been intrigued by the recent development of lightweight headlamps of all different shapes and sizes as a great solution for motorcyclists.  A headlamp can come in very handy for any type of work around a motorcycle.

I've tried various shapes and sizes of headlamps, but many of them are a bit clumsy for motorcycle work.  I've found that there are a few important features to consider when purchasing a headlamp that will improve their performance.  First, the unit must be as light as possible, with a low amount of mass hanging out in front of the head.  Working on motorcycles means bending, crouching and twisting upside-down to see or reach its various and sundry parts, and the heavier headlamps can move or fall off just as they're needed most.

The headlamp must also have a comfortable and adjustable attachment system.  If the headlamp is heavy and only has a single strap to attach it around your head circumferentially, it will have to be cinched down very tight to hold it on, and this can quickly become uncomfortable.  I've found that headlamps with straps that attach both around (circumferentially) and over the top of the head are (relatively) the most comfortable, because they help to more evenly distribute the weight of the unit.

Of course, it goes without saying that brighter is better, but there are various considerations that should be taken into account.  Sometimes a spotlight is useful, but other times a broader, softer overall lighting is needed.  Brightness usually comes with a cost in battery life, and more or larger batteries can mean more weight and expense. 

I'm not partial to AAA sized batteries unless the light uses LEDs, which help to increase battery life because they use much less power than incandescent bulbs.  I find AAA batteries to be expensive, a bit hard to find, and not as long lasting as AA's or other battery sizes.  And I probably wouldn't consider a light that uses any type of watch or wafer battery, because those tiny power sources just don't have the guts to last very long, no matter what type of bulb is used.

One more important consideration is the ability to aim the headlamp.  Most headlamps are adjustable up and down, and it is important to have a fine level of adjustability.  Having a light source on your forehead means you run into the parallax effect, where the light source is on the same plane as your eyes, but since you're usually working at close distances, the angle of the light is more acute than it would be with a background lighting source.

So the ideal headlamp would be something that provides the light necessary to illuminate the task; is lightweight; has a long battery life; and is comfortable to wear.

Which brings us to Optronics, Inc.  Optronics has one of the largest selections of headlamps available.  Optronics also manufacturers and distributes many other types of lighting products for outdoor use, including ATV's, boating, hunting and more.  Their headlamps are very popular with hunters, outdoor types and anyone else who needs a hands-free source of light.

Optronics has many different types of headlamps, which makes for an interesting but fun chore to choose the right one for your application. 

We sampled two Optronics headlamps from the "NightBlaster" line; the HL-7700 LED array (left) and the classic HL-6000, which is waterproof to 30 feet and uses a bulb surrounded by krypton gas.

Optronics HL-7700 NightBlaster
The HL-7700 is a new design that it incorporates some interesting features.  It has a 7-LED array with a three-way switch.  Press the water-resistant switch on the top of the unit once, and the central LED will light.  Press again, and three LEDs across the middle of the array will light; the third press lights all 7 LEDs.

I found that the brightest power setting seems to be the most useful when working on motorcycles, but it's nice to have a choice of variable brightness selections when using the headlamp for other activities.  For example, the single LED is really all that's needed to read a map at night, and three LEDs will provide sufficient light to see your way down a dark path.  

The brightest LED setting of the HL-7700 provides an even, diffused lighting effect that helps illuminate the darker recesses of a motorcycle work area by an f-stop or two.  But it isn't an overpowering brightness, and the illumination may not be that noticeable if the ambient light level is high.   LEDs suffer a bit in the brightness department when compared to good quality halogen or krypton incandescent bulbs, but as you can see by the un-retouched photos below, the unit provides good illumination when working in a poorly lit area.

LEDs are noted for their low power consumption, and Optronics claims that the HL-7700 has up to 300 hours of battery life.  I'm assuming that the 300 hour number is applicable only when using the single LED low power setting, so I'll guess that if all 7 are fired up, the unit may give about (300/7 = 42) 40 or so hours of light?  If that's true, that would be great. 

The HL-7700 comes with three Panasonic AAA batteries, which are easily installed by unscrewing the cap on the right side of the unit.  The batteries fit into a cylindrical battery holder, which then slides into the unit.  The caps that secure the battery pack and the lens are sealed with O-rings, making the HL-7700 "weatherproof".  The AAA's are very light, and the entire HL-7700 with batteries installed only weighs 128 grams (4.5 oz.).  The HL-7700 has both circumferential and radial head straps, and both are adjustable.  

The unit is very comfortable, and I found that it's easy to forget that it's on my head.  It has a 3 mm thick foam backing that acts as a cushion against the forehead, helping to prevent any chafing or pressure points.  I came in the house at one point with it on my head and I was working on my laptop when my wife walked in and started laughing -- I forgot I was wearing it and I guess I looked kind of foolish sitting there at the kitchen table wearing a headlamp!

The HL-7700's switch is a bit fussy to use; it takes a deliberate push with the tip of a finger or fingernail to activate it.  Also, when the HL-7700 is turned off, it takes three clicks to bring it back to full strength.  So rather than working through the sequence of clicks each time I need some light, I switch it to full power before I put it on my head and just leave it burning.  The batteries seem like they will last a long time, so this hasn't been a problem.  

The HL-7700 has five settings for aiming the beam, and this provides an adequate number of choices to direct the beam to the work because the light from the LEDs is diffused rather than focused.  A more focused light might call for a finer adjustment to ensure the light is aimed precisely where its needed.

The HL-7700's LED array is replaceable as a unit.  The front lens assembly unscrews and two very small Phillips head screws are used to attach the array to the headlamp.

Optronics HL7700 LED headlamp off. Optronics HL7700 LED headlamp, first power setting.
HL-7700 off. HL-7700, first power setting.
Optronics HL7700 LED headlamp, second power setting. Optronics HL7700 LED headlamp, full power.
HL-7700, second brightness setting;
3 LEDs lit.
HL-7700, highest brightness setting;
all 7 LEDs lit.

HL-6000 NightBlaster
The Optronics HL-6000 features a size A-696 (aka PR-13 or K-13) krypton incandescent bulb (replaceable) and a housing that is claimed to be waterproof to 30 feet.  The HL-6000 throws out a considerable amount of light, rather like a good quality two D-cell flashlight (see un-retouched photos below). 

The HL-6000 uses four AA batteries, which are not included, and Optronics makes no claims regarding the burn time, but I suspect that the batteries will not last anywhere near as long as the HL-7700's LED lighting source.  The HL-6000 is much brighter than the HL-7700 though, so it's somewhat of a tradeoff, depending upon intended use.

Another tradeoff for the brightness is the weight of the HL-6000; at 244 grams (8.625 oz.), the unit is nearly twice as heavy as the HL-7700, but typical for similar incandescent headlamps.  Some of the weight may come from the heavier plastic housing and O-rings, which are necessary to provide the 30-foot depth waterproofing.  If you're going to break down on the road in a blinding rainstorm, this is the light you want!

The four AA batteries slide directly into the housing, and they make a somewhat heavy but well-balanced package that's probably about as small as it can be, considering it holds four AA's.  The HL-6000 has a 3mm thick foam pad to help make it more comfortable, but the unit has only a single circumferential and adjustable strap.  It would probably be more comfortable with the addition of a center strap, which would help spread the weight over a larger surface area.

The HL-6000 is switched on or off by rotating a fluted circular ring on the right-hand side of the battery housing.  The switch has a nice, fluid feel with a slight "click" when it's engaged.  The HL-6000's lamp can be vertically aimed with 8 clicks "and a little bit more", and it's easy to find a precise setting to focus the light directly on the job.  The HL-6000's bright light is useful even when there's lots of ambient light, but its weight is a bit less balanced than the HL-7700, making it less comfortable to wear.

At less than 10 bucks, the HL-6000 is a definite buy.  And let's face it, you never know when you'll need a headlamp that's waterproof to 30 feet!

 

Optronics HL6000 headlamp off. Optronics HL6000 headlamp on.
HL-6000 off. HL-6000 on.

Conclusion
Headlamps are very useful, whether you're working on your bike, your car, or just doing chores around the house.  I find headlamps to be indispensable when working on motorcycles -- they allow me to keep both of my hands on the work while providing the necessary light to see what I'm doing.  I've gotten into the habit of strapping on a headlamp as soon as I begin any type of maintenance, because I never know when it will be needed.

Optronics has many different models of headlamps to choose from, so it's worth paying a visit to their website to see what's available.  For example, the Optronics model HL-7200 (not reviewed) looks intriguing; it's a combination white LED and halogen headlamp with a spotlight or floodlight that can be focused, and it also carries its 4 AA batteries in a pack at the back of the head strap.

Remember that there will be a tradeoff between weight, brightness and battery life when choosing a headlamp.  I've found that the HL-7700 provides just enough extra light to give my aged eyes a break.  It works especially well at night, when the only ambient lighting I have comes from overhead.  And when I have to do some work down in the dark internals of one of my bikes, the HL-6000 comes in very handy.  There are plenty of other Optronics headlamp models, and I'm sure you can find one that works best for you.  

Check out the Optronics website for more information and to see some of the many different types of headlamps available.  Optronics products are not available for purchase through their website, but they have a page with a list of retailers who carry the Optronics product line.

wBW Product Review: Optronics Headlamps HL-7700 & HL-6000

Available From:  Optronics, Inc.  Made in:  China
Colors:  Various Suggested Retail Price:  Street price of the HL-6000 is about $9.00; the HL-7700 retails at $44.99.
Product Comments:  The HL-6000 krypton-bulb headlamp is waterproof to 30 feet and takes four AAA batteries (not included).  The HL-7700 uses a lightweight 7-LED array, it has a comfortable head strap with center strip and includes a 3-way switch for variable brightness. Includes three AAA batteries.  

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