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Hands-on Gear Review
Nitecore HC50 Review
Cons: Poor battery performance
Bottom line: Waterproof and durable, this model's battery life left our testers wanting more.
Nitecore, like Yalumi and Zebralight, is not a household name when it comes to outdoor lovers and their headlamp shopping needs. These more obscure companies make unique products that perhaps we all should be considering more. The Nitecore, for instance, is more rugged than any other light we tested, and offers lighting optics that put others to shame. The battery life is pretty poor, and the light isn't as bright as many others, but it is worth considering for niche users.
RELATED REVIEW: The Hunt for the Best Headlamps
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Nitecore delivers an ultra burly light that performs well in some categories and below par in others.
We gave the Nitecore relatively high trail finding marks (8 of 10) because of its combination of a bright beam with smooth optics. The products that scored better, the Black Diamond Icon, Petzl NAO, and Top Pick winner Fenix HP25R are all quite a bit brighter, but none of them have the smoothness of light and optics that the Nitecore does. The beam is brightest in the center, and smoothly graduates to the edges of your peripheral vision. This pattern, we found, is ideal for effective trail finding. While those three other lights scored better than the Nitecore, all are much more expensive. As compared to other lights in its price range, the beam shape and strength is above par. Check out the beam comparison below to see how the Nitecore surpasses the similarly priced Petzl Tikka R Plus in trail finding.
The same even beam shape and structure that makes for excellent trail finding also makes for good close proximity viewing. Again, see how this beam compares to the otherwise similarly priced Petzl lamp. We gave the Nitecore a 9 of 10 score for close proximity due to the even light distribution. Other lights have dark and bright spots that, while eventually overlooked, prove tiring and distracting.
Nitecore clearly put a great deal of time and technology into making their HC50 bright with excellent light quality. However, the battery life suffers. Only the diminutive Zebralight H52 burned out faster in our high mode run time, ANSI-standard test. The Nitecore burned to an unusable dimness in just an hour and 20 minutes. As compared to the Editors' Choice Black Diamond ReVolt, which costs a little less, the battery life is in a totally different league. This battery life vs. beam distance chart shows how the two stack up to one another.
Throwing usable light 75 meters, while not at the top of our test, is a pretty respectable performance. Six headlamps in our test send light further, and all do so with better battery life. Notably, the Black Diamond Icon throws light 33% further and does so for 8 times as long. The beam shape and cleanliness is lesser on the BD, but that is easily overlooked. Additionally, the Yalumi Spark Pro 120 casts a beam about the same distance and is half the price of the Nitecore.
Three headlamps in our review were heavier than the Nitecore. All three are brighter and have better or similar battery life.
Ease of Use
We could not get our first tested Nitecore unit to work. Whether it was operator error (getting the battery lid on is at least a little problematic, for instance) or an actual issue with the instrument, the fact remains that we could not get it to work. A different iteration of the same model, purchased later and coming with a different colored headband, works just fine. We also did our objective testing for beam strength and battery life on yet another product, again with a different colored band. In the end we tested three of the Nitecore headlamps, and only one gave us any troubles. Besides this one problematic device, we found the light to be fairly simple and easy to use.
This is perhaps the most rugged light in our test. It is fully waterproof to beyond 1m deep, making it the most weather and waterproof lamp in our review. No other light we tested meets this IPX8 standard for waterproofness. With such beefy construction, this is perhaps a good product to leave in a truck-bed tool box. It's too heavy for backpacking use, and not bright enough nor does the battery last long enough for nighttime running.
This isn't the most expensive light in our test, but there are certainly products that perform better for a lot less. The primary vote in favor of its value is its durability. No light we tested will take the same abuse that the Nitecore will. If you need a light to last and withstand burly conditions, this could serve you well.
The Nitecore HC50 is rugged, perhaps a bit finicky, with excellent optics. It is heavy, with limited battery life and uses an obscure (though rechargeable with an optional accessory) battery type.
Other Versions and Accessories
18650 - Battery Charger
— Jediah Porter and RJ Spurrier
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