Headlamp Review: Nitecore HC65
Nitecore produce many popular flashlights and headlamps, with the P10GT being one of the best flashlights for light painting, and the lightweight NU series headlamps being a recent hit. The Nitecore HC65 is a new headlamp model that combines a 1000 lumen main LED, red and high CRI auxiliary lights, plus internal USB battery charging. This review takes an in-depth look at this headlamp, and investigates how suitable it is for light painting photographers.
The Nitecore HC65 was provided to me for an honest review by FastTech. I receive no commission from links or sales. Product Link. Enter coupon code “MAP” in View Cart page for a better price.
The Nitecore HC65 arrived in a Nitecore branded cardboard box, and contained the headlamp, an 18650 battery, headband, micro USB charging cable, spare O-rings, two spare internal plastic inserts, and a decent set of instructions.
The Nitecore HC65 is a headlamp that runs off a single 18650 battery (or two CR123). The body consists of a battery tube, that is located in a plastic holder that is held against the head by a two strap headband (around and over the head). Either one or both headbands can be used, which keeps everyone happy! The headlamp can be rotated up and down in the holder, which is thankfully quite stiff to prevent accidental movement. I found this headlamp very comfortable to wear.
The front of the body, fixed to the battery tube by 4 screws has a main light, and auxiliary lights. As they are side by side, they are both off-centre to the headlamps mid-line. The main light has a shallow smooth reflector containing a Cree XM-L2 LED. The auxiliary light has a red LED, warm white high CRI LED, and a blue indicator/positioning light sitting behind a frosted lens. One end of the battery tube has a tail cap, which can be used for battery insertion, and to mechanically lock out the light. The other end has a two stage switch, and a cover that can be unscrewed to access the USB charging point.
Depending on the use case, headlamps come is a range of sizes from compact button battery based models, to caving headlamps with seperate battery packs. My previous favourite headlamps are the 14500/AA battery based Thrunite TH20 NW, and the internal li-polymer battery powered Nitecore NU30 and NU20CRI. The HC65, being a single 18650 headlamp is thus larger and heavier. The length of the tube is 82.7mm, and the weight is 62.7g. Given the solid metal construction, up to 1000 lumen output, and potentially long runtimes, I find the size and weight perfectly acceptable.
A high quality 3400mAh protected 18650 li-ion battery was included in the package, which is becoming the norm on mid-market lights. This is good, as many consumers are not experts in which li-ion battery brands are recommended, and which brands might go bang! I would assume that the trusty Sanyo/Panasonic NCR18650B is the wrapped battery. The internal USB charger uses a micro USB port. This terminated charging at 4.22V, which is on the borderline higher end of acceptable. The charging is only at 0.5A, and with a full charge taking around 7 hours, is relatively slow by 2018 standards. The battery tube has physical reverse polarity detection, and thus unfortunately only accepts button top batteries. Nitecore also sell (seperately) the NL1829LTP battery which is specially designed for below freezing environments (down to -40C), where normal li-ion batteries can loose performance.
Nitecore have put a lot of effort into the user interface of the HC65, which is explained below. There is a single switch, which as with the popular Convoy S2+ flashlight, can have a half-press, or full press.
Full click from off – turns onto last memorised mode
Half click from on – changes mode ultralow>low>mid>high>turbo>…
Full click from on – turns off
Double click from off – turns on turbo
Half click for >0.6sec from off – turns on
Half or full click – turns off
Full click for >0.6sec from off – turns on
Half click from on – toggles between red and red warning/flashing
Full click from on – turns off
Full click for >0.6sec from on in any mode – turns on strobe
Half click from strobe – toggles between strobe>SOS>beacon
Full click from flashing modes > turns off
I really like this user interface. It allows direct access from off to any memorised mode, turbo, high CRI, and red. There is no momentary or direct access to strobe, but these would be a rare requirement on a headlamp.
There is also a interesting blue indicator/positioning light. This is not for illumination purposes. This can be toggled on and off by a quick half click when the light is off. When on, it will flash every 2 seconds so that you can find it (note: this will result in parasitic drain that will take 6 months to drain a full battery). Also, when it is on, it will flash out the voltage to one decimal place (e.g. 4.1V) whenever the tail cap is closed. This is an accurate way of determining how much charge is remaining. The instructions cover the useable range of voltages of li-ion batteries for non li-ion experts. When charging, the indicator light will flash every 1.5secs, and will be steady on when the charging has terminated.
Output and beam
The main LED emitter is a cool white (6500k) Cree XM-L2 U2 LED. XM-L2s are used in floodier lights, and this is no exception. The shallow smooth reflector allows for a wide beam angle of 100 degrees, but also allows the hotspot to be well defined. As is expected for the wide beam angle, the peak beam intensity is relatively low at 3,000cd (110m throw). However, I found this to be sufficient and most use cases for headlamps tend to prefer a floody beam rather than throwy. If you are one of the few people who need a super-throwy headlamp, look elsewhere.
Due to the smooth reflector, there is some tint shift, with the hotspot having a slight yellow tint, and the spill beam having a slight purple tint. CRI is estimated to be in the usual low 70s, good enough for most purposes, and far better than the washed out beam in the otherwise excellent P10GT. No PWM was detectable, which is great.
The lumen output of the main LED is turbo 1000lm, high 550lm, mid 280lm, low 80lm, and ultralow 1lm. Tested outputs were approx. 10% higher than the claimed figure. I’d prefer mid and low modes to be a bit lower, but I’m being picky here. The step-down is regulated using Advanced Temperature Regulation (ATR), and this steps down on turbo mode to around 50% output after approximately 7 minutes, which is impressively long. Runtime on turbo mode (including step-downs) in 21C heat was 140 minutes, which is impressively long.
High, mid, and low modes are very well regulated. I found myself using the 280lm mid and 80lm low modes for finding my way in the woods light painting, which should last for 4hr45m and 16hr respectively using the supplied 18650 battery. Thus this headlamp could easily last, for example, a whole weekend of camping and light painting without a re-charge, or change of battery. The light dims quite rapidly near to the end of the runtime. The 1lm low “moonlight mode” is great if you need to find something in your camera bag without blinding yourself or others. The 280lm mid mode is usually sufficient for camera focusing purposes.
The red emitter is at 11 lumens, and is thus suitable for close up work within around 4m. This is sufficient to light up a room for a light painting scene. The beam is well diffused, much better than the non-diffused red beam on the NU30 and some other headlamps.
The high CRI beam is neutral white with a yellow tint, estimated at 4500k. The beam is well diffused, but the edge of the diffuser results in significant tint shift between the top and bottom of this beam when illuminating surfaces within 1m (for example if working under a car). This is not an issue beyond 1m. The high CRI beam is 26 lumens, usable up to around 5-6m.
Things I liked:
– Direct access to memorised mode, turbo, high CRI, and red.
– Mode memory
– Solid construction
– Excellent heat handling and long time to step-down
– Acceptable size and weight for this class of headlamp
– Good max output, wide beam angle, regulation, and long runtimes
– Moonlight mode
– No detectable PWM
– Internal USB charging, with good battery charge indicator (which flashes out the voltage)
– Included quality protected 3400mAh 18650 battery
– Comfortable to wear, and choice of one or two headbands
Things I didn’t like:
– Tint shift on high CRI beam within 1m (not an issue at >1m)
– Only accepts button top batteries
– Relatively slow charging at 0.5A, and borderline high charge termination voltage 4.22V
The Nitecore HC65 is a very well designed headlamp, and is currently my favourite headlamp. With up to 1000 lumens from the main floody beam, red and high CRI beams, plus a moonlight mode, it covers a lot of requirements. The user interface is well thought out, with direct access to memorised mode, turbo, high CRI, and red. The internal USB charging and included battery makes it attractive to the consumer market. The battery charge indicator is much better than the rather crude indicators found on many lights. Other than the close up (<1m) tint shift on the high CRI beam, this headlamp has no major negatives. I would recommend this headlamp for light painters who require a solid but comfortable headlamp, with high brightness, or long runtimes at low to medium brightness.