I was never a huge fan of headlamps until I went to live in a cabin in the woods off the grid for about a year. My sister, the survival expert, told me to take at least one headlamp with me. I said “why do I need a headlamp when I have 100 flashlights?” and she said “because none of them are hands free, and you’ll need that to work in the dark.”
And boy, was she right. From doing dishes in the outdoor kitchen at night, to bringing in groceries in the dark, it was something I used every day. Sure, I had a few small flashlights with reversible clips to clip onto a ball cap, but those don’t really have the output or run times. Good for a last resort but not day-to-day.
So, when Olight provided these two headlamps for review, I already had a good idea of what I like in a headlamp, and things to look for. This review is for the Olight H1 Nova and H1R Nova rechargeable headlamps. They are essentially the same light, with the H1R having a different tail cap with a built-in charger. They also come with slightly different accessories. The H1R I received is the NW (neutral white) version, and the H1 has a CW (cool white) emitter.
Price: About $55 online for H1 and $65 for H1R
These are both pretty much the same light. Both the H1 and its cousin the H1R are CR123A sized headlamps that feature a Cree XM-L2 LED emitter, compact size, TIR lenses, included headban, electronic switch and optional tail clip.
Both these models can use either CR123A lithium primary cells, or rechargeable RCR123A or 16340 lithium-ion cells. The H1R comes with an Olight branded RCR123A.
Whether using an included reversible clip or headband, both these models seem to be good output for their size. Both these models also use a TIR (total internal reflection) type lens with a built in diffuser, and thus they are designed for closeup work, versus seeing things at a distance.
I believe the H1R is just an upgraded version of the H1, because I don’t see the H1 on their web site.
Official Specs (H1R)
|Olight H1R and H1 Nova Headlamps With Nitecore HC50 and Crelant CH10 Headlamps|
|Olight H1R Nova Headlamp With Leatherman Wave and Spyderco Native S110V|
The H1 Nova arrived first, with the H1R about a month behind it. I’ve been super busy lately so I opened them up both at the same time, and have been working with them side-by-side even though the H1R is the upgraded version, and I assume the H1 is discontinued.
The H1 Nova comes with a nice little zippered case, which I wish they would’ve included with the H1R, which only came with a nylon pouch. Both have an included headband and reversible clip, which I like a lot.
My first impressions of these lights were, wow, they seem to have everything I look for. I’m a huge fan of electronic switches since they are so much more durable than a mechanical switch. This type of switch is also more compact, which I’m sure plays a part with these lamps being so compact. So, electronic switch, check.
The unit itself isn’t much bigger than the battery, due to a combination of the side-mounted reflector and the switch I already mentioned. The only concern with something this powerful and compact is heat. There’s no way something this compact can put out 600 lumens for any length of time without melting, and both these models have an automatic step-down from turbo. So, compact without melting, check.
The very first thing I did was take the H1 out of its headband and snap the clip to it. I’m not a huge fan of snap-on type clips, but this one fits pretty tight. Also, it’s hard to find fault with a snap-on clip when the model is being sold as a headlamp–it’s just an extra benefit.
Playing around with both lamps, my first thought was that these would be great for EDC (every day carry) and not just as headlamps. And that’s exactly where most of my time with these units have been spent.
H1 Nova Gallery
H1R Nova Gallery
Most people think that reviewers who receive stuff free to review are more likely to say good things about the product, but that’s been the opposite in my experience. The first thing I do when something is free is to try to find fault with it.
So, trying to find fault with these units, the aluminum stock on these samples seems maybe a bit thin–certainly thinner than my Nitecore HC50 which is pretty much a tank. But they could just as easily make the argument that less aluminum = less weight, so it’s a minor gripe for all but the most rugged applications.
The (copper?) plating on the contacts of the tail caps seem a little thin as well. Also a minor gripe since the battery isn’t changed that often, or ever for the H1R rechargeable version. If you’re replacing the battery twice a day, you might want a more rugged model.
But aside from a couple minor gripes, I think both these models are well designed and well made. Everything I look for quality-wise is there: solid switch, well built reflector and lens, square threads–it even has a blue anodized ring around the switch almost like they are showing off the build quality.
So overall I would give it a thumbs up for being well built. Thumbs up, Olight.
Fit and Finish
My only real gripe with the fit and finish is that the anodizing is a little thin. I’ve already put a couple nicks on both units from carrying them around in my pocket. To be fair, these are designed as headlamps and both come with a case or pouch to carry them in.
Aside from the anodizing, both my units have an excellent fit and finish. Plenty of lube on the well-machined, square threads. Good feel on the switch. The LED is machine-centered and the reflector and lens are free from any obvious defects or aberrations.
Well fitting clip, check. Precise knurling on the tail cap, check. Good machining, clean stenciled markings–it’s all there. I’ve owned other Olight products which had some fit and finish issues, so it’s nice to see Olight stepping up.
Magnetic Tail Cap
Both the H1 and H1R include a magnetic tail cap, which I think is a great feature as long as you realize that it shouldn’t get too near to the credit cards in your wallet, because it can damage or erase the magnetic stripes on your cards.
I used to be against magnetic tail caps, but they’ve really grown on me over time. I’ve done my own experiments with them around electronic devices, and I can say that I was wrong. Even devices with magnetic hard disk drives are shielded well enough to where the magnetic tail cap only poses a danger in a couple rare scenarios.
Being able to stick the light to anything ferrous gives you a third option, next to the headband and pocket clip.
The H1R includes a USB cable that attaches to one end at the magnetic base, and the magnet holds the charger in place. This allows the H1R to recharge its battery with a standard 5 volt USB port. Some of Olight’s rechargeable models come with a standing base, which I’m not a big fan of, but I like the compact cable! The charging base is also magnetic, which is something to keep in mind.
My sample H1 came with an Olight-branded, non-rechargeable lithium primary CR123A cell, and the H1R came with an Olight-branded RCR123A rechargeable cell. But it should be noted that either light can take either cell, as well as lithium-ion 16340 cells. The only difference between these two lights is that the H1R has a built-in charger, which makes it about a millimeter taller than its cousin, the H1.
The H1 and H1R both have 3 brightness modes, with a special “moonlight mode” as well. To turn on the lamp, just click the power button quickly. Hold down on the power button to cycle through the 3 normal modes. To access moonlight mode, click and hold the power button when the lamp is off.
The mode order is the standard low–>medium–>high.
Mode spacing is pretty good, and right about what I would expect and hope for. Of course I wish moonlight mode was lower (which would make it a beast for run time) but that’s a common gripe, and I’m just happy they added this mode at all.
Both these models feature mode memory, which I really like, but it’s not as important as the ability to always select moonlight mode when the lamp is off. The people in your camp site will thank you for not blinding them when you get up to use the restroom!
|Olight H1 Nova Headlamp — Cool White (CW) Modes|
|Olight H1R Nova Headlamp — Neutral White (NW) Modes|
This is a special “sub-lumen” mode where the lamp puts out a small amount of light for a long time. I look for this mode on everything I own, because you never know if you’re going to have to walk all night in the dark. This mode on the H1 and H1R are accessible by holding down the power switch when the lamp is off.
These models feature current-controlled moonlight mode just as I would hope for. As an enthusiast, I like to see them go as low as they will go, but the moonlight output on the H1 and H1R are certainly acceptable, and a nice touch.
Another thing I like to see with all my lights is an efficient, current controlled circuit, without the dreaded PWM. A constant-current circuit gives you more run time when you need it, and so it is ideal for survival situations and “bugout bags” where your life could depend on the amount of run time in an emergency.
I’m happy to report that both these models feature constant-current circuitry, as tested on my cell phone camera, and thus they are well-suited for survival applications.
The output on these models on turbo is fairly incredible given their size, but you only get turbo for a very short time before the unit steps down into high mode. But the output on high is still very acceptable given that these units aren’t much bigger than the batteries which go inside them.
The run times are also acceptable for the CR123A form factor. Even high mode may not give enough run time to change a tire if you’re slow at it, so keep in mind that lights of this size are not meant to run at their highest output for extended times.
Having said that, you probably have all the run time you need if you run this lamp on its lower modes. The balance between output and run time is something to consider with anything that puts out light with multiple modes.
The H1 that Olight sent me has a cool white tint, and the H1R has the neutral tint. I’ve always said that being a “tint snob” is the final initiation for flashlight enthusiasts, and this NW tint version of the H1R doesn’t disappoint.
Some people prefer a cool white tint, which normally gives a little more output, so it’s nice that Olight offers people a choice on tint. For example, my brother prefers CW tinted lights because of their extra output.
The tint on both models is about what I would expect from the Cree XM-L2 emitters. The CW version isn’t too bluish or greenish, and the NW version isn’t too orange-ish. The CW version leans a little towards the blue end of the spectrum, and the NW leans a little tiny bit towards red, just like I would expect.
|Above you can see the difference in tint between the CW and NW versions|
Both these models use a TIR (total internal reflection) type of reflector usually found on higher end lights. I didn’t understand how a diffuser went together with a TIR reflector at first, but it’s easier to see than it is to explain.
Basically this setup gives the light a mostly “floody” beam. The TIR reflector makes the beam tight, while the diffuser makes it floody, which seem like competing features. The end result is that the floody beam is smooth as silk, with no circlets or over-spill from the main beam. It gives a nice, uniform solid flood if that makes sense. I’ve seen that other high end headlamp makers use this configuration, but I didn’t understand it until I saw it with my own eyes.
The H1 and H1R are sold as headlamps, which they perform well at, but I think they do even better for EDC duties. As long as you don’t need to run full output for any length of time, most of the time it’s really nice having so much light in such a small package.
Both of my units step down from turbo after anywhere from a few seconds to a minute, This makes the value of turbo dubious, but the regulated high mode is still useful, with turbo being there mostly to impress your friends.
Day to day with the H1 and H1R is a good user experience. I have at least 100 lights I could grab when I go out into the dark, and I find myself taking the H1R most of the time, even though it’s past the review evaluation period were I carry a review sample even if I don’t like it.
The compact size of these units are also their downfall from a usability standpoint. A light this small kind of hides in my pocket, and it’s narrowly missed going through the washing machine a couple times, as well as getting left in odd places where I have to hunt it down. That’s why I usually end up back with a 2xAAA light which I feel in my pocket and know it’s there. But again, it’s sold as a headlamp which can be kept in its headband, making it harder to lose.
Overall though I would rate the usability as excellent for both EDC and headlamp use. The switch is easy to find in the dark just by feel, the modes are well spaced, and the output and run time are sufficient for most EDC or headlamp tasks. If you’re using it 8 hours a day, than 18650 is probably a better form factor.
The head band is sufficient but nothing special. It gets the job done.
The H1R is about a millimeter longer than its cousin the H1, but it’s still ridiculously small. I wish it had a way to override the step-down function, but I understand that it’s mostly the laws of physics which decide how much light something so small can put out for any length of time.
For a consumer model headlamp, I think Olight hit a home run with this model for the price point, given its features and build quality. For tactical or military use, it’s probably not rugged enough, but there are lots of models already on the market for that. And my HC50 is way too large to recommend for someone like my mom,
Regardless of the model, I can’t stress enough to people on the importance of owning a headlamp. The first time you need to change a tire on a dark country road, or deal with a burst pipe during a power outage, you’ll be glad you had one. Having someone hold a flashlight for you is great but not always possible. And working on a car alone with a flashlight is hard, because you have to keep going back and re-positioning it.
And thanks to Laura at Olight for being patient for my reviews. I like to spend a lot of time with the products I review, and I usually take hundreds of photos.