2007 LED Lights
By James Sharp
During the winter, when sunlight is at a premium, artificial light is often the only way to get out and ride. Last winter we took a look at eleven LED based lights. These ranged from 1W to 5W single emitter lights and lights made up of LED clusters. It seems that LEDs are taking after their computer chip cousins and are advancing at a pretty good clip. This year, we’ve dropped the 1W category and invited back the winners from the remaining two categories -- the DiNotte Ultra 3W and CatEye Double Shot. In addition to last year's winners, we've added 11 new lights. We've also added a new category, High Power Self Contained. These are lights that don't use external batteries, but have the battery inside the light head for the "no wires" look. Also, rather than have a multiples of 3W category, we've defined it as a Large Cluster -- this picks up lights like the Triple Shot Pro and Lupine Wilma. So, without further ado, lets jump into the lights!
High Power Self Contained
The MiNewt is NiteRider's first foray into the world of LED lighting. It is a tiny light that uses an O-ring mounting system. The battery is separated from the light head by a short cord. The power button is on the Li-Ion battery. There is a helmet mount available, and an extension cord, but the light comes with neither. The MiNewt's light head swivels from side to side for horizontal adjustment. The MiNewt is available with a single light head -- reviewed here -- and as a dual light head set up. Either way the battery is the same, so the dual light has half the run time.
The MiNewt is very easy to use. The light head goes on in a second and the battery fits nicely on the stem. The bezel protrudes forward slightly on top to shield the rider's eyes from the light -- a nice touch that I'd like to see other brands use. There is a blue indicator LED when the light is on that switches to red when the battery is nearing empty. This coincides with the button on the battery, which also glows blue, then red.
Another new service that NiteRider introduced with the MiNewt is product registration. They are doing this with the end user in mind and plan on implementing many features like helping to locate lost or stolen lights, ability to transfer ownership of the light should you decide to sell it and more.
The lens uses a high quality reflector and a lens of Borofloat glass -- a borosilicate glass similar to Pyrex and very durable. This helps to get all the light that the emitter produces out the front of the light and onto the trail or road. I found the lens to be durable and remarkable clear -- at times I couldn't tell there was a lens there!
I really liked the MiNewt. It's a great first effort from NiteRider, but it does have some drawbacks. First, I think that small lights like this one are best helmet mounted. The lack of light spill is less of an issue when you can point the light where you are looking. While you can mount the MiNewt on a helmet, NiteRider's decision to put the button on the battery makes it less than convenient to turn on and off, or to switch from high beam to low while riding -- especially if you put the battery in a hydration pack. If they included a helmet mount and put the switch on the light head I think that it would be a more versatile light.
DiNotte Ultra 3W
This is the winner of our previous Single 3 Watt category. Last year I had this to say about it: "The Ultra 3 is [DiNotte's] helmet-mounted light. Simply put, this is the most diminutive helmet light I have ever seen. The total system weight is low, but even more amazing is the fact that the 1-inch diameter light head only weighs 95 grams. You simply cannot feel the added weight on your head.
"As a bonus, the back of the light head has two small red, 'normal' 5mm LEDs, effectively giving you a headlight and a taillight in one unit, provided the light is not mounted on the handlebars."
I summed up why it won last round by saying, "For the sake of this review, however, I have to give the nod to the DiNotte Ultra 3. Why? Even though it doesn't have the longest run time, the Ultra 3 is so small it makes the best helmet light, and that is where these lights work the best."
Our review light is actually the same light we had a year ago. In that time we have used and abused it and it keeps coming back for more. It really does work best helmet mounted and the rear-facing red LEDs are kind of a nuisance when the light is bar mounted. That being said, they are a nice touch when the light is used where intended, on the helmet. I still like the fact that it uses off the shelf AA size batteries, and haven't found that swapping the batteries to be a big deal while on the trail.
Exposure Lights Joystick
This light, like the bigger Enduro Turbo, is self contained -- meaning that the battery is part of the light head itself. Normally this makes for a heavier light head, not something you'd want attached to your helmet, but with the Joystick, this isn't the case. This is the lightest light that has ever passed through GearReview.com's halls. At 105g the light, with battery and helmet mount, beats most other light heads alone.
The helmet mount is also unique. It's actually hard to describe, you'll have to look at the picture. It goes through a middle helmet vent and can adjust up/down and right/left. It, too, is very light weight, but it holds the Joystick securely -- all without the use of hook and loop straps.
The light itself is very much a spot. All of these single emitter lights are, but this one is more than the others. While this is an undesirable trait for a bar mounted light, it's less of a detriment helmet mounted. Being able to point the light where you are looking makes up for the lack of peripheral lighting.
I was also very surprised by the run time. It's listed as 2 hours and 20 minutes on high, but I got almost exactly 3 hours on high, at room temperature. That's 28% longer run time than advertised. I like that. Since I don't use a helmet light when I am climbing, I found the burn time to be more than adequate.
This is a great helmet light. It's not the cheapest out there, but when talking about a helmet light, light weight is king, and Exposure has this in spades. Provided the price doesn't scare you off, and you have a center helmet vent available, the Joystick is worth a long hard look. Think about it, no wires, light weight, decent burn time and an intelligent charger, what more do you want?
Nite Hawk K2
If, after reading that last sentence above and thought to yourself, "well, I want a brighter light", then the K2 might be what you are looking for. Nite Hawk took their patented reflector and combined it with a more powerful emitter -- the latest Luxeon K2. In doing so they had to add better heat sinks, a more robust housing and a better locking mechanism than the single watt light of last year. This new K2 is a better built package that feels more solid and robust. It is available in both single light head -- reviewed here -- and dual light head configurations. Both configurations use the same battery, so the dual light has a shorter run time.
The handlebar mount is ambidextrous -- it can be mounted on either side of the stem and centers the light over the stem. The new latch is much more secure -- gone is the plastic retention clip Nite Hawk used before and in it's place is a metal latch that will not let go until you want it to. The light head still swivels 360 degrees on a ratchet-type swivel. The helmet mount is lower profile this year -- a welcome change.
Like our previous Emitter, this one is very much a spot beam. It takes most of the light and concentrates it to a spot. There is more light spill than previous, but I think that this is due to Nite Hawk using a higher power LED this time around. The K2 will fire that spot very far down the road or trail.
The K2 also has the most beam settings of any light on this test. In addition to the standard low - medium - high and flashing of most of the lights, the K2 also has five flashing modes and a flickering mode that is supposed to simulate candle light. It's an interesting mode, to be sure, though I am not sure how useful it is -- I do think that everyone can do for a little whimsy now and again, and maybe that is what Nite Hawk is after with this setting.
Though larger than the other single emitter lights, the K2 is, arguably, the brightest. I really think that the size of the lens is the K2's biggest strength and it's biggest drawback. This is a very good helmet light, it projects it's beam very far down the road or trail and has enough light to provide some peripheral illumination, but it's not very light weight considering it's competition. The long run time is an added bonus.
Single Emitter Summary:
These are all good lights; this is the hardest category to pick a winner. I would be happy to use any one of them helmet mounted. Aside from the MiNewt, they all are easy to use on the helmet and they all provide enough light to be used as a secondary light paired with a handlebar mounted light. The K2 might even pass as a primary source if you didn't mind the lack of light spill. The lightest weight is the Joystick, and the returning champ -- DiNotte's Ultra 3W -- is still the only one with a built-in taillight. The MiNewt is tiny, as well, but the button isn't in a spot that is conducive to helmet use -- too bad too, since it would be a great helmet mounted light otherwise.
If you are looking for a stand-alone helmet light, the K2 is the best choice. If you are going to use a helmet light along with a handlebar light, then the choice is a little harder.
Because I prefer to ride with as little weight on my head -- and that is where these single emitters work best -- as possible, I have to award this category to the Joystick. It's easy to use and the lack of wires is a real boon on the helmet. You can put DiNotte's battery pack on your helmet and achieve the same effect -- ditto NiteRider's MiNewt -- but I don't like the extra weight and bulk of the battery packs up on my helmet. Exposure has managed to combine them both -- light head and battery -- in one neat little, very light weight package.
[^] back to list/chart
Princeton Tec Switchback 2
Princeton Tec's Switchback series of lights is new for 2007. These are also their first purpose built bicycle lights; previously their bike lights were adapted from their hiking lights. Drawing on their years of experience in the hand held and headlamp markets, they pulled out all the stops with the Switchback 2. Inside the box is just about every accessory you'll ever need, except maybe a second battery. The light comes with helmet and handlebar mounts, rapid wall and car chargers, extension cable and Velcro straps galore. The handlebar mount is the type that centers the light over your stem.
Princeton Tec did their homework. The connectors are a bayonet, twist lock type. This makes them just about impossible to pull out accidentally. The light head itself features a large, easy to use button. The light has low - medium - high modes as well as a very nice flashing mode. The flashing mode goes flash, flash, flash, pause, flash, flash, flash. However, rather than pause off, the Switchback 2 (and Switchback 3 as well) pauses on. I think that this makes the rider a little more conspicuous in the types of situations where flashing lights are needed.
There are two drawbacks with the switch. First, the Switchback 2 cycles through all of its modes -- you have to cycle through the flash mode in order to get from low beam to high. This isn't so great on the trail where you might want to get to high beam in a hurry. The other quibble I have with the switch is that it isn't raised enough. It's large, but it's hard to find with gloves on because it is the same level as the surrounding light housing. This isn't a problem with fingerless gloves, but in a rush situation, it'd be nice to have a little better tactile feedback.
Where the Switchback 2 shines -- pun intended -- is it's beam pattern. It's a nice piercing beam that is free of aberrations. Clearly Princeton Tec put their experience to good use when they designed the lens for the Switchback 2. It projects far enough for high-speed descents, with or without a secondary light. Though it comes with both a helmet mount and a bar mount, it's best used as a helmet mounted light. There is quite a bit more light spill than the single emitters have, it's still not enough for tight single track when bar mounted, unless paired with another lights. When helmet mounted, there is enough light spill to give some peripheral vision, enough for technical riding.
The helmet mount is fairly low profile and is easy to use. The handlebar mount swivels horizontally so you can get the beam shooting straight even if you use riser bars with quite a bit of rise and sweep. The short cable that is attached to the light head is long enough to frame mount the battery without the need to tie up a bunch of slack cabling. The included extension cable is plenty long for mounting the light to a helmet. Princeton Tec made this an all-inclusive package, perfect for the weekend warrior or the endurance racer.
CatEye Double Shot
The Double Shot was last year's overall winner. This was the light that I felt represented the best that LEDs could do out the group we had assembled. We felt that it worked well on it's own -- helmet mounted -- or paired with another LED light or even a handlebar mounted HID. This is what I had to say a year ago: "The two 3W LEDs are mounted in a single light head, with custom CatEye optics joining the beams. This is brightest light in this roundup. Nothing comes close to the intensity of this light at the spot. However, this is very much a spot light. There is little to no spillage to the sides. What light there is around the spot isn't very clean, with a large dark ring right around the spot... With over 5 hrs, the Double Shot makes a nice companion to a HID handlebar light.
"The switch is inline on the cable just behind the light head. At first this seemed an odd location, but in practice, it was easy to find and simple to use. The light is only on/off, no low setting or flashing or dimming whatsoever. If you want the light on, hit the switch, want it off, hit the switch again, that's it."
This is still one bright spotlight. The run time is very long, and with the introduction of the Double Shot Pro, I've seen sale prices on this light come down. I still find the switch to be easy to find and easy to use. In fact, I wouldn't mind if more companies adopted the inline switch -- though CatEye might have something to say about it. Is this light now overshadowed by the Double Shot Pro? I'm not so sure. The run time of the Double Shot is a real strong point. As handlebar lights get longer run times it's nice to be able to match them with a helmet light. The only thing that I miss on the Double Shot is a low beam mode. It would be nice to be able to dim the light and get an even longer run time.
CatEye Double Shot Pro
The Double Shot Pro promises to build on where the Double Shot leaves off. The casting for the light head is the same, though the color is different. This means that the Pro is the same size and weight as the Double Shot. The switch is still inline, but now has a softer touch, features an indicator for battery life and provides the light with a low mode. The helmet mount is largely unchanged, but the bar mount is CatEye's new Flex-Tight mount. This mount fits 22.2 to 31.8mm bars without the need for shims.
CatEye really changed the battery for the Double Shot Pro. Rather than the large-ish NiMH battery that the Double Shot uses, the Pro uses a rather small Li-Ion unit. This reduces the overall weight of the system from 645g to a paltry 345g. Unfortunately, it also reduces the run time from over 5 hours to just 2 hours. However, since it can be dimmed -- something the older Double Shot couldn't do -- you can stretch that run time to 4 hours.
The optics are very similar to the Double Shot, but the Double Shot Pro -- using newer technology -- is brighter. CatEye has also greatly reduced the dark rings, though they haven't managed to eliminate them altogether. The light projects far, but has minimal side spill. This type of light -- spot beam -- is best used helmet mounted, and the Double Shot Pro is no different in this regard.
While the reduced weight is welcome, the reduced run time has to be taken into account as well. If you don't need or want the longer run time, then the lighter battery is a boon. If, on the other hand, long run time is near the top of your list, you might want to stick with the much cheaper Double Shot.
Dual Emitter Summary:
These lights -- Switchback 2, Double Shot and Double Shot Pro -- are serious lights. They put out quite a bit of light, and can be beneficial to even HID users. The beams are powerful and light up the road or trail for a long way. Excepting the Double Shot Pro, their burn times are very long, with judicial use -- not using the light while climbing, reserving it for technical sections -- you could possibly stretch your night riding for an entire summer night!
All three of these lights are very similar. They even look the same from the front. However, the Switchback 2 has the best beam pattern, comes with the most accessories, has the shortest charge time and the longest run time. Throw in the lowest MSRP of this group and you've got yourself the undisputed winner of the Dual Emitter lights. This was one of the easier contests to decide, just looking at the beam shots side by side by side proved that Princeton Tec has knocked the Double Shot off of its perch. They came out of the gate swinging for the fence and came close with the Switchback 2.
[^] back to list/chart
High Power Self Contained
Exposure Lights Enduro Turbo
Exposure Lights is a company owned by USE in England. Known for innovative designs like the SUB single sided fork, it's no surprise that the Enduro would have the same well-made feel to it. Everything on the Enduro is machined. The handlebar mount is machined aluminum -- you have to specify which size, standard road and mountain bars or oversized for 31.8mm bars -- and is bolted onto the light itself. The light adjusts both horizontally and vertically. The battery is enclosed in the light head, but can be removed and replaced by unscrewing the back of the light and sliding it out. The charging port is waterproof.
The Enduro Turbo has three brightness levels: medium, high and turbo, plus a flashing mode. The button is recessed to prevent accidental firing of the light. The emitters use different lenses, one spot and one flood to give both decent light spread and good projection.
As I mentioned above, the handlebar mount is size specific. If you have a standard size bar and then, later, swap to the larger 31.8 size, you'll have to buy a new mount. The mount fastened by a screw -- meaning you'll have to use a 4mm hex wrench to put the light on or take it off. Once in place, however, it is very, very secure. There is also no need for fiddly rubber shims. Because the light is so secure, don't expect to adjust it once you are on the trail... at least not without reaching for that hex wrench.
Again, as with the Joystick -- though not to the same extent -- our test light outran its specifications, this time by 8%. I found the battery to be a good compromise between run time and weight. If they went larger the light would be heavier, and having it all mounted on the handlebar it would have been noticeable on the steering.
Overall, the Enduro Turbo is a nice package. I didn't really care for the button -- it was hard to push correctly with gloved hands and the light dimmed at every button press, while the button was depressed -- but it really does put out enough light for trail riding. If they made the button a little bigger -- and easier to use -- and added a thumb screw to the mount in place of the bolt I think that the light would be a little more user friendly.
BR Lights C2
BR Lights is a newcomer this year. Like the Enduro, this is an all-in-one light. It, too, uses two 5W emitters -- one with a wide beam lens and another with a spot lens. Unlike the Enduro, the C2 arranges its LEDs over/under style. The Lithium Polymer batteries are not user removable, and are located on either side of the lenses, inside the case. The handlebar mount is centrally located and uses a thumbscrew to affix the light to the bars. It is adjustable horizontally and vertically.
The battery is half of the story of this light. I measured the run time to be just shy of 4 hours, or 5% better than claimed. Even with this long of a run time, the light charges in an hour and 10 minutes! There is a small indicator light in front of the large power button. This shows how much run time is left in 6 stages -- green, green flashing, orange, orange flashing, red and finally red flashing corresponding to 100-83%, 82-67%, 66-50%, 49-33%, 32-17% and less than 17%, respectively.
The other half of the story is the beam pattern. While on the surface it looks similar to the Enduro, there is a bit more light spill, making this light a little better as a lone light source -- the C2 also has good projection. BR Lights did a very nice job getting the lenses right, there are no dark spots, no aberrations.
The downside to this light is the size. It's not really that small. BR Lights did need to fit that fat battery in there, and it's evident that some compromises needed to be made to get it in there -- the boxy shape being one -- and the weight can be felt while riding. It's not bad, and I adapted to the weight on my bars pretty quickly, but it's there nonetheless. I think that this is one of the drawbacks to the all-in-one design; it places all the weight up fairly high on a movable part.
High Power Self Contained Summary:
These are interesting lights. They are easily packed, it's hard to forget a cable when there aren't any, so they make great road tripping lights -- which races invariably are. They mount to the bike easily, no matter how convoluted your frame might be -- there's no need to try and find a spot for the battery. They move from one bike to another with ease, as well.
Both are bright enough for serious riding, but the C2 has the edge with a little more light spill. I also found it to be a little easier to use. If you just go by the specs, the BR Lights C2 is the winner here. It's got a longer run time, crazy short charge time, doesn't require tools to mount, has a better beam pattern, keeps you up to date on the status of your battery and is considerably cheaper. Like the Dual Emitter category, this one was pretty easy to call. Sure it's heavier and larger -- some might even call the C2 ugly compared to the Enduro Turbo -- but the feature spec wins my vote over appearance any day.
[^] back to list/chart
CatEye Triple Shot Pro
Last year, the Triple Shot was the costliest light in the review. This didn't translate into the best, though. This time around, CatEye has updated the LEDs, the optics, the battery and charger, the mounting system and the switch. About the only thing the same is the light head casting -- which is a darker color. We were a bit disappointed in the original Triple Shot, and felt that it didn't have enough light. Well, I am happy to report that the updated optics and LEDs did the trick.
Rather than use two completely frosted lenses to get the light spill -- along with one clear one to project the beam down the road -- the Triple Shot Pro uses partially frosted lenses with clear centers. This allows all three LEDs to share both projection and fill lighting duties. This is a much better arrangement that results in a brighter overall beam with lessened dark rings.
The new handlebar mount is identical to the Double Shot Pro's and fits handlebars from 22.2mm to 31.8mm in diameter. I did have a problem with the adjuster barrel binding up on the Triple Shot Pro's mount. I think that this is an isolated issue since I did not have the same problem with the Double Shot Pro's handlebar mount.
Like the Double Shot Pro, the new Triple Shot Pro has two light settings, high and low; the battery is now a Li-Ion unit as well. The switch is still a remote unit, only now it shows the status of the battery. The new battery is quite a bit smaller than the older light's NiMH version, and the run time suffers a little because of it. On low, however, the new light should last longer than the original Triple Shot.
I really like the new optics that CatEye chose to use on the Triple Shot Pro. It has changed the light from lack luster light to a one that I would use alone, or with a minimal helmet mounted light. It is improved in every way, the beam projects further, the fill light is better and the overall weight is down. I am glad that CatEye decided to include more than one beam setting. Unfortunately, there is also an large increase in the price of the light, mostly due to the using a Li-Ion battery, I am sure. Now the light is as expensive as many HID lights, as well as other large array LED lights, without many of the features, like a flashing mode or car charger.
Lupine Wilma 4
Lupine has had the Wilma, in one iteration or another, for years. Known for their high quality, high dollar lights, Lupine puts all of this expertise into the Wilma's small, compact, easy to use light. The Wilma comes in three variations, the Wilma 4 (reviewed here), Wilma 8 and Wilma X. The Wilma 8 differs only in the battery size -- 9 Amp-Hr instead of the Wilma 4's 4.5 Amp-Hr -- and the Wilma X uses a head strap and is intended more for adventure racing type activities than for cycling. The 2007 Wilma uses an array of four Luxeon's K2 emitters and boasts a whopping 420 lumens. Lupine uses proprietary optics to get a beam that is fairly broad and has decent projection.
One thing that set Lupine's lights apart from any others is the effort they put into making the light user customizable. Out of the box, the light has two light settings and an SOS flash. However, the user can change this -- and I did -- to three light settings and a rapid flash. If you so desired, you could also set up the light to have infinite adjustability between 12% and 100% light output. This is one smart light! My favorite setting, though, was the three light levels, low (12%), medium (60%) and high (100%). I would mostly use the light on the 60% setting for maximum battery life, switching the light to high for high-speed downhilling.
All of this electronic wizardry sits in a microprocessor in the remote switch. I am not a fan of remote switches, though, since they represent something else that has to be strapped down on the handlebars or helmet. The light ships with both helmet and handlebar mounts... actually the handlebar mount -- a beefy O-ring -- is built into the lighthead and is used on the helmet mount as well. The light also comes with an extension cord.
I love the O-ring mount. Lupine is not the only one that uses it -- Nite Rider's MiNewt uses one, as do DiNotte's single emitter lights -- but no other light uses as hefty an O-ring. This makes the light easy to put on, and easy to remove. It uses the same O-ring for normal and oversized bars, making it a universal mount. What the light lacks is any sort of horizontal adjustment. Usually this isn't an issue, but if you use non-standard bars, or bars with an extreme rise and sweep, you might have difficulty getting the light straight.
We did have a problem with condensation on the first light -- a 2006 model -- that was sent to us. The newer lights -- the ones with K2 emitters -- are sealed better and shouldn't have a problem. Gretna Bikes, the U. S. importer, exchanged ours without a hassle. We haven't had any problems with the new light whatsoever, despite our abusing it in all kinds of weather.
Princeton Tec Switchback 3
Superficially, the Switchback 3 looks like a near carbon copy of the Triple Shot. It uses three emitters lined up horizontally. Unlike the Triple Shot, however, it uses two clear lenses and one frosted lens to get the projection and light spill a handlebar light should have. The button is located on the light head itself -- a nice move I think -- and the battery is on the large side. The light comes with both helmet and handlebar mounts, an extension cable, car charger, wall charger -- both of which will charge the battery in 2 hours -- and numerous hook and loop straps for tidying up the cables.
In many ways, the Switchback 3 is similar to the Switchback 2, but with an extra LED. It has the same four modes, low - medium - high and flashing. The flashing pattern is the same as well, just a little brighter. Like the Switchback 2, you have to cycle through the flashing mode in order to go from low to high. I did find that the button was easier to find and use on the Switchback 3 than on the 2. It's just a little different, but that small difference is enough.
I am really impressed that Princeton Tec was is able to charge these lights so fast, they are beat only by the BR Lights C2 for sheer speed. It’s something I'd like to see more of. I am also impressed with all of the accessories that come in the box. Princeton Tec could have made the extension cable, helmet mount and car charger all optional and I don't think that they'd have heard too many complaints. Instead they included them and the consumer wins.
The large battery held lots of promise, but unfortunately it didn't pan out. Princeton Tec claims 6 hours for the Switchback 3 on full brightness, but I did not get that kind of run time. I even ran it twice to be sure. 4.15 hours isn't anything to shake a stick at, but it's a far cry from the claimed run time. I did contact Princeton Tec over this issue and it looks like my review light isn't a full production model, but, rather, a near final preproduction running a slightly higher current. This explains the battery life I saw and should mean that the production lights will get the full run times.
Overall, the Princeton Tec Switchback series are very nice lights, they pack a ton of value considering all the extras on the box and the Switchback 3 is no exception. Aside from the battery discrepancy, the light is as claimed and does a nice job of lighting up the trail. It's not the brightest, but then again, it's not the costliest by far.
The 500L is a brand new light from DiNotte. It differs quite a bit from their previous lights; for one thing it has three LEDs arranged in an upside-down triangle formation. For another thing, it uses a clamp on handlebar mount rather than their O-ring mounting system. Make no mistake, this is one serious light. It had to be, since DiNotte already had a dual 5W system -- this needed to be brighter. Rather than state what LED wattage they use, DiNotte would rather focus on the total lumens -- 500 in this case.
DiNotte did some interesting things with the 500L, first, the LEDs are on individual circuits. This means that if one circuit should go bad, or burn up you won't be plunged into darkness. Second, they put two buttons on the back of the light. One of them cycles through the light levels, while the other is a dedicated high beam button. No matter what light level you are on, hit the high beam button and you'll be at maximum brightness. The other thing that they are doing is providing the customer with two batteries out of the box. That's right, for the $495 price, you get two Li-Ion batteries.
The beam pattern isn't like any of the other lights, either. To be honest, the picture of the beam doesn't really show what it's like all that well. Use any light in this review -- or any other light for that matter -- and you'll see a very bright spot surrounded by less bright fill light. Sometimes there are darker rings present, other times there are not, but always you have a very bright center spot. The 500L does not have this, there is a brighter middle, but no defined spot. At first I didn't like this lack of a spot very much. Then I got in my car and drove somewhere while thinking about the light pattern, and it hit me... car lights don't really have a bright spot either. They just illuminate the road in a fairly even swath of light. This is what the 500L does. After having used it for some time now, I really like it. I especially like it when I use a helmet mounted light because invariably, the helmet-mounted light has a spot. Rather than have two spots competing with each other, the handlebar light and helmet lights blend together and the one picks up where the other leaves off. Very smooth.
The light head is larger than most of the others; it's about the same size as a HID. This makes to a little big for helmet use, I think, but it comes with both helmet and handlebar mounts. I'd use the light handlebar mounted only, and use something like the dual emitters or a small single emitter up top. The 500L comes with an extension cable, too.
The 500L is one of the brightest, if not the brightest LED based light on the market. This light, like Lupine's Wilma, really makes HIDs seem like fragile relics. These LED lights can be dimmed for very, very long run times. The batteries are small and light, but still last a long time, even on high. These are efficient lights, and the 500L is about as good as it gets right now.
Large Cluster Summary:
These are all very serious lights. Any one of them makes a good handlebar light and three of the four come with helmet mounts as well. They pack quite a bit of light into smallish, tough packages. They are reliable. They can be dimmed to increase the run times -- and I'm not talking an extra half hour, but real increases, measured in hours. The Princeton Tec Switchback 3 is the least expensive and the Wilma 4 is the costliest. In between lies the CatEye and DiNotte.
Looking at the price alone, I cannot recommend the Triple Shot Pro. It's price is too close to the 500L and the 500L is quite a bit brighter and comes with two batteries. The Switchback 3 is almost as good as the Triple Shot Pro, has more accessories included, has a longer run time and is $60 cheaper. Sorry CatEye, this time around the competition is fierce. If money is the biggest deciding factor, then Princeton Tec wins this category... but it's not the brightest, by some margin. That honor is between the Wilma and the 500L. Both lights represent what LEDs are capable of. They both outshine any other LED light I've ever used, and I've used most of them on the market. The 500L, however, is a little bit brighter. The 500 stands for lumens. Combine the higher output with the lower price and dual batteries and DiNotte has themselves a winner. This is a great light, a light that I would take over a HID any day of the week, and a light that I would buy over any other in this review for main lighting duties.
[^] back to list/chart
James Sharp is a contributing editor for GearReview.com; more of his ramblings and a look at upcoming reviews can be found at his blog -- Lactic Acid Threshold.
For more information, contact: