REVIEW: Nitecore HC65 Headlamp

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REVIEW: Nitecore HC65 Headlamp

The versatile Nitecore HC65 headlamp features an XM-L2 U2 emitter with smooth reflector as well as separate floody High CRI and Red emitters.  It includes an internally rechargeable 3400mAh Nitecore battery.



Here are the key review details:



Skip to the commentary section at bottom to read my subjective notes on the HC65.



Disclaimer: This light was provided free of charge by Nitecore Store, shipping from their location in Texas. Retail price at the time of this review was $74.95.




The HC65 arrived in a predominately black and yellow retail box.  This one has a “For Review” sticker added; this is the first time I’ve seen this on the dozen or so Nitecore lights I’ve reviewed.



One side of the box touted beam distance and Auxiliary Red light (but oddly not the High CRI light).



The other side detailed the specifications.



The back listed several features of the HC65.



Inside the box, a plastic tray holds the HC65, headband, warranty card, micro USB cable, spare gaskets, spare o-rings, and manual.  The inclusion of spare gaskets for the front panel are nice – but should never really be needed since the front isn’t removed in normal use like the tail caps are.



The manual is in 9 languages (English, Spanish, German, French, Polish, Japanese, Romanian, Chinese, and Korean); each language’s section is complete as the text is quite small. Nitecore has included candela and throw specifications for not just Turbo but all modes.


It is available online here:


Nitecore backs the HC65 with a 5 year warranty.




The HC65 looks very similar to the HC60 introduced last year at first glance. Both use an 18650 battery and a Cree XM-L2 U2 emitter in a smooth reflector.  Both have knurled caps on both ends. Both have the same mounting design.  But while the older HC60 has a front-mounted switch, the HC65 uses the space for high CRI and red emitters behind an optic lens and moves the switch to the right end of the light.



Nitecore lists the dimensions at 82.7 x 33.3 x 26.7 mm with a weight of 62.7 g.  I measured length at 83.0 mm, tube width at 25.0 mm, cap width at 26.8 mm, depth (without mount) at 32.6 mm, and depth (with mount) at 37.6 mm.  Weight was measured at 75 g without battery or 122 with.



Looking at the front of the HC65, the red emitter is on top and the HCRI emitter is on top behind the diffused optic.



There is also a blue LED behind the optic.  It displays charging status and battery voltage.  When the battery is inserted, it will flash a number of times corresponding to the actual voltage.  Four flashes, a pause, and 2 flashes indicates 4.2 volts – a full charge for an 18650.  This indicator also works when CR123A primary batteries are used, displaying up to 6.4 volts.



The lens for the main emitter is AR-coated.  The smooth reflector had faint machining marks but was clean and consistent. There was one small piece of dust near the LED (visible above the LED towards the right side).



On top, Nitecore has their branding and the serial number. There’s also a USB mark to remind which side the charging port is on.



On bottom is registration and disposal information as well as a HOT logo.  I find the placement of the logo amusing; companies feel obligated to include a warning but this one is in the least noticeable location possible as it disappears once the HC65 is angled downward.



The left end (as worn) cap is the battery access door.



The anodized threads and o-ring were well-lubricated.  Unfortunately, the threads are not square cut so some carefulness must be used to avoid cross-threading the cap. Backing off the cap slightly will lock out the HC65.



A single gold-plated spring in the tail cap contacts the negative battery terminal.



Inside the tube, the HC65 has an additional post on the head end that protects it from damage if the battery is inserted backwards.  This does, however, mean that only button-top cells will work with the HC65.



The switch is located on the right side end (as worn).  The switch is dual-stage, so pressing it partially produces a different result to a full press.  (The feel is similar to many digital cameras that focus with a partial press and shoot with a full press.)



With the cap removed, the micro USB charge port is visible.  Threads and o-ring were well-lubricated.



Around the button is a rubber gasket.  At first glance it looks like an o-ring, but it appears to just be a bump stop for the cap.








The included headband includes an over-the-top strap in addition to the typical around-the-head strap. It is highly adjustable and holds the HC65 in place well but the over-the-top cannot be removed. 



USB Cable

The HC65 comes with a standard-A USB to micro-B USB cable and hook-and-loop strap to keep the cable tidy when not in use.




The included Nitecore NL1834 is a 3400mAh protected cell.  It arrived at 3.6V. 




The XP-L2 U2 and smooth reflector produces a bright hotspot and fairly narrow corona.  Nitecore states the beam angle is 100 degrees; that appears accurate.



The Red emitter produces a very smooth, floody beam.  There is a hotspot but it is only noticed at very close distances.  Interestingly, the location of the emitter under the optic causes the much of the light to go downward.  Notice how far up the HC65 is rotated up in this picture in order to get the red’s hotspot to hit the perpendicular wall.



The High CRI beam is similarly floody.




Tint & Temperature

The color and CCT are not specified by Nitecore.  I found the main emitter produced a slightly yellowish hotspot around 5000K and a spill that varied in temperature to as high as 6500K.


To demonstrate the relative tint, here is the HC65 surrounded by other lights.  Camera W/B set to daylight.

L to R: Convoy S2+ (6500K-7000K XM-L2 U2 1B), Nitecore HC65 (XM-L2 U2), BLF348 (5000K 219B), Lumintop Tool Cu (4000K 219B).



The High CRI CCT is described by Nitecore as neutral.  I found it to have a pleasant tint, slightly yellow, with CCT around 4100K.  Here it is surrounded by a couple other neutral lights.

L to R: Convoy S2+ (4300K-4500K XM-L2 T6 4C), Nitecore HC65 HCRI, BLF348 (5000K 219B).





Nitecore rates the HC65 at 1000 lumens with the included 3400mAh Nitecore NL1834 cell.  I tested turn-on output at 1199 lumens with output at 30 seconds at 1146 lumens.  Output exceeds specifications.


I continued the runtime test with a Thermaltake PC fan moving air across the HC65 to replicate more real-world use.  The HC65 has Nitecore’s “Advanced Thermal Regulation” technology, so the light will perform differently based on conditions.


There were a couple dips and spikes as evidenced in the runtime graph below but overall output drop was linear.   50% output was reached at 1:14 while 10% output was reached at 1:37 – exceeding Nitecore’s 1:00 rating.



High is rated by Nitecore at 550 lumens.  I tested it at 603.  Runtime was flat until 90 minutes when fan cooled, at which time one of two spikes and dips started.  Both 50% and 10% output were reached at 2:40 when the HC65 stepped down.  This is closely in line with Nitecore’s 2:45 rating.



Medium is rated at 280 lumens. I tested it at 300 lumens – which it held very flat for over 4 hours.  It then had a very large spike up to 506 lumens before stepping down.  Both 50% and 10% outputs were reached at 5:04 – slightly exceeding Nitecore’s 4:45 rating.



Low is rated at 80 lumens.  I tested it at 102 lumens.  It also held flat until a spike near the end – but the spike up to 446 lumens was very noticeable.  Both 50% and 10% outputs were reached at 9:00 – which is short of Nitecore’s 16:00 rating.



Ultralow (moonlight) is rated at 1 lumen.  I measured 1.5 lumens.  Runtime was not tested but is listed at 800:00.


High CRI is rated at 26 lumens.  I measured 20 lumens. Runtime was not tested.


Red is rated at 11 lumens; I measured 9.  Again, runtime was not tested.



All tests were performed with the included battery.  Compatible RCR123 and CR123A cells were not tested.  Ambient temperature was 66F to 72F. 



All outputs:



All runtimes tested:




Amperage Draw

As measured with the included battery fully charged:

  • Turbo: 2.8A
  • High: 1.26A
  • Med: 0.55A
  • Low: 0.18A
  • Ultralow: 4.4mA
  • HCRI: 128mA
  • Red: 135mA





Throw was tested on Turbo at 1.46 meters and the resulting candela was 3199 at 30 seconds – equivalent to 113 meters of throw.  This is in line with Nitecore’s 110-meter rating.  HCRI mode was tested at 14.7 Cd / 7.7 meters.





Nitecore states that the HC65 is constant current. I saw no signs of PWM with the “mirror test” though a camera’s CMOS sensor did show something extremely high frequency on Low, Med, and High.




Parasitic Drain

The switch on the HC65 is electronic so some parasitic drain should be expected.  I found a baseline of 16 μA but every 7 seconds, for less than 1 second, the drain spiked up to 6.76 mA. More sophisticated equipment would be necessary to calculate the average parasitic drain. For long term (>2-3 months), I would recommend backing the battery cap off to lock out the HC65.




Low Voltage Battery Protection

The manual does not state if the HC65 has low voltage protection.  The included protected cell has an operating voltage down to 2.5V – and I found the HC65 operated (though at a very dim level) down to 2.5V. 


Lack of a low voltage cutoff is advantageous when using non-rechargeable CR123As as every last bit of power in the battery can be utilized.  However, it does mean that unprotected 18650s must be used with extreme caution as overdischarging them could be dangerous.



Internal Recharging

Nitecore states that a full charge takes about 7 hours, indicating the charge rate is about 0.5A.  An inline USB meter confirmed that a charge rate of 0.54-0.56A.  Amperage was reduced as the battery was nearly full.


To access the charging port, the cap must be fully removed – and it is not tethered.  However, the charging cable can thread through the cap – ensuring the cap isn’t lost.




Impact Resistance

Nitecore rates the HC65’s impact resistance at 1.5 meters.  I do not typically test impact resistance, but I did accidentally drop the HC65 from waist level to a wood floor directly on its side (HOT logo down) and it suffered no damage.




Outdoor Beamshots

All photos taken with a Canon SD4000IS camera. 1/4" exposure, ISO800, Daylight white balance, F2.0. Approximate distances: White deck railing @ 15 ft., white fence in distance @ 75 ft, back of dock @110 ft. (For those that wonder… an ice flow turned my hoist sideways.)























The UI takes a bit to learn given that one switch controls 3 emitters.

Mode memory is present and direct Turbo access is available.


From off:

  • Half press and release switch to enter positioning mode (blue LED flashes)
  • Half press and hold 0.6 seconds to turn on HCRI
  • Full press and release to turn on the main emitter
  • Full press and hold 0.6 seconds to turn on Red


From on (main emitter):

  • Half press to switch modes (UL->L->M->H-T0
  • Half press and hold to access Turbo
    • Half press to return to last used mode
  • Full press and release to turn off
  • Full press and hold 0.6 seconds to access Strobe
    • Half press to switch special modes (Strobe->SOS->Beacon)


From on (HCRI):

  • Half press and release to turn off
  • Half press and hold 0.6 seconds to turn off
  • Full press and release to turn off
  • Full press and hold 0.6 seconds to access Strobe


From on (Red):

  • Half press and release to access Red Flash mode
    • Half press again to return to steady Red
  • Half press and hold to access Red Flash mode
    • Half press again to return to steady Red
  • Full press and release to turn off
  • Full press and hold 0.6 seconds to access Strobe





No problems were experienced with the Nitecore HC65 while testing.





The HC65 is what I wish the HC60 had been.


Switch location may be a matter of preference, but I find an end-mounted switch like the HC65 features is most convenient.  The HC60’s front switch was risky to use – either I’d touch the lens or I’d bounce light off my own hand and back into my face.  The end switch is just easier, and with a dual-stage design, it accomplishes a lot with a single button.


Using that space on the front for High CRI and Red emitters adds a lot of versatility to the HC65.  The HCRI has a nice warmer tint, is not too bright, and complements the cool and throwy main emitter well.  The positioning beacon (blue LED flash) is also a convenient addition.


The main output is strong – above specification.  The mode spacing is very useful especially at higher modes, though the jump from 1.5 lumens to 102 lumens is a bit steep.  As for other downsides, $75 is not a small amount to pay for a headlamp.  The internal charging is also not fast and the threads not being square cut is a disappointment.


Overall, I find the power and sheer versatility of the HC65 makes it a great light for those who can accept the weight of an 18650-based headlamp.




Lux Meter: Dr. Meter LX1330B
Integrating "sphere": Homebuilt tube-style device calibrated on other known lights and test results. Numbers should be considered relative to each other and my other review figures but accuracy is in no way certified or guaranteed.

Camera: Canon SD4000IS

Micrometer: Mitutoyo CD-6ASX

Multimeter: Craftsman 82170

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Joined: 02/03/2012 - 15:52
Posts: 671
Helpful review; thank you!