My budget headtorch experiences

I live in northern Britain amongst open countryside, amongst which I enjoy walking my two dogs. At this time of year it goes dark at around 4.00 PM so fitting-in an afternoon walk can prove problematic. On a recent shopping trip I spotted some LED headlights for sale at the knock down price of £1.49p. I purchased one of these, without remotely appreciating that I had just opened a Pandora's box...

That night I fitted the light with 3xAAA batteries and set off with the dogs after dark to test out my new purchase. The light had the option of 4 LEDs, 8 LEDs, 12 LEDS and Strobe. Zinc carbon batteries begin to fade after around 2 hours on high, and alkalines after 6-7 hours. It produced a floody bluish glow ahead of me as opposed to throwing a hotspot or beam. I felt that 4 LEDs was just about tolerable, 8 LEDs sufficient, and 12 LEDs fairly useful for the large part of my walk. It did however feel a little less than perfect at a point where I follow a wooded trail alongside a river and I tripped over a couple of tree roots. The following night I also took a 8 LED torch to help me through that stretch. This got me thinking that if the light had 20 LEDs, then it would probably be perfect. That took me to ebay, where I bought the following two lights...

Both of these behaved like my first light, albeit with a slightly higher output on high, due to their having 23 LEDs. Whilst these lights look the same as the one above, all three have their subtle differences. They are constructed and hinged differently, the straps differ in quality, and they are moulded out of differing materials. The left hand one leaked light like crazy from beneath, because the lens' screw-cap didn't correctly fit the body (I blocked this with nail lacquer). The right hand one was completely unusable because of the overwhelming Chinese rubber/plastic smell, which turns my stomach. Despite the improved light levels, I still wanted more; hence I then went and bought one of these...

This was advertised as having a Cree Q3 LED, and the emitter certainly looks the same as an XP-E/XR-E. The light was much brighter than my previous purchases, but instead of producing an even luminance ahead of me, I had the choice of highly annoying multiple rings of Saturn on wide angle, or a useless hotspot on zoom. I then took the decision to try it without the lens, and it was completely transformed into a really useful light. I have now replaced the lens with a disc of PET plastic cut from a lemonade/soda bottle and a rubber O ring. With the head tilted slightly downwards this evenly illuminates a 12-15ft circle ahead of me, which I find perfect (I can zoom it to shrink the circle but without the lens this makes no difference to the intensity). For the most part I am more than happy with the light on wide angle and set on low, which to my mind kinda replicates the light of a full moon. When I come to the riverside wooded footpath, I switch it over to high, which is more than enough to make me feel sure-footed. The only problem with this light was that on full power it would begin to fade after 45 minutes with zinc carbon batteries, and 90 mins with rechargeable Uniross 1000 mAh NiMHs (I've not yet tried it with alkalines). My walk takes around 75 minutes, and I'm usually on low power, so I could easily manage with this. However, I had by now learned about 18650 batteries, hence I went and bought this outfit...

This was advertised as having a Cree Q5 LED, and again, the emitter does appear to be an XP-E/XR-E. I immediately replaced this light's horrible lens with a disc of PET and O ring, after which I felt that the output from this light was virtually identical to the green light above. A photographer's incident light meter held at 3" from either light on full power indicates 12 EV. This light pulls 600 mA on high and 160 mA on low and when the same battery was hooked via test leads to the green light above, that pulled 470mA and 180mA on low. I have used the light over the last 4 nights and the battery is holding up well. For the most part I am content to leave the light on its lower setting, but again the high setting comes in useful when things become tricky underfoot.

This light's main problem is that the hinge is loosely riveted, which causes the head to fall downwards as opposed to maintaining the forward/downward angle that I desire. I have overcome this by setting my desired angle and filling the resulting gap with silicon sealant to glue it in place. Crude, but effective.The head-strap just about fits my medium sized head and could be too tight for some people.

Finally, having read reports on here about the Ultrafire headlights, I felt obliged to go out and buy one of these...

It was easy to see why this light has its fans, despite the price. It is well constructed and simple. The light it produces is virtually identical the two above (after I had removed their lenses). The exposure meter gives an identical 12 EV, and the Q5 emitter pulls 630mA on high. It took me 2 days to figure out how to turn down the power (press the clicky hard as if to switch off, but then hold instead of releasing). I found that I needed to remove the clip in order to attain my desired forward/downward angle with the headband. Despite its merits, to my mind this light does have a couple of drawbacks, which make it less suited to my purpose than the one above it ( I have since changed my mind about these). Although it is not heavy, its forward weighting and lack of overhead strap, combine to make it wobble as I walk I then become highly aware that the beams periphery is bouncing all over the place, and I find this very off-putting. My second grumble is with that adjusting the light's intensity is a much slower process than simply clicking the switch, as per the two lights above it. I suspect therefore, that this light will become my preferred light for other outdoor activities, but for dog walking purposes I shall be sticking to the black one with rear mounted 18650 battery.

Update: Please note that I have added a couple of updates regarding my experiences below.

Nice progression Sool. Most people stop at that first light not knowing or wanting anything better. Congrats on searching out and finding what works best for you.

That’s pretty cool.


I have a headlight similar to your green one as well as the UF-H2 & UF-H3. I don't change modes often outside so that feature on the H3 doesn't bother me and the run-time more than makes up for it if it did bother me.

I, too, ended up removing the lens from the 3xAAA headlight. Actually I removed the whole lens apparatus for a flood that fills in all in my periphery vision. Great when I'm soldering or doing closeup work. IMO, a concentrated zoom in a headlight is near useless, especially if walking.

I only use my headlamps inside anyway because I'm too vain and insecure to be seen with such a geekly tool mounted to my head. More power to you! LOL :P

Yeah, in most situations flood is more usefull than throw on a headlamp.

I prefer having both hehe, I use it mainly for fishing, and a good throw helps when you want to check the top of the fishing rods when you are not very close to them, for the rest of the day I use the flood mostly.

Funny progression. I have a UF-H2, which might have been better for you because it's lighter and may not bounce around as much. I also have a UF-H4, which is better for me because I need some throw, but the beam is narrower and therefore maybe not suitable for you. The H4 is also great for short walks because you can use it with either a 17670 or a 16340, and in 16340-mode, it's tiny.

I agree that the UI isn't the greatest though. I would buy another one of each in 2 seconds if they updated the UI to include easy access to the lowest output.

My other headlamp is a Princeton Tec Apex, which is still my favourite out of the three. It's a lot bulkier, but it does everything I want: flood, throw, high output, low output, secure straps, easy-to-access modes. I put an XM-L in mine too so it's even floodier than stock, and brighter than stock.

The headlamp that I want next is the p60-compatible one being custom-made by a guy on CPF. I might not be able to afford it though.

Nice review. Welcome!

I'd opt for a gently used zebralight .. The pwm and the lame ramping on the ultrafires make them lights that immediately went up for sale ..thanks to the dino I didn't have to pay full price to learn that lesson .

I have 2 zebras that work very well I assume the spark is equally up to the task .

Just to demonstrate that there's a butt for every seat, I have an h51 Zebra and a UF-H3b Ultrafire and the Zebra rarely gets used. Beam profile and long runtime on the H3 makes it a big winner around here.

Thanks for sharing this. I have been looking into headlamps myself but am still undecided as to what I need & want. This cleared some of it up though.

Ledsmoke, if you tell us what you might use the headlamp for, maybe we can make recommendations.

nice review, keep on...

Thanks to everybody for the feedback. I shall certainly check out the various recommendations.

Having decided the the plug of silicon sealant looked crappy, I have now modified the black light further. I considered numerous ways of filling the gap in order to set the light at the required angle, but kept on coming up against the lights main downsides, namely its fragility at the hinge, and the fact that it's constructed of a waxy plastic that doesn't readily take to adhesives of any kind (removing the silicon sealant was a breeze because of this).

My ultimate solution was to snap the light back into its closed position and insert a wedge of black rubber behind it. This angles the entire front assembly down towards the floor ahead of me. The wedge is the same width and depth of the light's body and tapers from 3/4" to 1/4" (I cut it from an old rubber sanding block). Having considered various ways of fixing it permanently to the light, I eventually realized that simply jamming it in between the elastic strap and the light's body was more than sufficient to hold it in place (see below).

Last night I took the green, black and H3 lights on my walk and ran some comparisons. I now realise that with the lights angled so that illuminated area ahead of me just about touches my toes, the green light throws a slightly narrower beam (approx 12ft) than the H3 and the black one (approx 15ft). The narrower beam is still sufficient, but one could follow JohnnyMac's recommendation and remove the front bezel to widen it further, albeit at the cost of sacrificing weatherproofing.

I took the opportunity to compare each lights intensity in the field (literally). There was very little in it, but the green light was the definite winner, the H3 came second, and the black one came up to the rear. It was a close call though, and it took me several attempts before I was satisfied that I'd made the right decision, particularly with the runners up. I live in a remote area, and the moon hadn't risen, so it was pretty much pitch black when I made the comparison.

On arriving back home, my incident light meter confirmed the results by indicating that the green light produces 12.4 EV when fitted with 3xAAA and for some reason it also pulls a greater current 580mA as compared to the 470mA that I saw when I'd hooked it up to the 18650 battery (and got 12 EV).

Much as I want to love the H3, I have now discovered another slight annoyance, which I had previously overlooked. Towards its edge, the beam has a ring of Saturn, which serves to aggravate the issue of the beam's periphery bouncing all over the place. Not only is it bouncing at the edge, it's also bouncing within the edge, at either side of the ring of Saturn. It was probably the totality of these bouncing points that drew my attention to the bouncing beam in the first instance. Sorry to keep 'bouncing' on about this, but I really do find it distracting.

I have to say that I have been delighted with the new dimension headlights have added to my life. For many years I have simply thrown in the towel once the dark nights have arrived, but much to the delight of my two dogs, this winter looks set to be very different. It has also been fascinating to learn how much bang it is possible to get for a modest buck.

Just get some Scotch “Magic” tape…the translucent kind and put it over the headlamp lens and you will eliminate the “rings of Saturn”.

I concluded above that after I had replaced the supplied lens with a disc of clear plastic, and inserted a rubber wedge to angle it (as opposed to relying on the crappy hinge), my preferred light was this one...

However, I have now run into problems.

Up until to now, I had been using the light primarily on its lower setting, switching to high when the path became particularly tricky. The battery was lasting for a week or so, which led to me questioning how long it would last if I used the light permanently on its high setting. The first night out (60 minutes) it seemed fine. On the second night I was surprised how quickly I'd become accustomed to the brighter beam, and questioned why I'd ever used it on low. On the third night I finally twigged on that the beam had become much dimmer. The battery still contained 3.6v, so I tried a fresh alternative, which made no difference.

I then inspected the LED and realised that it had developed a brownish tint. My light meter confirmed that it was now producing 9EV (versus the original 12EV); hence its high setting now equated to the original low setting's output.

The tinting appears to be the result of thermal damage. Even in its broken state the LED does give off significant heat and the light's design does virtually nothing to disperse this this. The LED sits upon its die, which pretty much floats in space within the light's body. The only thing that vaguely secures it in place is a slender white plastic cone that screws in front of it. Although the front of the light's body is constructed from metal, there is no significant contact between the die and that metal, other than via the plastic cone. Despite that, the metal quickly heats up, which makes me suspect that LED must be producing some serious heat within, which is not being dissipated, other than via the surrounding air

By comparison, the die of the LED in the green light is secured in place with a metal ring, which in turn contacts the light's metal front end. Whilst I have not tried using that light on full power for 60 minutes, I did run some battery tests which involved it running on full power for 45 minutes without ill effect.

I have now ordered a replacement LED for the black light, and guess that I will have to modify its construction further, if I am ever to use the light permanently on high.