I have been testing Zebralight’s H502W, a compact yet extremely powerful and versatile LED headlamp, and wanted to share my opinions after using it for about two weeks. Although the H502W is technically a headlamp, I have mostly been using and testing it handheld as an LED flashlight.
Although I haven’t mentioned them before, this is not my first experience with Zebralight. I own a Zebralight H501W LED flashlight/headlamp that I purchased at the end of 2011, but unfortunately I haven’t a clue as to where it is at the moment.
The test sample was provided by our friends at E2 Field Gear, an online vendor that carries LED flashlights and all sorts of other EDC (everyday carry) products and supplies.
Just for you guys – coupon code GUYD takes 10% off your order!
(Plus enjoy free shipping on $50+ orders)
Features and Technical Specifications
- 260 lumen max output (when used with AA Eneloop battery)
- Cree XM-L2 neutral white LED, nominal color temperature of 4400K
- Current-regulated output
- High, medium, low output levels with optional and customizable sub-levels
- Operates on single AA battery (rechargeable NiMH preferred)
- 120° flood beam illumination
- Up to 7.5 hours of runtime on medium (50 lumen) setting
- O-ring sealed with IPX7 waterproof rating
- Weighs 2 oz with battery, 2.8 oz with battery and headband
- 0.84″ body diameter, 2.76″ length
- Hard anodized aluminum with natural color finish (Type III, Class I)
- Optical-grade glass lens
- Price: $69
More Technical Specs (via E2 Field Gear)
Right off the bat, I am fairly impressed with the flashlight’s build quality. It is machined from solid aluminum bar stock, and it feels exceptionally solid. It’s not weighty, but it feels heavy for its size, which I typically consider a measure of ruggedness.
The flashlight’s right angle geometry might seem strange to those only accustomed to traditionally styled straight flashlights, but it allows for greater positioning options. One of the main benefits of this style is how you can stand it up on any flat surface.
The machining and anodized finish are quite nice, and maybe even superb.
The flashlight is designed in the USA and manufactured in China. Zebralight, Fenix, and FourSevens flashlights are all made in China, and my experiences with them have always been exceptionally positive.
When first opening the box, I found a warning note from Zebralight that strongly recommends the use of Sanyo Eneloop or Energizer Lithium batteries (L91).
Basically, regular alkaline batteries cannot handle the high current output required to drive the LED at its highest output. I have experienced this before with other brands’ flashlights and discussed the issue briefly in posts about Fenix’s LD20 LED flashlight and Sanyo’s Eneloop rechargeable batteries.
Eneloop batteries are shipped fully charged and lose very little of that charge over time, even if they sit around unused. I typically recharge my Eneloops in a Sony NiMH charger, but also use an inexpensive Sanyo charger from time to time.
I always have some Eneloop batteries ready-to-go in two Powerpax holders in my toolbox, so I pulled one out and popped it into the light.
Neutral Warm White?!
The Zebralight H502W is powered by a Cree XM-L2 emitter with nominal color temperature of 4400K. This is about right smack in the middle between tungsten and daylight colors.
Generally, neutral warm white light is preferred for closeup lighting and when you want or need to see more accurate color rendition. Since the H502 is designed with a wide floodlight lens that is better suited for closeup work, neutral warm is the color I would pick.
(This is also why I purchased a H501W back in 2011, because I felt the neutral warm light would be best for headlamp and close-distance worklight use.)
The H502 is available in several white-light flavors:
- H502W Neutral white (that’s this one)
- H502 Cool white (6600K nominal)
- H502D Daylight (5000K nominal)
- H502C High CRI (4000K nominal)
Neutral White vs. Daylight: The 5000K color temperature of the daylight model is going to be a little cooler and more closer to what you see with natural sunlight, but the tradeoff is in illumination intensity. The high light output levels are 260 lumens for the neutral white version, 170 lumens for the daylight version.
Neutral White vs. High CRI: The high CRI model has improved CRI as with the daylight model, but with a warmer (slightly more yellow/orange) neutral white color temperature. There is even more of a power sacrifice – 260 lumens for the neutral white version at max, and 142 lumens for the high CRI version.
Neutral White vs. Cool White: The difference is very subjective. To me, cool white light tends to make things pop more and is better at illuminating things at a distance. Cool white light looks brighter to me than warm or neutral white. Neutral white is more pleasing closeup and helps make things look natural. Generally I prefer cooler (bluer) light for distance and warmer or neutral light for closeup work.
CRI: Typical CRI (color rendition index) is 75 for Cree neutral white emitters, 65 for Cree cool white emitters, and 85 for the Luxeon emitters Zebralight uses in their high-CRI models. The higher the number, the more accurate colors will appear, with respect to how they look in natural midday sunlight.
Here you can see the color difference between my Maglite Mag-Tac and the Zebralight. The cooler color temperature of the Maglite makes it look whiter, similar to the tint of a fluorescent lamp, and the Zebralight looks a little yellow-orange, similar to a tungsten lamp or incandescent light bulb. You can also see the difference in beam angle.
It can be hard to see, due to different monitors’ color profiles, but the Zebralight makes flesh look more like flesh. Cooler lights tend to make flesh look zombie-white.
The Zebralight outputs a very wide and very uniform beam. 260 lumens seems like a lot – and it is – but it’s spread over a 120° beam angle resulting in a usable level of intensity.
I purchased a Petzl Pixa 1 around the same time as my first Zebralight, and while I have a lot of great things to say about it, the H502W throws a softer beam and more pleasing color tint.
Illumination Output Settings
Press the pushbutton once for high (H1), a second quick press for medium (M1) and a third quick press for low (L1).
I find the high output setting to be most useful, and the medium setting appreciable dimmer but still useful. The low setting is a little too dim to be very practical.
When the light is off or turned on at any setting, holding the button switch cycles the settings from low, medium, high. So if you want to cycle through high-medium-low, quick-click the button; if you want to cycle through low-medium-high, hold it down.
Two short clicks at any output level changes the sub-level setting to H2, M2, or L2, which are lower intensity outputs. This gives you a total of 6 power level options.
Changes made to the sub-level output selection is stored in the flashlight’s memory, even through battery changes. So if you switch from H1 to H2 (260 to 160 lumens), the high output will be lower until you change sub-levels again.
The first levels, which are the output levels you start off with if you don’t want to mess around with sub-levels and all that, have fixed brightness. The second levels can be customized and adjusted as well. At any main light output, 6 quick double-clicks enters programming mode, and subsequent double clicks of the button cycle through available settings.
In all, there are 10 output settings, including a 4Hz strobe.
If you don’t care about all these customization options, ignore everything I said here. You don’t need to access them if you don’t want to. That’s the beauty of this light – there are brightness options galore if you want them, but if you don’t then the 3 main high, medium, and low settings will be enough for most users’ needs.
Intensity and Runtime
Main Output Levels
High (H1): 260 lumens/0.9 hours
Medium (M1): 50 lumens/ 7.5 hours
Low (L1): 2.7 lumens/ 4 days
H2: 160 Lm/1.9 hrs | 100 Lm/3.3 hrs | 4Hz strobe/?hrs
M2: 25 Lm/12 hrs | 12 Lm/27 hrs
L2: 0.34 Lm/3 weeks | 0.06 Lm/2 months | 0.01 Lm/3 months
Battery indicator: with the flashlight turned off, 4 short clicks will activate the battery indicator, which will flash between 1 and 4 times corresponding to the amount of charge/runtime left in the battery.
The pushbutton is easy to press and emits a soft click with every toggle. It’s easy to feel around for in the dark and works just as well with the flashlight handheld or worn as a headlamp.
Machining, and Finish
The machining and satin finish are both excellent in regard to appearance and feel.
Threads: clean and smooth
O-ring: greased and with 2 spares in a little baggie
Lens: clear and perfect
The flashlight body gets warm, but not hot, even when used at full brightness. In addition to aiding with thermal dissipation, the grooved heatsink looks good and has nice tactility.
As mentioned earlier, I tend to use this light more as a handheld flashlight and free-standing worklight.
It’s small enough to be highly portable, but not small enough that it’s a challenge to hold or aim.
The headlamp comes with a silicone holder and a headband. Adjustments are easy, and the soft elastic headband is quite comfortable to wear. The flashlight’s design allows it to be rotated and aimed easily, but its wide floodlight beam makes that largely unnecessary most of the time.
When illuminating objects 12″ of further away from my face, I use the headlamp’s high output setting. For closer illumination, the medium output setting is easier on the eyes with less glare and reflected light.
The pocket clip has been improved, and is easy to rotate, remove, and reattach if desired.
You can use the pocket clip as a lanyard or paracord mounting point, but it’s not going to hold as securely as a fixed lanyard loop.
The pocket clip must be removed before the flashlight can be mounted in its silicone headlamp holder.
Glow in the Dark Reflector!
I’m not sure how practical this is, but if you’re in pitch-black darkness and accidentally turn off the light and drop it, the glow in the dark face will help you recover it quickly.
I suppose you can also sit it on a shelf, where the GITD reflector will help you find the light if all of a sudden you lose power and everything goes dark. The green glow does not last very long though, and requires high intensity light to charge up.
Although this isn’t a very useful feature, I find it to be a delighting touch.
H502W vs. H501W
Unfortunately, I haven’t a clue where my H501 went off to, so I can’t do a thorough comparison just yet. I must have forgotten to unpack the flashlight from one of my bags.
The H502 has an appreciably brighter emitter but also a wider flood angle (120° vs. 80°), so it might actually appear less bright in use. The H502 has a glass lens, vs. the H501’s Lexan polycarbonate lens, a beefier heatsink, the button switch is more recessed, and the unibody housing is slightly wider in diameter and shorter in height. The pocket clip is also a better design.
The H502W is a superb flashlight. It works well as an everyday carry flashlight, a headlamp, and even a small area worklight at times. It is powered by a single AA battery, which makes it quite small and compact.
This is quite possibly the best floodlight headlamp/flashlight I have ever used, thanks to its great build quality, thoughtful and robust design, wide floodlight beam, uniform beam spread with no hotspots or halos, easy to use interface, and optional customizations.
The neutral white illumination is pleasant and easy on the eyes, and its somewhat warm color temperature takes but a moment to get used to.
The retail price is $69, and in my opinion you get your money’s worth. My only disappointment is that at this price I can’t buy one for everyone in my family.
Batteries are not included. If you don’t want to mess around with rechargeable Eneloops, Energizer single-use Lithium batteries are widely available.
Don’t forget, coupon code GUYD takes 10% off your order at E2 Field Gear, and there’s free domestic ground shipping on orders over $50.
(For the sake of absolute transparency, we were offered a smaller percentage coupon code for ToolGuyd readers and a small commission on every referred sale, but asked for no commission and a better coupon code.)
Thank you to E2 Field Gear for providing a review sample unconditionally. Review samples are typically given away, donated, or retained for benchmark and comparison purposes.