Photon Fusion Headlamp Review

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by the Product Review Staff | 2003-12-10 03:00:00-07

Photon Fusion Headlamp Review

Summary of Specifications

The Photon Fusion weighs 5.78 oz (164 g) with 3xAA alkaline batteries, or 4.81 oz (136 g) with 3xAA lithium batteries. The Fusion has a 7-LED headlamp module (4 narrow beam LEDs, 2 wide angle LEDs, and one red LED) attached to a front-mounted battery housing.

The Fusion offers 9 operational modes. With a switching power supply, the Fusion has one of the few power-regulated circuits among LED headlamps, thus holding a constant light intensity as battery power diminishes.

The headlamp module is hinged for angle adjustment and the lamp housing mounts to a 1-inch elastic webbing bucket strap.

Usability

The Fusion has the most sophisticated electronics and power management of any headlamp we've reviewed. Its 9 operational modes include:

  • 4 steady light modes: "hyperbright", "brilliant", "bright", and "economy" (in order of decreasing intensity)
  • 3 blinking strobe modes: strobe (fast), slow (120 Hz), and SOS (visual morse code)
  • 1 dimmable red LED for night vision
  • 1 auto-off mode that doubles as a battery level check.

The Fusion offers the opportunity to conserve batteries by toggling between the hyperbright mode for taking a quick look into the distance and switching back to its bright mode for short range trail navigation and task lighting.

The lamp is turned on and off, and the modes are switched, through various combinations of holding or clicking either the left or right switch buttons. This gives the user great flexibility in selecting the mode without cycling through all nine of them, but requires that the user actually read the instruction manual to understand how the process works! The Fusion will certainly not be found in the Headlamps for Dummies aisle.

The Fusion is the only headlamp we know that has a built in battery level check and a dimmable red light to preserve night vision. From our recent night vision article, you’ll recall that properly dimming a light is the most important factor for preserving night vision, and the Fusion has this ability.

Operation of the top mounted dual mode (left side, right side) button is possible while wearing thin gloves or light fleece gloves, and nearly impossible with heavy mittens. The problem in cold weather switch operation is not necessarily inherent in the button design, but in distinguishing the two buttons with poorly dexterous handwear.

Snapping open the battery compartment requires that a fingertip pry open a latch, and is a neither easy nor pleasant task in cold weather.

The lamp and battery pack module can be separated from the head band and reassembled for use as a handheld flashlight or table light. The downside of this feature is that the headlamp can pop off the battery pack with a sharp blow, as one might experience when accidentally banging the lamp against rock while climbing. A simple solution is to attach the lamp and battery pack with a thin cord to prevent their separation when this happens (which, granted, is not often).

Performance

In its "hyperbright" brightness mode, with fresh batteries at room temperature, the Photon Fusion has an initial center-of-beam brightness of 255 lux at a distance of 2 ft (0.6 m), falling off to 22 lux at 1 ft (0.3 m) off the beam’s center.

In our cold conditions test (center-of-beam brightness 38 °F), the Photon’s "hyperbright" mode lighting power was 220 lux at 0 hours (fresh batteries), 205 lux at 8 hours, and 0 lux (dead) at 24 hours.

In its "brilliant" brightness mode, with fresh batteries at room temperature, the Fusion has an initial center-of-beam brightness of 164 lux at a distance of 2 ft (0.6 m), falling off to 19 lux at 1 ft (0.3 m) off the beam’s center.

In our cold conditions test (center-of-beam brightness 38 °F), the Photon’s "brilliant" mode lighting power was 155 lux at 0 hours (fresh batteries), 143 lux at 8 hours, and 0 lux (dead) at 24 hours.

Application

The Fusion offers steady, sustained brightness and performs well at cold temperatures for short and mid-range navigation. While it doesn’t have the center of beam intensity and distance of some of the more focused beams, it did provide the brightest (and widest) flood coverage of any lamp we tested. We found this kind of illumination to be very useful for nightime navigation and mid-range task lighting, such as evaluating the overall pitch of a tarp.

Weaknesses

The broad beam of the multiple LED Fusion was not nearly as bright as or as energy efficient as the more tightly focused, higher wattage LED headlamps we tested. When Photon is able to marry their sophisticated electronics with one of the new one- or five-watt LEDs on the market, and create a more focused beam for long range navigation lighting, they will likely set the standard in both headlamp performance and sophistication.

Cycling through the multiple modes of the Fusion is complicated affair, with the most used modes (steady brightness) no less accessible than the least used (strobe and auto-off) modes.

At its weight, and considering that the Fusion is capable of using lithium AA batteries, its cold weather performance was disappointing, in spite of its use of power regulation.

Strengths

Sophisticated power management for constant level light output and multiple modes make the Fusion a versatile and unique lamp. In its “bright” mode, the Fusion will illuminate at a constant intensity of nearly 40 lux (suitable for short- and mid-range task lighting and trail navigation) for almost 4 days. The Fusion also conserves power by dropping an intensity mode at predetermined battery levels.

For those that prefer a broader floodlight type of beam, the Fusion provides bright illumination over a wider area than most headlamps. At 22 lux, it was the brightest lamp tested at 1 ft (0.3 m) off the beam’s center - brighter than any LED headlamp we tested. The Fusion also has a nice night vision feature (with its red LED) and a battery level check.

The opportunity to use lithium AA's, of course, improves its cold weather performance while lightening up the battery weight.


Citation

"Photon Fusion Headlamp Review," by the Product Review Staff. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/00268.html, 2003-12-10 03:00:00-07.

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