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Reviews > Lighting > Headlamps - LED > Black Diamond Spot headlamp 2014 > Test Report by joe schaffer

Black Diamond Spot Headlamp
Test Series  Combined Report
Long Term Report
by Joe Schaffer

September 20, 2014

TESTER INFORMATION:
NAME: Joe Schaffer
EMAIL: never2muchstuff(AT)yahoo(DOT)com
AGE: 66
GENDER: Male
HEIGHT: 5'9" (1.75 m)
WEIGHT: 175 lb (79.4 kg)
HOME:  Hayward, California USA

    I frequent Califorauthornia's central Sierras, camping every month with a goal to match my age in nights out each year; about half the time solo. As a comfort camper I lug tent, mattress, chair, etc. Summer trips last typically a week to 10 days; 40 lbs (18 kg), about half food related; about 5 miles (8 km) per hiking day. I winter camp most often at 6,000' to 7,000' (1,800 to 2,000 m); 2 to 3 nights; 50 lbs (23 kg); 1 to 4 miles (1.6 to 6.4 km) on snowshoes.

Initial Report
May 21, 2014

The Product:
        Manufacturer: Black Diamond
        Web site: www.blackdiamondequipment.com
        Product: Spot Headlamp
        Received: 5/19/14BD Spot headlamp

My measures:
        Weight w/batteries: 3.375 oz (95 g)  
        Weight no batteries: 2.125 oz (59 g)
        Width:  about 2.2" (56 mm)
        Height: about 1.5" (38 mm)
        Thickness: about 1.5" (38 mm)

Factory specs:
        Weight w/batteries:  90 g (3.17 oz)
        Weight no batteries: 54 g (1.9 oz)
        Lumens: 4-130
        Burn time: 50-200 hours
        Distance: 8-75 m (26-250')
       
MSRP: $39.95 US

Product Description:   

    Spot features multiple functions with a super-bright LED, two standard LEDs and two red LEDs, all with variable brightness. The super-bright LED is centered in the unit. A standard LED resides about 0.75" (19 mm) each side of the brighter one, slightly above horizontal center. A red LED resides about 0.56" (14 mm) from each side of the super-bright, just below horizontal center. On the left-side housing a tiny blue LED flashes when initiating or releasing lock mode; and on power-up in white mode, green, orange & red LEDs indicate remaining power in the batteries. All 4 of these indicators appear in the same window about 0.06" (2 mm) wide by about 0.2" (5 mm) high. Power Tap allows adjustment between maximum and previous setting with a single tap of the finger on the right-side housing. This area is about 0.5" (13 mm) high by about 0.375" (10 mm) wide. Battery case opens from the bottom using a press-latch fit. One-inch wide one-piece head band is adjustable. The unit runs on 3 AAA batteries, included. Comes in Fire Red as tested; Matte Black, Revolution Green, Titanium and Ultra White. Illustration from Black Diamond.

   Black Diamond provides the following instructions to access Spot's modes and settings: 

    a) Power on and off:  Single click. The main LED will always turn on initially at 75% of maximum brightness.
    b) Proximity light (secondary LED's): With power off, a double click will turn on the proximity LEDs; which come on at 75% of maximum brightness.
    c) Brightness level setting: Hold the switch down while powered on in any mode. The lamp will immediately jump to maximum brightness and then begin to dim. Hold and release switch when desired brightness level is reached. When a maximum or minimum brightness level is reached, the light will flash and then reverse.
    d) Night vision:  With power off, hold the switch down for 3 seconds and release when the red LEDs power on. The light will remain in night vision mode when powered off. To return to white mode, hold the switch down for 3 seconds while powered off and release when the white mode powers on.
    e) Strobe:  With power off in either red night vision or white mode, use 3 quick clicks.
    f) Lockout: With power off in white mode, hold the switch for 6 seconds. The red mode will activate first, and then the blue lockout indicator will activate in the battery power meter window. To unlock, hold the switch down for 6 seconds and release when the white mode powers on. To prevent accidental battery drain, the light will revert to lockout mode if the switch is not released.
    g) PowerTap:  The right side has the sensor. Touch and release the indicated sensor to bring the lamp to 100% brightness. Touch again to change brightness back to the pre-set level. Touch and release must occur within 2 seconds to change the brightness level.

Initial impressions:

    I gave up on reading War & Peace just shy of the time it took me to wallow through Spot's directions. Now that I've typed them out, maybe they'll stick a little better than Mandarin verb conjugation. I put myself in the dark to see if I could figure out how to work the lamp. I know from previous iterations of this product there's a lot of clicking going on. Of course the first thing I managed to do was blind myself with the main lamp. All I could see was spots, so I gave up in the dark and went to the kitchen table to torture myself with directions. I'd almost rather cook. With directions at hand, the lamp behaved as claimed. It does an amazing number of things. I probably won't ever figure out how to use them in the woods.

    One tricky part for me is that the switch for powering on or off responds when released, not when depressed. That makes sense in engineering so many options on one button, but it's opposite of what I'm used to.

    I really like the power lock-out feature, so that's one I must force myself to learn. I also really like that the lamp comes on at less than full power. The designers of this product must have used it a lot to understand the best ways to improve it. The lamp comes back on in the previous mode--no need to cycle through settings. Depressing and holding the switch to dim/brighten makes huge sense to me vs. clicking a bunch of times. Type A users (of the old Spot) like me can click into severe frustration until the system fails and will only produce a single setting. The old Spot has 3 brightness levels in 2 modes requiring a click for each. When I'd click too many times or not be able to tell what setting I've clicked to, the lamp cycles to the other mode, requiring more clicking to get back. None of this nonsense with the new Spot. Old Spot was worth the trouble for how bright it is. New Spot is even brighter; and were I so I could quit whining about a tiny instrument being too smart for me.

    Another monster improvement is the battery case cover, which comes off easily with no screwdrivers, kitchen knives, torn thumbnails or elevated blood pressure.

    At first I thought the remaining power indicator is a needless feature offering more complexity leading to failure. Reading directions, I see the indicators apply to the mode the lamp is in. That begins to make sense to me. Perhaps it is also possible this unit has a regulator, making a meter much more useful. The old system of noticing it grow dimmer could be going the way of video tape.

    I fully appreciate that Spot sticks with only 3 AAAs, especially since the new lamp is a bit heavier than my old Spot. Three provides ample power for long outings without the additional weight burden of a 4th.  (It's not so much I eschew that teensie increment of weight in the pack as on the bridge of my nose, where the unit sometimes winds up.)

    I wonder if in the dark and cold and being chased by bogeymen I'll be able to figure out how to turn the light on; and I always feel skeptical about the durability of sophisticated features.

Field Report
July 17, 2014

Field Conditions

   
I have now used the Spot for about 35 hours over 9 trips totaling 31 backpacking nights in dry conditions from about 25 to 65 F (-4 to 18 C.) The longest singleBD Spot Lamp stretch of usage was about 5 hours over snow on Mt. Shasta in the Cascade Range of California, from about 10,200' (3,100 m) Helen Lake to the bottom of Misery Hill about 13,000' (4,000 m) from a very dark midnight to 5 AM as part of a 2-night trip. Although the initial stretch is simply uphill north to Red Banks, it was determined that the compass was wrong.  After topping an unfamiliar ridge, Spot threw enough light to get re-oriented and cause the compass to self correct. The lamp ate probably 100 yards/meters of darkness to reveal an image of recognizable features, without which a certain level of anxiety might not have stayed within the range of fun.

    All other usage has been in and about camp on 8 other trips at altitudes of 5,400-9,100' (1,650 - 2,800 m): 4 nights in the Cascade Range, Thousand Lakes Wilderness in California; and 5 nights in Oregon Cascades in Waldo Lake Wilderness, both heavily timbered areas in small, rugged mountains. Six other trips in California Sierras included 1 night in the trees at Loch Leven Lake east of Auburn; 3 nights in the trees and granite at Carson Iceberg Wilderness NW of Yosemite, California; and 3 trips of 6, 7 and 3 nights into granite and trees Emigrant Wilderness adjacent to NW Yosemite. On a cross-country trip to Ridge Lake on the 7-night trip I camped in a number of unfamiliar places, including Ridge Lake. It's mostly rambling granite with only a few small trees. On one nature trip away from the tent I didn't quite wake up enough to pay attention, and testing the wind for direction I got a bit turned around. My lone, solo tent was not in my line of sight, but Spot threw enough light to get a bearing and resolve anxiety before it developed. In such a circumstance I find having ample light a valuable and comforting resource. Even if not alone, I'm still not going to cry out 'Mommy where are you?'

    I've not yet had occasion to test the lamp on a woodsy night walk.

Impressions

    The power of the main LED practically causes the head to recoil when fired. It left the Abominable Snowman running for cover so quickly I never actually saw him. Fortunately, the light coming on at 3/4 power prevents neck injury and substantially reduces the number of times an adjustment is necessary. On the trail it's terrific. In camp it's far too bright. Much as I've bashed the over-sophistication of the unit, it would be nice if the standard LEDs--proximity lights--could be set as default when desired. As it is, in camp I have to remember to click twice every time to get the proximity lights, and then dim them. More often I get scolded. The red LED setting does default; too bad the proximity lights wBD Spot Lampon't do the same. (My sincere apologies to Black Diamond if this is due to operator error.) As a result I wind up using the proximity lights very infrequently. I doubt it would matter to me if they weren't there at all. I do like that the power switch does not take turns in choosing which light comes on.

    I very much like not clicking to make adjustment in output. I can find the switch easily and it requires very little pressure to dim/brighten the light to exactly the output desired.

    I find the red LEDs not really bright enough and use them almost never. Around camp I can't quite see what I'm eating; and in the tent I squint too hard to read.

    There seems a coin-size "bruise" right in the center of the main LED output. I'm getting more used to it, but don't recall seeing that slightly different color of light at the center in other lamps. I tend to notice it only on lighter-colored things, like skin, at arm's length.

    The unit powers on too easily and several times I've found the light on when I wake up. I could lock the unit off, but then when Mr. Snowman does come into camp I know the adrenaline surge will make it impossible for me to figure out how to get the lamp on; and in the couple seconds it takes to unlock I could already be eaten before I see the teeth coming. I lock the lamp when stowed and that has prevented it coming on in the pack.

     Power Tap is an innovative feature but I don't seem to be able to find the spot. First problem is that I can't remember which side it's on. I also can't seem to grasp the nature of tap vs. smash. It functions perfectly when directions are followed; and I like that it returns to the adjusted setting. I can be talking to my buds around the campfire on a very low setting, then look into the woods and with a simple tap get the power boost to see what's yanking on the bear bag; then another tap back to campfire setting. Wonderful idea. 

    My 35-hour usage estimate does not include however many hours the lamp was on accidentally. The red meter light is on in both white modes; and I know from people not yelling at me as much that the light is dimming. The batteries test in the 'they're dead you numbskull' range, yet still there's plenty of light for camp, though the blast-granite-at-40-yards/meters power is gone. I'm quite impressed with how much light the unit has delivered. I'll find out soon enough if the output simply continues to diminish on an even decline, or if at some dim point the light suddenly blinks out. Though I otherwise would never, I may start carrying fresh batteries to replace the originals when they give out completely or when I'm told I nearly stepped on a rattlesnake.

Long Term Report
September 20, 2014

Field Conditions:
   
In the last two months I've added 26 nights in 3 trips, estimating another 21 hours of use on the lamp; for a testing aggregate of 57 nights in a dozen trips using the lamp 56 hours on 3 sets of batteries.

    The first of the latest trips was a 10-night scamper to Emigrant/Yosemite Wildernesses with fresh batteries and no backups, camped as far as 25 miles (40 km) from the car. I did no night hiking and used the unit for campsite use. I don't leave it on continuously, but rather turn it off and on as I need. It got sprinkled on a couple times and fairly drenched once overnight as a 3-hour bludgeoning of chronic thundershowers overwhelmed my inadequately seam-sealed, single wall homemade tent and the headlamp managed to spend the night in a puddle. I used the light twice to set up camp in darkening conditions--evening thunder storms. I was never short of lumens to get things done in the heavy woods of lower altitudes or the granite at higher elevations. Campfires are not allowed in Emigrant above 9,000' (2,740 m), and 2 nights for that reason I did not have fire and 4 other nights the weather was too nasty to be lounge-worthy. Thus for 6 nights I had only the Spot between solo me and the demons of the dark.
   
    The next outing was 8 nights in Emigrant with the only distinguishing factor being that I finally did manage to leave home late enough that I had to hike in the dark for the last 45 minutes of a 2 1/2 hour hike.  I relied on the same batteries left over from the previous trip, and that proved a mistake. I couldn't get enough light from the lamp to maintain a steady pace; couldn't see well enough to have depth perception; felt extremely insecure on my always wobbly ankles that I was about to make a misstep; and worried myself to nausea that I was going to "third-strike-not-a-charm" step too close to a rattlesnake (having done that twice over the years and gotten away with it.) I was more upset with myself than the lamp, for not having installed fresh batteries to make a fair test of a night walk I knew I would have to make and which I find I'm not doing as much as I used to. I had no difficulty establishing camp, or during the remainder of the trip where once again altitude or weather precluded having campfire light on half the nights.

    Then in what will most likely be the last outing before this report is due, I ventured into Emigrant Wilderness once again for 8 nights, betting that I wouldn't be hiking in the dark and still using the same batteries as the previous two trips. Evidently it is beyond my capacities to replace batteries that still show signs of life; and I refuse to carry backups. On this trip I wasn't alone, so in a sense I did have a backup. The weather was dandy and we did not venture above 8,500' (2,600 m), so we had campfire every night. With 26 nights on the same set of batteries, the lamp still performed satisfactorily for camp use, and I'll probably not replace them for a 3-nighter first weekend of October even though the dark is growing longer and filling with awakening winter monsters.

Impressions:
    I love this lamp, and all criticisms of it should be regarded in that context.

    The concept of red LEDs (save night vision and don't blind buddies) makes perfect sense to me; and were they bright enough to be frequently useful it makes sense to have a default setting so as to avoid an inadvertent blast of bright white. They aren't bright enough for me. They don't trouble me as it requires intentional workings to get to them. They also require even more workings to get them turned off. I think the way to get them off is to turn the lamp off and release the switch; hold the switch down until the main comes on; release the switch; and then click once for the main or twice for the proximities. That's doable when most of the scotch is still in the Platypus, but way too much trouble for lights that provide too little output to be of use.

    I don't see any value in the two proximity LEDs. I've gotten a little more used to the idea of pressing twice to get them on, but still can't see the practical difference between a heavily dimmed main light and lesser dimmed proximity lights. I suppose it could be of value to have "backup" options, but that seems a stretch to me given the reliability of LEDs.

    The PowerTap is a great idea, but I can't see it when the batteries are weakening. I wind up throttling the (sometimes wrong) side of the case in a fit of frustration to get more output that the batteries won't support. With fresh batteries it works splendidly; but I spend so much time on weaker batteries I forget how to make it work.

    As much as I turn the lamp on and off, I still don't like how little pressure works the switch. Concerns remain of the light coming on overnight. I don't think it's the bogeyman. I leave the light where I'll be able to get to it in the dark, and evidently I thrash around in my sleep enough to breathe on the button and turn the lamp on. I've also found the light on in my pack twice; once the main LED and once the reds. I am particularly peeved that I broke down and installed new batteries for the last 10-nighter, only to find the main LED on in my pack the end of the 2nd day. Perhaps I should stick with old batteries, and the lamp will then not feel a need to come on until intentionally provoked. I'm not convinced I forgot to lock the lamp. I think pressure in the pack can get to the switch and hold it long enough to overcome the lock. I'm fussing over just how many times is the lamp going on and off when I don't even know? I wound up zipping the unit inside my sunglasses case during the day and since improvising that tactic have found no further evidence of stowed-in-pack mischief.
   
    None of the features (that I've been able to figure out how to activate) have diminished. I wouldn't expect them to in the relatively short time I've had the unit, but my experience with previous Spots causes me to infer improved durability.

    So far woefully anemic batteries have not crashed the unit's progressively diminishing output. I've thrown away headlamps that abruptly powered off when the batteries became excessively discharged. Thus far that fate does not seem in Spot's future.

    Bearing in mind the unit has been on when I didn't know it, I nevertheless feel the manufacturer's posted burn time--50 to 200 hours--seems unlikely outside the laboratory. I now estimate 56 hours total well into the 3rd set of batteries and likely not 10% of that time on maximum power. That sounds like a complaint, but would be more to the marketing department than the engineers. Power costs energy. With new Energizers this lamp practically casts shadows on the moon; stands to reason the rabbit's going to love it.

    If somebody were to come out with a lamp stripped of the useless reds and redundant proximity lights; just as powerful in the main with fully adjustable output from a switch that won't activate on a gnat landing, I'd be persuaded. Until then, I don't go in the dark without this light.

Spot shots:

    a) Bright
    b) Versatile
    c) Priced right
    d) Complex
    e) Comes on too easily

Thank you Black Diamond and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this product.  This concludes my test report.



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