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Reviews > Lighting > Headlamps - LED > Princeton Tec Vizz headlamp > Test Report by David Wilkes

Test series by David Wilkes

Princeton Tec VIZZ Headlamp

Initial Report - June 26 2015
Field Report - September 16 2015
Long Term Report - November 10 2015

Tester Information

Name: David Wilkes
E-Mail: amatbrewer@yahoo.com
Age: 49
Location: Yakima Washington USA
Gender: M
Height: 5'11" (1.80 m)
Weight: 200 lb (90.7 kg)

Biography:

I started backpacking in 1995 when I moved to Washington State. Since then, I have backpacked in all seasons and conditions the Northwest has to offer.  I prefer trips on rugged trails with plenty of elevation gain. While I continuously strive to lighten my load, comfort and safety are most important to me. I have finally managed to get my basic cold weather pack weight, not including consumables, to under 30 lb (14 kg).

Product Information

Manufacturer:

Princeton Tec

Year of Manufacture:

2015

Manufacturer’s Website:

http://www.princetontec.com/

MSRP:

MSRP not available from the manufacturer

Listed Weight:

92 g  (3.25 oz)

Measured Weight:

Light 44 g (1.6oz)
/w strap 62 g (2.2 oz)
/ w strap and batteries 95 g (3.3 oz)

Listed Specifications:

Power 205 Lumens
Burn time 150 hrs
3X AAA batteries (Alkaline, Lithium, or rechargeable)
Waterproof "level 2" - IPX7 standard

Light

Product Description:

The Princeton Tec “VIZZ” headlamp is part of Princeton Tec’s Professional Series outdoor headlamps. It is an updated version of what appears to be a popular product they have offered for a while not (I am not sure when the VIZZ it first came out, maybe around 2013). It has 3 modes of operation red, white bright, and white dimmable, operated by one switch, in a waterproof case.


Initial Report

June 26 2015
The lamp arrived in what is commonly called a blister pack with the headlamp separate from the headband and the batteries, and also had a small instruction sheet in 3 languages (English, French, and Dutch).

Light with headbandThe headband is a rather standard item: adjustable elastic material with a decorative design and the Princeton Tec logo along with the text “PTEC”. Out of the box the band was too tight and needed to be let out to almost its maximum size. There appears to be enough adjustment to allow me to wear this over a hood and enough stretch to get it over a helmet. NOTE when purchasing hats, I am normally on the low end of needing a size Large. It also adjusts down to a size that looks suitable to a small child. Attaching the headband to the lamp was quite simple and intuitive. I simply slipped the band into the slots on either side of the lamp base.

Light openThe lamp itself consists of the main housing, connected to a mounting plate with a hinge allowing the lamp to be angled down to almost 90 deg. I can’t tell for sure but the hinge pin looks to be a plastic rod flared at the ends to keep it in place. The headband attachment plate side of this hinge has what appears to be a rubber like insert that catches ridges on the plastic side of the hinge. This forms a kind of ratchet holding the lamp at the desired angle.  I assume using the rubber is to reduce the wear, vs. plastic on plastic, giving it longer life and allowing it to be adjusted easily while still firmly holding it in place. I have found this to be a weak point of many similar mechanisms and will be paying attention to how this wears with use. The main housing has a streamline rounded look with no corners or straight lines. On the top back there is a knurled knob for accessing the battery compartment. I found this easy to operate with my bare hands, but it is also slotted so a tool could be used. Note; the slot looks wide enough to accommodate an object like a small coin, and the tab on the headband adjustment fits the slot like it was designed to be used for this purpose. Another feature I would mention is that this screw has no retainer, so when accessing the batteries the screw can come out, but not easily. I will be keeping an eye on this to see if there is a chance of losing the screw. The main housing splits open by way of a second hinge. This hinge while made of the same plastic as the housing looks to have a metal pin as a pivot. I would like to note that an old Princeton headlamp that I have of similar design, the pin in this hinge has worked its way out a few times and needed to be pushed back into place, but this occurred only after years of hard use (maybe a bit of abuse), so while it is something I will be watching, is not really a concern. The battery compartment accommodates 3 AAA size batteries. It arrived with 3 brand name alkaline batteries, but the documentation says it will also work with lithium or rechargeable batteries. Inside of the battery compartment I noticed an exposed heat sink to dissipate heat from the LED’s. I can’t decide if I like the design or not. I could see how having it located inside the battery compartment could heat and thereby lower the life of the batteries, or if it could help warm the batteries in cold weather, and/or if the batteries might act as additional thermal mass and thereby make the heat sink more effective. (To answer the obvious questions: Yes, I am an engineer, and yes I am that much of a geek to think about this…as will be obvious later when I use a light logging computer I made specifically to measure the battery life and light levels). Inside the battery compartment are molded "+" & "-" marks to indicate the placement of the batteries. I found the batteries very easy to insert and remove.

HingeThe lamp contains 5 LED’s. 1 central spot light (or “MAXBRIGHT LED”) with two red “ultrabright” LED’s on either side of it, and two dimmable “ultrabright” white LED’s on either side, furthest away from the center.

On Top of the lamp is the single operating button covered by a translucent silicone covering. The button includes a red LED to indicate low battery and the Lock/Unlock function (discussed below). The button cover is flush with the outer housing making it difficult for the button to be accidentally activated, but I had no trouble operating it with my bare fingers. Gloves might make this more difficult.

The company specifies the expected battery life as follows: “SPOT” (aka MAXBRIGHT): 110 hours, dimmable white: 104 hrs; red: 150 hrs. The packaging also appears to give some indication as to how the light will dim over time. For example it appears shows the SPOT mode will retain the same beam distance (brightness?) for 0.5 hours when it reduces dramatically. The web site states the Maxbright LED gets 1 HR “Regulated” burn time and 110 hrs total burn time. I did some initial testing using a light sensor and microprocessor that I built specifically for this test. The results are presented in the attached graph. The light level was recorded every 5min starting about 1min before the light was turned on. The light level remained relatively constant for about 2.5 hrs (far exceeding the specifications I have found) before beginning to dim. This change in light level was quite noticeable when I looked into the test box. My experience with other lamps of this type is that this dimming continues at a similar rate until the batteries are completely depleted. I doubt I will get around to measuring it for the entire 110+hrs but will try to measure the other two modes if I can.
Light graph 1
Operation:
A single push of the power button activates the red LED’s. A double push will switch the light to the MAXBRIGHT central LED (aka SPOT). And holding down the power button will activate the outer dimmable lights; these will cycle up/down through their range of illumination, flashing at the high and low points, as long as the button is held. I found that the double push, or holding the button down, will activate their respective mode no matter what mode the light was previously in. For example, with the red lights on, a double push will switch the light to the MAXBRIGHT mode, while holding down the button will likewise switch it to the dimmable mode. This even applies when already in the dimmable setting and another light level is desired. Simply hold down the button and it will again start to cycle up and down through the light levels. I think this is its coolest feature. At any time a single press of the button will turn the light off.
A triple press of the button will activate/deactivate the lockout mode. Activating/deactivating the lock out is indicated by the red LED in the button flashing 3 times. When the light is in lockout mode it will not turn on until the mode is disabled by a second triple press. Lockout can be activated when the light is off.
The LED in the button also provides a low battery indication. When the light is turned off and the battery life is below about 20% (this will probably vary depending on the type of battery used) the button LED will blink on and off. The documentation states this will occur for about 12hrs but I suspect it will continue until the batteries are unable to sustain this blinking any longer. It is noted that this only operates when the light is turned off; there is no low battery indication while the light is on. It also does not operate if the light is in lock out mode. My test shows this blinking to be at a rate of about once every 3 seconds, also that it will continue in this manner even if the batteries are removed and reinserted or replaced. Turning on/off the light with fresh batteries seems to reset this.

The light is stated to be waterproof with an “IPX7” rating. The graphic on the packaging shows “1m” but I learned the hard way to look up what a manufacturer really means by “water proof” (I am a slow learner, so it cost me 2 “waterproof” cameras to learn that lesson). This rating means it is intended to withstand things like rain and splashes and even a light dunking (up to 30min at a depth of up to 1m [3 feet]). So basically I can use it in the pouring rain and even if I drop it into a puddle it should be fine, but I probably won’t be using it for any midnight spear fishing trips (which I have not done since I was a teenager so that should not be much of a problem).

The light comes with a lifetime warranty (United States customers only. For all others it is limited to 10 years) covering materials and workmanship and excluding misuse, abuse, normal wear and tear, etc.

Use:
I found the headband easy to adjust and after a brief ~1hr of use, comfortable. The lamp is lightweight (lighter that some of my older lamps of similar design). The ratcheting tilt feature is easy to use, appears to provide more than enough range of adjustment for anything I might need, and seems to remain where I put it despite some exaggerated head shaking.

I really like that the light defaults to the red mode. Not only is this the most energy efficient therefore has the longest predicted battery life, but is also the least disruptive, for example should I turn it on while in a tent where someone else is sleeping, or wish to retain my night vision.

The instructions contained some simple to understand graphics as well as simple and easy to understand text. But aside for how to switch modes the function of the product is rather intuitive (as any well designed product should be).

Initial testing in a darkened room was very promising. The SPOT mode is surprisingly bright and casts a wide but well defined beam. The red and dimmable white, while creating a less defined beam than the SPOT still created a noticeable focal point both up close and at a distance (which is surprising since it is created from two separate LED's) with a nice wide scatter that should be useful for general use. The dimmable mode has a very nice brightness range from maximum to minimum, with the minimum being very dim, but quite usable. I have found trying to read text in the dark by a white hand/head light to often have too much contrast or glare to be comfortable, so I used the red to read some labels and text in a darkened room at my office and I am impressed at how readable the text was.

Field Report

Due September 16 2015
Usage
  • 3 days car camping Northern Cascades Washington
  • 5 days car camping Salt Lake City Utah
  • 1 night backpacking trip Deer Lake Central Cascades Washington
  • 2 nights backpacking/fishing Dewy Lake Central Cascades Washington
  • Assorted day hikes
  • Assorted use at home

Review
All of my use of this lamp has been what I would consider short duration such as walking around camp, looking for something in my tent, hammock, pack, or needing additional light for some task (looking for something under/behind furniture, etc. The Dewy Lake trip the temperature was around 40 F (4  C), while the rest of the use was in warm (I would describe as “shirt sleeve”) conditions.

I have two seemingly contradictory observations about Princeton Tec VIZZ Headlamp. As mentioned in the Initial Review the light has good burn time for the brightest setting. In my use so far I have not had any complaint about the burn time of any of the modes; however I found that even limited use of the MAXBRIGHT setting results in the battery indicator showing a low battery condition which gives the impression of poor battery life. While I know that when this indicator first starts the light will still provide many hours of light, having this indicator active is kind of disconcerting and annoys me until I replace the batteries. The result is premature replacement of the batteries, which obviously is not very environmentally friendly, nor is it friendly to my wallet.
Note: Being an engineer who has designed battery powered devices in the past I can appreciate how difficult it is to create a simple and effective battery level indication due to the way batteries work, the details of which I will not get into here but suffice to say it can be quite difficult to do. So I understand why the indicator functions as it does even if I don’t like it.

There is on the other hand one beneficial aspect of the above. After discovering it, I have started using the MAXBRIGHT setting only rarely, and use the dimmable white or the red, except when I really wanted/needed a bright light. I am sure this results in much more efficient use of my batteries, so I am really vacillating on how I feel about this feature. While on one hand I find it annoying, on the other I can appreciate that it has caused me to be more judicious in my setting selection.

When walking to/from the bathroom or looking for something in my tent/hammock the red light has been more than sufficient in providing the light I need. In fact a few times I have been startled as to how bright the red light is when turned on in very dark conditions. And while I have mostly used the dimmable setting either at its maximum or minimum level I have no complaints with its use or operation.

As far as comfort goes I really don’t have much to say. One morning I awoke in my hammock to find I had fallen asleep with the headlamp on and was still wearing it. So I would say it is comfortable.

I don’t know how effective the lock function has been in regards to preventing the lamp from being turned on accidentally. The way the switch is recessed, I suspect it is unlikely the light will get turned on accidently while being stored. But I would say that when I put the lamp in my pack after locking it, it gives me a level of comfort that it will not get turned on accidentally and as a result be dead when I need it. I did have a bit of frustration once when I was unable to get the light on only to realize it was still locked. But upon realizing that, unlocking it was quite intuitive so not a problem.

One thing I was not sure of with Princeton Tec VIZZ is if the inability to adjust the beam. Most of the other head lamps have some sort of method of focusing or dispersing the light either with a focus adjustment or lenses that spreads out the beam when in place. So far I have not missed this sort of feature in the least. The MAXBRIGHT setting provides a good spot of light and when I need that level of concentrated light I also normally need the maximum amount of light, so that is effective. At other times when I don’t need such a concentrated beam I also don’t need it to be as bright, so the wider spread of the dimmable or red setting works just fine. So not having the adjustment is just one less thing to fidget with or to fail.

Aside for my little rant above about the battery indicator I only have one minor complaint about the Princeton Tec VIZZ and that is the screw that secures the battery compartment. As mentioned in the Initial Report there is no retainer for the screw. One time I opened the battery compartment, removed the batteries and then walked to the garage to get another set, only to discover the screw was missing. Retracing my steps I discovered the screw lying on the table where I had opened it. Had this occurred in the field, in the dark, losing the screw would have been very likely.

Long Term Report

November 10 2015
one dark and snowy nightUsage
  • Night hike White Pass Washington (Central Cascades)
  • 2 short day hike/fishing trips near Yakima Wa (carried but did not use)
  • Assorted use at home
Review
With snow in the forecast, temps just below freezing, I headed up to White Pass for a hike around Leach Lake (following the cross country ski trail). With low clouds and no moon upon getting out of my vehicle it was as they say “dark as the inside of a cows stomach”. I had to use a small flashlight I keep in the car in order to locate the Princeton VIZZ which for some reason I had put inside my pack. After getting set up I headed for the trailhead using the red light setting but quickly found it was not enough light and quickly changed it to the brightest setting of the dimmable mode.  At the trail head I briefly switched to the MAXBRIGHT setting but found that was unnecessary for my needs so went back to the dimmable mode at its brightest setting. I ended up leaving it that way for the entire walk (about 1.5hr) around the lake. Normally for these conditions I would have worn a light pair of knit gloves or glove liners, but in my haste to get out the door I ended up grabbing a somewhat heaver pair. I found with these gloves I was able to adjust the tilt of the light as needed but entirely unable to operate the switch. With my thinner gloves I suspect I would probably be able to operate the switch with no problems.

Upon returning home from my hike, in preparation for this report I inspected the entire light for any signs of wear of problems. The ratchet like tilt shows no wear and still holds the light in position as well as when I first received it. I attribute that to the rubber to plastic constructions (vs plastic to plastic as I have seen other similar lights use).  The head band and housing also show no signs of wear. I attempted to open the battery compartment but found it stuck. Since the screw comes out completely when unscrewed it was of no help in getting the battery compartment open. I finally managed to use my finger nail to pry it open. After opening it once I was able to close/open it again with no problem so it must have just been stuck to the gasket from being closed for so long.

In conclusion there are some things I really like about this light such as how it defaults to the red light mode as well as the ease of operation despite having only 1 switch. The tilt is easy to adjust and stays in place, and appears like it will endure many adjustments before wearing loose. The battery compartment screw coming all the way out is kind of an annoyance as is the seemingly premature low battery indication, so I would not consider it a rather minor fault. Overall, given the headlights I currently have, while I would not call this one my favorite, I do like it and would expect to use it in the future. For group outings where I expect to be sharing accommodations with others (tent, hotel room, etc) this will be the light I pack.

Likes: 
  • Switch between modes without having to turn the light off
  • Lockout feature
  • Defaults to red light mode
  • The fact that it has a battery indicator
Opportunities:
  • No retention for the battery compartment screw
  • The battery indicator results in my replacing the batteries prematurely

This concludes my  Report. I would like to thank the folks at Princeton Tec and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this product.

 



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