Customer Review

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Smart Headlamp? Not really, but it may fit the bill, September 25, 2012
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This review is from: Petzl NAO Headlamp
This review is about the Nao, the newest head torch from Petzl. Being a head torch lover and ready for a technology upgrade I blew $175 Au on this unit. It has been a while since I have bought a Petzl, the last one being the duo from 15 years ago which still works despite a lot of use. More recently I have owned a Hope Vision 1 and a Lupine Tesla. I use head torches for hiking/camping, wildlife spotting and night photography and this one seemed to tick the right boxes with some gimicky technology thrown in (good output, lightweight, relatively cheap spare batteries, ~ 100m spot). It has twin LED emitters, one diffuse and the other a fairly tight spot each putting out about 150 lumens. The "bulb" at the top of the torch is a sensor and allows the light to adjust the intensity of each emitter based on reflected light collected by this sensor, when in reactive mode. it seems that head tilt also effects the relative contribution of either emitter to suit close up (looking down) and long distance looking up. The torch has 5 potential light output settings in each of two modes: Reactive and Constant, and the software allows you to tailor the amount of output each LED emits at each setting and of course how many settings are available.
The software also allows you to customise the minimum light output when in reactive mode, and for all settings it gives estimates of light throw distance and battery duration.
A quick quarter turn of the square nob switches between each setting, and holding the quarter turn for 2 seconds will switch between reactive and constant output modes. the light uses a lithium battery encased in a USB dongle that has water resistant seals and a 3 bar battery meter that displays when you start the light and when you shut the light down. With both emitters at 100% (in constant mode) the light seems to last about 1hr 30Min before requiring a recharge. Reactive mode is designed to improve burn times by continuously adjusting the output to your needs based on sensor feedback and head position.

The Trial: I went to Hinchinbrook Island off the coast of Queensland for 6 days of camping, hiking and photography. Before I left I charged, disharged then charged the included battery + 2 spares I bought for about $40 each. I also played with the settings to get the most ideal output ranges for both modes.

The Good: The output is pretty good really, I was surprised at how bright 150 lumens is and now suspect some of my other LED torches of exagerating their outputs. The diffuse beam has a great spread and at 85% allows rapid boulder hopping up creeks and is bright enough to comfortably replace a flash for night time macro photography, with a reasonably smooth lighting pattern. The spot emitter suffers a little from the small reflector, but is still quite useable for spotlighting animals up to 30 - 40 meters in the distance with the aid of binoculars. The unit is reasonably light weight for its output, and I liked the fact that you can easily remove the lithium cell from the battery case to cut down on weight when carrying spares. For me the software set up for the torch is fantastic and will definitely be a game changer for future torches. The ability to control your settings and tailor for the intended activity is both fun and useful. I have always had issue with torches that turn on at the brightest setting, and now you can completely customise the sequence of settings to what you need.
Another great feature is the ability to swap out the lithium ion cell and replace with 2 AAA batteries for emergency lighting.
The new headstrap works well and I found it lighter, more comfortable and cooler (temperature) than the usual head straps. It fits securely, but I do wonder how it will go on larger head sizes. My head is smaller than most and there isn't a great deal of adjustment space, even after it is tightened on my head.
The switch locking mechanism is simple but effective

The Bad: So the reactive lighting didn't really do it for me. I became frustrated that it just wasn't putting out enough light when I needed it, even with the minimum level set to maximum (using the software). I also found the shifts from brighter to lower outputs in reactive mode to be distracting when moving around quickly in awkward terrain, and the output sometimes just wasn't appropriate for where I was looking. I invariably found myself switching over to the constant mode in favour of any of my preprogrammed reactive mode settings.
The battery level metering does not appear to be based on the battery output, but duration of use between charges, as recorded by electronics within the casing. This means that when you swap a discharged lithium cell out of the plastic battery case, and replace it with a fully charged cell, the battery case will tell you that the fresh battery is low in charge and will even give the flashing warning (emitters pulse 3 times when battery gets low). The light will continue to perform for the expected duration, but you cannot get any indication of the true state of charge. The converse happens when you return an empty cell to the original plastic casing it was charged in. That empty cell will be read as full by the battery meter even though it is not. This is not so smart, but fortunately the meter resets when you next recharge the battery.
Disengaging the battery from the headband cradle could be easier, actually I find it painful as you have to jab the end of your finger into it to force it to release. forget doing this with gloves unless u have a spoon or something on hand. Yes it is secure, but I would have preferred a less painful release mechanism.
The front plastic lens seems extremely vulnerable to scratches and abrasion and does not appear to be replaceable. After the electronics, this is probably the weakest point of the torch.

Ambivalent: Waterproofing: the unit has rubber seals on its assorted removable parts and should display a reasonable level of water resistance to all but prolonged submerges. I know this has disappointed people but this isn't designed to be a dive torch. I am impressed at the way the design team have managed to seal up the usb connection when seated in the headband cradle and I imagine a lot of hours were spent figuring out how to do this. Fortunately it didn't rain on this trip and I didn't submerge the torch, so was not able to test the effectiveness of the waterproofing.

Summary: Despite its short comings, this head torch is a game changer purely based on the software customisation. It produces an excellent light output for all but the more demanding spotlighting applications, and I wouldn't consider it for downhill skiing/snowboarding or mountain bike riding (you will need triple the output of this light). If you want a dual 150 + 150 lumen head torch with excellent diffuse light output and reasonable spotting capability (for a light and Petzl NAO Headlampcompact head torch), that is software customisable to exactly how you like, then this torch is for you.
Don't buy this light for the reactive lighting feature - if in use this works for you then think of it as the icing on an already tasty cake.
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Comments

Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 22, 2013 10:23:37 AM PDT
S. Allen says:
I am bit confused with your review, the NAO puts out 355 lumens on Reactive High mode and 315 Lumen on Constant High Mode.
Not 150 lumens

Posted on Aug 6, 2013 10:19:45 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 6, 2013 10:20:37 PM PDT
Former Rater says:
I've not experienced the "battery level metering" problems that you report. I will attempt to duplicate the problem. What I did was to buy an entire battery & case assembly to serve as my backup and I use a Brunton solar panel to recharge the low battery while climbing or hiking.

I agree that rapidly changing viewed objects at different distances plays merry heck with the adaptive lighting programs and I go for the full-on mode. I'd like to see a firmware update creating 1/4, 1/2, & 3/4 power non-adaptive modes.

Posted on Oct 24, 2013 6:01:39 PM PDT
Grace Bodo says:
Hi there, Im interested in this headlamp and im trying to find out what are the specs of the rechargable battery???? Im wondering if it is a lithium 18650?? Does it say on your battery?? And how long do they take to charge??

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 24, 2013 10:00:28 PM PDT
S. Allen says:
It is a proprietary battery that is a 2300mah Lithium.
It actually IS a 18650 battery however it has a molex 5264-3P connector so either you have to buy the Petzl battery pack OR you can if you are handy with a soldering iron solder on a Molex connector and NTC thermistor and then you can use a 3400mah 18650 battery that you can usually get for around $10 and just carry a few extra batteries and you have virtually unlimited power.

I think it takes a couple of hours to charge from zero.

Here is all the info you need about the batteries.

http://www.light-test.info/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=115:petzl-nao-cree-xp-g-18650&catid=35:czolowki&Itemid=54&lang=en

http://www.candlepowerforums.com/vb/showthread.php?344074-Petzl-NAO-high-tech-headlamp-review&p=4021517&viewfull=1#post4021517
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