DiNotte Ultra-5 / 200L review
I received the new 200L from Rob at DiNotte Lighting a few weeks ago, and on the surface, it looks the same as the old Ultra-5 (Ultra-5 on the left, 200L on the right)
I started using the original DiNotte Ultra-5 in 2005, and posted my first review <a href="http://forums.mtbr.com/showthread.php?t=147669"> here</a>, and a follow-up after a minor chip upgrade <a href="http://forums.mtbr.com/showthread.php?t=241787"> here </a>. After a year and a half, I've logged ~400 hrs of beam time on it (2 winters worth of commuting, and weekly night rides). So how are they holding up? This seemed to be a good time to re-measure the Ultra-5 (ie:lumen maintenance).
Pretty good so far. Although it looks like the beam is slightly dimmer, it is still within measurement error (ie: difference may be due to the meter). The only issue that has cropped up over the last year and a half is with the snap connector & AA battery holder - we occasionally get momentary power flickers which cause the regulator circuit to freeze, such that the unit refuses to turn on or off. Reconnecting the battery resolves it, and adding an extra velcro strap to prevent the battery from bouncing, pretty much eliminates this issue. Basically, it's been a good reliable light.
The new 200L came with a narrow beam optic (an optional wider optic is available), which generated a nice bright spot in the center, unlike the old Ultra-5's donut spot. Although it looks identical to the old Ultra-5, it is a very different beast. The new 200L draws 0.75A from a 4.8V battery pack, using only ~3.6W at full bright to produces more light than the old Ultra-5 (which consumed a little over 5W). I guess that explains the name change. I'm assuming that it's using a Cree die, which has a lower Vf than the original Luxeon-V chip, so the current regulator circuit is also completely different (buck regulator instead of a boost).
Here is a graph of the measured beam intensity.
The beam pattern is plotted in EV (Exposure Value), which is a log scale, and mimics how our eyes see brightness. An increase of 1 EV is equivalent to a doubling of intensity (ie: 2EV increase = 4x intensity). The 200L peak intensity is about 2.5x brighter (1.3EV) as the old Ultra-5, with a similar beam width (FWHM), and a steeper fall off at the periphery. Also shown are my 2 standards, a NiteRider 12W Halogen and 10W HID. The new 200L is roughly equivalent to the 12W halogen - using 1/3 the power, not bad at all! It's interesting to note that the Niterider 10W HID beam (using ~3 times the power at ~ same efficiency) has a similar bright-spot intensity, and distributes the extra light out to the periphery - something that is particularly nice on tight singletrack.
The unit is as small & light as they come, has a simple effective mounting system for both bar and helmet, stays put and doesn't bounce, is easily adjusted, and very durable. If you don't like AA batteries (which are cheap and easy to replace), there is a lithium version. The longer run times (due to lower power requirements) have another useful side effect, longer battery life - from which I mean, more useful charge cycles. The high discharge rates of the Ultra-5s are hard on AA cells, and shorten their useful life. I now have 2 sets of AAs from the Ultra-5s with bad cases of voltage depression under load, such that the low battery indicator comes on within the first few minutes of use - they won't even power my digital camera any more. But like I said, AA's are cheap. The batteries used for the 200L should have more useful charge cycles.
More importantly, how was it on the trail?
Narrower beam with less spill, but more penetration, and bluer color.
Mounted on the bar, the increased lumens is obvious, it pierces further down the trail. Also evident it the bluer colour, the old Ultra-5 was on the yellow-green side. The narrower beam's limited spill into the periphery made it a little more difficult in the slow technical/twisty trail sections (but was fine when helmet mounted). Because the of brighter hot spot, there is a tendency to aim it further down the trail, which means less light right in front of the wheel, something you notice on long slow loose-trail-surface gronk climbs. I've talked about "sufficient lumens" for night riding, and why I like "enough light" rather than "too much light" in previous posts, so I won't go there. The original Ultra-5s were sufficient for trail riding, so the 200L, with the increased Lumens, is definitely trail worthy.
Easy to mount, no bounce, no cords to worry about when removing the helmet.
On the helmet, the extra bright spot addresses the main criticism of the old Ultra-5. It's so bright that if you aim it too close, the intensity overloads your eyes, making the periphery look darker. The mount is easy to install and doesn't move. Careful placement of the battery pack allows you to balance the helmet, so it is not front heavy.
Here are the nitpicking issues. The side-light coming from the gasket is a lot brighter than the Ultra-5, so bright that I found the glare annoying when bar mounted. This is due to the new optic which has a concave front surface, reflecting more light onto the gasket. The ultra-5's yellow-green tinge seem to show trail detail better, the 200L's bluer light makes everything look slightly dusty (Something I've always found with HIDs). And as I said before, the narrow beam makes bar mounted, tight & slow trails more demanding (something i really liked about the ultra-5). Compared to the 10W HID, riding with the 200L gives you a bit of tunnel vision - you simply can't have everything when you are using 1/3 the power. Would I upgrade? Yes - none of these issues are significant - the glare is easily remedied (felt marker or darker gasket), optic can be switched to a wider beam for bar mounted use, and the extra lumens easily over rides any colour issues (as most people on HID's have found).
It's been a few years, and there's a lot more competition on the market now. The DiNotte 200L still holds it's own as one of the better units available in this category. Great helmet mounted. Good bar mounted.
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