Hands-on Gear Review

Zebralight H52 Review

Zebralight H52
Price:  $74 List | $64.00 at Amazon
Pros:  Small and bright
Cons:  Poor battery life
Bottom line:  A small lamp that is pretty bright, this model sacrifices battery life.
Editors' Rating:   
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Measured Max Beam Distance:  66 m
Measured High Mode Run-time (ANSI):  0.6 hrs
Manufacturer:   Zebralight

Our Verdict

The Zebralight H52 is among a very select group of lights in our test that sends a huge beam from a tiny, lightweight package. Only the Yalumi Spark Pro 120 is brighter and smaller. The battery life is the least among our tested products.


RELATED REVIEW: The Hunt for the Best Headlamps


Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Jediah Porter and RJ Spurrier

Last Updated:
Sunday
May 10, 2015

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Zebralight is a popular brand among hardcore lighting aficionados. It is less known among general consumers. While this is not a perfect product, it does have a potential niche and should be considered by outdoor recreationists.

Performance Comparison


The Zebralight H52 is the brightest headlamp under 100 grams in our review.
The Zebralight H52 is the brightest headlamp under 100 grams in our review.

Trail Finding


As the brightest headlamp under 100 grams in our review, the Zebralight H52 should be a consideration for literal trail finding. The compact form and ultra bright, smoothly lensed beam combine to be almost perfect for trail sports. Additionally, the modular design, in which the user can easily remove the headband and either carry the light handheld or clip it to a hat brim or pocket, serves to increase a trail user's options for lighting. For rough-ground depth perception, it is our experience that a head-mounted light isn't always the best. For travel across uneven ground, on which you have a hand free, sometimes holding the light provides better visibility. Both Zebralight models allow this. In fact, one can hold onto any light, regardless of its configuration. However, being able to quickly connect the headband or not is a nice touch. Check out the beam comparison below to see differences in the quantity and quality of light cast by both the H52 and our Editors' Choice Black Diamond ReVolt.

Beam Distance Photos

Zebralight H52
Black Diamond ReVolt

Spot-mode Beam Pattern

Zebralight H52
Black Diamond ReVolt

Close Proximity


The super bright and even beam of the Zebralight provides excelent close proximity lighting. With the option to choose between two different tones (cool white and neutral white) of light at time of purchase, you can be sure to get exactly the close lighting you want. In scoring, this Zebralight was matched only by its cousin the Zebralight H602 and the powerhouse Nitecore HC50. Both of these companies have clearly invested a great deal in fine-tuning their lenses.

Battery Life


As excellent as the beam from the Zebralight is, its battery life truly suffers. The big bulb really drains the juice out of the single AA battery. In the highest mode, in our sensor test, the light power dropped off fast, declining to an unusable percentage in just 35 minutes. Compared to the 9 hours we got out of the similarly priced Black Diamond ReVolt, this performance is abysmal.

The H52 uses a single AA battery  but does not last very long.
The H52 uses a single AA battery, but does not last very long.

Brightness


As noted above, the H52 is among the brightest for its size in our test. The next smallest light in our test, the Princeton Tec Byte is 18g lighter, but throws a beam about half the distance of the H52.

Weight


At 82 grams, even with the optional headband, the H52 is solidly a compact headlamp. We tested six headlamps that were lighter weight, but only two performed better in actual trail-finding. This is remarkable. If only Zebralight could make the battery last longer without compromising size, brightness, and lensing.

Ease of Use


The Zebralight H52 operates with a single button. Pushing that button a certain numbers of times, at certain rates, and with a certain depth of press activates a deep suite of features. Just like any complicated electronics, it takes some fiddling to take full advantage of all the features. Once familiar with the procedures, the H52 will be appreciated for its attributes. In the meantime, it sure seems complicated. Additionally, because of the asymmetrical shape of the light and battery unit, it fits on ones head a bit strangely. In order for the lamp to feel centered and balanced on your head, as well as pointing straight ahead, the light will shine from above one eye or the other. In distant use this presented no problems, but one tester found that the lop-sided light show was just a bit distracting.

Here you see the orientation and position of the Zebralight h52. In order to wear the light so that it feels good and centered on a bare head  the light bulb itself will be off to one side or the other.
Here you see the orientation and position of the Zebralight h52. In order to wear the light so that it feels good and centered on a bare head, the light bulb itself will be off to one side or the other.

Best Applications


This is an excellent product for high-pace, rough ground travel that only lasts a little while. In aggressive motion, the light weight will be appreciated. For navigating tough terrain, everyone will like the bright light. However, there is no way to overlook the fact that the battery scores are the worst in our test.

The Zebralight H52 in action under a full moon in the Canadian Rockies. A small light like this one is great when you can also count on moonlight.
The Zebralight H52 in action under a full moon in the Canadian Rockies. A small light like this one is great when you can also count on moonlight.

Value


At $64 retail, this is not an inexpensive product. The construction quality, most notably the lensing and battery housing, is clearly above standard. This is a rugged, nicely machined product. With such a low battery life, however, other slightly less ruggedized products will surely suffice for most people.

Conclusion


If only that battery lasted even a little longer! This is a tiny, strong, durable product, with abysmal battery life.
Jediah Porter and RJ Spurrier

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: December 18, 2017
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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  • 5
 (4.0)
Average Customer Rating:  
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 (5.0)

100% of 6 reviewers recommend it
 
Rating Distribution
8 Total Ratings
5 star: 88%  (7)
4 star: 13%  (1)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)
Climber

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
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   Dec 18, 2017 - 01:47pm
AnswerMan · Climber · BROOKLYN
I own this and several other Zebralights, I've been using Zebralights for at least 7 years (including using an H32 for thru-hiking the PCT in 2010), and I think they are by far the best headlamps on the market. The only other brands to come close are Fenix and Nightcore.
An even better testament to these lights is that many of my friends, who are nowhere near as flashlight obsessed as I am, have been inspired to buy Zebralights as well after seeing me use them.

As others have pointed out, this review is misleading in several ways. It is true that on the highest setting, Zebralights have a very short battery life. However this is for two reasons: First, the highest setting is much higher than most other lights. If you're going to compare it to another brand, you should compare it at a lower setting that more closely matches the lumen output. Second, unlike most headlamps, these are fully regulated- meaning circuitry maintains a constant voltage and constant brightness until the batteries are mostly dead, rather than gradually dimming.
I do think there is some validity in comparing lights at full brightness, since many users will not have the discipline to use a lower setting, and once you've enjoyed night hiking with your light at full brightness it's hard to not use it. But the review should at least acknowledge that comparing the runtimes of this and other headlamps at full brightness is a very unfair comparison, and it should also give some indication of what the runtime would be at a lower setting which is comparable to the highest setting on other lights.

I also should note that Zebralights have by far the most reliable battery 'lockout' mode, on most other headlamps it isn't really a true lockout, if they have a lockout mode at all. On Zebralights you simply unscrew the tail cap a bit, which physically disconnects the battery. On most other lights, you hold down the button for 4-6 seconds to switch on and off the lockout mode. This is better than nothing, but there are many ways the button could still be held down inadvertently while it's in your pack. loosening or tigtening the tailcap is not only more reliable, but it's faster and more intuitive. Since there are many turns of the cap, you can loosen it more if you're extra worried, with no risk of the cap coming off.
It is also worth mentioning how easy it is to change batteries. I can literally change the battery without taking it off my head, in complete darkness, in about 10-15 seconds (and I often do). And just using a single cell makes things really simple, you never need to worry about having the wrong number of batteries, and it's easy to carry plenty of spares.
Second, this review incorrectly states that the "depth of press" matters in controlling the light: "Pushing that button a certain numbers of times, at certain rates, and with a certain depth of press activates a deep suite of features." This is simply false, and gives the impression that the light operation is more complicated than it is. No Zebralight model has ever used 'depth of press' to control anything. This statement should be corrected.
It is true that it is controlled by holding the button down for various lengths of time and by double clicking to switch between modes, and this take a little bit of time to get used to. However, while in the past I would have said this is more complicated than other headlamps, that's not really true anymore- Current popular and highly rated headlamps, such as the Black Diamond Spot and most Petzl lights, also have only one button to control multiple modes, and are at least as complicated.

Finally, OutdoorGearLab states in several places that rechargeable batteries don't perform as well as disposable batteries. This is false. Perhaps this was true in the past, or if they're using very cheap rechargeables, but is certainly not the case with current, quality rechagrgeable batteries. Good NiMh rechargeable batteries usually last significantly longer than alkaline batteries, and using low self-discharge (LSD) batteries means you can store them for a long time without losing much charge. In fact Zebralight uses a rechargeable Ni-Mh cell (2000mAh Eneloop) for their stated runtimes, which explains why it is longer than the results OutdoorGear lab got in their tests.
The one part which is true is that rechargeables may be dimmer initially, but only at the beginning, and only on an unregulated light, such as most BD and Petzl headlamps. This is because rechargeable cells are 1.2 volts, instead of 1.5 volts for alkaline cells. However alkaline batteries rapidly drop in voltage, and before long drop below 1 volt each, which is why unregulated headlamps drop in brightness so quickly. Rechargeable batteries in these lights will start out dimmer, but over time will not dim as much as alkalines. And with regulated lights such as Zebralight and Fenix, the brightness will be the same. For anyone frequently using a headlamps that runs on AAA or AA batteries, rechargeable LSD batteries really are practical option, with disposable batteries carried as a backup.
Outdoor Gear Lab really should correct and clarify this battery information.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
Climber

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
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   Mar 30, 2017 - 05:36am
Joomy · Climber · Canberra, Australia
Totally ridiculous review!

This headlamp uses 1 AA NiMH battery. Of course it's not going to last as long as a light that uses more batteries. If you need extra battery life… carry more batteries!

Secondly, saying that the battery life "on the high setting" compared with a BD Revolt is abysmal is totally misleading. The Revolt has a maximum output of 130 Lumens. Less than 1/2 of the high setting output of the Zebralight. That's like comparing a 4-litre engine with a 1.5-litre engine and saying the former is "abysmal" because it chews through fuel. Well yes, but it also gives you way more power. And unlike an engine the Zebralight can be - wait for it - dimmed to preserve battery life.

I recently used the Zebralight on a 4-day summer hike (so campsite use only) and used only 1 battery the entire time. I am about to take it to NZ and will take 2 spare fully charged Eneloop batteries, which should be more than enough backup even if I have to hike in the dark for a few hours.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
Person Icon

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
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   Nov 15, 2015 - 05:39pm
anvilman · Camper · mooresville, nc
+Fantastic Headlamp+ I own dozens of different headlamps, and I always end up using this Zebralight. Why? Lightweight, single AA battery, three light level settings, feature to perform battery test, feature to prevent accidental turn-on in your pocket or bag, high quality construction.
AA lithium battery and this headlamp is a great combo. You can pick up batteries almost anywhere. This keeps it light weight. I use the middle light setting for most activities for good light and longer battery life, but you have high-power if needed for long view or low power for close up reading. You can press the button 4 times and the light will answer back with battery life( 4-blinks = 100%, 1 blink = 25%, etc). You can twist off the battery cap 1/2-turn and the light cannot be turned on accidentally.
The on, off, step thru levels action using the button is the best interface out there. Although I own dozens of headlamps, I have almost a dozen of these Zebralights. I carry one every day in my pocket, one in each car, one in each bug out bag, and one by my bed. Great value = money well spent.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
Person Icon

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
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   Jun 27, 2015 - 03:53am
gfortune
I have the H52w model and use it regularly for backpacking, bike riding, etc. One of the principal reasons I bought this light was for the great battery efficiency so the review stating that the battery life is terrible is puzzling.

Since the Zebralight headlamps are regulated, that nearly hour you get out of a single AA on max is all near 280 lumens. An unregulated light gets dimmer as the battery runs down. If you are looking for light to walk the trail by, I'd go with either 25 lumens for 12 hours or 50 lumens for 7 hours. If you're just working around camp, use 3 lumens for 4 days… Yep, turn it on at 3 lumens and leave it running for 96 hours… I will admit to not testing the last one personally, but performance in higher lumen modes has matched my expectations.

That's pretty impressive runtime when you take into account that your light isn't dimming as you walk down the trail. These are ANSI FL1 ratings rather than some deceptive number invented by the manufacturer. See https://www.outdoorgearlab.com/expert-advice/why-headlamp-claims-are-deceptive for a little more info.

With the way I use a headlamp on the trail, I take one Eneloop in the light and one extra. The extra was not pulled out of the pack on my last week long hike and I consider it a "7 hour emergency exit in the dark" battery. That gives me what I consider a sold week-long lighting solution for 4 ounces (2x1 ounce Eneloops). You should get even longer runtimes and shave an ounce off for the two batteries if you run high capacity lithium primaries.

You can find a very detailed review complete with runtime graphs at http://www.candlepowerforums.com/vb/showthread.php?354117-Zebralight-SC52-%28XM-L-1xAA-1x14500%29-Review-RUNTIMES-BEAMSHOTS-VIDEO-and-more! of the SC52. It's the flashlight version of the H52 and the results should be very similar. The short version is that the reviewer found that the Zebralight ANSI FL1 ratings were on the mark or even conservative in nearly all cases.

If you haven't looked at a Zebralight before, I encourage you to take a closer look especially regarding efficiency and keep in mind the difference between a regulated light and an unregulated light. It's an amazing little light.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
Person Icon

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   Nov 24, 2016 - 02:20pm
Aiden · Backpacker · Perkasie
This review is very misleading and disappointing to see from one of my favorite outdoor gear review sites. This light and any other zebralight will far outperform any of these cheap plastic headlamps. You cant really compare a $20 walmart light to a machined aluminum headlamp with GOLD circuitry. Far more versatile, brighter, efficient, and rugged, which is why you're going to pay more for it. Yes its true, the battery life sucks…when you're running it at full brightness. How often do you even need this level of brightness anyway? This light uses the best Cree XM-L2 LED bulb that is far superior to no name LED's used in other lights reviewed, and it is more efficient, so i would say when using this light at a comparable brightness to the other lights, it is much more efficient. Dont let OGL lead you to believe you can get some cheap headlight for $35 that will beat out the best brand in headlamps, Spend the extra money and you will never find a better light.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
Climber

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
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   Sep 21, 2015 - 08:42pm
undercling_mike · Climber · Sydney, Australia
The Zebralight H52 is an excellent headlamp and the Outdoor Gear Lab review of it is very poor. Anyway, I'll start by saying what's good about the headlamp.

-It's robust, compact, lightweight: aluminium tube construction which swivels in a silicone holder is simple and effective with a good waterproof rating. No plastic clips or hinges to worry about breaking.

-It has a wide range of light levels: Modes from very low to very high (for a light this size) allow you to choose the right level of brightness for the task at hand and allow a very long runtime in practice. Camp tasks generally only require the lower modes and night hiking the medium modes with an occasional short burst of high to check in the distance.

I also like that the modes are defined levels rather than continuously adjustable because it allows the experienced user to know what mode the light is in and approximately the battery draw, allowing for better management of the battery life.

-It's efficient and well regulated: The H52 has one of the highest efficiency LEDs on the market backed by an efficient and well regulated driver circuit, meaning the light is good at turning energy stored in the battery to photons, you just choose how fast they come out and consequently how fast the battery drains. The light output will be nearly constant on each of the modes till the battery can no longer sustain the power draw and the light drops into a lower mode. This does mean that on max the battery life is short and the light requires a bit of management from the user to select the appropriate mode but it gives you the option of having a burst of max brightness to see into the distance when needed. I get 45-50mins on max with a good quality battery (see below), not sure what battery Outdoor Gear Lab used for their test. For a given light level you will need a light with more battery capacity to get noticeably better battery life than the H52.

-Single AA battery: Easy to carry a spare and a single AA has similar energy capacity to 3 AAA batteries. If you really need more light/ longer runtimes then there are models whigh use larger capacity batteries.

The light does require a little knowledge from the user to get the most out of it but it's well worth it. Some tips for use are:

-Use good quality NiMH rechargeable batteries, Eneloop or Eneloop Pro batteries are a good specific recommendation.

-Choose the light level that is sufficient for the task at hand but not more than needed and be prepared to turn it up and down as needed. This way the battery life is actually very good and will allow you to have a burst of max brightness long after many other lamps have sagged in brightness and can no longer reach their max.

-Unscrew the battery cap by half a turn when not in use for a very secure lockout so you can be sure the light won't turn on in your bag or pocket.

My conclusion is that the Zebralight is an excellent headlamp and well worth the price for anyone after a high performance light. I can only assume that Outdoor Gear Lab didn't take the time to properly understand the light or appreciate its features due to the volume of products they review.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.


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