This flashlight is one member in a family of lights that are, in this humble writer’s opinion, among the very best flashlights you can buy.
Nothing like putting a statement like that right up front in a review. I have been mulling over just how this review would be written since the test light was received almost a month ago. And please note that this is a long review.
This particular light is one of 5 ready-made models available direct from HDS Systems’ web site, and are also available at a number of quality internet and/or brick and mortar retailers.
On the HDS web site you can also custom configure lights from a number of options, including stainless steel bezels that can be coated with a “black military” AITiN finish, and the body in its standard configuration of aerospace aluminum protected with a black military Type 3 hard anodize that can be cerakoted in one of 6 different colors. HDS Systems also works with many well-known companies on unique design projects and consulting.
HDS Systems is no ‘Johnny come lately” to the flashlight industry, having been in business for approximately 30 years designing and manufacturing products at their headquarters in Tucson, Arizona. HDS Systems products are compliant with the “Buy American Act” and are “produced in the USA” from US and foreign parts. HDS Systems is a supplier to the US Federal Government and state governments, and holds a GSA Schedule 84, contract number GS-07F-0235X. I spent a large portion of my professional career dealing with the Federal Government – perhaps many of you have/do as well, and I know that securing a GSA schedule is not an easy thing to accomplish!
From the HDS site: “HDS Systems started operations in 1983 as a sole proprietorship, changing names in 1987 to better reflect our business service offerings. The company incorporated in 1997 as a privately held Arizona corporation so we could better serve our clients and expand into new markets.” From a white paper published on the HDS site, “Designing a flashlight around an LED allows us to design a very rugged and sophisticated light. A typical laundry list of desired features includes small size, high maximum brightness, multiple brightness presets, rotary brightness control, constant brightness regulation, thermal regulation, a smoothly tapered beam pattern, support for multiple battery chemistries and rechargeable batteries, long battery life, battery end-of-life warning, simple controls, automatic emergency signal, switch lock-out, automatic turn-off after some time, a find-me-in-the-dark capability and the ability to customize these things. These features can now be found in a single compact flashlight.”
You may have heard of “Ra Lights” (the Ra ‘Clicky’) or you may have heard of HDS Lights – HDS Systems has a near cult-like following among many of the internet forums dedicated to flashlights, but unless I am mistaken this is the first appearance of any of their products on TFB.com. While my reviews are more of an ‘everyman’ style, there are many reviews out there in some of the flashlight forums that go deep into technical detail.
Your reviewer has enjoyed owning a number of HDS Systems products over the past 5 years, and just recently purchased 2 lights that will be mentioned and included in this review, but the focus of this review is the Tactical version shown in this photo.
This light uses a raised button and rotary control with the ‘EDC tactical’ programming.
Operation is very natural – I personally like to hold the light in a ‘cigar’ type grip
It is easy to find a comfortable one-handed hold in which you can rotate the control ring
And the raised tail switch is comfortable to press with the tip or the joint of your thumb
The emitter is a Cree XPG2, and the rated output on max is 250 lumen ranging all the way down to .02 lumen. I find the ultra low level very useful for moving around the house late at night without disturbing my wife, and my integrating sphere verifies the output on its highest setting.
HDS also offers a number of other emitters: a 170 lumen high color rendering Nichia 219, forensic blue (that includes a set of orange glasses), hunter green, dark adaptation red and an 850nm IR illuminator. I own one of the lights with the Nichia emitter, and the color rendition from this light is very good – very natural and easy on the eyes with a great sense of depth perception. The 250 lumen Cree is noticeably brighter and has a pleasant cool white tint.
This flashlight includes 24 internal brightness levels, 13 of which are accessed through the presets (on this tactical version). These brightness levels are visually spaced so that the difference between any adjacent brightness levels will appear to be a small equal change. This visual spacing takes advantage of the logarithmic nature of your eyes to see a huge dynamic range – from very bright midday summer scenes to dim moonlit scenes. This short (amateurish) video demonstrates controlling the levels with the rotary control – you’ll note the smooth change in brightness – after 12 levels strobe is engaged, then finally the brightest setting:
It also contains a unique feature called “Burst” to help extend battery life at the maximum brightness level. When you select the maximum brightness level, you receive maximum output for an additional 40 seconds after releasing the button and then the flashlight drops one level. If you are not paying attention, you may not notice the drop but your batteries will last much longer as a result. The “burst” feature can be disabled in the flashlights options settings and burst is disabled when you utilize the “momentary maximum” operation…it will stay at full brightness as long as you hold down the button.
In addition to the 24 regular brightness levels, there are three additional light show brightness levels: Tactical Strobe (rapid flashing), Emergency Strobe (slow flashing) and SOS (46CFR161.013-7 compliant). Tactical Strobe runs at brightness level 24, Emergency Strobe runs a brightness level 23 and SOS runs at brightness level 22.
The brightness levels are arranged in a circular menu to make scrolling through all of the brightness levels easier. The maximum brightness level is followed by the Rotary brightness level, Tactical Strobe, Emergency Strobe, SOS and then the minimum brightness level, and vice versa.
From the HDS web site – “The HDS Systems’ EDC Tactical interface uses a rotary control and single button to create the most advanced tactical interface in the world. Yet this advanced interface is so simple, even a young child can operate it. Best of all, this advanced interface only requires gross motor skills – the only kind you can depend upon when you are under stress, and it works in a noisy environment and with heavy gloves.”
This diagram provides a great visual to illustrate how the rotary control ring on the Tactical version functions.
(Diagram from HDS site)
And this series of additional short videos demonstrates the ease of accessing the various modes.
The following video shows how when the rotary dial is below the strobe or high setting, a simple click will turn the light on – then you can press/hold for the burst level. With the light switched “on” one of the lower levels, a quick click press/hold will lock the light at the burst level From off, if you press and hold the light will come on ‘momentary’ at the level determined by the rotary control.
This video demonstrates the tactical modes – the strobe and the burst/high are both momentary, i.e., they will not ‘lock’ on. The light activates only when the user is holding the button down…should you drop it the light will not accidently activate.
One other function that has to be activated is a locator beacon – with a simple quick 4 clicks of the button, the light will flash a regular low level beacon to help you locate the light should you drop it. When I walk my dog early in the morning I activate this feature.
There are myriad ways you can reconfigure the light through custom programming. Should you be interested in any of these I encourage you to visit the HDS Systems web site. After ‘tinkering’ with my own lights, I find programming easy and useful.
My other two HDS lights utilize the flush button (good for tail standing the light) and have a slightly different setup – the rotary control sets the light to turn on at any of the 24 levels, and you can vary the brightness when the light is switched on. There are a number of other functions – beacon, momentary, locator, etc., but this review is focused on the rotary tactical version. Still, here is a diagram of the rotary control on the ‘standard’ Rotary light:
HDS’ slogan for some time, or their ‘Service Mark’, is “The light that gets you home”, and that slogan is based upon the rugged reliability of the lights. HDS Systems lights come with a lifetime warrant that states, “HDS Systems warrants to the original owner that Product will be free from defects in materials and workmanship for the life of Product.”
The lights are solidly built of combinations of robust components, and include stainless steel, aerospace grade lightweight aluminum, military type 3 hard anodizing, ultra clear glass or sapphire lenses, both with anti-reflective coating and high quality electronic components including the LED emitters.
A couple more views of the three lights
The light was subjected to a bit of abuse at my hands – some of you might be tempted point out that you have seen lights endure worse. There are YouTube videos of some lights being shot, dropped from 4 or 5 stories, dragged behind a car, run over by a truck, ad nauseum. The few videos you are about to see were not intended to out-do anyone else’s torture test – just to show that normal drops – or even throwing the light at something (someone) will not cause it to cease functioning. I believe that these lights could endure far worse.
First the light was tossed against a wooden fence (you can see the strobe output – even after impact)
Next I dropped it on my concrete porch and watched it roll down the steps…forgive my ugly feet and legs!
I also tossed it against the side of my (brick) house.
There were 2 additional fence tosses that you didn’t see. The end result? The light is working fine and is in my pocket waiting for its next chore with only a couple of abrasions to show for the abuse
For those of you wondering about the size, you can look at it in my rather large hand, or perhaps this comparison with the ubiquitous Surefire E2E will be helpful
What’s more (and this is sure to stir up a few comments), HDS lights are built contained in a full Faraday cage, hence are essentially immune to EMP. From the founder/owner of HDS Systems, “They were directly tested with high frequency high voltage and were not affected.”
I’m not sitting around in a tin foil hat waiting on the bad guys to pop a nuke in our atmosphere, just reporting the claims of the manufacturer. And if you dropped this little guy across the positive and negative terminals of a 12V battery, my assumption is that it would survive.
I am NO expert on electro magnetic pulses, but my limited knowledge leads me to believe that since most modern LED flashlights use drivers that are essentially integrated circuits, plus the fact that the modern LED is a diode, an EMP pulse just might render said flashlights inoperable.
Downsides? Not many that I can find. Some people lament the lack of a standard/included clip, but HDS has JUST released an interesting optional clip on their web store. I am ‘borrowing’ this photo from one of my brothers over on Candlepowerforums.com to show the HDS clip. It can be mounted on the bezel or on the rotary ring for bezel up or down carry – early reports are favorable and everyone says that it functions very well
Another option is a holster. HDS offers Kydex holsters on their web site, but I tend to favor the custom leather holsters made in Tucson by Thors Hammer Custom Leathers. These custom holsters are (obviously) hand made to order in many different styles with many different stampings in the leather. Mine has a spare battery holder under the light, and all of these holsters have about the toughest clip you’ll ever see. Daniel Thor offers pretty much an unconditional lifetime warranty. Here’s some eye candy
To each his or her own – I just prefer to either drop the light in my pocket or carry it in my holster. BTW, Daniel makes a lot more than just flashlight holsters.
These lights don’t come cheap,(ranging from around $250 to $350 without clip) but then again, they offer (IMHO) tremendous value, and HDS products have been clamored for by flashlight enthusiasts and rough users alike for quite a long time. Many a 40 cal or 9 mm pistol will send a bullet downrange, but wise purchasers/users are still willing to pay a premium for a Glock or a Sig or (name your favorite HERE). Why? They want to know that when they pull the trigger it’s gonna go “boom.” Their safety – or their life – might just depend on it.
Many a flashlight will send photons downrange, but the farmer/rancher/mechanic/law enforcement officer/military/name your honored profession here wants to know that when he or she pushes that button that light will come out the other end.
Lest you think otherwise, I have no vested financial or personal interest in HDS Systems – no affiliation of any kind other than spending my own hard-earned money on their products Some might consider $300 for a flashlight to be a bit “much”…and I totally respect that. And while some might think that this review reads more like an advertisement, the statements, comments and opinions are born out of my respect and appreciation for these quality lights, and that comes as a result of years of use and exposure – not from simply one reviewed light.
If you appreciate American made quality – if you purchase simple, solid tools/firearms/whatever because you want to KNOW that you can depend on them – then one of these lights might be for you.