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Halcyon Focus Light Review

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I should start this by stating I have no connection with any manufacturer and am not tied to saying good or bad things about anyone. Which is nice. and gets me out of trouble now and again...

 I've been a fan of Halcyon HID Torches for over a decade. It all started with a focusable proteus 3, which was a little light sabre, with a pencil thin beam of light. To be honest, it wasn't very reliable. It seemed to burn through bulbs, which cost £80 a pop. I had friends who suggested I build £80 into the cost of a day's diving because they were going bang that often. I also had friends with the same torch who never had a problem. I then moved to a Salvo 18W, then a Salvo 21W and finally a Halcyon 21W. My Halcyon 21W has served we well for four years and other than the required regular servicing has never let me down or required any work. I've never missed a dive because of. The Salvo18w I had, on the other hand, failed so regularly that eventually I was given an extensively tested 21W Salvo with the message "if this one works please stop writing about us on the internet". That was reliable, and I really liked it, but when I saw Howard Payne's 21W Halcyon HID I realised that it was the far stronger product and switched. That did me until this year, and served me extremely well on Cave1. Frankly, it was until recently the best torch I have ever seen.

HID has had a strong following, especially with those that do cave diving. You see, there is one fundamental difference between exploring a wreck and exploring a cave. The best wreck divers I have met have encyclopaedic knowledge of the wrecks they are diving. They are almost historians first, and divers second. This means that when a wreck explorer is swimming about inside the wreck, they will often have an excellent mental image of the wreck and know where passages and side passages go. In a cave, you are writing the history as you explore. you have no idea what is down each passage, or whether it goes anywhere. So an HID torch is an awesome tool because you can point it down a side passage and have a good look around, then make a decision about whether it is worth exploring or not. We did this to a very limited degree on Cave 1. Swimming on the main line, if we came to a line arrow, Imogen and I were able to start pointing our Halcyon 21W HID Explorers down passages to see if we could spot the jump and the start of a new line. Great fun. In contrast, one member of our team who was using a Halcyon EOS LED was not able to do this effectively, as the beam was too spread to illuminate the passageway effectively. In fairness, the EOS proved a superb torch for normal diving, it just lacked the ability to "push" light into far flung caves.

The other reason HID is popular is because we use our torches in the water very heavily for communication, both in terms of active communication like giving an OK signal, and in terms of passive signals. In fact, I now rarely choose to dive with someone who doesn't understand passive light signals because it's distracting. You end up having to ask each other if you are ok every five minutes, and look for each other now and again. Add another person into the team and the workload goes up. Whilst these activities do not appear stressful at first glance, once you are used to not having to do them you'd be amazed what a pain in the ass it feels. HID can be very tightly focussed, so is ideal for light signalling. If you draw a pencil-thin beam slowly on the wreck or floor of the cave you are clearly asking the question "are you ok?". do that with a diffuse beam, and it might take you a few times to get the team's attention, because it just looks like you are moving your torch around looking at things. 

The downside of HID is that all this power chews through whatever battery you have. My 21W HID gave me about 4 hours burn time. When you start diving, it's difficult to imagine you will ever do that much diving between charging. However, even at the cave1 levels I can do 4 hours a day diving 30 minutes into a shallow cave, and 30 minutes out. There are not many placed I do that, but it can be done. Even a couple of longer wreck dives takes me close to that limit. Not we have to know that we can charge our torch every day and, once you start travelling, you realise that's not always possible. An HID is focusable because it puts light out in all directions, which means you can use a reflector to focus it. Whilst this is very cool, and you can get different reflectors for different purposes, it is also inefficient, with lots of the output being lost. 

The other issue with HID is that it is inherently fragile. The bulbs are testicle-retractingly expensive and HID works by passing a current through a metal vapour inside a glass tube, which doesn't even sound robust when I type it. They are sensitive to shocks and knocks, temperature changes. My Halcyon HID proved remarkably robust, whereas my old Salvo would fail if I was kitting up and a butterfly landed on it. These were relatively early products, and the later Salvo I had was as awesomely reliable as my Halcyon explorer, even if the explorer was brighter and clearly more professionally engineered. However, I can remember each of the two times I have dropped my Halcyon Explorer. It's because each time I cringed and from around me there was a sudden intake of breathe from all the GUE divers who witnessed it, and then a relived exhalation of breathe when I flicked the switch and it powered up. Break a HID and you are looking at hundreds of pounds or dollars. It's quite cringe-worthy when you drop one. By contrast, when I was talking about this with Neil Powell, who owns a Halcyon EOS LED, he told me "I genuinely have no idea how many times I have dropped it". Neil treats all his gear with respect, whereas I treat mine with disregard. It's noticeable that Neil treats his torch with the same pride he treats the rest of his gear, whereas my HID light head is the ONLY piece of kit I treat with respect, because I know failing to do so will bite me. 

So, HID in summary

Pros - focusable, powerful

Cons - inherently fragile, chews through battery. 

 

Enter LED...

LED has clearly been the next generation technology for some time. It's much more power efficient, which means much more bang for your buck in terms of battery life. Powerful HID battery packs are also quite large and cumbersome, whereas packs for LED can either be much smaller, or give far longer burn times. The same battery pack that gave my HID a four hour life gives the EOS 10 hours. On top of that LEDS can be driven with less oomph by design, which means you can have a lower power setting for users to choose. Do this with the EOS and you get 20 hours of the battery pack. In order to get that out of an HID you need a battery pack that you could use as an AED to resuscitate someone in an emergency, which you'd need to do once they saw the price anyway.

Another pro is the size of the head. HID takes quite a bit of complicated electrickery to fire up. There is some clever electronics that ensures the HID gets precisely the boost it needs to fire up for precisely the correct amount of time, but all of this cleverness takes up space, and so HID light heads tend to end up with a "Ballast" that can extend over your hand and onto your wrist. You get used to it, but it's only when you try an LED torch you realise you have had to get used to something quite large. The EOS head is tiny, and extremely light weight.

LED is also far, far more resilient. The delicate bulb, glass tube, and clever electronics of an HID simply do not exist in the LED, so short of using an LED as a hammer to drive nails, there's not a log to go bang inside one. 

However, and it has been a big however, there is one big issue with LEDs. They are front emitting diodes, which makes it quite difficult to focus them. It's only in the past few years that have manufacturers have started to crack this. Halcyon claim that some manufacturers have approached this problem by driving the diodes aggressively, overcoming lac of focus with power. They say they have spent 3 years developing a completely different solution that they are calling the lux engine. So what is the "lux engine". I don't have a clue. And I don't care. I don't care how many lumens or lux or dolphins or madeupsicums a torch points out. I make my decision based on my eyes. I have see powerful and focussed LEDS in the water before, but I do like Halcyon gear because it's so resilient, and the customer support is awesome. 

So, a couple of months ago, I went for a dive with Rich Walker. The weather was awesome, and the seas were flat. In line with the holy trinity rules the viz was abysmal. At 48 metres it was darker than Alex Salmond's mood. Most GUE divers tend to look the same, and so you get used to seeing a21W style HID hanging off someone's rig. Or a Light for me, or a light monkey. So when I saw Rich had a torch I didn't recognise on the boat I went over and had a look. It was small, and obviously an LED. I asked him what it was and he told me it was something he was testing for Halcyon. I left it at that. In the water, the torch was awesome. the little battery pack and light head produced a beam that was considerably more tightly focussed than my HID and massively brighter. Being that I was in the middle of being put through my paces to requalify as an instructor I had other things on my mind, so said no more about it. 

However, when Halcyon announced the Focus and Flare hitting the market I knew I had to have one. A few phone calls, and the nice man at DiveLife had one ordered for me. The torch went sailing across the Ocean to BTS in Germany, and then found it's way to me at Eurotek. So here, then, is my first review of the Halcyon focus. I wanted the focus as I need to, well, focus my light from time to time. I use the tight setting most of the time, but on occasion like to fire up the go-pro, and the focus allegedly serves well as a video light.

This is it. Like all Halcyon gear, it appears to be extremely well machined. In fact the finish is lovely, with one tiny exception. Every GUE in the world who buys one of these things will clip a bolt snap to the front of it. They've even put a helpful little hole in the metal for this purpose. Which is razor sharp and will unquestionably chew through the string we use to connect the bolt snap to the torch. The same issue was true of the Explorer HID, and people either got used to re-tying the bolt snap every few months or just filing the edge of the goodman handle down. I can see the same issue here. It's a tiny issue in all honesty, but I was surprised Halcyon hadn't learned that one. Anyway, an easy couple of minutes rounding off the sharp edge with a file and the issue was sorted. 

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...and that's it. That's where the bad points end. If you are reading this looking for a reason NOt to buy one, you might as well give up now I'm afraid.

I mean just look at it. Halcyon gear is always designed for efficiency, and is always well thought out by people who do a LOT of diving. This light is no exception. The goodman handle is adjustable both in height and width to suit all hands, and locked into place with a captured screw so it cannot be lost. This handle also rotates so that it ends up in front of the glass serving two purposes. Firstly, it makes the light head about an inch high, which for those of us who regularly throw the light head into hand luggage is a godsend. Secondly, it will protect the glass in transit. This is the same mechanism that Halcyon used on the Mini EOS, and it's clearly a winner. On the top of the light head is a large rotating knob, which is clearly marked. This allows you to change the light from a tightly focussed beam to an extremely wide flood. I've done some beam shots, but the simple result is that the focussed beam is considerably tighter than my HID, and there is very little leak from the central spot. At the other extreme the flood setting is clearly going to be good enough for me to use it for video in a cave. There are some nice little features which will clearly appeal to GUE divers. There is the aforementioned gap for tying off a bolt snap on the front front. There's a bungee scooter ring on the right hand side. There's an inset just in front of the cable connection which is clearly designed for us GUE types to tie on a piece of bungee, which is where we then use a double ender to clip the torch off so it's facing down (when it's powered on). 

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The goodman handle can be easily rotated. There is an interesting quirk if you do this. If you look in the image below you will see that I have rotated the goodman handle so the torch is upside down. You are probably thinking this now looks awful because the focus switch is on the bottom. Which is true. However, it's also made the torch completely flat, which means I can stick a go pro sticker on the ballast and give the camera a clear view when filming caves or students. This was something I was concerned about in all honesty, because you could land a plane on the HID ballast never mind rig a go pro, but I think it's going to be fine. 

The power setting is a switch that you move across the light head, with a small screw set into the top to lock it into your desired setting. this screw is not captured, so you could unscrew it all the way and lose it, which would be a pain in the ass. However, it needs half a turn to unlock and you have to turn it about twenty five times for the thing to fall out so you'd have to be pretty unlucky to lose it. Once the power switch is locked into place it appears to be pretty sturdy. I don't think you'd knock it. The settings are OFF => HALF POWER => Full power. Full power with the standard battery pack gives you about five and a half hours, with half power doubling that. The battery pack itself is half the size of a 9amph battery pack. So that's more than twice the burn time for half the size battery and head. 

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The battery pack is different, too. This has evolved from the old anderson connectors in early Halcyon torches, which could be, well, flaky, to their proprietary solution in the last generation, to this latest generation. You unscrew the battery from its connector, and screw it into the charger. There are multiple O rings on the battery to prevent a flood. When you screw the battery into the charger an LED on the charger helpfully lets you know it's ready to charge. The light then goes red to let you know it's charging and finally green to let you know it's done. And it's silent. Oh thank god. No more listening to 2 HID chargers' fans pumping out heat and noise in the room for half the night. I don't know the charging time yet. One annoyance was that it was only supplied with european plugs. It's a small issue, but in a light that costs about a grand it surely wouldn't hurt to include a UK adapter. It comes with usual Halcyon stuff, such as overheat protection and auto-shutoff, and is much more compact that HID chargers have been in the past, which again is awesome for travel. the battery pack also has a built in slot for 50mm webbing. Simple, but every GUE diver who uses it will appreciate it. No more battery packs hanging off your kit with a weight retainer holding it barely in pace because the webbing has worked loose. 

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The cable has, obviously, the new style strain relief at both ends. This is definitely a lot more robust than just having the cable go into the gland as with the old Halcyon lights and as seen on other manufacturer's lights still today. In any light, the cable is the most likely failure point so I'm not sure why so other manufacturers have not caught up with the idea of strengthening it. The cable is about 3 inches longer than the cable on my 21W HID. No idea if that's a quirk of a new batch, or by design. Either way it's going to give you a bit more room to move. Personally I've never had an issue in this area, but I know I've read about people wanting it to be longer. 

So, onto the performance. This is a dry review. I'll take it into the water in about a week or so and follow up this review, but in the meantime I have done some beam shots in the back garden, with some shows of the Halcyon 21W HID next to it for comparison. 

So here is the HID on the right and the focus on the left. Shots taken at 2 metres difference, with the HID having 90 seconds to warm up and the focus on it's tightest setting.

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now to show how tightly the torches told their focus. Shots taken at 10 metres difference, with the HID having 90 seconds to warm up and the focus on it's tightest setting.

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In terms of power, Halcyon believe that the best measure is lux at specific distances. so the Focus delivers 39,900 lux at 1 metre, 4,100 lux at 3 metres, 1550 lux at 5 metres. that sounds very nice and impression but I prefer the British description. It kicks the shit out of a 21W HID. I have no idea how it compares to other LEDs because I need to see it in the water again, but it's about as bright if not brighter than anything I've personally seen.

As you can see, the LED outperforms the HID in every respect. The beam when focussed is more tight than the HID, with less light splaying out of the focus point. This will make it a more effective torch for looking into the distance, and for signalling. At it's widest setting, the light provides a wider beam than the HID, making it more useful for video. the LED puts out more power in every mode, and the battery lasts longer. the head is smaller and considerably more resilient. This is a win from Halcyon over every thing they have made in the past, and they are clearly committed to this technology for the foreseeable future.

Finally a little video

 

The Halcyon Focus is now available in the UK. Retailers can get hold of them quickly if they don't have them already in stock. It costs approximately £1079. Although this is only a dry review, I have to say my first impression is that it looks bloody fantastic and might just be the best torch Halcyon have ever produced. 

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Gareth Burrows is a GUE Instructor trainer, and a personal diving coach for recreational and technical divers of all levels, specialising in improving buoyancy control, trim and stability, in-water confidence, and ascent management. He has trained with PADI, TDI, IANTD and GUE as well as serving as a DO in a BSAC branch. He has been diving cold water wrecks in Europe and around the UK for over a decade, and can usually be found diving out of Brighton, Portland or Plymouth. He is qualifying later this year as a cave diver and looking to become a GUE tech1 instructor in the 18 months. He has trained or coached hundreds of divers from newly qualified open water divers, to course directors and technical instructors.

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