Photon Fusion Headlamp Report

Photon Fusion Headlamp
By Devin Kouts

Two weeks of caving in Belize and I'm very pleased with my new Photon Fusion headlamp. The light it puts out is a step up from what I used to get by with in the days of carbide and the even illumination it delivers beats anything I ever got from an incandescent lamp.

Stone Seplicur Entrance Swim Photon Fusion stood up to constant wet conditions in Belize, although it never really went through a full dunk test.
Caving in Belize is very different from what one normally experiences in the Virginias. Passage is MUCH larger. ceiling heights to 200 feet are very common and passages are just as wide, too. I entered Barton Creek cave with a supreme feeling of inadequacy when I saw some of the high out put Tag lite's and other home grown contraptions that had been flown in by other members of the expedition. But after the customary adjustment to cave conditions I was very pleased with the illumination my Fusion gave me.

The Fusion has a dual switch built into the top of it. Pressing the left side of the switch turns the headlamp on to it's highest brightness. I found this to be the setting I prefered for most of the trunk passage that we walked or surveyed in Belize. I also noticed that it was bright enough to annoy the hell out of my fellow cavers (who had their own bright headlamps). With the headlamp on it's highest setting I was able to see walls up to 150 feet distant with no difficulty (measured with a laser range finder). While I could illuminate things in great detail there was enough light return at those distances to make out significant features. For instance, while observing a ceiling 140 overhead, I was able to discern a ledge with a possible lead above it. Turning to my handheld Pelican light, I was then able to spot the lead and verify what I had seen.

The right side of the dual switch gives access to all the other light levels and functions of the Fusion. Holding the right side down will cycle through High, Medium, and Low light settings. Continuing to hold the right side button down will turn on a fast strobe, then a slow strobe, then a flashing SOS beacon, and finally a mode that indicates how much battery life is left. One neat feature, after cycling to a particular setting, you can access that setting with just a press of the right side button. This makes it easy to go from high bright (pushing the left side button) to low bright (by pushing the right side button). This capability was particularly useful during survey. Looking at the sketch book with high bright turned on would burn out my night vision. Hitting the right button and going to low bright during sketch was very convenient.

Fusion Headlamp in action
The Photon Fusion (left) is more compact than the Petzl Duo (right) and seems to offer a superior illumination (my empirical observation and personal opinion).

General Observations:

  • When the batteries run low, the lamp will switch off automatically for a few seconds. This gives the batteries a change to build charge, after which the lamp will cycle back on. It's a decent design concept, but in practice it could put the caver in danger, especially if light is lost during a critical move. Instead of switching the lamp off with no warning, I would prefer some kind of indication that the batteries were running low. Maybe a pulsing light, or automatically switching to a lower brightness setting.
  • The headlamp seems to make very efficient use of batteries. I used some very cheap batteries, Safeway brand, and regularly saw 4 hours of illumination out of three cells before the lamp would begin to cycle off for a recharge. And this was using the headlamp at full brightness, all the time. When the batteries began to run low I could work very comfortably on the medium brightness setting. I never used it long enough to see how much time I could get out of the medium setting, though.
  • The headlamp is compact and light on the front of the helmet.
  • The rubber shield around the lens helps keep light from bleeding out to the side (possibly bugging other cavers).
  • The water resistant assembly stood up very well to cave mud and handling with muddy gloves.
  • The battery compartment is held closed with a small plastic tab. This was frequently a pain to open and required strong fingernails to pry it up. Conversely, when closing the battery compartment, it occasionally took a couple tries to get the batteries seated properly and the lid secured in place. These are not significant issues, but worth mentioning, because they could be a big hassle for people with limited finger dexterity.

    Summary: Other than two minor draw backs (battery compartment and the automatic switch off) I found the Photon Fusion to be a durable, and luminous headlamp. It stood up to two solid weeks of wet, muddy caving conditions without so much as a wimper. Never once did it let me down or not function as designed. The 6 LEDs offer more than abundant light and easily illuminate large cave passage. It will handle anything I normally cave in the Appalachians and the dual switch is exceptionally useful for when I sketch and survey.

    I'll retire my previous LED headlamp (a four LED Illuminator) to backup status in my cave pack. I'll make sure I keep a bright Pelican handlight for looking at those really high ceilings. And I'll keep the Photon Fusion on my helmet as my new primary lamp.

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