4WD MODS
LED DRIVING LIGHT VIDEO TESTS
Latest test:: Big Red High Power - April 2016

 

LEDs – light emitting diodes – are relatively new in the headlight and driving light arena, but have virtually taken over the flashlight, head torch and camping light business. LED lights are bright, white and directional, and have unprecedented durability. But how do they stack up as driving lights?

lightfroce led 180Many 4WD owners are confused about the relative worth of HID and LED driving lights. Some are expensive – up to $1700 for a pair of driving lights, or for one high-powered light bar - so it’s important to understand the abilities and advantages of both types.

HIDs have been with us for some years now and at OTA we’ve had extensive bush experience with them. We’ve used several different brands and all have performed brilliantly.

Claims for HIDs over halogens are much brighter output, less current consumption and longer globe life, and our testing has confirmed this.

The claims made for LEDs are almost lifetime globe life, complete water resistance and tolerance of vibration. Our testing of the first LED driving lights - Hella’s Luminator LED model – showed that they suffered no ill effects from immersion or driving in rainstorms and we had no globe life issues.

However, we did note that they lacked the distance penetration of the Hella Compact HIDs we’ve been using as control lights for the past three years.

To check out the performance of LEDs against HIDs we're continuing to test different types of LED lights  on the same stretch of road in identical conditions.

LED driving lights are available in two basic types: full-reflector types, such as Hella’s Luminator and partial-reflector types, such as LightForce LED series, ARB’s Intensity and Narva’s light bars. The Luminator uses three very high powered LED and a free-form reflector to direct the beam. The LightForce, ARB and Narva designs use multiple LEDs, each mounted in front of a mini-reflector.

In LightForce's LED series the mini-reflectors are plain in the case of spot beams and fluted for spreads.

 

Hella Luminator LED

Hella was the first to introduce LEDs to the driving light market. This company's traditional design uses reflector and lens technology and that's the way it went with LED, using three LEDs in a reflector designed for spread or for distance.

More recent developments from Hella's competitors show that LEDs seem best employed as multiples, each housed in a small reflector.

Hella doesn’t make any extravagant claims for the Luminator LED pair, quoting a range of around 540 metres. Here’s how their lighting looked during our test:

 

ARB Intensity LED

 

arb intensityThe ARB pair has 32 LEDs in each housing and the difference between the pencil beam and the spread beam is in the shape of each small reflector: the pencil beam light has narrower, more deeply dished reflectors than the spread beam light.

The output was noticeably brighter than the Hella pair, but there was considerable ‘scatter’ at the top and bottom of the beams:

 

 

 

 


 

Korr 80W LED Lights

korr 80w ledThe Korr 16-LED-each lights are among the lowest priced on the market, averaging around $600 for a pair. They're solidly made, using a die-cast aluminium housing, strong brackets and polycarbonate lenses. The housings are tapped for additional side bracing if required.

As our video test shows the Korrs are very bright, with an even beam, but lack the spread and distance of the more expensive brands. However, if your need is for bright light out to around 300 metres the Korrs will do the job.

 

 

 

 

LightForce LED 180

 

lightforce led 180LightForce released the LED 180 pair in August 2014. The lights are strongly made, with pressure-cast, finned housings and very sturdy mounting brackets with 17mm stainless bolts and nyloc nuts.

The brackets are eccentric and can be mounted with a forward or rearward bias. The light housings have two alternative connecting holes, so the mounting flexibility is excellent, allowing fitment to most bar types.

Fitting was easy and the supplied connecting harness and waterproof connectors were high quality.

Unlike some of its competitors LightForce doesn't make extravagant distance claims for the LED 180 beams. The quoted laboratory testing claims a spot beam, one-lux penetration of 470m and spread beam distance of 410m. Effective spread beam width is 60m.

Our testing, as you can see from the following video, shows that these claims are accurate and we felt that the spot beam distance claim was quite conservative. The light quality was excellent, without excessive hot spots and blotches. There was also no wasted light 'scatter'.

The LightForce LED 180s are quality lights that should suit most people's bush-travel needs. Pricing is around a grand for the pair.

 

 

Great Whites LED 170 Gen 2

great whites 170We've asked the Australian distributors several times for a pair of Great Whites to test, but our requests have met with silence.

However, one of the OTA Team took a punt and bought a pair of 170 LED models - one pencil beam and one spread beam.

The pencil beam has a single LED set in a large reflector and the spread beam has 18 LEDs set in individual, small reflectors.

The Great White 170s are beautifully made from extruded 6061 aluminium and heavily powder-coated to a brilliant, glossy black finish.

Yoke-shaped mounting brackets are strong and attach to the balance point of the lights. The lenses are polycarbonate.

The Great White 170s are rated to IP68 waterproofing and dustproofing standards.

A wiring kit is provided with the lights, along with waterproof Deutsch connectors. The wiring to the relay is fitted with solid terminal ends, not just twisted wire. Very impressive.

Integrated Electronic Thermal Management (ETM) is said to regulate heat levels, to prolong the lifespan of the LED by engaging Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) integrated circuitry. This system flashes the LED faster than the human eye can see, for reduced heat and prolonged LED life.

Obvious quality comes at a price and on line sellers are typically asking $1600 or more for this pair.

As the accompanying video shows, the Great White 170s have good distance and moderate spread. For bush work we'd probably opt for a pair of the spread beams and angle them outwards. For pure highway driving in non-kangaroo areas the pencil and spread combo would be fine.

For the same money you can have better performance from a pair of 200mm lights, but in the 170mm LED market the Great Whites are very good performers.

 

 

LightForce LED 215

lightforce led 215The larger-diameter LightForce LED 215s differ from the 180s in having a larger number of smaller LEDs. Where the 180s have seven LEDs, embedded in fairly large individual reflectors the 215s have 32 LEDs set into smaller reflectors.

Both models have the same reflector designs, however, with the spot beam LEDs set into plain reflectors and the spread-beam ones have fluted ones.

Like the 180s the 215s have finned, pressure-cast aluminium housings, with polycarbonate lenses and removable protectors. The assemblies are fitted with military-grade breathers and cables, and Deutsch connectors.

Waterproofing is to IP68 standard and the lights are rated for submersion to three metres depth.

lightforce led 215The mounting brackets are satin-finished TIG-welded stainless steel, with twin mounting bolts each side. The vertical adjustment screws are also stainless and with two each side, provide simple, positive and secure adjustment. Each light's mounting bolt and two adjustment screws have specialised heads, for theft prevention.

LightForce claims a spot beam distance of 840 metres and a spread beam distance of 640 metres, with a beam width of 60 metres. Our testing of a spot and spread beam pair showed that these distance and spread claims are accurate and the light quality is superb. 

In appearance the LightForce LED 215 looks similar to ARB's Intensity, but the reflectors are different and our test videos show that the LightForce 215 pair had more distance and better spread than the ARB lights.

Pricing is around $1400 for the pair. 

 

LightForce LED 215 Version 2

lightforce led215 version 2When we tested the LightForce LED215 original driving light pair – one pencil beam and one spread – in September 2014 we were very impressed by the brightness and spread of this combination. They were the best we had tested to that time and were still the best – until September 2015.

For the original LED215s LightForce claimed a spot beam distance of 840 metres and a spread beam distance of 640 metres, with a beam width of 60 metres (see test above).

At that stage we thought that might be the upper limit for LED driving lights, but the Version 2 lights have more brightness and greater distance, in both pencil and spread beam models.

The Version 2 pencil beam has a claimed one lux at 912m and the spread reaches out 30 metres each side of the light, with a distance of 873m

The LightForce LED 215 version 2s differ from the early 215s in having 36 LEDs each , instead of 32. The layout of the LEDs is also different, filling the entire housing, with no wasted edge spaces.

Both models have the same reflector designs, however, with the spot beam LEDs set into plain reflectors and the spread-beam ones have fluted ones.

Like the early 215s the Version 2shave finned, pressure-cast aluminium housings, with polycarbonate lenses and removable protectors. The assemblies are fitted with military-grade breathers and cables, and Deutsch connectors.

Waterproofing is to IP68 standard and the lights are rated for submersion to three metres depth.

The mounting brackets are satin-finished TIG-welded stainless steel, with twin mounting bolts each side. The vertical adjustment screws are also stainless and with two each side, provide simple, positive and secure adjustment. Each light's mounting bolt and two adjustment screws have specialised heads, for theft prevention.

In appearance the LightForce LED 215 looks similar to ARB's Intensity, but the reflectors are different and our test videos show that the LightForce 215s had more distance and better spread than the ARB lights.

Pricing is similar to the previous LED215 models, around $1400 for the pair.

 

M-Performance LEDs

m-performance ledsThis European-spot-beam-rated, 175mm-diameter pair came from MCC4x4, with12 LEDs in each housing, totalling 60 Watts.

M-Performance makes no outlandish claims for these LED driving lights, quoting a useful beam distance of 300 metres. We found that they'd pick up reflectors on guide posts out to more than 400 metres.

The LEDs are mounted behind 'bubble' lenses, in front of an aluminium reflector. The outer clear lens is polycarbonate and although the lights come with blue-tinted protectors, but we took them off for the test.

The M-Performance lights mount with a single stainless steel bolt and 17mm nut and vertical alignment is done by mounting-bolt tension on a hinged bracket with notched upper and lower faces. This arrangement doesn't provide infinite vertical adjustment, so it's possible that some installations might see the lights pointing higher or lower than optimal.

However, we found that the beams had a fair amount of upper and lower 'scatter', so there's some flexibility around the ideal setting.

The M-Performance pair weren't the most powerful LED driving lights we've tested, but they weren't the poorest performers either. The beams gave useful spread to both sides of the road and, or those who aren't in a tearing hurry, adequate distance.

 

Big Red LEDs

big red lightsBudget-priced Big Red LED driving lights use reflector technology, like Hella, rather than the multi-LED approach used by all other LED driving light makers.

The result is less performance than the best performers in this light size.

However, the Big Red pair is priced from around $560, so they're among the lowest-priced LEDs in the market.

 

Big Red has a finned aluminium housing with a polycarbonate lens, behind which sits a free-form reflector and a centrally-mounted, 30-watt three-LED globe. Current draw is around 2.2 amps. There's also a one-watt position LED, but we didn't wire it into the parking light circuit for this test.

The mounting system is a single stainless bolt and nut, connecting the narrow mounting yoke to the base of the housing. Vertical alignment is done by a transverse stainless bolt, with nyloc nut. Keeping the light from 'nodding' on rough surfaces took considerable clamping force on the transverse bolt and nut, but it worked.

Big Reds are said to meet IP67 weatherproofing standards and, for the price, fit and finish was very good.

The beams were narrow-spread, out to around 400 metres.

 

Big Red High Power 180 and 220

big red 180 ledThe Big Red LED range has expanded, with the addition of 180mm and 220mm driving lights.

These dual voltage 12/24V lamps have an array of 5W high power ‘Cree’ LEDs. The 180mm lamp produces 8000 lumens and has a claimed one lux at a 370-metre range The 220mm lamp has 30 LEDs for an output of 13,000 lumens, with a claimed beam distance of one lux at 500m.

Light 'temperature' is a bright, white 6300° Kelvin.

Each new lamp has a die-cast aluminium housing and a heavy duty, stainless steel bracket with a three-bolt mounting system. Rubber base and cheek pads isolate the lamp housing from the bracket, giving increased vibration resistance.

The LEDs are housed behind a polycarbonate lens that is fully sealed to IP68, making these driving lights well suited to the toughest off-road applications. There's also a polycarbonate lens protector.

The lamps are pre-wired with a weatherproof connector and matching connectors are supplied.

Big Red’s High Power LED driving lights are covered by a three-year warranty and are available from leading transport, automotive and four wheel drive outlets throughout Australia. RRP for each 180mm lamp is $330, or around twice that of the earlier, cheaper verion.

We tested a pair of the High Power 180s and found them to be much brighter than previous Big Red models.

Check out the video test:


 

The 220 High Power models are even brighter, with improved spread and distance, as you can see in this video:


 

Hella Compact Xenon HID Lights

As the following video shows, HIDs out-distance LED driving lights, so if your focus is on beam distance for bush highway travel an HID pair may be the go. Many of the makers of LED lights we tested make excellent HID lights as well - Hella's HID range; ARB's IPFs, LightForce's Venom and Narva's Ultimas.

There's also a new breed of LED plus HID lights that combine extreme spread and distance.

However, LEDs are virtually indestructible, completely water and dust resistant and offer bright, even lighting out to 500-800 metres, so for off road driving - on and off tracks – they could be the correct choice.

A light bar is long and narrow, so it can be mounted easily on a nudge bar, or on a roof rack. An LED light bar could be the ideal fitment on a vehicle that doesn’t have a ‘roo bar.

 




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