Break­ing down the dif­fer­ence between Halo­gen, LED, HID and LED Light Bars

4WDrive - - Contents - Story and pho­tos by Budd Stan­ley

Here in the dark days of win­ter (at least at the time of writ­ing), if there is one thing more im­por­tant than tires on your 4WD, it is qual­ity light­ing. With the sun set­ting at 3:30 pm and not ris­ing again un­til 8:00 am, if you’re go­ing to take a jaunt out into the wilder­ness, chances are you are go­ing to have to strap some day­light to the front of your rig.

Com­ing from a back­ground in rally rac­ing, I know the value of a good set of lights on the front of a ve­hi­cle. I’m a self-pro­claimed af­ter­mar­ket light junky if you will, but with the end­less op­tions of il­lu­mi­na­tion types avail­able on the mar­ket, which sources are best for your par­tic­u­lar ap­pli­ca­tion. We chose three dif­fer­ent light sources that were all avail­able in the same model of lamp from KC HiLites, re­ceiv­ing three sets of their Pro-Sport 6-in round lamp equipped with Halo­gen, LED and HID bulbs. For the sake of com­par­i­son, we also strapped a set of Rigid In­dus­tries SR2 Combo LED light bars in place to judge the dif­fer­ence between a round LED and LED light bar. All lenses were spot beams to help judge the in­ten­sity and range of each par­tic­u­lar light source.

For our test, we went up into the BC Moun­tains and found one of a very few forestry roads that were still plowed. With a dark over­cast sky, no moon­light and even a bit of snow, we set up on a 350 m long straight (straights are hard to come by in BC) and di­rected our beams to­ward a re­flec­tive sign­post 250 m away and a non­re­flec­tive sign­post at the far end, 350m away. With our 2015 Chevro­let Colorado, we cy­cled through a base high-beams shot, fol­lowed by all our dif­fer­ent light sources all mounted in the same po­si­tion with the high-beams turned off to get a full scope of the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of each light source. Here is what we found.

Base - High-beams: Free

For our test, let’s start with the bare ba­sics, high-beam head­lights. What you see here is the rather piti­ful per­for­mance put on by a 2015 Chevro­let Colorado Z71 with all its light­ing glory be­ing smacked down by the dark­ness of a BC forestry road. While it lights up the first 100 m de­cently enough, even on a paved high­way these things were suck­ing some­thing fierce.

Halo­gen Bulbs – 6-in KC HiLites Pro-Sport

Talk­ing to KC HiLites, they in­formed us that Halo­gen tech­nol­ogy was cre­ated to over­come the in­ef­fi­cien­cies of the in­can­des­cent light bulb. A halo­gen bulb is a form of in­can­des­cent light that also uses a tung­sten fil­a­ment. The main dif­fer­ence is the pres­ence of the halo­gen gas, which when com­bined with the fil­a­ment pro­duces a chem­i­cal re­ac­tion that re­de­posits evap­o­rated tung­sten back onto the fil­a­ment al­low­ing it to burn hot­ter and brighter.

The prob­lem is that while Halo­gens used to be great lights, the in­ten­sity of the mod­ern HID and LED has sim­ply out classed these older tech­nol­ogy lamps. While dim, these spots reached out to 350 m with a warm in­can­des­cent glow, but made fea­tures at that dis­tance hard to make out. The dark just seemed to soak up the light as soon as it left the re­flec­tor, and in all hon­esty, these were about on par with the high qual­ity after mar­ket high­beams I had on my per­sonal ve­hi­cle.

The area where these lights shine best (pun in­tended) is in cost of own­er­ship. At a start­ing price of $254, this al­lows you to pump some ex­tra lu­mens off the front of an older rig with­out the huge in­vest­ment or the stress of dam­ag­ing higher-end lights. It is also sim­ple to re­place the bulbs or even up­grade to higher wattage, you just might get jeal­ous when some­one with HID’s or LED’s light up ter­rain from be­hind.

LED (Light-Emit­ting Diode) – 6-in KC HiLites Pro-Sport Un­like in­can­des­cent bulbs, which use a fil­a­ment that re­lies on gas, LEDs cre­ate light by ex­cit­ing elec­trons. LED’s are con­sid­ered solid-state light­ing, which means they don't rely on in­can­descense but elec­tro­lu­mi­nes­cence, which is a semi­con­duc­tor based light source. LEDs are all the rage these days and for good rea­son as they have many ad­van­tages over tra­di­tional in­can­des­cent lights such as lower en­ergy con­sump­tion, longer life and in other cases, smaller size. How­ever, what is vi­tally im­por­tant to wheel­ers is that they are in­cred­i­bly durable as there are no fil­a­ments, glass or mov­ing parts that can brake and they are pow­ered and switched dig­i­tally. How­ever, is the lat­est tech­nol­ogy for the front of your rig worth the steep price that is only start­ing to level out with con­sumer de­mand?

These LED’s lights pro­duce cool, bright light beams, as the diode pro­duc­ing the light is aimed at a mir­rored lens like a tra­di­tional lamp, mag­ni­fy­ing the lights power and range. The light pro­duces the same bril­liant sharp and clear light as the HID’s, but it’s just not quite as pow­er­ful or able to reach out as far. The LED cre­ates in­stant light, in a lighter more durable pack­age that sucks far less en­ergy than the HID. In terms of qual­ity of light and dis­tance reached, these lights may not per­form quite as well as the HID’s at long range, but they do out per­form them up close and you will get up to four times the life­span from them.

LED Bar – Rigid In­dus­tries SR2 10-in Combo

While we were test­ing LED’s, we de­cided to put the KC 6-in round spot up against the pop­u­lar­ity of the light bar rev­o­lu­tion, rep­re­sented here with Rigid In­dus­tries new SR2 combo. As we all know, light bars put out a ter­rific amount of light, but they just don’t reach very far down range, use­less if you are at any kind of speed.

The “Combo” refers to des­ig­nate hy­per­spot lenses placed over the cen­tre lights to max­i­mize long dis­tance il­lu­mi­na­tion. Cou­pled with reg­u­lar lenses on the outer diodes, this is sup­posed to be a “best of both worlds” so­lu­tion that floods light at close dis­tance and is also ca­pa­ble of long dis­tance reach down range, all while draw­ing as lit­tle en­ergy as pos­si­ble. The SR2’s are rated as a 45W lamp, draw 4.1 amps and fea­ture a very com­pact and low-pro­file de­sign that will aid in aero­dy­nam­ics on the high­way. How­ever, they don’t come cheap. For­eign made knock­offs can be had for nearly half the price, how­ever in our test­ing we have found these to be of very poor qual­ity and are usu­ally just not worth cheapin­gout for.

The re­sult, the SR2’s put out a nice clean blueish light that does ex­actly what Rigid say. They flood the short range very nicely and do reach out long range. The prob­lem is, they are not as long range as the LED 6-in spots. The hy­per­spots seem to fall flat around 250-300 m, which if you’re

a slow mover, is all you’re ever go­ing to need any­ways.

With our lit­tle com­par­i­son in­side a com­par­i­son, the ex­cel­lent flood light­ing cou­pled with de­cent spots make the SR2 a fan­tas­tic all-round light if you only want to throw a cou­ple lights on your rig. If you want to specif­i­cally tai­lor your light­ing to your needs, the more tra­di­tional round lamps like the KC’s will al­low you to make use of dif­fer­ent light sources as well as lenses to best dis­trib­ute light the way you need it.

HID (High In­ten­sity Dis­charge) – 6-in KC HiLites Pro-Sport

Ad­vanc­ing be­yond halo­gen in con­text of light out­put as well as size and heat ef­fi­ciency is high-in­ten­sity dis­charge bulbs. HID bulbs have no fil­a­ment but in­stead use tung­sten elec­trodes. These elec­trodes are sealed in a quartz tube which is filled with both gas (usu­ally Xenon) and also var­i­ous metal salts, which are ig­nited to pro­duce an ex­tremely in­tense amount of light.

HID lights pro­duce light beams that il­lu­mi­nate long dis­tances and are avail­able in 35W, 50W and 70Ws. They pro­duce Lux and Can­dela rat­ings that could ex­ceed 2-3 times the dis­tance to sim­i­lar wattage Halo­gens and LEDs. HIDs are the most bal­anced across Out­put, Cost, Tech­nol­ogy and Power.

Putting the HID’s to the test, you can see that they call these lights “high in­ten­sity” for a rea­son. A sharp crys­tal clear light with a blue tinge seems to cut through the dark­ness like a hot knife through but­ter. The beams are not as sharp as LED’s so there is bit of fade light bleed­ing around the edges of the beam, help­ing to il­lu­mi­nate more area.

There are a cou­ple draw­backs; the beams are so in­tense that they seem to light up any kind of par­tic­u­late in the air, cre­at­ing al­most a fog in the beam close to the eye. To the eye, it is not as bad as the cam­era shows, but I wouldn’t want to mount these rooftop. They also take a while to warm up. As the gases start to heat up, the light only grows in qual­ity. I had to take sev­eral shots of these lights since they just kept get­ting brighter and brighter, reach­ing their max­i­mum after around 5-min­utes.

In slow off-road con­di­tions, these are ac­tu­ally a lit­tle overkill and are only worth get­ting in flood or driv­ing beams for any­thing un­der 100kmh. Leave the spots for the rally cars.

Does Size Mat­ter?

The sim­ple an­swer is “Yes”. A larger re­flec­tor’s in­creased sur­face area is more ca­pa­ble of re-di­rect­ing light with more in­ten­sity and ef­fi­ciency than a smaller re­flec­tor. An 8-in re­flec­tor will be ca­pa­ble of fo­cus­ing and di­rect­ing more light com­ing from the same light source (LED diode, Halo­gen Bulb, HID Bulb) than its 6-in coun­ter­part.

High beams from a 2016 Chevro­let Colorado Z71. Whole lot of suck.

Halo­gens are much im­proved over OEM high­beams, but tech­nol­ogy has moved on.

A tra­di­tional in­can­des­cent bulb.

Light is bril­liant and clear, but just doesn’t quite reach out like an HID.

The cen­tre LED’s are cov­ered with a hy­per­spot lens to in­crease range.

A Light Emit­ting Diode shines onto the re­flec­tor.

The hy­per­spots work well, mak­ing this the jack of all trades.

The HID’s shine right past the end of our range. No­tice how par­tic­u­late is il­lu­mi­nated in the beams.

A del­i­cate tung­sten elec­trode pro­duces bril­liant light.

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