A handful of issues ago we compared halogen, HID and LED driving lights. We declared that the latest craze of LEDs would soon flood tracks with enough light that you could drive on them in any condition, at any speed.
Well, that time is now. There is no denying the clever clogs of the lighting industry have managed to draw enough light out of those tiny little light-emitting diodes to persuade most people that they’re the pick when mounting aftermarket lighting to 4x4s. To get us back out into the paddocks we’ve collated the cream of the crop of LED round driving lights.
For the rounds, we’ve asked for a pair of spot and spread from each company (if available) that have mainly two different diameters of about 180mm and 220mm. Some companies only offer a ‘combo’ or ‘combination’ beam rather than two separate beam patterns and some even stipulate the angle of their penetrating light.
Regardless, we’ve procured the best-on-offer to show you what shines brightest, furthest and widest… all because we like standing in a paddock in the middle of the night. Well, it does get the most realistic results!
We did meet a few hiccups along the way (wiring irregularity issues that you should be aware of), plus we realised a few interesting facts about LED lighting that will make your eyes pop in disbelief. Oh, and then there’s the varying state regulatory systems that can’t comprehend technical advancements, nor agree with one another from state to state.
We’ll touch on it, but getting publishable answers from some is nothing short of ‘behind-the-times short-sightedness’… which LEDs are definitely not.
To keep this test fair we mounted each light to the same test vehicle, a 100 Series Land Cruiser, and used the same wiring loom at all times. Other than different plugs and a couple of inches of wiring difference, all else was even.
While it’s extremely hard to replicate exactly what your eyes see into a photograph, we set the camera manually to get as close as possible, then kept those same settings for all lights. So, while there may be a slight difference when the photos get printed, all photos will be relative to each other to expose the differences between each light.
There may well be more accurate measuring devices floating around, hence some differences between our results and those of the manufacturers and suppliers. But, all lights were tested with the same equipment so any variations will be equal across the board.
All up, we compared apples with apples on the same footy field. Well, not really a footy field but a cleared paddock with reflectors placed at 50 metre intervals up to the 550 metre mark.
At 100 metres we placed reflectors out to one side at 5 metre intervals to 20 metres. Also at the 100 metre mark were a group of large trees that served well to show off the light spread. The wall of large trees at the end of our test strip, plus the LUX readings, brilliantly showed the full effects of each light and their long distance ability.
Given the relative ‘newness’ of aftermarket LED driving lights, there are many naysayers that belittle the recent breakthroughs. These negative nancies simply haven’t kept up with the times and are too stuck-in-the-mud to admit the good old days were… darker.
LEDs were mostly regarded as a wide-beam-only lighting system with little long distance penetration, especially when compared to HID systems. Scrub that notion. LED driving lights can cast a wide and long beam of light to allow for pretty much any type of driving in any condition. In fact, a couple of our test lights would put some old-school spot-style driving lights to shame. Yes, a HID spot will shine further down a track, but who really cares what’s happening 1000 metres away?
Other than light outputs, there are a few other benefits of using LEDs. They excel in lower currant draw (not that that’s really a problem with most vehicle electrical systems), have no warm up time, have a massive life expectancy (most claim in excess of 50,000 hours) and can offer a spread in both the horizontal and the vertical planes. Waterproof, vibration resistant and a long lifespan sees LED driving lights as the best on offer.
The only real downside of purchasing a set of LED driving lights is the initial cost. But while they are pricey, they will like all things new on the market, decrease in value as time goes on. The longer you procrastinate, the cheaper they’ll get.
Now all we need is for laser-emitting diode technology to reach the 4x4 industry and we’ll have to start all over again with the ‘what’s best’ campfire arguments. Let’s just hope they can’t accidently be set to ‘stun’ mode.
Lux is the international system unit of luminance (brightness); defined as the amount of light on a one square metre surface, all points of which are one metre from a uniform source of one candela of light.
The higher the lux, the brighter the light is on the subject; whereas lumen (which is more often quoted by the manufacturer) is the total amount of light that can be generated by that light source. So, a 10,000 lumen light may throw a light which is measured at 500LUX 20 metres away, but that same light may fall to 10LUX at 600 metres away.
Raw lumen compared to effective lumen is where advertisers and manufacturers ‘cheat’ a little by quoting the highest number possible – a common ‘trick of the trade’. It’s just like car manufacturers quoting horsepower at the ‘engine’ instead of the ‘wheels’ – as the engine figure is always higher and therefore sounds better.
Put simply, raw lumens is the ‘theoretical brightness output’ an LED chip will output in controlled laboratory conditions. An effective (or actual) lumens is what the driver is left with once the LED chip has been packaged into a light housing, covered by a lens, filtered down by a wiring loom and subjected to less than ideal manufacturing processes that result in thermal and optical losses. To provide a ‘real’ comparison, we’ve attempted to supply both figures however some companies don’t have or can’t supply all the data.
Generally, high-powered LED driving lights have three factors that cause the effective output to differ from the raw output: thermal efficiency (the hotter the LED, the less light produced), electrical efficiency (wiring looms and switchgear effectiveness) and optical efficiency (the amount of light lost with the addition of optics, such as covers, lenses and reflectors).
Kelvin is a temperature scale used to measure the colour of light. The lower the temperature the more yellow the light is, the higher the temperature the more blue it appears. LEDs are generally up around 5000K to 6000K, which is as close to natural daylight as man can get. Keep in mind that the colour (or Kelvin) has no correlation to brightness.
Cree is a term bandied about in regards to LED lighting. Cree (based in North Carolina, America) is purely a brand name, nothing more. The company is the main competition of Osram (Munich, Germany), but seems to be the LED of choice in the automotive industry.
There is indeed more to testing LEDs than just measuring LUX and amperage; ensuring that thermal management guarantees longevity is paramount. LED brightness (LUX) does depreciate over time, therefore manufacturers can influence the LED’s long term durability via its overall design, including wiring, heat syncs and thermal design.
The 50,000-hour lifetime that is bandied about by most driving light manufacturers actually comes from the LED manufacturing companies themselves, not the driving light manufacturers. The lighting engineers have accumulated data to prove that an LED will last at least 50,000 hours of use and still produce at least 70 percent of its original Lumen (brightness), or 30 percent depreciation. Although, for the record, the LED never actually burns out.
That’s a lot of night driving: 50,000 hours equates to 2083 days, 297 weeks, or about 5.7 years of constant driving with your high beam (and driving lights) turned on.
Although high-powered LEDs don’t generate too much heat, they are susceptible to light degeneration if subject to high working temperatures of only (about) 30 to 40 degrees. This is why nearly all high-powered LED driving lights feature so many fins, flutes, or heat sinks to help dissipate heat.
Lower-powered LEDs are essentially the same, just don’t throw anywhere near the same amount of light the higher powered units can. By high power, we’re only talking three, five and 10 watts.
As far as dissipating that heat via heat sinks (just an easy way of increasing surface area to let heat ‘soak’ out), the other way is via the use of aluminium housing. As it’s a better conductor of heat than plastic, almost all high-powered LED driving lights are manufactured from aluminium (either cast or extruded) casings.
One biggie to point out: You don’t buy LED lights to ‘lighten’ the load on your electrical system. Although just one tiny LED may draw minimal amperage, those large-numbered bars and round lights can in fact draw more power than an old-school 100-watt halogen globe.
It’s valuable to know what an IP number actually means when you are trying to find out how durable a light is.
For example, an IP rating will tell you how effective a light is against water and dust ingress.
IP ratings are pretty straight forward to deconstruct and understand: The letters IP stand for ‘Ingress Protection’ rating, or ‘International Protection’ rating, and the numbers are split into two sections: Solids and liquids.
The first is a numerical digit from ‘0’ to ‘6’, with ‘6’ being the highest (or best) for rating against the ingress of solid objects, including fingers, rocks, sand, dust, wires and screws.
The second numerical digit from ‘0’ to ‘8’ is the rating against ingress by liquids for a certain amount of time to a certain depth or pressure. Again the higher the number, the longer and deeper the (in this case) light can stay submerged.
Here are the top eight IP ratings that we, as 4x4ers and campers, would expect to see in advertising blurbs.
|IP Number||First Digit-SOLIDS||Second Digit-LIQUIDS|
|IP60||Protected from total dust ingress||Not protected from liquids|
|IP61||Protected from total dust ingress||Protected from condensation.|
|IP62||Protected from total dust ingress||Protected from water spray less than 15 degrees from vertical.|
|IP63||Protected from total dust ingress||Protected from water spray less than 60 degrees from vertical.|
|IP64||Protected from total dust ingress||Protected from water spray from any direction.|
|IP65||Protected from total dust ingress||Protected from low pressure water jets from any direction.|
|IP66||Protected from total dust ingress||Protected from high pressure water jets from any direction.|
|IP67||Protected from total dust ingress||Protected from immersion between 15 centimetres and one metre in depth.|
|IP68||Protected from total dust ingress||Protected from long term immersion up to a specified pressure.|
|IP69K||Protected from total dust ingress||Protected from steam-jet cleaning.|
FIRST DIGIT: SOLIDS
|Level||Object size protected against||Effective against|
|0||Not protected||No protection against contact and ingress of objects.|
Any large surface of the body, such as the back of the hand, but no protection against deliberate contact with
|2||>12.5mm||Fingers or similar objects.|
|3||>2.5mm||Tools, thick wires, etc.|
|4||>1mm||Most wires, screws, etc.|
Ingress of dust is not entirely prevented, but it must not enter in sufficient quantity to interfere with the
|6||Dust Tight||No ingress of dust; complete protection against contact.|
SECOND DIGIT: SOLIDS
|Level||Object size protected against||Effective against|
|1||Dripping water||Dripping water (vertically falling drops) shall have no harmful effect.|
|2||Dripping water when tilted up to 15°||
Vertically dripping water shall have no harmful effect when the enclosure is tilted at an angle up to
|3||Spraying water||Water falling as a spray at any angle up to 60 degrees from the vertical shall have no harmful effect.|
|4||Splashing water||Water splashing against the enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful effect.|
Water projected by a nozzle (6.3mm) against enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful
|6||Powerful water jets||
Water projected in powerful jets (12.5mm nozzle) against the enclosure from any direction shall have
|7||Immersion up to one metre||
Ingress of water in harmful quantity shall not be possible when the enclosure is immersed in water
|8||Immersion beyond one metre||
The equipment is suitable for continuous immersion in water under conditions which shall be
1. ARB - INTENSITY 32 LED
$745.00 per light. Available at all ARB outlets.
Spot and spread beams available. We used one of each on test. Stainless-steel multi-position mounting point. Alan keys utilised for side mount tightening. An excellent combination of wide angle and long reach lighting.
2) BIG RED - 3 LED
$279.00 per light. Available from Repco, Autobarn, AutoPro, plus truck and 4x4 outlets. www.bigredled.com.auFree form reflector. Park light LED. Bright light at closer range but falls off quickly compared to others.
3) GREAT WHITE – 18 LED
$810.00 per light. Available from Repco, Autobarn and most 4x4 retailers. www.greatwhites.com.auUnique mounting method with a central bolt and two hand tightened side nuts. Very deep housing. Deutsch connector plugs into rear of housing rather than a wiring loom coming out of casing.
4) LIGHTFORCE – 180 7 LED
$495.00 per light. Available from select 4x4 retailers. Check
www.lightforce.comMulti-position, reversible mounting point. Claimed military grade cable and waterproof mechanical membrane. Good light output given smaller diameter, and provides a sharp wide angle spread.
5) LIGHTFORCE – 215 32 LED
$690.00 per light. Available from select 4x4 retailers. Check
www.lightforce.comEuropean chips sets. Military spec mechanical sealed waterproof membrane. Stainless-steel multi-position mounting bracket. Alan and hex keys utilised for side mount tightening. Four LED positional lights makes a total of 36 LEDs – hence the 4-pin plug. Incredible long and wide light output and rated number one in this test.
6) XRAY VISION – 220 6 LED
$625.00 per light. Available from all TJM stores.
www.xrayvision.netQuad-optic Multiplexer projector optical lens and reflector. LED-position lights. Patchy light throw with light combination of spot and spread. Single-ball-joint mounting system is easy to use.
7) POWER VISION – NITRO 24 LED
$625.00 per light (includes lens covers, wiring harness with switch, waterproof connections, relay and anti-theft nuts).
Available at all Opposite Lock stores. www.ultra-vision.com.auLong distance concentrated bright light throw combined with excellent wide angle light. Multi-mounting bracket. Hex keys for adjusting tilt. Feathered wide angle spread beam. Placed second best in this test.
8) POWER VISION – NITRO 8 LED
$549.00 (includes lens covers, wiring harness with switch, waterproof connections, relay and anti-theft nuts).
Available at all Opposite Lock stores. www.ultra-vision.com.auGood short distance light throw, combined with excellent wide angle light and wide long distance brightness. Multi-mounting bracket. Hex keys for adjusting tilt.
9) POWER VISION – RAPTOR 3 LED
$699.00 (includes lens covers, wiring harness with switch, waterproof connections, relay and anti-theft nuts).
www.ultra-vision.com.au. Available at all Opposite Lock stores.Excellent short and long distance brightness. Good central light, limited spread brightness. Lowest amperage draw.
THE WRAP UP
The are a few reasons why you should choose LED driving lights over halogen and HID. They are more efficient, offer greater illumination in both horizontal and vertical planes, they are whiter, more durable, have a superior lifespan and work instantly (no warm up time) every time.
The one reason why you may not use them is the price, but they will come down... soonish.
Given the light each manufacturer aims to deliver should be as long, wide, high and as evenly spread as possible, and with a brightness equivalent to natural daylight, I’d say most suppliers have scored top marks, with a few eye-popping standouts thrown in to the mix.
Though, driving with any of the tested LED driving lights will lighten any track enough to keep all but the most pragmatic driver happy.
Trying to nail a ‘best’ light out of a field of excellent lights is often hard and can be a somewhat subjective opinion. But, in this case three sets of lights shone (literally) above all others and were instantly recognisable out in the paddock.
The top picks are based mainly on that aforementioned light output, plus (to a lesser extent) ease and practicality of fitting to a bullbar, as well as ease of adjustment. Most of these lights have excellent mounting systems and there would be very few times they’d ever need adjusting – so any issues would probably be a one off affair.
Let the drum roll begin. Out of all these LED round driving lights, it was a very close call, but I’d bolt a set of Lightforce 215s to my mighty 4x4. They are indeed an excellent product; cast a tonne of evenly spread light, have brilliant specs and are far from the most expensive.
From the second they were turned on we were instantly impressed and astounded with the subsequent LUX recordings right to the end of our 550m test bed. While they are touted as 36 LEDs, four of them are positional lights – hence the different four-pin plug. The 215s are brighter than all others in the close to mid-range areas, cast superior useable spread and were a total delight to drive with. They are not cheap, but it will be money well spent if you want the best.
Next over the line, and a very close second, are the Power Vision Nitro (24 LEDs); these lights exhibited the most concentrated long distance spot (you can see the two beams firing out in the photo), with an excellent close-up spread. On the subject of that wide angle spread, study the pattern differences between this light and the Lightforce 215.
The Ultra Vision has a feathered and wider-edge pattern, while the Lightforce has a sharper more defined edge between light and dark. I’d imagine a feathered edge would be more desirable during high speed, long distance driving and would help to eliminate hard-to-discern dark sections off to the sides. Saying that, the Ultra Visions have a better close up spread pattern. It was at the spread testing distance of 100 metres (reflectors were placed at five metre intervals out to the side) combined with the final lux recording at the 550-metre mark that the Lightforce 215 and the Nitros excelled.
Third on the podium was a close call; with the Power Vision Nitro 8 just pipping the ARB Intensity lights. The Intensity lights come in a spot and spread beam options (we used one of each) and offered an excellent spread, mid-range and long distance light throw. The Nitro 8 has an excellent combination of short wide angle and long distance beam. It returned higher lux readings across the range combined with just 80W draw – an exceptional effort.
Look closely at the photos of the Nitro 8 and the ARB Intensity and you’ll see totally different spread pattern edges. A perfect lesson here is more is not better: The Nitro has eight LEDs, while the Intensity (and Lightforce 215) sport 32 (and 36) LEDs, albeit at different wattages.
Given these well-regarded brand names don’t come cheap, we did have one lower cost player in this test in the way of Big Red (an arm of well-know Brown & Watson). At roughly half to one third the price of all others, they represent a stepping stone into the LED driving light market. While they did cast a bright and concentrated light and return great LUX readings at the initial 50 metre mark, the light dropped off faster than the top players that were still burning at 550 metres. They don’t have that ‘super-high-quality-feel’ to them and don’t have a plug on the wiring loom.
Be sure to watch the video of our round LED driving light test and experience the amazing light throw of our winner: The mighty Lightforce 215.
With regards to LED light bars, we’ve got our hot mitts on a gaggle of metre-long units to put through their paces. Will they outperform the round driving lights or are they indeed only for short distance. Find out for yourselves in a future issue.