Today’s mail call and mini review brings us the Rotary flashlight from HDS Systems. If you are looking for a flashlight that will survive the nuclear apocalypse, stop reading, as you’ve found it. Oh, and if you just need a high quality light for every day carry (EDC) usage, don’t worry, you’re covered there, too!
Based out of Arizona, HDS Systems (formerly Ra Lights and HDS Lights) has been cranking out reliable LED (light emitting diode) flashlights for years. Though they are a very small company, owner Henry Schneiker takes pride in the fine details — and it shows through as soon as you pick up one of his lights. All of them even come with a lifetime warranty, not that you’re likely to need it.
One great option offered by HDS is the ability to choose from various configurations and build a custom flashlight to suit your preferences. If you’d like a cool white or a warm-tinted LED emitter, hard anodized or Cerakoted finish, or even a different battery setup, go crazy. There is a small charge for building your own ($10), and there can be a lead time of a couple weeks, but it’s worth it for getting the exact light you want.
Shown in this review is a Custom Rotary, programmed to operate as an EDC model, outfitted with a High CRI 200 lumen LED, standard clear glass lens, black bezel and body, CR123A battery compartment, and a raised tailcap button. (If you want the exact same setup you see here, the item number is #CRoH200LgRsBbb123RCno.)
High CRI 200 Lumen LED:
Wondering what the advantage is of having a High CRI emitter in a flashlight? The HDS website has a great explanation, as shown below:
“This LED produces a calibrated 200 lumens with a pleasant warmer neutral white output with a high color rendering index (CRI). The warmer neutral white output is around 4000°K, which approximates late afternoon sunlight. This LED has a CRI of around 93, which allows it to render colors much more accurately than conventional white LEDs. Emitter: Nichia 219B.”
Personally, after using warmer and neutral-tinted lights, it would be hard to go back to the sterile output of cooler-tinted lights. One place where you really notice this difference is outdoors; the grass looks green, the leaves look brown, and all colors look natural. This is also a very useful feature in medical settings, electrical work, map reading, and so on.
The standard reflector in HDS lights appears to have evolved over the years, as they used to be of the orange peel variety, with quite a bit of flood. Now they have a smoother, deeper reflector that has a bit more throw to the beam. There is still some flood, but you get the best of both worlds.
Build Quality and Specs:
The Custom Rotary is one beefy, solid light. It weighs in at 3.60 ounces (102 g) with a CR123A battery installed, according to the manufacturer (and the scales here matched right up). Looking over the fit & finish, you’d be hard pressed to find any issues. The anodizing is flawlessly applied, the black nitride bezel looks great, the LED is perfectly centered, and the reflector does a great job paired up with the emitter. The dial turns smoothly back and forth, and the steps between each light level have been well chosen.
The electronics are fully potted, and the light is regulated in output, just to name a few details. There is a great write-up with diagrams and specifications on the HDS website — click here. If desired, you can also use the light with certain types of rechargeable 123 cells (see HDS FAQ’s here).
If there is anything even remotely out of place, it sure couldn’t be found by this author. Perhaps a testament to the build quality is that the light shipped in a small USPS Priority Mail box with no padding, just the minimal plastic packaging. Though the box got somewhat smashed during transit, the light was no worse for wear and fired right up.
Interface and Operation:
The User Interface (UI) of the HDS Rotary is one of the simplest that you could ask for, especially considering how advanced this light can be. A tailcap button works in conjunction with a rotary control dial, allowing you to dial in just the right amount of light needed for tasks. The button itself allows for on/off, as well as access to momentary maximum output, strobe modes, and opens the door to even more advanced programming and customizing. Honestly, in its stock form, the EDC Rotary is good to go without modification. (There is also a Tactical Rotary version, which eliminates some of the rotary presets in exchange for being able to access tactical strobe and full output from the second half of the dial.)
The other sibling model offered is a Clicky-style flashlight; where four preset levels or strobe modes are selected by way of the tailcap button, with no dial. While they are just as durable as the Rotary, they give up ease-of-access to the various intermediate light levels on the fly. However, you do save a few greenbacks going with the Clicky model, and there are better clip options available.
Speaking of clips… those folks looking for a pocket clip option for their Rotary can find a universal model offered by HDS, although it is somewhat costly ($54 at time of writing), and appears a little more functional than aesthetic. This is where the Clicky models shine for pocket carry; there are various clips offered through both HDS and third-party manufacturers.
Having used four different HDS flashlights in the past, there was only one issue that ever cropped up in a single light (parasitic battery drain), and it was quickly fixed under warranty. That gives a lot of confidence and peace of mind for the end user. Besides, the rumor is that HDS flashlights were originally developed for caving applications, a place where failure is not really an option.
While HDS lights do come with a bit of sticker shock, they are built to last, hold their value, and could probably be passed down as a family heirloom. Heck, it might just be the last flashlight you buy, assuming you don’t lose it!
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