Lupine Wilma Headlamp/Bike Light/Photo Light
See the expanded and updated version of this article at WindInMyFace.com.
Last update: September 11, 2007
Update August 16, 2007: Lupine now offers the Betty in addition to the Wilma. Betty utilizes 7 LEDs instead of 4, making it substantially more powerful than Wilma, and with some other improvements as well. The best gets better
Update December, 2009: The improved Betty is now simply awesome, 25% brighter than before with a daylight color balance perfect even for photography.
Update May, 2010: The Betty has been further improved to 1850 lumens!
Please see September 10, 2007 blog comments on Betty.
The Lupine Lighting Systems (“Lupine”) Wilma is without a doubt the best all-around personal lighting system that money can buy. No matter what the use, you’ll be astounded by the amazing light output. At about US $620, some will be put off by the “high” price, but it’s not high at all in terms of value, being in a class by itself (your author having tried a number of lighting systems at considerable personal expense).
The Wilma offers unprecedented brightness, excellent color rendition, and long runtime in a durable LED lamp. It uses four high-grade 3-watt LEDs, together with custom electronics and lens system, all integrated into a robust housing with attached switch and connector.
The Wilma is a light that will satisfy 2 or 3 or 5 years later. Its build quality is outstanding, light quality and output is second to none, and it can handle just about any need.
Brightness? After dark on Dagger Flat Auto Trail (dirt road) in Big Bend National Park, I drove a rental Ford Explorer along...I switched off the headlights and held the Wilma out the window. While not quite as bright as the Explorer’s two high-beams, a 2nd Wilma would have made me happy to leave the Explorer’s headlights off, offering better coverage and more pleasing color rendition. Wattage ratings be damned—I’d take the Wilma. Of course, high power Xenon headlights on a Porsche or Mercedes or BMW eclipse the Explorer’s mediocre halogen headlights.
If you’re a photographer who wants to illuminate subjects at night, hike pre-dawn or post-dawn, etc, one Wilma mounted on a headbelt is perfect. The quick on/off settings and three brightness levels are versatile and allow matching the light output to the task. There is also a continuous dimming mode, but it is a bit awkward to control.
If you’re a hiker/backpacker, or just want an amazing light source around the house, inside the attic or closets, etc, a headband setup is perfect. The brightest level is actually too bright for many purposes; the lowest level is more than enough for nighttime hiking on trails, meaning you could hike all night.
If you’re a cyclist like me who rides at dusk or night, get two of them—one for the helmet and one for the handlebar. After all, a single ambulance ride will cost you the price of ten Wilmas—I’m amazed at the idiots who ride with a barely-visible light, or none at all. While you’re at it, add the PowerFlare to the rear of your bike.
If you want to go first-class for nighttime road cycling, here’s the deal:
- Two (2) Wilmas for the handlebar, using a “Y” connector to a single 13.8 Ah water-bottle battery—3 hour burn time on high.
- One (1) 950-lumen Edison 10° spot for the helmet with the 6.5Ah softcase battery—3 hour burn time on high. (Skip the 18° Edison, the Wilma is its equal).
Watch drivers pay attention with this triple-beam setup—I once had a car back up on a narrow road—the driver must have thought I was heavy machinery. Another favorite comment I’ve overheard was “Is that a car driving sideways?”, and “What kind of light is that?”, and “Nice lights!!!”. The 10° spot is terrific for aiming at inattentive (or drunken) drivers about to run a stoplight or stop sign—but use it for such purposes only with dangerous drivers as it is very bright and can impair nighttime vision temporarily.
The triple-beam setup allows comfortable road-riding up to 35 mph on dry roads, 25mph on rain-darkened pavement. By “comfortable”, I mean the ability to distinguish hazards such as sticks and potholes from cracks and other benign road conditions. However, with really dark fresh asphalt lacking reflective striping, even 5000 lumens will seems too dark. That’s where the 10°HID spot comes into play.
Mountain (off-road) cyclists will likely be quite satisfied with a single Wilma, but two are very helpful with rapidly changing terrain, especially when descending at high speed. The low angle of light from a lamp on the handlebar produces good contrast on the ground, but a light on the helmet allows placement of light just where it’s needed exactly when it’s needed, such as around tight turns on singletrack.
The ability to dim LED lights and/or turn them off is a huge benefit; nighttime full-moon climbs in open terrain on smooth ground sometimes require no artificial lighting at all.
Emergency use should not be forgotten. A flashlight is OK, but hands-free use is a big plus (try changing a tire or a diaper while holding a flashlight). Surefire flashlights are a good alternative if you want a flashlight that uses long-life batteries.
Women (or men) concerned for their safety in dark parking lots will find that the Wilma + headband and the 1.8Ah battery can easily fit into a purse or large pocket. Banish the dark shadows and the scum lurking therein—bright light is intimidating and attention-getting. Again, the Surefire flashlights are an excellent choice for this use, though not as bright.
The Wilma shone on highest output for at least 3 hours and 28 minutes of runtime (checking status every 5 minutes), or 26% longer than specified. (Actual runtime could have been up to 5 minutes longer, but I wasn’t watching every second). This is a fabulous performance. (The specifications are 2 hours 45 minutes for the Wilma with the 4.5Ah battery, verified with “Wolf” at Lupine).
Lupine is very conservative in its ratings. For example, a brand-new battery can have up to 20% more capacity than its specification, degrading gradually over its lifetime.
Extrapolating the runtime test to other battery sizes, one could reasonably expect to see the following runtimes***:
Runtime at highest output
|Battery||Runtime (hh:mm)||Weight (g)**||Comments|
runtime as tested @ 83°F
runtime as tested @ 77°F
|9.0 Ah||6:56*||430||water bottle
|13.8 Ah||10:37*||667||water bottle|
* Extrapolated from test with 4.5Ah battery, not actually tested
** Excepting the 9.0Ah battery, weights as actually weighed with case
*** actual light output was not measured, and could be a bit more or less than the rated 15 watts for steady-state usage.
Actual battery life will depend on the individual battery (all batteries vary slightly in capacity, internal impedance, etc), age, ambient temperature, etc.
Unless your needs are extreme, the 4.5Ah battery (“Wilma X”) is the sweet spot for size, weight and battery life. For those with shorter lighting needs, the featherweight 1.8Ah battery will be barely noticeable on the headbelt, and can be mounted directly to a cycling helmet as well.
- a brand-new 4.5Ah battery, freshly charged;
- ambient temperature 77° F (4.5Ah battery), 83°F (1.8Ah battery);
- a fan was used to cool the lamp such that it never became more than warm to the touch;
- the highest output setting was used;
- status was checked every 5 minutes using a countdown timer as a reminder to verify that the green and blue lights were both on (indicating highest output).
The last status check seen at full power was at 3 hours and 28 minutes; actual runtime could have been up to 5 minutes longer (staring at the battery status lights gets pretty boring). Note that this runtime was achieved at a relatively high ambient temperature, although the lamp head was kept relatively cool using the fan, a reasonable simulation of a bike ride at 15 mph or so.
Color accuracy is not just an issue for photographers! Depth perception, apparent brightness and visual acuity all depend on the lighting.
Compared with a daylight-balanced light, a light that is excessively blue impairs vision. Unfortunately, excessively blue light is common with HID and lower-quality LED lights. A light that is too yellow (eg a halogen) is preferable to one that is too blue, but still impairs visual separation of dissimilar objects.
While a far cry from a professional studio-quality light source, the Wilma’s color accuracy and uniformity across the entire beam is excellent for a flashlight or headlamp. Too many headlamps or flashlights are yellowish or bluish and produce mottled or discolored beams. The Wilma emits a uniform beam with its custom lens system, with no dark spots and with consistent color rendition across the illuminated area.
The image shown above was taken under conditions too dark to see in, using the Lupine Wilma to “paint” the scene during a 30-second exposure using the Canon EOS 5D, moving left to right and waving the light over the subject. The 3 brightness levels of the Wilma offer excellent control over exposure when “painting” a scene; I had to take a dozen or so exposures to achieve the desired lighting effect—one huge benefit to using a digital camera, with its immediate results.
It was processed usingcolor balance and picture style in Canon’s Digital Photo Professional 3.0, showing just how pleasing the color rendition is, with no custom white balancing required.
There are good products and there are great products. There are companies that sell their products, and there are companies that sell and truly support their products, such as Lupine Lighting Systems. The product is the 830-lumen Wilma LED headlamp, available in the USA via their US distributor Gretna Bikes.
The author has 3 Lupine Edison HID lamps and 2 Lupine Wilma LED lamps. The Lupine lighting system is a worthwhile investment. Here are just some of the reasons:
The cables, batteries, chargers and mounting system are interchangeable among most of Lupine’s HID, halogen and LED lamps. The cables are light weight and nicely flexible, an important issue when running them from helmet to pocket.
The mounting system is versatile, utilizing a heavy-duty rubber ring mounting system (two diameters) that can be used on bike helmets, a headbelt, a handlebar, seat post, etc, allowing a quick switch without tools.
The larger diameter rubber ring (not shown) accommodates a larger diameter handlebar, such as some carbon-fiber road-bike handlebars, which increase in diameter near the center.
Fine adjustments to tilt are easy. In fact, the ability to reach and grab to make a fine adjustment to tilt is invaluable on a bike helmet, because lighting angle changes depending on riding position on a road bike. Adjusting the tilt of the lamp can also be useful when the slope changes. However, see the gripe about handlebar mounting.
The Lupine Charger One charger (recommended, but about $100 extra) is the best I’ve ever seen for LiIon batteries, and it can charge a variety of Lupine battery types, can refresh batteries, etc, so it offers considerably more capability. Also, it can safely charge the Lupine LiIon batteries using 2.5 amps of current, versus 2.0 amps for the Micro Charger, leading to faster recharge times.
It displays the charging voltage, charging amperage and battery ampere-hours, very helpful in understanding how far along the charge cycle is. Shown below is the readout with a nearly drained battery.
The Lupine Micro Charger (standard) is more compact, but its power brick is larger, and it offers only a glowing light that changes color when the charge is complete. Lupine seems to be de-emphasizing their Charger One, which is a shame, since it’s such a nicely built and capable charger.
The remaining life battery indicator is accurate, and specified battery life is conservative; runtime in the author’s experience is almost always longer than the specified runtime.
There is a range of output modes, including:
- full on/off;
- high/medium/low, with selectable intensities;
- continuous dimming (though a bit tricky to adjust to a precise output);
- SOS, Alpine emergency and Superflash modes.
The author is planning to experiment with the Superflash mode using a red filter, facing the unit to the rear.
Six (6) battery choices [Lupine site] are available:
- three softcase batteries (1.8Ah, 4.5Ah, 6.5Ah)
- 2 water bottle batteries (9.0Ah, 13.8Ah)
- automobile battery (with the Konvertex; Includes cigarette lighter adapter and alligator clips).
Shown below are four of the five available battery choices (the softcase batteries are shown without their cases). A 3.0Ah battery would fill in the “hole” between the 1.8Ah and 4.5Ah battery batteries, but Lupine does not offer one. The 1.8Ah battery is perfect for the headbelt, but all sizes except the water bottle style work.
Unlike some companies, which blithely discard the previous lighting investments of their customers (author’s personal experience), Lupine chooses to Serve its customers by offering upward compatibility and indeed upgrades to current technology.
Case in point: the prior model of the Wilma can be upgraded to the new LEDs for just $149 (about 25% of the original system cost). While a smidgen less bright than the latest model (750 vs 830 lumens), it’s a huge improvement, offering nearly double the light output at the same battery life.
The Wilma offers outstanding runtime relative to battery size, on par or better than any product on the market, your author having tried a number of different brands. High efficiency is a function of quality parts and expert technical design. Internal electronics, which must convert electricity from the battery into the required voltage for the bulb/LED, are a major factor in “burn time” with headlamps and flashlights.
It is important not to confuse claimed lumens of light output with actual usable light (and its color). The Wilma “delivers the goods” with regards to light output; a custom-designed lens system in the lamphead maximizes its effectiveness. Even a coating on the lens glass helps a bit. That a light’s lens and reflector system is a major factor in actual performance will quickly become apparent should you purchase an inferior light and compare it side-by-side with a Wilma, or a Surefire flashlight.
Never buy a light based on its lumens rating alone; much depends on beam pattern, beam uniformity, color, etc, so there is plenty of room to make a Brand X light look good on paper with a high lumens rating, yet emit visibly inferior quantity and quality of light than a brand of allegedly “lower” output. There simply isn’t a scientific measure which can address these subjective factors satisfactorily; lumens is a crude rating and often quotes theoretical output at maximum efficiency at the bulb (not what actually falls on the dark pothole in the road).
Accessories include adapters to run or charge from a 12V car battery, an oversize mount, helmet and headbelt mounts. Shown below is the Wilma mounted on the optional “headbelt”.
The Wilma is a great product, but it’s not perfect. Here are a few things I’d like to see improved.
Lupine is to be commended for preserving past customer lighting investments, which includes maintaining the same connectors. However, the connector pins are problematic, because even a trivial misalignment can make it impossible (no matter how much force is applied), to seat the male pins inside the female end of the cable. The tolerances are tight enough that even brand-new equipment (right out of the box) has had this problem. Lupine supplies some Dutch Grease for lubricating the pins, especially for damp weather riding, but this does not seem to help with misaligned pins.
Worse, one connector/cable combination might work fine, and another won’t. Only a tool, like a very small screwdriver, allows access so that the pins can be bent ever so slightly so as to allow the connection to be made. Sometimes this reverses the situation; the adjustment might make a problem cable work, but another cable now will no longer seat properly. A few iterations make the whole kit work well together (the author has 5 batteries and 5 lamps, and several extension cables).
It’s best to take the time to verify that all cables/batteries/lampheads seat properly before a ride, to avoid the risk of riding through heavy traffic without lighting—your author spent 20 minutes downtown one night trying to seat the pins, struggling to use a ballpoint pen to bend them.
This gripe is not really Lupine’s fault, and all bike lights suffer from it to some degree. However, because Lupine’s mounting system sits lower on the bike handlebar than that of some competitors (which use a clip-on style with slightly more height), the beam can tend to shine directly onto the brake and/or shifting cables. This is distracting, and light is better used where it’s needed.
The author mounts the Lupine Wilma and Edison lights on his road bike upside down in order to minimize this problem. It is not an issue on his mountain bike.
The rubber-ring mounting design, while excellent in its quick and easy application, does preclude the ability to swivel the light left to right. A swivel capability can be very handy on some mountain bike handlebars that are curved and/or to aim the light just off center for road-riding. Lupine ought to offer a mount that allows a left-to-right swivel.
The Lupine Wilma brightness is on par with the Lupine Edison 18° HID (the brightest HID available to the author’s knowledge, based on actual comparisons, not specifications). Yet the Wilma is more durable and versatile; HID bulb life is degraded with each on/off cycle, offers only a high and low setting, and can be destroyed by impact (eg dropping onto concrete or pavement).
Excepting specialized uses (see below), LED is now the way to go!
However, for nighttime road cycling, the intense beam of the Lupine Edison 10° HID lamphead is my preferred choice for my bike helmet, with the Wilma(s) mounted on the bar. As of April 27, 2007, Gretna Bikes still had stock of various Edison models, at a 30% discount.
If you do choose an HID light, be aware that both high-end HID lighting systems I’ve tried (SuperNova, Lupine) both use the Welch-Allyn bulbs, which are highly variable (poor quality control), and can be damaged by shipping or mishandling. I’ve had to swap two bulbs (warranty) due to sub-par performance (one with Lupine, one with SuperNova). Do not accept an inferior bulb.
The SuperNova P99-D is excellent, but SuperNova stresses bulb lifetime over brightness, and as a result is only somewhat brighter than a single Lupine Edison, even though it uses two bulbs. Runtime is also only 2 hours, vs 3 hours for the Edison. And its heavier lamp and cables make helmet mounting awkward.
The Light & Motion ARC lights are good, and are about 1/2 the price of the Edison, but the author’s personal evaluation found that two of them are required to equal just one Lupine Edison. Color rendition of the Edison is much better also; the ARC is much too blue.
First, understand that there are variants of the Wilma; the lamp is the same in every case and the different designations have to do with the accessories and battery that are supplied. Variants include Wilma 4, Wilma 6, Wilma 8, Wilma X, and Wilma Pro. Buy the kit which contains the accessories you most need, as that will be slightly less costly than buying them separately.
For most users, the Wilma X kit offered by Gretna Bikes (USA buyers) will be the best choice. It includes the headbelt (but check current specs!), which is essential to exploiting the Wilma’s potential. Even cyclists thinking of using it on the bike most of the time will find that the headbelt is very handy.
Cyclists should get one helmet mount for each helmet. The lamphead can then be swapped among helmets and headbelt very quickly without tools. The lamphead itself with its attached cable and switch weighs 125.2 grams (as actually weighed on a scale accurate to 0.1 gram). This low weight means that it is very helmet-friendly, and doesn’t induce pressure points on one’s skull. By comparison, the Lupine Edison HID lamp weights 152.8 grams.
The author also recommends upgrading to the Charger One charger.
For direct attachment to the headbelt (cable-free operation), stick to the 4.5 Ah or 1.8Ah batteries (a 3.0Ah battery would be an ideal compromise, but Lupine doesn’t offer one). The 6.8Ah battery can also be used with the headbelt, but it’s a bit heavy over time. One can also stash the battery in a pocket, such as a bicycle jersey pocket, using an extension cable, and the author uses that approach for cycling. The 1.8Ah battery can be purchased as an accessory; get one if you find yourself using the Wilma with the headbelt for short amounts of time.
A battery in the jersey pocket is best in order to keep the helmet balanced, especially for off-road (dirt) use (extension cable required). There is only a modest difference between the 4.5Ah and 6.8Ah batteries when carried in a jersey pocket, and no noticeable difference when strapped to the bike frame, so the larger battery is a more versatile choice, allowing lengthier rides.
For the hard-core nighttime cyclist, the 13.8Ah water bottle battery is the best choice; skip the intermediate 9.0Ah battery unless the 200g weight difference is critical. Using the Lupine “Y” cable, two Lupine lights (two Wilmas, two Edisons, or a Wilma and an Edison) can be run off the same battery for a runtime of about 3 hours at maximum output, a very satisfying setup your author has now used many times. Alternately, a pair of the 6.5AH batteries can be strapped around the head tube area, leaving the water bottle cage available.
The following items were gleaned in email conversation with Lupine representative “Wolf”.
LEDs don’t fail like conventional bulbs, generally never “burning out”. Rather, their brightness will slowly diminish as their “mileage” increases. The emitted light will become more bluish. The effect depends both on the cumulative runtime and the stress placed on the LEDs, with high operating temperatures being a Very Bad Thing (just as with all electronic components).
Think of it like a car engine; usage wears out an engine slowly over time, but an engine can also be worn out in a single day on a racetrack when operated under extreme stress. Fortunately, Lupine’s advanced electronics actually contain an internal temperature sensor, and automatically cut light output (and therefore heat) if the lamp becomes too hot. The Wilma is rated to run at 15 watts continually, though output from 6 watts to 20 watts is possible with extremes of heat and cold respectively.
The Wilma’s deep cooling fins.
According to Lupine, at maximum operating temperature (eg conditions most stressful for the LEDs), light output will diminish by 10% after 1500 hours of burn time, 15% after 2500 hours. Lower operating temperatures should delay the “aging” of the LEDs significantly. Cyclists should be happy to know that continual air flow is very friendly to the Wilma. Your author verified this on a nighttime ride at 12°C/54°F, finding that at maximum output and an average speed of 20mph (32kph) the black anodized metal housing of the Wilma remained only slightly warm to the touch (the same was true of an Edison).
Lupine has a decade of experience with LED technology (the Wilma is not the first LED light Lupine has offered), and experience matters when building a light that will perform well 100% of the time. Careful design and testing are needed; one cannot simply assembly parts.
The Wilma uses four 3-watt LEDs, leading to an ostensible 12W output. Disassembling the Wilma, it’s plain to see that dissipating 3 watts from each of the tiny LEDs must create intense localized heat. Yet Lupine claims constant output of 15 watts, and up to 17 watts in cold conditions (under 5°C / 41°F with airflow), or as much as 20 watts in extremely cold conditions (below -20°C/-4°F—Iditarod anyone?). It’s all about heat dissipation. Longer burn times drop the output to 15 watts as the lamphead heats up. How does the Wilma produce 15/17 watts from 12 watts worth of LEDs?
First, the Wilma’s all-metal body and deep heat fins allow rapid heat dissipation. Second, its sophisticated electronics, including an internal temperature sensor, allow the Wilma to run the LEDs at optimal and safe (non-damaging) temperatures, dropping the wattage with inadequate cooling. The LEDs themselves run at peak efficiency at around 25°C/77°F (“junction temperature”), though that is unrealistic for ongoing operation (and the basis for unrealistic claims about lumens per watt by some LED manufacturers). When switched on, the Wilma draws a few extra watts for a fraction of a second until its operating range is reached, then adjusts power draw up to 15 times per second so as to maintain an operating temperature from 25°C to a maximum of 120°C. Beyond 120°C, light output, color temperature and LED lifetime degrade badly, so maintaining operating temperature within bounds is critical.
Your author cycled last winter (using HID lights) in below-freezing temperatures at 15-25 mph (25-40 kph). Such conditions would likely allow the new Wilma to maintain a 17 watt output, though it’s unclear how the LiIon battery pack fares under such cold conditions.
The Lupine Lighting Systems Wilma is an outstanding choice for a durable, versatile and extremely bright lamp, which can be used for photography, cycling or any night-time activity. For certain specific purposes, HID lights, very compact headlamps or flashlights might be a better choice, but the Wilma beats them all as a generally useful and top quality light source—an excellent value given its capabilities.
Contact: email a comment on this article.
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