Review: Cat Eye Volt 1200 (HL-EL1000RC) front light

The Cat Eye Nano Shot was a good beginner “to-be-seen” light. I found the 206-lumen output a little limiting after a while, especially in the irregularly illuminated streets of Metro Manila. For a better night riding experience, I needed more powerful equipment.

 

I bought this monster while vacationing in Shinjuku in the summer of 2014. Let’s see what it’s got.

FEATURES

  • Two white LED emitters with OptiCube optics and reflector design
  • 6200 mAh, 3.6V replaceable cartridge battery
  • Mounts via FlexTight bracket
  • Five modes
    • Dynamic: 1200 lumens @ 2 hours burn time
    • Normal: 600 lumens @ 5 hours burn time
    • All-Night: 200 lumens @ 17 hours burn time
    • HyperConstant: 200 lumens + 1200-lumen flash @ 14 hours burn time
    • Flashing: 100 hours burn time
  • Rechargeable via included micro-USB cable

IMPRESSIONS

Out of the box, this thing is hefty at a rated 214 g. It’s nowhere near as sexy or as discreet as the Nano Shot is, so it may look out of place on a sleek road bike, but it’s also six times as powerful.

The black cartridge battery makes up two-thirds of the Volt 1200’s length, and attaches to the lamp body via three hex bolts. Theoretically this design means you can carry a spare battery and swap it out when it goes flat.

The box contains the Volt 1200, the FlexTight bracket, and a stubby micro-USB cable.

Along the top edge of the aluminum lamp body is a row of heat-dissipating fins, which surround the lone control button. As with the Nano Shot, it has an internal red LED which glows in depleted-charge conditions. The underside contains the mounting latch for the FlexTight bracket (the same one the Nano Shot used, and still works well!) and the rubber grommet covering the micro-USB charging port.

Underside of the Volt 1200 as mounted. The Nano Shot has a rail that went in the FlexTight mount, while the Volt 1200 has a foot that wraps around the outside of the mount.

So, what you would need 1200 lumens of light for? The first time I tried it at maximum output, I let out an evil, maniacal cackling laugh – such was its power. That 1200-lumen rating isn’t for show; it’s the truth. Let’s just say you could temporarily blind people with this monster if aimed incorrectly, and its max power is great for riding trails at night if you were so inclined.

With that power comes a surprising amount of heat. Best not to rest your fingers on the lamp body at full power, because it can get quite hot. No scalding risk at any other setting, though.

BEAM PATTERN AND MODES

 

Cat Eye provides small cutouts at the sides for side visibility – not much, but anything is better than nothing. With the Volt 1200 dipped 10 degrees to avoid blinding dazzle, the beam is as wide as my cross bike’s handlebars, but the optics throw it down the road a considerable distance. It’s a tightly controlled rectangle of light, minimizing light throw into wasteful upward angles.

Yet, the real draw with this light is its versatility. When riding at night, I use it most often in the half-power, 600-lumen “Normal” mode. This is enough to illuminate the road, while warning people and traffic of your presence – for five long hours. So useful and so effective is the Volt 1200 at half power, that I’m now convinced 600 lumens is the absolute minimum light output for any front light worth my consideration. Anything less potent is a back-up light at best.

If you’re like me, and ride around with lights even in sunlight, the HyperConstant and Flashing modes are useful. HyperConstant mode is a steady 200-lumen beam with an intermittent full-power flash, and best used as a less-annoying version of the Flashing strobe mode. Better yet, they draw less current, so battery life lasts even longer.

LIVING WITH THE LIGHT

A long prod of the button turns it on and off. Once on, it rotates around the four main modes, starting from full power, then weaker with each press. A quick double press gets you in and out of Flashing mode.

The programming of the control button could be better. If it were up to me, I would step up in power with each press, and reserve the double press for going in and out of the full-power Dynamic mode instead.

Battery removed using a 3 mm hex key for the bolts. SD card for size comparison.

The battery sinks into the rear cavity of the light body for mounting. This can seize up and prevent future removal, so regularly keep this clean while you still can.

My main complaint with the Volt 1200 is its susceptibility to corrosion. Maybe it’s because of my sweat, but after two years, it’s grown raised blisters all over and a green powder between the top cooling fins. It’s all cosmetic, mind you; it’s ugly but doesn’t affect the light’s functionality or performance, but I suspect it’s also responsible for permanently seizing the cartridge battery inside the light body.

If you have a Volt 1200, make sure you regularly remove the battery and clean its mating surfaces with the light body – maybe even grease it as protection from seizing.

Cosmetic corrosion on the underside of the Volt 1200’s aluminum body.

Cosmetic aluminum corrosion on the Volt 1200’s top side. Note the greenish tinge between the fins. None of this affects operation or safety, though.

That said, that 6200 mAh battery holds its original rated charge excellently into its third year of use, unlike the Nano Shot’s piddly 1050 mAh cell, so the seizing isn’t much of a problem. The Volt 1200’s shining moment was the December 2015 Subic-Masinloc-Subic 200 km brevet, where I put it in service for the entirety of my 11-hour effort. Switching between modes accordingly, but always in operation, it was never in any danger of running out of juice.

When depleted, it’ll take fourteen hours to recharge. If you have a high-current USB charger (around 1 A of output), the wait is cut down to eight hours. Personally, I use the Volt 1200 all week, and charge it on weekends or while asleep.

SAMPLE BEAM SHOTS

All photos were taken with a Panasonic Lumix LX5 at ISO 400 sensitivity, an aperture of F/2.8, and a 1/2-second shutter. The Nano Shot is shown mounted on the handlebars, but was turned off the whole time.

Volt 1200 – OFF

Volt 1200 – ALL-NIGHT mode @ 200 lumens. (HYPERCONSTANT mode is comparably bright.)

Volt 1200 – NORMAL mode @ 600 lumens.

Volt 1200 – DYNAMIC mode @ 1200 lumens.

VERDICT

The Volt 1200 is not anybody’s idea of cheap. It also offers a lot of value. With its powerful twin-LED emitter and good beam-shaping optics, it gives you plenty of usable light output.

For some perspective, to get a front light with anywhere near 1200 lumens in the past, the price of admission used to be more than twice what the Volt 1200 cost.

Add to that its monolithic battery capacity and well-considered modes, and you have an versatile, investment-grade front light that is in no danger of becoming obsolete any time soon. If you ride a lot at night, it will definitely save your skin.

Highly recommended – even over its newer Volt 1600 brother.

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8 thoughts on “Review: Cat Eye Volt 1200 (HL-EL1000RC) front light

  1. Nice review! I use a Volt 300 for my commuting and I’m thinking of upgrading to a Volt 800 someday. My commutes take about an hour at dawn or dusk and the Volt 300 does a good enough job, but quickly meets its limitations once you pick up speed or once you ride in lit areas. It’s still a good upgrade from a near useless HL-EL135. At least with your review, I more or less have an idea of what at least 600 lumens can do. Hoping to get to upgrade soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Volt 800 should be great. A buddy of mine was able to put its predecessor the Volt 700 into good use at a 400 km audax. Not sure if he had it running the whole time but he found it very useful at night.

      Like

  2. Nice review. I got two Volt 300s myself, which I use one at a time when biking at night (usually from work) in relatively well-lit areas. I got them in 2014 and while both have been dislodged from my drop bars while riding, none of the two have suffered from corrosion nor has performance been compromised. There are nicks though after they fell from my drop bars during or immediately after crossing EDSA.

    Liked by 1 person

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