Review: Cat Eye Volt 800 (HL-EL471RC) front light

Alas, the little Cat Eye Nano Shot front light I bought along with Bino in 2013 died a feeble “death.” Well, maybe that’s incorrect. The LED emitter and optics still worked fine, but its proprietary internal 1050 mAh battery had given up any semblance of holding a charge.

My dearly departed Cat Eye Nano Shot: 2013-2016. Rest in peace

Theoretically, I could order a new battery (but I highly doubt local availability), open the Nano Shot chassis up, and swap it with the old one. Given my experience with the Volt 1200, though, the 200-lumen Nano Shot just wasn’t going to cut it for me any more. It was time to upgrade…and I now had specific demands.

Is the Volt 800 front light going to satisfy those demands?

FEATURES

  • Single white high-intensity LED emitter with OptiCube optics and reflector design
  • Replaceable 3100 mAh, 3.6V cartridge battery
  • Mounts via FlexTight bracket
  • Five modes
    • High: 800 lumens @ 2 hours burn time
    • Normal: 400 lumens @ 3.5 hours burn time
    • Low: 200 lumens @ 8 hours burn time
    • HyperConstant: 200 lumen beam + 800 lumen pulse @ 7 hours burn time
    • Flashing: 200 lumen strobe @ 80 hours burn time
  • Rechargeable via included micro-USB cable or optional charging dock

IMPRESSIONS

This thing is sleek. The blocky Volt 1200 could look out of place on a road bike, and the Nano Shot can give off a toy-like vibe at times. In contrast, the Volt 800 looks right at home.

On the surface, the appeal of this light to me was how it could pack a large punch in a package half the size of the Volt 1200. It so happens that the main things about this light, the 3100 mAh battery and single LED emitter, are exactly half that of its older big brother.

Also noteworthy is its appearance. The Volt 800’s light head comes in anodized black, a treatment it shares with many of the second-generation Volt front lights, like the Volt 400 and Volt 1600. So far, it has resisted the cosmetic corrosion I got with the Volt 1200 and its bare aluminum light head. At max power, the light head can get warm, but not as scaldingly hot as the Volt 1200 does.

Basic layout is the same as with most other Volt front lights. The optics still have cutouts at the sides in a bid to improve side visibility, although they’re proportionally a little larger here. There’s a lone button up top which glows red when the battery runs low or is charging.

Underneath, a rubber grommet on a strap still provides protection for the micro-USB port. It uses the trusty FlexTight bracket; the mounting foot here slides and clicks into the middle rail instead of surrounding it on the outside.

The rear of the Volt 800 is made up by its replaceable cartridge battery. Instead of mounting up with three bolts, this screws itself into the light head and terminates in a satisfying soft click. The screw-in design is friendlier for quick battery swaps than that of the Volt 1200’s, whose battery on mine is pretty much permanently seized inside the light head. Cat Eye even sells a two-way dock you can use to either quick-charge this battery, or as a power bank for charging other devices.

SAMPLE BEAM SHOTS

All photos were taken with a Panasonic Lumix LX5 with identical exposure settings: F/2.8, 1/2 second shutter, ISO 400, 50 mm. The camera was simply placed on top of the saddle, unsecured, and may have been slightly nudged sideways with each press of the shutter release button. The lights were tilted about 5 degrees down from horizontal to avoid dazzling other road users.

OFF

Volt 800 – LOW mode @ 200 lumens. (The HyperConstant mode’s steady beam is identical.)

Volt 800 – NORMAL mode @ 400 lumens.

Volt 800 – HIGH mode @ 800 lumens.

Here’s how the Volt 1200 fares in the same location, for comparison.

Volt 1200 – ALL-NIGHT mode @ 200 lumens. (The HyperConstant mode’s steady beam is identical.)

Volt 1200 – NORMAL mode @ 600 lumens.

Volt 1200 – DYNAMIC mode @ 1200 lumens.

Side-by-side against the Volt 1200, the Volt 800’s light has a slightly cooler, bluer tint. Apart from that and the lower max intensity, they share a lot in common. The beam pattern is still a tightly controlled rectangle which emphasizes seeing off into the distance over short-distance flood lighting. It doesn’t seem to mind being mounted upside-down, either.

LIVING WITH THE LIGHT

One notable change from the Volt 1200 was the pulse frequency for the HyperConstant and Flashing strobe modes. On the 1200, both modes have quick turnover – perhaps even obnoxious and seizure-inducing on the Flashing mode. On the Volt 800, the pulse frequency is a little more relaxed and friendlier in both modes.

The improvement I appreciated the most on the Volt 800 was its button programming. A long press turns the light on or off; once on, single presses on the button cycle through the different modes as listed above. This time, Cat Eye finally got the hint that a quick double press of the button should instantly switch over to the High 800-lumen mode; the next button press returns to whatever the previous mode was. I wish I could export that programming to the Volt 1200 because it’s just so useful. For most of my riding, I just switch between HyperConstant and High, to squeeze as much operating time as I can out of the battery while maintaining good visibility.

That brings us to the intended purpose of this light. Unlike the Volt 1200, whose mammoth battery makes it a super-versatile monster of a front light that can swallow either a 200 km audax or 10 days of commuting on a single charge, the Volt 800 leans more heavily toward commuting. In the day, you could get by with HyperConstant; switch over to Flashing in the bright light of noontime for extra attention. The 400 and 800 lumen modes ensure that fast-paced night rides can be done more safely.

All the while, you’re going to be more aware of the limitations of the battery’s legs, especially since a full charge from empty will require five to eleven hours depending on how much current you can push into it. Buy a spare battery or two, though, and all concerns of burn time anxiety go out the window. If you also own either a Volt 300, Volt 400, or Volt 700, or the Volt 50 rear light, you can use any of those lights’ batteries in the Volt 800, as they all share the same basic chassis.

VERDICT

Like the Volt 1200 that I got before it, this is not a cheap light. It is, however, just as packed with value, although I do feel investing in a least one spare battery increases that. The 800-lumen emitter, good optics, and improved button logic make it investment-grade. Everything else checks the important boxes for me.

Highly recommended.

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