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Let there be lights!

High-intensity headlight bulb test

19/03/2013 00:19 | Comments: 


As typical of a long-serving automotive journalist he worked at nearly all of the major printed automotive magazines in Hungary before ending up on the internet. More of the new cartester type, he’s also an automotive engineer by profession. Although he’s the editor in chief
of the mother magazine,, he loves doubling as a photographer – we sometimes
think he made a mistake when choosing titles. Has a wife and a small daughter.

Contributing editor

Ahead of most of us in the race of „who bought the most cars in the last two years”, Göbi is the real techno-pro of the mother magazine, He has an engineering job at a motorcycle brand, so he makes up for time the lost time with Torx screws in his garage, which is as clean as a pharmaceutical factory. A nice VW Bug came up in the ads with Porsche suspension? He buys it and tunes it to 146 PS. A green, bog-standard Bug is on sale in the neighborhood? He collects that too, restores it. What about a nice Fiat 127? An as-new Merc W124…? And his technical writings are just as precise as his passion for cars – they steamroller the readers.

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We are telling you the truth, let’s say 60% more truth about high intensity filament bulbs being 60% better than others. No, let it be 90% more truth, just like it is written on the packaging of those extra bright bulbs. Are they really worth their price? We are going to tell you.

Even though there are different headlamps available for a given car, the easiest way to improve the lighting power of the headlamp is fitting a premium, high intensity filament bulb.

We are getting older and our eyesight is much less sensitive than it was when we were younger, or we just have to drive a lot at night times – in both cases the best way to improve visibility is fitting a bulb with the same wattage but higher intensity.

The H4 bulb, one of the last dinosaurs of its kind, is still used by many. This was the most popular filament bulb in the past, today however the newer H7 format starts to replace it. The H7 has one filament, the H4 has two filaments so it has the reflector and the dimmed beam fitted in one bulb.

Since the law only prescribes the shape and wattage of the filament bulb, you can get a higher light intensity from a H4 bulb and still be within the standards, so the auhorities will still accept it as officially legal. The higher wattage – 80/100 W – bulbs are illegal, so it is also illegal to mark them as H4 standard on the package. .

According to our plans this test will consist of two phases. In the first phase we are going to make laboratory measurements in the meeting room of Totalcar, while the second phase will consist of a real life test, so we are going to fit the bulbs into our normal cars used everday. Unfortunately my own Beetle, the old Merc of a colleague and the Autobianchi Bianchina of another are not going to take part in the show, since they are using older R2 non-halogen filament bulbs.

In the real test we will check whether the light intensity decreases after the bulbs are fitted into the cars and we will check wheter their lifetime is longer or shorter than that of the regular bulbs. It is common knowledge that the brighter ones have a shorter life cycle.

All the tests are repeatable and all the circumstances are defined properly. The repeatability almost failed when I made a wrong move and all the test equipment almost fell down and crashed. It was close call, but no harm was done.

The laboratory was chosen to be the meeting room of Totalcar since it has only one window and is easy to make a dark room of it. Also it is at least 4 meters long, so we do not have to project the light on the white wall from a mere half meter. We fetched a photo lightmeter (serial number, type and make in the office) and made the test equipment out of a cupboard box and a Golf I headlamp made by Bosch in 1977. This headlamp is a parabolic type, and it's quite easy to change the bulb in it, moreover the position of the bulb is pretty much the same after each change. This is very important, since the beam pattern projected on the wall actually depends on the position of the bulb.

The power supply was a 55 Ah battery and an automatic battery charger, so the voltage was absolutely the same at each measurement. The changer can supply up to 8A but we need only 2-3 amps since the battery was in very good condition, just taken out of my car.

The voltage has a very important role: higher voltage means higher illumination up to a point where the life cycle of the filament ends. The voltage was exactly 12.7 V at each measurements.

The bulb has other important factors other than light intensity. The size, the geometry also play a very important role, because the bulb is the starting point of a nice and even beam pattern. The second step in the way of the light is the lamp itself, the size, the mirror and the glass of it, since it determines the beam pattern. In that case it was a rather old type of lamp. If the bulb is out of specification regarding the size and position of the filament, then the beam pattern will be awful, and at the end the visibility and the light intensitywill decrease. The best way to to measure the size and the geometry of the bulb is to do it indirectly, by measuring the light intensity outside the euro beam pattern. As a bulb gets more and more out of the specification, the more light will appear outside the beam pattern, that is for sure.

We have no other job to do but waitfor the dark which is unfortunately pretty late here in summertime (when the test was concluded).

The measurement will be done on the wall at four points, exactly four metres from the reflector. The first measuring point was just at the hight of the lamp's centreline – we expect the highest light intensity at that measuring point. The other two measuring points were just under this point imitating the light intensity just in the foreground of our car. The fourth point was just above the beam cutoff line to measure the intensity of stray lights. This stray light is the enemy of the drivers coming the other way, blinding them as they glare into those lights.

We did not make a big fuss about buying the bulbs. My college just popped in a car parts shop and bought what was available. So at the end we had a General Electric H4 reference bulb and five contenders. The contenders promised to give 60-90% more light intensity. Some just promised “up to 60% more light”, which theoretically could mean even just 30% if the circumstances are not ideal.

Pay attention to the fact, however, that our eyes can fool us, even if the results of test say otherwise. The sensitivity of our eyes is depending on the color of the light (the so-called color temperature measured in Kelvin). So it can happen that we see one light to be stronger than the other just because the color of the light is closer to our eyes' sensitivity, closer to the natural color of the sun which is about 5000 K.

The halogen bulbs are around 2800-3200 K which is a more yellowish color. The color can be altered by the coloring of the glass, or more professionally with bulbs filled with gases. Colouring the glass of the bulb is a cheapo thing, since this method decreases the intensity of the emitted light. Our stupid eyes can cheat us to see it to be more intensive because of the color, but we definitely will not have a better view of the pedestrian at the side of the dark road.

At first we fitted the normal H4 GE reference bulb into the lamp and measured the intensity at the measuring point. The beam patter was nice, the cutoff line was sharp. We dotted down the values we measured – these values were the standards we measured at the other bulbs to..

Tungsram Megalight plus 60%

We could not measure any higher light intensity, in the centreline it was even a little less intense, but the beam pattern was wider and seemed a little more white as well. We would not say it is any better, but the overall result was good.

GE Megalight Ultra up to 90%

The measurement gave us higher light performance and it was verified by our own eyes as well. This is a better bulb than our reference H4 GE but not by 90%, that is for sure.

White Hammer +50% (filled with Xenon gas)

Lower light intensity and the beam pattern is more narrow. There are big words on the package promising to change the whole world but these are just empty words. It was not up to the level our reference bulb and the GE Megalight was a way ahead of this Xenon gas filled item.

Ultimate Speed

This is a selection of different bulbs, it does not promise anything, but we tried it anyhow. When we opened up the package we realized that the bulb itself absolutely the same as the White Hammer. The shape, the material of the rim were all the same. And the same results as well. Somehow we felt it a little more of a white color, but it was just a slight impression, nothing more.

Osram Silverstar +50%

Very nice package containing a slim, narrow bulb. The product seems to be very professional, but the measured values did not show anything special. It was worse than the GE Megalight, but it had the most white-ish colour and so we felt it to be more intense .

The beam pattern is quite wide, I would not call it bad in any way.

Overall we can say that the 60-90 % more light intensity is absolutely not measurable with our basic DIY equipment, but definitely there are differences between the bulbs.

Our test-winner is the GE Megalight by a low margin. Next time we will measure them in a different way. By the way, we will turn ourselves into professionals by then...

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