Sunday, November 24, 2013

HDS Rotary Executive 200 Review

The history of the the HDS Rotary is a long one.  It was introduced and there were bugs.  Then it was tweaked and all but disappeared from the marketplace.  Ones and twos leaked out and Henry's waitlist grew very long.  I had written them off a long, long time ago.  My logic was pretty simple: a waitlist that long is the equivalent of saying "You'll get one eventually."  This indefinite wait in the world of flashlights and emitter technology is simply unacceptable.  By the time you'd get your light it would be outdated.  You would have paid for state of the art and you would received the best in class five years ago.

Oh how wrong I was.

I found a retailer selling the HDS Rotary unbranded, but a look at the light and the links told me this was an HDS Rotary.  I plunked down $200 and started to wait.  Unlike folks on Henry's list however my wait was about 4 days.  The Rotary arrived and I was instantly, instantly taken in.  From about the second day of the testing period the question changed from "Is this a good light still?" to "Is this the best light ever?"  I don't say that lightly.  I have had a chance to handle and own some of the finest illunmination tools ever devised by the human brain and the HDS Rotary rivals or bests most of them.  This is rarified air.

The 200 lumen output is not an issue.  Its more than enough, and it is a real 200 lumens, no baloney.  But the key to the Rotary's success is just how polished, worked over, and refined it is.  You can be best in class through sheer innovation or by taking a good idea and distilling it to perfection.  Its the Telsa v. Mercedes debate.  The MBI HF-R is the Telsa.  The HDS Rotary is the Mercedes.  The question I will answer by the end of the review is simple--is this the best light of all time?  Right now, writing this intro before I finish testing, I am not sure, but it is definitely in the running.  

Here is the HDS Rotary page.  Availability is still very limited.  The HDS Rotary Executive 200 costs $200.  There are three HDS models--the Twisty, the Clicky, and the Rotary.  They all come in a variety of outputs--100 lumens, 140 lumens, 170 lumens, 200 lumens, Hi CRI, and IR.  There are two tailcap configurations--Tactical and Executive.  The tactical tailcap protrudes making tailstanding impossible.  The executive is flush and tailstands well.  You can get a AlTiN coated bezel that is grayish-purple or a silver bezel.  You can get mineral glass or sapphire for the lens.  Additionally, you can mix and match features to make a full custom HDS light.  The HDS Rotary Executive 200 is my ideal configuration.  Here is Snareman's video treatise on the HDS Rotary (his is a Tactical model).  Here is the latest HDS thread on CPF (the HDS cult is powerful on CPF, now I know why).  Finally, here is my review sample (purchased with personal funds for my personal collection):


Twitter Review Summary:  A gloriously refined light that is among the best in the world. 

Here is my video overview of the HDS Rotary Executive 200:

Design: 2

The Arc 4 chassis gave rise to the Ra lights that became the HDS lights.  It also begat the Novatac series of lights.  Over a decade old this simple shape still works very, very well.  Henry didn't just make the shape better, he essentially rebuilt the chassis from the ground up, all with an eye towards much, much better durability and functionality.  The position of the selector ring towards the rear of the light is a stroke of genius, making this one of the three best UIs I have ever used.  It is precise, easy, and functions without the ability to see.  I'd like a bit smaller body and the inclusion of a pocket clip, but the lack of those things is vastly overshadowed by just out stout and elegant this light is.

Fit and Finish: 2

If there is something askew about this light I couldn't find it.  The Rotary is so smooth, so tightly put together, it feels like it is made of a single piece of aluminum.  It has a heft to it, a solidity to it that is very rare.  The walls of the Rotary are significantly thicker than any light I have ever seen or handled.  The Rotary seems like it could be dropped off the top floor of my house on to the ground and still work. In fact, some of the endurance tests on the HDS site seem to confirm this.  The head is fully potted meaning the electronics are sealed in a resin or glue making them less susceptible to shock and moisture.  The threads are acme threads that are trapezoidal instead of triangular in shape.  This makes it much more difficult to cross thread.  It also makes them much heartier.  The bezel is stainless steel and it has a nice stonewashed finish to it.  It also seems to be as thick as the steel on a bulldozer shovel.  For all of this durability the Rotary still feels downright refined, like a well used tool a decade or two old with no sharp edges.  The fit and finish is worth more than a two, but it would break the scale.  This is one of the reasons why the Rotary is so extraordinary.    


Grip: 2

I love the simple but usefil shape to the Rotary and the mild knurling is downright perfect--grippy but not offensive.  The grip is great because it also does this:


The shape puts your hand in the right place to both control the selector ring and use the clicky.  All of this can be done with one hand and it makes the Rotary simply amazing.  In addition to these two things, the Rotary has that perfect length to diameter ratio that is the mark of quite a few great flashlights.

Carry: 2

The Rotary is JUST on the right side of big.  Any bigger and it would be too big.  A clip would be nice, but the selector ring makes it impossible for the normal HDS clip to work.  Don't even think about the old HDS clip, that thing was a design disaster.  The Rotary can still slip into a coin pocket and hide there.  It is also not terrible dropped in a pocket, even without a clip.

Output: 2

Look, the lumens arms race is a suckers bet.  You DON'T need that a 1,000 lumens.  Its fun to have, but in an EDC light it is almost always too much.  I like the max high here at 200 lumens.  Its fine.  Not the best out there, but plenty good.  The real star here is the low.  The low on the Rotary is the best I have ever seen in a light.  It is enough to illuminate stuff in the dark, but not enough to rob your night vision.  Furthermore the other 15 gradients of output all seem helpful and are easy to access.  The output here is great, even if the high end isn't record breaking.

Runtime: 2

Its hard to measure the runtime both because of the highly variable (though not infinitely variable) output and the fact that the Rotary takes both primary and rechargeable batteries.  Suffice to say the runtime on low is days and the runtime on high is listed at an hour plus.  Given the format of a 1xCR123a battery that is very good.  

Beam Type:  2

You might want to have more throw in a light this big and I think that is a fair criticism.  I wish it was more of a thrower too, the length is certainly there.  But in the end, this still a very good flood light.  EDC tasks are almost always flood tasks and the fact that you can precisely dial down the output to prevent bright flood lightning from blowing your vision is a big plus.  

Beam Quality: 2

There is a Hi CRI HDS light, but is not available in the Rotary.  Still the tint is actually quite good, no disco ball purples here.  Additionally like the Novatac, the Rotary also has a very clean and evenly shaped beam profile.


The reflector is a very mild orange peel reflector and it produces a nice diffuse transition from hot spot to spill.  Nothing less than excellent here.

UI: 2

I had long thought that the clicky was unnecessary with a good selector ring, but the Rotary has convinced me that when done right a clicky is a helpful addition to the selector ring.  By keeping the clicky inside the selector ring, you get a ton of control, all with one hand.  It is easy to use and works without any light.  Additionally with the clicky you can still jump to high directly with a double click.


Turning the dial also gives you direct access to high or low or anything in between.  Set it in the desired position and press the clicky.  Frankly, this set up, with the clicky and the tailcap accessible with one hand (as opposed to opposite ends like on the JetBeam and Sunwayman lights), is as good as any other UI out there.  As good as the MBI clockface UI and the mutli-stage twisty.  This is the second reason why this light is truly incredible.  

Hands Free: 0

Okay, here is the problem.  The light can tailstand but it does so poorly.  Additionally, it will roll like a stone.  Here is why:


The light is perfectly, totally, and completely round.  This does stink, especially because there is an easy fix.  If the screw that stopped the selector ring from rotating was a smidgeon bigger it could also operate as anti-roll device.  Super easy fix.  Henry, you reading?

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

There is a good argument that the HDS Rotary Executive 200 is the best light in the world.  The build quality is insanely great.  The UI is perhaps the best on any light, equal to my two favorites.  This is a very good light.  I am sure that there are ways to add a clip and lot of folks have ported over the Fenix friction clip from the PD22.  I also think the raised screw would be great, but unnecessary with a good clip design.  Still, even without these features, the Rotary is easily worth the money and the wait associated with acquiring one.  A few retailers have had them pop up in stock recently and they are totally worth looking around.  They are GREAT.


On Monday November 25th, a great reader forwarded the review to Henry himself.  Henry kindly replied and made some corrections and updates.  Here they are.

1.  The EDC Twisty has not been in production for a while.  It was phased out a year after the EDC Clicky was released.

2.  The Arc4 was, itself, an evolution on Henry's Action lights.  More about the Action lights can be found here.  The Action light begat the Arc4 and the Arc4 begat the EDC Ultimate, more info here.  This is where Novatac (which went out of business 2 years ago) came into the picture.  That light was based on the EDC Ultimate.  The body of the Rotary is much closer in appearance to the EDC Ultimate and the Arc4, but the Action light was where it all started.

3.  Pocket clips for all HDS lights are coming, including clips that will work with the Rotary.  I think reading that I fainted a little.  All of a sudden I woke up and it was like 7:35 PM.  I can't wait.

4.  A Hi CRI Rotary is available through the Custom Rotary page on the HDS site.

5.  High is reached not by a double click, but by a press and hold.

6.  Tailstanding is possible and it will be perfect, not as wobbly as I had mentioned in the review if you depressurize the light.  I noticed that mine depressurized naturally over the course of a day or two and now it is completely flush.  There is a fix mentioned on the HDS site, found here.  I am not adding a point back in because this sort of work around shouldn't be necessary, but if it bothers you there is a fix.    


  1. I posted this on the YouTube video but don't know if you have had the chance to read it. Anyways if you get the Surefire F04 diffuser and remove the lens you can attach it to the end of the light to allow tailstanding and rolling. I know it's not perfect and you might need to sand a bit off of it to make it shorter but it would allow you to do the things you wanted.

    Also you can go to the FAQS on Henrys website and he says that you can do something while installing a new battery to make the click switch more recessed.

    Hope this helps!

  2. How come this light is readily available at a dealer when CPF is full of comments complaining about several months' lead times? Or does that apply to custom setups only?

    1. I would imagine that custom set ups take longer, but from what I know all of them are waitlisted. Dealers getting stock with individuals having a waitlist is a common thing with high end gear. Randall knives work this way. Individuals buying from Randall get pretty decent prices and a five year wait. From a dealer, like AG Russell, the prices are higher, but no wait. Its encouraging to see HDS making good business moves like getting supply out to dealers while at the same time being willing to take custom orders. Given the quality of the Rotary, I want them to survive, and having a good business plan, including supplying dealers, is one way to survive.

    2. I don't have a horse in this race, but somehow I still feel sorry for those who are stuck on the waiting list. I would imagine that some of them would've paid the extra to get their lights earlier, but they were probably unaware of the fact that HDS doesn't work on a first come - first served basis. It's a tough call, supply being so unpredictable.

  3. I was on the waiting list for *months* and I had to beg for updates from Henry. At that point he already had my money.... it wasn't cool. I canceled my order reluctantly.

    I still want an HDS light, but I doubt I will ever have one, simply because I am not willing to support Henry directly or indirectly through a vendor. I was extremely displeased with how our transaction and interaction went.

  4. Thanks for the review... But is going to cost me because now my grail light is a custom HDS Rotary with high CRI emitter, silver bezel, sapphire lens and flush switch.

    All told $205. Henry told me it would only take a month to 6 weeks to get if I order and this was about a month ago.

    I was wondering if HDS was going to make a higher lumen version of the high CRI as they are coming up with new products?

  5. Sigh. You had to do this to me... I've enjoyed your site and generally agree with your assessments of gear. My first "real" light was an Arc LSHP. I had an Arc4+. I had an HDS U60GT. I had a Henry era Novatac 85P and still have a Henry era Novatac 120P. Without question the legacy Arc4/HDS/RA/Novatac/HDS basic UI remains the best I've ever used. I still carry my 120P somewhat regularly (I modded it a couple years ago with a K2 emitter so its output is around 180+ lumens, and I added a 3 tritium bezel) since it still works, puts out plenty of light and I can't find a good reason to move to the current clickie HDS lights. Particularly since I wear business attire and the Novatac and HDS U60 before it are to me right at the edge of being too big for a pocket light absent heavier trousers to support the size. My biggest issue with current HDS lights is Henry has gone the wrong direction and made them even bigger and heftier. I understand his design objective was/is to make an indestructible light but for many like me I don't drop my lights from the top of tall ladders because I don't work on them regularly - and when I do I don't use my $200 (+) lights anyway... My most used daily carry lights are an Arc6 or a Sunwayman V10r ti+ due to their size and output/features (and you are right btw, the 150-200 lumens range is more than sufficient for EDC - I almost never use the highest level on the V10r). The control ring on the V10r is a good idea and due to my affection for the HDS history I'd thought about a rotary. But the size and troubled history of problems and months of delivery problems (on par with Mac it would seem and his custom lights) were not comforting and enough to keep me away. Now I think I will have to source one and give it a try after your review. My complaint with the V10r ring is the position doesn't make much sense for one hand use (I've learned to use my ring finger but it is not ideal) - and it's arguably too sensitive with a slightly too narrow band of operation. The rotary seems to combine the best UI ever with another great UI... My wallet curses you!

  6. Very nice review. HDS does have something special with their Rotary UI.