Alpkit's legendary Gamma has become a by-word for budget headtorch performance, but for 2013 it's been joined by the new Alpkit Manta, which has the same £15 price-tag, but unlike the Gamma, is a one-piece unit with the batteries housed in the back of the light unit.
To get the other Gamma comparisons out of the way, it's a smidgeon lighter at a measured 110g with batteries compared to 118g for the original, has a slightly higher claimed maximum output at 100 lumens full whack compared to 88 lumens and like we said, is a single unit rather than having a seperate battery box at the rear. It also lacks the Gamma's handy rear red LED.
Like the Gamma it uses three AAA batteries - supplied - and has a single main beam LED backed up with a selection of smaller ones in varying colours. It's also splash resistant to IPX4 levels.
Fisher Price Looks
The Manta, in its fruit salad sweety colour scheme, has a blocky, Fiscer Price sort of look to it, but don't let that put you, it boasts some quite neat functionality. The main beam with its 100 lumens max, is decently bright, but by holding the switch half on, you can - as with some top notch Black Diamond lights - dim the output seamlessly to whatever you fancy.
On top of that, there's a simple 'zoom' mechanism that gives you the choice of a narrow spot or a wide-ish zoom beam or anything in between. It actually works really nicely and makes sense particularly for running where we've found that a flood-type beam is a real boon. Finally press the main button again and you get a flashing setting.
The second button controls an array of smaller LEDs sat below the main beam. Press one is a bright, blue beam for power-savvy general use, then there's a single green for friendly map reading and finally a double red setting for stealthy general night use without blowing your night vision.
Buttons and zoom are all easy to use as is the simple battery compartment catch and the pivot which lets you adjust the angle of the light unit. Nothing revolutionary, but welcome all the same.
Foam And Strapping
It's comfortable in use thanks to a foam pad behind the light and while it lacks the Gamma's top-strap, it's light enough that for walking at least, that's not really an issue adn the headband is broader too. We'll be interested to see how it copes with running use where the Gamma's split weight distribution works well.
Why would you choose a Manta rather than a Gamma? Well, the focussable and dimmable main beam is a really nice feature, particularly at the price and the lack of a separate battery compartment means there's less chance of wiring failure as there's no cable needed from the battery box. In addition, the Gamma has a well-known, but easy to fix weakness with breaking battery compartment lids, obviously that's not a factor with the new torch.
Burn times, incidentally are fairly close. The Manta gives a claimed 7 hours at full whack and the Gamma 9 hours, but as you're unlikely to use full beam all the time, it's hard to know which would actually last longer in real life use. We suspect there wouldn't be much in it.
The one Gamma feature we do really miss with the Manta is the rear vision red LED which is great for walking out on country lanes and night running and can even do double emergency duty on a bike.
Overall first impressions are that Alpkit has done it again. The Manta is an absolute bargain at the price and the adjustability and more focussed main spot will appeal to users who need a torch that'll do a bit of distance work along with the close-up stuff. We're also thinking the flood setting could work better for night-time off-road running, but we'll come back to you on that front.
Lots of headtorch reviews to come shortly including the Manta and Gamma. More information at www.alpkit.com.