The name HDS Systems is synonymous with unparalleled durability and practicality in the flashlight world. Although HDS produces both an EDC Executive model (reviewed here) and EDC Rotary model, the Rotary is unquestionably their flagship product. The HDS Rotary is an iconic flashlight that every flashaholic should have at least heard of.
This is the link to the official product page. The base Rotary model will run you $284 plus shipping following a recent 5% price increase from the manufacturer. My particular Rotary is from the last, “low K” group buy held by Hogo of HDS. It sports a Nichia 219c 4000K emitter and the standard Rotary configuration. There are also numerous other options you can choose from if you opt for a custom configuration.
Below is how my flashlight arrived from the manufacturer. Included in the clam-shell packaging was the flashlight itself and a brief user’s manual. I also opted to purchase an optional bike mount for the flashlight because I will need to bike often to get around campus in college.
I. First Impressions
This is a flashlight that exudes durability all-around. There’s numerous abuse threads on CPF and even videos of Hogo shooting a Rotary with a shotgun on YouTube. True to its reputation, the Rotary feels both heavy and robust in hand not unlike it’s counterpart the Executive. Visually, they are similar in their builds with exception of the tail-end.
The Rotary is exceptionally big for a single-cell CR123a flashlight. Compared to some other options like the 47s Mini MK. II, it positively seems giant. I wouldn’t have it any other way though. The Rotary fits perfectly in the hand and is easy to operate unlike its smaller counterparts.
At the front end of the flashlight is a stainless steel bezel. Note the small crenellations in the head. These are useful for telling if the flashlight is turned on should it be face-down. Alternatively, they can also be used as an impact weapon. Something minute that I also noticed was that the engraving appears to be darker on the Rotary than on the older Executive model.
The body of the Rotary sports HDS Systems’ signature knurling. This type of knurling is definitely my favorite on any of the flashlight’s I’ve owned. The attention to detail in the knurling is stunning and it strikes a nice balance between function and form.
At the tail-end of my flashlight is a recessed switch. You can choose either a raised or recessed switch when you buy the light, but I gravitate to the recessed switch because not only is it harder to activate than the raised switch but it also allows for tailstanding: a very handy feature. Of course, your mileage might vary in this respect and its purely personal preference. There used to be a piece of plastic between the rubber of the tailcap itself and the switch but this does not seem to be present on my sample. I’m not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, it makes it harder to accidentally activate the light, but on the other hand, I was very accustomed to having to barely hit the switch to turn on the light.
II. Output, Runtime, and Beam
Looking down the front-end of the flashlight, you can see that my sample sports a Nichia 219c 4000K. I have the same LED in both my Haiku and Omicron, it’s truly my go-to LED nowadays. This LED is a bit on the warmer side but has very good color rendition. There are other LEDs available on the HDS Systems site but they are often quite limited. Centering of the LED has been somewhat of a problem on some HDS flashlights; this does not appear to be the case here.
The output of each HDS Systems flashlight is calibrated to the exacting number specified in the product description (200 lumens in my case). This is something unique to HDS Systems and ensures that you get the actual OTF (out-the-front) lumens promised. Due to such exacting calibration there exists nuances in runtimes between different LEDs. What this also means is that although 200-300 lumens may not seem like a lot in today’s market, it’s plenty sufficient. My HDS flashlights regularly keep up with my other flashlights and I’ve never really come across a situation where I wished I had more light.
An added benefit of the perceived lower output is that the flashlight almost never overheats. Something that you’ll notice with many other pocket rocket flashlights is that they have an insanely fast step-down. Not so with HDS Systems flashlights. Because the LED is never overdriven, maximum reliability is ensured as well.
As for the beam itself on this flashlight, rest assured it’s the perfect balance of flood and throw. The current reflector does an excellent job. My HDS Executive with the Golden Dragon emitter is much more of a thrower but this makes sense because of the lower output. One thing I would like to see, however, is the return of the OP (orange-peel) reflector and flood reflector.
This is arguably one of the most important aspects of a flashlight. If the user-interface is crap, the flashlight in of itself is probably crap too. But this is where the HDS Rotary reigns supreme. The Rotary might not be the brightest nor most compact flashlight around but the user-interface is undeniably the holy grail of interfaces.
As you may have already guessed from the name, the Rotary uses a rotary dial. The dial effectively allows you to adjust the output from anywhere between under a lumen to 200 lumens. Turn left-to-right for more lumens and vice versa for less lumens. Now, the rotary dial is nothing new in the flashlight world – if anything, it’s a dying breed. What sets the HDS Rotary apart from the pack, however, is the dial’s integration. Because it’s located at the tail-end of the flashlight, adjusting it comes naturally and can be done easily with one hand on-the-fly.
But that’s not all. In addition to the rotary dial, the Rotary sports three additional fully customizable preset levels. You also have six or seven optional features including a locator flash, button lock-out, and pseudo momentary. You can find the extensive, advanced user manual here. There are several firmwares out there but the most recent is Revision 2.18. Keep in mind that most users will never even need these functions because the rotary interface is just that good, but it’s nice to know these options are available.
III. Other Considerations
Something that’s often overlooked is the potting of these flashlights. By sealing the electronics in an epoxy, HDS Systems flashlights are substantially tougher than most other flashlights. I’ve owned Elzetta flashlights (arguably some of the toughest flashlights on the planet) such as the Alpha and Bravo models, but I will assert that both the HDS Rotary and Executive feel more substantially constructed. Between the Rotary and Executive themselves, the Executive is the tougher of the two on principal because of the design but I’ve never felt that the Rotary was lacking by any means.
I know that a lot of people like to point out that Zebralight and Armytek also pot their flashlights. So by that logic those brands’ flashlights should be just as tough as HDS System’s flashlights right? Why don’t we take a shotgun and find out…just kidding. But in all seriousness, you won’t see those brands taking nearly the level of abuse some HDS flashlights have been subjected to. If you can find me a video/pictures of a Zebralight or Armytek that has been thrown several hundred times/been shot up with a shotgun and kept working, I will be damn impressed because such torture tests have been well-documented with HDS System flashlights.
Quite possibly one of the Rotary’s biggest drawbacks is its uncanny ability to not stay-put. The Rotary roles like a mo-fo. Yes, there is a clip option available but it’s unwieldy and just looks plain bad. If you’re in the market for a Rotary, I highly recommend picking up a holster. One of the best people to turn to for a custom holster is Hogo himself. Hogo runs Thor’s Hammer Custom Leather and works one-on-one with customers to create a truly unique holster. Hogo has some of the best practices in the business, and if I recall correctly he had my holster done in under a couple days.
Because I live in a more urban environment I don’t like to wear a holster frequently, it definitely brings up some interesting conversations. But on a functional level, the holster is absolutely perfect. It’s discreet and allows for secure carry. So if you live in a rural environment or own a Rotary there’s really no drawback to purchasing a holster to go with it.
I always enjoy reading Hogo’s stories on CPF about people who’ve tried to mod their flashlight and eventually have to send it in after screwing up. There’s nothing wrong with trying to mod a flashlight but it must seriously piss off Henry (the owner of HDS Systems) when they get sent back in. Apparently there was someone who even deliberately damaged a flashlight and sent it back for warranty service.
That aside though, HDS Systems has an awesome, life-time warranty. Even though it’s stated that this warranty only applies to the original owner and that it doesn’t cover modifications, HDS Systems has always taken care of their customers. I recall Henry sent out several new bezels and a clip to me free of charge when there was a cosmetic defect in the finish. Let’s just hope that people don’t start abusing their warranty though.
IV. Concluding Thoughts
The HDS Rotary is a flashlight that excels in very particular aspects. It definitely isn’t a jack-of-all-trades flashlight and isn’t for everyone. Users who appreciate a quality lighting instrument and the pinnacle of flashlight indestructibility, however, will revel in what the HDS Rotary has to offer. I can say without a doubt that the HDS Rotary ranks up there with my Oveready BOSS and McGizmo Haiku. It’s on my NFS (not for sale) list of flashlights and will be one of the few flashlights taken with me when I move out of the house to go to college.
I have since purchased the Universal clip for this flashlight. It is beyond ugly, and impedes function to a certain extent, but it does work. I still probably wouldn’t recommend the Universal clip. The flashlight itself remains a top-performer in my books if you can ignore the lack of a good clip.