Supernova E3 Pro 2 dynamo front light  £145.00

9/10

Superb front light with near-perfect beam pattern for road riding

Weight 134g   Contact  www.amba-marketing.com

by Dave Atkinson   November 21, 2012  

Supernova E3 Pro 2

We tested the Supernova E3 Pro last year and it received high praise. Supernova isn't a company to rest on its laurels though, and the new version of the Supernova E3 Pro 2 dynamo front light is even better. If you want a fit-and-forget light for your everyday bike, this is about as good as it gets.

Dynohubs used to be the preserve of gnarled Audaxers and their ilk, but times are a changin'. You can pick up a really good dynohub for far less these days, and more importantly LED technology has improved to the point where the 3W a hub will generate is enough power for some serious illumination. So much so, in fact, that dynamo is making its way into mountain biking; check out Exposure's 800-lumen Revo. I've been using the Shutter Precicision PV8 for testing this light, which at £90 is a good buy. Supernova use the SP internals in their own hubs.

The E3 Pro 2 is visually very similar to last year's light, except that the logo is in a ring around the light rather than printed on the side. That's not just a cosmetic change; the logo is translucent and lights up when you're in motion, providing a useful amount of side visibility. That's a major improvement over last year's model that wasn't visible from the side at all. The light is beautifully constructed from aluminium and fully rebuildable in the event that you need to replace any part.

The lens is Supernova's Terraflux 2 unit, which is a German road-legal beam that directs 95% of the light downwards to avoid blinding oncoming traffic. Output is stated at 305 lumens. There's a single button to turn the light on and off, and a wire for the dynamo with an output loop to link the E3 with a tail light. The wiring is excellent quality, and Supernova supply plenty of heatshrink for waterproofing cable junctions.

We used the E3 with a multimount adaptor, which allows you to fit the light to the fork crown (through the mudguard mounting hole) or behind a calliper brake with an additional bit, which is the route we took. You can also get a bar mount (we used this last year) and mounts for V-brake and disc-equipped bikes. Fitting it is simple enough and the Aluminium strut is sturdy and adjustable, with two pivots to get the beam just where you want it.

Out on the road the E3 is a joy. Once you're over about 5mph the beam is steady, reaching its maximum output by about 8mph, so when you're rolling along there's hardly ever a time the light isn't on full power. Out of the saddle up the steep stuff you can see the beam waxing and waning a bit, but that's it. The Terraflux 2 lens has a refined beam pattern over last year's model, say Supernova, but I'd be hard pressed to tell. Like before, the beam pattern is more or less ideal for road riding, with the majority of the light concentrated directly ahead of you but still enough throw for picking out turns and suicidal rodents in the verges.

Because all the light is directed down none of it is really wasted, so the light feels brighter than its rating. You have to be going pretty quick to feel like you can't see enough. The mounting position of the light (lower down than the bars) makes bumps in the road and potholes a bit more visible as they throw more of a shadow, which I found quite useful. On shared use paths I found that the lack of upward illumination meant that it wasn't as easy to pick out pedestrians quite as quickly, but it wasn't a major issue.

The E3 has a built-in standlight that powers the light (and a rear one if connected) for ten minutes or so if you stop. That's handy, but my one minor gripe is that you can't turn the standlight off when you park in town. That might not be an issue in enlightened Germany, but I can't help feeling that outside the Coop in [insert dodgy area of your town here] you're taking a chance that someone will try to make off with your light. Supernova told us that it's wired that way to ensure the longevity of the capacitor, which allows them to give the light a 5-year warranty.

At £145 for the E3 Pro 2, £50 for the matching tail light (review to come) and say £90 for a dynohub, you're looking at an outlay of nearly £300 without factoring in the cost of getting your front wheel built up. That's not small change, but these are well-built, rebuildable units with a long warranty and near-perfect beam pattern and performance for road use. You'll never have to worry about where your lights are, or whether they're charged, ever again. If you want fit-and-forget lights for just one bike that you use year-round, or a powerful, reliable system for touring or Audax, you'll not regret speccing the E3.

Oh, and it comes in eight colours too.

Verdict

Superb front light with near-perfect beam pattern for road riding.

 

road.cc test report

Make and model: Supernova E3 Pro 2 dynamo front light

Size tested: Black

Tell us what the light is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?

The E3 Pro 2 is the improved successor of the workhorse of our product line. No other light sees as much action as this one. This lamp is used as daytime light in the heat of California, has to withstand British weather conditions all year round and each winter has to endure the salt on German roads. The E3 Pro 2 accompanies bike travellers to the most remote regions of the globe as reliably as it lights the way of commuters on their daily way to work. Its extremely bright light provides great safety in traffic and leaves no pothole and no shard of glass unlit. The new side-illumination greatly increases the safety in traffic and the brightly glowing Supernova logo is a real highlight you will enjoy a lot.

Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the light?

Max. Brightness 305 Lumen

Stand light 5 min

Lens type Terraflux 2

Illuminant CREE LED

Length x diameter 65 x 40 mm

Material 6061 Aluminium

Weight 130 g

Warranty 5 years

Rate the light for quality of construction:
 
9/10

Lovely thing. fully rebuildable.

Rate the light for design and ease of use. How simple was the light to use?
 
9/10

One button, one setting.

Rate the light for the design and usability of the clamping system/s
 
9/10

Plenty of options, the brake bolt mount is secure and leaves your bars free.

Rate the light for waterproofing. How did it stand up to the elements?
 
9/10

No issues despite some dismal weather.

Rate the light for performance:
 
9/10

Near-perfect beam shape for road riding.

Rate the light for durability:
 
9/10

Fit and forget, mounting position keeps it out of the way too.

Rate the light for weight, if applicable:
 
7/10

You have to factor in the weight of a dynamo.

Rate the light for value:
 
7/10

£145 ain't cheap and there's a dynamo to buy too, but it's worth it.

Tell us how the light performed overall when used for its designed purpose

Near flawlessly.

Tell us what you particularly liked about the light

Construction, beam pattern, looks, side visibility.

Tell us what you particularly disliked about the light

The fact that the standlight can't be turned off.

Did you enjoy using the light? Yes.

Would you consider buying the light? Yes.

Would you recommend the light to a friend? Yes.

Overall rating: 9/10

About the tester

Age: 40  Height: 190cm  Weight: 102kg

I usually ride: whatever I'm testing...  My best bike is: Genesis Equilibrium with SRAM Apex

I've been riding for: 10-20 years  I ride: Every day  I would class myself as: Experienced

I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track

 

8 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Cleverly priced to be more or less the same as the upcoming B&M Luxos, though that will have the USB charger on it to. Looks noticeably brighter and (more importantly) wider than my B&M Cyo IQ which is more than enough light for dark lanes all night long at up to 25mph.

Dyno lights are great, speaking as a commuter and practising 'granled Audaxer'. I would take it touring but obviously you'd need a head torch as well as you can't light your camp site like you would with a battery light.

Beam shape is about as important as bang on the road, something only B&M and Supernova seem to have mastered yet.

It is a big investment all round but next time you get commuter or training wheels built I really would recommend the extra outlay, it's just great not having to phaff with recharging when you riding to work everyday of the year.

alotronic's picture

posted by alotronic [247 posts]
21st November 2012 - 9:36

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Have the older version on the 'bent, and it's brilliant. Beam shape is the killer - it's got a really obvious horizontal top edge. Set it up so this is just below the windscreen of oncoming cars, and all the light goes somewhere useful. I've only really found it struggles when trying to spot potholes in driving rain with lots of oncoming headlights and ambient light, but then nothing really works in these circumstances.

Downside of the shaped beam is that it doesn't illuminate raised roadsigns, which is a bit of a pain when navigating in the dark. Pair with headtorch or similar.

posted by Darkerside [59 posts]
21st November 2012 - 11:09

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I'd be really curious to hear your or your readers' light output measurements. I have the older e3 pro, rated for 305 lumens as well, and I and several other people have measured it at 100-130 lumens at speed. To say that Supernova is being optimistic is to give them too much credit: they outright lie like scoundrels--even the datasheet on that LED doesn't support their claim, let alone actual measurements. So if the new one still claims 305 lumens, maybe they're realising that they're getting caught in their lie and trying to backpedal...? If this really is a 300-lumen light, I might consider it (aside from having to do business with such a shady company), but I'd want some independent verification first. Do you have any idea whether we should trust them this time around?

Also, the "e3 pro" also doesn't have a standlight to speak of--brightness goes _way_ down, almost to nothing. Has this been improved as well? Do you have an estimate of standlight output?

Finally, the matched taillight is a moderately bright but tiny point source, making it impossible to judge closing speed, and is thus about half as useful as a well-designed taillight (it tells motorists that something is out there in a given direction, but gives no information as to whether they need to take action). I'd highly recommend against using Supernova's taillight, even though it's convenient and cute.

posted by bwpearre [6 posts]
28th June 2013 - 19:08

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you can see our light measurements; they're in the graph above along with beam shots. we don't set out much stall by any manufacturer's lumen ratings, to be honest. if that's your basis for calling supernova a 'shady company' then it's pretty weak, or at least applicable to the majority of light companies in our experience. the E3 puts out a similar amount of light (ie area under the graph above) as comparably-rated lights, the beam pattern means it performs better than them in road situations.

Our rating's based on how the light performs for its stated purpose: heavy road use in all conditions, with a dnyohub. As such it's an great light. I've used it on many all-nighters and never been disappointed, or needed a secondary light source. the build quality is superb and the mounting options varied. We could argue the toss about *exactly* how much light it emits and all go and get our integrating spheres (you did use an integrating sphere, yes?), but that would be missing the point to a certain extent.

Quote:
Also, the "e3 pro" also doesn't have a standlight to speak of--brightness goes _way_ down, almost to nothing. Has this been improved as well? Do you have an estimate of standlight output?

the standlight isn't super bright, but it's plenty bright enough to get you seen when stationary, which is what it's for, and stays on for a good long while. has it been improved over the last version? a bit. it's a pity you can't turn it off.

Quote:
Finally, the matched taillight is a moderately bright but tiny point source, making it impossible to judge closing speed, and is thus about half as useful as a well-designed taillight

are you suggesting that drivers are able to triangulate distance based on the width of a wider tail light?

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7259 posts]
28th June 2013 - 20:04

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Hi Dave! Thanks for the response. I don't quite agree with some of your points:

we don't set out much stall by any manufacturer's lumen ratings, to be honest. if that's your basis for calling supernova a 'shady company' then it's pretty weak,

I disagree. Sure, it's difficult for a user to verify lumen measurements since most users don't have regular access to an optics lab, so manufacturers can get away with lying. But I would say that it's exactly as acceptable to sell a 120-lumen light as a "300-lumen" light as to deliver 160 grams of coffee beans to someone who paid for 400 grams. Lumens are sufficiently well-defined--they're not a marketing term but a physical quantity that all scientists agree on. I don't see why "most manufacturers lie about it because they have been able to get away with it" means "there's no point in calling out manufacturers on their lies". You're just giving them more reason to believe that they can get away with lying to their customers.

We could argue the toss about *exactly* how much light it emits

I agree with you!! But this isn't about whether it is off by 10 or 20%, which wouldn't bother me. Rather, they're off by well over a factor of two, and in a way that their engineering department must surely know about! The older "305-lumen" Supernova was a very significant step down from my 300-lumen NiteRider (I hear that the latter company actually measures light output) even given Supernova's superior light placement (on straight roads, at least...). Sure, *exact* output is not relevant, but I'd argue that *approximate* output _is_, and that their lies are too big to ignore.

At the same time, I agree that you are, as you should be, testing the light's usability, and I love that you focus on what matters to riders in the real world. I'm just arguing that a manufacturer's willingness to sell something that they can't even come close to delivering may also matter Smile

the beam pattern means it performs better than them in road situations

Actually, now that you mention it, there's a rare but potentially serious problem with their beam pattern that shows up on winding roads such as the bike paths here in Boulder (not the most common situation, but perhaps worth noting). Because the vertical cutoff slopes down towards the sides, when your bike banks into a turn, you suddenly go from having light to having no light at all right where you're trying to go (e.g. 30 degrees left of where your handlebars are aiming), which is more than a bit dangerous on a narrow bike road. The vertical cutoff should be flat over a wider range left-to-right rather than dropping down to the sides...

I do agree with you about the build quality, and it has the best mount of any light I've used. So that's a definite plus...

standlight isn't super bright, but it's plenty bright enough to get you seen when stationary

Thanks! That's part of what a standlight is for, but (a) how does it look from ahead and behind next to a row of cars' lights in a line of traffic during rush hour, or if you're, say, waiting in the middle of an intersection for your opening to turn left through a gap in the oncoming traffic? and (b) how well does it work for putting your bike in the shed after your ride? I've briefly encountered a few standlights that seem to work pretty well for this, and even for changing tires, but the Supernova of 2011 seems worse than average on these counts--especially (a). I'm glad to hear that it's a little better now; I hope they keep improving.

are you suggesting that drivers are able to triangulate distance based on the width of a wider tail light?

Absolutely, from several dozen meters away, depending on the light. I found that it's easiest to experiment with this effect with a reflector (try a 10cm wide one to start with), as those provide even illumination over a large area similarly to an ideal taillight (but, as you know, reflectors rely on optimistic assumptions about the car driver, etc, so should not be used exclusively). Maybe try a Philips Lumiring (no relation to me) or some such for comparison. You don't think so?

I'm excited if this light is better than mine and if the manufacturer is learning not to lie about it. They make a product that seems to show some promise, and frankly the state of dynamo on-road lighting was dismal enough in 2011 that even the e3 Pro was one of the best available. Here's to more better lights, and to fewer lies from manufacturers. Keep up your good work!

posted by bwpearre [6 posts]
1st July 2013 - 6:27

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Hello bwpearre,
let me quickly address some of your points before I get ready for our Tuesday nightride.

1) Lumens brightness
100-130 lumens "measured" by whom and by what method? These measurements are simply not correct. There are so many factors that can influence this, like the dynamo used,the type of rear light attached and many people just measure the brightness by attaching 6V DC, which produces a lot less light than the AC from a dynamo the light was designed for. The data sheet does actually support our claim and that is probably the cause for this misunderstanding. LED manufacturers used to spec the LEDs at a temperature of 25° C. In "real life" the chip actually heats up to 80°C even in our well-cooled housings and loses efficiency. The general spec-sheet rating of e.g. 130 lumens per watt (meaning LED current 350 mA = 1 W) cannot be directly scaled up to the 3.5W we use to power some LEDs. The next generation Cree XPE2 and XPG2 LEDs are binned at 85° junction temperature and therefore will have more realistic specs. The real brightness also varies with the temperature of the environment, riding speed (wind chill), and ride duration. Therefore, the lumens value can only ever be a rough indicator for the average "brightness class" of a light. The human eye has great difficulties perceiving brightness differences below 30% (which is 90 lumens if you take a 300 lumen light, for example) and it adapts to the brightest area in a beam, which is why light distribution and beam shape are far more important than raw brightness. The Road CC beam comparison does a great job comparing beam shapes and allows the user to get an idea of how the different beams compare. Of course every beam shape has advantages and disadvantages. The Terraflux2 Lens excels at throwing a lot of light onto the ground and efficiently illuminates the road ahead. A symmetrical beam is often better for off-road riding (although we also use our Airstreams to do 24hour-races).

2) Stand light
Yes, it's not the brightest out there and we wish we could make it brighter without sacrificing the longevity of the capacitor, but we give a 5-year warranty on full fuctionality and we have to stay within the recommended operating parameters of the capacitor. The stand light is bright enough to carry the bike into a dark cellar or find a keyhole and it warns drivers of your position if you stop at a traffic light, which is its original purpose. I can promise, though, that this is one of the aspects we will improve in the future.

3) Rear light
Forget the old one, it had a bright beam at a 30° angle but the LEDs used there are now 7 years old and are just outdated. The new Tail Light2 is 4x brighter and has a much wider beam angle. It gives you a great feeling of safety, even on very busy roads. I'm certain anyone who is using it will confirm this. If you want an upgrade, just send an e-mail to contact@supernova-lights.com (this will land on Regina's desk so you can say hello from me).

In general, we are always happy to get input from anyone using a Supernova. We are commuting and racing with the lights ourselves but it always helps to get an outside persepctive.

Thanks,
Gregor

Supernova

Gregor Arndt's picture

posted by Gregor Arndt [1 posts]
2nd July 2013 - 17:44

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Hi Gregor, and thanks for the reply! It's great to hear that you're tracking customer comments.

100-130 lumens "measured" by whom and by what method?

I believe Olaf Schultz measured it at 140; I think Wouter Scholten agreed that that seemed roughly correct (his review and discussion of these results may be found at http://swhs.home.xs4all.nl/fiets/tests/verlichting/koplampen/Supernova_e... ). My own measurements suggested slightly less light, but I was using a homemade integrating box (a small, mostly empty room, white walls) and computed brightness using a camera's light meter at a few points around the room (turned out to be pretty consistent on the scatter-lit surfaces) vs. a couple of NiteRider ("we measure our actual output") lights at various lumens from 80 to 450. I drove the light using my Schmidt SonDelux on my 20" (406) wheel, I believe at a steady 16km/h using an electric drill and verified using my bike's wheel-speed-sensing computer. Measurements were at room temperature, no wind, but the casing didn't heat up a whole lot during the brief testing periods, so wind chill probably wouldn't have made much difference. A rear light was attached; it was your own 3-LED light that's meant to work with the headlight. I believe I disconnected the taillight and repeated the experiments and wasn't able to measure any difference using my crude equipment. Incidentally, my eyeballing of light output side-by-side of the "300-lumen" lights (yours, NiteRider's, and a more modern NiteRider with a "low-power" 300-lumen mode) also suggests that the NiteRiders is vastly brighter than the e3 Pro.

Now, the discrepancy might be due to any of a few things:

  • Measurement error? I'm confident that my measurements are not terribly accurate, but also sure (based on eyeballed sanity checks (e.g., that if I shine a 300-lumen NiteRider at the ceiling, I can easily read small text under my desk, and that that's impossible with my e3 pro at 16km/h)) that they're not inaccurate enough to account for the measured discrepancy.
  • NiteRider habitually understates their lights' output across a few different models, by at least a factor of 2? Possible, but seems like a poor business decision...
  • I got two NiteRiders whose quality control was such that they were both much brighter than they should have been? Given their atrocious quality control (I've had electronics problems with 4 NiteRiders now) this wouldn't be too surprising except for the direction and magnitude of the error required.
  • Supernova overstates their lights' output at least for the e3 Pro? This seems likely, since the new model with a new LED isn't being claimed to be any brighter than an older model (or has Germany changed the laws such that they now limit lumens?).
  • Peter White Cycles sent me an older light, mistaking it for a newer one? What do you think of this hypothesis?
  • I got a dud? Coincidentally, so did the couple of other people whose measurements of the e3 pro I've heard about. Of course, those who got lights that put out the advertised 305 lumens might not bother to measure them.

The Terraflux2 Lens excels at throwing a lot of light onto the ground and efficiently illuminates the road ahead.

Yes, mine is good for riding in straight lines (as long as you're not worried about prairie dogs running across the path in front of you Smile ) Not so great for winding bike paths, as I described. Again, it's possible that this has been improved.

it's not the brightest out there and we wish we could make it brighter without sacrificing the longevity of the capacitor,

Perhaps a bigger capacitor? A standlight ought to be bright enough to stand out against a sea of car headlights. Other than second-guessing your design decisions, it's encouraging to hear that you build the lights to last!

The new Tail Light2 is 4x brighter and has a much wider beam angle.

Those are both good things, but what about emitter size? As I tried to describe above, one thing that is crucial in a taillight (and is also nice in a headlight, incidentally) is having a large enough area that motorists can judge closing speed by how quickly the emitter's apparent size is changing. That's difficult with your taillights. Another consequence of the tiny-but-very-bright taillights is that cyclists may have difficulty comfortably riding behind you; this too is somewhat alleviated by having the same total amount of light coming from a larger surface area. At least yours don't blink the way most lights here in the USA do... those things are a holy terror to ride behind! (Effective vs. motorists, though Smile

I really do appreciate the response. I'd love it if more people would chime in in order to generate a more balanced discussion of the goals of bicycle light design, and/or tell me that I got a dud, as I think that Supernova does some things very well indeed, and other things not so well.

posted by bwpearre [6 posts]
27th July 2013 - 7:04

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Morning,

Did you ever get round to reviewing the rear light too?

bobinski

posted by bobinski [107 posts]
21st July 2014 - 10:42

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