Monday, August 13, 2012

LED Lenser M7R Review

In isolation, things of all sorts develop in very unusual ways. For example, left to their own devices for millions of years, lice on the bottom of the sea become ENORMOUS.  Similarly, the komodo dragon, living on an isolated island in the Pacific Ocean, became a true beast.   Without reference to external pressures, development can go off on a tangent--strange in some cases, large or small in others.  In the flashlight world, LED Lenser developed its lights in relative isolation.  The result is a truly unique tool.

LED Lenser is a a German company that developed a truly useful focusing feature for flashlights.  Note that I called it "truly useful" because while Mag Lights can focus, it is really just choosing between two crappy beam profiles.  With the aid of an actual optical lens AND a reflector, the LED Lenser trademark feature is something worthwhile.  But for a long time that one good quirk could not outweigh the two bad ones: 1) LED Lensers were not readily available, even on the Internet; and 2) they did not have output regulation.  Output regulation, for those unfamiliar with it (though I doubt those people read this site) is a feature that allows a light to "hold" near its max output by regulating energy from the battery into the LED.  Without output regulation, a light is bright for a while and then slowly and surely dimmer.  This happens with regulated lights, but the diminishing amount is much, much less.  In theory, a non-regulated light is brighter in the beginning and it does have more time of useful light (useful being defined as "visible" I guess).  For the vast, vast majority of people though, output regulation is one of the foundations of a modern flashlight.  It is one of the principle differences between the light you get at Target and a light worth carrying.  And until very recently, LED Lenser lights, despite all their high tech focusing, didn't have output regulation.  That all changed when Leatherman bought LED Lenser two or so years ago.  That change also fixed the other problem with LED Lenser lights--they are now more readily available.  With those two changes I thought it was time a take a peek at this rarely mentioned light company.

I contacted Juli at Leatherman, who kindly sent me the review copy of the Sidekick I reviewed a while back, and she sent me the M7R, one of the most feature-rich lights LED Lenser makes.  The kit came in an AWESOME carry case.  I don't normally mention packing, but this packing is just amazing.  It included the blow molded carry case, the charger, the magnetic charge connector, the delrin wall mount, a baffling instruction manual, a lanyard, and a few o-rings.  Overall, it makes an impressive first impression especially when compared to the matte cardboard and plastic throw away box you get with a Surefire.


Here is the product page.  Here is an excellent written forum review.  The M7R is available from Blade HQ for $119.95, clicking below and buying the M7R will help towards the purchase of the Haiku:

Blade HQ

Here is a picture of my M7R:

IMG_0029

NOTE:  This is, without question, the most difficult product review I have ever done.  I have used the light for over a month and I rewrote this review twice.  I changed the score at least twice, for reasons I will go into below.  I am confident, with this version, that I got it right (or as right as I can).  Sorry for the delay.  

Design: 2

The M7R is a rechargeable version of, predictably enough, the M7.  Instead of running 2x CR123a batteries it runs a proprietary 18650.  Normally, I'd dock the light for a decision as silly as using proprietary batteries, but here, it is part of a larger flashlight system and the system is worthwhile.  They still could have used a standard 18650, but given the choice between that and the recharging system the M7R comes with, I'd choose the recharging system.  The recharging system is the heart of the light--it uses a wall charger (with swappable plugs for different countries), a magnetic charge connector, and a wall mount (which can also lay flat making it an excellent holder as well).  The light connects to the charge connector via the activation button in a very firm way--no chance of a failed charging connection.  Charging was fast and rarely needed--an ideal combination in a rechargeable light.

IMG_0030

Then there was the focusing head.  It always strikes me as something of a gimmick.  Why bother with a focusing head when a well made pre-focused light can do everything you need?  I soon learned that the problem with focusing heads was that no light I have used had a GOOD one.  The focusing head on the M7R is intuitive, powerful, and well-designed.  It works very well.

The light is a little bigger than most 2xCR123a lights (see the forthcoming Shootout between this, the X7 from 47s and the Surefire G2X Pro for more comparisons).  It is both longer and a bit fatter, but nothing crazy.  The surface is covered in SQUARE knurling, not a big deal but yet another sign that this light was developed someplace outside the mainstream of flashlights (that being US and Chinese made lights).  You can insert your own in good taste joke here about square and German.

Overall a very complete and well thought out package and a good design. 

Fit and Finish: 2

The thunk of a Mercedes Benz door tells you a lot about German craftsmanship.  The heft and feel of the M7R does the same.  This is a complex and intricate tool that is masterfully finished.  The optics are better finished than any light I have ever seen, custom or otherwise.  Everything is centered and clean.  The lines are smooth and straight, the threads perfectly cut.  There is nothing whatsoever to complain about in terms of build quality.  Excellent.  

Grip: 2

The light is a bit beefier than most lights in its class, but nothing that makes using it difficult (here is a comparison of body widths between the M7R and the 47s Maelstrom X7):

IMG_0024


The big thing that this light does is put your hand in a place that can control everything one handed.  Normally this is not a big deal as all you have to worry about is a button on the tailcap, but here, with the focusing head on one end and the power button on the other, it is quite an accomplishment.  The fact that everything can be done one handed and done with ease is a testament to the German craftsmanship and attention to detail.  

Carry: 1 (score of 2 if you would use the belt clip)

The light comes with a delrin belt clip.

 
It is not a clip in the traditional sense, but it is not really a holster either.  I found it clunky and awkward to use.  However, if you are one of those people that uses their light a lot, like, say, a law enforcement officer at light, the clip could be very, very useful as it keeps the light near you and allows the light to be detached quickly.  For a normal Joe like me though, its just a bit weird.  

Output: 2

200 lumens is a bit below par for a light with this kind of battery.  After all, the custom DarkSuck's Prometheus light is about the same size and also uses a rechargeable battery but easily hits 500 lumens.  That comparison is a bit unfair as the Prometheus is a full custom light, but still it is apt as many production lights hit 500 lumens in this product class.  Nonetheless, what it lacks in punch it makes up for in focus.

Lumens are an imperfect measurement of brightness.  There are all sorts of tricks makers can use to make their lights seem brighter than their lumens count.  Surefire has known this for ages and uses very tightly focused beams to make their emitters seem brighter.  LED Lenser did the same thing with the M7R.  When it is at its most focused the light seems far brighter than its relatively weak sauce lumens rating.  With that caveat in mind, the output is quite impressive.  

Runtime: 2

The proprietary 18650 gave me no trouble whatsoever, holding a charge in real world use for more than a month.  Continuous runtimes are really meaningless, except for comparison purposes, but as an around the house and outdoor light, the M7R was wonderful.  Also note that the rechargeable battery will save you quite a bit of dough over time--something that would make a difference if you used the light more intensively, such as when you used it as a duty light.  

Beam Type: 2

And here is where I have been spending most of my time on this review.  How do you rate the beam type on a light that actually focuses and changes its beam type?  The Mag Lights of the world really don't do all that much with their beams.  They just shift the holes and rings around.  The light's profile doesn't fundamentally change.  It does here.  The floody beam is quite dispersed, the floodiest beam of any light I have used, with a massive hotspot.  The throwy beam is incredibly precise, almost pinpoint in nature, allowing you to easily hit things 300 feet away (thanks to a local football field, I can say this with great confidence, knowing the measurement is correct).  I think the flood is nice, but the throw profile is truly excellent, compensating for a lower lumen count quite readily.

So how do you score the beam type when you have two different ones that differ in quality?  Here is how I thought about it.  Simply the ability to change the beam profile is useful in and of itself, regardless of the quality of the separate modes (provided, of course, that both modes are at least passable, unlike on the Mag Light lights).  That had to be worth something.  But then the throw beam was so nice.  On a non-focusing light, I would have given it a two, but this is a light that can do more than that.  In the end, I figured a two was the right number, though I had contemplated breaking the scoring system and giving it a three for both the quality of the throw beam and the fact that you can switch between two quality beams.  I wouldn't argue with someone if they gave this light more credit here, but I am not going to.  

Beam Quality: 2

Again, problems.  The floody beam is decent, a little too dispersed for me, but the throw beam is excellent.  Setting the head about 1/3 of the way towards throw gives you a more conventional beam profile and in that position the quality of the beam is quite nice, probably around a high 1 or a low 2.  In the throw mode, again, we have an excellent, excellent beam, something like a solid 2.  Thinking about this for a long time I realized that the solution to the score was simple: in the mode I was most likely to use what was the beam quality like?  It was excellent in the "conventional" setting about 1/3 of the way towards throw and it was very, very good in the full on throw mode, both being about equally likely to get used in regular daily use.  It gets a 2 here as well.  

UI: 1 (score of 2 if you appreciate micro-controlling your UI)

Here is a list of the things you can control on the M7R:

Beam profile
Output
Output regulation
Sequence of Output
Availability of Strobe

You do all of these things, except for beam profile control, through a single button.  The M7R has multiple outputs and multiple modes.  The normal mode is a high-->low-->strobe setting.  I switched it from that to a straight high-->low mode.  But there are others.  You can, if you want, drop the output regulation and have an unregulated light as well.  I did not do this because, quite frankly, unregulated lights are pretty useless to me.  I never need to the high punch or the drawn out runtime.  But if you do the M7R can accommodate you.  The problem is that all of this variability is done through a confusing set of taps on a single button.  It is not quite as bad as the insanely complex UI of the LiteFlux (remember that madness-inducing chart?), but it is pretty close.  Once in the simple mode, I liked the light a lot, but I am always worried about dropping into another mode by accident.  If you like all of this control, then, again, give it one point higher.  I don't so I am not going to do that.   

Hands Free: 0

Can't tailstand and rolls like a wheel.  A mounted pocket clip would cure three problems with this light, but again, developed in relative isolation, the Germans at LED  Lenser didn't feel the need for such an addition. 

Overall Score: 16 out of 20 (though I couldn't dispute a score of 17 or 18 out of 20)

This much variability leads to a score with variability.  If you like lots and lots of control, regardless of complexity, this is a much better light than the score of 16 would indicate.  If you don't, then the score of 16 is just about right.  You get a lot of product for your money here.  This is a great system and perfect for an on duty law enforcement officer as it will probably pay for itself in terms of battery savings.  I don't like the proprietary battery or the lack of a built-in pocket clip, but overall this is a very good and unusual light.

It will be part of the 2x CR123a shoot out, along with the Surefire G2X Pro and the 47s Maelstrom X7.

6 comments:

  1. First, that is one big ass underwater roly poly.

    Second, what a funky tool! I love German products. I can see why it was a challenge to score.

    Third, do you have any experience with the Klarus lights? I am intrigued by the XT2C, which might have been a runner-up for one of the coveted slots in your 2x123A shootout.

    The Klarus UI (two separate, staggered forward clickies on the tailcap) is really strong for a larger EDC light if you lean toward self-defense applications. XT2C gives user instant access to 345 lumens worth of bright beam or random strobe, while also having a full complement of lower modes. Like I said, I'm intrigued, but have never seen or handled one.

    ReplyDelete
  2. really appreciate the extra time and effort you put into this review. I recently purchased a LED Lenser M1, so I was especially curious to see how you'd handle the scoring of the beam type/quality. I like what you came up with; no disagreement here.

    not sure if you're aware, but they recently released a new model that is much more EDC-friendly -- the P3 AFS P. 75 lumens on a single AAA battery, includes the AFS focusing, and a pocket clip. I've been very happy with the M1, so I'm planning on grabbing one of these to replace my Serac s2 as my regular EDC light. MSRP is only $40.

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