Friday, September 7, 2012

Selector Ring Shootout

Having done this for over a year now, the database of reviewed products is quite large.  In that time and through all of those knives and lights, I have learned which of my preferences were well-founded and which were simply wrong.  In this process of gaining experience, I have come to believe that the selector ring only control mechanism is the superior UI and activation method for a modern EDC flashlight.  I still really like the clicky, especially McGizmo's, but in the end the two lights in this shootout have proven to me that a clicky is simply unnecessary and cumbersome. Selector rings are the way of the future.

Simple is always better.  If you can accomplish something with less steps and less parts, then you absolutely should do that.  Less steps and less parts means less to remember, less places to make a mistake, less to break and less to wear out.  In the final analysis, the selector ring only UI is as simple as it gets: twist to turn on and twist more to get brighter.  There, that is the whole operating manual for both lights in this shootout.

The pairing down that took place in the construction of these lights reminds me a great deal of the design history behind the Uzi (I know virtually nothing about guns, but, for whatever reason, I really liked reading about the history of the Uzi's design).  While not the finest guns in the world (they were made of stamped sheet metal to save cost), Uziel Gal designed a new open bolt mechanism for the gun (again, I have no idea what that means) that allowed the gun to be shorter, contain less moving parts, and, most importantly allowed the magazine to be installed through the pistol grip.  The reasoning for this feature was that in the dark and in the fog of war "hand finds hand".  This is both physiologically true and interesting.  By redesigning the gun to make it simpler, not only did Gal make the gun cheaper to make, he also improved its performance under pressure.  So long as you accomplish the same thing, simpler is ALWAYS better.

In the quiet hours of the morning, hopping out of bed to check on a bump in the night or go to the bathroom, I don't want to have to fumble with my flashlight.  I don't want it to accidentally come on in high, or worse yet, on strobe (I, in fact, don't want strobe on my light in the first place).  And while a clicky can work here, the selector rings just do a better job.  It is so simple, so intuitive, and almost foolproof.  The selector ring simplifies and improves a light in the same way the "hand finds hand" design of the Uzi does for a gun.

A note about the lights included in this shoot out.  Strictly speaking there are six selector ring only lights available on the market (excluding the Aeon which functions similarly but which works differently): the JetBeam RRT-01; the Sunwayman M11R Mr. Elfin; the Surefire T1A Titan (the original Titan, the T1 is also in this group but is no longer available); and the three Cool Fall lights, the Spy 005, 007, and Tri V (all found here).  

Try as I might, I could not secure a review copy of any of the three Cool Fall lights.  I asked and Data is trying to get me one, but when you make four figure lights that are sold to the most discriminating collectors in the world, it is hard to take the time and energy to build a copy strictly for reviews.  I understand that.  I also know that including them in this shootout would be pretty useless.  I can't imagine they would lose out to their competitors.  Plus, really, how many people can afford lights that AVERAGE out to about $1200?  I note their inclusion in this class of light simply for completeness and I don't feel bad for a second about not including them here. 

The Surefire T1A Titan is a bit of a different story.  I like the design of the light, but again I couldn't secure a review copy.  Quite frankly, I didn't ask.  I had hoped that Surefire would have updated it with new emitters when it did the same with the rest of its line up.  But it didn't.  It is still a $249 light that produces a decent but not competitive 90 lumens.  Again, I don't feel bad for not including it.  It is simply not in the same league as the lights in this shootout and while Surefire fans, of which I include myself, might complain and point out its timeless design, there is something to be said for at least trying to keep up with technology.  So that leaves two challengers: the JetBeam RRT-01 and the Sunwayman M11R Mr. Elfin.

Out of a need for full disclosure, Sunwayman not only provided me a review sample, they let me give it away to a reader.  JetBeam didn't return my email requests.  Secondly, JetBeam seems to be a little sticky fingered when it comes to other people designs (more on this in a later post).  In otherwords, Sunwayman is doing things the right way in the flashlight community and JetBeam isn't.  That will not, however, impact the winner.

Because there are only two products I am going to again use a weighted scale, but make it smaller.  First place in a category will earn that light 3 points, second place 1.  The lights will be allowed to tie in a given category because that is reflective of reality, but they will not be allowed to tie overall (as that is NOT reflective of reality).  After the points are tallied I will then divide the scores by price to produce an indication of value.  Once that is done I will declare a winner.  No ties here.  Finally, here are the reviews for both lights:

JetBeam RRT-01
Sunwayman M11R Mr. Elfin

Both got scores of 18 out of 20.

Here they are side by side:

IMG_0010
Let's get started.

Scoring System Points:

Design

The two major flaws of the RRT-01--the lanyard lug and the choice of reflector--are essentially design mistakes.  I guess you could call the reflector a choice, but in a light this small with a head this small, there is no reason to use a smooth reflector.  The lanyard lug, though, that is just a dumbass mistake.  Someone at the CAD machine in JetBeam's manufacturing plant screwed up by about a 1/16" of an inch.  They aren't huge problem, but they are problems.  The M11R, on the other hand, had no real mistakes to speak of and takes the design category easily.  THIS, JetBeam, is how you do a flush tail for tailstanding:

IMG_0008
Even the fasteners used by Sunwayman were flat.  That is an attention to detail clearly missing from the RRT-01.

M11R: 3
RRT-01: 1

Fit and Finish

Both lights are nice, its just that the RRT-01 is a bit more refined.  The anodizing feels less flaky and gritty.  The threads are a bit smoother.  The stainless steel bezel ring is a nice touch as well.  I wouldn't say the M11R is junk, far from it, but the RRT-01 is just nicer.  Five minutes with both of them and you'd agree.  

RRT-01:3
M11R: 1

Grip

The big difference here comes from the JetBeam clip (stolen shamelessly from McGizmo).  Not only does it not interfere with your grip, it actually helps out, positioning your finger in the right place for you to easily access the selector ring.  Again the M11R is nice, but not quite there.  The knurling on both lights is about the same so where the clip hits your hand or fingers is the deciding factor and I just couldn't get used to the M11R clip's position.

RRT-01: 3
M11R: 1

Carry

Both lights are really nicely sized and slip into the pocket easily.  The problem is that the M11R's lanyard attachment point creates a pokey and uncomfortable fin that your hand has to avoid.  Here it is peeking out from around the light:

IMG_0008

I didn't like it on the light when I did the review, I didn't like this set up on the Bitz either.  Manufacturers have just got to think of a different way to attach a lanyard (or better yet, realize that lanyard's aren't worth the trouble and just get rid of the lanyard attachments all together).   There is nothing similarly pokey on the RRT-01 so it wins this category and it is not really all that close.

RRT-01: 3
M11R:1

Output

I do not care about the highs on either light.  220 lumens from the M11R is plenty.  500 on the RRT-01 is more, but not usefully more, so they are a wash here.  To me, and most people that use flashlights as opposed to those that do some drywall hunting, its the low that matters.  Here nothing comes close to the low on the RRT-01.  There is no light on the market, custom or production, that can got as low as the RRT-01.  It is not useful at the lowest setting, but just a bit more gives you a perfect about of useful light for trips to the john and other places without waking up everyone in the house.  The low on the M11R is decent and until I saw the low from the RRT-01 I thought it was perfectly fine, but once you have seen the best, everything else just looks like the rest.  In a vacuum, the M11R's low would be fine, but this is a shootout and it has to beat its competition and nothing can beat the RRT-01's low.  RRT-01 is the winner by a large margin.

RRT-01: 3
M11R: 1

Runtime

Runtime on modern EDC lights has become of a standard of sufficiency.  You want an hour of bright and a day of low.  Both offer something like that or, in other words, both are more than sufficient.  Of course the RRT-01 runs forever on the super low low, but neither offers that much more utility than the other in terms of runtime.  Draw. 

DRAW

Beam Type

In this category both have a general purpose floody beam.  The beam on the RRT-01, in addition to the lack of orange peeling, tries a little too hard to be throwy (that is why most throw lights use a smooth reflector).  It just doesn't work.  The result is a beam type that has a very tight hotspot with lots of spill.  The M11R on the other hand had a very nice, diffuse hotspot, but comparison creating a more consistent and useful floody beam type.  Clear winner here.

M11R: 3
RRT-01: 1

Beam Quality

No comparison here.  The RRT-01 lack of stippling on the reflector makes for a very ringy and holey beam.  It is not so bad as to be useless, but compared to the conventional very light orange peel (VLOP) reflector, it looks messy and sad.  So much so that folks are modding their RRT-01's swapping out the factory reflector for the reflector of an infamous semi-custom--the Arc 6.  Those clever folks over at CPF stun me with their ingenuity.  No reflector swaps are necessary on the M11R.  It is an ideal VLOP reflector creating a smooth, creamy, and consistent beam. Clear winner again.

M11R: 3
RRT-01: 1

UI

The infinitely variable brightness is not such a big deal for me.  It is not the difference between the RRT-01 and the M11R.  It is actually the floaty and imprecise selector ring on the M11R that does it.  The detents on the selector ring are actually simply the midpoint for the given output, the actual switching happens some time a little before and a little after the detent.  This creates a feeling of a lack of control, something that seems antithetical to the whole reason to use a selector ring.  The selector ring on the RRT-01, on the other hand, is incredibly precise, so much so that there is a real and representative gap between the super low and the visible output.  Its doing stuff in there, you can tell when the lights are out, but it might not be visible.  You get a very good feel for how much output is being generated by the spacing and feel of the selector ring on the RRT-01.  This is not a huge difference by any means, but one that is worth noting, especially if you can do a side by side comparison, like I was able to do here.  

RRT-01: 3
M11R: 1

Hands Free

Errrg.  The lack of a stable tailstand on a light so thoroughly designed like the RRT-01 drives me bonkers.  Its like the tail end was designed by someone other than the rest of the light.  I hate it.  It works, but I hate it.  The M11R on the other hand works perfectly.  Probably the best clip/tail end combination on a light not built by Don McLeish.

M11R: 3
RRT-01: 1

Value Calculations:

Currently the M11R sells for $78, on average, on the internet (this is as of September 6, 2012).  The RRT-01 sells for $105.  The M11R's value score (dollars/points) is a robust 4.59 (with 17 points).  The RRT-01 score is 5.53 (with 19 points).  These scores are really similar because these lights are really similar, even in size:

IMG_0005

Conclusions:

 No doubt, this is where the industry is headed.  These are easy to use, sturdy, and very intuitive user interfaces that afford an amazing degree of control.  I love good clickies, but even they seem dated now.  Even the selector ring/button UI is made silly by these designs--reminding me of the shiftmatic feature on automatic transmission cars--something that is completely redundant.

Furthermore, both of these lights are really excellent renditions of the selector ring UI.  You can't go wrong here, both are a great choice, but as the value scores indicate the M11R is just slightly a better light.  The two point difference is not worth $30 price difference between the two lights.  I think the JetBeam is probably a slightly better light, but not $30 better.

If you toss in the JetBeam pilfering of intellectual property, referenced above, then I think the choice is even clearer.  Buy the M11R, you won't be sorry.  I just wish the low was truly moonlight low and they rounded off the that lanyard lug.

Bonus:

Where would the heavy hitters fit in this shoot out?  Where would the Surefire Titan, the Cool Fall 005, 007, and Tri-V land?  Frankly if you are considering those lights, your really in a different product category altogether.  Second, I have never used or even handled the Cool Fall lights.  But I have used and handled the Titan.  It is a great little light.  The output is typical Surefire--rated at X, performs like X+30%.  But even with that boost, it is not close to these two lights.  It can't tailstand at all and has no pocket clip.  Honestly, I think, given those considerations it would have ranked last in points and certainly last in value.

The Cool Fall lights are impossible to assess.  They are, quite literally, orders of magnitude more expensive and more advanced than anything else made, ever.  It is hard to even find an analogy.  The Bugatti Veyron is a ridiculous car.  It is expensive and powerful and looks like nothing else, but it is not 6 or 10 times more expensive than the next most expensive car.  These lights are off the charts and while I am certain a $3 or 4k light would lose the value contest, there is something so opulent and so friggin' cool I just not sure I could break the spell they cast and say they wouldn't win anyway.

18 comments:

  1. I know you have a thing against lanyards - but to anyone who climbs with gear, or is a roadie and has their light around their neck 18hours a day - lanyards are a must.

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    1. I get that. My issue with lanyards is that so often including a lanyard carry option means borking an otherwise good design.

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  2. The selector ring only UI will probably never supplant the clicky for tactical or defensive applications, because "click tailcap with thumb" is simple and stressproof compared to the finer motor skills of tweaking a little dial.

    I liked the Sunwayman M11R as an EDC light except for two flaws. (1) Beam was rather blue. (2) Too weak "detent" on the selector ring. The light would accidentally turn on in my pocket.

    Selector ring UIs should stay firmly in off mode until you give the dial a deliberate twist. Once the "detent" is overcome, the dial should display a moderate, steady tactile resistance in turning. I think the Sunwayman falls short on this score; at least mine did. What does the Jetbeam's dial feel like?

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    1. Clicking a tail cap is probably marginally simpler, but the lack of control easily compensates for the difference in my opinion. Nothing like BAM light on, wife wakes up mad, versus, twist to just a little bit of light.

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    2. Dial has a little bit less slop in it and is a bit harder to move. I like it better for the reason you named.

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    3. I agree that the big plus of the selector ring UI is you can start immediately in low OR high.

      Good to hear that about the Jetbeam's feel. I might take another crack at these ring lights and pick one up. But your excellent investigative piece about Jetbeam's borderline sharp practice in IP gives me pause.

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    4. Part two is coming...it's worse than you think.

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  3. Does a light exist that lets me select the output with a ring and then use a tail click to engage the light in that mode? For me that would be the ideal UI. I wouldn't have to cycle through multiple modes and I would still have the no-nonsense click on/off.

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    1. Hmmmm...not that I know of, but I don't see why it would be all that hard to do. Anyone know if the HDS Rotary works that way?

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    2. Some of Sunwayman's other offerings do - the V/M10R and V11R, and M20C, for instance.

      I don't know that they were the first to implement it, but it's also on Surefire's U2, so the idea's been around for a while.

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  4. I assume you're talking strictly about EDC lights that will not be pressed into use with a pistol. In that case, I think the UI you describe is perfect, but for a pistol companion light a forward clicky is of course required.

    Also, the unique innovation of the Uzi is not the open bolt (many machine guns used/still use it, notably the Thompson/"Tommy Gun") but rather the telescoping bolt. Instead of having the mass fully behind the chamber, the bolt wraps around the rear of the chamber, eliminating the additional length required in most firearms and allowing the magazine well to be inside the grip, just like a semiautomatic pistol.

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  5. I'm using a Peak Logan 17500 at the moment. The problem I have with the QTC is the jumpiness of the levels. It is far from smooth and any knock on the tail end makes the level jump around. How reliable and predictable are the levels on the RRT-01? Does the position of the selector ring absolutely determine the output level in all cases?

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  6. No jumpiness and yes te position of the ring determines the output exactly.

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  7. Is there some reason the Niteye Eye 10 was not a contender in this shootout? It too has been available for months. Very similar to the RRT-01 except for some tactile diff's, detent spacing on the control ring, and and an OP reflector...I commented on this after your RRT-01 stand-alone review as well.

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    1. The Niteye Eye 10 did not get included because it is a badge-swap of the RRT-01. All of the guts are the same with superficial differences and rebranding. Additionally, I couldn't acquire one, but given the similarities between the RRT-01 and the Eye 10 I didn't really try. Finally, I have a few questions about Niteye's legal status. I will detail this in a future post.

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  8. Got it...I suspected as much. In addition, I wasn't sure in view of the whole Sysmax, JetBeam, Niteye recent legal problems and CPF members rants & accusations re perceived intellectual property theft (SPY 007, McGizmo, etc.)...be interested to hear your take.

    Enjoy your site by the way...very entertaining and informetive!

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  9. The Jetbeam RRT0 has a ring selector and clicky allowing you to preset the brightness before pressing the tail switch. The tail switch also has a momentary function.

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