Monday, January 27, 2014

FourSevens MMU-X3 Review

I try to take reviewing gear seriously.  I don't ever want to take myself or my opinions seriously, but folks spend a lot of time and energy making the gear we like and so I want to honor that labor and brainpower with a serious evaluation of their efforts.  Sometimes though gear is so fun, so ridiculous, and so gonzo that its hard to evaluate.  The MMU-X3 is just such a flashlight.  Its not the 18,000 lumen beast FourSevens makes as a portable light source for photography and videography, but it is a tremendously bright light, brighter than 99.999% of the population will ever possibly need.  This is not a light I could recommend to you for EDC.  I am not going to bother.  Its too big, too bright, and too bulky, but it is an awesomely fun light.  This isn't a serious review (well, okay it is, but you get the idea).  Have no illusions--if you buy this light it is for fun and fun alone.

But boy is it a LOT of fun.  And really, for all of the talk of preparedness or good design, there is a part of liking gear that is about appreciating fun, badass shit.  And the MMU-X3 is a fun, badass light.  If you want to light up an entire high rise, grab the MMU-X3.  If you want to see the colors on the belly of a low flying plane a night, the MMU-X3 is your light.  If you want to light up the ridge line on the horizon, the MMU-X3 just might do it.  The MMU-X3 is not the MOST impractical light out there, there is a growing category of stupidly large lights, but its not the Mk. II Aeon, nor is it supposed to be.  If you accept that premise, then keep reading.  If you only want to read about practical stuff, you can skip this review...and go do your taxes early Mr. or Mrs. Boring. 

Here is the product page. The MMU-X3 costs $120.   It is an upgrade to the MMU.  The differences are largely technical--longer runtimes and brighter outputs.  This is the first video or written review of the MMU-X3.  Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the MMU-X3, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample (already returned to FourSevens):

P1020297

Twitter Review Summary:  Get yourself a chariot, carrying the MMX-U3 makes you feel like Apollo.

Design: 1

The class of products that the MMU-X3 is in has something of a role in flashlight evolution.  Its the place where the LED, through upgrades, mods, and smart engineering, is rendering useless yet another competitor (having slain the incandescent light five or so years ago).  These "soda can" lights are making the very expensive and very bright HID lights obsolete (Surefire continues to soldier on with them, but virtually everyone else has moved on).  So in that regard it is pretty impressive.  \

You also have to consider just how big this light is.  Its portly, no doubt, but it is actually not as tall as the classic Mini Mag:

P1020303

Given that you have 1600 lumens in a package that small, its not just an engineering feat, its a pretty darn cool light.  The specs, given the three XML2 emitters and the 22650 Li-ion battery, are impressive.  It is important to note that this is a light that is about all out photon throwing.  There is no real useful low, and the entire light is based on run as bright as possible for as long as possible.  Most lights try to balance output and runtime, resulting in highest total lumen output in the medium mode.  Not here--the total lumens output is found on high and is a staggering, mind blowing 240,000 (1,600 lumens x 150 minutes).  That's the number, that's the big deal.  And that's why this light is so much fun to play with (and blind your neighbors).  The lumens:weight is: 171.3 (1600:9.34 ounces with battery).  Not as impressive, but it goes with the territory.

Given the impressive specs you might be wondering why it gets a 1 in design.  Here's why--the battery and charger are not included.  Frankly, that is just bullshit.  The 26650 is not a common cell, even for a rechargeable battery, and the size of the cell makes it difficult to recharge in an aftermarket charger (it barely fit in my i2 Intellicharger; anything smaller and you are out of luck).  As such, out of the package this light does nothing, unless you spend $40 more ($15 for the cell and $25 for the charger).  That is simply a bad decision and I am placing the deduction in design because the design necessitates that specialized gear and FourSevens has decided to charge you extra for it.  Hell, just sell the whole kit for $150 and call it a day.  Its a pretty darn good value at that price, but the fact that the battery and charger are sold separately is simply inexcusable.  Its not even really the pricing on the extra stuff--its the fact that it is not included.  Bad choice. 

Fit and Finish: 2

Like the MMR-X, the MMU-X3 shows an increased refinement in the product build of FourSevens lights.  Its nice to see and on this light all of that increased attention to detail is not just a pleasantry, but something of a necessity.  The head is very complex and the reflector even more so and yet everything is beautifully done.  Very, very good job.  

Grip: 2

For its stubby appearance, the MMU-X3 is actually great in the hand.  It is a combination of things.  First, the light's length is just right:

P1020308

Even in a cigar grip you can still easily access the tailcap.  Second, the diameter is just right, slightly smaller than a D-cell Mag Light.  Finally, the texturing, a combination of knurling and divots, is very well done.  Overall, I was surprised given the light's unusual girth.

Carry: 1

Want to know what it is light to carry the MMU-X3 in your pocket?  Go grab a can of soup (not soda, never drink soda, ever; its sludge) and drop it in your pocket.  That's what its like.  There is just no easy way to make this light pocket-friendly.  Hell its even too large for a lot of slots in organizer pockets on packs.  Its just really wide.  And yes, I am trying very hard not to stray into an awkward sentence that could be finished with "that's what she said."

Output: 2

Well, if you are even considering this light, this is the reason why.  It is an absolute torch.  Its as bright or brighter than your car's headlight (assuming you didn't upgrade it).  Much brighter in fact (here is an uber nerdy thread on the topic of car headlights over at CPF, steer clear of the math stuff unless you like getting lost in a conceptual black hole).  1600 lumens is almost twice as bright as the next brightest light I have used.  Its really amazing. 

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I'd like a moonlight low on every light, including this one, but that's like asking for a comfortable back seat in a Ferrari. I'd also like more than two modes, but again, that is not what this light is about.  High=1600 lumens; low=200, don't complain.

Runtime: 2

As amazing as the output is, its really the runtimes that are fantastic.  On most of the lights I have reviewed with high ouputs, like the Eagletac TX25C2, the Zebralight SC600 Mk. II, and the FourSevens MMX-R, that top output number is based on an artificially high high that evaporates after a few minutes.  Even the 1140 lumens on the Eagletac drops down to something like 800 lumens after a minute or two.  But here, you are allegedly getting the full 1600 lumens for 2.5 hours.  That is a real feat.  I write "allegedly" because I have no way of testing those numbers, but FourSevens seems to do very good with their runtimes.  I have no reason to doubt them, but I have a feeling the light would be hot enough to make biscuits with after those 150 minutes.

Beam Type: 1

This is an odd thing, but I would expect a light this bright and of this size to have better throw.  Its not an all flood light by any means but it seems to me that it is getting what throw it does have from the high output and not a true throw reflector or head.  Its not a big deal, but the Armytek Viking I have in for review is a much better thrower.  I'd have to imagine that those folks that have a real use for this light, as opposed to us hobbyist flashaholics, would like more throw for their search and rescue stuff.

Beam Quality: 2

The three emitter array is fine, actually quite good and the reflector produces a very good, but not great beam.  There is little artifacting, except for up very close, but at that range the light's output is so great it is essentially unuseable.  

UI: 1

Well, this could use some more.  I understand that this is a "tactical" light and it needs a momentary on switch (or so we are told, if someone wants to explain this to me, I am happy to read about it in the comments).

 P1020301

That said, this is an awkward UI.  You twist not the head, but the tailcap to turn the light on indefinitely.  Twist and twist again to switch modes.  A double tap of the tailcap will do the same thing in momentary on.  I am sure it is something you can get used to and it is dead simple, but I like the TX25C2 UI better.  

Hands Free: 0

No tailstand, no teeth...and surprisingly given all of the scallops and divots, it rolls like a ball bearing.  Oops.
 
Overall Score: 14 out of 20

The MMU-X3 is not a good EDC light.  Its too big and, I know this sounds like heresy, but too bright.  It blows away any useful sort of vision you had in the night and you won't be getting it back until the next day.  Its soda-can form factor is a bit chubby and the lack of a pocket clip means this is not a pocketable light, but the holster is okay and really if you are in this product category in the first place you have sorta chucked aside any notion of convenient carry.  But all of this aside, this is one freakin' sweet little light.  You have something roughly the power of a car headlight in the palm of your hand.  A lot of this is just the gee whiz factor and I am sure this light, absent upgrades, will not score well over time.  It is essentially a one trick lumens cannon pony, but for what it is its good at it. 

This is a specialized tool being reviewed by a gear generalist (me), so naturally it is not going to score super high.  A lot of the points I docked it for are things that folks that need this kind of light can totally ignore.  If you are in law enforcement or do search and rescue this is probably one of your better options out there.  Deep down though beneath a serious exterior relentlessly focused on finding and analyzing gear, there is that flashaholic in me that got excited when I took my lights to Maine and could light up boats on the other side of the harbor.  For that part of me, this light would score much, much higher.  It is just awesome to feel like Apollo himself, with the Sun in tow (classicists out there, is Apollo the only major Greek god not renamed in the Roman pantheon of gods?).  

The real and most legitimate drawback is the fact that the battery and charger are not included with the light.  You can't sell a specialty tool that requires specialty equipment and not include it.  I don't really mind the prices on the battery and charger, but they absolutely should be included.

The Competition

Comparing this light to the Fenix PD 22 I use as a benchmark is kind of silly, so I won't bother.

The 1200 lumens or higher club has four distinct groups of lights--the HID lights, which are just too expensive, the long lights with huge heads, the spotlight-style lights (some of which even have separate battery units), and these soda can lights.  If I were in this group and didn't need one or another light because of lumens requirements, I'd probably opt for a soda can style light.  Eagletac makes one, as does Nitecore.  Both have roughly the same output and both use tandem or triple 18650s, which I think might be a better set up, as they are more easily found.  Additionally, some of these soda can lights can run on CR123as.  That might seem like a plus, and in a pinch the ability to get batteries at a store is always a good thing, but with lights this powerful we are finally running into a cost thing.  Some of these soda can lights would need 8 CR123as to run and even then, because of the energy drain, they would last long at all.  It would be roughly $8-10 an hour of operating expenses and that is just too much for me.   The array of 18650s add a bunch of weight that this light doesn't have.  Its a tradeoff and only you can decide--size and weight v. ease of finding batteries.  Because this is such a specialized tool, I am willing to put up with the extra weirdo battery, but I can see the advantages of the other system. 

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for this review! I have the older S12, which uses the same battery & charger, so that's not an issue for me. In fact I'm grateful that there are actually other lights using this set up and so that the equipment won't be 'orphaned'.

    I'm a factory supervisor and use the light for inspections into equipment - sometimes going back 20ft through wafts of steam. Sometimes inspecting tanks and chests from the hatchway for damage/cleanliness. Or sometimes I just like to see where I am walking when outside at 0300 on a night shift. Often there is a lot of water around. Often I am clambering up and down ladders, banging handrails and generally giving things a hard time.

    The S12 is a good light for this, and I was considering an upgrade. The big downside I have found is that the holster is barely up to the task, and I've found it difficult to find a suitable replacement, that will keep the light in place throughout my daily activities.

    Very tempted by this.

    Keep up the great reviews. Maybe one day, if you're interested I'll send a pic of my work EDC :)

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    Replies
    1. Could you recommend a supplier for good holsters, that could provide something without the need for a bunch of measurements?

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  2. As you mention, it is an enthusiast light. Many/Most of the people in the market to buy it will already have the required 26650 cell and charger. Why add $40 or more to the base price? A bundle option would be fine but not as a mandatory purchase.

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  3. You ask and I deliver, Tony. Here is what is needed in a "tactical" flashlight. The primary purpose of a tactical light is target identification. If I am clearing a building, with my handgun in one hand and my light in the other, I must be able to light up dark areas so I know if there is a person there, and if that person is a threat, and then if they are, I need to be able to see them to shoot them. You cannot walk around with the light constantly on, like in movies or TV, as that points you out as a target. So instead you briefly light up an area with the light (no more than a 2 second burst is what I've been taught) and then turn the light off and continue moving. This means click, click again for another mode UI's are out, as I obviously want the light as bright as possible and I don't want mode switches happening. Twisty UI's are out because of the time and dexterity needed to use them. That is why for me as a person who does carry a gun all the time, lights such as the Sunwayman V11R or the Jetbeam BC10 are ideal. Yes they have UI's that are not super streamlined. But with the V11R, I can leave the selector ring turned all the way up and have the light ready to use in a tactical setting at a moments notice, but still have the option of lower light levels for EDC use if I need them. It is really an ideal compromise between the single mode Surefire that is the standard in the tactical light world and the more common EDC lights with multiple modes that require clicking through to use. If you have any questions about the use tactical lights, email me. BTW, sorry about never getting back with you on the adaptation of your rating system. Life got crazy and a blog was out of the question. But you still have my email. :p
    JK

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  4. I have had the S12 for a couple of years and just upgraded to the X3. Huge difference!
    I EDC this light using a modified Fobus paddle magazine carrier intended for the large Glock (10mm/45). I heat the kydex and make the square holder round to fit the light bezel up. It has worked great and is easy on and off with the paddle.

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