Reviewer's Note: This is a detailed review of new Lumapower 3-Cree MVP ("Most Valuable Player") light. For more details, please see their manufacturer's thread in CPFM. The flashlight was provided by Ricky at LP for review.
UPDATE Nov 8, 2008: My review of the new MVP TurboForce P7 is now up.
Warning: Very pic heavy!
Part I: Build Overview
Multiple emitter lights have been something of niche market up until now, due to the typically higher costs associated with lights in this segment - although there have been a few relatively inexpensive entries from the discount/deal sites (see Part II for a direct comparison to one). The MVP is the first high-end 3-Cree light from Lumapower, an established maker of good quality lights. I believe the MSRP is currently $230 for this light, but dealers may sell for less.
Here are the relevant manufacturer stats, cobbled together from LP manufacturer's thread and batteryjunction.com's website:
- 3 Cree Q5 LED's, up to 700 lumens of total output, with significant flood and throw
- 3 Brightness levels: Hi: 100%, Medium: 25%, Low: 5%, plus high-speed Tactical Strobe (12Hz)
- Wide input voltage from 6.5-10V, supports 2xLi-Ion (RCR123A, 17650, 17670 or 18650) and 4xCR123A (recommended only for low and medium output modes, and up to 4 minutes max on high). 2x18650 is the recommended configuration for the longest runtime.
- New "sidekick" brightness control switch that works independently from the tailcap power switch (both are forward clickies)
- Over discharge protection (for 2x Li-Ion batteries) at 4.8V
- Efficient current-controlled DC-DC power circuit
- Anti-Roll body design
- High grade aircraft T-7 aluminum with Type III HA coating
- Blacked-out 'face' to guard against glare and 'flash'
- AR coated lens
- Estimate Runtime: 90 minutes on High, 2500 minutes on Low (using 2x18650 2600mAH)
- Dimensions: Length: 236mm, Bezel Diameter: 60mm, Body Diameter: 28mm, Tail cap Diameter: 32mm, Reflector Diameter: 20mm, Weight:383g (without batteries)
Although I don't usually focus too much on the packaging, I must say this box was definitely designed for display appeal.
Inside the box, you will find the light comes well secured within foam spacers. There are no included extras with my sample, except for the manual and warranty card. A removable lanyard attachment ring come installed by default on the tailcap.
Here is how it stacks up against the original MRV (with and without the battery extender tube in place):
Usually I like to start with a detailed build overview first, but I thought you might like to see a few close-ups of the business-end view of this light cannon:
The light engine and multi-reflector systems looks like a work of art to me.
This isn't some cheap cobbled-together set of components. Each Cree emitter has its own smooth, deep reflector, and is well mounted in a combined housing with a black "face". Although hard to see from the pics, the individual reflectors are surprisingly deep, which should help produce considerable throw. I will have more to say about this excellent setup after the beamshots pics.
The light uses three Cree Q5 emitters. My sample came with the "silver" backed versions (which come from the Asian Cree factory), but I know some lights are also shipping with the standard "yellow" backed Crees. There shouldn't be any difference in output - a Q5 is a Q5 is a Q5.
The glass lens has noticeable anti-glare properties on my sample.
Here are a few close-ups of the body design, with the battery extender in place.
Weight (without batteries): 385.1g with extender, 328.5g without extender
Length: 238mm with extender, 170mm without extender
First impressions are that this is a very substantial light! In fact, when I first showed it to Mrs. Selfbuilt, her immediate reaction was to swing it through the air like a club while commenting "this could do a lot of damage." And I hadn't even turned it on yet.
Despite its heft and relative front-heaviness, the light is reasonably comfortable to carry in over-hand tactical fashion (i.e. with thumb on the tailcap). However, I expect most would normally carry it in standard under-hand flashlight carry mode. Personally, I prefer carrying it with the extender portion in place, as the extra weight and length with the extra body tube/battery helps balance out the large head (where most of the weight is centered).
The light can be disassembled into a number of components, as shown here:
The light has two main switches - a rear on/off forward clicky, and a side-mounted "Sidekick" switch at the base of the head. The rear forward clicky switch works as you would expect to activate the light.
The novel feature here is the side switch, which controls the light modes (Hi - Med - Lo - Disorienting Strobe) in a repeating sequence. This Sidekick switch functions even when the light is off. So as long as you know what state the light was last in, you can advance to where you want to be before turning the light back on. This has obvious "tactical" advantages for those of you into such things. Both switches have a good tactile feel - not too stiff, not too loose (although the Sidekick switch seems to momentarily pass through the Lo output mode before locking on to the next mode, for some reason).
The build/design of the light is of very high quality. All parts fit together well, with and without the extender piece in place (i.e. no gaps or raised edges that might catch). The lanyard ring is removable. The hard anodizing is a nice gloss black on my sample, and seems consistently thick and evenly applied (although there is some mottling on the main battery tube portion). Knurling is relatively smooth and not very aggressive, but the modular design helps with grip.
The only issue I have with the build is the screw threads. I found the threads on the tailcap portion of the battery extender to be little rough (there was a slight burr on mine). More significantly, none of portions are anodized, so tailcap lock-out is not possible. I like to be able to lock-out multi-cell lights when not in use, as a safety precaution. An extra advantage of anodizing would be the ability to use the light as a twisty in addition to a tactical clicky.
At first, I thought the lack of thread anodizing might be to allow a continuous current path for the Sidekick switch to function. But no - it turns out the Sidekick switch works to move between modes even when the batteries are not installed! Not quite sure how they managed this feat.
UPDATE: Thanks to HKJ in post #2, it seems the Sidekick switch is not really a forward clicky, but a mechanical four position switch - hence why it doesn't need power. I'm guessing the low mode is the default state of the light, which is why the light returns to it when switching between states.
The light supposedly uses current-control for its low modes, and there is certainly no evidence of PWM that I could detect. "Disorienting Strobe" runs at a confirmed 12Hz in my testing. I don't know how effective this is in a "tactical situation", but it is certainly one of the most annoying frequencies I've come across.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that my cat walked right up to the light while I was measuring its strobe freq, and was completely unfazed by it (he gave it a few sniffs, and then wandered away, seemingly rather bored). Not sure if that response is representative of animals more generally (he's an old cat who has seen it all ). I certainly wouldn't want to repeat that experiment with Mrs. Selfbuilt - I'd likely be on the receiving end of a tactical response myself if I tried.
Here's a comparison of the MVP on 2x18650 (AW protect 2200mAh, 3.7V) compared to the original Lumapower MRV Q5 on 1x18650. The MRV is the original non-digital version, so output on 18650 is less than the newer versions. Both lights are at ~1 m from a white wall.
As you can see, the MVP has considerable throw with a very bright spillbeam. There is no sign of the emitter mis-alignment that is common on multi-Cree lights. Even at closer ranges, there was no obvious center "donut" and the triangulation of the triple beam was less than expected. Frankly, I'm very impressed with the beam - especially considering the individual smooth reflectors.
I'll have more to say about the beam pattern and relative output of this light in Part II of this review, where the 3-Cree Conqueror MC3 will also be included in the comparisons (including more beamshots). Tint on both my MRV Q5 and MVP are fairly warm, which I rather like personally.
Part II: Comparison Review
For comparisons, I've chosen (from left to right): the MVP, Conqueror MC3 MCU (3-mode, 3-Cree light), Lumapower MRV, and DBS V2 with DI R2 pill installed.
First off, let me digress and give some build differences between the MVP and the multi-mode MC3 - both 3-Cree emitter lights.
The MC3 is obviously much smaller and lighter (MC3 is 224g vs MVP's 385g), and also features a removable battery extender. My MC3 is the MCU version that is multi-mode (Hi - Lo - Strobe), in repeating sequence activated by pressing the tailcap clicky (I measured strobe at 7.5Hz). This MCU version is meant to run on 1x18650, 2xCR123A, 2xRCR, or 2x18650 with battery extender in place. This differs from the earlier single-stage MC3 which was 1x18650, or 3xCR123 or 2x18500 with extender (an unusual configuration, and not very popular). Note that 3x or 4xCR123A is not supported on my MC3, which would likely blow the circuit.
Overall body tube/tailcap build is quite good on my MC3. Although not quite up to the MVP's high standard, it's better than most discount site lights I've come across. The head, however, is a different matter:
As you can see, it uses an extra spring to make contact between the outside rim of the circuit board and the body tube (i.e. negative current path). I thought this was rather odd, until I tried to put the light back together and noticed my contact disc was suddenly at a weird angle. I removed the battery tube and saw this:
It seems the contact board is only loosely fitting inside the head assembly (i.e. it is not soldered or even firmly press-fitted to the head chassis). The extra spring is thus necessary to make contact with the main battery tube. There seems to be a lot of thermal gunk stuck on the inside portion of the contact disc ... needless to say, this hardly inspires confidence for other aspects of the head design (e.g. proper heat-sinking? Who knows).
How about the front end?
As you can see, the emitters use a shared OP reflector that is cut-down in the middle. Right off the bat, I know this is not going to compare to the excellent throw of the individual deep reflectors on the MVP. But even worse is how badly mis-aligned each of the individual reflectors are within their respective wells. What you can't see easily is that they are not all at the same relative height - and one even looks slightly tilted.
Here's a head-on comparison of the two lights, matched for actual size:
Here are some white wall shots at ~1 m, both lights on Hi with 2x18650 (AW Protected).
As noted before, the MVP produces a very pleasing beam pattern with a pronounced hotspot, bright spill, and only a partial "triangulation" effect around the periphery. In contrast, the MC3 reflector produces something of a "daisy flower" pattern of overlapping spillbeam circles. The MC3 hotspot is less defined than the MVP, with a diffuse corona. Tint of the MC3 is very cool on my sample - somewhat pinkish/blue (compared to the warm, slightly green/yellow of my MVP). The camera seems to be accentuating the warm somewhat.
Of course, white wall shots can only tell you so much with these high output lights, so here are a few outdoor shots of the various contenders. What you are looking at below is the grass yard near my home. The lights are all being shone from a balcony about 13 feet up and 10 feet away from the center hotspot location on the ground. All lights are running on AW 18650 (2x for the MVP/MC3, 1x for MRV/DBS).
As you can see, the MRV and DBS have well-defined hotspots with relatively little spill at this exposure setting (especially the lower output MRV). The MC3 has a diffuse hotspot with very wide spill. The MVP has a nicely defined center hotspot with strong spill. Note that the MVP spillbeam edge is also more sharply defined than the MC3.
What this boils down to is the MVP is a thrower light with good, even, bright spill - the best of both worlds in my opinion. In contrast the MC3 is mixed-bag of irregularly shaped spill and weaker hotspot. Note that the bluish tint of the MC3 makes it look brighter than the warm-tinted MRV in the above pics - but there's not really much of a difference overall.
Output, Throw and Runtime Comparisons
Testing Method: All my output numbers are relative for my home-made light box setup, a la Quickbeam's flashlightreviews.com method. You can directly compare all my relative output values from different reviews - i.e. an output value of "10" in one graph is the same as "10" in another. All runtimes are done under a cooling fan, except for the extended run Lo/Min modes which are done without cooling.
Throw values are the square-root of lux measurements taken at 1 meter from the lens, using a light meter.
Throw/Output Summary Chart:
Note that these values refer to initial output only. Scroll down to the runtime graphs for a better understanding of relative output over time. For example, the MVP is exquisitely regulated on all modes on all battery types from the very start, whereas most of the others here drop quickly from initial values.
One thing to note is that by both lightbox and ceiling bounce measures, the MVP is at least twice as bright overall as my best throwers. It is also an excellent thrower, even at 1 m.
I've plotted all the MVP runtimes on one graph, to allow you to quickly compare output levels and runtimes.
Here is how the MVP compares to the competition, on 18650 and RCR:
- The MVP features rock-solid regulation on 2x18650, 2xRCR and 4xCR123A in all output modes tested.
- Output/runtime efficiency of Med-Lo modes seems excellent on the MVP, thanks to their current-control circuitry.
- Rather than abruptly hitting the protection circuit cut-off on my Li-ions, output levels dropped off over a matter of several mins before my AW cells kicked off. It's nice to have this sort of advance warning before a protected cell shuts off.
- Max output of the MC3 on 18650/RCR seems slightly higher initially, but it rapidly decays to the regulated level of the MVP. Given the large tint difference between my two samples, I don't think you can draw any definitive conclusion regarding relative max output - I consider them comparable.
- Although max 18650 runtime seems comparable between the MVP and MC3, the MC3 clearly drains RCRs at an unacceptably high rate.
- Output/Runtime efficiency of the MC3 is quite poor relative to the MVP. On RCR, the MC3 Lo is about the half the output of the MVP Med for equivalent runtime, and about twice the output of the MVP on Lo for less than 1/6 the runtime!
Part III: Preliminary Discussion
The MVP is fully regulated on 2x18650, 2xRCR, and 4xCR123A. Personally, I'm very impressed by the rock-solid regulation at all output modes in these various battery configurations. Lumapower has also matched all three output states to the exact same levels between the various batteries, which is quite impressive.
Note that LP advises you to run 4xCR123A on Hi for short bursts of time only. In fact, the MVP manual clearly states that you void your warranty if you run it for longer than 4 mins at this level. Med and Lo are perfectly safe to run for extended periods of time on 4xCR123A.
The issue seems to be that running continuously at the high current draw of Hi output causes internal CR123A battery resistance to increase to very high levels, leading to excessive power draw from the batteries (with concomitant heat build up). Simply put, you risk frying your circuit or damaging the batteries this way - neither of which is something you would like to experience. The chemistry of Li-ions is different, so prolonged use of Hi mode on 18650/RCR is allowed.
For a similar reason, LP has limited the output of 2xCR123A to lower levels. LP confirmed to me that they chose to limit the current draw with low voltage inputs, so that you can safely run 2xCR123A to your heart's content.
I think this arrangement regarding primaries is reasonable, as it removes the large risk of damaging the light or your batteries by running flat out on 2xCR123A, but still gives you the option of accessing Hi mode on 4xCR123A for short periods if needed. But please use common sense here and follow the instructions to limit Hi use on 4xCR123A. And as always, I recommend use of brand-name quality primaries in multi-cell setups (e.g. Duracell, Surefire, and Energizer).
The MVP is clearly designed to work best with 2x18650, which has the best combination of output, runtime, and body heatsinking. Runtimes on 2xRCR were better than I expected, but I think you are best going for 2x18650. And again, I recommend the use of quality protected Li-ions for multi-cell operation. Note also that the light will not turn on with 1x18650.
One last note - I also appreciate the fact that output levels dropped off rapidly over several minutes before the low-voltage protection circuits kicked in on my AW cells. Nice to have this sort of advance warning that its time to recharge.
Initial output is very high on 2xCR123A, and build quality is clearly inferior to the MVP (where LP limits or recommends reduced output on primaries). I don't know what a run on 2xC123A on Hi on the MC3 would look like, and I don't plan to find out - it's not worth the risk of potentially turning my MC3 into a roman candle! As always, battery safety first ...
Note also that the short runtimes of the MC3 on Hi on RCR are unacceptable - under 20 mins indicates a >3C discharge rate (!), which will adversely affect your RCRs long-term performance. Again, it's not worth the risk of damaging your batteries. As such, you are best running the MC3 on 18650 only. And the given the unknown heatsinking capabilities, I'd recommend limiting Hi use for short bursts only, on all battery types. Note the MC3 can run on 1x18650, with partially reduced output.
Final (Preliminary) Word
I think most members here will be happy with the exquisite regulation and excellent runtimes of the MVP at all output levels. You just can't beat current-control for output/runtime efficiency, and I'm impressed that LP was able to the get the low mode down as far as they have. MVP performance certainly blows away the PWM-based low mode of the MC3. And the battery configuration decisions of the MVP make sense to me, which is more than I can say for some other multi-emitter lights.
Beam quality is also excellent - the three individual reflectors do a good job of providing both significant throw and strong spill. Estimating overall output is difficult with such a strong light, but I can confidently state it is at least twice as bright overall as any of my 1x18650 dedicated throwers, with very respectable throw. However, if you were hoping for three times as bright, you are likely to be disappointed.
I would like to see more consistently smooth threads, and anodizing on the tailcap threads to allow for lock-out. Other than that, I am quite pleased with the build and features of the light. Note that is does have considerable heft, especially with 2x18650 batteries installed - this is not going to be an EDC light.
There you have it folks. Hope you found that review useful.