Warning: pic heavy, as usual.
Welcome to my review of the Vinh Nguyen (V54) modded Niwalker MM15vn.
In exchange for the prototype MM15 that I gave Vinh for experimentation (prior to the MM15 release), Vinh agreed to send me in return one of his current-increased MM15vn models. The problem for Vinh was which model to send – dome on, or dedome? Not able to decide, Vinh took up a collection from his followers to cover the cost of a second MM15vn, so that I could have both. Given the interest in his mods, I'm happy to provide comparative performance testing of these lights to the stock shipping version in this review.
Again, this will be a review of the modded versions of this light. Please see my original shipping MM15 (stock) review for more info.
FYI, for this review I will be re-using some of the photos from the stock review (like below), where the light doesn't look any different.
Let's see how the two V54 versions compare to the currently shipping stock MM15.
Stock Niwalker MM15 Reported Specifications:
(note: as always, these are simply what the manufacturer reports).
- LED: Utilizes two U.S. made top binned Cree MT-G2 P0 LED chip
- Light output / runtime: Mode 1 : 6 lumens, Mode 2: 180 lumens, Mode 3: 450 lumens / 24 hrs, Mode 4: 880 lumens / 9 hrs 25 mins, Mode 5: 1950 lumens / 5 hrs 17mins, Turbo: 5233 lumens / 2 hrs 10 mins
- Max beam distance: 280 meters
- Peak beam intensity: cd: 19.600
- Highly efficient circuit design offers maximum output and runtime
- Multi-function clicky side switch with momentary activation and on/off
- Memory function to remember last output setting used (except hidden modes)
- Advanced thermal protection circuit prevents overheating
- Light orange peel reflector creates great throw distance and beam pattern
- Aircraft grade aluminum, mil-spec hard anodized for maximum wear
- Toughened ultra-clear tempered glass lens with anti-reflective coating
- Large cooper heat sink pad for superior thermal conductivity
- LED indicator turns red to alert user to switch lower output mode and recharge batteries in time
- Waterproof: To IPX-8 standard
- Impact resistance: 1.5M
- Batteries: four 18650 rechargeable batteries (not included)
- Dimensions: 114mm (length) x 64mm (head diameter)
- Weight: 360g (without battery)
- Included accessories: Lanyard, Holster, Spare o-rings,
- MSRP: $180
Vinh Nguyen MM15vn Reported Specifications ("Stage 1"): (where different from above)
- Current boost to 6.5A (from stock 4.4A)
- LED direct bonded to Copper
- New thermal compound
- Driver Touch Up
- Driver thermal pad cooling
- Thicker wiring
- Carrier tweaks
- Price: $255
- Option to dedome for warmer tint and better throw (free upgrade, but tips to Vinh appreciated since 15-20% of emitters are ruined in the process)
- +$15 for International (Outside of USA) Shipping
- + $5 for "V54" hand engraved on light
Stock shipping review:
Retail packaging is the same – except Vinh signs and dates the external boxes.
Inside the hard cardboard box, you will find the light inside a decent quality holster (with Velcro closing flap). The carry handle is included separately in the box, in a cardboard holder. Also included are good quality hex-head stainless steel screws for the handle, Allen (hex) key, wrist lanyard, extra o-ring, original warranty card and manual.
Again, from the stock shipping review:
From left to right: AW Protected 18650 2200mAh; Niwalker MiniMax Nova MM15 shipping, prototype #1; Foursevens MMU-X3; Eagletac SX25L3; Niwalker BK-FA01.
Personally, I don't really think the handle is necessary – the light is small enough to fit into your hand comfortably, and you are better off gauging the heat level by touch anyway – especially on these higher output Vinh mods.
All dimensions directly measured, and given with no batteries installed (unless indicated), and without the handle:
MiniMax Nova MM15 Shipping: Weight: 333.7g (without handle), 355.9g (with handle), (539g with 4x18650 and handle), Length: 114.6mm, Weight (bezel): 63.7mm
Eagletac SX25L3 3x18650: Weight: 315.9g, Length: 150.2mm, Weight (bezel): 47.0mm
Crelant 7G10: Weight 643.4g (827g with 4x18650), Length: 198mm, Width (bezel): 79.0mm
Fenix TK75: Weight: 516.0g (700g with 4x18650), Length: 184mm, Width (bezel): 87.5mm
Nitecore TM11: Weight: 342.6g (476g with 8xCR123A), Length 135.3mm, Width (bezel): 59.5mm
Niwalker BK-FA01: Weight: 687.6g (870g with 4x18650), Length: 209mm, Width (bezel): 80.0mm, Width (tailcap): 50.3mm
Thrunite TN35 (MT-G2): Weight: 571.4g (723g with 3x18650), Length: 201mm, Width (bezel): 78.9mm
From the stock review:
And new for the V54-mods:
External build is the same as the stock shipping version. As before, you get thick anodizing, in a "grippy" matte finish. It reminds me a lot of the Armytek anodizing. Note that this sort of finish will mark easily, but is much better to enhance grip.
Although there are some areas of knurling, they are not very aggressive). There are a number of model labels on the body tube, bright white against the background. As before, this body tube is only a protective cover – there is an integrated battery carrier built into the head.
No lock-out is possible, due to the integrated carrier. Height of the built-in carrier is good, and most cells should fit (although really long or wide high-capacity cells may be a challenge to get in or out). As before, the four 18650 cells are in series, not parallel (i.e., 4s1p).
Most of the mods made by Vinh are internal, so you can't see much different about the light. But you can see the "carrier tweaks" above – notice those small yellow wires soldered to each of the springs? That is specific to the MM15vn. I presume this is to improve the current path for the cells.
The handle is improved over the earlier protoypes, but the attachment screw points can be a bit fussy to line up and tighten.
As with the stock version, there is a lanyard attachment point and a reinforced tripod attachment point in the head. The switch is appropriately located directly in front of the handle, with an all-black button cover surround (and a "N" logo with green/red LEDs underneath). Switch traverse/feel is pretty much unchanged across the versions, and about typical for an electronic switch. For those concerned about the brightness of the indicator button, see post #2 from the stock shipping MM15 review thread.
Of course, the other potential external difference is whether or not you opted for dedomed emitters. To explain what that means, let's go through the various options – starting with the stock head.
The MM15 runs off two MT-G2 emitters in relatively shallow reflector wells. The reflector wells are a "light orange peel (LOP)" finish. This is very much a flood light, designed to produce a classic "wall of light" with little hotspot.
Note that as always, the MT-G2 emitter only comes in a variety of relatively neutral-warm tint bins (i.e., the coolest one available is 5000K). All the MT-G2 samples I've seen have certainly been in the typical "Neutral White" ~4000-5000K range, and this model is no exception.
So how does the dome-on MM15vn look?
Not appreciably different. The tint seems a bit cooler on my MM15vm dome-on sample, but that's just a reflection of the variability of emitters.
How about the dedome MM15vn?
I'm showing close-ups of both emitters above, since dedoming is always going to be something of a messy process on the massive MT-G2 emitter.
Despite how it my look under high magnification, the dedomed emitters perform just fine. Beam tint will be warmer due to the dedoming, and peak intensity throw should increase as well.
Scroll down for beamshot comparisons.
There is no difference in the user interface with the V54-modded lights. The modification my Vinh primary affects only the Turbo mode output – everything else is pretty much the same as the stock version.
Turn the light on/off by the electronic switch. There is a momentary mode – press and hold the switch for momentary Turbo output. Alternatively click the switch (i.e., press and release) and the light comes on in constant output.
Once On, press and hold the switch to cycle through all the regular modes in sequence: Level 1 > 2 > 3 > 4 > 5. Release the switch to select the desired level. You can restart the level ramp at any time, but the ramp always starts at Level 1 (i.e., ultra-lo). Note that Turbo is not on the regular mode sequence (i.e., think of it as level 6).
The shipping MM15 has mode memory for the regular non-Turbo modes, and returns to last setting used from off.
Double-click from On to access Turbo. Double-click repeatedly for the strobe modes, in the following repeating sequence: Turbo > Strobe > SOS > Beacon. Note there is no mode memory for Turbo or the strobe modes.
You can access Strobe directly from Off, by double-clicking switch. This means that you can have the light come on in Turbo or Strobe at any time.
There is an electronic lock-out mode, accessed by a rapid triple-click of the switch from Off. The two MT-G2 emitters will flash twice to indicate the lock-out is engaged. Another triple-click re-activates.
There is a standby indicator that flashes when the batteries are connected but the light is not on (i.e., a brief green flash of the "N" switch occurs exactly every four seconds on my sample). As before, the switch lights up in constant green when in use. The N changes to red as the cells near exhaustion – this is a warning to switch down to a lower level, as the light will shut-off automatically soon (due to an internal shut-down feature in the circuit). I provide details on this in my testing below. You can re-activate after the light shuts down, by pulling one of the cells out and re-installing.
For those concerned about the brightness of the indicator button, see my post #2 from my stock shipping review.
For more information on the V54 mods, please see my video overview:
For more background information on the overall build and user interface, please see my video overview from the stock MM15 shipping review:
As with all my videos, I recommend you have annotations turned on. I commonly update the commentary with additional information or clarifications before publicly releasing the video.
Reviewer's note: I have recently updated my oscilloscope software, so the traces below may look a little different from my earlier reviews.
Again, the modification my Vinh primary affects only the Turbo mode – everything else is pretty much the same. As with the stock shipping version, these lights are all current-controlled.
All versions of this light show some circuit noise is the high kHz range on the L2 through L5 levels (i.e., not on Moonlight or Turbo). It is quite common to see high frequency noise in current-controlled lights. Consistent with my standard review policy, I report on anything I can detect on a light. Rest assured, these signals are not visible to the eye in actual use – the light is fully flicker-free in all modes.
The strobe mode was a fairly typical 12Hz fast strobe. There is no difference on the V54-modded lights
Again, afairly typical SOS mode is included.
Beacon mode is a half-second pulse of light, repeated every 2.5 secs (i.e., 4 pulses in 10 secs, as shown above).
A standby current drain is inevitable on this light, due to the electronic switch. Despite how the carrier looks, the batteries are actually all in series, as before (i.e. 4s1p arrangement).
On the shipping sample I measured this as 460uA initially, but it rapidly drops down over 30 secs or so to settle at 370uA. This is reasonably low. However, the standby indicator flashes every three seconds, causing a jump in current to 4.8mA when it is lit (on the shipping version). If we use ~1.5mA as a rough overall average current (i.e., averaging the current over 4 secs), that would give you two and a half months before 3100mAh cells would be exhausted.
On the MM15vn samples, I get very similar standby currents (i.e., 360uA stable, 4.9mA flash for the dome-on, and 370uA stable, 5.0mA flash for the dedome).
As before, there is no physical lock-out available. But Niwalker has provided an electronic lock-out mode (triple-click the switch from off). I have measured the current in lock-out mode, and it is the same as the stable standby drain (i.e., ~370uA). However, the standby indicator no longer flashes, and the light cannot be activated accidentally. So, in this lock-out mode, except almost a full year before 3100mAh cells would be fully drained.
FYI, in terms of the "N" logo indicator switch, I previously observed that the indicator LED goes red once the cells drop below ~3.45V when run the L5 level, ~3.40V on the L4 level, ~3.35V on the L3 level, ~3.30V on the L2 level. This gives you a reasonable amount of advance notice that it is time to change the batteries.
And now, what you have all been waiting for. My stock MM15 is running on AW protected 18650 2200mAh, the V54-modded MM15vn lights are run on Samsung INR 20R (rated for >15A discharge current). Lights are about ~0.75 meter from a white wall (with the camera ~1.25 meters back from the wall).
I've locked the white balance to the Daylight (~5200K) setting on my Canon for these shots, to try and consistently show tint differences as best I can. Note that no one white balance setting will match how relative human perceptions adapt to different lighting sources.
Note: No matter what white balance I use, these comparisons will never be entirely accurate for tint. The goal here is just to be consistent.
The first thing to notice is the dome-on MM15vn is clearly putting out a lot more light on Turbo than the stock model. The second is that the dedome MM15vn has a much warmer tint and much brighter hotspot (as expected).
And no, the dedome version is not quite so green in real life – what you are looking at is partially the result of using the Daylight white balance setting. Anything more toward the extremes above or below ~5200K will look somewhat peculiar. That said, I do notice some green/yellow-tint shifting along with the warm shifting on my MM15vn sample.
To say more about beam patterns, we need to move to a wider view. Let's start with my standard basement beamshots. For your reference, the back of the couch is about 7 feet away (~2.3m) from the opening of the light, and the far wall is about 18 feet away (~5.9m). Below I am showing a couple of exposures, to allow you to better compare hotspot and spill. And again, the camera is set to a Daylight (~5200K) white balance for all shots below.
I trust you can see the differences a little more clearly – the dome-on MM15vn is definitely brighter overall, and the dedome MM15vn is warmer in tint and definitely more "throwy".
For outdoor shots, as always, these are done in the style of my earlier 100-yard round-up review. Please see that thread for a discussion of the topography.
BTW, any little "wisps" you see in the beam paths are due to flying insects (and the long shutter time window). What can I say, bugs are attracted to bright lights.
Again, these shots are locked to a Daylight white balance (i.e., the MM15vn dedome isn't quite that yellow-green in real life, but there is a pronounced tint shift in that direction). Also, while this location and camera settings were chosen to illustrate relative throw (which the MM15 is not designed for), it still does a serviceable job showing you the differences between these three lights.
The stock MM15 really doesn't light up the ~100 yard distance very well, although it does a great job in the foreground (i.e., it is a true "wall of light"). The MM15vn dome-on is a lot brighter overall, with a similar beam pattern. It therefore manages to do a better job in both the foreground and at a distance. The MM15vn dedome is more focused for throw, and therefore does an even better job lighting up a distance. But the MM15vn dedome doesn't really seem to be much brighter in the foreground (although this latter point may be hard to see, due to the beam tint differences).
Again, I could have used automatic white balance to even tints out, but then the significant beam tint difference would have been lost.
In any case, I hope you find those useful. Scroll down for actual beam distance and output measures.
All my output numbers are relative for my home-made light box setup, as described on my flashlightreviews.ca website. 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 any extended run Lo/Min modes (i.e. >12 hours) which are done without cooling.
I have devised a method for converting my lightbox relative output values (ROV) to estimated Lumens. See my How to convert Selfbuilt's Lightbox values to Lumens thread for more info.
Throw/Output Summary Chart:
My summary tables are reported in a manner consistent with the ANSI FL-1 standard for flashlight testing. Please see http://www.flashlightreviews.ca/FL1.htm for a discussion, and a description of all the terms used in these tables. Effective July 2012, I have updated all my Peak Intensity/Beam Distance measures with a NIST-certified Extech EA31 lightmeter (orange highlights).
A few words of caution here - since my high-output lights don't fit in my lightbox, I am really relying on my ceiling bounce measures for output. Note too that there was some variability of the Turbo mode across the various prototypes and final shipping sample (~5200-5500 lumens across the three).
Starting with the MM15vn dome-on, I am fairly confident in being able to say that my sample is ~40% brighter on Turbo than my stock shipping sample (i.e., ~7,400 estimated lumens compared to ~5,200 estimated lumens on stock). As always, I don't insist on the absolute value of the lumen estimates – but I know the relative comparisons are accurate. The beam pattern and tint are very consistent between the stock and the dome-on version of the MM15vn, so this is a fairly good apples-to-apples comparison. And that is certainly a very impressive bump in output.
In terms of throw, you can see in the table above that the MM15vn dome-on has more throw – but this is directly proportional to the fact that it has more output. In other words, just as overall output has increased by ~40%, so too has the peak beam intensity (i.e., 27,500cd for the MM15vn dome on, compared to 19,500cd for the stock MM15).
Note that my beam measures are taken under ANSI FL-1 testing conditions with a NIST-certified light meter. I therefore trust these peak beam intensity numbers in absolute terms. It's comforting to see the percentage increase in beam intensity directly matches my lumen estimation method.
Output on the MM15vn dedome is bit harder to compare. For one, the beam pattern has changed (making the light "throwier"). This can have an effect on ceiling bounce (typically to artificially increase the measures due to the reflected light off the ceiling). However, I suspect the altered color temperature may be the more significant effect. I don't have good data for this, but my subjective impression is that lightmeters report higher measures for cooler tints compared to warmer tints. As an aside, I am more likely to believe the absolute measures for the warm tint (i.e., my NIST-certified light meter is calibrated against a 2856K Tungsten incandescent light source).
At the end of the day, the best measure that I can provide is that my MM15vn dedome appears to be ~17% brighter than my stock sample (i.e., ~6200 estimated lumens). This puts it squarely in the middle, half-way in-between the stock MM15 and the MM15vn dome (in terms of max output).
Again, my beam measures are more exact as they based on direct measures using a NIST-calibrated setup. Here you can see that even though the MM15vn dedome only appears to be <20% brighter overall, it actually has 90% more peak beam intensity (i.e., 37,000cd compared to 19,500cd). So for those looking for more throw, this would seem to be your choice.
Let's see how the rest of the output levels compare, between the various samples.
The mod by Vinh only appears to change the Turbo (Level 6) output level – all the others remained largely unchanged in the modded lights.
All my standard runtimes are done on AW protected 18650 2200mAh cells. For the MM15vn samples, I needed to use higher discharge rated cells on Level 6 (Turbo). For these, I have used 2000mAh Samsung INR 18650-20R cells. They are rated at >15A discharge, which is more than sufficient. Note that they are unprotected cells, so I had to manually stop the runs below.
As always, my runtimes are all done under a cooling fan.
First thing to notice – consistent with my output table - is that the non-Turbo modes (i.e.. L1-L5) are unaltered on the MM15vn. You can therefore expect typical output and runtime. It is only on Turbo that you will see higher output – and you will need batteries that can handle the higher than normal drain (i.e., IMR or INR cells). Also, keep in mind that my relative output scale on these graphs is not linear to estimated lumens (see lumen estimation method discussion earlier in this review).
Under my testing conditions conditions, the thermal sensor kicked in and stepped down the light from Turbo to L5 after ~1 to 1.5 mins of runtime on fresh, cool cells. As a result, overall runtime was not very different between the various samples on Turbo. Of course, if you repeatedly restarted the lights on Turbo, you have to expect shorter runtimes on the MM15vn versions (due to the higher Turbo output).
Note that Vinh recommends you do NOT rely on the thermal sensor to lower the output, but rather go by direct touch. If the light is too hold to hold by a bare hand, it's time to turn down the light.
Keep in mind that the thermal step-down sensor is just a circuit component (and so it can fail like anything else). Also, it is known that even for the stock MM15vn that the sensor may not engage when the voltage of the cells is running low. As always with a modded light optimized for max output, a little common sense when handling is required.
In case you are curious, here is how the stock shipping MM15 compares to other MT-G2 lights in my collection (from the MM15 review):
Basically, overall efficiency of the MM15 is identical to the Niwalker BKFA02, at all comparable levels. Even though there are two emitters the MM15, it isn't providing any real efficiency advantage over the BKFA02. But due to the largely direct-drive like pattern, these two Niwalker lights remain the most efficient MT-G2 lights in m collection at the moment.
FYI, I've done some additional testing of output over time on repeated re-starts on Turbo (see my stock MM15 review for more details). I presume the same will apply to the Vinh mods – as the batteries drain, max output will be lower on successive re-starts. But again, you should expect lower absolute runtime on the MM15vn when run repeatedly on Turbo.
General Potential Issues of the stock MM15
Although you can jump directly to Turbo from off in momentary mode, Turbo is not available as part of the main memorized sequence when the light is locked on (i.e., you have to turn the light on first and then double-click for locked-on Turbo).
As before, pressing and holding switch when on jumps you to the lowest mode and then ramps up from there (i.e., doesn't increase output from where you are).
The indicator LEDs under the switch logo are fairly bright (see my post #2 from my stock MM15 review for a possible user solution).
The internal battery carrier has been considerably improved from the original design, but wider and longer high-capacity cells may still be a challenge to insert and remove. As before, no physical lock out is possible (unless you pull the cells), but an electronic lock-out is available.
The attachment screws on the handle are tricky to position and screw in (although the attachment point on the body is not prominent, which is good if you don't plan to use the handle). Personally, I don't consider the handle necessary on a light this small – and you are better off holding it in your hand anyway (to gauge the heat level).
UPDATE JUNE 14, 2014: There are reports of wear occurring on the center strut of the battery carrier, at the insertion point where batteries go in. I recommend users carefully insert their cells into this light, and monitor the center strut for any signs of wear.
Specific Issues of the MM15vn mods
All the stock comments apply to the modded MM15vn versions as well.
The MM15vn is driven harder on Turbo, so you should only use high-drain rated 18650 cells for best performance (i.e., IMR or INR chemistry). When using these cells, use caution not to over-discharge (since these cells lack protection circuits).
You have the choice of standard dome-on or dedomed. Note that the MT-G2 is quite difficult to dedome, and long-term stability of the emitter is unknown after this process. Dedoming results in a warmer overall beam tint (with some noticeable green-shifting), but will also greatly increase throw.
Care must be taken to ensure the modded light doesn't overhead on Turbo. Vinh recommends that you do not rely on the thermal step-down feature (as this is just a circuit component), but instead gauge temperature by direct touch. If the light feels too hot to hold, throttle down manually.
As always, long-term reliability of any modded light is unknown, and it stands to reason that modifications for maximum performance could shorten some component life span. That said, Vinh also shores up a number of circuit components during his mods and improves heatsinking/heat transfer, which may actually increase overall useable lifespan of the light. Of course, modding voids all manufacturer warranties, but Vinh stands behind his products.
I'm not going to rehash all the comments of my stock shipping MM15 review – please see that review for more details. I will simply point out that the stock MM15 is a flood monster in a tiny size, producing a true "wall of light".
The MM15vn mods definitely increase max output on Turbo (while leaving the other levels unaffected). For the standard dome-on MM15vn, I measured a ~40% increase in max output and peak beam intensity over the stock shipping MM15. Overall beam profile remains unchanged for this version.
The dedome version of the MM15vn is a bit different. There is a pronounced warm tint shift after dedoming (with some green-yellow tint shifting as well, but not as bad as the standardized beamshots in this review would suggest). Of course, dedoming is typically done to increase throw - my MM15vn dedome had nearly twice the peak beam intensity of the stock MM15 on Turbo. Note however that overall output on Turbo was not increased by as much on the dedome version as it was on the dome-on version (i.e., <20% more output for the dedome MM15vn, compared to the stock MM15). But exact quantification of overall output change is hampered by the altered beam profile and beam tint.
One thing to keep in mind is that you will likely need to use high-drain unprotected batteries for Turbo on either MM15vn model. Standard protected ICR 18650 cells typically can't handle these high discharge rates (i.e., you will trip the protection circuits on Turbo). If you do use unprotected IMR or INR chemistry cells, I recommend you take care not to over-discharge them (i.e., pull the cells as soon as the Niwalker logo indicator turns red).
Also, my general warning for this model to carry it in your bare hand (and not by the carry handle) is doubly important for the modded versions. You really need to gauge heat directly by touch, and manually throttle down the output level if you find it is getting uncomfortable to hold. Like Vinh, I do not recommend you rely on a circuit feature to control thermal stepdown.
I hope this review provides useful information for those looking to purchase the souped-up versions of the MM15 offered by Vinh. The choice between dome-on or dedome is likely the key question you need to ask yourself. The dedoming will increase throw (while maintaining a generally floody beam) – but it will also tint shift the emitter. Although I suppose you could split the difference and just dedome one the two emitters. As always, the choice is yours!
MM15vn samples were provided by Vinh Nguyen (V54) for this review.