Review: Lighten7 Elite M1A (XM-L T6 | 1 x 18650 / 2 x CR123A)

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Review: Lighten7 Elite M1A (XM-L T6 | 1 x 18650 / 2 x CR123A)


The Elite M1A is the second of Lighten7's products that I will be reviewing. It features an interesting tailcap housing a control ring offering variable outputs that is implemented in a rather unique way. Read on for further details of this mechanism as well as to see how it and the M1A fares overall.

 

MFG SPECS
MSRP: $105 USD

 

PACKAGING / CONTENTS
The M1A comes in a nice plastic presentation case with ample foam cushioning:

Additional accessories included were:
- lanyard
- 1 x black o-ring
- shared user manual for M1A/M1B

 

DESIGN / FEATURES
The most strikingly different feature about the M1A is the tailcap as it is unlike any I've seen to date. It features an electronic switch that controls the modes and a control ring to manage output levels (see UI section for further details):

 There is a "skeletal" structure that acts as a tailcap guard:

...and allows the M1A to tailstand (although given the limited surface area, it's not very stable used in this manner but should suffice in a pinch):

 The three prongs can function as an anti-roll ring (albeit not a great one) as they aren't all that long:

 They can also be used to assist with a cigar-grip hold:

One of the prongs has an opening to accomodate the included lanyard:

Adjacent to the prongs is a textured ring, however, it is rather mild and doesn't really contribute much to the grip. That same texture is applied to the tube which is minimalistically decorated save for two flat sides:


The minimalist theme is continued by the absence of any laser etchings on the light beyond the company's name and the model on one of the flat sides.

Although there is a groove between the tube and the base of the head indicating that they are two separate pieces, they're glued together thus rendering it non-removable. A nice aesthetic touch is the micro ring texture applied throughout the entire light except for at the extremeties at either end:

There are two cooling fins that help w/heat dissapation but as is common amongst their three lights I've reviewed, they are intentionally driven moderately and do not run all that hot.

The cap of the head can be removed which allows access to the reflector and LED. While there is a sticker insulation for the wires, there is no centering ring around the LED thus making it nearly impossible to perfectly center the LED:

Given the OP reflector, I couldn't really discern any effects on the beam however, Lighten7 has mentioned they will be creating a centering mold on future versions.

The aluminum lens retaining ring is a nice touch and helps keep the lens in place when removing the upper portion of the head:

Completing the head is a non-removable crenalated SS bezel.

Before we move on, let's take a look under that tailcap, after all, it was the main attraction, thus only fitting it gets an encore no? Wink

There are actually two circular aluminum discs as well as the central cathode spring. The inner disc immediately surrounding the spring carries the positive battery path and the outer completes the negative path. I assume this redudancy is to accomodate the unique control ring:

The two raised prongs function as "springs" to ensure the positive disc makes good contact with its respective tube.

With the tailcap removed, we now see why the tube of the M1A is so thick. There are actually two tubes but however, this shouldn't be mistaken for a piston drive like on Sunwayman's T20C but rather the outer tube carries the negative path and the inner tube carries the positive:

There were no problems accomodating my shortest cell (AW IMR 1600 @ 65.2mm) nor longest (XTAR 18700 @ 69.2mm).

Last but not least, one will find nice square-cut threads w/the tail cap removed. They are anodized and allows the tailcap to be locked out, but given the structure, I feel it's highly unlikely that accidental activation can occur:

Peering down the tube, one will see a nodule that is just slightly raised so as to accomodate flat top cells.

OK, that covers the designs and features, moving right along...

 

SIZE & HANDLING

L to R: RL3100 | FoxFury Rook CheckMate | ThruNite TN11 | Dereelight DBS V2 | Lighten7 Elite M1A | Lighten7 Elite M1B

The M1A and its brethren the M1B, are the largest 1x18650 sized lights in my collection. Even so, the M1A doesn't necessarily feel unwiedly with either an over/underhand grip:

Given the use of an electronic tail switch over a standard clicky, the rubber tailcap cover has some play in it and depresses about 2-3mm before one can actually engage the switch:

This creates a spongy feeling and to draw an analogy, it's akin to the slop one feels with certain car steering wheels. Ultimately, it doesn't affect the operation of the switch but may bother some who are senstive to the feel of their tailcaps covers.

I find the control ring to be a bit stiff, it requires a fair amount of force to operate (Lighten7 mentioned that this was by design in order to meet the water resistance rating, however, they will look to fine tune it for a better feel that won't impact the water resistance). Given the tailguard obstructs one from giving the control ring a full twist, I managed 5 twists (basically 3 levels each) before finally getting to min from max. I'll suggest that Lighten7 tighten this up a little.

 

FIT & FINISH
As mentioned in my L2A review, there are some minor QC issues found in this inital production batch that Lighten7 has since addressed with their factory. To recap, the following apply equally to all the lights:
- modicum of grease applied
- non-double-sided AR coated lens

Specific to the M1A, the most notable issue I found was a subtle flickering for the four lowest levels but most noticeable on the min setting. Lighten7 was only able to reproduce this with the lowest level and will tweak the ciruit to rectify this.

Nitpicking-wise, while I didn't notice any ano missing between the texture nor in the crevices, there were very minor specks missing around certain edges. Also, I noticed some imperfections around the edges of the bezel:

On the positives, the anodizing is flawless and matches between the head,tube and tailcap:

(Flash intentionally used to help highlight any mismatch but none found)

In a departure from the norm, the laser etching is a golden-ish hue and very nice and sharp w/no dark blotches whatsoever:

Incidentally, this is a VERY difficult light to photograph. The light almost has a very subtle golden sheen to it that really trips up the white balancing on my camera. Perhaps, this is why also the etching comes out as gold rather than the standard white.

Short of the issues mentioned, I find the overall build quality of the M1A is outstanding and it feels very solidly constructed and should stand up to some hard use. I'll update the review in the future after spending additional time with it.

 

UI
Normally, modes and output levels are used interchangeably, however to better understand the UI of the M1A, it's best to make a distinction between the two. For the purpose of this review, the modes are:

Main - On/Off
Secondary (hidden) - Strobe or SOS

These are controlled solely through the electronic tail switch as follows:
- From Off, click once to turn on the light and then again within 3 seconds to activate Strobe or SOS
- While in the secondary mode, press and hold the electronic switch for 3 seconds to switch between Strobe/SOS

Since the secondary mode is memorized (as long as the battery isn't removed in which case, it'll default back to Strobe), it'll always default to whatever you last set it to be. However, the 3 seconds wait time means that one must also wait at least that long before shutting off the M1A if one wants to avoid invoking the SOS or Strobe.

OK, with that out of the way, the output levels are adjusted via the control ring. Holding the M1A with the tailcap pointed towards you, rotating the control ring clockwise will increase the output and likewise, rotating counter-clockwise will decrease the output:

The output level however is not memorized and will always come back on at Max.

There are 15 closely spaced (especially towards the higher outputs) but distinct steps thus it's worth mentioning that this isn't an infinitely variable implementation. Lighten7 has stated the outputs range from 100% to 5%. This chart illustrates the 15 distinct levels (dark orange line) I managed to capture but since the M1A does not run in perfect regulation, I've added a secondary axis (light orange line) to show an approximation of the levels:

Taking it a step further, I then used the average output for each level and created this bar chart to better illustrate the output of the 15 levels as a percentage:

Based on the chart, on average the jump is roughly 8% per level between min to max so they're pretty evenly spaced apart but given the non-regulation of the light (especially on the higher settings) it's a little difficult to distinctly distinguish the level changes but becomes more apparent at the lower levels.

Having said that, I'm not certain that one would really need 15 different levels but in a way, it emulates an infinitely variable output light and is a novel approach on the control ring theme.

 

MEASURED PERFORMANCE
Lighten7 has quoted the following values for Max/Min: 780/40. However, the review sample has not had its driver optimized and thus I measured the following on my PVC LMD:

Max: 623lms | Min: 33lms

 

BEAMSHOTS
Beam Angle
[to come]

Indoors (5m) - (only Max and Min are captured)
Max

Min

For details of the above indoor shots and comparo vs. many other lights, please check Epic Indoor Shots Trilogy

Whitewall Hunting
Exposure settings in sequential reading-order from top left: 1/25, 1/100, 1/800, 1/1600 @ f2.9 on AWB (light is ~.4m to wall / camera ~.59m):

 

INITIAL CONCLUSION
The M1A, is a solid release by Lighten7. While I like the unique tail cap output control I'd like to see it improved  upon; specifically, it should be easier to operate without any obstructions.  The light may also benefit from fixed hard stops between min and max so one knows when they've reached either level.  Alternatively, maybe a brief double-flash indicator might work in lieu of the hardstops. 

turboBB-licious

  • Unique tailcap control
  • very good build quality and finish


turboBB-cautious

  • tailcap control difficult to operate
  • flickering on my initial production sample
  • a bit large for a 1x18650-sized light


turboBB-wishes

  • revised tailcap control for easier/unobstructed operation

 

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Elite M1A provided by Lighten7 for review.

Edited by: sb56637 on 08/26/2014 - 17:21