2 March 2014

Review: LED Lenser M7R rechargeable torch

I've been looking for the ideal torch for watching nocturnal wildlife for quite some time. For the past six years I've been using a Nightsearcher Puma - an rechargeable incandescent bulb torch providing a very bright 750 lumens and lasting 1.5 hours on high beam (175 lumens and 48 hours on low beam). Other key advantages of this torch over the others is it's clear neutral white light, 500 m beam range, water-resistance, and the ability to fit an infra-red filter to reduce disturbance to wildlife. However, at 2 kg it is heavy as well as bulky, and not at all practical for carrying on long hikes or for taking abroad. A 220v socket is required for charging (not always possible abroad) and the torch is not the most durable, with charging problems frequently encountered.

Over the last few years, much smaller, lighter, and robust LED (light-emitting diode) torches have flooded the market. My experience of night-birding with LED torches is limited to just the Fenix P3D CE (215 lumens) and the Nightsearcher Trigger (210 lumens), both of which are much less powerful than the Puma, omit an obvious bluish light (blue diodes are most commonly used in LED torches as they transmit most light) that couldn't compete with the more neutral incandescent light of a halogen or xenon bulb (especially where photography was concerned), and had have a very narrow beam. I persisted with the Puma, however, recently the torch has stopped charging fully and so the time had come for a replacement.

Looking online at the latest LED torches available, the LED Lenser MR7 caught my eye. Although having a much lower output, the beam is focusable, and crucially Lenser claim their torches have a neutral light. The Puma's 750 lumen output was always too powerful and I liked the idea of the small size and low weight. It wasn't cheap, but neither is the Puma, so I took the plunge and bought one.

Clockwise from top left: the LED Lenser MR7; hard carry case with charger, wall mount, belt clip and battery; the magnetic Floating
Charge System.

The high build quality is immediately apparent with a beautifully machined durable aluminium body that seems well sealed against the elements - the Swarovski of torches! The torch is well designed - the metal surface is knurled for grip, the on/off/mode button is located at the head of the torch (the torch defaults to the high constant beam setting when switched on, no mater which setting was used last), and the push-pull beam focusing can be operated with one hand and is lockable with a twist of the barrel.

The recharging system is ingenious - no more annoying pins (and points where water could potentially get into the torch) and no need to remove the battery either. Instead the battery is charged via a magnetic connection on the end of the torch, and the torch can be hung from a wall mount while charging, held in place by the same magnets.

LED Lenser MR7 key technical details

Lumens 220
Run time 20.5 hrs (on low beam)
Beam range 255 m
Focus Spot to flood
Weight 210 g
Battery Lithium-ion
Body material Aluminium

For more technical details see here.

The torch is delightful to use. It is small and fits comfortably into a pocket, is very light and easily held while also holding binoculars, the beam focusing is very smooth and the power/mode button is just the right sensitivity. But is it any good for wildlife watching? I've been using the MR7 for night-birding as well as night-photography for five months now, in a range of habitats including open grassland, wetlands, gardens and dense tropical rainforest, both in Britain and abroad.

200 lumens is about the minimum for watching wildlife at night, and then only when the beam is focused to spot to maximise the beam range. Scanning open grassland at Staines Moor in Surrey for Eurasian Woodcock, the MR7's maximum 255 m beam range would generate eye-shine on larger animals such as Red Fox at quite some distance (although no outline or colour on the animal would be discernible), however, eye-shine on smaller animals such as the Woodcock was much more difficult to see. An outline and colour would only become visible at fairly close range - about 20 m. Photography is only possible at very close range - 15 m or closer.

For watching wildlife over large distances, 400 lumens or more would significantly increase the usable beam range. At closer distances such as in Brazil's tropical rainforest, the MR7 proved excellent for searching for mammals, frogs, and invertebrates, however, the torch struggled a little with birds such as Tawny-browed Owl perched high in tall trees.

Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola, Staines Moor, Surrey, December 2013 -
Canon EOS 7D + EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens; tripod; LED Lenser MR7; no flash.

The MR7 creates a very uniform light with no dark spots or circles appearing anywhere in the beam whether on the flood or spot setting. The blue hue of the diodes is noticeable, but the light from the MR7 is much whiter than other LED torches I have used, producing good colours, and so is great for wildlife watching, although I still prefer the incandescent bulb of the Nightsearcher Puma (although a little on the warm side) for night-photography. Another advantage the Nightsearcher Puma retains over the MR7 is a much wider beam on high power (spot focus on the MR7), allowing birds in flight to be picked up much easier.

Tawny-browed Owl Pulsatrix koeniswaldiana, REGUA, Brazil, October 2013 -
Canon EOS 7D + EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM; LED Lenser MR7; no flash.
Note the blue hue emitted by the LED Lenser MR7 and compare to the light from the Nightsearcher Puma (see pic below).

Tawny-browed Owl Pulsatrix koeniswaldiana, REGUA, Brazil, May 2010 -
Canon EOS 7D + EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM; Nightsearcher Puma; no flash.
Compared to the LED Lenser MR7, the incandescent bulb of the Nightsearcher Puma has a much whiter light.

In summary, the 220 lumen output of the MR7 falls a little short of the ideal torch for wildlife watching at night. However, the small size, light weight, and ease of use more than make up for these shortcomings, and the whiter light it provides means that, for me, there is no going back to the large and heavy incandescent lights. An LED torch with an output between 400 and 500 lumens, a slightly whiter light, and not too much bigger, would be perfect. There are a few more powerful LED torches on the market, including other models from Lenser, but the price tags need to fall a lot more for them to compete with the MR7.

2 comments:

  1. Great review Lee, most helpful and good to hear from someones' own experiences with it. Thanks for sharing, got me looking now!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Amazing shots,great write up Ref torch.
    Might try.
    John.

    ReplyDelete