Thrunite Catapult V3 (XM-L, 2x18650/4xCR123A) Review: RUNTIMES, BEAMSHOTS +

Originally posted: March 14, 2010
Last revised: March 15, 2010

Warning: pic heavy, as usual.


Following up on the Catapult V2 XM-L, Thrunite has now released a V3 XM-L with a revised interface and additional output modes.

Specifications:



Packaging is similar to the earlier Catapult lights (i.e. simple cardboard case with cut-out foam). As before, inside you will find the light, extension body tube, warranty card, wrist lanyard, spare o-rings and extra tailcap clicky switch and GITD boot cover.

There have been some cosmetic changes to the body plan of the V3, as shown below.


From left to right: Redilast 18650, Catapult V1, Catapult V2, Catapult V3.

All dimensions given with extra battery extender in place, but no batteries installed:

Catapult V3 XM-L: Weight: 434.8g, Length: 254mm, Width (bezel) 58.0mm, Width (tailcap) 35.1mm.
Catapult V2 XM-L: Weight: 438.2g, Length: 255mm, Width (bezel) 58.1mm, Width (tailcap) 35.0mm.
Catapult V2 SST-50: Weight: 446.4g, Length: 254mm, Width (bezel) 58.0mm, Width (tailcap) 35.0mm.
Catapult V1 SST-50: Weight: 410.5g, Length: 250mm, Width (bezel) 59.0mm, Width (tailcap) 34.4mm.

Since the overall size and dimensions haven’t changed much from the V2 XM-L, here are some additional pics showing how the Catapult V2 compares to other lights (for rough size comparison):


From left to right: AW Protected 18650, Thrunite Catapult V2 XM-L, Catapult V2 SST-50, Olight M31, JetBeam M1X V2.


From left to right: AW Protected 18650, M3C4 XM-L, M3C4 SST-50 (OP), Thrunite Catapult V2 XM-L, Sunwayman M40C, JetBeam M1X V2.

Detailed Catapult V3 XM-L pics:




The main changes from the V2 build are the cosmetic touches to the styling at the base of the head and tailcap, and the revised checkered pattern on the battery handle. The handle changes are the most significant, as the checkered pattern is now much more deeply cut, producing even greater grip than before (which was already quite high).

The threading seems to have changed slightly as well, and the old battery tubes are thus not interchangeable with this new version. The thin bands of knurling at the tail and near the bezel are also gone now.

Inside, not much has changed. There is still a spring in the head, battery contact cap in the tailcap, dual o-rings everywhere, and a stainless bezel ring. Body walls remain extraordinarily thick – you could probably run over this with a tank without damaging the batteries.

Black anodizing (type III = HA) is similarly indistinguishable from previous versions. Lettering is brighter and thicker than earlier Catapults.

The light can tailstand as before (the raised ridges also serve as attachment points for the wrist lanyard). My V3 sample was a bit wobbly if tailstanding when off, though no problem when on. The switch has a similar feel to before, and is fairly typical for standard forward clicky switch.

Screw threads in the tailcap and on the corresponding battery tube remain anodized, allowing for lock-out. FYI, as before, the extender portion battery tube goes between the head and the main body tube, not between the main body tube and the tailcap (as is the case on most other lights). It’s important you don’t try to install it the wrong way, or it will interfere with battery contact (i.e. the anodized screw threads will be in the wrong place).




The reflector and emitter look unchanged from the V2 XM-L version.

Which brings me to the white-wall beamshots. All lights are on 2xAW protected 18650, about ~0.75 meter from a white wall (with the camera ~1.25 meters back from the wall). Automatic white balance on the camera, to minimize tint differences.

Note: The "Catapult V2" refers to the SST-50 version. The V2 XM-L version is so-labeled in the pics below.













The Catapult definitely retains its impressive throw! Scroll down for more detailed output/runtime comparisons.

Tint on my V3 XM-L sample seems slightly less warm than my V2 XM-L sample. It would definitely be consider a premium Cool White tint.

I've recently updated my 100-Yard Outdoor Beamshot Round-up, including the latest XM-L lights. Check out that round-up thread for more details on the testing method, plus higher quality JPEG images of all lights. I haven’t updated it with the V3 XM-L yet, but it is not that different from the V2 XM-L. Here is an animated GIF of relevant XM-L/SST-50 comparisons:




User Interface

The main difference with the Catapult V3 is in the UI.

As before, you turn on/off by the forward clicky switch (press-on for momentary, click for locked on). Also as before, tighten the head for max output. What differs on V3 is what happens when you have have the head loosen.

On the V2 Catapult, this gives you a Lo mode. On the V3, you have the choice of four modes: Lo > Med > Hi > Strobe, in repeating sequence. You select each mode by flashing or rapidly clicking off/on the tailcap in under one second. The light has mode memory, and retains the last setting you left it in.

This revised interface actually works quite well. You can set it up to work just as the old V2 did (i.e. Max/Lo), or any other combination of the head loosened. And you can still signal in the user-defined head loosened state, but you need to wait one second between activations (or you will advance the mode).

To better understand how the output levels compare, on all batteries, see the chart below. Note that these lumen estimates refer to initial activation, not ANSI values (scroll down to methodology section for an explanation of these terms, with links):



Basically, the Max output is unchanged from the V2 XM-L. The V2 Lo mode is very similar to the V3 Med mode. The V3 Hi mode is not quite as bright as Max, but it is close. And the V3 Lo mode is really just a Moonlight mode.

As you can also see, there has been some revision and improvement of drive levels on different batteries. 4x CR123A and 2x 3.7V Li-ion now give identical output levels on the V3 (in all modes), and 2x CR123A has a somewhat lower set of outputs across the board. This is quite reasonable, considering the lower capacity of 2xCR123A.

As before, 1x18650 is insufficient to light up the light in anything but a Moonlight mode. Thrunite informs me that the actual output level on 1x18650 will be quite variable from sample to sample - since the circuit doesn't support <4.3V battery sources, they can't predict how individual samples will perform.

As before, I believe the light still has a thermal sensor, and will cut-out if the temperature exceeds 120C. A good safety feature, especially when running 4xCR123A on Hi.

PWM/Strobe

There is no sign of pulse width modulation (PWM) on the Lo/Med/Hi modes that I can detect. The frequency is either so high that it beyond the testing range of my setup, or the light is current controlled. Either way, no signs of a flicker to worry about.



Strobe is 13.4 Hz on my sample.

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 any extended run Lo/Min modes (i.e. >12 hours) which are done without cooling.

I have recently devised a method for converting my lightbox relative output values (ROV) to estimated Lumens. See my How to convert Selfbuilt's Lighbox values to Lumens thread for more info.

Throw/Output Summary Chart:

Effective November 2010, I have revised my summary tables to match with the current ANSI FL-1 standard for flashlight testing. Please see http://www.sliderule.ca/FL1.htm for a description of the terms used in these tables.



As shown in my earlier output comparison table, the V3 is basically the same output as the V2 XM-L on Max. Throw was reduced by ~6% on my V3 sample, but that just reflects a small difference in precise focusing (again, you can't compare raw lux as it is a non-linear scale - look at beam distance to accurately compare throw).

The V3 has a Moonlight mode ("Lo") that allows for very low output. But the next output level ("Med") is actually very close to the V2 XM-L's single Lo mode.

UPDATE 3/15/2010: It seems likely that my sample has an unusually low output on Lo. There is precedent for this - my Eagletac M3C4 SST-50 SMO/Deep had an even lower Lo mode upon arrival. After being send back for repair, the final Lo mode was 23 estimated lumens in my lightbox.

Scroll back up to the UI section for a detailed chart comparing outputs at all levels, on all batteries, for the V2 and V3 lights.

Output/Runtime Comparison:











As expected, there is no real change in performance on Max output. And the Hi output provides a convenient way to get extended runtime with just a relatively small drop in output.

However, output/runtime effiicency has dropped on the V3 Med mode, compared to the V2 XM-L Lo mode (which has a comparable output level). Efficiency of the V3 Med/Hi modes also seems somewhat lower than other members in the XM-L class. But to put that in perspective, it is still more efficient than the SST-50-based V2.

There is one new feature here - on Max, the light starts to cycle between Max and a lower level as the batteries near exhaustion (all batteries). This could be a useful signal to tell you it is time to recharge Li-ion cells, before hitting the built-in protection circuit cut-off (or over-depleting unprotected cells). It is also a lot less annoying than a strobe warning would be.

Potential Issues

As with many lights of this class, the light is heavily driven on Max, so I recommend you run it sparingly in this mode. Note the V3 has a built-in thermal cut-off sensor, which is a wise safety feature. But as before, 2xRCR should not be used on Max due to high discharge rate - unless you use IMR cells that can handle the current drain. 2xCR123A is now safe to use at all output levels on the V3, thanks to lower drive levels (this was not the case on the earlier V2 lights, where 2xCR123A was driven too hard on max).

Although multi-mode, my V3 lacks a regular Lo (i.e. my V3 Lo = Moonlight mode, and V3 Med = V2 Lo).

Make sure you insert the extender battery tube between the head and primary tube (otherwise, the light will probably not light up).

The Catapults are heavier than most lights of this class, and no holster is provided.

The tailcap retaining ring had a tendency to loosen up on my sample, preventing activation on occasion - you may need to tighten periodically. A paper clip works well, if you don't have fine-tipped tweezers/snap-ring pliers.

Preliminary Observations

The V3 Catapult is another in a line of solid, high-output "throwy" lights from Thrunite. I consider the V3 physical body changes to be largely cosmetic (although grip is definitely enhanced with the new checkered battery handle).

Same goes for the max output and throw - these remain unchanged from the earlier V2 XM-L. The real difference is the UI and wider range of output levels. There is also improved handling on 2xCR123A battery sources (see the table in the UI section of the review) and a few other circuit tweaks (i.e. the Med-mode cycling seen as the batteries near exhaustion).

Personally, I like the new interface. It is thoughtfully designed so that you can run the light exactly as the V2 XM-L (i.e. head tight for Max, head loosened for a memorized Med/Lo). But with the head loosened, you now have a choice of three output levels or strobe, accessed by flashing the tailcap.

In terms of these new levels, I like the Hi and Med. By eye, Hi seems nearly as bright as Max (according to my lightbox, Hi is just under 600 estimated initial lumens vs just under 800 estimated initial lumens for Max). But Hi has nearly 50% more runtime than Max. This is exactly what most high-end throwers lack - the option for a slightly less-heavily driven max output, for enhanced runtime.

The V3 Med mode (~300 estimated initial lumens) is actually very similar to the V2 Lo mode, and is well balanced between output and runtime. Unfortunately, the efficiency of the V3's Med is lower than the V2 XM-L's Lo (but is still better than the V2 SST-50 version's Lo).

Personally, I don't really see the point of the "Moonlight" level Lo of the V3 (i.e. <1 estimated lumens on my sample). I can't quite see myself lugging around a light this size for its Moonlight level, but I suppose some may see a value in it. Still, I would have preferred to see something in ~50-100 Lumen range for a reasonable Lo.

UPDATE: My sample may be defective on the lowest mode, as at least two other users report a more typical Lo mode. There is precedent for this - my Eagletac M3C4 SST-50 SMO/Deep had an even lower Lo mode upon arrival. After being send back for repair, the final Lo mode on that light was 23 estimated lumens in my lightbox. I'm curious to hear other users' experiences with the Catapult V3.

And of course, strobe is now there for those of you who like that sort of thing. It is a full-power, high-frequency tactical strobe, accessible on head-loosened series of modes.

I don't know if the V3 is intended to replace or co-exist with the V2 XM-L, but there's really not much point to getting V2 version - unless you really need the somewhat extended runtime on Lo. By the same token, there may not be a compelling reason to "upgrade" a V2 XM-L to the V3, unless you really want the strobe or the other two constant output modes.

But all things being equal (i.e. price), I would personally opt for the V3 for its extra Hi mode and improved drive levels on 2xCR123A, along with other circuit tweaks. One thing that is still missing is proper 1x18650 support, but I suppose you can't have everything.

At the end of the day, I find the V3 to be a successful evolutionary upgrade to the line. If you are looking for a beefy, high-output thrower light, the Catapult series certainly fit the bill.

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Catapult V3 XM-L provided by Thrunite for review.

To follow the online discussions for this review, please see the full review thread at CPF.




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