Lumapower D-mini VX Ultra (SST-50) Review: RUNTIMES, BEAMSHOTS, and more!

Originally posted: January 9, 2010
Last revised: August, 2010

Reviewer's Note: The D-mini VX Ultra was provided for review by

Warning: pic heavy, as usual.

Manufacturer's specifications, condensed from Battery Junction’s website:The D-mini VX is the new form factor for the classic Lumapower “pocket rocket”. This review is of the Ultra version that includes the new Luminus SST-50 emitter.

UPDATE: MattK has clarified that the Ultra version of this light was intended as a maximally-driven "overclocked" limited run for the flashaholic community. Please his post #21 further down this thread for more info.

The VX comes in the now standard Lumapower case. The light is encased in cutout foam, and the package includes spare O-rings and black tailcap button cover, D65 extension tube and spring, warranty card, and manual.

From left to right: Duracell CR123A, D-mini VX Ultra (no extender), original D-mini (Cree P4), Ray Tactial D1, JetBeam Jet-II Pro, NiteCore Exreme, Novatac 120P

The D-mini VX now comes with a D65 battery tube extender to allow use of 1x18650 (note that 2xRCR/CR123A are NOT supported). To use the new extender, a small variable-width spring (included) must be inserted under the removable emitter pill to allow contact with the positive 18650 battery terminal.

From left to right: AW protected 18650, D-mini VX Ultra (with D65 extender), Olight M21, Olight M20, JetBeam Jet-IIIM, ThruNite Catapult (no extender)

No extender: Weight 86.3g, Length 94.6mm x Width 37.4mm (bezel)
With D65 extender: Weight: 100.7g, Length 136.0mm x Width: 37.4mm (bezel)

The overall physical dimensions of the new D-mini VX are actually a bit smaller than the original D-mini. The extra ridge detail and body style elements certainly help with improved grip. All around, it feels like a significant upgrade from the original model.

I am amazed at how small the light still is with the D65 battery extender in place. The light is comfortable to hold and use in either battery tube format, and it's nice to see the D65 extender included in the base package.

The D-mini VX Ultra’s components seem well made and very modular. Everything fits together well, with smooth screw threads that are anodized for tailcap lockout. Although someone should probably tell the factory to go easy on the thread lube.

As previously mentioned, you need to use the included spring to make positive terminal contact with the D65 extender tube. This should allow you to use modern flat-top high-capacity 18650 batteries. No contact issues were noted in any arrangement, everything worked perfectly.

Machining and anodizing of the light are top-notch on my sample. Labels are sill fairly clear, although the serial number and Lumapower name are fairly dim on my sample (Lumapower probably uses one of the smallest fonts of any flashlight maker).

The light can tailstand due to a built-up tail ridge. But thanks to the scalloped edges, I found the clicky reasonably easy to activate with my thumb. The light comes with a forward clicky switch with good tactile feel (momentary on, click for lock-on).

The VX series comes with a mildly crenalated bezel, in black. The Ultra specifically features a shallower reflector than the original D-mini, and is thus not likely to be much of a thrower. The Luminus SST-50 is reasonably, though not perfectly, well-centered in the reflector. Given the shallow reflector design and heavy surface texturing, I'm not expecting any significant beam issues. Note that the much larger die of the Luminus LED is difficult to focus to a fine point, so I expect a much more general beam pattern here.

And now for the requisite white wall hunting … all lights are on Max with OP reflectors on AW 18650 (for M21 comparison) or RCR (original D-mini comparison), about 0.5 meters from a white wall.

Overall, I would say the beam profile of the D-mini VX Ultra is very similar to the Olight M21 - only the Ultra is brighter (i.e. driven harder) on Max. Although The Olight M21 has a slightly larger reflector, the overall shape and dimensions are reasonably similar to the Ultra.

All my recent SST-50-based lights have had pretty good tint, usually slightly on the cool side of premium cool white tints. For those of you not familiar with tint bins, please see my Colour tint comparison and the summary LED tint charts found here.

UPDATE: Some additional long-distance beamshots, to show you how the light compares to others in its class.

Please see my recent 100-yard Outdoor Beamshot review for more details (and additional lights).

User Interface

The D-mini VX features the now standard Lumapower "Smart UI". Basically, the light works as a simple 3-stage light with mode memory – but also features the option to lock it as a simple single-stage only light (at your choice of output level).

For basic operation, turn the light on/off by a soft-press (momentary) or click and release of the tailcap switch (lock-on). To switch between output modes, soft-press the clicky and the light advances through Lo-Med-Hi in sequence, in an infinite repeating loop. This basic mode includes memory – if you leave the light on for more than 1 sec in any given mode before clicking off, it will come back on in that mode when next activated.

To lock the light as single-stage light at whatever level you want, turn the light on and leave it in the output state you want for at least 1 sec. Then turn off the light and repeatedly flash the tailswitch 4 times within 1 second (this may take some practice). The light will stay locked in this one output mode indefinitely – until you do another 4 time flash in under 1 sec again from off (which will restore you to basic functioning).

There is no strobe or SOS modes.

PWM (Pulse-Width-Modulation)

Like other recent multi-level Lumapower lights I've reviewed (e.g. Avenger GX, Mentor, etc), PWM is used generate the Lo/Med output levels – typically in 1.3kHz region. Although still detectable by eye if you know what to look for, this level is high enough so as not to be readily distracting.

Testing Method: All my output numbers are relative for my home-made light box setup, a la Quickbeam's 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 (i.e. >12 hours) 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:

The SST-50 is clearly driven to a fairly high level in the new D-mini VX Ultra - on single 3.7V battery sources (i.e. 1xRCR, 1x18650) the Ultra is the brightest light in my collection at the moment.

Because the Ultra is so bright, throw measures at 1 m show a pretty high output level on RCR. But that doesn't mean the Ultra is a dedicated thrower - compared to most 1x18650 lights with this size head, it’s throw is in fact below average. With its very bright spill, it’s basically a traditional general purpose beam pattern.

Note that the Ultra’s low-level is still fairly bright by 1xRCR standards, but reasonable for a 1x18650 light.

On primary CR123A batteries, it is a completely different matter. The light is clearly not maximized for use of this battery source - only relatively low output levels are possible, and in a generally non-regulated fashion. Note that the manual recommends primaries only be used for emergency purposes.

Output/Runtime Comparison:

Note: Effective January 2010, all CR123A runtimes are now performed solely on Titanium Innovations batteries sponsored by You can compare the generally excellent performance of these CR123A cells relative to the Duracell/Surefire cells used in all my earlier reviews here.

Given the obviously highly driven nature of this light, 1xRCR is clearly not appropriate on Max. You are looking at a >4C discharge rate on Max on RCR, which exceeds recommended battery draws. I strongly recommend you do not run this light on Hi on RCR for any length of time. You are better off using an IMR cell, which can better tolerate those kind of current draws.

I think it's fair to say that you are best running this light in 1x18650 format, or sticking to Med/Lo on RCR (and potentially Hi on IMR cells).

Note: for the runtimes below, the D-mini VX Ultra is in red, not gold as earlier. Sorry.

Runtimes are about what I would've expected for the output levels, on all batteries. No real surprises here.

Potential Issues

IMO, the light is driven too hard on Max to be safely used with regular RCR (i.e. >4C discharge rate ). Med/Lo on RCR is fine, as are all modes on 1x18650. If you want to use Max on RCR-size cells, use IMR cells that are rated to handle higher discharge rates.

The light gets pretty warm when on Hi for any length of time. I am a bit concerned about the long-term longevity of the emitter at the max output drive level (again, especially in 1xRCR/IMR format).

Primary CR123A batteries are not really an option, in less you don't mind being limited to a non-regulated, relatively Low output level.

Preliminary Observations

I am impressed with the new build of the D-mini VX. Physically, it is a significant upgrade to the original D-mini in every way.

A very thoughtful design, I particularly like the inclusion of the D65 extension tube for 1x18650 support. I also like the new Lumapower "Smart UI", as it gives you the option of a multi-level light (in my preferred sequence from Lo to Hi) with mode memory and no strobe/SOS, or the ability to convert it to a single stage-only light (for all you fans).

I haven't tested the base VX model, but I'm sure original D-mini holders would find it a significant upgrade. This Ultra model (with the Luminus SST-50 emitter) is clearly designed for another purpose - the focus here is not really on throw, but rather providing high output with a more typical general purpose beam pattern.

And this is where the problem comes in – the Ultra is driven to such a level that primary CR123As are not feasible (i.e. can’t provide enough power to run the light above a low level), and regular RCRs don't carry enough storage capacity to be safely run on Max output (i.e. Hi mode discharge rates are too high). I can just imagine the initial reaction people will have when I show it to them on Hi on 1xRCR … and the second reaction they will have when I tell them the runtime.

You are basically left with 1x18650 if you want to get maximum use out of light, or potentially IMR cells in the 16340 size. I really see this light mainly as a 1x18650 light, with the option to run at lower levels on 1xRCR/IMR (but not 1xCR123A) if needed. This partially defeats the purpose of a small form-factor "pocket rocket", although I would note the light is still quite small in 1x18650 format, relatively speaking.

IMO, they would have been better off limiting the light to a lower Max output (i.e. something closer to the Olight M21 reviewed recently). This would make it easier on 1xRCR, not to mention reducing the heat load on the whole light. I would also like to see a regulated Med and Lo mode on primary CR123A, but I gather that may be difficult to accommodate with the circuitry.

The new D-mini VX is an attractive and well-built little light, a worthy successor to the original D-mini line. They just need to tone down the wattage a little in Ultra form.

UPDATE: MattK has clarified that the Ultra version of this light was intended as a maximally-driven "overclocked" limited run for the flashaholic community. Please his post #21 further down this thread for more info.

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

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