In the last two decades, LEDs have revolutionised lighting for outdoor enthusiasts, this is due to their low energy consumption, long lifetime, physical robustness, small size and fast switching.
Ledlenser is a worldwide leader in LED light manufacture, with more than 100 patents for their designs. The company was established in 1993, and now has more than 1500 employees, three manufacturing bases and produces some of the world’s highest-quality LED flashlights. Ledlenser products are designed in Solingen Germany and made in Yangjiang China. Ledlenser only make LED torches, so it’s not surprising that they have become quite good at it.
Ledlenser’s new MH11 model is their flagship headlamp, with a host of potentially useful features, including a smartphone App, a Boost mode of up to 1000 lumens, and an automatic dimming function. In addition, it has a magnetic charging cable, a separate Red Green Blue (RGB) LED, a battery status indicator, and best of all: Ledlenser’s refined focusing system.
The headlamp has a quality, industrial grade feel to it. It has one rubber covered push button switch with soft blue illumination. Straps are wide and comfortable with plenty of adjustment.
The main lamp is a focusable LED with a 25mm diameter lens. Either side of the main white LED is the red blue green LED and the dimming sensor.
The MH11 comes with a single Ledlenser branded lithium-ion battery with a 3200mAh capacity. The removable rechargeable battery is 18650 format – a common size for high output LED torches.
Focus Bezel: Superb optics is a winning feature of the MH11. Ledlenser has been granted a patent for their Advanced Focus System which simultaneously moves the lens and reflector with respect to the fixed LED. Rotate the bezel about 1/8 turn to converge the spot for long-distance viewing or defocus for flat, uniform light for up-close reading. All it takes is a slight twist to go from a wide beam to spot beam. The action is smooth and can be accomplished with gloved fingers.
LEDs don’t like heat and the diecast aluminium focus bezel cleverly performs double duty as a heat sink to help cool the LED.
Boost function: Two quick presses on the button boosts the light to a maximum output of 1000 lumens for 10 seconds. This is a great feature for having a quick look at something while preserving battery life and limiting the heat load on the LED.
‘Optisense’ auto dimmer: MH11 has an integrated brightness sensor so that the intensity of the headlamp can automatically adjust to the brightness in the environment. Ledlenser calls this feature Optisense and it is accomplished without fiddling with buttons or switches. The sensor is on the front of the lamp opposite the RGB LED. This feature is great when navigating at night to reduce glare when you glance down to look at the map. Another example where this is useful is when eating your evening meal in the dark and your partner talks to you and you turn to them to respond and shine your headtorch directly into their eyes. This is a practical innovation, but I found the sensitivity and speed of reaction of Optisense to seem quite low.
Harness system: MH11 has a three strap over-the-head wrap around headband comprising 25mm wide soft finish straps. This type is more secure than the more common two band system. This torch is reasonable weighty for running, but I was able to cinch the straps firm enough to prevent any bounce, without leaving a red welt across my forehead. The harness is detachable from the torch body. The white and pale blue straps on the model I had got grubby quite quickly, but hand washed up OK in soapy water. The alternate black model option would probably conceal grime better.
Red Green Blue (RGB) LED: Headtorches have had a red option for some time. Red is handy to preserve your night vision or to avoid startling wildlife. The inclusion of green and blue is novel. The rogaine maps I use seem to be drawn mainly in red, and I have found the blue LED option provides for excellent contrast on these maps. Apparently blue is also favoured by crime scene investigators to show up blood and other grisly things they look for. Green is believed by some hunters to attract wild game, and it looks cool too. As with red, green LEDs maintain night vision. The RGB LED colours all use less power than the Low power setting of the main LED.
Battery Life: Ledlenser claims 100 hours on Low , to 4 hours on High Power. I ran the torch on High for 4 hours, after which the battery life indicated 15% remaining. I set the torch on Low for 100 hours after which I found I still had 56 % battery life left. It eventually went for 150 hours continuously on Low. Ledlenser’s battery life claims are conservative.
USB charge cable: This has a magnetic attachment to the torch. I really like this- the cable just needs to be put near the contacts on the underside of the torch and it vigorously jumps into place. Many bushwalkers now carry USB battery banks for their other electronic devices and modern cars have USB ports, so USB compatibility is welcome.
Weight: 182 grams all up, of which the battery contributes 48 grams. For comparison, my usual bushwalking torch with three AAA batteries comes in at 80 grams plus another 35 grams for spare batteries. The weight premium for the MH11 is offset by its functionality and impressive battery life.
Carry pouch: A nice touch is the included soft nylon carry pouch. It has a closed belt loop and an elastic compartment for the battery. The black pouch can be hard to find in the dark, some reflective treatment would make the pouch even better.
Instructions: There are no detailed written instructions with the product, nor on Ledlenser’s website. The torch comes with just an A4 Quick User Guide containing line drawings, which attempt to explain the duration and number of presses for all the various functions. (This is probably because Ledlenser products are sold in more than 50 countries, and they want something which can be understood regardless of language or culture.) Given the complexity of the product, I would prefer a written user manual. Ledlenser has provided two useful online videos, one is an overview of the torch and also a specific one for the App.
What about The App? Wait, you now need a phone to turn your torch on? No. If your phone battery is flat, you can’t use the torch? No again. You don’t need to use the Ledlenser Connect App at all if you don’t want to. The headtorch works fine without it. Yes, I found it initially puzzling to find a smartphone App associated with a simple circuit essentially comprising a battery, a lamp and a switch. However, brace yourself, the App is the future. Let me explain.
The headtorch has just one button. To access the various functions and modes you need to press that button several times, and for differing durations. As mentioned, the provided instructions are inadequate: It can be all a bit confusing and operation is not at all intuitive. The Ledlenser Connect App allows for direct control of the torch via Bluetooth with specific virtual buttons and sliders.
What I like most about the App is, paradoxically, it can make the operation of the torch simpler. For example, with most basic headtorches you need to cycle through Low Power, Medium Power, High Power, Flashing, and then Off. That’s five button pushes. More, if you go past your stop. Since I value simplicity and I only need Low Power and High Power, I created a profile with just those two settings and sent it to the torch. Now the torch has been reprogrammed to have one button push to turn it on to Low Power, next push is High Power and then Off. Simpler.
I can see photographers using the direct control option to remotely adjust shot lighting. The App also has settings for setting intervals and a timer which could be handy for night time training applications or a wake-up alarm. You also get a more accurate percentage of battery life remaining rather than the red or green indicator on the torch body itself. The App is intuitive, though a little buggy, as expected from Ledlenser’s initial foray into software control.
The App also gives Ledlenser the potential to deliver future enhancements to end users. It would be good if a future revision of the App could be used to tweak the reaction speed and the dimming amount of the Optisense auto brightness function.
Warranty: The MH11 comes with an impressive 7-year warranty, 2 years on the battery. While I can’t see the elastics lasting 7 years, the torch body and plastics are very solid and will provide for years of service. The battery contacts are gold plated and the battery hatch has an O ring which aids durability.
Ingress Protection: The MH11 is stated as IP54, which is splash resistant. For a headlamp of this build quality and design attention, this rating is inadequate. A higher level of IP67 (immersion up to 1m) is what is required for the intended use of such a device, and this is what some competitors offer. This is a serious shortcoming for Ledlenser’s flagship headtorch. For details on IP ratings, check out Wikipedia.
What about real-world performance? I took the MH11 on a recent 10-day remote Victorian alpine walk. On the first night, I pulled the torch out of my rucksack to show off to my colleagues. To my disappointment, the torch was switched on and quite warm. This is a fundamental error of too many headlamps. Users should not be having to remove or reverse batteries, or tape over switches. Fortunately for me, the huge capacity 11.6 Watt-Hours battery lasted the entire trip. This was prior to my battery life test as indicated above.
The electronic lock function (holding the button down for 5 seconds ) is insufficient protection against inadvertent powering up, especially as the raised button sits on top of the highest point of the housing. A physically secure switch is what is needed here. If we can have Apps for headtorches, surely, we can have an effective on/off switch lockout. My 25-year-old Petzl Duo has an idiot proof switch, why can’t Ledlenser do it?
After this, I removed the battery each morning and replaced it each evening. The MH11 pouch has an elastic loop which holds the battery, but the rotating battery cap has an unfortunate design error in that it unlocks clockwise. This is annoying, as this product is intended used in the dark where the recessed lock/unlock symbols are not visible. Torch resetting, when required, is achieved via battery removal and reinsertion. Add the Ledlenser battery cap to the very short list of worldly things that undo clockwise, along with left side bicycle pedals and some passenger side truck wheel nuts.
The light has three intensities Low at 10 lumens, Medium 300 lumens and High at 750 lumens. Low is perfect for in tent reading and general food preparation. High was used for night walking to collect water and other nocturnal excursions.
The tilt function doesn’t have the indexed ‘click’ of most torches – it has a friction ‘stepless’ system. Rather than listening for the click you need to watch the beam as you adjust it. It’s quick to get used to, and with an overall range of 120 degrees, it offers enough down tilt to peer into the depths of your food bowl. The tilt doesn’t shift by itself or droop, even when running.
On this walk, I used the torch mainly on Low, for between 2 and 3 hours a night. At the end of the 10-day walk,, I still had 50% battery life left.
Functionality & Ease of Use (Rating: 95%)
The unit is well designed, and it is comfortable to wear for long periods. Ledlenser is so confident of its durability, it offers a 7-year warranty.
Design & Durability (Rating: 75%)
Performance of the light is excellent, and the power settings are well stepped. With just the one button the more obscure functions are awkward to access- this is where the App can bring simplicity to play.
What I Like
There’s lots to like about the MH11, my standouts are:
- Good overall design. Quality feel.
- Sharp, tight and smooth focus system.
- Excellent battery life with rechargeable lithium-ion 18650 battery.
- Boost mode up to 1000 lumen for 10 seconds.
- Magnetic charge cable, carry pouch.
- Ability to simplify operation via App profile.
What I Don’t Like
- Can be accidentally switched on.
- Low Ingress Protection rating for product type.
- Design error in battery hatch.
- Poor instructions.
The Ledlenser MH11 Headtorch is available online via Wild Earth.
Disclaimer: Ledlenser provided an MH11 for review. This has no influence over the opinions presented here.
Have you tried the Ledlenser MH11 Headtorch? Got any questions or comments? Let us know by commenting below.