Nitecore Hunting Lamps Review

23 June 2016

Some of you may remember the review of the Fenix TK15 that I did here some time back. I was recently contacted by someone from Nitecore who saw that review and asked if I wanted to review some of their torches too. For full disclosure, the deal is that I get to keep whatever I review, but there was no suggestion from them that I should give a favourable review in exchange for the torches. In fact, they say they like to see negative, as well as positive points made about the products. I made a conscious decision before I even received the stuff from Nitecore that I would give a fully honest review of them, no matter how good or bad they were.

Whenever I show my Fenix TK15 to anyone that shoots, the first question I always get is "Would it be any good for foxing?". The simple answer is "no". Foxing was never a consideration for me when I was buying the TK15 because my only rifle is a .22LR, so I wasn't looking for a torch with a useful range over 100m. It did make me wonder, however, if a much larger LED torch would be a viable alternative to a 12v hand-held lamp and a heavy car battery.

When Nitecore contacted me, they offered me their P12GT and MH27 torches to review, which are similar in physical size to the TK15. I told them that I was curious about using a large LED torch for hunting and asked if they'd be willing to send one to me to test. They agreed to send me the TM16 (TM stands for Tiny Monster), which is a hand-held search light.

I have to be honest; I'm a big fan of Fenix torches. I've bought five of them, including two I bought as presents, and I love them all. It occurred to me while I was waiting for the Nitecore gear to arrive that they had a hard act to follow.

So here's what I received from Nitecore:

Top left are red and green filters for the P12GT and MH27 (NFR25, NFG25, NFR40 & NRG40). Beside them is the D4 digital battery charger (more on that later). On the bottom right is a Nitecore gun mount (GM04/25mm) to fit a 25.4mm (one inch) scope and 25.4mm lamp. Beside the gun mount are two remote pressure switches (RSW1).

As soon as I unpacked everything out of the boxes, I was impressed with the quality. In my head, Fenix had set the bar high in terms of quality, and my first impression was that the Nitecore gear is every bit as good. Each torch is made from aircraft grade aluminium and has a HAIII military grade hard-anodized finish. As you'll see in the photos below, each of the two smaller torches come with spare o-rings and rubber tail caps which are about the only parts of the torches that might wear eventually. The TM16 only comes with two spare o-rings, but there's only slight movement in the buttons when they're pressed, so the rubber covering them is far less likely to fatigue. The P12GT and MH27 come with removeable anti-roll rings, pocket clips and good quality storage pouches. All three come with a lanyard.

All of these torches use 18650 Lithium-ion batteries, which I love. They're long-lasting rechargable batteries and I wouldn't consider buying a torch that uses any other kind of battery. One of the big advantages over a torch with a built-in battery is that you can carry spare batteries and change them as necessary, rather than being out of light when the battery runs down. Below is a photo of 18650 batteries with AA batteries for size comparison:

Some manufacturers have circuits in their torches to prevent damage when the batteries are inserted backwards. While waiting for my Nitecore torches to arrive I had done some reading about them and Nitecore say they have a "physical reverse polarity system", meaning you physically can't install the batteries the wrong way around. So, when my torches arrived the first thing I tried to do was fit the batteries the wrong way around. They fit into the torch and I was able to put the tailcap on. I thought "So much for that". Then I tried to turn on the torch to see what would happen. Nothing. I took the batteries out and looked closer and only then noticed how it works. Like an AA battery, the 18650 batteries have a small protrusion on the positive side and the negative side is flat. Nitecore put a plastic ring around the positive terminal in their torches, so that the flat, negative side of the battery can't make contact with it:

I think this is a brilliant way to provide reverse polarity protection because it's simple and effective, whereas a reverse polarity protection circuit is a more complicated way to do it. Also, using a circuit to do the same job causes a slight voltage drop between the battery and the LED (a normal diode, for example, has a voltage drop of about 0.7v).

After briefly turning on each torch to make sure they worked and check their functions, I gave them all a full charge. The MH27 can be charged from a USB port and comes supplied with a Micro-USB cable. The cable has a velcro tie attached to it to keep the cable wrapped up when not in use, and I like their attention to detail, putting their name on the velcro tie. This not only adds a look of quality to it, but also means you know what the cable is for if you come across it lying in a box of similar cables.

Each of these torches are IPX-8 waterproof and submersible to two metres and impact resistant to drops from 1.5m. The MH27 has a rubber bung covering the USB charging port to protect it from dirt and water, but the rubber cover isn't part of the waterproofing (in other words, if you don't close it properly your torch won't get water damaged).

The TM16 takes four 18650 batteries, but the charger I bought with my TK15 only charges two at a time. Nitecore manufacture chargers, as well as torches. They make two chargers that will charge four 18650 batteries at once - the I4 ('I' for intelligent) and the D4 ('D' for digital). Both chargers do the same job, but the D4 gives the user more information, through its backlit, digital LCD display. As an engineer, I like to see actual values (such as current, voltage etc), rather than just different coloured lights saying the battery is charging or charged, so I asked Nitecore for a D4. When it is plugged in, the D4 does a short initialisation and self-test:

The D4 can charge many different types of battery - Li-ion, IMR, LiFePO4, Ni-MH, Ni-Cd - in various different sizes (including 18650, AA, AAA, C), so it's pretty much the only battery charger you'll need. The negative terminal is spring-loaded to allow you to insert different lengths of battery. When you insert a battery into the D4, it does a few checks to see what type of battery it is and what the charge status is. You'll see in the video below, when the battery is inserted, it immediately measures (and displays) its voltage. The charging current is (almost) zero while it determines what type of battery it is. It then displays "Li-ion" on the screen and starts to charge. On the lower right part of the display, you'll see "Chg. Mode CC", meaning the charging mode is constant current. For one to two batteries, the constant current is up to 750mA and for three or four batteries, it's up to 350mA. Each of the four slots are monitored independantly, so you can insert batteries of different levels of charge and even different types of battery altogether. As the batteries charge, the display cycles through the voltage, charge current, and elapsed time for the selected battery. You can chose whichever battery you want to see by pressing the "Slot" button on the side of the charger. You can also select what value you want to see (Voltage/ Current/ Time) by pressing the "Mode" button. After a few seconds, the display will resume cycling through the values. Some people may not be interested in seeing that information (in which case the I4 would be a better choice) but as I said earlier, I like to be able to see all those values.

As you'd expect, the D4 has reverse polarity protection to prevent damage to the charger and/or battery if the battery is inserted the wrong way around. This is what happens when you insert a battery backwards:

As the battery gets closer to being fully charged, the D4 switches to constant voltage mode (the exact voltage depends on the battery type - 4.2v for 18650 batteries). You'll then see that the charge current gradually gets lower until the battery is fully charged. That's another reason I like to be able to see the exact values. If you're waiting for the batteries, and see that the charge current is 30mA, then you know they're almost charged, but if it's 600mA or something, then you know you've another while to wait.
When a battery is fully charged, the battery icon for that slot shows five steady bars (as opposed to flashing), and "Chg. Status" changes to "Chg. Finish". The display alternates between the battery voltage and the time it took to charge (no current flows when the battery is charged). I think it's handy that it shows the time it took to charge, because it lets you know how long a particular battery takes to charge, so you can plan ahead for the next time it needs to be charged. When all batteries in the charger are charged, the display reads "All".

With the batteries fully charged, I was finally able to start playing with them. Here they are, along with two of my Fenix torches:

From left to right: Nitecore P12GT, Fenix UC35, Fenix TK15, Nitecore MH27, Nitecore TM16

Here's the TM16 in my hand, just to give an idea of its size. It's not big to hold in your hand, and with the batteries inside it's very well balanced.

It has a standard tripod mount threaded into the tailcap, so you can use it as a work light etc.

The MH27 and P12GT are very similar in size, weight and quality to the two Fenix torches I already have:

From left to right: Nitecore MH27, Fenix TK15, Fenix UC35, Nitecore P12GT

From left to right: Nitecore MH27, Fenix TK15, Fenix UC35, Nitecore P12GT

While the Fenix and Nitecore torches both have metal lugs on the tailcap to prevent the button from being accidentally pressed, the button on the Fenix torches protrude beyond the metal lugs slightly, so they won't stand on the tailcap. I find being able to stand the Nitecore torches on their tailcap handy if you want to work on something with both hands and hold it over the torch, so you can see what you're doing. I also find it useful indoors to stand the torch on its tailcap to bounce the light off the ceiling and light the whole room.

The TM16, MH27 and P12GT have "special modes" which include strobe, location beacon and SOS. The SOS function just flashes SOS in morse code. The location beacon function flashes briefly about every two seconds, so you can use it to mark the location of something. The strobe mode is intended to dazzle/disorientate an attacker. When I was cycling through the special modes to see what they were, even with the torch pointed away from me in daylight, the strobe mode made my eyes feel strange in the one or two seconds that I had it on. I can only imagine what it would be like to have it shone straight into your face. I don't know how useful the location beacon and SOS functions would be for hunting, but I've read that the strobe light can be used to stun an animal to make it easier to shoot. I've never tried it myself. First of all, it doesn't seem very sporting, but also I wouldn't want to use that strobe at night because I think you'd feel unwell after it, even if it was pointed away from you.
One of the features of the MH27 is that it has secondary LEDs in red, blue and green. I wondered if the red and green ones could be used instead of red and green filters but no, they're not bright enough. It also has an ultra low setting (1 lumen) for the main LED, which is useful if you want just enough light to be discrete, but still not fall over something in the dark. I can't really think of any use for the blue and green lights, but the red one would be useful for preserving your night vision. Below is a photo showing the ultra low setting, as well as the coloured LEDs:

It also has three extra modes, in addition to the special modes mentioned above: flashing blue light, flashing red light and alternate flashing red and blue. I can't think of any practical application for these, but they look cool. :D
I've just noticed that Nitecore have released the MH27UV, which is the same torch, but has a UV LED instead of the green one. I'd definitely chose the MH27UV over the MH27 because I'd find more uses for the UV LED than the green one.

Nitecore make three types of gunmount for their torches. I chose the GM04, which comes in two sizes: 25.4/25.4mm for mounting to a scope and 18/25.4mm for mounting to a shotgun barrel. It's a nice, sturdy mount made of the same type aluminium as the torches. It also has two short weaver rails on one end for mounting extra accessories. It also comes with an allen key for fitting it.

The one slight disadvantage of this mount is that you need to open all six screws with an allen key every time you want to mount/remove the torch. I mounted both the MH27 and the P12GT on my scope using this mount and it was possible to tighten it enough to make sure they wouldn't move, but I don't think it would be possible to over-tighten it and damage your scope.

MH27 mounted on my rifle using GM04/25mm

P12GT mounted on my rifle using GM04/25mm

While I like the GM04 and think it's a well-made piece of kit, it won't work for me. My scope has a 50mm objective lens and the GM04 isn't tall enough to lift the torch clear of that. I was able to mount the MH27 by moving it further back on the scope. The lens of the torch was just high enough to let the light out over the objective lens of the scope, but I had to remove one of the turret caps from the scope because the back of the torch was too low to fit over it. This obviously isn't practical because the turret could get turned or damaged in the dark without the cap to protect it.

You could probably just about fit the P12GT on a scope with a 50mm objective, if it wasn't an adjustable objective, but the extra width of the rotating part of the adjustable objective means the P12GT won't clear it. As the body of the P12GT is the same width as the MH27 (25mm), I have the same problem with it being too low to fit over the turret with the cap on it.

50mm objective lenses aren't so common, especially as you move up to better quality scopes that don't need a big objective lens to compensate for a lack of clarity in the glass, so this mount would probably work well for most people. Being able to push the torch further forward on the scope, over the objective lens would also mean that you wouldn't have the problem of it fitting over the turret.

Nitecore make a remote pressure switch, RSW1, which fits both the MH27 and the P12GT (as well as a lot of their other torches). When I first started shooting and bought the Fenix TK15, I used to use camo wrap to hold the pressure switch onto the stock. Since I got a bipod, however, I prefer to curl my left arm back beside the butt, so I just ran the cable of the RSW1 under the stock pouch. That way, I can press the pressure pad between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand.

The RSW1 also has a button on the side of the tailcap, to turn the torch on contant.

Comparing the Nitecore RSW1 to the Fenix pressure switch, the RSW1 requires a little bit more pressure to switch on, although I said the same about the Fenix switch when I compared it to the LEDLenser one, so maybe they just feel stiffer when they're new. Other than that, the Nitecore and Fenix remote pressure switches are virtually identical. So much so, I checked if the Fenix one would fit the Nitecore torch and vice versa, but they're just different enough that they aren't compatible with each other.

It's not a great time of year for testing torches. Soon after I received the torches from Nitecore, the spell of good weather started and the sky wasn't totally dark until after midnight and was starting to get bright again before 04:00. The first time I turned the TM16 on outside in the dark, I burst out laughing. There's a ridiculous amount of light out of that torch. The field where I'd normally test torches was nowhere near big enough to challenge the TM16.
Finally, last Friday, I got a night that was cloudy enough that it got dark by 23:30, but clear enough to take some decent photos. I usually find that manufacturers exaggerate the beam range of their torches but in the case of the TM16, Nitecore haven't exaggerated at all. They claim the TM16 has a maximum beam range of 700m. I stood on the roof of my shed to get a view far enough to test the limit of the TM16. Here's a photo I took from there. The camera on my phone isn't good enough to show the distance that the TM16 reached out to, but I could see the side wall of my neighbour's house and you can just make out the wall in the photo:

I measured the distance by GPS (so it's accurate to about 5m) and I measured the distance to my neighbour's house as 685m. I've zoomed in and put an arrow to make it easier to see the house in the photo:

That was in Turbo mode (4000 lumens). Even in High mode (1780 lumens) there was an impressive amount of light and I could just make out the house in the distance:

I know there's a difference between being able to see a cream-coloured wall at 685m and seeing an animal at that distance, but I definitely reckon you'd have no problem picking up eyes at that distance. I didn't think to take a photo through the scope using the TM16, because I normally shoot alone and was thinking about using the TM16 for spotting and using the MH27 or P12GT mounted on the rifle to take the shot.

While the TM16 lives up to its claimed beam range, the abilities of the MH27 and P12GT are somewhat exaggerated. To be fair, they do specify that the claimed ranges are in laboratory conditions, as opposed to in a dark field.
Here are photos taken from the same spot on top of the shed, to give an idea of their range in comparison to the TM16:

MH27 in Turbo mode (1000 lumens)

MH27 in Turbo mode with green filter

MH27 in Turbo mode with red filter

The claimed beam range of the MH27 is 462m and I reckon I could see about 350m with it. As expected, the coloured filters reduce the beam range significantly. With the green filter I could see about 150m and with the red filter I could see about 135m (the gable end of the shed I'm shining the red light on is 120m).
The P12GT isn't far off reaching its claimed beam range. Nitecore say its beam range is 320m and I could pick out things at almost 300m. It probably helped that I knew the terrain and knew what I was looking at. If it was unfamiliar terrain, I probably wouldn't have been able to identify what I was looking at at that distance. Again, the coloured filters reduced the beam range. I could see to about 135m with the green filter and about 120m with the red.

P12GT in Turbo mode (1000 lumens)

P12GT in Turbo mode with green filter

P12GT in Turbo mode with red filter

For comparison, here's the Fenix TK15 in Turbo mode (400 lumens):

When I mounted the torches on the scope, I found that there was too much light entering the scope. I'm not sure if it was spilling around end of the scope, into the objective lens, or if it was reflecting back off the top of the rifle, but the result was that it was very hard to see anything through the white haze caused by the light.

Image through scope "washed out" by too much light

I had this same problem with the Fenix TK15 when I mounted it to the scope, but never got around to trying to solve it. I think I could sort it out by fitting a sun shade to the objective lens. In order to be able take photos through the scope that would accurately show how far the torches light out to, I placed the torches about a metre to the side, on the folding stool built into my backpack. In the following photos, the distance to the bale is 215m and the pole at the ditch behind it is 295m.

Nitecore MH27 lighting bale at 215m and pole at 295m

Nitecore P12GT lighting bale at 215m and pole at 295m

For the photos with the filters attached, I had to pick closer targets. In this case, I picked two bales about 100m away.

Nitecore MH27 with red filter attached, lighting bale at 100m

Nitecore MH27 with green filter attached, lighting bale at 100m

Nitecore P12GT with red filter attached, lighting bale at 100m

Nitecore P12GT with green filter attached, lighting bale at 100m

I haven't actually been foxing with this setup, but if I was familiar with the terrain and knew what the backstop was like, I'd be confident that it would be safe to take a shot out to 250m, and probably out to 300m using the MH27. I'd have to actually see an animal in the scope before I could make the call and say that it's safe out to 300m. For the P12GT, I think 250m is probably the upper limit. With the red filter attached, I'd say the MH27 would give you enough light to shoot up to 150m. The P12GT with the red filter would be safe out to about 125m. The green filters extend each of those by 15 to 20 metres.

Having shown how they perform. The next question is "How long do they last?". The night I took the photos above with the MH27 and the P12GT , I was out for about four hours and their batteries still weren't fully depleted. When I put them into the charger, the MH27 was showing one bar out of five and the P12GT was showing two bars (I was using the MH27 for longer). I had the torches on for long periods of time as I tried to take photos through the scope, so you'd easily get a good night's shooting out of one battery.
The TM16 is much heavier on batteries due to it's higher performance. Nitecore say it will last 45 minutes on Turbo mode, using 2600mAh batteries. The batteries I have for it are 3400mAh, so it will obviously last longer. I fully charged the batteries, then set up the TM16 with a clock and my GoPro. My plan was that I'd be able to tell exactly how long the TM16 would run in Turbo mode before the batteries died. I forgot, however, that the TM16 has what Nitecore call "Advanced Temperature Regulation (ATR) Technology", which means it reduces the output power to protect itself from overheating. I'm not sure when it stepped down from Turbo to High mode, but there's a slight flicker in the video after 15 minutes (of real time), which may have been when it changed. I checked on it after about 25 minutes and set it back to Turbo mode. There are a few flickers during the time-lapse section of the video caused by me cycling through the output modes to check that it was still in Turbo mode. It seems to step the output power down as the batteries come close to depletion. I'm not sure if it reduces the power smoothly, or if the GoPro adjusted to the change in brightness so quickly that the change is not visible, but I couldn't see any change in brightness when watching the video. When there was no visible difference between High mode and Turbo mode, I stopped the video because the batteries were obviously too low to sustain Turbo mode. I cycled through the modes just before stopping the video, to show that there's no noticeable difference between Turbo and High modes.

I started the video at 18:53 and stopped it at 20:20, so that's an hour and 27 minutes of runtime on Turbo mode. It did drop to High mode for ten minutes of that but, give or take a few minutes, it's about an hour and a half. This surprised me as Nitecore claim a runtime of 45 minutes in Turbo mode, using 2600mAh batteries. I was using 3400mAh batteries, so was expecting a runtime of about an hour. As I mentioned above, however, there is still an impressive amount of light from the TM16 in High mode, so it could well be used in High mode for foxing, which means you'd get an even longer runtime out of it. The real advantage of the TM16 for foxing, however, is that the batteries are so small that you could carry a spare set in your pocket and change them when the ones in it start to get low.

I bought my five Fenix torches from Seán at and I've always found him very helpful and efficient. As Nitecore sent all the products above to me, I didn't know what the retail price of them was. I wanted to give the prices of everything, to give a more complete review and help people in deciding what to buy. LEDPowerhouse is also a distributor for Nitecore, so I looked them up on their website. Not all of the products I got from Nitecore are listed on, so I contacted Seán, told him that I was reviewing the products and asked him for a list of prices. He told me that as this is the quiet season for him, he won't be getting a shipment from Nitecore for a while, so he won't be able to order in any items that he doesn't have in stock, but below is a list of the prices he charges for these items:

  Nitecore TM16: €320, including 4 x Nitecore NL186 2600 mAh batteries + Nitecore I4 Intellicharger
  Nitecore MH27 €135, including 1 x Nitecore NL186 2600 mAh battery
  Nitecore P12GT €114.95 (down from €119.95), including 18650 Li-ion rechargeable battery and charger
  Nitecore RSW1 €21.95
  Nitecore NFR40 Filter, Red 40mm (fits MH27) €10.50
  Nitecore NFG40 Filter, Green 40mm (fits MH27) €10.50
  Nitecore NFR25 Filter, Red 25mm (fits P12GT) €7.70
  Nitecore NFG25 Filter, Green 25mm (fits P12GT) €7.70
  Nitecore D4 Digicharger: €53.95
  Nitecore GM04 gunmount: €10.00

As I mentioned further up, I got Nitecore NL189 3400mAh 18650 batteries with these torches, whereas they are usually supplied with Nitecore NL186 2600mAh 18650 batteries. I just thought it was worth mentioning that LEDPowerhouse also sell the Nitecore NL189s for €25.45.
LEDPowerhouse also include free shipping on nearly all their products, which makes them very competitive on price. (This is why I started buying from them originally).

All-in-all, I'm very impressed with these Nitecore torches. As I said at the start, I'm a big fan of Fenix and I felt Nitecore had their work cut out to win me over. While I can't say I prefer Nitecore to Fenix, I can honestly say they are every bit as good. I did show a comparison between my Fenix TK15 and the Nitecore torches, but that isn't comparing like with like because the TK15 was a much cheaper torch (I paid €65 for the TK15). If I was going to buy a torch now for a specific task, I would check out what Nitecore and Fenix have to offer because I'd be equally happy with either. My choice of one over the other would come down to the specific features or specifications of a particular torch, and maybe price.

If I have one complaint about Nitecore, it's a lack of information. When I'm buying something, I like to research it in detail. When I was researching the products I got from Nitecore, I found it difficult or impossible to find certain specifications in order to compare them to other, similar items from another manufacturer. If anything, Nitecore are selling themselves short, because a lot of the time when I did find what I was looking for, it turned out that their torches had features or specifications that they weren't advertising.

I was given the Nitecore torches listed above to test and review if they were a viable option for foxing. The TM16 gives more than enough light to spot/search for foxes. It's light-weight enough that you could have it attached to your belt with a lanyard and let it hang from the lanyard and use a scope-mounted torch to take the shot. It's even small enough to put it in your coat pocket (if you have decent pockets in your coat). If you think you'd need to reach out further than 700m, Nitecore do a few torches with a beam range rated at over a kilometer, including the TM16GT.
Both the MH27 and P12GT throw light out to the distances I'd be expecting most people to be shooting foxes at. The MH27 performs a little better and I think the small difference in price is worth paying for the extra performance of the MH27. I like that both the MH27 and P12GT throw light well out past 100m with the red filters fitted because it makes them ideal for shooting rabbits with my .22LR. In fact, if someone asked me to recommend a torch for shooting rabbits, I'd recommend the P12GT. It's light-weight and compact and the extra beam reach of the MH27 is of no benefit because a .22LR won't reach further than the beam range of the P12GT.

I've done as comprehensive a review as I could, in the hope that it will be of some benefit to someone considering buying these products, or even anyone just looking for a good torch for lamping. If I've left any aspect out, or anyone has any questions I'll do my best to answer.
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