One to Watch: McGizmo AquaMule and AquaRam
Tony Sculimbrene 10.28.13
One of my favorite directors, Terrence Malick, releases a movie basically once a decade. He has been making films since 1973, when he released the breathtaking Badlands. Since then he has made just six films, including perhaps my favorite movie of all time–Days of Heaven. But despite his sporadic release schedule, Hollywood megastars like Brad Pitt practically line up to star in one of his flicks. He is the rare genius that has found a home in the torrents of popular culture. To be associated with Malick and star in one of his films is to burnish your name and reputation as not just someone that shows up on the cover of People magazine, kids in tow, but to stake a claim as a legitimate artist. Critics are similarly breathless when a Malick film is released. When The New World came out, I remember everyone trying to see it in the best, most technologically advanced theater they could find so they could fully appreciate his unique color palette and hyper-detailed videography. When a Malick film is released, it is an event. It is one of the rare times when Hollywood can turn to the public and say: “See, we still make art.”
Don McLeish, aka McGizmo, is in many ways the Terrence Malick of the flashlight world. Both have an affinity for nature shots, both have relentlessly focused on the core of what they do and have not been distracted by the latest and greatest technology, and both release things very infrequently. So when the AquaRam and AquaMule were announced on October 15, 2013, it was a pretty big deal. There is a new McGizmo light. It’s time to celebrate. Here they are:
The new lights bring a few new features to the McGizmo stable. First, they are both the first lights which have come with the XML-2 emitter, a huge advance from the XPGs that came in the last light he released, the Haiku. Second, they both run 18650 batteries, a favorite among hardcore flashaholics (including myself). Third, they are explicitly designed to take the pressures of operating underwater. The difference between the two is that the Mule, as the designation usually indicates, has no reflector for a pure flood beam profile.
There are major upgrades in the light’s engineering to make underwater use possible. There are paired o-rings at two different places on the head: the lens and the body tube connection. This is a twisty only. They have thicker, more robust body tubes and heads. If that was all, it would be more than enough to send waves through the flashlight world, but the biggest feature of the AquaRam and AquaMule is even cooler.
Don is explicitly collaborating with another light tinkerer, Rush, to make the AquaMule and AquaRam’s computer controller easy to mod. They are using a new converter (the computer that controls the outputs) called the HIVE McG. Here are details about this converter and how it works. It will not accidentally fall into a programming mode, but with simple changes (outlined in the announcement thread), users can alter the output of the lights as they want and set the output modes to their preferred amount of lumens.
The HIVE McG represents a new idea in the world of custom lights. This is a user control system unlike others. You don’t just set the outputs, which has been available on lights for a while; you can also set all sorts of other parameters. For example, users can now control the temperature limits for the emitter.If you are comfortable with running a little hot you can do that. If you want to play it safe, that’s fine too.
This is not just tinkering for tinkering’s sake though. As a dive light, the AquaRam and AquaMule will heat up at slower rates than they would if used out of water. So by letting the user set these limits, McGizmo and Rush are basically letting users decide what kind of light this is. It can be a dive light or an EDC light or a photon cannon. It’s your choice, both in terms of output and heat tolerance. But the HIVE McG offers even more customization. You can decide how many output modes there are. You can choose whether the light functions with mode memory or not. You can set the voltage levels. All of this can be done with a simple solder job and a few toggles of the light off and on. Once that’s done, the light is yours to make as you want. Here is some more on the HIVE McG.
The AquaMule and AquaRam are proof that McGizmo only does big idea lights and doesn’t rush to market with emitter upgrades that have imperceptible lumens increases or modes you will never use. These lights represent something totally different in a number of different ways, ways that appeal to the everyday user and ways that appeal to the hardest of hardcore. You can keep your three upgrades a year. Give me something like this every three or four years.
With these tidbits, the threads on CPF went wild. It’s important to note that with the programmability, the XML 2 emitter, an 18650 battery, and the increased mass for better heat sinking, the AquaMule and AquaRam can basically do whatever you need them to do. The emitter/battery combination can run tremendously long or tremendously bright. The default settings are pretty good (4 lumens on low and 410 on high), but you can do almost whatever you want.
Its hard to overstate how big a deal it is when McGizmo releases a light, and the AquaRam and AquaMule are very different from any of his previous releases. Early adopters have been thrilled with the fit and finish on these lights (McGizmo’s lights are virtually perfect when they arrive new). They have commented on how beefy the lights feel and the specs support that. These are massive chunks of titanium. Get ready. McGizmo did it again.