REVIEWER’S NOTE: This is a two-part review – the first part is a build overview of the EDGETAC NiteCore Extreme. The Second part is a detailed comparison of the Extreme to other lights of its class, including earlier NiteCore Defender Infinity (NDI). Both NiteCore lights were provided free of charge by EDGETAC for review. They are currently available in Canada at photongears.com and fenixtactical.com.
PART I: Extreme Build Overview
As you can see, the extreme comes in the same sort of packaging as the other EDGETAC lights. Included in the sturdy box (with foam inserts and metal closing clasp) are the warranty card, manual, and spare parts (including two extra forward clickies, mini-Allen key and some o-rings).
Overall design is similar to the NDI, although bulkier and more substantial. This extra mass (and heatsinking fins near the emitter) should help to dissipate heat fairly well. The light features the same “anti-roll” rings as the NDI around the head and tailcap, but the attached clip is really the most useful anti-roll device. The bezel-pointing clip is a new feature on this light, and feels quite substantial. It is removable, attached by a couple of hex screws (mini-Allen key wrench included with the spare parts).
Build quality is top-notch on my sample – no visible machining marks, anodizing is flawless and smooth. Anodizing is a very dark slate gray natural finish (HA-III), almost black. There is diamond pattern knurling around the main body portion of the light. Lettering is clear and sharp (I'm guessing laser etched). Note the general lack of identifying labels (early version NDIs and RaidFire Spears were a little over the top ).
Like the NDI, this version of the Extreme features a crenelated bezel with 3 points, allowing you to tell if the light is on when standing face down. Note that this introduces something of a “triangulation” of the spillbeam pattern up close (i.e. looks like a rounded triangle at close range). An alternate version of the light is sold with a smooth stainless steel bezel ring that doesn’t produce this pattern.
I haven’t tried accessing the head yet, but you can see it uses a fairly substantial heatsink below the emitter (I’m guessing brass). This is very reassuring given the very high output the light is capable of on max.
There is no separate tailcap portion to this light, so no tailcap lock-out is possible (switching occurs through the head, so no lock-out is possible there either). So, you may ask, how do you change the forward clicky switch if you need to? There’s an exterior switch retaining ring located around the switch boot cover. An interesting design I haven’t seen before.
One issue with this design is that there is no way to “push” a tight-fitting battery out of the tube – you need to “pull” it out by the positive end. It would therefore be ill-advised to force a protected battery down the body tube. All of my black-label AW protected RCRs fit fine (although the earlier ones are a bit snug). Unfortunately, my blue-label AW protected RCRs seem to be too thick to fit down the body tube. I’d recommend those with blue-labels consider upgrading if you want to use RCR in this light. My gray Ultrafire protected also seems to be too tight a fit. YMMV…
The forward clicky has the exact same feel as on my NDI, although I haven’t disassembled yet to confirm whether or not they are identical.
As you can see above, the Extreme uses the new “silver” version of the Cree Q5 emitter (i.e. the area outside central die is silver in color, instead of the standard Cree yellow). My understanding is that there are no output differences between the silver and yellow versions, and these simply reflect different manufacturing plants. Light uses an aluminum reflector with modest texturing (i.e. I’d consider it a medium orange peel, MOP).
The lens supposedly has a “diamond coating” exterior and anti-reflective interior coating. Obviously, I have no way of testing that, but it looks clear and clean, like all my EDGETAC lights.
The o-ring between the head and body is fairly thick, making it stiff when tightening the head all the way to the body. Resistance is higher than any of my NDIs, and definitely requires use of two hands to switch modes (scroll down for a discussion of the interface). This may be done on purpose to improve waterproofness. Note the light ships quite “dry” – little or no lube on the threads and o-rings. I know from experience with NDIs to avoid getting any lube on the threads in the head, as this can cause contact/mode-switching problems due to the interface.
Max width (bezel): 26.0mm
Min width (body): 21.1mm
Size of the light is a bit bigger than I expected, but quite reasonable. Scroll down to Part II of this review for a photo comparison to other lights of its class. But for now, upon request, here's a hand reference shot:
Since I have rather long hands and fingers, I’ve elicited the help of Mrs. Selfbuilt below (she is petite with small hands).
Like the NDI, the Extreme uses PWM at an undetectable frequency (i.e. >1 kHz). No signs of visible flicker at any level in my testing. Strobe freq is 9Hz.
User interface is exactly the same as the NDI. You can set your own user defined mode through a continuously variable brightness mechanism. The light is controlled by a forward clicky switch with momentary on, followed by a click to lock-on. Sequence is as follows:
- With the head in the fully tightened position, momentary press or click on the switch and you get maximum brightness.
- To get to the user defined (i.e. lower modes), simply slightly loosen the head a quarter turn from fully tightened.
- To change the low mode brightness level (i.e. to set user defined level), while in the user defined mode tighten and then loosen the head within 0.5 sec, and the light will ramp up to the maximum brightness (takes about 6-7 secs to run the whole range - see graph below). Loosen and tighten again to get the light to ramp back down to minimum. Switch the clicky off to save whatever output setting you desire (memory mode feature means the light will come back on at that level).
- To get strobe, start with head fully tightened (i.e. on Max). Loosen and tighten the head within 0.5 sec to enter strobe mode. Note that the light has a memory feature, so it will come back on in strobe if you click it off in that mode. To get back to max, loosen and tighten the head again.
And that’s it. The whole user interface is quite simple and straight-forward. I’ve always found it very intuitive. Note that due to switching-mode nature of the light, there will be a slight lag if you want to simply go back and forth from user defined to max (i.e. it waits 0.5 sec after you tighten/loosen the head, in case you were in the middle of performing a switching cycle)
Variable Output ramping time
Update: I've just done the ramping sequence analysis for the Extreme. As you can see, performance closely matches the NiteCore Defender Infinity (NDI). On primaries, the Extreme seems have a virtually identical ramp to the NDI on 14500. On RCR, I would say my Extreme ramps up about ~1 sec faster. Note that the EDGETAC offerings are lot more visually linear than the Novatac 120P (although that is intentional - the Novatac steps through half-values of 120 and 85 lumens as it ramps).
Note that unlike some makers, the ramping sequence is very linear in EDGETAC lights.
For beamshots, throw/output, and runtime comparisons, please see Part II of this review.
PART II: Comparison of the Extreme to other lights
For this part of the review, the NiteCore Extreme will be compared to the Fenix P2D-Q5, Novatac 120P, Lumapower Incendio, JetBeam Jet-II IBS, and original NiteCore Defender Infinity (left to right in photo below).
On AW Protected RCR or 14500 (on Max/Turbo/100%) at ~0.5m from a white wall.
First thing to notice is the somewhat triangular spillbeam of the Extreme, due to its 3-point crenelated bezel (although this less noticeable at further distances, so really isn't an issue in practice). Tint on my sample is very white, with a slight purplish tint. Despite the OP reflector, Cree rings are still noticeable at this range. Note the Novatac 120P uses a SSC emitter, but all the other lights are Crees.
Despite how it looks in the camera pic above, in real life the Extreme is noticeably brighter than the NDI (confirmed by lightbox and ceiling bounce, see below).
Testing Method: All my output numbers are relative for my home-made light box setup, a la Quickbeam's FR.com method. My relative overall output numbers are typically similar to his, although generally a little lower. You can directly compare all my review graphs - i.e. an output value of "10" in one graph is the same as "10" in another. Ceiling-bounce tests are done in a small windowless room, with my light meter on the floor near the base of the light (which is shining upward in candle-mode). Throw values are the square-root of lux measurements taken at 1m using a light meter.
In terms of estimating max total output, I believe the ceiling bounce numbers are the most accurate (my milk carton lightbox tends to underestimate at the really high-end of outputs). As you can see, max output of the Extreme on RCR is considerably more than the NDI.
The Extreme is in fact one of the brightest 1xCR123A/RCR lights in my collection – second only to the continuously-variable JetBeam Jet-II IBS. FYI, note that output of the Jet-II is underestimated slightly by my lightbox, since it doesn't like really strong throwers. The Extreme is also slightly brighter than the direct-driven Fenix P2D-Q5.
In terms of minimum output, the Extreme is unfortunately a bit brighter than the NDI, but close to the continuously-variable Jet-II. Note that nothing compares to the Novatac for a truly low low mode. The Extreme also has greater throw than most of the other lights here (except for the Jet-II, of course). I will need to play with the Extreme more at night before I can make any judgements about the usefulness of its beam (typically, I don’t like a pronounced hotspot on low-output lights).
NiteCore Extreme: 65.4g
Fenix P2D-Q5: 38.8g
Novatac 120P: 72.6g
Lumapower Incendio: 31.3g
JetBeam Jet-II IBS: 58.5
NiteCore NDI: 44.1g
As you can see, the Extreme is second only the Novatac in overall weight.
Note:Like the NDI, the Extreme does NOT have defined medium/low modes – rather, the light uses a continuously variable digitally-controlled brightness level. For the purposes of this review, I’ve manually set the Extreme to a number of output levels for comparison purposes. I’ve labeled these as “-ish” settings, since they are only approximate.
Note as well that there can be a pronounced difference between RCR and primary CR123A on any one specifically-set User Defined mode. At the higher end of the range, CR123As are just a little dimmer than RCR. But at the low end of the range, CR123As show quite a bit less output.
*NOTE: Although the Novatac 120P run was started at 15 lumens (level 16), the light output quickly dropped in half to 7.5 lumens (level 14) for the entire run. Not sure why this happened, but I've left the trace in since it gives you a good comparison to the Incendio low level.
- No doubt about - the NiteCore Extreme is one of the brightest 1xCR123A/RCR lights in my collection.
- Efficiency at maximum output level on RCR is excellent, as good as I've seen. Only the JetBeam Jet-II IBS is able to produce to more light (with lower runtime, of course).
- On max, the Extreme is noticeably brighter than the NDI when both are run on Li-ion rechargeables.
- Efficiency on RCR in the user defined modes is also quite good - typically as good or better than the other regulated lights. At the lowest output intensities, the Novatac 120P is only one that beats it.
- A similar pattern is observed for CR123A primaries – the Extreme is the output/runtime king.
- At lower output levels, the Novatac is again the best performer – but the Extreme is still quite good up until its minimum setting (runtimes being re-checked, will update when done).
- In terms of absolute lows, the Extreme doesn’t go quite as low as the NDI or the continuously-variable JetBeam Jet-II IBS.
- The Extreme features excellent regulated performance on all battery types at all settings tested so far. Note the interesting little output spike on both battery types just before dropping out of regulation.
- Ramping sequence is relatively linear and very close to the NDI (virtually identical on primaries, and about ~1 sec faster on RCR)
- Unlike the NDI, I haven’t seen any evidence of a low battery warning on Li-ion on the Extreme. As usual, I don’t recommend unprotected cells in lights that aren’t specifically designed for them.
Initial impressions are that the Extreme is a very impressive light. Output and runtime are top-notch, judging by the performance on the tests I’ve run so far.
Build-wise, it is not quite as substantial feeling as the Novatac, but it is certainly hefty and solidly-built. EDGETAC seems to have paid a lot of consideration to proper heatsinking, and the design makes sense to me. The clicky switch access on the exterior of the light near the tailcap switch cover is fairly unique, and the inclusion of two extra clicky switches is generous (forward clickies are known to have a greater failure rate than reverse ones).
The only body issues I’ve noticed is the fairly tight fit with some protected batteries (e.g. my blue-label AW protected RCRs won’t fit). The o-ring around the top of the battery tube is also a bit thick, increasing the resistance when you try to fully tighten the head to go to max output or perform a mode switch. It is still manageable, but it is stiffer than my NDIs (and I know this was a sticking point for some on the NDI, pardon the pun ).
There has been some confusion regarding overall output of the Extreme compared to the NDI. In my case, I would tend to trust my ceiling bounce numbers, since I know my milk carton lightbox underestimates output at the very high end. My 3 NDIs all perform very closely to each other, and this Extreme is at least a good ~45% brighter than any of them on max on Li-ion. I typically try to avoid lumen estimates, but if you believe the NDI is around 130 lumens on 14500 (which I think is reasonable, compared to my Novatac 120P), then I would say 190 lumens for the Extreme on RCR is believable. To my mind, this is a perfectly reasonable engineering decision, given the much better heatsinking designed into the Extreme compared to the NDI.
My only other minor quibbles are the somewhat triangular spillbeam at close quarters (solved by going for the smooth stainless steel bezel version), and the somewhat higher minimum output setting compared to the NDI (although still quite low and pretty close to the Jet-II IBS).
Personally, I find it a very attractive looking light, somewhat more akin to a custom-built light than a mass-produced one. When you consider the price (<$90) and all the features, it seems to be a good buy in this space. If you want a solidly-built, continuously variable, forward clicky 1xCR123A/RCR light with good throw, very high overall output, and excellent runtime, then this light could be the one for you.
I'll be updating this thread once I'm back home next week and can play with it some more!
UPDATE June 2, 2008: Variable output ramping results have now been added to the review above.
Having played with the light a little more, I find the "triangulation" of the spill beam is not really noticeable in real-world use (i.e. only pronounced at close distances on white wall ).
In terms of the lowest output mode (which I use the most at night), I find the sharply defined hotspot of the Extreme to be less than ideal. This leads to a bit of the "follow the bouncing ball" effect as you are walking (similar to my comments for the Jet-I MK IBS).
In this regard, I prefer the smoother hotspot/spill transition of my Novatac 120P and my NDI. I also like the 120P for its much lower low modes. However, I like the proportionally brighter spill area of the Extreme and NDI over the dimmer spill of the 120P.
The end result for low mode use is that I find the NDI has the best characteristics of spot/spill brightness and transition of all my lights so far. But I'm still playing with all of them, and will keep you posted if I notice anything else.
For high mode use, the Extreme is definitely the brightest light of those mentioned above, with the best throw (although the Jet-II is clearly the throw king on the 1xCR123A/RCR format).
UPDATE June 17, 2008:
EDIT: Just completed the Min output mode runtimes, and my results seem low on primaries. I've checked this EDGETAC, and they are looking into whether its an issue with my specific sample or the final circuit in general. Once they get back to me, I will update this thread with the results. Stay tuned!
UPDATE October 28, 2008:
The low mode runtime issue has turned into a rather complicated problem, and one that goes far beyond Edgetac and this one light. Please see my post #216 in this thread for a detailed commentary.