Reviewer's Note: The SR3 was provided for review by NiteCore. Please see their website for more info.
Warning: Pic heavy!
Manufacturer's specifications, as taken from Nitecore's website:
- Features new SmartRing, allows user to conveniently choose brightness and functions according to own habits
- CREE XR-E R2 high efficiency LED, Max output 220 Lumens
- Military-grade aluminum alloy
- Mil-Spec Type-III Hard-Anodized finish resists scratches
- Stainless steel retaining ring on light bezel, effectively protects the light from drops and impacts
- Tactical grip-ring on the tail
- Special lanyard hole design
- Anti-roll design.
- Dimension: Head diameter 32mm, Tube diameter 22mm, Total length 107mm.
- Weight:108 gram.
- Battery: powered by one CR123 battery or one protected rechargeable Li-ion battery.
- Max: 220 Lumens for up to 50 minutes.
- Low: 5 Lumens for up to 40 hours.
- MSRP: $120 USD
Note: an 1x18650 battery tube is in development – scroll down this review to see a prototype.
The SR3 is the first member of the new "SmartRing" series of NiteCore lights. The SmartRing design uses a new magnetic sensor technique to control mode switching. This is somewhat reminiscent of EagleTac's M2-series lights, but with a greater number of magnets (and modes) on the SR3 due to the matrix design. See below for a discussion of the user interface.
The SR3 comes in the high-end Nitecore light packaging, featuring a hard cardboard presentation box with closing clasp and textured foam. The light comes with a carrying pouch, wrist-strap, manual, warranty card, spare o-rings, and spare tail-cap switch.
From left to right: 1xCR123A, NiteCore SR3, NiteCore Extreme, JetBeam Jet-II PRO, 4Sevens Quark 123, LiteFlux LF3XT, Novatac 120P.
1xCR123/RCR body: Weight 108.1g, Length 107.6mm x Width 32.0mm (bezel)
The light is larger than the typical 1xCR123A/RCR light, and has a fairly rugged look. Note the pronounced scalloped stainless steel bezel ring, control switch ring with magnets (just below the head), grip ring, and protruding forward clicky.
NiteCore intends to offer a 1x18650 extension tube for the SR3, and has sent me a prototype model to evaluate. Note that the final machining and design of the shipping version will be different from what you see below, but overall length should be the same.
From left to right: 1x18650, NiteCore SR3, Darktort DT-E1.0, JetBeam Jet-III ST, JetBeam Jet-III M, Olight M20, 4Sevens Quark 123.
1x18650 body: Weight 124.5g, Length 139.0mm x Width 32.0mm (bezel)
Note the overall similarity to the Darktort light. Darktort is now known as the design testing arm of NiteCore, and the new SR3 appears to use the same reflector and bezel ring as the Darktort DT-E1.0. As you will see when I get into circuit performance and runtimes, the similarities are more than skin deep.
The clicky feel is very similar other NiteCore lights with a forward clicky (e.g. Extreme). Thoughtful of them to throw in a spare switch, given the well-known greater failure rate of forward clickies. Thankfully, this is one area where DarkTort design has not infiltrated NiteCore (i.e. the DT-E1.0 had a flaky switch with poor feel).
Fit and finish are excellent on my sample, no flaws in the type-III hard anodizing (glossy black). Body labels are thankfully kept to a minimum, although the lettering is not as sharp on this sample compared to some of my other NiteCore lights. Grip is certainly not an issue – in addition to reasonable knurling, the light has a large number of ridge details to enhance grip. The tailcap also includes a built-in grip ring. Note again that I do not know what the final design of the 18650 expansion tube will look like.
Screw threads are anodized for head or tailcap lock-out. The light cannot tailstand, due to the forward clicky.
Note the NiteCore labels on the pill around the emitter. Despite how it may appear in the second pic, the emitter is perfectly centered (the reflection of the writing in the reflector may make it look otherwise). See the first pic for an angled shot.
The light uses the standard Cree XR-E emitter, currently with a R2 output bin. As you will see in my beamshots below, my sample seems to be a fairly warm "cool tint" (I'd guestimate WG tint bin). Obviously, there is bound to be some variability here – there is no guarantee as to what you would receive. For those of you not familiar with tints, please see my Colour tint comparison and the summary LED tint charts found here.
Note that I inadvertently set the camera to an f-stop of 2.7 for the SR3 level pics (instead of 3.2 for all the other). So that will make everything seem a bit brighter on that SR3 row.
In 1xCR123/RCR format, all lights are on 100% on an AW protected RCR, about 0.5 meters from a white wall.
In 1x18650 format, all lights are on 100% on an AW protected 18650, about 0.5 meters from a white wall.
The camera is accentuating the tint difference a bit, but the SR3 is on the warmer side of "cool white" tints, similar to my Olight M20 R2. Overall beam characteristics are fairly typical for a general purpose 2xCR123A light, with fairly good throw (thanks to its deep reflector) and typical width spillbeam.
This likely explains why the light is so large for 1xCR123A/RCR light – its reflector/head design is identical to the larger 1x18650 Darktort DT-E1.0.
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).
The NiteCore website will explain the magnetic switching system in more detail, but actual use of this light is remarkably straight-forward.
Light is turned on/off by the tailcap forward clicky (press for momentary, click to lock-on). Screw threads are anodized, so you could also use it like a twisty switch.
To access any of the 8 pre-set output modes, simply turn the control ring. Lowest level (L1) is the farthest to the left/counterclockwise position (i.e. when holding it facing away from you). Highest level (L8) is the farthest to the right/clockwise. There are detents at each level, so you feel the ring softly "click" into each output level as you reach it. The total traverse of the ring for the 8 levels is just slightly less than a full turn around the body of the light.
You can easily set the level from off by counting the number of detents, or adjust on the fly while the light is on. It is easy to adjust the output one-handed while holding the light in traditional underhand grip. A bit tricky in overhand tactical grip, but doable (its not possible in cigar grip, of course - two hands would be needed there to switch output modes).
The light also features a "hidden" strobe mode. To access it, the light must be on and in Max output. Rapidly twist the control ring all the way to Min and back to Max within 2 seconds. However, in my testing, you don't always need to do the full 8 level Max-to-Min switch to activate it - sometimes just rapidly cycling down and back up 4-5 output levels from Max in 2 secs is sufficient to activate the strobe. To revert to standard 8-constant output operation, simply do the rapid Max-Min-Max switch again within 2 secs. When in strobe configuration, the Max mode will then be replaced by a rapid tactical strobe, and the constant output levels will be condensed over the lower 7 levels (Max and Min output remain unaltered, but the other modes are adjusted to fit into 7 total positions).
The SR3 uses PWM to create its lower output modes, but at a sufficiently high frequency that you will not be able to detect it without specialized equipment. I measured the frequency at 4.66-4.71 kHz from Min to Max on my sample (i.e. nearly 5000 cycles per second).
As I mentioned, strobe is at a "tactical" high level – 14.6 Hz in my testing. I certainly find it quite .
Testing Method: All my output numbers are relative for my home-made light box setup, a la Quickbeam's flashlightreviews.com 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 SR3 is a heavily-driven light, in keeping with its larger build (i.e. greater heatsinking). Coupled with its R2 emitter, it is currently the brightest light on 1xRCR in my collection. With its deep reflector, it also manages to score the top mark in terms of throw (again on RCR).
The SR3's output on primary CR123A is a bit lower at all levels, but still remains one of the highest output lights in my collection (along with the Quark 123 and Eagletac P10C). Throw again remains top of its class, thanks to the big deep reflector.
Min output is a very respectable low level on all batteries – typically as low as some of the continuously-variable lights.
Somewhat surprisingly to me, output on 1x18650 is higher on all levels than on 1xRCR (despite both being 3.7V Li-ion sources ). So the addition of the 18650 extension tube will provide slightly greater output along with significantly greater runtime.
Note that the max output and throw of the SR3 with 18650 is very similar to the DarkTort DT-E1.0 …
As you can see above, individual output levels are well-spaced across the total range.
Runtime performance increases with each drop in output, as expected. The regulation pattern is a little uneven, with largely direct-drive on max on Li-ion (followed by a short jump before the battery regulation circuits kick in). The lower output runs seem a little ”noisy” (i.e. there are small fluctuations in output during the course of the run). But not to worry, these are not noticeable by eye – my lightmeter is simply highly sensitive and can pick them up.
And now how the SR3 compares to the competition ...
Output/runtime performance is simply excellent on RCR – this is definitely one of the best performers I’ve seen, especially on the Med output levels.
Performance on CR123A is quite good, but doesn’t really stand out from most of the top-tier competition.
Now, what does that SR3 on 18650 Max output trace remind you of? Or the Med L4 trace, for that matter?
Basically, performance of the SR3 on 18650 on L8 and L4 are an exact match to the DarkTort DT-E1.0 on Hi/Lo. Output levels and circuit characteristics are identical.
The magnetic control ring works well, and the detents are helpful for selecting your desired output level (even from off). But there is a bit of play in the movement of the ring, making it seem less firm that some may like.
Overall length is long for a 1xCR123A/RCR light (although about typical with the 1x18650 battery tube in place).
Regulation pattern is a little unusual on Li-ion, with mainly direct-drive on Max and slight fluctuations over the regulated course of the lower output runs. This pattern is identical to the DarkTort DT-E1.0.
Strobe mode can sometimes be activated by only twisting over half the full traverse (i.e. down and up 4-5 output levels from Max within 2 secs), making accidental strobing possible.
There is a brief flash of higher output when switching into the Med-level Modes (i.e. L4 and L5), but this is fairly minor (and thankfully doesn't seem to be present on the lower L1-L3).
The light features physical reverse polarity protection in the head, requiring the use of button-top 18650 cells. Some of the newer high capacity flat-top 18650s (i.e. protected 2600mAh) may not work in this light without modification.
NiteCore is marketing this light as an 1xCR123A/RCR light with the option for an 18650 battery tube. But given its obvious design heritage, you would be equally justified in thinking of it as an 18650-light with the option to run 1xCR123A/RCR.
Indeed, this light is basically the DarkTort DT-E1.0 head with 6 additional output levels (plus hidden strobe) and a new control mechanism. And that’s not a bad thing – the DarkTort had a lot going for it, but was limited by its non-multipower circuit and slightly flaky switch. The SR3 brings NiteCore’s traditional forward clicky and new magnetic control ring interface, along with a great spacing of output levels (including a true low) and 1xCR123A/RCR support.
The only potential drawback in my mind is the length of the light in 1xCR123A/RCR mode (due mainly to the deep reflector in the large head). But the flipside to this means that you have one of the best throwing 1xCR123A/RCR lights out there. And ergonomically it is still pleasant to handle as an 1xCR123A/RCR light – it is well balanced, and comfortable to grip in a variety of positions (especially for those of us with large hands ).
That extra body weight should also translate into better heat exchange, which has allowed NiteCore to drive the circuit harder. Here again, you can see the SR3 typically outperforms most of the competition on RCR/18650. Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into this circuit design and body build.
The new control ring interface worked fairly reliably in my testing - except for the previously-reported inadvertent strobe mode activation by only a partial traverse switch. The strobe mode switching does feel a little glitchy, but I can live it since I don't see myself using it very often (i.e. just need to be careful not to rapidly switch down and up from Max). I would also like a slightly firmer feel to the switch ring mechanism (i.e. a little stiffer resistance, perhaps less of a traverse), but that’s just personal preference. NiteCore is certainly not alone in going for these new sorts of control mechanisms, and we’ll have to see how they hold up and compare long-term. So far, I can say that it is certainly intuitive enough and has worked well in testing.
In my mind, there is no doubt that this light is not meant to be a shelf queen or something that gets tucked away into a pocket/purse for slim every-day-carry (EDC). It is a show-off light, driven for max performance, with a rugged and rakish design that calls out for attention. I’m sure it will get some.