Nitecore has been in the flashlight business for some time, and has been at the edge of lighting technology during most of that time. Nitecore is a sister brand to Jetbeam, both owned by SYSMAX. SYSMAX has always shown an excellency in flashlights with top-of-the-line user interface and operation, and was among the first to use technology like the infinitely variable brightness and the magnetic control ring. Recently, they released the Explorer series with a unique two-button interface controlling a main emitter and an indicator LED. Now, Nitecore is stepping forward again with the new "SENS" series (I'm assuming it's pronounced like "sense"). The Nitecore SENS series includes the Mini, CR, and AA.
Thanks to Nitecore for providing the SENS series for review.
I’ll be reviewing the SENS in two sections: first, I’ll discuss the lights objectively (the facts about the lights), then I’ll discuss the lights subjectively (my impressions about the lights' performance when used for specific applications). This thread will contain the reviews for each of the lights in the SENS series, along with information that is common to each light in the series.
Click the pictures below of the individual models to see their individual reviews, or scroll down to posts #2, 3, and 4 of this thread.
Each of the SENS lights operate identically, but run from different batteries, and accordingly, have slightly different outputs and run times. The "Mini" uses a single CR2 lithium battery and is the smallest of the family. The "CR" uses either a single CR123 lithium or a single 16340 lithium ion battery. The "AA" is the largest and can use an alkaline AA, NiMH AA, lithium L91, LiFePo4 14500, or Li-Ion 14500 (I did not test with an L91 or LiFePO4). The exciting feature of these lights is their new "Active Dimming Technology", which uses an accelerometer to sense the angle the flashlight is currently being held at.
Below is a video "quick overview" you can watch in just a few minutes, if you're not up for reading the full review right now:
This video is available in 720p HD, but defaults to a lower quality. To select the playback quality click the settings button (looks like a gear) after you've started the video.
No packaging was provided with my review samples of the SENS series. I do have PDF's of a promotional flyer and the instruction manuals, so you can let me know if you'd like to see those. No accessories were provided with my review samples of the SENS series.
The user interface on the SENS series is the distinguishing feature of these lights, and is the same for each light in the series. The SENS series lights use an accelerometer to determine the angle the light is being held at, and use that angle to control the output. The lights are twisty-style, so you turn the light on by tightening the head, and turn the light off by loosening the head.
The brightness can be controlled either manually, or automatically using the accelerometer and ADT (Active Dimming Technology). The basic idea is that in most cases, when pointing the light downward you want less light, and when pointing it away from you you'll want more.
---Manual Brightness Control---
Low Mode - Turn on with head pointed straight down (slow soft start)
Medium Mode - Turn on with head pointed about 45 degrees above straight down (slow soft start)
High Mode - Turn on with head pointed parallel to floor (quick soft start)
---Active Dimming Technology---
To activate the ADT, turn the light on with the head pointing straight up. Now, until you turn the light off, the output will adjust based on the angle of the light, from straight down to parallel. When you lower the light, the output will decrease slowly to give your eyes time to adjust to the lower output. When you raise the light, the output will increase quickly to illuminate your target quickly. When using the ADT, the light does not choose from the three discrete outputs available manually, but rather adjusts along an "infinite" range of outputs.
You can click on any of these shots to see them full size.
Light in Hand
various exposure settings
various exposure settings
White Wall (Low, High)
ISO 100, f/3.3, 1/20"
Indoor Shots (Low, High)
ISO 100, f/3.3, 1"
Outdoor Shots (Control, Low, High)
ISO 100, f/3.3, 2.5"
Submersion: I submersed each of the SENS under water for about an hour, turning them on and off during that time. Afterwards I could find no indication of water having entered any of the lights, and they all worked without any sign of having been affected.
Heat: The SENS series lights have no issues with heat, other than when using lithium ion batteries. Using a 14500 lion, the SENS AA will get pretty hot, but I find it's still able to be held. When using a 16340, the SENS CR will get painfully hot in just a few minutes. I don't recommend using the CR with a 16340 for more than short bursts on high.
PWM: I cannot detect pulse width modulation on this light by any of my methods. It appears the dimmer brightnesses are current controlled.
Drop: I dropped each of these from a hight of about a meter onto various surfaces (including grass, carpet, packed dirt, and hard wood). The drops had not affect on the performance or appearance of the lights.
Reverse Polarity Protection: Nitecore has confirmed to me that the reverse polarity protection they claim comes from the foam ring around the positive contact in the head. The purpose of this foam ring is to prevent the battery from making contact with the head if the battery is installed backwards. The idea is that the button top on the positive end of the battery can make contact with the ring in place, but the ring prevents the flat negative end of the battery from touching the head. I tried insetting batteries backwards, and nothing happened, then forwards again, and the lights still operate normally.
Over-Discharge Protection: I can find no evidence of over-discharge protection on these lights, as they are made to run over wide input voltages to accept varying battery types. So, when using lithium ion batteries, it is your responsibility to change them when they get low, and use cells with built-in protection circuits.
Output, Current Draw and Runtime
ANSI FL-1 runtime ratings are the time it takes for a light to fall to 10% of it's original output (counting from 30 seconds after turning the light on). Values marked (est)* are not measured directly, but are estimated based on the current measured for that mode, and the power used by other modes using the same battery.
The vertical axis of the graphs below represents a relative brightness measurement using a home made light box. The horizontal axis is time in hours:minutes:seconds. Runtimes are stated in hours:minutes:seconds. These graphs may be truncated to show detail.
This graph is truncated to show detail. The vertical axis is a relative measurement made by a home made light box, the horizontal axis is time.
Active Dimming Techonolgy
The ADT on the SENS series adjusts the brightness according to the angle the light is held at, giving minimum output when pointing straight down and max when pointing straight away from you (parallel to the floor). You can see a discussion of the principals behind this idea in the Subjective section, but for now suffice it to say that the idea is closer targets require less light to see, and in general you'll be pointing the light down to see close things and pointing it straight out to see far things.
To create the graph below I used the AA model with a AA alkaline, and measured the output using my home made light box with the light at various angles (the box moving with the light). The angles are measured from the light pointing straight down, so 0 degrees is straight down and 90 degrees is parallel to the floor.
The blue line above is the overall output I measured. The red line is the corresponding "perceived" brightness, calculated from my measurement using the Stevens' Power Law. As you can see, the output ramping is not linear, nor "visually linear". There will be a small perceived brightness increase as you move from straight down to about 30 degrees, then a sharp perceived brightness increase as you move from through the range from 30 to 60 degrees, then a perceived slow increase again until you reach 90 degrees.
The above graph, as stated, is for overall output, and the perceived brightness increase would be if you are shining it on a target at a constant distance. So, I also calculated the relative lux falling on an object on an increasing distance away, in accordance with the idea behind the ADT design. For these calculations, I assumed holding the light at a distance of 1.5 meters above the floor, shining at a target on the floor. The distance axis is in meters, and is the distance from your feet to a target on the floor. As the distance increases, this approaches the same approximate distance as a target on the same level as the light.
When reading this graph, think, "How bright will a target object on the floor look when I point the SENS at it using ADT mode?"
Again, the blue line is the measured value, and the red line is the perceived brightness according to the Stevens' Power Law. The red line is particularly interesting here, as it shows the way the ADT performs in it's objective: giving the appropriate amount of light for the target you're pointing at. As you can see, the perceived brightness on a target increases sharply up to a target about 2.5 meters away, after that the distance increases too fast for the output of the SENS to keep up, and the target slowly starts to appear dimmer.
ANSI FL-1 standard for stating a light's throwing distance is the distance at which the peak beam intensity (usually at the center of the beam) is 0.25 lux. I calculate throwing distance and candela (lux at 1 meter) by measuring peak beam intensity at five different distances and using the formula lux*distance^2=constant.
Peak Beam Intensity: 1702 candela
Throw Distance: 82 meters
Peak Beam Intensity: 1588 candela
Throw Distance: 80 meters
Peak Beam Intensity: 2907 candela
Throw Distance: 108 meters
Peak Beam Intensity: 979 candela
Throw Distance: 63 meters
Peak Beam Intensity: 985 candela
Throw Distance: 63 meters
1x14500 Lithium Ion
Peak Beam Intensity: 2161 candela
Throw Distance: 93 meters
Quick break down:
+Active Dimming Tech is sweet
+Can still choose fixed output when desired
+Mode choice by accelerometer seems reliable
+Different models available for different needs: compact, powerful, or general
+Each model accepts most batteries that will fit
+Reverse polarity protection
+XP-G + floody optic makes a perfect beam for these lights
+Soft start is quick going up, slow going down
+Good range of output from min to max
+Infinitely variable when using ADT
-Comes on High when pointed up = bright in my face
-High w/ lion in CR gets hot FAST
-16340's seem slightly too long for the CR
-I'd like a bit better grip on the head
-I wish it would go from bright to dim a little quicker
-I'd prefer a clip over a lanyard for these, especially on the AA
When Nitecore first contacted me about reviewing these lights, they didn't give me any info on them other than the name of the series and the three models, so I had no idea what to expect. When I opened them up, my first impression was "What's all the excitement about here?". I was not impressed. They looked pretty cool, but didn't really seem exceptional in any way. I had an Eneloop in my bag, so I popped one in the AA model and turned it on. I noticed it had a soft start that was much slower than I was used to, which was kind of neat, but still nothing big. I tried twisting it on and off a few time, thinking it might be a twist-to-change-modes kind of light. As I was doing that, it didn't seem to cycle through modes in any predictable way, but it did seem to change in brightness as I played with it. My next thought was that it might use QTC (quantum tunneling composite) to adjust the brightness based on the pressure, but no matter how slowly and careful I tightened the head I couldn't get it to stay at a low output. It wasn't until about half an hour of playing with it went by that I realized the brightness depended on the angle I held it at, and I knew it must have an accelerometer. I contacted Nitecore and asked for the manual (it wasn't included in the package with my review samples) and after reading that, it made better sens to me.
Let me just say that these lights are a lot of fun to use. For a long while, the magnetic control ring has been my favorite type of user interface, mainly because it's quick and simple to get to the brightness you want without passing through any brightness you don't want. Now, this ADT (active dimming technology) may well replace the control ring as my favorite for some uses. In some situations I'll still want instant control of the brightness, but in more relaxed situations I'm finding the ADT is very pleasing.
There are two basic premises that the UI of the SENS series is built on: 1) When the light is pointed downward, you're looking at something close up and want less light, and when the light is pointed away from you, you're looking at something far away and want more light, and 2) The first premise is not true in all situations. So, when using ADT the light is dimmest when pointing straight down, and gets incrementally brighter as you raise it up to the max at horizontal. When using the fixed modes, turning it on when straight down puts your in low mode, 45 degrees puts you in medium mode, and turning it on while horizontal puts you in high mode. Another nice touch, that shows they really thought this out is that when turning on to the fixed mode, low mode and medium mode come on very slowly visibly ramping from off. This is so that your eyes have time to adjust to the increase in brightness. When turning on to the fixed high mode, it still has a soft start but ramps up very quickly, the idea being that if you're going directly to high, you most likely want the light fast, and don't want to give time for whatever you're pointing at to get away. BY the same idea, when using ADT mode, if you move the light upwards to increase the brightness, it increases quickly, and if you move the light down to decrease brightness it decreases slowly. I really like this feature, though in my opinion the time to decrease in ADT mode should be shortened a bit. I don't know if all human eyes adapt to changes in brightness at the same rate, but I find myself waiting on the light to decrease brightness longer than necessary. It's not a huge issue, but I would decrease that time just a bit.
So, these two basic premises are the foundation for the design and UI of the SENS series, and for the most part I find them to hold true for general or EDC type use. If you are looking for a tactical light, this is not your choice, because accessing the fixed brightness modes takes some time (shift grip, twist off, adjust to correct angle, twist on…). In my time using the light around the house, at work, etc, I've really only found one situation the ADT can't handle. When I want dim light to look at something close in front of me (read a sign up close on a wall), I can just hold the SENS a bit above the target and point it down at an angle, and it works just fine. However, if I need to point high brightness at something below me (shining light down to the ground from a balcony), then I need to switch out of ADT and into the fixed high mode. Otherwise, I've had no trouble with the ADT. Some times it doesn't get the brightness to exactly what I'd set it to if I had full control (as with my SWM V11R for example), but surprisingly there have been very few situations where I wasn't satisfied with the brightness it set itself to. Overall, I give the ADT a big thumbs up and I hope to see Nitecore work an accelerometer into different styles of lights in the future!
On to a few more minor notes.
First, I really like the wide range of battery types available for use in the SENS series. In particular, the AA model can three different battery types that I regularly use (and two more that I don't!). On the CR, I've mentioned elsewhere, but I'll say again here that while it does accept 16340 lithium ion batteries, the AW and Ultrafire cells I have don't fit very well and they heat up the light VERY fast, to the point where I can't hold it comfortably after about 3-5 minutes. For this reason, the AA model is most likely going to be the one I carry most often, because it's output levels are more reasonable on li-ion, and the primaries it uses are cheaper.
Second, I find that when turning on ADT mode at night, it requires I point the light straight up to turn it on, and it comes on in high. For where I usually hold my light when turning it on, that puts max output square in my face. It's not too difficult to change it's position from where I normally hold it to turn it on, and I feel pretty cool holding a tiny light above my head and releasing a flood of energy (like some comic book super hero), but it is something a potential buyer should be aware of.
Lastly, the two nitpicky things I have to say are that I'd like to see a clip, especially on the AA model, and I'd like a little better grip on the head (seeing that this is a twisty light).
In conclusion, I'm going to highly recommend these lights to anyone who is interested in a light (or lights!) that are a little smarter than the "click-click-click to advance mode" that has become the norm. When multi-mode lights first came out, turning it on and off repeatedly to change the brightness was a big step forward. However, technology as a whole is moving forward, and I'm glad to see Nitecore moving lighting technology forward with it.
Long Term Impressions
I'll fill this part in after carrying the lights for a while. If nothing get's added here, either I find nothing else worth noting about the lights, or I end up not using them often.