Nitecore Explorer (EC1, EC2, EA1, EA2) Round-up Review: RUNTIMES, BEAMSHOTS, VIDEO+

selfbuilt

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Warning: a lot more pic heavy than usual. :sweat:

Reviewer's Note – July 20, 2012: The Explorer series review is now complete, with all testing results for all models. I have updated my comments throughout, to reflect the final set of results. :wave:

EC001.jpg


The Explorer Series from Nitecore is a very distinctive set of lights. All models sport a dual electronic-switch control interface, in an otherwise fairly minimalist build. Let's see how they perform, relative to their respective classes … :whistle:

EC004.jpg

EC003.jpg


Manufacturer Specifications:

Common Specs:
  • LED: CREE XP-G R5
  • High efficiency constant current circuit
  • Dual electronic switch design, easy-to-learn and simple user interface
  • 5 brightness levels - Micro, Lo, Mid, Hi, Turbo – and secondary red light mode (0.2 lumens)
  • Hidden Strobe and SOS modes (momentary push-on)
  • Impact resistance 1.5m
  • Waterproof and submersible: IPX-8, 2m
  • Power indicator red LED also serves as battery voltage indicator (accurate to 0.1V), standby indicator when powered down
  • Toughened ultra-clear mineral glass with dual-side anti-reflective coating
  • Elaborate allow reflector purpose-designed for exceptionally long throw
  • Constructed from aero grade aluminum alloy
  • HA-III military grade hard-anodized
  • Stainless steel bezel retaining ring protects core components from damage
  • Detachable two-way anti-rolling clip
  • Tailstand function
  • Accessories: High quality holster, lanyard, spare o-ring
EC1
  • Maximum Output: 280 lumens
  • Powered by 1xCR123A or 1xRCR battery
  • Output/runtime (1xCR123A): Turbo 280lm - Hi 200lm / 1hr 20mins – Mid 75lm / 5hr – Lo 25lm / 12hr – Micro 4 lm/70hr
  • Peak beam intensity: 5000cd
  • Beam distance: 141m
  • Bezel diameter: 25.4mm, Tail diameter: 22mm
  • Length: 65mm
  • Weight: 42.5g (without battery)
  • Accessories: High quality holster, lanyard, spare o-ring
  • MSRP: ~$55
EC2
  • Maximum Output: 320 lumens
  • Powered by 2xCR123A batteries or 1x18650 battery (2xRCR batteries supported but not recommended – battery capacity indicator won't function normally)
  • Output/runtime (2xCR123A): Turbo 320lm - Hi 200lm / 3hr – Mid 80lm / 11hr – Lo 15lm / 50hr – Micro 2 lm/220hr
  • Peak beam intensity: 5650cd
  • Beam distance: 150m
  • Bezel diameter: 25.4mm, Tail diameter: 24mm
  • Length: 99mm
  • Weight: 59g (without battery)
  • MSRP: ~$67
EA1
  • Maximum Output: 180 lumens
  • Powered by 1xAA (NiMH/Alkaline/L91) or 1x14500 (1x14500 supported but not recommended - brightness level is greatly increased and circuit cannot accurately detect battery charge)
  • Output/runtime (1xNiMH AA): Turbo 180lm - Hi 100lm / 2hr 20min – Mid 40lm / 5hr – Lo 12lm / 17hr – Micro 3 lm/80hr
  • Peak beam intensity: 3000cd
  • Beam distance: 109m
  • Bezel diameter: 25.4mm, Tail diameter: 19mm
  • Length: 81mm
  • Weight: 47.5g (without battery)
  • MSRP: ~$52
EA2
  • Maximum Output: 280 lumens
  • Powered by 2xAA (NiMH, Alkaline, L91) – Note: 2x14500 is banned
  • Output/runtime (2xNiMH AA): Turbo 280lm - Hi 200lm / 2hr – Mid 60lm / 8hr – Lo 15lm / 30hr – Micro 3 lm/150hr
  • Peak beam intensity: 5000cd
  • Beam distance: 141m
  • Bezel diameter: 25.4mm, Tail diameter: 19mm
  • Length: 131mm
  • Weight: 64g (without battery)
  • MSRP: ~$60
EC001.jpg


The Explorer series lights come in standard display shelf packaging. Inside the cardboard box, you will find the light, good quality holster, wrist lanyard, extra o-ring, extra button cover sticker, manual, warranty card and product insert. Note there is no place to attach the wrist lanyard securely. :rolleyes:

Overall, the Explorer series lights are fairly small for their respective classes, despite the rather large flat area on the head where the control buttons are located. I will be providing detailed size and weight comparisons/pics in the detailed sections on each model – scroll down for details.

I will focus on the EC1 below for the general build discussion, updating with additional pics from the other models when aspects differ.

EC005.jpg

EC006.jpg

EC008.jpg

EC018.jpg

EC019.jpg


The Explorer series build is rather unique. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I think all will agree these lights are distinctive. :eek:oo:

My samples have a matte black finish, with no obvious chips or damage on the bodies (there were however several small chips and nicks in the screw thread anodizing on several models). There is knurling on the body tube and tailcap – but it is not overly aggressive. There are also fins on the head, presumably to help with cooling. Identification labels on the body are clear and bright against the black background. There appears to be a serial number on each light (in very small print, just below the head)

Overall body wall thickness is on the thin-side, but the lights still feel solid (good weight in the hand). Surprisingly for such a small light, it has thick square-cut screw threads. :eek:oo: Screw threads are anodized on both body and tailcap for tailcap lock-out.

EC014.jpg

(EA2 on top, EC1 on bottom)

One comment on the EC1 – the threading area narrows down to only one full thread wide at places (although still seems quite stable). The other models all have longer threading areas.

There is also a removable bi-directional clip, held in place by two screws. I typically like this type of design, as it allows you to clip the light bezel-up or bezel-down (e.g., good for a make-shift headlamp on a ball cap brim). Clip feel is ok (e.g., similar to some early Jetbeam lights), but not as sturdy as say the Surefire E1B. Note that on the EC1, the bend of the clip may get in the way of your fingers somewhat while tightening the tailcap.

Tailcap size is quite small, as there is no clicky switch. Lights can all tailstand comfortably. Removing the clip on the EC1 and EA1 will require a good set of flat-head jewelers screw drivers.

I find hand feel is good across the line. All lights are fairly compact for their classes, I found them all to be well-balanced and comfortable to hold and use.

Note that the EA1 and EA2 have relatively slim-lined bodies compared to the other models (i.e., they are customized to take the narrower AA-class cells). Also, the body tube diameter on the EA1 at least seemed a little variable – my replacement sample was unable to take any of my protected 14500 cells.

The EC2 is thick enough to take protected 18650. :thumbsup:

There is stainless steel bezel ring around the lens in the head, with raised aluminum flanges all around it (i.e., scalloped). This allows you to head-stand the lights, and still be able to tell if it is on. There is an obvious anti-glare reflective coating on the lenses.

EC012.jpg

EC024.jpg


The Explorer series lights have a relatively deep and smooth reflector, which should translate into excellent throw for the size. The emitters were not always perfectly centered on all my samples, but it was typically pretty good. On some of my samples (like EC1), there seems to be some faint concentric rings visible at the base of the reflector near the opening around the emitter. These are likely to help smooth out the beam slightly, while still maintaining good throw. However, most of the samples I've received have had perflectly smooth reflectors.

Scroll down for specific beamshots of each model, relative to its class counterparts.

And now, the most distinctive part – the flat panel with dual-switch control interface. I will describe this in more detail below, when I cover the user interface. But to summarize the physical build, there are two electronic switches (labelled ON/OFF and MODE), and a small red LED. Switch feel is distinctive - something like a small bubble-switch. There is a very faint click as you make contact. Press and release to click, press and hold for continuous operation.

User Interface

User interface is common across the Explorer series.

When you first connect the tailcap with a battery installed, the red LED next to the control buttons will flash quickly once every 2 secs or so, serving as a locator beacon. This is helpful is you are trying to find the light in the dark. If you don't want to see the beacon, simply break the current by loosening the tailcap a quarter turn.

Note the red LED doesn't flash while the light is on, unless the battery runs low. According to Nitecore, the light starts flashing once every 6 secs during operation once the battery reaches 50% remaining, and 3 times every 3 seconds once the batteries are nearing exhaustion.

Main beam operation is controlled by the ON/OFF switch – press and release to turn the light on at the previously memorized constant output level. While on, press and release the MODE switch repeatedly to cycle between the four main output levels in the following repeating sequence: Micro > Lo > Med > Hi. Press and hold the MODE switch for 1 sec at any level to jump to Turbo. To exit Turbo, press the MODE switch again.

Turn the light off by pressing and releasing the ON/OFF switch again. Light has mode memory, and will return to the last level used when turned back on from off.

There are also "hidden" Strobe and SOS modes. You can access a disorienting variable-frequency strobe by pressing and holding the ON/OFF switch for more than 1 sec from Off. SOS is accessed by pressing and holding the MODE switch for more than 1 sec from Off. You can exit these modes by pressing any switch.

There is a lockout mode that reduces the standby power drain, and prevents quick activation. To turn it on, press and hold the ON/OFF for 1 sec when the light is on. It will shut-off, and stay locked out until you press and hold the ON/OFF switch again for 1 second. Under this mode, Nitecore says the current is reduced to below 0.1mA, for multi-year battery life (see my Standby drain testing section below for more info).

When you first enter lockout mode, the red LED next to the switches will flash out a voltage reading of the cell. The first set of flashes corresponds to number of volts, after a pause a second set of flashes will tell you the number of tenths of a volt. This will give you an idea of the battery charge remaining. A useful feature at any time, if you are wondering how much juice you have left. :thumbsup:

While on the subject, you can actually turn the red LED on continuously by pressing the MODE button while the light is off. The red LED will stay on until you press the MODE switch again, or turn on the light by the ON/OFF switch. The red LED is fairly bright when in constant on mode, with dark-adapted eyes.

For some reason, there was a slight delay in being able to activate the red light mode/beacon on my EA1 samples. White mode could be activated immediately, but it typically took a few seconds after making battery contact before beacon would activate or the continuous red light mode could be activated.

For a more detailed examination of the build and user interface, please see my video overview:


Video was recorded in 720p, but YouTube typically defaults to 360p. Once the video is running, you can click on the configuration settings icon and select the higher 480p to 720p options. You can also run full-screen.

PWM/Strobe

There is no sign of PWM that I can see, at any output level – the lights appear to be current-controlled, as claimed. :)

Micro/Lo/Med Noise:
EC1-MedNoise.gif


Hi/Turbo Noise:
EC1-HiNoise.gif


Note there was some very faint high frequency circuit noise present on Micro/Lo/Med levels at a frequency of 1 kHz, but this was not perceptible at all to the eye. On Hi/Turbo, this noise was ~2.2 kHz. But in either case, it is not PWM and you will not be able to see it visually.

Strobe:
EC1-Strobe.gif


Like other Jetbeam and Nitecore lights, the EC1 uses a true oscillating, or variable-frequency strobe. The time between pulses varied anywhere from 20msecs to 200msecs in my testing (i.e. 50 Hz to 5 Hz), with no discernible pattern. This is quite disorienting. :green:

Standby Drain:

Due to the electronic switches and the red LED locator beacon, there is going to be a standby current drain when the tailcap is fully connected.

This drain isn't easy to measure, as the red LED beacon mode causes a re-occurring fluctuation every 2secs that is too quick for my DMM to consistently capture.

For the EC1, my best estimate on 1xCR123A is the background drain is ~50uA, with periodic jumps every 2 secs of up to ~2mA for a fraction of a second (i.e., that is the highest current my DMM ever displayed during a beacon flash). On 1xRCR, the background drain seemed to be ~20uA, with peak flashes of ~1mA for a fraction of a second.

If I were to roughly "guestimate" that the duration of the beacon flash was 1/5 of a sec, that would "average" out to ~0.25mA over 2secs on CR123A, and ~0.12mA on RCR. That would translate into ~8 months of runtime on either 1400mAh CR123A or 750mAh RCR. But that number is a very rough estimate and could be much higher or lower – it is very hard to estimate how quick the flash is (or how accurate my DMM is in capturing the current).

If you lockout the light according the switch method (i.e., hold the ON/OFF switch for more than 1 sec while On), the light is supposed to drop to a <0.1mA level. For all intents and purposes, I expect that what happens is the locator beacon is turned off, and the standby drain remains around the base ~50uA and ~20uA levels detected above. If so, I would expect ~3-4 years on the EC1, depending on the battery used.

So it looks like Nitecore's current drain and battery life estimates are pretty accurate. :)

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 any extended run Lo/Min modes (i.e. >12 hours) which are done without cooling.

I have devised a method for converting my lightbox relative output values (ROV) to estimated Lumens. See my How to convert Selfbuilt's Lighbox values to Lumens thread for more info.

-----------

EC1 Review

EC031.jpg

EC036.jpg

EC067.jpg

From left to right: CR123A; Nitecore EC1; Sunwayman M11R; Eagletac D25C; Zebralight SC30; Jetbeam PC10; Novatac 120P; Surefire E1B.

All dimensions are given with no batteries installed:

Nitecore EC1: Weight 43.0g, Length: 68.6mm, Width (bezel): 26.1mm
Rofis JR10: Weight 75.0g, Length (max): 110.6mm (angled): 92.9mm, Width (bezel): 24.8mm
Jetbeam PC10: Weight: 50.5g, Length: 93.6mm, Width (bezel): 22.6mm
Jetbeam BC10: Weight: 46.6g, Length: 90.3mm, Width (bezel): 23.2mm
Lumintop ED10: Weight: 21.5g, Length: 70.4mm, Width (bezel): 20.7mm
Thrunite Neutron 1C: Weight: 45.2g, Length: 91.5mm, Width (bezel) 22.0mm

The EC1 is clearly tiny for the class. Weight is higher than typical for this size, suggesting reasonable heatsinking.

Beamshots:

All lights are on Turbo/Max on 1x AW protected RCR in the first set of panels, followed by 1xCR123A in the second. Lights are about ~0.75 meter from a white wall (with the camera ~1.25 meters back from the wall). Automatic white balance on the camera, to minimize tint differences.

EC1-RCR-Beam001.jpg
J10R-RCR-Beam001.jpg

D25CXPG-RCR-Beam001.jpg
BC10001.jpg


EC1-RCR-Beam002.jpg
J10R-RCR-Beam002.jpg

D25CXPG-RCR-Beam002.jpg
BC10002.jpg


EC1-RCR-Beam003.jpg
J10R-RCR-Beam003.jpg

D25CXPG-RCR-Beam003.jpg
BC10003.jpg


EC1-RCR-Beam004.jpg
J10R-RCR-Beam004.jpg

D25CXPG-RCR-Beam004.jpg
BC10004.jpg


And now on primary 3V 1xCR123A:

EC1-CR123A-Beam001-1.jpg
J10R-CR123A-Beam001.jpg

D25CXPG-CR123A-Beam001.jpg


EC1-CR123A-Beam002-1.jpg
J10R-CR123A-Beam002.jpg

D25CXPG-CR123A-Beam002.jpg


EC1-CR123A-Beam003-1.jpg
J10R-CR123A-Beam003.jpg

D25CXPG-CR123A-Beam003.jpg


EC1-CR123A-Beam004-1.jpg
J10R-CR123A-Beam004.jpg

D25CXPG-CR123A-Beam004.jpg


As you can see, the EC1 has fairly tight and focused hotspot, compared to most other lights of this class. There are some faint beam rings, but they are not overly distracting.

Throw/Output Summary Chart:

My summary tables are reported in a manner consistent with the ANSI FL-1 standard for flashlight testing. Please see http://www.flashlightreviews.ca/FL1.htm for a discussion, and a description of all the terms used in these tables.

EC1-FL1-Summary1-2.gif


EC1-FL1-Summary2-2.gif


As expected, output and throw are excellent for the class. :thumbsup:

The EC1 is brighter on 1xRCR than 1xCR123A, consistent with a heavily-driven (but regulated) XP-G R5 light.

Output/Runtime Comparison:

EC1-Turbo-CR123A-1.gif

EC1-Hi-CR123A-1.gif

EC1-Med-CR123A-1.gif


EC1-Turbo-RCR-1.gif

EC1-Hi-RCR-1.gif

EC1-Med-RCR-1.gif


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EC2 Review

EC051.jpg

EC056.jpg

EC074.jpg

From left to right: AW protected 18650; Nitecore EC2; Jetbeam PC10; 4Sevens Quark Q123-2; Zebralight SC600; Spark SL6; Lumintop ED20; Eagletac D25LC2.

Beamshots:

All lights are on Max output on 1x AW protected 18650 (2200mAh). Lights are about ~0.75 meter from a white wall (with the camera ~1.25 meters back from the wall). Automatic white balance on the camera, to minimize tint differences.

E2C-18650-Beam001.jpg
D25LC2-18650-Beam001.jpg

Q123-2X-Beam001.jpg
SC600-Beam001.jpg


E2C-18650-Beam002.jpg
D25LC2-18650-Beam002.jpg

Q123-2X-Beam002.jpg
SC600-Beam002.jpg


E2C-18650-Beam003.jpg
D25LC2-18650-Beam003.jpg

Q123-2X-Beam003.jpg
SC600-Beam003.jpg


E2C-18650-Beam004.jpg
D25LC2-18650-Beam004.jpg

Q123-2X-Beam004.jpg
SC600-Beam004.jpg


Throw/Output Summary Chart:

My summary tables are reported in a manner consistent with the ANSI FL-1 standard for flashlight testing. Please see http://www.flashlightreviews.ca/FL1.htm for a discussion, and a description of all the terms used in these tables.

EC2-FL1-Summary1.gif


EC2-FL1-Summary2-1.gif


EC2-FL1-Summary3-1.gif


Output/Runtime Comparison:

EC2-Turbo18650.gif

EC2-Hi18650.gif

EC2-Med18650.gif


EC2-HiRCR.gif


EC2-HiCR123A.gif


Again, no surprises for the output/runtime efficiency - the EC2 was excellent for a current-controlled XP-G R5 light (e.g. look at the 4Sevens G5 for a comparison).

One thing that is different - the timed step-down from Turbo to Hi was 27 mins on all battery sources. That's longer than you normally see for most timed step-downs. Note that you can always go back into turbo by simply holding down the button again at this point.

One oddity - on my 2xCR123A run, the light stepped down to Micro instead of Hi after 27mins. I restarted the run at Hi at this point, to allow you to better compare to the other runtimes.

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EA1 Review

EC041.jpg

EC046.jpg

EC070.jpg

From left to right: Duracell AA; Nitecore EA1, Defender Infinity, D10, EZAA; Fenix LD10-R4; 4Sevens Quark AA; Zebralight SC51.

Beamshots:

All lights are on Max output on Sanyo Eneloop AA NiMH. Lights are about ~0.75 meter from a white wall (with the camera ~1.25 meters back from the wall). Automatic white balance on the camera, to minimize tint differences.

E1A-Ene-Beam001.jpg
SENSAA-Ene-Beam001.jpg

SC51-Beam001.jpg
E03-Beam001.jpg


E1A-Ene-Beam002.jpg
SENSAA-Ene-Beam002.jpg

SC51-Beam002.jpg
E03-Beam002.jpg


E1A-Ene-Beam003.jpg
SENSAA-Ene-Beam003.jpg

SC51-Beam003.jpg
E03-Beam003.jpg


E1A-Ene-Beam004.jpg
SENSAA-Ene-Beam004.jpg

SC51-Beam004.jpg
E03-Beam004.jpg


Throw/Output Summary Chart:

My summary tables are reported in a manner consistent with the ANSI FL-1 standard for flashlight testing. Please see http://www.flashlightreviews.ca/FL1.htm for a discussion, and a description of all the terms used in these tables.

EA1-FL1-Summary1.gif


EA1-FL1-Summary2.gif


Output/Runtime Comparison:

EA1-HiEne.gif

EA1-MedEne.gif

EA1-LoEne.gif


EA1-HiL91.gif


EA1-HiAlka.gif

EA1-LoAlka.gif

EA1-MedAlka.gif


Note: I was unable to complete 14500 runtimes, as the body tube on my replacement EA1 was too narrow to take any of my protected 14500 cells.

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EA2 Review

EC059.jpg

EC065.jpg

EC073.jpg

From left to right: Duracell AA; Nitecore EA2; Eagletac D25A2; 4Sevens Mini AA-2, Quark AA-2; Eagletac P20A2-II; Jetbeam PA20; Nitecore PD20.

Beamshots:

All lights are on Max output on 2x Sanyo Eneloop AA NiMH. Lights are about ~0.75 meter from a white wall (with the camera ~1.25 meters back from the wall). Automatic white balance on the camera, to minimize tint differences.

E2A-Beam001.jpg
D25A2-Ene-Beam001.jpg

BA20001.jpg
Mini2AA-Beam001.jpg


E2A-Beam002.jpg
D25A2-Ene-Beam002.jpg

BA20002.jpg
Mini2AA-Beam002.jpg


E2A-Beam003.jpg
D25A2-Ene-Beam003.jpg

BA20003.jpg
Mini2AA-Beam003.jpg


E2A-Beam004.jpg
D25A2-Ene-Beam004.jpg

BA20004.jpg
Mini2AA-Beam004.jpg


Throw/Output Summary Chart:

My summary tables are reported in a manner consistent with the ANSI FL-1 standard for flashlight testing. Please see http://www.flashlightreviews.ca/FL1.htm for a discussion, and a description of all the terms used in these tables.

EA2-FL1-Summary1-1.gif


Output/Runtime Comparison:

EA2-HiL91.gif


EA2-HiAlka.gif

EA2-MedAlka.gif


EA2-HiEne.gif

EA2-MedEne.gif


---------

General Output/Runtime Comments:

Please refer back to the individual light reviews above for detailed tables comparing output and throw for each light, relative to its respective class.

One general conclusion that I can draw is that the reported peak beam intensity and distance measures seem accurate, for all lights, for the identified battery type. :thumbsup:

To better allow you compare output at all levels on all lights, below are detailed tables for each model, on all supported battery types. I have indicated the manufacturer's specs for the identified cell type.

EC1-Lumens-1.gif


EC2-Lumens-3.gif


EA1-Lumens.gif


EA2-Lumens-2.gif


Note: I didn't put in the tables above, but I would estimate the red LED light is ~0.4 lumens when run in continuous mode. This is not far off Nitecore's 0.2 lumen spec.

Again, in general terms, Nitecore seems to be fairly accurate in their relative output spacing - especially for the EA-series lights. Most of my output estimates seem to be a bit higher than spec on the EC-series lights.

The only real anomaly is my EC1, which seems to have a somewhat brighter Micro mode compared to the other lights (and to the specs). :shrug:

The EC1 and EA1 have noticeably higher outputs on 1x 3.7V Li-ion than their primary battery sources. Although relative spacing is still maintained, the lights in essence lack true low modes when run on RCR or 14500. This issue was identified by Nitecore in the packaging materials (see specs at the top of this review). Note that my replacement EA1 sample has a slightly narrow battery tube, and none of my 14500 cells would fit.

The lights are generally well regulated on their primary power sources, at all levels tested. Output/runtime efficiency seems very good relative to other members of the same class of XP-G R5-equipped lights. Keep in mind that most of the models support multi-modes on multiple sources (e.g., the EC1 fully supports both 1xCR123A and 1xRCR). This is something a number of competing models don't do, and means the EC1 is thus bound to incur some small efficiency hit (given the overhead of the broader voltage circuit support).

On Turbo, the models typically step-down from Hi after 3 mins runtime. In the case of my replacement EA1 however, the light stepped down to whatever the last memorized mode was before Turbo was activated.

On lights that support both primary and rechargeable Li-ion sources, there is a compression of the difference between output levels (e.g., the EC1 on 1xCR123A vs 1xRCR). There is also fairly typical semi-regulated looking pattern on Li-ions (i.e., gradual drop-off in output, with leveling off shortly before the protection circuit trips). Note that there is not much difference between Hi and Turbo on Li-ion – the EC1 runtimes look pretty much equivalent (although you can see the slight step-down at 3 mins is still there). Again, overall efficiency is again quite good on 3.7V Li-ion.

UPDATE JULY 9, 2012: Issue with continuous red LED operation

There have been reports of some Explorer lights heating up quickly on continuous red LED use (with concomitant short runtimes). I have measured surface temperature on all my samples using a thermal probe attached to the body right next to the red LED. Basically, this probe was taped in the middle of the "Nitecore" label beside the red LED. I have sorted the table below by the increase in temperature over background room temp.

Explorer-temps-3.gif


Consistent with these measures, the EC1 samples (and to a lesser extent the EA1 samples) felt subjectively quite warm to the touch by 1 hour into the run. The whole body felt warm, suggesting a significant power draw off the battery (i.e., it is not just the LED that is heating up).

As you can see in the runtime results in the table, heat was indeed indicative of a high current drain (you can't escape thermodynamics :rolleyes:). There is a clear inverse correlation - lights with low runtimes (indicating high power drain) got warm quickly. Of course, battery capacity has a role here, but there is definitely a very wide swing in power efficiencies among my samples.

Anyway you look at it, <3 hours runtime on the EC1s is disappointing. My EC2 seems to have the best performance - negligible heat, and >8 days runtime.

What I don't know is whether these findings are specific to the models in question (i.e., are the EC1 and EA1 always that much worse than the EA2 or EC2?). Or is it simply highly variable across all models? Unfortunately, I have no definitive way to answer this, given that I only have one or two of each. I would be curious to hear other people's experience with runtimes on continuous red.

Potential Issues for the Explorer series

The Explorer series electronic switches are small and relatively close together, and may be difficult to access (especially if you are using gloves).

My EA1 sample suffered an emitter failure during testing, and had to be replaced.

Although a full range of battery types are typically support on all models, the EC1 and EA1 have much higher output levels across the board on 3.7V Li-ion. Note that the battery tube was narrower on my replacement EA1, and none of my protected 14500 cells would fit (some of the regular NiMH cells were also a tight fit).

Although most lights have reasonable min output modes around ~2 lumens (and ~0.4 lumens for the red LED "moonlight" on continuous use), my EC1 had an abnormally high white Micro mode of ~11 lumens on 1xCR123A.

Lights are relatively throwy (by intentional design), but some may prefer a floodier option.

Bi-directional clip is a good design, but could be a bit thicker/stiffer. It may also interfere with your screwing of the EC1 tailcap.

Removing the clip on the EC1 and EA1 may be difficult, given the narrow openings to access the Phillips-head screws within the clip. I found that a flat-head jewelers screwdriver worked best to get these off (i.e., a Phillips-head jewelers screwdriver is too fine at this width, and could potentially strip the screws).

Lights all have decent square-cut and anodized threads, but the EC1 has less threading than the other models. Screw threads also seemed a bit rough on some models, with noticeable chips or nicks in the screw thread anodizing upon arrival.

There seems to be significant variability in the power draw of the red LED on continuous operation (giving anywhere from a few hours to a few days or runtime). See my comments in the update above.

Bezel ring appears to be press-fit on the head of the light, and there is no easy way to access the light's internals.

UPDATE August 14,2 2012: Although the lights are listed as IPX8 waterproof, there have been several reports here of individual samples failing under less stringent conditions. The two likely sources of water ingress are the bezel ring and adhesive switch cover. There are both only press-fit into position, so it is possible that some samples will fail at the IPX8 standard (although many are probably fine).

UPDATE March 12, 2013: There continue to be reports of inconsistent assembly or component tolerance issues on this line. I would recommend you carefully inspect any light you receive, to make sure it meets your standards and expectations upon arrival.

Preliminary Observations

The Explorer family by Nitecore has a lot going for it – a lot of care and thought clearly went into this design, and it works well. :twothumbs

The aesthetics are a matter of personal taste – not everyone will like the flat-panel head, but it is certainly distinctive. :rolleyes: It is also very functional, and the interface is easy to learn. There are only so many possibilities, even with electronic switches, so you should be able to work your way through them quickly.

I personally like the added functionality of the red LED – both for notification/signaling and continuous "moonlight" use. :) And if you don't want the locator beacon, you can always cut power by twisting the tailcap, or lock-out the switch electronically.

Generally, the overall build was very good on all the samples I was sent. Despite being compact, the lights feel solid for their classes, with good overall weight balance and hand feel. There are a lot of nice design features, such as good quality square-cut screw threads, anodized tailcap lock-outs, stainless steel bezel rings, etc. I like this sort of bi-directional clip design as well. Note however that centering of the white LEDs was variable.

The individual models of this family clearly have customized circuits, given the varying support of different battery voltages. On the EC2, comparable output levels are maintained on all battery sources. On the EC1 and EA1, all Li-ion output levels are considerably brighter than on the primary battery options.

Now that I have tested all the models, overall output/runtime efficiency seems generally very good across the series (i.e., in keeping with current-controlled lights).:thumbsup: On fully supported batteries, the regulation pattern was very typically well stabilized, with a timed step-down on Turbo. Note that 1x 3.7V Li-ion produces the more common quasi-regulated pattern on the EC1 (and presumably EA1) - but multi-mode status is maintained (just at a higher set of levels).

Although I remain impressed with the usability and performance of all the lights, some issues have cropped up. In particular, I've discovered there is a lot of variability in how efficient the lights are on continuous red LED operation (see table above). Unfortunately, red mode runtimes can be disappointingly short on some of the smaller models (which also heat up quickly).

There have also been build concerns raised by some members, but these are difficult for me to comment on as all my samples have performed reliably during testing. I did experience an issue on the EA1 that required a replacement sample, but this seemed to be a Cree emitter fault, not a Nitecore issue. But interested moders/DIYers take note - the bezel ring appears to be press-fit, and there is no obvious way for the end-user to access the internals of the light. Other build and/or assembly issues have been reported, so I strongly suggest you thoroughly evaluate your light upon arrival, to make sure it meets your expectations and standards.

In terms of the features, I can see this model doing well for extended travel. Thinking back to my two-week experience in a remote rainforest, I can see how the EC1 on CR123A would have been a perfect travelling companion. The range of levels, the excellent throw, the low-power "moonlight" red light, the beacon function – these are all things I would have appreciated on that trip. :bow: About the only thing I can think of that would complete the package would be an optional diffuser cover for up-close work with the white LED.

I find there is a lot of marketing "fluff" that goes into models names and numbers in the flashlight world. But this is one light family that I think lives up to the "Explorer" moniker in terms of its feature set. ;) Hopefully, Nitecore can iron out the persistent build/assembly issues that have been reported here.

----

Explorer Series EC1, EC2, EA1, EA2 supplied by NiteCore for review.
 
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Bigpal

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Another outstanding review. I am looking for a 2xAA light and a 1xRCR123 light. I am going to replace my LD20 with an LD22 and pick up the EC1. Good job.
 

Blackbeard

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Not sure if I misread this, but the red light flashes all the time when it is off unless you loosen tailcap? Not sure if I like this feature.
 

THE_dAY

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Wasn't expecting a review on these so soon. What can I say except great review as always!:twothumbs

Looking forward to the followup after your return.
 

GordoJones88

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Thanks a whole bunch for doing this so fast Selfbuilt.

I like what distinguishes these lights from the pack is they are very short with really good throw.

These lights are like Pokemon.
 
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tam17

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Thanks, selfbuilt! First and very informative, as always :thumbsup:
 

candle lamp

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Excellent review as always, and thanks a lot for your time & effort. Selfbuilt! :thumbsup:

It looks the explorer series have nice features & functions. It's very interesting to see the battery voltage indicator as well.

I think these series show a certain side of the flashlights evolution.

Have a nice travel. :wave:
 

jmpaul320

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excellent review as always... definitely interested to see about the 2aa model myself as ive been debating getting a light to leave in my car trunk (also looking at the dereelight javelin)
 

BIG45-70

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Thanks for the great review. I have been waiting for these to be released for some time now jumped on the EA1 as soon as it was released.

Are there any durability concerns with the electronic switch? How should a switch like this hold up for time and extended use?

Thank you again,
 

snakyjake

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I really like the red locator beacon! Hopefully I can now find my flashlight in the dark.

...or maybe the beacon is directional facing :(
 
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selfbuilt

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Not sure if I misread this, but the red light flashes all the time when it is off unless you loosen tailcap? Not sure if I like this feature.
Yes, this is the standard beacon mode.

Wasn't expecting a review on these so soon. What can I say except great review as always!:twothumbs
It is only because I had done full testing of the engineering sample - I just had to redo the runtime graphs, output/throw tables, etc., and update my preliminary comments. Still, it was a slog getting this done before I left (just checking in from the road ... :whistle:)

I like what distinguishes these lights from the pack is they are very short with really good throw.These lights are like Pokemon.
:laughing:

Are there any durability concerns with the electronic switch? How should a switch like this hold up for time and extended use?
No problems so far on the engineering sample, and I've had that one a couple of months ...

I really like the red locator beacon! Hopefully I can now find my flashlight in the dark.
...or maybe the beacon is directional facing :(
It is, but the red LED is bright enough that you will see it flashing on the other side of the light (with dark adapted eyes).
 

phantom23

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Another great review, can't wait for EC2 runtime graphs. I was torn between Fenix PD31 and Eagletac D25LC2 but Nitecore seems to be a clear winner.
 

moshow9

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I'm guessing not since this was not mentioned in your review, but did you happen to notice if any of the lights got hot during testing? Another poster mentioned that their EC1 got hot while using primaries and even when using the red led only.
 

candle lamp

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Selfbuilt!

Can you check if the stainless steel bezel ring is fastened on the head by screw threads or by other method?

Thanks in advance.
 

selfbuilt

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Another great review, can't wait for EC2 runtime graphs. I was torn between Fenix PD31 and Eagletac D25LC2 but Nitecore seems to be a clear winner.
We'll see how the runtimes do (once I'm back). The EC2 looks good so far - it has comparable levels on all batteries (including Lo modes).

I'm guessing not since this was not mentioned in your review, but did you happen to notice if any of the lights got hot during testing? Another poster mentioned that their EC1 got hot while using primaries and even when using the red led only.
No warmer than I'd expect for the output in such small bodies. The lights will get warm quickly on all the med-hi-turbo levels. Judging from the extra weight in the head, I'm hoping the heatsinking is good.

As for the red LED, I've noticed no heat at all after a couple of minutes of continuous runtime.

Can you check if the stainless steel bezel ring is fastened on the head by screw threads or by other method?
Hmm, I've go no idea how it is fastened. There are no indents for snap-ring pliers, and I am unable to open it by hand (it is slighty recessed below the aluminum flanges, making it hard to isolate. Perhaps something like the underside of mouse-pad might work to loosen it, but I don't have one with me to try - sorry.
 
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run4jc

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This is (as usual) and awesome review! I picked one of these up out of curiosity and am quite impressed with it. Kinda like a Zebralight SC31 on steroids.

I really appreciate the review - explained the operation clearly - better than the owner's manual!
 

phantom23

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We'll see how the runtimes do (once I'm back). The EC2 looks good so far - it has comparable levels on all batteries (including Lo modes).
As I don't use CR/RCR123 at all my bigger concern is that low and especially med are higher than they should. That's why I hope it has efficient driver and long runtimes on those modes.

PS. Is possible to turn the red light on in lockout mode?
 
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