Review: NITECORE EC21 (1x 18650, 2x CR123, 2x RCR123)

subwoofer

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Author's Statement for Transparency and Disclosure
The test sample/s featured in this article have been provided for technical testing and review by the manufacturer. Test samples are retained by the reviewer following publication of the completed review for the purposes of long term testing and product comparisons.

All output figures and test results published in this review are the sole work of the reviewer, and are carried out independently and without bias. Test results are reported as found, with no embellishments or alteration. Though best endeavours are made to maintain the accuracy of test equipment, the accuracy of these results is not guaranteed and is subject to the test equipment functioning correctly.
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Part of NITECORE's improved 'Explorer' Series, the EC21 is the real EDC workhorse of the range as it has a combination of using 18650 in a very compact body, but without runtime sapping excessively high output.

13%20EC21%20red%20on%20P1070454.jpg




Taking a more detailed look:

NITECORE's standard packaging is used for the EC21.

01%20EC21%20boxed%20P1070406.jpg



Included with the EC21 are a holster, instructions, lanyard, spare O-ring, and a deep carry clip which can be fitted either way round.

02%20EC21%20contents%20P1070411.jpg



The holster has a D-ring, and both fixed and Velcro closed belt loops.

03%20EC21%20holstered%20P1070417.jpg



The main beam LED is an XP-G2, and set to the side in the reflector is a secondary low power 3mm red LED.

05%20EC21%20LEDs%20P1070424.jpg



Looking off centre into the reflector, you can see the lens coating, depth of the reflector and how the secondary LED is set into the reflector.

06%20EC21%20reflector%20P1070427.jpg



Removing the head of the EC21 from the battery tube gives a clear view of the contacts. Physical reverse polarity contacts mean the EC21 is for button-top cells only.

07%20EC21%20head%20contacts%20P1070437.jpg



In the tail-cap the contact is a simple spring which is recessed and allows it to accommodate some of the length of the 18650 cell. In fact when you insert an 18650 it protrudes quite a lot from the battery tube, and it looks as if the tail-cap will not fit on, but it does.

08%20EC21%20tail%20contacts%20P1070438.jpg



Looking at both ends of the battery tube, the threads look very similar, but they are not the same. I've tried reversing the tube, and the threads do not fit.

09%20EC21%20battery%20tube%20P1070443.jpg



Fully anodised and semi-square cut threads are used at the front.

10%20EC21%20threads%20head%20P1070444.jpg



Fully anodised and slightly smaller semi-square cut threads are used at the rear.

11%20EC21%20threads%20tail%20P1070446.jpg



Next to an 18650 cell, you can see the EC21 is very compact for this class of light. Also note the twin switches used to control the light.

12%20EC21%20size%20P1070452.jpg




The beam

Please be careful not to judge tint based on images you see on a computer screen. Unless properly calibrated, the screen itself will change the perceived tint.
The indoor beamshot is intended to give an idea of the beam shape/quality rather than tint. All beamshots are taken using daylight white balance. The woodwork (stairs and skirting) are painted Farrow & Ball "Off-White", and the walls are a light sandy colour called 'String' again by Farrow & Ball. I don't actually have a 'white wall' in the house to use for this, and the wife won't have one!


Though there are flaws in the EC21's beam, thanks to the inset 3mm red LED, these are not particularly noticeable unless you rotate the light. A defined hotspot gives the EC21 reasonable range.

14%20EC21%20indoor%20beam%20P1070847.jpg



Adjusting the exposure as the red output is at a low level, the red beam is very messy, but relatively normal for these standard 3mm type LEDs.

15%20EC21%20indoor%20red%20beam%20P1070851.jpg



Outside, the EC21's beam is perfectly capable.

16%20EC21%20outdoor%20beam%20P1070886.jpg





Modes and User Interface:

The updated Explorer range have exchanged various button configurations for the twin button layout seen on the EC21.

With the twin switches positioned to fall naturally under the user's thumb it makes for a very ergonomic design.

With its white and red emitters, the twin switches give easy direct access to Red, White Turbo, White Lower, and Strobe modes.

From OFF, to switch ON to the last used steady white output, briefly press the Power switch. When ON, press the Mode switch to cycle through Turbo -> Lower -> Low -> Mid -> High back to Turbo etc. To switch OFF briefly press either the Power switch.

From OFF, for direct access to Lower, press and hold the Power switch for more than 1s.

From OFF, for direct access to Turbo, press and hold the Mode switch for more than 1s.

To access White flashing modes, from ON, press and hold the Mode switch for more than 1s. This will activate strobe. Press and hold the Mode switch for more than 1s again to switch to Beacon mode. Press and hold the Mode switch for more than 1s once more to activate SOS.
Once activated, pressing the mode switch briefly returns the EC21 to the previous steady mode, or a brief press of the Power switch will turn the EC21 OFF.

From OFF, to switch ON to Red, briefly press the Mode switch.
To enter the flashing Red signal beacon, from Red ON, press and hold the Mode switch for more than 1s. The Red LED will now flash.
To switch OFF briefly press either the Mode or Power switch.

There is a 'Standby' mode which uses brief low power flashes of the Red LED to act as a locator to allow you to find the EC21 in complete darkness. Although low power, the flashes are bright enough to disturb someone's sleep. Exiting standby mode is achieved by switching on either the Red or White output.

Although the EC21 has an easy lockout by simply giving the tail-cap a half turn, there is a lockout mode included. With the EC21 ON, press and hold both buttons simultaneously for 1s to enter lockout. Like this the buttons will not turn the EC21 on. Thanks to the button design this can be done easily with the thumb. To exit Lockout press and hold both buttons simultaneously for 1s and the EC21 will turn ON in the last used mode. When entering Lockout, the EC21 will flash the Red LED to indicate the battery voltage.

Lastly when first inserting cell/s into the EC21, as the power is connected the EC21 will flash the Red LED to indicate the voltage. Whole Volts are flashed first, followed by 0.1V so for example if there are four flashes, pause, one flash, the battery voltage is 4.1V.



Batteries and output:

The EC21 can use either a single 18650, 2x CR123, as well as 2x RCR123.

To measure actual output, I built an integrating sphere. See here for more detail. The sensor registers visible light only (so Infra-Red and Ultra-Violet will not be measured).

Please note, all quoted lumen figures are from a DIY integrating sphere, and according to ANSI standards. Although every effort is made to give as accurate a result as possible, they should be taken as an estimate only. The results can be used to compare outputs in this review and others I have published.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
NITECORE EC21 using NITECORE 3100mAh NL 188I.S. measured ANSI output LumensPWM frequency or Strobe frequency (Hz)
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Turbo4430
High2230
Medium1060
Low220
Lower20
RedBelow Threshold0
Strobe5120
Beacon103Flash every 2.1s

Peak Beam intensity measured 9100lx @1m giving a beam range of 191m.

There is parasitic drain at 77.5uA giving a time to drain a fully charged 3100mAh 18650 cell of 4.56 Years.

After a very brief initial burst reaching 490lm, the ANSI output settles in at 443. After three minutes the EC21 makes a controlled decline to 350lm which is maintained until around 20 minutes. The output then drops to about 250lm which is regulated for a further 4 hours of runtime before steadily dropping off.

NITECORE%20EC21%20runtime.jpg




Troubleshooting

This is a new section I am adding to mention any minor niggles I came across during testing, in case the information helps anyone else.

Nothing has come up during testing.

As per the description of this section, this information is provided in case anyone else finds a similar 'issue' that might be fixed in the same way.



The EC21 in use

With a long description of the modes and user interface, this section is actually going to be rather brief. The reason for this is that the EC21 is simply very usable.

The size is possibly one of the most 'hold-able' of any light I've used. A bit of a Goldilocks story, with the EC21 really being 'just right'. The fact it is a single 18650 light makes the battery tube a very good size, but unlike most single 18650 the EC21 is not that much bigger than the 18650 inside it. There is enough length for the thumb to fall over the twin switch with enough still in the hand to feel secure.

For many, single 18650 lights can be a bit too much to EDC, but the EC21 is compact enough to sway you towards carrying it in favour of a smaller CR123, AA or AAA light thanks to the added runtime/power it gives you.

Though not sporting headline output figures (which some of the other Explorer lights do), the EC21 is compact has 18650 power, direct access to Lower, Turbo and Red outputs and is very ergonomic. Bear this in mind when looking through the range, and this quietly reserved model deserves consideration as it is one of the most useful.



Review Summary


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Things I likeWhat doesn't work so well for me
______________________________________________________________________________________________
Direct access to Turbo, Lower, Red and Strobe modesInset Red LED affects main beam
18650 power/runtime'Only' 443 lumen output
Ergonomic twin button switch layoutMain beam is a bit too narrow for close range use
Low parasitic drainRed beam full of artefacts
Compact and EDC-able


04%20EC21%20angle%20P1070420.jpg



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cp2315

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Thanks for the nice review. I agree with you that it is not very bright. The beam on mine is not smooth and free of artifact probably due to the red LED as well as not perfectly focused.
 

incd

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Poor quality, I have one and the clip already scratched the body.
 
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subwoofer

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Poor quality, I have one and the clip already scratched the body.

Not sure I'd agree this is a poor quality light based on your feedback.

What you say is one general reason I don't really like pocket clips. Steel (usually) on anodised aluminium, with the clip being moved about in use it always going to leave a mark. If you want to use the pocket clip on any light expect marks/scratches.
 

lightjunction

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I didn't notice your thoughts on the switch itself. I am very happy with seeing this upgraded over the first versions.
 

subwoofer

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I didn't notice your thoughts on the switch itself. I am very happy with seeing this upgraded over the first versions.

You are right I have neglected to say how much I like the new button arrangement. I'm a real fan of side switches as I'm a civilian user, so the overrated overhand tactical grip is not my thing.

I did say something to this effect in my EA41 review which used the same switch layout:

http://www.candlepowerforums.com/vb...8-Review-NITECORE-Explorer-Series-EA41-(4xAA)

But the EC21 fits the hand so comfortably, it makes perfect use of the dual button side switch of the current explorer range.
 
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Xmoran

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Great review, thank you !
But as i have EA11 i can' t find a logical reason for someone to buy EC21 instead of EA11. Smaller, AA battery (and 14500), same operation and 900lm (almost double). Maybe only for someone that run time is the most importand...
 

phantom23

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Runtime is a very important factor. Decent 18650 cell has almost 4x more energy than 14500. Actual runtime is even better: EC11 - 70lm/2hr30mins, EC21 - 100lm for 12 hours. EC21 also has less floody beam and better mode spacing.
 

incd

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Not sure I'd agree this is a poor quality light based on your feedback.

What you say is one general reason I don't really like pocket clips. Steel (usually) on anodised aluminium, with the clip being moved about in use it always going to leave a mark. If you want to use the pocket clip on any light expect marks/scratches.
I have a few sunwayman flash light, all with steel pocket clip, none of them have even a small scratch.
 

ven

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Thanks for the excellent review:) Really like the look of this,the size has surprised me...........wow real compact with benefits of 18650 run times. I actually like the lower output..........imho probably means less issues long term due to not being over pushed and getting too hot. In most uses around 200lm is enough for me,will keep an eye on this one for a possible later purchase........
 

regulator

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Thanks for the review and great pictures. I have this light and like it a lot. I like the design, double switch UI, beam throw, runtime on medium, red light option for dark adapted eyes etc. It has a lot of things going for it that make it an all around fantastic light.
 

Crazyeddiethefirst

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Does the EC21 body fit the EC11 head? I currently use my EC20 body with EC11 head for 18650 use to give me both hi power when needed(900 lm), and extended run times(18650 battery). With this combination(and the reverse-EC11 18350 body tube/EC20 head-lower lumens, far greater run times), it makes for a light that is truly diverse and useful in a large number of real world scenarios. Loving Nitecore's vision...
 

5CardBLAZE

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Does the EC21 body fit the EC11 head? I currently use my EC20 body with EC11 head for 18650 use to give me both hi power when needed(900 lm), and extended run times(18650 battery). With this combination(and the reverse-EC11 18350 body tube/EC20 head-lower lumens, far greater run times), it makes for a light that is truly diverse and useful in a large number of real world scenarios. Loving Nitecore's vision...



Now the EC20 and the MH10 are basically the same light, yes?! {allowing for a 2mm longer head & uUSB port here, and a lower spec.'ed lumens output there?!}.

I want slightly longer total for EC21.

Can the EC21 HEAD be leggo'ed onto the EC20 [or MH10] BODY and end up longer than 108mm with EC21 goodies :thinking: but much shorter than the EC20's 128mm [or MH10's 130mm] ???


Crazyeddiethefirst, what two lengths did you get with your EC11 crossover ?
I am hoping for arround 115mm or there-abouts with EC21 goodies on tap as Every Day Carry in horizontal holster.

:bumpit:
 
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RBWNY

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I got an EC21 last December and was very impressed. Two weeks later, after moderate use, it started acting freakish and would only work intermittently. Fortunately the merchant replaced it with a new one. Then just the other day, I switched it on...medium mode I think...and within 2 minutes it shut off. Now it's completely dead...except for one thing; it'll read the battery voltage when inserted, and sometimes I can get the red beacon to flash. Otherwise nothing. Wondering now if I should contact Nitecore to see if THEY will replace it. I can't bring myself to ask the original seller to replace it a SECOND time! Either I'm having bad luck with it, or there's something coincidentally bad in the EC21's electronics. I also have an EC11 & an EA11 and am keeping fingers crossed that the same problem doesn't strike those ones as well.
 

subwoofer

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I got an EC21 last December and was very impressed. Two weeks later, after moderate use, it started acting freakish and would only work intermittently. Fortunately the merchant replaced it with a new one. Then just the other day, I switched it on...medium mode I think...and within 2 minutes it shut off. Now it's completely dead...except for one thing; it'll read the battery voltage when inserted, and sometimes I can get the red beacon to flash. Otherwise nothing. Wondering now if I should contact Nitecore to see if THEY will replace it. I can't bring myself to ask the original seller to replace it a SECOND time! Either I'm having bad luck with it, or there's something coincidentally bad in the EC21's electronics. I also have an EC11 & an EA11 and am keeping fingers crossed that the same problem doesn't strike those ones as well.

Depending on your local regulations, I would say to go to the merchant first as it is less than a year old (this is what I would do as it is normally the merchant who needs to deal with the manufacturer in the first year). Going direct to NITECORE might mean more delays and difficult shipping, but there is no harm contacting them as they might use the merchant as a go-between.

Out of interest, what cell/s are you using?
Have you cleaned the threads and contacts at both ends of the battery tube?
What voltage does it show when it gives you the readout? Does that match the cell if you use a DMM to measure the voltage?
Do the switches click normally?

Let us know how you get on.
 

RBWNY

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Hi sub... thanks for the response. Okay yes, maybe it's better to contact the seller.

So anyway... I've been using an 18650 primarily. Can't recall if I had any 18350's in it at one time. Yes, when I couldn't get it switch on I did a thread and contact cleaning. Made no difference. When it blinked the voltage, it gave me 4 volts!... which was correct.
 

mmander

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When I received my EC21 originally, it seemed flaky... sometimes switching on, then flickering off and all sorts of goofiness. What I didn't immediately realize was that the head actually unthreads from the battery tube! Once I cranked the head down, it has worked flawlessly ever since. Might be an obvious thing, and pardon the suggestion if it is, but make sure your EC21 head is on fully tight...
 

RBWNY

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When I received my EC21 originally, it seemed flaky... sometimes switching on, then flickering off and all sorts of goofiness. What I didn't immediately realize was that the head actually unthreads from the battery tube! Once I cranked the head down, it has worked flawlessly ever since. Might be an obvious thing, and pardon the suggestion if it is, but make sure your EC21 head is on fully tight...

Good suggestion...however in this case I repeatedly tightened the cap/head for voltage confirmation, but failed to get the light to turn on by pressing any of the switches.
 

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