Monday, July 13, 2015

NITECORE EC4 Review (2x18650,1050Lm,XM-L2)

The EC4 is a new flashlight from Nitecore's Explorer series lights.
It comes with new ideas for body design and manufacturing. The EC4 is the first flashlight which is manufactured by Die-Cast process,allowing higher standards for density of the aluminum body and heat transfer efficiency.
According to Nitecore the new EC4 is-
200% the strength of an ordinary flashlight that consists of 3 separate parts;
The strength of the Die-cast aluminum body is allowing smaller dimension of the flashlight,respectively less weight.
Better cooling performance,thanks to the Uni-body aluminum construction.

Nitecore EC4 is powered by two 18650 batteries,side by side,electrically connected in series(or 4 CR123A).

For a better functionality,the EC4 is equipped with a standard 1/4" tripod mount point.
The big ring is actually the screw which does lock the tailcap in place.

Another novelty is the external finish of the aluminum.
Only the tail-cap screw is anodized.The rest of the body is Stoving-Varnish treated.
The surface is black/dark grey color,noticeably matte finish.
According to Nitecore,this type finish has great parameters for wear,corrosion,chemical resistance,impact resistance and hardness.
I can't comment on these points,because I don't do this type of tests.

18 cooling fins (nine on each side) ensure high heat transfer from the LED to the ambient air.
Unlike any other flashlight,here all of the cooling fins are positioned alongside the head.

Comfortable grip. There's no much grooves,or knurling,but thanks to its shape with flattened sides,the EC4 is easy to stably hold in the hand.

Size comparison-Left to Right
Nitecore EC4, Nitecore SRT6, ThruNite Lynx, Olight M22, Klarus XT11(2014)
The EC4 and the M22 have identical head diameter.
(Hint-the M22's diffuser fits perfectly on the EC4's head)

Weight with batteries:
Nitecore EC4 260 gr
Nitecore SRT6 197 gr
ThruNite Lynx 257 gr
Olight M22 193 gr
Klarus XT11 186 gr

Standard for Nitecore carton box.
All important info printed on it.

Really interesting and appreciated is the sectional view of the flashlight.
Great chance to learn what parts contains the EC4 and how they are assembled.

Accessories- good holster and lanyard.
You will find also well written user manual and warranty card.

The holster is big enough for the EC4.There is a velcro tape on the back.
The flashlight can be inserted in both directions(head or tail down).

Matte stainless steel bezel.Not crenelated,which makes it more friendly for pocket carrying.

Ultra clear glass lens-toughened mineral glass with anti-reflective coating for good light transmittance.
Cree XM-L2 U2 LED. Perfectly centered.
A specially designed aluminum reflector with smooth reflective surface.

The glass lens is very clean and transparent.

Anti-reflective coating in purple color.

Lets take a closer look at the Dual switch.
Two electronic push buttons with a silicon cap,separated in two zones by a small bridge.
The button with the four lines is for mode selecting. The other is for ON/OFF,as both of the switches have additional,hidden functions-directly activating Turbo,UltraLow and Strobe mode.

User Interface

I am impressed of the user interface and operation with the dual switch.
This is the best user interface I've tested and suits my way of using the flashlight,just perfectly.

Five brightness levels,plus 3 flashing modes.
Clicking the ON/OFF button activates/deactivates the light. Press and hold it for a second to activate Moonlight mode,directly from Off.
If you press and hold it,while the light is ON,this will activate the Blue indicator light under the button.Will turn the light Off,as well.
There is no memory for the indicator light. If you need the indicator light for easier locating the flashlight,you have to activate it manually,every time.

Click on the right picture to see the full user manual that comes with the flashlight.

The second switch(with the four lines) is for mode selecting.
Press it to select among UltraLow-Low-Mid-High-Turbo modes,while the light is ON.
Press and hold it to activate Strobe mode. Press and hold again to activate Beacon and again to activate SOS mode.
Short press will return the constant light mode.
If you press and hold the switch for a second,while the light is OFF,this will activate Turbo mode directly.
Double click(the mode switch) starts Strobe mode immediately from OFF.

There is memory for the last used mode,except the 3 flashing modes.
The mode memory is extremely quick and does not require any special timings for ON/OFF to make it work.
If you leave it on High mode,it will start on High mode,no matter how quickly will turn it ON/OFF.

The UI is quite easy to remember and use. I did not find any trouble using it in real life situations.
Quick and accurate response from the driver.

There is one more function of the mode switch. If you press it briefly,while the light is OFF,the blue indicator light will show the level of the batteries by simple blinking.
Three flashes indicates battery voltage over 50%.
Two indicates battery voltage below 50%.
One flash means the batteries need to be replaced.

There is also switch locking option. Press and hold both switches together,for over one second to turn the light Off and lock the switches.
To unlock,press and hold both switches again,for over one second.

I feel the switches well in my hand.Easy access to both switches.
My fingers are thin,though and in my opinion people with bigger fingers may find the buttons smaller than needed and also may have to press them with a nail. The buttons are almost on the same level with the aluminum around them.
The separating bridge works well for me and I am pressing the right switch every time when I have to.

A closer look.

A closer look at the Stoving-varnish finish and the grooves forming squares.

The cooling fins. You can see how smooth are all edges thanks to the die-cast process of making the flashlight's body.

All edges at the tail are very smooth,well rounded,too.
Good care to detail.

A thick rubber(probably silicone) gasket ensures excellent water-resistant sealing.

The EC4 can tail-stand not only on a table.It can be quite stable on different surfaces.
There is no protruding switch at the tail.

The thick ring at the tail end is a big screw. You can see the threads at both sides of the battery tube.
There are threads only on the surface between the batteries.

Two protected batteries fit pretty well in length and width.
No battery carrier.

Great care to the electric part of the flashlight.
Each of the two springs is doubled by a second,smaller spring.This ensures higher efficiency thanks to less losses in the springs(less resistance,easier current flow).

The driver board.
There is a physical reverse polarity protection. Flat top batteries can't be used directly.
There are stickers showing the right direction for inserting the batteries.

A very close look at the thick sealing rubber gasket.

Smooth aluminum reflector. Cree XM-L2 U2 LED.
1050 Lumens max output. 26000cd peak beam intensity.

The light from the EC4 is clean Cool white light,with no visible greenish or bluish tint.
The beam profile consists clearly defined hotspot and corona with good smooth spill.
As almost any actual flashlight,a smooth reflector is used for better focusing the light,aiming maximum distance of throw.
This sacrifices some of the beam smoothness,but beam is still quite good in normal use(not on a white wall).

Run-time Performance

Thanks to the dual battery design resulting in high total voltage, Nitecore EC4 performs impressively well.
Two 18650 batteries in series(or 4xCR123A) provides enough energy for stable output.
The output on all modes is constant,even on Turbo mode.
Unlike the single cell flashlights,the EC4's Turbo mode comes on the same output after every restart.

I did a few tests with different batteries.
I tested the output on Turbo mode,while the flashlight was cooled by small 8cm fan and also without cooling fan.
Room temperature ~25 degrees Celsius.

Three tests-With the cooling Fan on max airflow,with the Fan on very Low rpm,with no cooling.
According to Nitecore,the EC4 features Advance Temperature Regulation.
Unfortunately,I did not manage to activate it,or at least I don't see it,as I expected to be.

With maximum air cooling(simulating using the flashlight at places with cold climate,or in the cold seasons),the EC4 performs impressively.
The output starts from 1140 Lumens. 30 seconds later the output is 1067 Lumens.
The EC4 is maintaining just over 1000 lumens,through the whole battery discharge.
Checking the flashlight for overheating,I was impressed to find that the EC4 stays cool,even at this high output.

The second test with minimum air cooling,shows similar performance.The same time of discharge 98 minutes,nearly constant output.
Just 10 or 20 lumens less at some moments,due to more heating.
During the test the EC4 was warm,but not too hot.

The third test was especially to test the ATR temperature control. No any kind of cooling was used. Static flashlight pointed at the light sphere.
I expected some kind of gradual step down as seen in the headlamp HC50,but here such step down does not exist.
The flashlight got very hot and I stopped the test after 10 minutes to prevent overheating. Lumen output 975 lumens at the tenth minute.
The flashlight may resist the heat,but it's recommended to keep the temperature of the batteries in normal range.

Batteries used in the tests- Keeppower 3100mAh,protected.
(Low voltage protection tests- Keeppower 3100mAh, Sanyo 2600mAh protected)

Only the first 15 minutes

My lumen measurements:
Fully charged Keeppower 3100 batteries.No cooling.
30 seconds after activation.

Turbo 1050 Lm
High 600 Lm
Mid 280 Lm
Low 114 Lm
UltraLow 1 Lm

Pretty well spaced brightness levels. A 50 lumen mode would be also useful,but one more mode may overload the UI.

The Nitecore EC4 features also a Low voltage protection. To be sure it will kick in on time,the two batteries must have identical voltage.
If not,the low voltage protection of the battery with the lower voltage will kick in,before the EC4's LV protection.
In my tests,the EC4 did not show any indication by the blue indicator light,or by flashing main light,that the batteries are empty.
The low voltage protection turned off the light without any warning.

I did not test with unprotected batteries. I prefer to use protected batteries,for a little more safety, also recommend using protected batteries,especially in this flashlight.

Thanks to the efficient driver electronics and dual battery power source,the current draw on Turbo mode is just 1,7 Amp.
High drain batteries are not needed for a good output. Any battery with a quality cell should be fine.

Nitecore EC4 has only electronic switches.There is no physical switch to fully disconnect the power to the driver circuit. When OFF,the flashlight is actually in Standby mode,which takes ~350µA from the batteries. This value is much higher than the value in all other flashlights I've tested. If you plan not to use the EC4 for very long time,it's recommended to take out the batteries,preventing over-discharging. Lock out the tailcap is not possible.

Beam shots

1 meter, 1/20sec

1 meter, 1/250sec

5 meters

5 meters

The Nitecore EC4 covers most of my expectations.
There are only a few weak points that could be improved in future models.
I found the EC4 quite comfortable in use,great constant output,good beam,fantastic user interface.
All these things makes the EC4 one of the best flashlights I have tested/reviewed and it definitely will become one of my most used lights.
The tripod mount thread makes it a good choice for a camping light,home work,or any other repair work.

Strong points- Build quality;Fresh ideas in the design; Tail-stand possible; Tripod mount option; Great fit in hand; High maximum brightness; Constant output on all modes;Well spaced modes; Great user interface; Quick access to Turbo,UltraLow and Strobe; Instant mode memory; High efficient driver; Deep smooth reflector results in great distance of throw; Impressively well maintaining the heat,while using on Turbo mode in cool ambient temperature;

Weak points-The dual switch may be uncomfortable for people with big fingers(depending on the way of pressing it); No output step down to prevent overheating; No indicator warning while the batteries are empty; Very high Standby current consumption; No tailcap lock-out option; No warning from the indicator light,when the batteries are empty; The finish just does not look as good as quality anodization;

Thanks for reading!
Hope you found my review quite informative and helpful.

- Thanks to Nitecore for providing the EC4 for test and review! -