Sunday, April 14, 2013

Review: Nitecore EA4 Pioneer [AA Flashlight]

Nitecore EA4 Pioneer 4xAA Flashlight - New In BoxIt was AA flashlights that helped make me a "flashaholic." But, like most flashaholics, I soon moved on to Lithium-ion flashlights, which pack more of a punch, though li-ion batteries can be dangerous if not handled with care. Multiple AA, high output lights have been around for a while, but the Nitecore's combination of features and its compactness intrigued me, so I bought one from Amazon.

They had it almost 15 bucks less than the nearest competitor, though the instructions were in German.

Product Description

Price: $55-$70 Online

The box says "compact searchlight" and that's the best description I can think of. The EA4 takes 4 AA batteries and has output comparable to a high end, Lithium-ion powered 18650 tactical flashlight. And due to its large, smooth reflector, probably out throws most of them.

Since my sample came with instructions only in German, I am linking the user manual in case anyone else needs it.

Official Specs

Here's the product link on Nitecore's web site.




    Nitecore EA4 Pioneer 4xAA Flashlight - Out of Box
  • Takes 4 common AA batteries
  • Cree XM-L U2 emitter
  • Includes spare o-ring, lanyard and nylon holster
  • Two state electronic switch (similar to a camera)
  • Switch lockout feature
  • Can tail stand
  • Uses deep, square cut threads
  • Blue beacon light in switch doubles as voltage meter

Overall Design


The predominant feature of the EA4's design is the two-stage, electronic switch on the side of the body, near the bezel. A slow half press on the switch gives you a momentary on lower mode, and a slow full press on the switch gives you momentary turbo mode. If you give the switch a full press or half press, the light stays on in those modes. Once the light is on, further half presses cycle between low-med1-med2-high and further full presses cycle between turbo and high. The hidden strobe is accessed by 3 quick full presses. I wasn't sure I liked this user interface, but the more I use it, the more I like it. At first it seemed clumsy, but now I can see that it's actually very well thought out.

The rest of the design is pretty much straight forward. You load the 4 AA batteries in the back, and use the side switch to access the flashlight. There's a lanyard hole in the tail, though this light seems a bit bulky for a lanyard. 

The cooling fins on the body also give the light a better grip. The only knurling is at the tail, where you unscrew the cap to access the battery compartment.

Batteries


Nitecore EA4 Pioneer 4xAA Flashlight - Shown With EneloopsNitecore EA4 Pioneer 4xAA Flashlight - Shown With Tail Cap RemovedThe EA4 uses 4 standard Alkaline or Ni-MH rechargeable batteries. I am assuming that it will take lithium primaries. I'm normally brave when it comes to trying Li-ion batteries, but not even I am brave enough to try 4 14500's in it. 

The batteries get loaded straight into the battery compartment. There is no caddy to load them into like some lights in this class use. There are two pins to align the springs, and the entire circuit board in the tail rotates freely. Interesting but effective.

When batteries are loaded into the unit and the tail cap is screwed on, the blue indicator light will flash quickly giving you two sequences: the volts and the tenth of volts.


Threads

Nitecore EA4 Pioneer 4xAA Flashlight - Closeup of Threads
The threads on this light are square cut and deep, which is nice. They are also anodized. Overall they have a really good feel, and it's one of the things that gives this light a high end feel to it. The only knurling on the entire light is on the tail cap, which only adds to the good feel.


Beam


The large, smooth reflector gives the EA4 a nice, tight hotspot for an XM-L, though at the expense of the off-colored rings, also common to the XM-L. Normally I would trade a nice looking beam for a little throw, but in this case, I like it just the way it is. Don't mess with my throw, bro. There's just enough spill to be useful at close range, but again, that's not what this light is really intended for. 

Nitecore EA4 Pioneer 4xAA Flashlight Beam - Low
Low
Nitecore EA4 Pioneer 4xAA Flashlight Beam - Med 1
Medium 1
Nitecore EA4 Pioneer 4xAA Flashlight Beam - Med 2
Medium 2
Nitecore EA4 Pioneer 4xAA Flashlight Beam - High
High

Diffuser


It's been reported that an Olight M21 diffuser will fit almost perfectly on the EA4. When I bought the EA4 it hadn't dawned on me what a great lantern it would make with the right diffuser, but after seeing pictures on CPF, I'm sold, and I intend to buy one.


Fit and Finish


Nitecore EA4 Pioneer 4xAA Flashlight - Next To Sheath
It comes with a nice looking sheath
Nitecore EA4 Pioneer 4xAA Flashlight - Showing Gaps In Bezel
Notice the uneven gap in between the bezel and body
The fit and finish on my sample is good. My sample has the tiny gap between the bezel and the body that some have reported, though it's easy to miss. I do not know if this is an intentional part of the design or a fit and finish issue. I don't believe that it makes the light any less waterproof. My only other gripe is that the threads were over-greased, but most companies don't put enough grease, so I'm happy to remove some of the excess.
Nitecore EA4 Pioneer 4xAA Flashlight - In Sheath
It has an above average quality nylon holster
Overall though, the fit and finish is more than acceptable. The threads are perfect and there's no scratches or flaws in the anodizing or tool/machine marks anywhere to be found. The emitter is well centered.

The ballistic nylon holster also has a good fit and finish. The stitching on the holster is above average for a holster in this class, and they make liberal use of velcro. This is one of the better holsters I've seen, on any light. The belt loop even has its own velcro to make it easier to get the holster on and off of your belt.

Usability


The high output, compact size and great throw make this light well suited for large, open, outdoor spaces like for camping or on the farm. The brightness levels are well spaced and well thought out. I have seen a few people complain on the forums that there's no low-low mode, which is true. I'm personally a big fan of the so-called moonlight modes, but I don't see the need for this light.

This is the kind of light that sits on your holster and allows you to see a couple hundred yards away in the forest. It's not well suited for a nightstand light, and the levels and spacing reflect that. Having said that, I wouldn't complain if there were a low-low hidden mode that was tucked out of the way like the strobe.

Though I'm still waiting for good camping weather, I have tested this unit extensively outside. Standing on my street, the light has so much output that the bounce-back from the road sign all the way at the end of the street is blinding. When I activated the strobe, a couple neighbors came outside to see what it was!

Conclusions


This flashlight is everything I hoped it would be, though the little gap in the bezel takes away from the high end fit and finish.

But all things considered, this light is worth every penny and more. I don't know how I got it for $55 shipped from Amazon, because they seem to have raised the price more inline with other vendors. But it's still a bargain at $70.

I look forward to using this light for camping when the weather gets a little warmer. I normally bring an 18650 size tactical light with me, but I intend to just bring the EA4 as my primary "is that a bear?" thrower. It's currently sitting on my desk next to my Maxpedition EDC pouch, which my wife calls the "man-purse."

Gallery


Nitecore EA4 Pioneer 4xAA Flashlight - Closeup of Bezel
It's a good looking flashlight







Nitecore EA4 Pioneer 4xAA Flashlight - Closeup of Cree XM-L U2 Emitter
Closeup of the XM-L emitter. Mine is well centered. Also notice the anti-reflective coating
Nitecore EA4 Pioneer 4xAA Flashlight - Closeup of Two State Electronic Switch
Closeup of the two stage electronic switch
Nitecore EA4 Pioneer 4xAA Flashlight - Closeup of Branding
Lettering isn't that sharp
Nitecore EA4 Pioneer 4xAA Flashlight - Closeup of Tail Cap
The tail cap is the only part of the light with knurling on it
Nitecore EA4 Pioneer 4xAA Flashlight - Another Closeup of Tail Cap
The EA4 does a stable tail stand
Nitecore EA4 Pioneer 4xAA Flashlight - Closeup of Lanyard Attachment
I'm not sure why you'd use a lanyard for a light this big, but it's there if you need it
Nitecore EA4 Pioneer 4xAA Flashlight - Closeup of Sheath Belt Loop
The belt loop has its own velcro to make it easier to get on and off your belt
Nitecore EA4 Pioneer 4xAA Flashlight - Shown With Maxepedition EDC Pouch and Cold Steel Tanto GI Fixed Blade Knife
Ready for camping: Shown with Maxepedition EDC pocket organizer and Cold Steel Tanto GI fixed blade knife

From Left: Nitecore EA4 Pioneer, Sunwayman M20C, Sunwayman V11R, L3 Illuminiations L10, Olight I3S
From Left: Nitecore EA4 Pioneer, Sunwayman M20C, Sunwayman V11R, L3 Illuminiations L10, Olight I3S





















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