Flashlight Review: Convoy S21E (XHP50.3 HI R9050)
Updated: May 7
Since its release in 2022, the Convoy S21E with 95CRI Nichia 519A LED has been my favourite compact flashlight for night photography illumination. Convoy have released a version of the S21E with the brighter and more efficient Cree XHP50.3 HI LED. Lets see how it compares.
The Convoy S21E was purchased with my own funds. This review is written from the perspective of a light painting / night photographer and flashlight enthusiast.
The Convoy S21E is a compact 21700 battery sized tube light, with a side e-switch and USB-C charging port near the head. The head diameter is 27.3mm, and the length is 116.4mm. Both the head and tail sections can unscrew, and there are springs at both ends of the battery tube. Waterproof rating is IPX4, and my S21E 519As have survived many a drop into water. At the time of writing, the price was US$24 without battery.
The light arrived in the usual Convoy minimalist packaging - soft cardboard and bubblewrap. I would pay a few $ more for more protective packaging. A side clip and lanyard are included.
The Cree XHP50.3 HI version of the S21E is available with R70/70CRI LEDs in 3000k, 4000k, 5000k, and 6500k CCTs, or R9050/90CRI LEDS in 3000k, 4000k, and 5000k CCTs. Like the 519A version, the XHP50.3 HI version uses an identical orange peel reflector. The light tested in this review has a Cree XHP50.3 HI R9050 5000k LED.
The S21E includes USB-C charging input and internal charging at up to 2A, something that has generally been lacking until recently on compact Convoy flashlights. The rubber charging port flap fits well, and is easy to press back in place. The S21E's charging worked with both USB-A to USB-C and USB-C to USB-C cables. During charging the side switch glows red, and once charging has terminated it glows green. The light is off during normal flashlight use. Charging terminated at 4.18V which is acceptable. Personally I prefer to use dedicated analysing Li-ion chargers such as the Vapcell S4 Plus, but internal charging is very useful when traveling.
For light painting / night photographers - whilst this light fits in most light painting connectors, the side switch is not accessible. This light is however very useful for the illumination genre of light painting (i.e. lighting things up), where it excels. The light fits in U-shaped tripod mounts, and has compatibility with the Convoy S21A/B diffuser. This light is not suitable for use with backlight scanners - check out the Convoy S21D or M3-C for that!
The Convoy S21E is available in 5 different body colours - black, blue, orange, green, red. For this review, I chose the green option.
The S21E uses a side e-switch. This is my preferred switch location for lights used for illumination purposes as it is more ergonomic, and there is less chance of water ingress if the light is tail standing in shallow water, puddles, or damp ground.
The S21E uses Convoy's e-switch user interface (as seen on the M3-C and M21D/E/F), which has a good compromise between functionality and ease of use. Instructions are provided on the product page. It is possible to use ramping brightness, or change to stepped brightness (1%, 10%, 40%, 100%) with last mode memory. These brightness levels are well spaced. Moonlight mode (0.2%) is available, as is 100% only Tactical mode, and Lockout. As night photography requires consistency, I prefer to use the stepped brightness mode. The ramping is a bit too fast at lower brightness levels in my opinion. There is a 10Hz strobe, accessed with a triple click. The clicking required to change settings, such as 6 clicks from ramping to stepped brightness needs to be done very quickly.
As well as electronic lockout to prevent accidental activation, the light can be mechanically locked out by slightly unscrewing the tail cap. It should be noted that last mode memory resets to low mode when the light is mechanically locked out.
Optics, Output, and Runtime
The tested Convoy S21E uses the Cree XHP50.3 HI R9050/90CRI LED in an orange peel reflector. The XHP50.3 HI potentially offers more maximum output, more throw, and more efficiency than the 519A LED whilst maintaining high colour rendering/CRI. I was thus very interested to test this light to see how it compares to the 519A version. My review of the S21E with R9080/95 CRI Nichia 519A LED is available here.
I highly recommend high CRI flashlights for night photography illumination, as colours, especially reds and browns are rendered much better than standard 70 CRI flashlights. The likes of Nitecore, Fenix, Olight, and Klarus are still stuck in the dark ages when it comes to CRI, with "washed out" 70 CRI cool white beams.
The S21E has a diffuse hotspot, and the spill beam angle is 95 degrees. Whilst the 519A version of the S21E is also available with a very floody 60 degree TIR optic version, this is not currently available for the XHP50.2. The lens is a green anti-reflection (AR) coated, which slightly changes the tint towards magenta. Below are the results on testing the S21E XHP50.3 HI R9050 5000k for hotspot correlated colour temperature /CCT, CRI Ra, and tint DUV with an Opple Lightmaster 3 Pro (519A R9080 5700k results in brackets).
100% mode - 5389k, 92.6 Ra, +0.0009 DUV.
40% mode - 5169k, 93.7 Ra, +0.0012 DUV (5147k, 98.1 Ra, -0.0013 DUV).
10% mode - 5083k, 94.5 Ra, +0.0004 DUV.
The results show colour rendering Ra CRI to be consistently above 92 CRI, far better than most 70 CRI flashlights, but not quite as good as the 98 CRI 519A LED. The tint/DUV was pretty neutral, with very slight green tint. Again not quite as good as the perfectly neutral 519A, but still very acceptable. The R9/red colour rendering was not measured, though visually the 519A appears to have the edge when it comes to rendering reds and browns. The XHP50.3 HI version displays considerably less CCT shift between the hotspot and spillbeam than the 519A - this is very noticeable in the comparison photo.
Tested brightness levels (+/- 10% margin of error) at 30 seconds, with the XHP50.3 HI R9050 5000k LED emitter (519A R9080 5700k results in brackets):
100% - 1,470lm (1,150lm) / after step down 720lm (590lm).
40% - 605lm (530lm).
10% - 240lm (210lm).
1% - 25lm (20lm).
The XHP50.3 HI R9050 5000k LED has 28% higher maximum lumens, and 22% higher sustained lumens than the 519A 5700k LED version.
On 100% mode, maximum brightness was sustained for a fairly impressive 110 seconds, followed by a gradual decrease to 720 lumens by 4 minutes, where output stabilised, with only a small reduction in brightness during the rest of the useable runtime. With a 4000mAh Samsung 40T 21700 battery, low voltage warning (red flashing switch and brightness stepdown) kicked in at 133 minutes. This is 37% longer than the 519A version. With a 5000mAh battery I would expect an approx. 166 minute useable runtime. As is traditional with Convoy S series lights, this light runs very hot (thermal throttling is generally set to 55C). I hope the battery charging electronics can handle this!
Throw/peak beam intensity measurements were measured at 1m, with a Opple Lightmaster 3 Pro (519A R9080 5700k results in brackets).
100% - 16127 Lux/1m or cd (13124 Lux/1m or cd).
The XHP50.3 HI R9050 5000k LED has 22% more peak beam intensity than the 519A 5700k version, but with 28% more lumens. The XHP50.3 HI thus has a slightly lower cd/lumen than the 519A 5700k LED. I was expecting the opposite. Neither options are particularly "throwy", but the S21E has a good beam profile for general purpose use.
No PWM was visible during testing, though my phone camera detected some waveform rippling.
Excellent value for money.
Very good colour rendering 90CRI/R9050 and fairly neutral tint.
Excellent sustained output and runtime/size.
Good range of CCT options from warm to neutral white.
USB-C charging and (optional) included battery.
Side e-switch with stepped or ramping brightness, with last mode memory.
Diffuser and tripod mounting options.
Mechanical or electronic lockout for safety.
Ramping brightness is too fast at lower brightness levels.
Packaging is inadequate.
The Convoy S21E with XHP50.3 HI R9080 LED version is a fantastic general purpose compact flashlight that is very useful for night photography illumination. How does it compare to the excellent 519A version?
XHP version has 28% more maximum, and 22% more sustained lumens.
XHP version has 22% more maximum peak beam intensity.
XHP version has 37% longer runtime.
XHP version has less CCT shift between hotspot and spill beam.
519A version has 98 CRI vs 93 CRI, and improved R9 Red colour rendering.
519A version has a marginally better tint.
519A version has more CCT options 7 (2700k to 5700k) vs 3 (3000k to 5000k).
Both versions of the Convoy S21E are fantastic, but if I had to make a choice, my preference would still be the 519A version.
It should be noted that if you don't care about colour rendering (and all photographers should care) the R70/70 CRI version of the XHP50.3 HI will provide an estimated 30% more lumens than the R9050 version tested in this review.
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