Gear reviews are great excuses for sharing pretty pictures and some anecdotes from the field, but they wouldn't be compete without some easy to digest bullet points or top 10 lists would they? So here we go! It's no secret that I use small flash to create a lot of photographs that might send other photographers running for the big ole studio strobes. It's probably because of this that the guys at LumoPro approached me earlier this year to a take look behind the curtain at a new flash that they had in development.
That flash - The Lumopro® LP180 Quad-Sync Manual Flash - is now running free and can be picked up here or here. After receiving a beta unit to beat up (carefully test) in the field, I stealthily covered it in gaffers tape and set about putting it to work. A few things instantly stood out that enhanced the ease of use factor of these flashes, including no brainer implements that were oddly absent from the speedlights I currently own. Such as the ability to rotate the flash head around 180 degrees BOTH ways. My current speedlights, much like Dereck Zoolander, aren't ambi-turners... meaning they just can't turn right. Secondly there is a dedicated slave button. On Nikon speedlights this optical slave is called SU-4 mode and used to be buried in a submenu somewhere. Now it can be turned on and off with the press of a button.
Performance is what really matters on a shoot though and I was impressed with some of the pro level features, plus one particularly unique feature as well. I appreciate the addition of a High Voltage Battery Port that allows you to hook up the external battery packs, i.e. Quantam Turbo Batteries, for faster recycle times and extended shooting. This option really transforms a small flash into a viable strobe replacement some days. What really stood out as new and unique was the addition of a 1/4-20 mounting thread on the side of the flash head. This takes the pressure off of the flash’s foot, which they really beefed up on this flash, but more importantly allows you to center the flash right on the umbrella shaft for more precise light control. Getting your flash centered in the sweet spot of the light modifier increases both your control of the light and efficiency of the modifier itself. Hopefully other manufacturers will follow suit.
- Dedicated Slave Mode Button
- 4x Flash Sync Options
- High Voltage Battery Port
- ¼-20 Side Mounting Thread
- Flash Zoom Capped at 105mm
- Long Recycle Time at Full Power
- No TTL
Light Test #1
Now to try the LP180 for real, starting off with a very common scenario for me, shooting people in mixed ambient light while trying to freeze that motion. A shady area is a great place to start because the sunlight's intensity is knocked down a few stops and the quality of light is drastically softened. When shooting in shade though that soft light can quickly fall flat. This is why I like to add light to a scene, allowing me to control the contrast and direction of the light striking my subject. One LP180 flash and a Westcott 60" umbrella was all I needed to accomplish this. I manually set my camera to properly expose for the existing light in the scene then dialed in the LP180 to add that defining kiss of light to my runner. With the flash centered perfectly in the umbrella using that new side mounting thread there was plenty of control. I was also impressed by how easily the LP180 powered up to balance with the bright existing light in the scene. It's pretty awesome how much power you can get from 4x AA batteries. At or near full power the recycling time is a few seconds long, which is to be expected, but more importantly the power output is there when you need it. (This recycle time is drastically shortened when taking advantage of the high voltage external battery input.)
Light Test #2
The second stress test I put the LP180 through was more about prolonged usage than power output. When covering a wedding or event there's a good chance you’ll end the day with a ton of photographs. It's important that your flash can consistently keep up with such heavy shooting. Recently I photographed some great DJs at a nightclub in NYC. The existing stage lights were awesome, colorful and high energy... only problem was they seldom hit the actual DJs and were more there for theatrics than to assist me in my photography. To maintain the killer ambiance AND get a proper exposure of the DJs I decided to add my own light to the mix. With a Frio Universal Cold Shoe I attached the LP180 to a super clamp, plugged it into a PocketWizard Plus X via the 3.5mm miniphone port - Halleluiah! No more hot shoe adapters or PC sync cables - and mounted the rig on the far side of the club, zooming it in to light the DJ's face. (I then realized that the LP180 flash zoom maxes out at 105mm vs 200mm on some flagship models, like the Nikon SB910. It would have been nice to have that extra control here, but the same effect can be achieved with light modifiers like a snoot or grid.) By using a slower shutter speed I was able to capture all of the awesome club lights while simultaneously freezing the DJ in every shot - best of both worlds and not a single miss fire all night! Flash power was around 1/32 power, so it easily kept up with small bursts and the Thermal Cutoff feature that plagued some other flashes out there never needed to kick in. Check the Before and After photos to see the huge difference this extra flash makes in illuminating the DJ.
Over all this flash feels incredibly sturdy, adds a revolutionary new mounting point, has the power output you'd expect from a Canon or Nikon flagship small flash, and has a ton of different triggering options. Best part is that it's 1/3 of the price of those flagship flashes! Without TTL capabilities it won’t replace my Nikon speedlights for everything, but it is now a mainstay in my off-camera lighting kit. If you're still jonesing for more product photos or tech specs make sure to check out the full walk-thru over at Strobist.com