Thoughts about conventional wisdom, cheap Chinese mono-lights and actual use and reliability.

 I've had a fair number of assignments that call for me to light stuff up to a degree that's a bit difficult for smaller, shoe-mount flashes. And I've had a fair number of assignments calling for good light that are on locations where running meters and meters of extension cords is neither safe nor practical. What I needed in nearly every situation was a light that could fire hundreds of times at half or full power with its own battery power, and one which could kick out enough light to be used 7 to 10 feet from a subject, through a softbox or umbrella, and still give me a solid f8.5 or f11 at ISO 200.

If you scout around for user articles on the web most people talk about Profoto, Elincrhom and Phottix flash equipment. I get that these companies were producing good stuff in the days before competition from China (exception: Phottix, which is sourced from China) and that it's still very good equipment but to ignore the now maturing (budget) products from China is a bit sentimental. In the past I bought into the company line from Profoto; that they were building stuff to a higher quality level, that the light itself was better somehow. But I'm not convinced anymore. I've worked with files from these lights, from Alien Bees and from various generic speed lights and if you can handle making custom white balances in your work the quality of the light can be remarkably nice across brands. UV coated flash tubes are one thing but the physics of flash tubes just isn't the new technology marvel they were in the 1950's. The market is ever changing. Get a UV filter for your cheaper lights and stop worrying....

I took a chance last Fall and bought one of the lights you see above. I'm sure it's made with a different design skin for a number of different brand names but this one is called the Neewer Vision 4. It's a 300 watt second unit with a nice lithium battery, a simple wireless remote, a Bowens accessory mount on the front end for speed rings and the promise of "Designed in Germany."

When I bought the first one I did so with much trepidation for about $279. Over the course of the quarter the price eventually fell to $219 and I bought two more. I've used them extensively indoors and it's nice not to have cables strewn about. But their real strength is in outdoor work.

I was photographing on a golf course yesterday and I had one of these lights on top of a good light stand, secured by a 30 pound sandbag. I'd created a little exterior working area where I could photograph golf professional, Zach Taylor, doing a grip-n-grin with about 50 people. The flash had an inexpensive 47 inch Phottix umbrella softbox on it as a modifier. I triggered the flash with the included and very simple flash trigger connected to the hot shoe of the (currently on probation) Nikon D700.

The flash worked well and the shoot was relaxed. The only iffy part to the day was the constantly changing wind. Sometimes it was wicked and gusty while other times it was mellow and constant. When the wind picked up I reached over with my free hand to anchor the light stand.

The flash did exactly what it was supposed to do over and over again. The unit I was using is the first one I got and now has logged well over 10,000 pops. The idea of this kind of flash at this price was unthinkable just five or six years ago. We can talk about the extra finesse or precision of Swedish or Swiss brands but after having used most brands of electronic flash on the market I'm amazed at what a bargain these lights are and how consistently they've performed.

As I mentioned when I discussed these light previously the only thing I'm not thrilled about is the 30 second duration of the built-in LED modeling light. I wish there was a way to change the duration or to leave it on all the time. I know it would drain the batteries quicker but the convenience of an "always on" modeling light would outweigh the slightly shorter use cycle between charges. Plus, if I am only using one unit on a shoot I've got two others units from which to borrow batteries. With three batteries I should be able to shoot something like 1500 full power flashes a day. I can't think I'd need more than that....

Nice to be able to position my light right next to the golf course, far from a wall socket, and fire away with abandon.

Just checked, the current price is $179.99 on Amazon. About what I would pay for a generic hot shoe flash.....


Fred said...

As I was trying to snake another power cord through the back of of the living room entertainment center last night a discouraging word escaped my lips :-) so the idea of being able to move lights were they need to be without worrying about power cords is a wonderful thought.

Mark the tog said...

I switched to battery power many years ago. Shooting interiors with hot lights and cords everywhere, breakers blowing and the constant fear of fire got very old.

I first went to AC powered flash and switched to batteries with the first Vagabond sealed lead acid batteries (23lb!). As the li-ion batteries emerged I migrated and enjoyed lighter weight and more freedom.

The Li-ion batteries on my Godox Ad-360's and AD 600 are pure joy. Lasting easily on all day shoots and providing reliable light on every pop.

It is great to live in the future.