FLASH HAVOC – Best Flash Gear of 2013

Well its that time again as another year has whizzed by. Last year the release of the Canon RT flash system with built in radio was the defining point, and 2013 was always going to be about the path to built in radio flash systems for everyone else. And although that was starting to look more likely to eventuate more towards 2014, some interesting systems did start emerging late in the year.

There is some great products listed here now, though if the first 4 or 5 were thrown into a blender together, the result would probably be pretty close to the wireless on and off camera system the market would love to get their hands on. It is very encouraging to see many of the best ingredients already here though.

What’s in store for 2014..? The charge to radio flash systems will now doubt continue, and we should hopefully see more complete on and off camera flash solutions. With the current transition to built in radio its not always easy to piece systems together, but by the end of 2014 there should be a number of well integrated systems available. On and off camera, big and small lights, all nicely integrated. Possibly some real purpose built “off camera flash” units as well.

GODOX VING V850

Godox V850

What can I say… The V850 is not only the first inexpensive remote manual flash available, its also the worlds first Lithium-Ion powered speedlight, with a huge 650 full power pop capacity and 1.5 second recycle time. The compact Lithium-Ion battery replacing a full 12 AA batteries, effectively an external battery pack built right into the flash. This saves a huge amount of AA battery management time and extra gear to deal with, simplifying things dramatically and making the V850 a joy to use.

The V850 has really nice build quality, and the interface and remote control are super fast and simple. And to top it off HSS is even available off camera. The V850 also integrates seamlessly (using the same remote manual transmitter) with the fantastic Witstro and Cheetah bare bulb flashes also mentioned below. All for around $120 including the battery and charger.

For the many strobists who have been waiting for a simple inexpensive remote manual speedlite for many years, the Godox V850 is more like product of the decade than just the most innovative product the year. The Godox V850 is a revolution in speedlites!

Overview

Amazon – V850FT-16s  Ebay – V850FT-16s  Eachshot – V850

PHOTTIX MITROS+

Phottix Mitros+

The Phottix Mitros+ flash unit combines the very reliable Phottix Odin TTL transceiver into the flash. As well as a manual Strato II receiver. The Mitros+ are currently the only system offering a serious alternative to Canon’s RT system, though the big advantage of the Mitros+ is that they also provide separate manual and TTL receiver options for firing extra manual studio lights, as well as existing Canon TTL speedlites.

Extra features also include 2nd Curtain Sync in manual and TTL, and full function with pre 2012 camera bodies (allowing mixed TTL and Remote Manual Groups), which is a big bonus for the many Canon 5D II etc owners. But most significantly the Mitros+ provide a number of separate receiver options, which for many wedding and event photographers allows reliable direct flash on camera mounting, without extra transmitter units or unreliable pass through hotshoe on the camera when using extra manual studio lights etc as well.

For Nikon and Sony (who do not currently have any radio based flash system of their own as yet), the Mitros+ will be a major breakthrough.

From humble beginnings Phottix are now taking it right up to Canon and Nikon. Buying TTL or remote flash gear is really about buying into a system now, and you could do much worse than the quality and reliability of Phottix products to build on into the future.

Overview

Mitros+ – AmazonUKB&H PhotoAdoramaEbay

GODOX WITSTRO

Cheetah Light CL-360

Godox Witstro AD180 & AD360 are fast changing the game. Particularly for many wedding, event, and portrait photographers after fast, portable, and still reasonably powerful lights. If it wasn’t for the higher entry level price they would have no doubt taken over a large part of the strobist speedlight market as well. The Witstro are built well and perform well though, so its hard to fault Godox for making a solid product. The original Sunpak 120j really can’t even compare to the Witstro now.

The Witstro are around 2 & 4 times the light output of speedlights, but still in a very portable package. Powered by a PB960 Lithium battery pack, having huge capacity (900/450 full power pops) for the small size and weight. Recycle time is just 1.3/2.6 seconds at full power, and unlike speedlights you can really use full power without overheating them quickly. There are no AA batteries in the flash or pack, so the Witstro can really save a lot of time with battery management. Even combined with the V850 speedlites you never have to mess with AA batteries at all, which really makes them both a joy to use.

Like the Godox Ving V850 above, the Witstro are currently remote manual, with the option of HSS off camera using the Cells II or other appropriate transmitter. For remote power control the Witstro use the same FT-16 transmitter as the V850, so they integrate very well together. Again the Witstro’s simple clear flash interface, combined with fast simple remote control really put many other remote speedlites systems to shame. And the ease of mobility has also converted larger mono light users as well.

Review

Amazon – AD180UK, AD360UK, Ebay – AD180, AD360

PROFOTO B1 500 AIR TTL

Profoto B1
The Profoto B1 is not only a completely cordless 500Ws flash, with Lithium-Ion battery pack and radio receiver built-in, its also the first monolight available with TTL metering, via the Air TTL radio transmitter. HSS is not available just yet, but Profoto have indicated they are working on that (through a firmware update), and there’s no question the race is on now for cordless HSS capable monolights. The Air TTL transmitter is currently available for Canon, though a Nikon version should be available early 2014.

The B1 has 500Ws output, with a full 9-Stop Power Range, 1.9 second recycle at full power, and 220 full power pops on one Lithium-Ion battery. Fast flash duration from 1/19,000 – 1/1,000, and 20fps burst mode at lower power levels. And even a 70W modelling light, which also stays on even while the flash is going so video can taken at the same time.

From the popularity of the Cheetah/Witstro flashes above its obvious the large form factor of the B1 may not suit everyone, but then Profoto may just be getting started. Engineering their own TTL system (rather than collaborating with PocketWizard etc) is the hard part, so its possible they will capitalize on that investment with a number of TTL products. The Air TTL is even already innovating beyond other current TTL systems with the TTL Lock feature, which effectively combines the best of TTL and Manual used together.

Profoto call the B1 an “Of Camera Flash”, and there’s no doubt its going to be the catalyst and inspiration for a lot more purpose designed cordless off camera flash units to come now. So even if you don’t have a lazy $2000 to spare for one light, a lot of good is still sure to come out of the B1 release.

Overview

B1 500 – B&H PhotoAdorama  Air TTL-C – B&H PhotoAdorama

GODOX PB960

Godox PB960

The Godox PB960 Lithium-Ion battery packs are available with the Cheetah/Witstro flash units already listed above, but they are also a stand out on their own as an external battery pack for speedlights, and even the Quantum Q-flashes.

Compared to the regular Canon and Nikon 8 AA cell packs, the BP960 are simply incredible. If you use a number of AA packs (and a heap of AA batteries) then the BB960 will change your life with the amount of battery management they save. The PB960 are bigger, but really not that much bigger or heavier than an AA pack, though they hold a huge 1800 full power speedlite pops, compared to just 450 or so from an AA pack.

Full power recycle time with speedlites is around 0.7 to 0.8 seconds, compared to 1.2 seconds with an AA pack. And the PB 960 will run 2 flashes without affecting the recycle time. If you’re brave, there is even a 2 into 1 splitter cord available which will halve recycle times again! The battery itself clips off the base of the pack, so you can have extra batteries, and even charge one while another is being used. The BB960 are so nice its almost ironic Godox would negate the need for them with their own V850 speedlites, but for other speedlites the PB960 are brilliant.

Review

Amazon – PB960, UK  Ebay – PB960

PHOTTIX MULTI BOOM

Phottix Multi Boom

I realize its a little in bad taste to talk up your own work, but the Multi Boom is really Phottix’s baby now, they are the ones that saw the value in slightly unconventional product and brought it to market. So I think it wouldn’t be fair on Phottix not to include the Multi Boom here. And its really a great complement to most of the other products listed here as well.

As well as being a versatile multi flash bracket, the Multi Boom allows easy tilting of umbrella frame softboxes, which have become very popular now due to their portability and fast easy setup, as well as nice soft light quality with speedlites. But they also suffered from difficult access to flash controls, and a frustrating limited tilting ability. The many flashes becoming available with remote control now solve the access problem, and the Multi Boom makes full unrestricted tilt motion, and mounting a number of speedlites easy.

With the success of the original Multi Boom 16″, Phottix have taken it a step further with the new 28″ version, which mounts larger softboxes, more flashes, and is more balanced over the lightstand. The 28″ also adds more function and usability as a compact boom or grip arm ideal for small flashes and speedlites. Also a new single flash mount and compact bracket option. The 16′ and 28″ Multi Boom are both great tools for portable small flash and speedlite use.

Overview 16″, 28″

Multi Boom 16″ – AmazonAdoramaPhottixEbay  Multi Boom 28″ – Phottix

PIXEL KING PRO 

Pixel King Pro

Pixel King Pro Transceiver, and King X receiver are Pixel’s third generation TTL triggers. The King Pro have improve function and stability over previous versions, and they are also the only TTL transmitter available with a full TTL Pass Through Hotshoe on top, as well as their own built in LCD interface. This means a TTL flash can be mounted on the camera as well as having easy access and full control of the remote flash system. The Pass Through Hotshoe is even steel braced inside the transmitter case.

The standout feature of the King Pro though is simply the range, which is stated as a huge 300m+. In real use terms that may be optimistic, but the King Pro will solidly double the range of most other hotshoe TTL triggers currently available. You may never use TTL from those distances, but many people use TTL triggers for remote manual and HSS etc as well. And range can certainly be an issue for some applications with TTL triggers. Even some wedding and event photographers carry manual triggers for when the Canon RT system etc run into distance issues. And the King Pro do not require any delicate external antennas to achieve this either.

The King Pro provide mixed TTL or Remote Manual Power selectable in any of 3 groups, Auto or Manual flash Zoom, and fast direct access to adjustments. HSS to 1/8000th and Second Curtain Sync. Pixel should also eventually have a flash available with compatible radio transceiver built in.

Review

Canon – AmazonUKEbay  Nikon – AmazonUKEbay

POCKETWIZARD PLUS X 

PocketWizard Plus X

PocketWizard Plus X are simplified version of the Plus III manual transceivers released last year. The Plus X may not be any great new innovation, though they are still a significant release because they have dramatically reduced the base level price of triggers in the PocketWizard system. And that is without sacrificing any of the solid base features that make PocketWizard what they are.

Currently just $84 (down from around $200 for Plus II units just a couple of years ago) it would be hard to not consider the Plus X if buying into manual triggers now. Good Plus II units on Ebay would likely even save a few more dollars.

Plus X are solid manual triggers with very long range, high sync speeds and frames per second. They have 10 channels, but no zones (groups). Being self switching transceivers they are very simple, and will fire both flash and remote camera shutter with just 3 units, not 4 like some other triggers. PocketWizards can be hired in most studios when needed, and they have receivers built into studio lights from Profoto, Dynalite, Norman, and Photogenic. As well as compatibility with Sekonic light meters. Available in separate FCC and CE frequency versions for the USA and Europe. Compatible with all PocketWizard enabled triggers and devices.

Overview

Plus X – AmazonEbayB&H PhotoAdorama

SMDV DIFFUSER 70

SMDV Diffuser 70

This one is a little out of left field, simply because I haven’t had a chance to test the SMDV diffuser first hand to see how durable they are over time. But there’s no question they have been one of the more popular and innovative and small flash and speedlite modifiers released this year. And that’s no surprise really because they just look so nice, fold up quickly, and include their own speedlite bracket. 60, 50 & 40cm octa version are also available.

Even the SMDV owners I have spoken too admit the amount of plastic in the speedring and bracket design makes them a little nervous about long term durability. But that has probably helped them to be treated a little more kindly, and I haven’t heard of many durability issues at this stage. If you’re after something more solid, larger, or to mount more flashes, the Phottix Multi Boom listed above with a Westcott Apollo Orb (which have very durable full fiberglass ribs now) would be more suitable.

The SMDV Diffuser 70 will also mount the Cheetah Light and Witstro on the included speedlite bracket. SMDV also offer a speedring to attach the Diffuser 70 to the Cheetah Lights or Godox Witstro listed above. But this alone is a risky way of mounting them. Using both the speedring and bracket, with a little DIY to screw them together is likely the best option, and we may take a look at that here later.

Website

SMDV Diffuser –  Amazon, UK, Ebay

9 Comments
  1. Jason Langley 4 years ago

    Surprised YN622’s didn’t make the cut. Affordable, feature packed and reliable, YN622’s took full function remote triggers to the masses. I whole heartedly agree with your list EXCEPT for the pocket wizards. PW’s were a day late and dollar short on this item. The market was already flooded with affordable, reliable and much cheaper manual triggers. Thanks as always for all the work you put into Flash Havoc, it’s become my go to for lighting. I wish you all the best in 2014

    • Author
      Flash Havoc 4 years ago

      Thanks Jason, and best wishes to all for 2014. And thanks to everyone who had supported the site and shared their experience and feedback. Particularly with products like these the group experience is very valuable.

      The YN-622C were actually in the list last year. The Nikon version YN-622N were released this year, but they were fairly limited without an external interface. The YN-622-TX coming in 2014 will certainly help there, so it will be interesting to see what the list is like by the end of 2014. But yes the YN-622 and YN-568EX are currently still a lot of bang for buck.

      Maybe I should do a separate post with users choice from 2013, but regardless of release time?

      Yes I’m a little surprised PocketWizard have let a lot of the strobist market etc get away from them. The release of a hotshoe cord for speedlites was a pretty small concession. But its easy to forget there is still a huge commercial photography market out there, particularly in the serious sporting area etc where PocketWizard are pretty well untouched.

      But the ControlTL TT1/TT5 are getting long in the tooth, and the writing was on the wall from the day Canon released their own RT system. PocketWizard really need an on camera flash (or collaboration with someone making one) to get back into the game for wedding and event photographers etc. And collaboration with some purpose built compact off camera flashes certainly wouldn’t hurt either. Its been a long time since there was an update to the TT1/TT5 so hopefully something good is in the works.
      .

  2. Meddin Studios 4 years ago

    Great roundup. I completely agree on the V850. I can’t believe I bought a handful of them for less than one Canon 600EX (or a used 580EX2 for that matter). The $30 batteries are a dream come true vs AA’s and they refresh instantly at 1/2 power and less. I hope to see a TTL model for $200 with an improved flash foot and maybe even a $300 with a built in Mitros+ style manual power system to allow on-camera AND remote power control of V850’s and CL180/360’s

    The Phottix Odin/Mitros system is superb as well. Completely wasted my Pocket Wizards within days of using it. But still pricey if you’re only doing remote manual work. They lack a good bare bulb type unit and if you want to combine with Cheetahs/Godox you’re stuck with a weird configuration of having the CL-Tx mounted off-camera while your Mitros sits on top. If Phottix introduces a 300Ws off-camera remote manual flash for under $800 then game over. On the flip side, if Godox can release an updated Tx/Rx system that supports HSS and grouping remotely along with some TTL implementation then all bets are off for other systems.

    I found the King system to be quickly overshadowed by lots of other great products this year. The introduction of the Yongnuo remote updates, the Odin’s and of course the V850. I liked their packaging as a great entry level remote system but again, it doesn’t implement as well as the Odin’s and also doesn’t have the sex appeal of the Yongnuo Tx that works with the 600EX’s.

    The same can be said with the PW-X’s. Great simple triggers but again overshadowed by other great products and an aging PW ecosystem. The TT5/TT1 just aren’t as reliable so why buy into PW X’s if there’s other simple similar triggers on the market. I’ve found PW’s are for rentals and studio die hards that want what is familiar. As an owner/shooter they never come out of my bag anymore…which is sad because I own a lot of them.

    The SMDV is a killer package. But at twice the cost of a Phottix Luna and no grid or attachable silk options plus a lot of plastic, its less of a bargain. The mount can be a little less supportive than the speed brackets. Also, I like your new Phottix quick bracket and really look forward to buying some. I think those mixed with the Luna’s are a great buy vs SMDV.

    Lastly, the Profoto TTL system should be excellent for the bigger jobs that don’t want big packs. The combo mode looks cool and we’ll see how they stack up vs multiple CL lights. Next year should be a good one with Yongnuo’s flagship 600 and a growing remote manual market

    • Author
      Flash Havoc 4 years ago

      Thanks Meddin!,

      V850 – Yes a TTL model is coming soon! And a new transmitter is also coming.

      The million dollar question is whether the TTL flash will have transmitter built in as you mention (Godox are not commenting yet). If it doesn’t this time, the great thing about the Godox system is the receiver is separate, so its always possible to make the current flash compatible with a new transmitter (flash system) later. And I’m sure the overwhelming demand for this will convince Godox to do it sooner or later, if they aren’t working on it already.

      Odin / Mitros+ – Yes I’m sure Phottix are aware of the demand for an integrated larger light set. They currently have Cononmark (their PPL-400 etc) flashes. And those were looking very interesting in the form of recent Strobeam units in the UK (with HSS, TTL and built in battery), until Strobeam unfortunately closed doors recently.

      But Phottix could have something completely different planned, I really don’t know. Hopefully something good is in the works though.

      King Pro – Yes I agree, the King Pro on its own has been overshadowed by more integrated systems now. But Pixel also have a compatible radio flash coming as well. If they can translate the range to the flash, that could be something impressive. The King Pro are still an impressive option for the price, particularly for what they offer Nikon users at this stage.

      PocketWizard – Yes, as mentioned in comments above to Jason, it will be very interesting to see if PocketWizard will make a serious attempt to take back some of what Canon RT (and no doubt Nikon will do soon), with some form of radio flash of their own. The writing was on the wall since the RT system was released, so they would have to be planning something.

      SMDV Diffuser – Yes they are quite limited, especially for the price, and for speedlits only really (or the Witstro). The Luna is another great option, but the SMDV Diffuser makes the most out of the limited power of speedlights because the flash faces straight at the front diffuser, also like and Ezybox’s etc. I haven’t tested the Luna in great detail but I’m sure the beauty dish like reflector inside will eat at least a stop of light from a speedlite. The Luna is a great design though, and they could easily make a deeper octa without the internal reflector. I’m sure well see a lot more on the new Phottix HS Speed bracket in 2014 though.

      The Diffusser 70 just looks the part though, its like a little Broncolor Para, modifiers don’t get much more attractive than that.

      Profoto – Yes I think Profoto are just getting started with the B1. They will probably take it failry slow, but I’m sure we’ll see more wireless flashes from them sooner or later. They’re expanding into speedlight brackets and reflectors etc, so I’m sure they are watching where the market is heading now. Thanks again.

      .

  3. Ricardo Gomez 4 years ago

    Good list!

    I’m hoping that Phottix will come out with a bare-bulb, 300w+ system like the Godox/Cheetah system. Using something like that on location instead of carrying heavier monolights would be incredibly beneficial. I’d hate to use multiple trigger systems. Love my Phottix Odin system!

    But no YongNuo products? With all of the new, amazing products they’ve released this year, I would’ve seriously considered buying into that system. YongNuo needs to upgrade their image and assure customers to delivering quality products. Amazing products but they come off as simply another cheap, clone manufacturer. As a pro, I can’t rely on products that aren’t quality.

    And with the low cost products like YongNuo and other options, I just don’t see why the Pocketwizard Plus X system is mentioned here. If you need the simplest triggers for a classroom-like environment, maybe these triggers are game. But on this list?

    Thank you for doing great work! I look forward to your 2014 work!

    • Author
      Flash Havoc 4 years ago

      Thanks Ricardo,

      As mentioned above, I really hope Phottix have something in the works in regards to an “off camera flash” which integrates with the Mitros+ Odin system. That’s really the missing piece of the puzzle in a complete Phottix system now. A good AF assist light in an Odin II Transmitter would be great as well.
      .

      The YongNuo YN-622C and YN-568EX are still a lot of bang for buck, but they were released last year. The YN-568EX II released this year added optic master, but also an underexposure bug when evaluative metering is used, which YongNuo had no intention of fixing.

      The YN-560 III with built in receiver would be pretty impressive if YongNuo had have delivered the transmitter to enable the remote power control. But the Godox V850 is around the same price for the flash alone, and better build quality. Not to mention the HSS and Lithium-Ion power.

      The YN-E3-RT was the main release recently, adding some impressive functionality to the Canon system. But its going through some teething issues (which have been rectified pretty fast with new firmware). The problem with the YN-E3-RT, and a list like this which tends to get posted around to be people who may not be so familiar with the YN-622 etc already, is that they won’t understand why the YN-E3-RT is more than a knock off of the Canon ST-E3-RT. I’m a bit concerned with the direction YongNuo appear to be taking as well. There’s nothing wrong with taping into and improving Canon’s system, but cloning the design of their current products is a decision they must know has consequences for their image and reputation.
      .

      Regarding the PocketWizards, as mentioned in comments above I totally understand where you’re coming from, but at the same time its easy to forget they are actually pretty serious business. If you want to collaborate on a commercial shoot anywhere (whether in a studio or not) they are pretty much mandatory. And in sports photography etc they are pretty well unmatched.

      I’m surprised PW have let a lot of the strobist and wedding event market get away from them, but they obviously have a solid stake in the commercial photography that’s keeping them content for now. There’s no question lights with radio and remote control built in are fast changing the game though.

      • Ricardo Gomez 4 years ago

        Thank you for the clarification. Especially with the YongNuo gear. They have a great opportunity to grab lots of mindshare. It’s theirs to lose.

  4. Meddin Studios 4 years ago

    That’s great to hear about the Godox TTL stuff! My current problem is having all Godox/CL gear and then an on-board TTL flash for fast moving subjects because I get misfires with the TTL cords when mixing a CL-Tx with a Canon 580EX or 600EX. I need something on-board that can mix TTL and manually control the rest of my room (fill/rim lights) AND provide a focus light. Who will get there first??

    I like/looked at the PPL-400 but still not quite the form factor I needed vs CL Lights. Price point isn’t bad though.

    I may give the SMDV another go with a more technical eye this time around now that I have Luna’s standing by for comparison. I really like the 70cm Luna because it’s so small, gives a beauty dish type look and still folds up super quick. It’s light and very rigid by design. Just a solid modifier. You could remove the dish inside if you prefer more light output. The main disadvantage is still no grids.

    I agree with the Yongnuo packaging. They are great clones, but not marketed as well as Phottix who seems to be their own brand with unique product lines and a complete approach to their radio systems. YN is close and seems to be on the verge of really delivering some great gear soon.

  5. Peter A 4 years ago

    Maybe it’s just because I follow your site, but you have selected my favorites! And I’m already on the way to getting most of them (not the B1 🙁 ) Already got and love the V850 and the Adorama Glow version of the SMDV. I went with the Glow 20 inch to use as my test for specs & quality. Love it! I’ve already set up the V850 permanently in the Glow as my Go2 setup. So fast & easy to use, OMG!

    I also got a Mitros flash and could probably get a couple of + units when I lock in on the Odin. That darn Pixel King Pro has slowed me down from the Odin route as it has a nicer shape & interface but as mentioned is not a fully integrated system.

    I’m expecting when spring buying time comes around that a multi-boom is also in my future. I love the versatility! With the HHS of the Godox triggers (piggy backed per your review) this looks like an awesome year to update much of my equipment.

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