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
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!
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.
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.
PROFOTO B1 500 AIR TTL
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.