The Cheetah Light CL-180 is the first serious manual bare bulb hotshoe flash alternative to emerge, with 150WS, Remote Manual Power Control, and even remote FP HSS, filling the void left when flashes like the popular Sunpak 120J where discontinued a number of years ago.
NOTE – Radio Trigger options compatible with the Cheetah Light HSS mode can be seen in the post HERE.
The CL-180 was developed in collaboration with Edward Tang of CheetahStand.com in the USA, and Godox, now one of the more prominent lighting manufacturers in China. Also with the help of David Freedman, know by many from the POTN Canon forum. Godox have built the CL-180 very well, but Edward was the motivation behind this flash, and if it wasn’t for Edward and David this light certainly wouldn’t have existed to the standard it does today. But not only that, Edward’s customer service is legendary, and he stands behind the products he sells, and that is exactly the combination that was needed to make a higher quality unit like this viable in the first place.
So the flash pictured here is the Godox version Witstro AD180, but it is exactly the same unit as the Cheetah branded CL-180 which is sold in the USA by CheetahStand.com. Godox (with some persistence on my part) helped me to get this flash early before Cheetah had stock, but in any regular case I would highly recommend purchasing from Cheetah if at all possible, as this is not the cheapest flash, and the reassurance that Edward stands behind the product and looks after their customers is priceless.
The Short Version
For around the price of a full size Canon or Nikon Speedlite, the CL-180 puts out around a stop more light, with the broader, and in modifiers, generally softer bare bulb light quality. And that’s light you can really use at full power, unlike speedlights which often need to be run at 1/2 power or less to save from overheating. The CL-180 is manual power only, though it has Remote Manual Power Setting, and FP HSS (High Speed Sync) off camera via reliable radio triggers (which is quite a unique feature in a flash unit like this). From my testing you would need at least 2 to 4 regular HSS enabled speedlights to match the one CL-180′s light output in HSS.
The CL-180 is powered by a Lithium battery pack which always has bucket loads of battery power to spare (up to 900 full power pops with the CL-180, and 1800 full pops with a regular speedlite!). Even if you’re not interested in the flash, this little battery pack alone is brilliant. With the CL-180 there are no AA batteries to mess around with at all, just the one simple pack that always has power to spare. And it fully charges again in a couple of hours when needed anyway, with one simple plug to the charger, and you can have a few charging at once. You can forget the crazy AA battery management routine altogether with this flash! Its really hard to convey in words just how much that simplifies things, and the time and preparation effort it saves.
Then you have a clear bright LCD screen which is always lit, and a super simple user interface that really puts most speedlites to shame. As well as clear and simple Remote Manual Power Control with positive feedback using good clear sound beeps, and all via reliable radio transmission with around 100m range. Recycle is 2.6 seconds at full power, or a healthy 1.2 seconds with an optional splitter cord, and you can keep that up shot after shot.
This is one well designed and well built, solid little flash unit, that’s very hard not to like. If there are any shortfalls its probably in the trigger system, which is already very functional, but still in the process of further refinement regarding HSS functionality etc. The remote and trigger system are plug in and easily replaceable later (and relatively inexpensive), so that is not a big issue anyway. The flash itself is a solid and well considered design, I would imagine is going to be around for some years to come. As mentioned the simple functionality of the CL-180 for off camera use already really puts many speedlites to shame, and the flash unit itself is not that much heavier than a speedlight loaded with AA batteries inside. If you need more power for tackling the sun a 300WS version will also be available mid June.
Note – Remote FP HSS is currently only supported with Canon cameras, and using an optional Godox Cells II radio trigger unit to enable that. But we have found this can actually be used with Nikon cameras now by using some other fairly common radio triggers like the Pixel Kings. More on that bellow under High Speed Sync. I found Light output in HSS mode is up to 2 stops more than a Canon speedlight, so that’s a decent advantage. Likely even more advantage compared to Nikon speedlights which are even lower output in HSS than Canon.
My perspective – I think speedlites are fantasitc for what they are, but for a long time now I’ve been trying to convince manufacturers there could be better small flash units, more purpose built for off camera flash use. Its not necessarily all about bare bulb, though that is certainly one of the options that should be available. Zack Arias even ran a campaign a number of years ago trying to bring back the original 120J, and Edward did mention a few of years ago now that he was going to try and produce a 120j alternative. But that’s all I have heard about it until now.
Last year a number or bare bulb style units started to emerge, but most where pretty average in design, and lucky to even match the light output of a regular speedlite (as that’s not as easy as it seems to acheive). The Cheetah/Godox is the first serious, well designed and well built option to arrive, and it was pretty obvious from the first images appearing that someone behind this flash had a good idea of what they were doing.
Having said all that, this is not quite the format I would have had in mind myself, I still feel a combined (clip on) Lithium battery for example would be ideal in a unit this size, and extremely convenient (there are advantages to this external pack though too). But my point is that some people may just see this flash as a more affordable version of the existing Q-flash, where as I’m coming from a slightly different perspective, I see this as the first serious option in what will be the evolution of more purpose built off camera compact flash units.
I should point out though, although this unit bears a passing resemblance to the Q-flash, it was actually completely designed from scratch, 14 months of development work. There is also a 360 model (300Ws) coming soon which does have a slightly more unique look to it again. This flash is something Edward is very passionate about, and a lot of people have put a lot work in to make happen. If it was just about business this flash simply wouldn’t exist the way it does today.
Size and Build
Ok the first thing you notice about this flash when you first get to feel it in your hands, is that its a very solid dense little unit. Probably heavier than expected compared to speedlites, which feel quite hollow in comparison. But once you load a speedlight up with batteries there’s not actually that much difference in the weight of the flash unit itself. Adding a radio trigger with AA batteries and you’re almost equal in weight and size.
The next thing that stands straight out, is how smooth the motion of the tilt swivel head is and how it locks into place very solid. The one simple button gives you smooth free tilt and swivel, and locks firmly on release. That combined with the solid weight and feel of the unit makes it pretty obvious this is in a different class to your average speedlite.
The weight of the CL-180 flash unit itself is not all that much more than a regular speedlight with AA batteries inside, 496g vs 633g.
With a radio trigger like the YN-622C shown bellow (which provides remote power control and HSS, like the CL-180 has), and weight and size is almost the same.
Another profile view shown here.
Complete combined with battery pack there’s still not a big weight difference, and that’s considering the flash has twice the power, and the battery pack contains double the pops (up to 900) even with the larger flash unit, compared to around 450 – 500 for the speedlite and 8 AA pack.
The Lithium Battery pack alone is about 30% extra weight, but once again capacity with an equivalent flash is over 3 times as much. Up to 1800 full power pops with a regular speedlight, compared to around 450 – 500 for the 8 AA pack.
The CL-180 interface is extremely simple and user friendly. I put everything to the idiot test now and see how far I can get operating the interface without looking at the instruction manual first. And the CL-180 passed with flying colours, which means it’s easily intuitive enough that you could pass it straight to a friend or colleague and have them using it just fine without any great instructions at all.
One thing that doesn’t come across in the images is that the LCD is very crisp and bright, easy to view, and constantly lit (unlike many speedlites where you have to battle with crazy custom functions just to keep it on for 60 seconds or so) -
Power levels range from full power down to 1/128, in 1/3rd stops. Swivelling the dial changes the power level instantly, and it stops at top and bottom power level (which I much prefer to scrolling in an endless loop).
Admittedly the dial is not the biggest or greatest, and it can stick sometimes if you try to rotate quickly in both directions pushing on the one edge. The trick I found for easy use, is to simply push it from opposite edges to rotate in opposite directions. Chances are though you are going to adjust the power from the remote control unit most of the time anyway. The other buttons are very firm, and easy to use and access.
Navigating the interface is really very simple. Pressing the MODE button scrolls through the 4 modes available -
RPT or Repeat / Stroboscopic mode is the only place you need to make a few adjustments and press the SET button to move to then next setting. Note – power level must be set fairly low first if you want to increase the number of times the flash will strobe.
The fifth mode is “H – Mode” or FP HSS (High Speed Sync). To enter HSS you need to press the MODE and SET button at the same time. This can easily be done with one thumb though, by pressing the MODE button down, and then rolling across to press the SET button then as well.
To cancel HSS simply press the MODE button again and your back to Manual mode again.
That’s literally all there is to the control panel, the other buttons are just MF – for the AF assist light, and BUZZ – for turning the sound beep on and off.
No crazy custom functions to dig through at all, or annoying sleep time modes, or any of those things that have become common place with many over complicated speedlites now. Just a super simple user friendly interface real photographers will appreciate.
Another handy thing I should note is that the flash turns on and off automatically as you switch the battery pack on and off. That’s often very handy as the battery pack is often mounted lower or more accessible than the flash itself. (You can also have the battery pack switched on, and switch the flash off via its own on/off button, so the battery pack and another flash connected to it can still be running).
Remote Manual Power Control
Hallelujah ! Finally a speedlite(ish) flash with simple Remote Manual Power Control !
And this is the best kind too. Although the transmitter unit combines a flash trigger (to fire the flash as well if desired), the remote power setting is still separate from the flash fire signal. So there are no pre-flashes and delay like you get with many TTL systems (even in manual). And the transmitter can then also be used hand held, simply as a remote power control unit (so you can still use your existing radio triggers separately to fire the flash).
Again this system is so simple and user friendly it really puts many of the current speedlight and TTL radio triggers (often used just to achieve the same result) to shame. You have instant access to the + and – power adjustments, and a nice clear sound beep lets you know very clearly that the adjustment is being made on the flash. That’s so much more simple and user friendly than many TTL triggers, which take longer to make an adjustment, and then you have no feedback that the change has actually gone to the flash. I never have to check the CL-180′s LCD as I know its already updated to the changes I have set. That’s really helpful when the flash is buried inside an Apollo softbox for example.
The CL Tx-Rx set (or Godox FT-16) are an optional radio based remote control and trigger system, with range around 100 metres. This is not quite a radio receiver built into the flash, but then next best thing, and possibly better in some ways as it can be easily updated down the track.
The receiver attaches to the side of the flash via USB port, instead of the flash foot, which takes the physical stress off that connection. And like a built in receiver it has no extra batteries to mess with as its powered by the flash unit itself. So its also very lightweight and compact.
The CL Tx-Rx are 433MHz, which is not generally what people want to hear these days (as 2.4GHz triggers have generally proven much better range and reliability, and are free to use worldwide), but I have tested these easily to 100 metres, which is clearly a lot more than the 20 – 30 meters maximum you would expect from many of the poor quality ebay triggers, which the 433MHz band is often associated with. So the CL Tx-Rx are still fairly decent triggers with good range, and they have never even hinted towards any random or misfires.
NOTE - Godox have confirmed the current 433MHz triggers are both FCC and CE approved, and there are no restrictions using them worldwide.
I’ll go into the radio trigger side of things in more detail further down though, for now this is looking at the remote power control.
Ok, for off camera use, the radio based remote control unit is likely to be the main control used. The CL Tx-Rx unit is again very simple and user friendly, probably a lot more simple than it looks.
You have 16 channels, and 16 groups. Channels are the small dip switches, which are only changed really if someone else is close by with the same system, or possibly if you experience some interference on a certain channel.
The Groups are controlled vial the large dials, allowing you to control up to 16 different sets of lights individually (and very quickly). The group dial looks a little confusing with both letter and number markings around the edge, but they are all just the same type of groups. Simply set the receiver to a certain group (letter or number), and when the transmitter dial is set to the corresponding group, you can then adjust that flash unit remotely.
Settings or power levels change instantly on the flash as you adjust them on the remote, and if you have the sound indicator (beep) turned on you have a clear indication that the flash power is changing even when you can’t see the flash. This is extremely handy when the flash is mounted inside an Apollo stlye softbox for example, or anywhere you can’t see the LCD screen. You have that simple solid positive confirmation the flash power has changed to match what you see on the transmitter screen.
The + and – buttons are quite small (as is the LCD screen), given the chance I would super-size them, but for now its all completely usable without any complaints there. Remote power setting is a breeze otherwise compared to many current systems.
Each group can be set to a different power level, or to OFF, as shown below. And those settings are all saved in the transmitter unit, even when it has been switched off, or the batteries have been removed (2 standard AA batteries).
On the transmitter unit above you can also remotely turn on the sound beep “BUZZ” or the manual AF assist light “LAMP”. And they can be set separately for each group. Left bellow shows the BUZZ symbol displayed under the power level, and centre is the LAMP.
NOTE – Just to be clear, if the CL-Tx transmitter is being used to fire the flashes (not just hand held as a remote power control) all groups will always fire regardless of where you have the group dial positioned, unless you set a groups power level to zero, which reads OFF (shown above right).
The flashes display updates instantly to correspond with what you see on the transmitter units LCD .
As mentioned the remote / transmitter unit can be used hand held off camera, completely separate to the trigger system.
The one thing that is unfortunately missing from the CL-Tx remote unit above, is a button to turn the HSS function on and off remotely. As I’ll discuss further down, the HSS function has clearly evolved after the trigger system, so a few things are slightly out of place there. And you also require another Cells II transmitter unit to use FP HSS for now. But lack of remote control for switching the HSS on and off is likely the most unfortunate omission for now (if you use HSS). That’s’ still not any major issue though, I’m just glad they have included the HSS function now, as people can be making good use of it.
Another omission is a simple lanyard loop (considering you would be more likely to hand hold this unit at some stage), and a sync port. But as I will go into more in HSS and triggering, there is bound to be an updated transmitter down the track anyway. This one does the job quite well for now.
One other small thing to note – if you are using multiple cameras (at a wedding or similar) and firing the same set of lights with both cameras, it may be better to use just the one CL-Tx hand held, or mounted on one camera. Otherwise you need to remember to update the power settings on both CL-Tx, or the lights will keep changing power unexpectedly as you swap cameras.
The receive unit is surprisingly small and lightweight, I was really surprised at just how small it is. But the clever fold-away flash drive style USB connection underneath has the receiver mounted fairly precariously out the side of the flash. I can’t help but think a much more flush mounting receiver would be possible with a fixed USB connection.
This same receiver will also work with many of Godox’s upcoming studio lights (they already have a new Einstein like alternative which is getting a lot of attention), so the receiver is a universal design for now. I just think this flash, being much more of a portable design you will handle a lot more, warrants a dedicated flush mounting receiver design.
Don’t get me wrong though, this is still a much, much, better solution than shoe mounted receivers or extra cords etc. This is most of the advantages of a built in receiver, with the added ability to update the trigger system completely down the track.
The receiver attaches to the side of the flash via the USB port socket -
The folding USB connector underneath the receiver allows it to pivot away from the flash or rest up against it.
The fold away USB connector is great for transport, and I’m generally obsessed with how compact things will fold away, but in this case (and as nice as this one is) I think a flush fitting receiver would be a preferable option.
Light Output and Quality
The short answer is the CL-180 generally puts out around a stop more light than a full sized speedlight. Also covering a broader area, and producing a softer light in most modifiers. Keep in mind though, as soon as you start trying to diffuse a speedlite to recreate results more like the bare bulb, power quickly decreases further. So the CL-180 really is a good step ahead on equal terms.
The light output of the bare bulb is very different to a speedlite fresnel though, and sometimes it is difficult to even compare them directly. You really need to compare them in the context of the light pattern and qualities as well. The reflector used with the bare bulb is also quite critical to the light output.
The results below are all CL-180 left and YN-568EX right (unless stated otherwise). Note the YN-568EX has a cooler colour temperature than Canon and Nikon speedlites, so the difference is exaggerated here. Though the CL-180 is still a little warmer than the Canon Speedlite.
CL-180 with standard bare 28 degree reflector, vs YN-568EX set to 28mm zoom.
It may not be easy to see in the image here, but the CL-180 is a stop brighter over most of the area, with the broader more even light pattern as seen.
CL-180 with standard 28 degree reflector and one frosted diffuser disk, vs YN-568EX with 14mm flip down wide angle diffuser -
CL-180 with bare bulb (no reflector), vs YN-568EX with (DIY) Stofen style diffuser cap -
CL-180 with standard bare 28 degree reflector, vs YN-568EX set to 28mm zoom, facing the wall.
Note – the speedlite is pretty much at its limits in the frame, where as the CL-180 lights a larger area not seen.
The same as above but on an angle to the wall -
Probably most telling though is the comparison in a larger modifier like an umbrella.
This is only a regular size 43″ shoot through umbrella, and already the speedlite (shown bottom) at its widest zoom (24mm) is at its limits and not even covering the full extend of the diffuser. The CL-180 (shown top below) covers the complete diffuser, and much more evenly. But it will also cover much larger diffusers and parabolic umbrellas as well.
You can achieve a reasonable result with a couple of speedlites using the flip down wide angle diffusers, but then that’s still a stop of light behind, even with the 2 speedlites.
CL-180 left, and 2 YN-568EX mounted on centre with flip out wide angle diffusers right -
I’ve also shot a series of all the zoom length on the YN-568EX speedlite from wide angle diffuser to 105mm, if that may be of interest to help see how the Fresnel and zooming lense effects the light pattern and throw -
Apollo style Umbrella Softboxes
Apollo style umbrella softboxes are really ideal with the CL-180. The softboxes are light and fast to pop open, and the remote power control of the CL-180 is ideal with the flash hidden inside the softbox. The umbrella softboxes already have fantastic soft light with speedlites, but the bare bulb is more even and softer again.
In the umbrella style softbox the CL 180 is straight out a stop ahead of the speedlite.
CL-180 no reflector left, vs YN-568EX 24mm zoom right -
Shadows are also much softer with the CL-180 no reflector left, vs YN-568EX 24mm zoom right -
Dual Speedlite Comparison – Apollo style Softbox
The question many people have asked, how do dual speedlites compare then in the Apollo style softboxes?
Light output is now similar as you would expect, though with more of a hot spot and the light falling off faster.
CL-180 no reflector left, dual YN-568EX 24mm zoom right -
And shadows are harder with the speedlites (right)-
This is where light output can get a little tricky when compared with speedlites. As speedlites can be very efficient as far as light output goes when used in a regular softbox, and facing directly at the front diffuser panel. That’s why I have been designing speedlight to softbox brackets in that configuration for quite a few years. The Apollos produce softer light with speedlites, but sometimes the option of more light is the priority.
In a direct comparison, using a white lined softbox with no speedring insert (which is likely the worst case scenario for the bare bulb in terms of light output), the CL-180 (left below) actually put out less light than the YN-568EX speedlight with 24mm zoom (right below) -
This is because the bare bulb is very different to a speedlite with Fresnel lense, and even different to some monolights, because (as you can see in some examples below) the reflector around the bulb is critical to how much light is actually pushed forward. And the CL-180 has no reflector built in at all, compared with many lower power studio lights where you will notice the tube is mounted inside a reasonably deep built in reflector already. That reflector narrows the beam, while increasing the light output.
This is the flash with and without reflector, you can see the reflector pushes a lot more light forward to start with (Note – I don’t have the wide angle/umbrella reflector yet so I made a rough DIY version here with cardboard and foil tape) -
This is the comparison in a medium 32″ Photoflex softbox -
- YN-568EX 24mm zoom
- CL-180 with no speedring insert
- CL-180 with a flat metal insert
- CL 180 with my DIY wide angle reflector -
So the flat disk insert at least brought the light output up to the speedlight (though still with more even light spread and softer shadows).
The DIY wide angle reflector gave that extra stop of light again, at the cost of some sligtly harder shadows.
So if you were using a Lastolite style Ezybox in the field for example the, a way to boost the light output without too much loss of quality would likely be to place the wide angle / umbrella reflector on the CL-180 once its mounted inside the softbox. When you need softer light again simply remove the reflector.
For regular softbox speedrings, the Chimera speedring insert shown here for example, has a slight concave reflector shape, which would likely cater for fairly large softboxes while still pushing a reasonable amount of light forward.
High Speed Sync – FP HSS
The CL-180 allows FP HSS off camera, this is just like the FP HSS Canon or Nikon Speedlites provide. Though the CL-180 does have a very unique way of enabling that HSS off camera. And also provides more usable light output, up 2 stops more than a Canon Speedlight (and likely more with Nikon). That’s 2 to 4 Canon speedlights in FP HSS to match this one CL-180 unit.
The image bellow is a direct comparison with the CL-180 and YN-568EX at full power in FP HSS. There is no ambient light in the images so its only the flash lighting them. And the frame was quite evenly lit as you can see from the first example at 1/125. So the gradient in the other images is what you would get in all images at those settings, though its generally not that noticeable in real images of people etc. Shooting an evenly lit white wall just allows you to see exactly how much light from the flash you will really get in the image, and how even it is across the frame.
So above X-sync (1/500th onwards) the CL-180 is up to 2 stops brighter than the YN-568EX.
We can see below X-sync (so not in HSS mode) the CL-180 is already about 1 stop ahead of the YN-568EX (as we have seen in most of the comparison images above). So there is up to an extra stop of advantage again over the Canon or YongNuo flash after they both move into HSS.
That’s still not huge amounts of power but, but is certainly a decent advantage over a speedlight in HSS, where you often need at least 2 speedlites ganged together to be of much practical use to start with. This is at least closer to 4 speedlites in HSS.
To engage the FP HSS you need a separate transmitter unit, which is currently the Godox Cells II.
This is currently only compatible with Canon cameras (and not the 5DIII or later, until an updated Cells II is available very soon).
A Nikon version will be available from Godox eventually but that may be a while away yet. In the mean time for Nikon we have discovered that you can actually enable the FP HSS with other radio triggers like the Pixel King, and likely the soon to come YongNuo YN-622N, or other triggers which also pick up the early fire signal from the camera which is required for FP HSS. (These work with Canon as well, but I do get 1/3rd of a stop more light in the frame with the Cells II over the YN-622C). Again I will go into more on detail on that in another post.
The Cells II must to be mounted directly on the camera hotshoe to enable the FP HSS -
The Cells II has the full TTL contacts on the foot which enable the FP HSS signal from the camera. So its easy to remember this has to be mounted directly on the cameras hotshoe with the full TTL contacts -
So the Cells II Transmitter (Tx) then communicates with the regular receiver attached to the side of the flash via the USB port, firing the flash in sync and in FP HSS mode.
And at the same time power levels are then controlled remotely from the CL-Tx held in hand. That also communicates with the same USB mounted receiver mounted on the side of the flash -
So that is all there is too it. Even though you do now have two transmitter units, its still very simple to use.
Its only when you start to look at combining with other existing radio triggers and flash on camera etc, there becomes quite a number of combinations of gear, so I will go into that in another post.
Note – FP HSS does limit the number of consecutive flashes which will activate the flashes overheat protection. At full power that is reduced from 75 shots in a row down to just 10. At half power from 100 down to 15, and 1/4 power from 200 down to 20. If you’re not shooting right as the flash recycles I’m sure that could stretch out a lot more though.
Also Please NOTE – Edward Tang from CheetahStand.com has no experience with FP HSS at all, this is a feature Godox have implemented, and Edward is providing for people to experiment with for themselves.
I do know this is an important feature to many people though, so I’m just grateful Godox have implemented it as far as they have already. My results above are just an indication, your results may well vary.
More on combining radio triggers and HSS with the Cheetah Light here.
I don’t have the equipment needed to measure flash durations, but its fairly clear from what we can see the CL-180 is similar to most speedlites which have quite fast flash durations. Like speedlites the CL-180 is an IGBT flash, which means at any power level below 1/1, the power to the flash tube is cut off very quickly producing very fast flash durations. So its only the full power duration that may be of concern. Most speedlites are generally around 1/250th to 1/300th of a second at full power, so the CL-180 is quite similar. At lower power levels the duration becomes very fast which is ideal for freezing motion as speedlites will do.
At full power from around 1/160th camera shutter speed you do loose about 1/3rd of a stop of light moving to 1/250th. This is quite normal and similar to most speedlites, simply because the flash needs more time to get all of its light out than the time the shutter is open at that speed. The frames bellow are flash only in the image, so the shutter speed should not effect the exposure otherwise.
I noticed though using the Cells II transmitter, that provides 1/3 of a stop more light in the frame than the CL-Tx transmitter (again with the CL-180 at full power and 1/250th (X-sync)). So that is worth keeping in mind when trying to underexpose ambient light.
Again like speedlites I have not noticed any issue with colour change at different power levels. The specs state only 200 degrees variation across the power range, which is hardly noticeable. And this is consistent with other user reports as well. Again that is likely due to the CL-180 being an IGBT flash, like speedlites.
I’ll go into more detailed combinations like combining your existing radio triggers in another post. Triggering the CL-180 otherwise is simply via the CL-Tx or Cells II on the camera hotshoe, and CL-Rx receiver connected to the side of the flash via the USB port. Or using your own choice of radio triggers.
The CL-Tx (left below) for regular flash triggering, and remote power level control. The CL-Tx can also be used hand held as a remote power control only, and combined with the Cells II, or most other radio triggers, to actually fire the flash.
The Cells II allowing FP HSS off camera, currently with Canon cameras (other triggers can be used with Nikon as discussed under the HSS topic above).
The CL-Tx and Cells II are both 433MHz triggers with range around 100m. They have been completely reliable without a hint of misfire or random fires. I tested the range with the test rig you can see here, where I had 4 different receivers all connected to the flash. All 4 receivers reached 100 metres line of sight without any problems. Probably a better indication though was placing the transmitter directly behind my back, where the CL-Tx, Cells II, and Phottix Strato II, all still made around 50 metres without misfires, while the YN-622C only reached 15 to 20 metres at best. So both the CL-Tx and Cells II have very decent range and reliability. Full points for nice large easy to access locking rings too.
Sync speed – The CL-Tx is fairly slow, as soon as I pushed past 1/250th (X-sync) there was a lot of black band (or shutter) showing in the image. This shows the CL-TX is only just reaching the 1/250th sync speed. I don’t think this is a big issue though as you would likely be using the Cells II (which are faster), or possibly other radio triggers to actually fire the flash if you were chasing higher sync speeds, or HSS anyway.
At some stage these 2 transmitter units are very likely to be combined into one unit anyway, so I don’t think its much point looking into them in great detail, beyond the fact that they are quite functional as they are now. My suggestion for a new model would hopefully be for Godox to switch completely to a 2.4GHz system. And then have a pass through hotshoe for TTL flash on camera use as well.
NOTE – Godox have confirmed the current 433MHz triggers are both FCC and CE approved, and there are no restrictions using them worldwide.
For TTL flash on camera (with manual CL-180′s off camera), as many wedding an even photographers will want to do, there is unfortunately no sync port on the CL-Tx (another oversight Godox are aware of). So you have to attach the CL-Tx to the cameras PC sync port by adding a hotshoe and sync cord to the CL-Tx foot. Here I used a straight bracket under the camera, allowing the CL-Tx to mount down to the side and out of the way (and near the cameras sync port), while still allowing easy access to the power controls when needed. You could simply strap the CL-Tx to the side of your on-camera speedlight though as well.
The CL-180 has two sync ports, as well as the USB socket which is also used as a sync port. Combined with the flash foot, and built in optic slave trigger, that’s 5 ways to sync with the CL-180 !
The CL-180 has a standard 3.5mm mini-phone sync jack, which is much more reliable than the traditional PC sync port (also provided). Together with the Phottix Mitros and the Lumopro LP-160 flash, this is only the third small flash to adopt this 3.5mm port, and shows once again Cheetah/Godox were really on the ball when designing this flash.
Note – strangely the PC sync port is not a screw type fitting. It has a rather nice taper into the socket, but not a screw thread. In any case the best option is to avoid it all together and just use the 3.5mm mini-phone port above whenever possible.
The flash foot is simple single firing pin only. So FP HSS for example can only be done off camera (where the Cells II transmitter is then connecting to the full TTL contact pins in the camera hotshoe). Note – there is no locking pin on the foot. Not an issue if you use clamping coldshoes anyway, but something to be aware of.
The CL-180 has a built in optic slave, commonly described as “dumb” optic slave, which simply fires the flash in sync when it sees the light from another flash unit.
There is an S1 and S2 Mode. The S2 being a TTL pre-flash ignore, which fires on the second flash pulse, ignoring the first TTL pre-flashes. This allows another flash set to TTL to be used as the triggering flash unit.
The sensor is shown on the right side behind the red lens (AF assist lights are behind the left lens) -
AF Assist Light
The CL-180 has a manually activated AF assist light. Which means you have to switch it on and off via the MF button on the flash, or remotely via the LAMP button on the CL-Tx remote transmitter.
This is because the flash only has a single firing pin foot, and therefore cannot communicate information like this directly with the camera.
The lamps are just 2 regular LED’s as seen behind the red lens in the image above (left lens). There is no contrast projected, so basically just a regular light with a red tint, and not really all that bright. On camera this is probably better than nothing, but not an ideal AF assist light. Though off camera it can be handy to line up the flash if using a snoot or similar. And turning it on from the camera could be handy to help achieve a focus in very low light. What it does make me think more than anything though, is a brighter LED light used as a modelling light (and taping into this remote control function) could be really useful.
The CL-180 bulb is rated to 200Watts and UV coated. Unfortunately I don’t think its quite compatible with similar bulbs used for Quantum etc, but don’t quote me on that yet. Cheetah and Godox have spare bulbs available though.
I was a little tentative with handling the bulb at first, but soon realised the outer glass is fairly solid, and the delicate flash tube is safely inside that where you can’t touch it. The end of the outer glass case is open to allow the air to flow through and likely help any heat dissipate.
You simply line up the red dot on the bulb with the dot inside the CL-180 flash head and push the bulb into place. Its mounted firmly, but easy to remove as well.
A protecting cover for the bulb is now available as an option as well. That will make it far more convenient to transport and store the flash with the bulb in place, or possibly removing the bulb and storing it inside the cap.
Reflector Mount & Accessories
The reflector mount is compatible with most Quantum, Norman and Lumedyne reflectors, and those used with the Sunpak 120j.
The mount uses a simple rubber pad which presses against the reflector mounting tube, for a simple friction hold on the reflector. You tighten the thumbscrew on the side of the flash head to push the the rubber pad against the reflector. Not having a Q-flash or similar I can’t compare this myself, though others have said it is more secure than the Q-flash mount, which does appear to get a few complaints. I certainly couldn’t pull the reflector out once the clamp was tightened.
Looking at the standard reflector mounting tube it has a slight taper, which would certainly help to stop it from coming out, though it does allow the reflector too tilt down a little in the mount. I don’t know if this could be any issue with the larger modifiers, but I haven’t heard any comments or complaints at this stage.
The standard 5″ (28 degree) reflector comes with a ring that holds one or two frosted diffuser disks, which help to diffuse or spread the light. You could easily sandwich regular coloured gel film between the disks for easy mounting, though coloured disks are available as well. Grids are also available, and the reflector is designed with a stepped collar to stop any direct light escaping around the edges of the grid. Again you can expect a nicer even light pattern from those compared to speedlite grids.
One big advantage of the CL-180 is the ability to mount lightweight modifiers directly to the flash head, with the built in small and lightweight Lumedyne style mount. Cheetah have most of these modifiers available, and they are relatively inexpensive compared to those from Quantum etc. I don’t have these yet but I’m looking forward to trying some, as well as experimenting with making some of my own. There is even a Lumedyne adapter available for custom and experimental modifiers, as the bare bulb is ideal for experimenting with shaping the light.
The 19″ collapsible beauty dish softbox allows a fairly decent size softbox which can easily be hand held with the CL-180, and both fold up to a very lightweight and compact kit.
Sports or Telephoto Reflector
A telephoto reflector is one thing Cheetah/Godox do not have available as yet, though Quantum or Norman have versions available. So far we know at least the Quantum will work with the CL-180. Both of the reflectors will fit the CL-180, but they require a bulb mounting extension which brings the bulb out further in the reflector. At this point we have one report saying the current Quantum extender fits (some earlier versions may not).
The 8″ telephoto reflector provides 2 stops more light (in a narrower beam) than the standard reflector. The CL-180 will be ideal for many sports shooters needing a lightweight kit, like bmx, skateboarding and mountain biking etc, and the telephoto reflector could be a real advantage there sometimes.
The CL-180 has a clever optional umbrella mount. This was designed as a detachable mount so that the flash head would still be small enough to fit through openings like the common Bowen’s speedring insert/mount. The wide angle umbrella reflector has a corresponding hole allowing the flash bulb to be very close to the umbrella shaft, and centred in the umbrella.
The umbrella mount comes with the wide angle reflector, and that reflector is one accessory you really need if you intend to use any umbrellas etc.
There is also a 43″ double fold shoot through umbrella available, made specifically to fit the umbrella mount securely. It doesn’t show in the image but it has a nice fairly flat front surface. At 16″ folded, again this provides a super compact lightweight kit which could also be hand held. And a nice big really soft light. That’s some nice light for a kit you can put in your camera bag.
I think that is the most I would use the built in umbrella mount for though personally. Unless the mount is designed to break off before anything else on the flash is damaged, I would personally avoid putting to much load on it. Just in case there is an accident or gust of wind etc, and the flash has to wear all the stress.
For mounting in larger softboxes and modifiers the CL-180 will fit most regular speedlite brackets. Cheetah have their own SpeedPro bracket available which can be used for this.
To use with larger umbrellas though at this stage you may have to put an extra hole in the wide angle umbrella reflector yourself, lining up with the umbrella mount on the SpeedPro bracket. Of course you can just mount the flash upright on a regular umbrella swivel as well.
The CL-180 is ideal to use inside umbrella softboxes, and just in time is one of my own bracket designs, now available from Phottix. The Multi Boom 16″ mounts the flash head in the centre of the softbox, as well as allowing 2 or more flashes to be mounted (or a place to mount the battery pack). And also provides fast, easy, and full tilt motion of the softbox, which is normally very limited otherwise.
The CL-180 comes with a small base stand, and like the flash unit its built extra solid. With the brass 1/4 20″ threaded mounted hole it should be fine to use as a cold shoe for mounting to umbrella swivels etc as well. Though note the stand has a locking pin hole, but the flash does not have the safety locking pin, so take care that the flash is really locked down securely!
The Cheetah Light was originally intended to have LED modelling lights. I think that was likely left off due to time and costs. Norman have reflectors with built in modelling lamp though -
With LED lights constantly improving at the moment, it may be better that it wasn’t built in. I think a small clip on LED light unit could be used in a number of reflectors, or even bare, when the flash head is point the opposite direction for example. What would be nice though is to tap into the remote control currently used for the CL-180 AF assist light, so you could turn a larger modelling light on and off as needed from the camera. I didn’t think much previously of the idea of modelling lights on a battery powered flash, but with LED’s getting better, if the CL-180 did have a decent one available, larger monolights would probably hardly get used at all for many people.
Flash on Camera
I’m personally more interested in the CL-180 for off camera use, though its completely capable and practical as a fully manual flash on camera if you’re happy with that. People have commented Cheetah/Godox should have at least added a simple Auto exposure mode (like the original flashes before TTL), which certainly would have made the CL-180 considerably more on-camera friendly. But I think its fairly obvious Godox have bigger plans for this flash down the track, and full TTL version is likely to come at some stage anyway. That is just my own speculation, but the signs are there. For now its quite usable as a manual flash on-camera, you have to carry the battery pack on your belt or shoulder, but then the flash itself is not that much heavier than a regular speedlight on the camera, and with twice the output.
Lithium Battery Pack
The Cheetah L-4500, (or Godox PB 960) battery pack is brilliant. Even if you may not be interested in the flash, this battery pack is something to look out for. It will do up to 900 full power pops with the CL-180, and up to 1800 full pops with a regular speedlite. And its designed to run 2 separate flashes without reducing recycle time. Which is around one second with speedlites, and 2.6 with the CL-180 at full power. Cheetah have just released a 2 into 1 splitter cord (as seen further down below) which connects one flash to both battery ports, roughly halving the recycle times again. Cheetah even have 1 into 2 splitter cords available, so that you can run up to 4 flashes off this one small pack! (and recycle times are still quite fast).
The pack has an ON / OFF button which turns the CL-180 flash on and off as well (very handy when you can’t reach the flash easily), and bright LED battery level indicator. Which is very handy, as this little pack holds so much charge you would never know when it actually needed a recharge otherwise. Recharging only takes a few hours, and there are separate clip on batteries available so you could have more charged up if ever needed.
The pack is smaller than I expected, and comes with a belt clip which you could very practically use for flash on camera (or hand holding an off camera flash).
The actual Lithium battery pack quickly clips on and off, so you can have spares charged and ready to swap.
The cords are 5 pin DIN plugs, which are compatible with the Quantum packs, and becoming quite standard with most battery packs which use plug in cords. The Cheetah/Godox have a locking collar though (which some packs don’t have) and that really helps to make sure the plugs don’t pull out. Using a stiff coiled cord like this its easy to pull the cords out quite often accidentally otherwise.
On the flash end of the power cord, its also held in quite tightly with a spring clip.
The one thing that is a little annoying about the socket though is that it is a proprietary design. Its fairly close to the Canon plug / socket but not quite the same. This could possibly be to stop you plugging in a Canon style CP-E4 battery pack, because unfortunately we have tried an off brand version of those (by modifying the plug to fit) and they still won’t work in the CL-180 flash. That appears to be because those style of speedlite packs require a signal from the flash to turn the power on, where as the L-4500 has power live at the end of the plug as soon as you turn it on. Other Quantum packs do work with the CL-180. Another option is also the Godox PB 820 which is 8 AA NiMH cells inside like a CP-E4 etc anyway.
This is the Cheetah / Godox plug left, and Canon Plug right. The pins are in the same position, but you have to shave some off the outer edges of the Canon plug to fit it into the CL-180. Fitting the Cheetah/Godox plug into the Canon flash would be harder, taking some more work to cut that indent on the side.
Why do we care about this?, well in general the Godox cords are well made and well priced, so there’s no need to avoid them. Its only when you may be after a cord they don’t have, you can’t buy an alternative cord to fit the CL-180 end from anyone else. So modifying a Canon version cord may be an alternative if needed. Maybe Godox could possibly offer a Godox to Canon adapter later (as Phottix have just done with their Mitros flash).
The standard coiled cord that comes with the flash is ideal for hand holding the flash, or flash on camera with the pack on your belt.
But when you mount the battery on a light stand you tend to want to mount it to the lowest riser so that you can move the stand up and down as needed without the pack being in the way. In this case the coiled cord is often too short, and you put a lot off tension on it if you stretch it too much. The current alternative is a 5 meter straight cord. That would help, but 2.5 metres would be more than enough length.
Another option (with or without a longer cord) is a good easy to use clamp for the stand. This may sound trivial, but a good simple clamp would make all the difference in the convenience of using this flash. You really want to be able to clip the battery pack on and off easily with one hand (as you likely have the flash in the other). Otherwise you have to keep pulling the cord out of the flash or pack, which requires both hands, and doesn’t do them a lot of good if you’re doing that too often. There are a few clamps available from Quantum and Photogenic etc already. (Update Cheetah is already looking into a similar clamp as well).
Splitter cords – Cheetah have a new 2 into 1 splitter cord which connects one flash to both batter ports, roughly halving the recycle times of the flash again (should be available late May).
Cheetah also have similar, but opposite, 1 into 2 splitter cords which allow 2 flashes to be connected to each battery port, so up to 4 flashes connected to each battery pack. Obviously that will have some reduction in recycle time (though still quite fast).
David Freedman posted his average test times with the 2 into 1 cord here shown above -
Finally, the L-4500 Battery pack comes with a really nice padded shoulder strap. The pack is fairly light, but the strap really is a nice and comfortable inclusion if you are carrying the battery over the shoulder. And it clips off just leaving the short straps on the battery pack.
Specs L-4500 (PB 960) Lithium Battery Pack
- Battery pack - Lithium battery (11.1V/4500mAH)
- Battery charging time - Approx. 3 hours
- Flash charging time - Approx. 2.6 second (full power CL-180), 1 second (full power speedlite)
- Flash time - Approx. 900 times (full power CL-180), 1800 times (full power speedlite)
- Overall dimension - 159 x 133.5 x 49.2mm
- Weight - 560g
|Model||CL-180 (Godox AD180)|
|Flash Index||60m (ISO 100, using a standard reflector)
-top use, the standard reflector flash covers the range of about 28mm
|Up and down the angle of rotation||-15 ° -90 °|
|Left and right rotation angle||0-270 °|
|Power supply||Power Box L-4500 (Godox PB960, PB820)|
|Number of flashes||900 times (full power, L-4500 / Godox PB960)|
|Recycle time||Approximately 0.05-2.6s (L-4500 / PB960)|
|Color Temperature||5600 ± 200k|
|Volume||205 * 90 * 70 mm (excluding lamps and reflectors)|
There is a Cl-360 version which is 307WS and due around March 20. Initial estimated price is around $150 more than the CL-180, at around $549 (battery pack is approx an extra $200).
Weight is approximately 600 grams (21 ounces) vs 830 grams (29-1/4 ounces ).
You can see a comparison of the size in the images bellow. The 360 also has a flat base now without the hotshoe foot (the hotshoe base is still available though) so it will actually sit lower than the 180.
If you’re intending to tackle bright ambient light often, the 360 model may be the way to go. At 830 grams that would still be quite easy to hand hold, and with another stop of light even HSS would be very usable. The 360 should really be a very interesting little light.
POTN Forum – A good discussion on CL-180/360
If you already know this is the type of light your after, you’re not going to be disappointed with the CL180. From all indications Cheetah and Godox have built this very well. Only time will tell how well it does stand up over time, but the performance so far inspires a lot of confidence, and so does having CheetahStand standing behind it.
If you’re looking at speedlites mainly for off camera use, and you know you’re likely to be using a battery pack anyway, the CL-180 is definitely worth considering as well. For around the price of the high end speedlites, you get more light, nicer light, no overheating, lots more battery power, and more user friendly interface and remote control. The CL-180 can save a lot of time and hassles compared to other speedlite, battery, and trigger systems, having lots more pieces of gear and AA batteries to manage. The remote system could use some updates, but they are aware of that, and its still very good as it is. If anything remote control to switch HSS on and off would be the first on my wish list. I’m looking forward to experimenting with making modifiers etc, so there will likely be more to come on this flash.
Price and Availability
The CL-180 flash alone starts from around $400. The lithium battery from around $200.
Website - CheetahStand
Also See the follow up post – Cheetah Light – Radio Triggers and HSS.
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