Sunday, January 24, 2016

East Meets West: Flashpoint Zoom Li-on Flashes - Part 2

As I mentioned, I purchased two of the new Adorama Li-On speedlights: One fully manual and one Nikon iTTL compatible. The reasons were simple: My dedicated Fuji flash is so slow to recycle that one might as well shoot in the manual mode, and I was curious about the benefits of a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery technology. For whatever reason, Adorama was discounting the units, so I purchased the pair for less than $300.00. One additional incentive was a free controller kit with the supposed ability to control the manual unit from a distance of 150 feet, with full manual output control from the camera. Wow.

When they arrived, I found out that the radio controller kit (transmitter and receiver) was back ordered, so my comments will be confined to the Li-on battery’s practicality and observations on the flashes when used in the manual mode.

The Battery: When the two flashes arrived, I immediately charged their two batteries. The battery chargers featured an LCD gauge so that one could monitor the charging progress. Once charged, I loaded the iTTL version and installed it on a Nikon P7000, a point-and-shoot camera with a hot shoe and a built-in intervalometer. I set the camera to make an exposure every 30 seconds, started it, and left for lunch. When I finally got around to checking it, the camera and flash had been snapping away for nearly three hours and produced more than 340 uniformly exposed images. The recycle time was still under 2 seconds, right about where it was when I started. 
  • Verdict? The unit can easily produce 300 + full-power flashes with a very short recycle time. Three such units would give a power level and recycle time close to my overly-heavy Norman 200B.
The Case: The nylon case, while outwardly well made, lacks a belt loop. Also, when the provided flash stand is stored in its inside pocket, it’s a tight squeeze getting the flash back inside.
  • Verdict? It appears to be a case where an accessory is made to specifications without any consideration as to how the buyer will actually use it. I removed the flash stand from the case and put in the coffee jar with the dozens I’ve accumulated over the years. Now the case is just snug.
Head Rotation: The flash head can rotate 180 degrees to both the left and the right, a welcomed feature for a shoe-mounted flash used in the bounce mode. But unlike the Nikons which use a push-button lock to prevent accidental head rotation and elevation, the Adorama units eschew the locks and relies instead on some very stiff detents.
  • Verdict? The amount of force needed to adjust the head seems excessive, and could possibly damage the camera’s hot shoe. Be gentle.
Synchronization Port: Secondary synchronization is provided by a port that accepts a 2.5mm microphone jack. This is fine, but my Midwest Photo Universal Hot Shoe Translators use a 3.5 mm cable. Again, an odd miscalculation by some engineers who hadn’t considered that Midwest Photo, one of the first (perhaps THE first) to utilize the microphone jack interface in an off-the-shelf speedlight, had already adopted the larger diameter as their standard.
  • Verdict? Huh? There is an adapter that will allow me to use the 3.5mm jack in the flash. Curious? Click here.
Power Saving Options: The flash has a power cut-off that could help to prevent draining the battery when the flash is on and not in use. This could be useful, considering the relative difficulty of finding a fully-charged spare battery if you should run dry while on assignment and didn't have a spare. However, when you wait around as long I do, waiting for something picturesque to occur, you could be unpleasantly surprised when the flash fails to “wake up” at a critical moment.
  • Verdict? Disable this feature immediately, and keep your eye on the charge level icon on the back of the flash. Store your batteries outside of the flash and all will be well.
Focus Assist: The Adorama unit can throw a red laser criss-cross pattern to help the camera’s auto focus sensors find something to lock on.
  • Advice?  Your subjects will hate you for blinding them, so  turn the Focus Assist off.
Flash Foot: The unit uses a simple rotating thumb wheel accompanied by a retracting retaining pin.
  • Verdict? I had some problems with the foot not seating fully in the hot shoe. I found that when installing the flash it is easier to hold it instead of the camera. This takes up the slack between the shoe and the foot, and makes the thumbscrew easier to tighten.
The Price Point: Let's compare performance to price. At the left, my Youngnao 560 and a battery pack, which would be necessary to bring this combination closer in performance to the Adorama. Based on random prices: 

1 flash
1 battery pack

Now if we compare the sale and "suggested retail price of the Adorama manual unit, we get:

ZoomLi-on Manual Flash

  • Verdict? When you consider the faster recycle time, the Adorama unit makes sense if you can get one at the sale price. I don't know why the disparity between the street and MSRP, but it seems to me that you should be an early adopter and get one at the sale price. And when the sale ends? The unit would still be an useful flash, just less of a bargain. 
  • Consider this: A spare battery is $49.95. A new (manual) flash is $99.95.Get another flash, then use the battery and keep the "empty" as a backup.*

Youngnao 560 flash with
supplementary  battery pack
My Final Thoughts: I am fully behind the new battery technology. It gives me incredibly fast recycle times and easy output adjustment. I can see myself using the Adorama unit on indoor assignments where bounce flash is the preferred lighting solution, and especially when flash automation isn't that much of an advantage.

Remote Mode:  Like all flashes that rely on photo-optical remote triggering, you open yourself up to interference by other photographers using some sort of flash on their real cameras. You flash will switch allegiance, and become their slave, not yours.

Let's see how the dedicated wireless control works.

*I am also aware that my price point discussion did NOT include the cost of the 12 AA batteries it would take to charge up the Youngnao combo package as described. Even with cheap generic batteries, you're looking at an additional expense of $3.00 each time you exhaust a full set. Not a deal breaker.