Posted by Las Vegas Photoshoot Locations under
I'm all about the most bang for my buck, and this monstrosity does not disappoint.
This flash is a beast. I'm kinda torn on how to review it. It's a battery operated on-camera (bracket) flash... but comparing it to hotshoe flashes seems silly, it makes them look like little girls. Not quite in the league of studio strobes, but it makes a solid effort. I'll try and pick somewhere in the middle while comparing to both. Just so you know my bias, these things will be coming with me to every outdoor shoot from now on.
I'm not lying when I say these make hotshoe flashes look like little girls. They have significant power for a relatively small package. I was shooting at f/8 at half power, at 8 feet, in a modifier (36" umbrellabox so bounced then diffused) Putting a 580EXII (also at half power, to match) in the same modifier / distance I got f/4. Two full stops, so the equivalent power of four top of the line hotshoe flashes.
So they make hotshoe flashes their bitch... how about studio strobes?
In the same scenario, same distance, same modifier, my Photogenic 750PL (320ws, very similar to AB800) put out f/9, that's only 1/3 of a stop. A battery powered flash that's only 1/3 of a stop less powerful than a typical studio strobe? Hell yeah, I'll take two. Sure AB1600 give you one and a third stop, and there are other systems out there that can obliterate the sun... but we're talking about flashes on a budget. This $200 flash system is nearly identical in power to a typical 320ws strobe. That's not insubstantial considering a cheap 320ws strobe with battery pack (going cheap, Adorama Flaspoint II 620, and vagabond mini) starts at over twice that at $420, $520 if we stay Alienbees, a favorite for budget minded photographers.
As you can see from the above image, I had to jury-rig an adapter for an umbrella, since the handle-mount would offset the flash by about 8". I had the stuff lying around, but something to take into consideration. Also, being a terribly old system, as far as these things go, they use household sync cables, I had to find a way to trigger them. Pocketwizard makes a great household to miniphone cable for $17, and I used an inline adapter to hook that up to my RF-602 triggers. Not a hard thing to do, but since packages online (flash, battery, charger, sync) come with household-PC sync cables, it sometimes easier to spend $20 or so for an easier cable, none of my triggers use PC, it's all 3.5mm miniphone.
Recharge and battery life
With the Ni-Cad battery pack (the one that comes standard with the kit at B&H and anywhere else I've found online) recharge was about 3 seconds at full power discharge with a full battery, and closer to 5 after 80 shots, and dying out at about 100-120...Reasonable. Vagabond Mini with my 320ws strobe (PCB says it should be 1.5 seconds) recharges at about the same 3 seconds. Strobes + Vagabond mini have a clear advantage, though for life. Tests for VBM + 320ws strobe show 600-800 pops at full power, that's a lot of juice. Since I'd use these at 1/16 - 1/2 power, with a spare battery, and shoot less than 200 shots on an average shoot, the issue is moot for me, but something to consider.
If you can stretch your budget to $200 for one relatively powerful light.. This is definitely something to consider. hell, if you're considering a $400 OEM hotshoe flash for manual use, get one of these and a handful of YN460IIs. Yes, monolights have a much wider array of modifiers, VBM battery packs last longer, but for those of us on a budget, spending the $200 we have NOW and shooting NOW, is much more appealing than waiting however long for the other $350 for a monolight and battery pack to do essentially the same thing.
I push the $40 YN460II flashes like there's no tomorrow, but this flash system is now along side it on my list of highly recommended budget-minded flashes. These are not "sunkiller" flashes, but for overcast, open shade, indoors, matching sunlight, or for open sun where you can manage 6' or closer... they're fanfreakingtastic.
$200 for flash system (wide angle head, battery, charger, sync cable) that can match the sun at a reasonable distance (8') is absolutely something to consider.
Canon XSi - 50mm 1.8 - Sunpak 622 + 36" cheap-ass umbrellabox @ 1/2 power, 8' from subject (main and rim) ISO100, f/8, 1/100