Review: The Lumopro LP180 Quad-sync Manual Flash
30 May 2014
The LumoPro LP180 has been out for a while now and in my bag from just after its official release. I was excited to get my hands on this flash when it first came out, but held off on writing a review. I wanted to put it through its paces over a number of months before commenting. So, here I am, with over six months of use with the flash. What are my thoughts?
If I could only use but one word to review the LP180, that word would be “solid.”
Thankfully, I have plenty more words at my disposal. So, let me elaborate. The LP180 is solid in every aspect possible with a flash. It feels solid in the hand, with a good amount of weight to it without weighing you down. It has a solid build quality, with every aspect of it feeling nigh unbreakable, right down to the metal foot — even after being dropped, the unit barely has a scratch. Its performance is solid, with a nice, bright, consistent light bursting with every fire with nary a misfire or misgiving not caused by flat batteries. When secured in place with the locking slide on the base of the flash, the flash is solidly in place and is not going anywhere.
But, let’s dig deeper.
I have always been one to do things on the cheaper side if I could get away with it. I’m not laden with money and photography can be expensive. I have used $2 umbrellas, cheap eBay flashes, cheaper eBay triggers, windscreen shields as reflectors, and even car headlights in the field.
I had been using the Canon 430EXII and Yongnuo 460Iis (which have approximately the same GN/power output). I wanted a more powerful flash. Needed. I had been toying with the idea of buying a Canon 600EX-RT and was saving my pennies. When David Hobby tweeted me and told me that for the same money that I would spend on the 600EX-RT that I could buy a LP180, a set of PW +x transceivers, a stand, umbrella, swivel, a keg of beer and still have money left over, I looked at the LP180 instead. I mean, you don’t ignore David Hobby without just cause when it comes to flash.
The 18th of November, 2013.
That is the day my bag got a little bit heavier. Not just with weight, with the flash coming in at 425g without batteries, but also with goodness. When I first received the flash, I opened the box and jotted these notes down for later review:
“Straight out the box, this seems to be a unit developed and produced with precision and, dare I say, love. The included softcase, which hugs the unit, will probably never be needed as this flash feels unbreakable. First test pop with batteries suitably blinded me. Win.”
Naturally, this flash is a lot brighter than my Canon 430EXII / Yongnuo 460IIs, with the Guide Number / power output roughly equivalent to the Canon 600EX-RT or Nikon SB-900. That instantly blew me away (and, literally, blinded me).
The LumoPro LP180 flash, upon release, was talked up by every photographer that got their hands on one. David Hobby raved about it. Zack Arias and his beard approved and purchased several more beyond his sample unit.
With my hands finally on the unit, I could see why. This was a cheaper flash, but not a cheap flash. Even before I put the flash to use with a camera, I knew this was a flash that was simply going to perform, every time, without fail.
I love using flash in my photography. Perhaps too much. I like doing things the hard way; when it comes to settings, I like full manual. My camera is always set to manual, and my Yongnuo RF602 triggers force my flash units to be in manual, as they don’t do TTL.
The LP180 is purely a full manual flash. There is no TTL mode, no automatic zoom, nothing fancy in that regards. It feature a manual zoom from 14mm (with the built in diffuser) through the normal zoom levels (24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 70mm, 80mm) to 105mm. Changing zoom is as simple as pressing the arrows on the rear panel.
It also has manual power adjustments, in 1/3-stop increments from 1/1 full power down to 1/128 power. I have to say, I LOVE shooting with the flash at 1/128 power, as it allows me to shoot wide open at f/1.4 but still light an image. Changing power is simply done by using the + or – buttons on the rear panel.
The head swivels 180° in both directions, allowing full 360° turning. My other flash units only have 270° coverage and, honestly, I never knew this would make a difference until now. The head also tilts from -7° up to a vertical 90°. The -7° angle is particularly useful when on umbrella adapters.The battery compartment is really well designed in my opinion. The door is solidly built and doesn’t feel like it will fly off if I sneeze while opening it, unlike other flash I have had in the past. Each AA battery has its own ‘tube’ to slide into, which makes it easy to load batteries in the dark.
The slide lock is lovely, too. When locked, it feels much more secure than the screw locks I have on other flash units. It’s just a reminder that this isn’t a cheap flash you’re playing with, it is a quality built unit.
There is also a bunch of slave modes that, honestly, I’ve not delved into as of yet since they have not come up in my shooting style. But the ability to choose between a simple slave mode and ten alternative slave modes that can ignore up to 10 pre-flashes sounds rather handy. On top of this is the ability to sync the flash via standard hot shoe (how I have used it), PC port, 3.5mm miniphone port, and optical slave, as well as handy features such as sleep modes and a thermal cut-off that slows firing if you get too trigger happy.
That is one of my favourite features (besides 1/128 power). If you’re using your flash in a soft-box or with an umbrella and you want to have it closer to center, there is an integrated ¼” x 20 female mount on the side of the head that will allow you to attach the actual flash to the matching screw (standard size screw that comes on light stands, etc). More than once I have attached the flash direct to my light stand or umbrella adapter via this screw. While I have not done so, yet, I also plan to make some clamps with a screw on them so I can attach flash units easily to things like street signs or door frames.I’ve also used this side mount to attach the flash to my hip with a PeakDesign Capture Pro device so that the flash is on hand if needed to be thrown on-camera during an event or to get my flash off-camera. Because, well, who doesn’t want Photographer-Batman with your tools on your belt? If you choose to use this practice, you do so at your own risk, but I’ve had no issues. I actually emailed Lumopro about this, to see if there were any dangers of damaging the flash in doing so. This was their response:
The 1/4-20 socket has a break away design. Meaning, the socket mount is built separately from the rest of the body. That way, if you do happen to break the mount, the socket piece is able to be repaired and the entire flash does not have to be replaced.
That being said, during our initial testing of the flash, our goal was to break the socket. We were finally able to accomplish the breakage by tipping a side-mounted flash over onto asphalt from the top of a 10’ light stand. The socket broke off clean, but the rest of the flash is fine.
The flash has been on sale for about 10 months now, and we have yet to hear of a customer breaking theirs. (That’s not to say it hasn’t happened, but we haven’t heard of any.)
Firstly, the performance.
When paired with my Powerex batteries, this flash works like a dream. At 1/128 power, you can pop this flash non-stop through bursts of photos and never have a misfire. At high power, you can shoot almost continuously too. At full 1/1 power with fully charged Powerex batteries, the recycle time was just over two seconds.
As another indicator of how this flash performs with recycling, when I was road testing my Powerex 2700 mAh NiMh AA Rechargeable Batteries, with said batteries having not been charged for three weeks after heavy use at a wedding, the flash still fired nine frames within 1.5 seconds at 1/8 power before missing a shot. Impressive, in my opinion, and an indication that both batteries and flash are great performers.
There are things you don’t think of when you’re playing with a flash unit without it being used in conjunction with a camera at a shoot. There are some bonus things I really love about this flash:
- Tucked away on the side of the head are four little indicators to let you know what angle the flash head is at — 90*, 75, 60, or 45. Handy for if you’re after precise settings in notes.
- A ready tone that beeps softly to let you know the flash is ready to fire again
- A ready light on BOTH the front and back of the unit, to give you visual confirmation the flash is ready.
- The inbuilt gel holder to use with the included correction and effects colour gels. While this can be a tiny bit fiddly to use, definitely requiring two hands, it is a great feature.
- The back LED screen lights up so you can see settings in the dark.
For years I had been using a Canon 430EXII and two Yongnuo 460IIs. Being completely honest, I preferred the Yongnuo flashes over my Canon, which is rarely used these days. Since the LP180 made its way into my bag, the others have only occasionally been used when second and third lights have been required. In fact, at the time of writing this, I only just rediscovered my Canon 430EXII stashed in the bottom of a box full of bits and pieces from cleaning my office, while the others are in camera bags.
One reason I don’t like using my Canon flash is the power controls, and the thing I love about the Yongnuo 460IIs, even in preference to the LP180, is the power controls.
With the LP180, there is the (forced) ability to increase your flash in 1/3rd increments. You don’t really have a choice in this. To go from 1/128 power to 1/32 power, you have to hit the + button seven times (one to start the power altering mode, then once for each 1/3rd increment) then hit the “set” button in the middle to confirm the change. It’s not really a major thing. But considering I can already feel RSI coming into my thumb (damn mobile devices), I’m not a big fan of hitting buttons eight times to change a flash two stops.
I’m also not a fan of how the flash powers loop — you can flick from 1/1 power to 1/128 power without having to go through all the stops in between. You would think this is a good thing (especially considering I’ve just complained about the button pressing), but sometimes you don’t want to be reading a screen to see that you’re on the lowest power setting and just want to mash the button until it’s there. With the loop, you will get there and back to full power before you know it.
The way the power settings work is great if you like fine control. There is nothing technically wrong with how it works. I just don’t like it.
Let’s compare it to my Yongnuo 460IIs. They had one amazing feature that I loved. Every time you turned the flash on, it was on 1/64 power (the lowest power setting) and there was one light on the back. If you hit the + button, another light lit up on the back, and you had gone up one stop to 1/32 power. Hit + again, another light and you’re at 1/16 power, and so forth. If you hit the – button, a light turned off, and you had gone down one stop. If you mashed the + button you got to 1/1 power and the flash did not loop back to 1/64 power, and vice versa.
There were two great things about this:
a) It was easy to adjust power settings. So easy, in fact, that I had my technologically-inept mother assist me on one shoot in a pinch and even she knew how to change power settings.
b) It was easy to visually see the power setting, even at a distance, without the need to read.
This, and only this, is the only SLIGHT negative I can find with this flash.
I have used this flash in “studio” settings (i.e. inside my house doing selfies for the VOTogs 52), shooting food, shooting people, and shooting weddings (also, you know, people, but high intensity and all day). This flash constantly performs as expected.
It has been dropped, it has got wet, and it has fallen from my bag. If this was any other piece of my gear, granted I would have been more protective of it and not let such incidents happen. (Hell, my Canon 50mm f/1.8 is almost four years old and the plastic build is still flawless.) But, with this unit, I have no fear of it breaking without some serious trauma. In fact, if I dropped this flash on my desk, I think my desk would come off second best.
Admittedly, when on-camera at the last wedding atop my 5D3 with the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 HG OSM | A, well, there’s a fair bit of weight in my hands. But it consistently produced clean, crisp light, constantly popped without a misfire, and was reasonably easy to adjust (with the exception of the aforementioned button pressing) and use on the fly.
Off-camera, in more relaxed situations, this flash is a dream to work with. Just don’t look at it and hit the test fire button.
Here is the exciting stuff if you’re into numbers and stuff:
|Guide Number:||Every company measures guide number differently. At LumoPro®, this is how we measure guide number:
GN= Distance x f/stop,
Distance = 10ft, F/stop at 105mm, ISO 100, Full Power = f/11
10ft x f/11 = 110, GN = 110
The LP180’s power is roughly equivalent to the Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT or the Nikon SB-900.
|Sync:||3.5mm (1/8") Miniphone port, PC port,
standard ISO hot shoe, built-in optical slave
|Recycling Time:||4 seconds at full power with fresh NiMH batteries, 1 second at full power with high voltage battery input|
|Bounce (Tilt) Angle:||-7°, 0°, 45°, 60°, 75°, 90°|
|Motorized Zoom Settings:||14mm (with wide-angle diffuser), 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 70mm, 80mm, 105mmm, 105mm|
|Swivel Angle:||360° Total
Right: 0°, 60°, 75°, 90°, 120°, 150°, 180°
Left: 0°, 60°, 75°, 90°, 120°, 150°, 180°
|Manual Power Settings:||Full Power to 1/128|
|Built-in Slave Function:||S0 (off), S1 (standard optical slave), and S2-1 through S2-10 (pre-flash synchronization optical slave).|
|Hot Shoe:||Standard ISO size, center pin contact, mounting foot lock with drop-down locking pin.|
|Sleep Mode/Auto Power-off:||Sleep mode engages after 20 minutes (if enabled). Auto power-off engages 3 hours after sleep mode.|
|Flash Ready Indicator:||Front and rear ready LED light, optional flash ready tone|
|Power Source:||Four 1.5V AA size batteries (Alkaline or rechargable NiMH). NOTE: Do not use Nickel Zinc "NiZn" batteries as they can cause damage to the LP180.|
|Included Accessories:||Soft case, flash stand, 3.5mm miniphone to 3.5mm miniphone sync cord.|
|Flash Body Dimensions:||8.125" (L) x 2.5" (W) x 2" (D)|
|Flash Head Dimensions:||2.875" (W) x 1.75" (H)|
|Weight (without batteries):||15oz (0.9lbs) (425 grams) (0.0004 metric tons)|
|Warranty:||2 years from date of purchase through authorized LumoPro® dealers.|
If you are after a manual flash, don’t look any further than the LumoPro LP180 . Seriously. The price, at US$199.99 or AU$249.95 makes this flash a steal. It is a cheaper alternative to Canon or Nikon brand flash, although, it is without TTL, but it is not a cheap flash. It is simply an incredible, high performing flash unit.
The exciting thing? I know that, as time goes by and I experiment with different lighting processes and different modes of sync’ing, this flash will continue to be in my bag every step of the creative way.
Lumopro has definitely concreted a place in my gear-nerd heart. I could easily fill my bag with LP180s and be content, and I likely will when I have some more money. And I definitely have my eye on some other Lumopro gear to test out in the future. If the quality is half as good as this flash, I know I won’t be disappointed.