I've recently decided to switch my lighting system from Nikon / Paul C Buff to that of the Flashpoint / Godox system. I was turned onto these lights by a good friend Tavis Jewett-Hill of Jewett-Hill Photography. Check out more of his work at his website (http://www.jewetthillphoto.com/). He's been using the Li-Ion based speedlights and their 360Ws TTL light that is essentially the equivalent of an Alien Bee B800 in a form factor of a slightly overweight speedlight with an external battery pack.
Currently, I use Pocket Wizard TT5's to trigger my lights. I use a combination of Einstein and B800 lights in the studio; and I use a pile of Nikon SB700 flashes for weddings and events. For weddings and on location I use a few Paul C Buff Vagabond battery packs to power everything.
It is not at all uncommon for me to mix studio lights and speedlights when shooting in studio. The Pocket Wizard triggers have allowed all of this seamless integration all with power control of all lights from the camera.
No matter how well this switch goes for me I'll probably not be able to get rid of the Pocket Wizards because I don't know of any other system that will allow me what I need for my lighting workshops. I need to support everyone's cameras be it Pentax, Nikon, Canon, Fuji, Sony or what have you. All while also allowing for power control at the camera; and allowing for 2 to 3 shooters all sharing the same set of lights. The fast cycle times of the Paul C Buff gear and the consistent output quality of the Einstein's makes for a perfect combination for the workshops. I'm always impressed with how they perform when I have as many as 4 shooters on one set of lights all snapping away and they just keep humming along.
However, all that being said if this system can stand up to the reliability and feature set of the top of the line most expensive trigger system on the market that is saying a lot! Really, to be honest, Flashpoint / Godox are taking on both Pocket Wizard, Radio Popper, Odin and the big trigger guys... As well as Profoto with their B1/B2 lighting setups or Phottix and their Indra system. However at $2100 per light and $1200 per light respectively the Flashpoint / Godox system starts to look really cheap for the performance delivered.
The same is true with the TT5 radio triggers on the Paul C Buff lights. I am able to adjust the power of all my lights from camera. I can get hypersync to work which allows me to go to about 1/1200 to 1/1600 or so with "sort of" high speed sync. The "high speed sync" works better with the cheaper B800 than it does the Einstein because of flash durations. The B800 works down to about 1/4 or 1/8 power and the Einstein pretty much HAS to be at full power for HyperSync to work.
One thing very special to the Pocket Wizard setup is Auto mode for studio lights from the TT5 triggers. When I get my manual exposures where I want them I can flip the trigger into auto-tracking mode. This locks in my exposure so that a change in Aperture or ISO on the camera will case the lights to automatically follow me and keep my exposure where I had it.
In the studio this is kinda cool because it lets me control my aperture and depth of field for creative differences without having to make power adjustments. With other trigger systems if you have say 3 zones going... A change in aperture means you need to adjust 3 different light groups by that same amount. These 3 adjustments need to be made 1 by 1 after every change in aperture. You can see how this would get tedious and start to hinder your want to take the time and make these adjustments.
So, how many lights did I get? Well as I state in my lighting workshops... 1 can work but it's limiting, 3 is a great starting point and 5 is a sweet spot. I wanted to be able to audition the entire family so what I ended up with is 3
My theory behind this is that I use 3 speedlights for my primary wedding coverage configuration. This is a system I've learned from Bob Davis (http://bobanddawndavis.com/) at a workshop I attended years ago. I then use 2 Einsteins wiht Vagabond batteries for my family formals and couple shots. So I'll use the 3 speedlights for the venue and then the Xplor 600 and the Streaklight 360 will be the family formal and couple shots.
A big reasoning behind my liking this system is the possibility of using TTL during the family formal shots. I like to work fast and keep people on schedule. (It seems like we're almost always behind schedule while we're taking family shots). If I'm given lots of time for creativity; I love that and I take it. But, I'm rarely given that chance. This is why I try to set up as fast as possible and use a light meter to get exposures bang on without taking test shots. However, after you do that you tend to continue to use that setup (and flash to subject distance) as much as you can. A lighter weight system that takes less cabling will make moving to different locations and doing different setups a lot easier.
I'm interested to see how TTL does for this type of shoot as I've only done it manually in the past. I use TTL very heavily during the reception and it's quite important wtih the way I like to do things. Flash to subject distance is very different throughout the room and I prefer to not have to be riding either flash power or aperture as I move around. I much prefer being able to change apertures for creative reasons and to focus on the event and proactively watch for moments as they happen.
On the speedlight front I had considered spending only $120 per light. This gets you their AA battery based speedlights that match up with the system. The lithium ion based lights cost $180 dollars each and extra batteries are $50 each. After all, I already had the pile of AA batteries needed to run them. However, Adorama put the Lithium Ion lights on sale for only $150 each. At only 30 dollars each for the bigger packs I decided that I'd go for them.
The specifications state for both the AA model and the Lithium model that both have a < 1.5 second recycle time. This was part of my justification for sticking with the AA based light originally. However, I've seen a test online (that I can't seem to find again) where a person used an AA flash and the Lithium flash and the Lithium flash did have a faster recycle time (side by side). It wasn't a lot faster for the first pop but for subsequent pops after that the differences really stacked up.
Another reason is that Nikon rates the SB700 to 230 full power flashes on a set of batteries. The Li-Ion version of the Flashpoint light is rated to 650 full power flashes.
I'm usually at 1/4 to 1/2 power for battery life and cycle time reasons. At 230 pops that becomes 920 shots if all goes well. On an all day wedding that number is probably going to be surpassed (especially if both shooters are using the lights). I usually do all the setup and detail shots and then swap out batteries before heading away to shoot family and couple shots. This way for the ceremony and reception I have a fresh set. This generally works well for me but I've had batteries go on me toward the end of the day. Changing dead batteries during the dancing is usually not that big of a deal but it can potentially cause you to miss something.
I have a feeling that the Li-Ion batteries will make swapping batteries a thing of the past. I may still change them out after setup and detail shots just out of habit. Thankfully, swapping batteries will be much easier as I only have to hold 2 batteries at a time and not 8. This way I don't have a chance of dropping them and getting them mixed up.
I believe the reason for the cycle time differences is that on the first cycle the batteries have had a rest and are cool. But as you pull from it over and over the internal resistance in the AA batteries starts to generate heat. This heat only makes their resistance even higher and thus they produce power more slowly. The Li-Ion pack is at a much higher voltage and has a much lower internal resistance and thus it will not run into this issue.
The only down side is that Li-Ion packs don't like to be stored with a full charge. They can puff and fail if you do store them for long periods of time fully charged. So the Li-Ion packs will take a little more maintenance and thought. Lithium Ion batteries because of their higher energy density are a bit less safe in general. My plan is to shoot the lights and then when I get home leave the batteries as they are for storage. I'll only charge them the night before a shoot. If I really tank a battery down pretty hard I'll just do partial charges on them to store them at about 60% charge as is recommended for lithium batteries.
Other than the battery difference the feature sets of these two lights are identical. I'm excited to see how well these perform in TTL mode when there are 3 of them in separate zones and/or some in manual mode. I often use this configuration for weddings. Usually I have 2 lights in TTL and one in manual and I'm OFTEN making power changes. It will be interesting to see how well the trigger keeps up. Features I plan to test when they show up are as follows:
The X1T trigger that is supposed to make the whole system function looks to be fairly simple to use and gives a good indication as to the power of your lights. However I always hate single points of failure. So I'll certainly have 2 of these triggers as a backup (or for a second shooter). Yet it's good to know as yet another backup to my backup I can place one of the R2 speedlights onto my camera and use the radio in that speedlight as a controller for the rest of my lights. Tavis even states that he much prefers the interface of the speedlight to control his lights. I'm willing to give this a try but I really would like to keep that additional weight off my camera unless I really need it. I'll have to see how that goes.
The next light is the
Rather than the light plugging into one of the 2 ports on the top of the power pack you can use this cable to plug into both ports as shown below:
This fairly inexpensive adapter (which can be had cheaper on Amazon under the Godox brand) allows you to cut in half the cycle time of the light. At just over 2 seconds that is a slower cycle time than my Alien Bee B800 but the portability of the system and the ease of setup make this an acceptable trade off. The Alien Bee B800 lights that I use today are rated to 320Ws (as opposed to this lights 360Ws). The Alien Bee can cycle from a full power pop in 1 second so this light for the same power will be a little worse than half speed. In comparing battery life my Vagabond packs can power a B800 to about 1000 full power pops. That is a lot more than the 450 this is rated to but this power pack and 1 spare battery will take up less space and weight than the Vagabond. Plus, I should be able to store this light already plugged into its battery and pull it out and set it up in much less time. The Vagabond's and Alien Bee lights don't pack up so well pre-assembled and thus it takes more time to deploy them.
As you can see the Flashpoint BP-960 is MUCH smaller than the Paul C Buff Vagabond Lithium Extreme. The Vagabond is flat out awesome and does a fabulous job powering big studio lights. Its VERY fast at cycling lights and you can barely tell a difference in cycle time on this battery compared to being plugged into AC mains. While the size is certainly a consideration; I usually throw all my gear into a folding wagon to haul it so size and weight are less important to me. However, the time needed to setup the Vagabond and run cables is going to be a good time saver. Also the AC cords are always the wrong length for what I need and I have to tie them out of the way. With the Flashpoint setup I'll have coiled cords and the whole system will allow the stand to go up and down and always be tucked out of the way for quick movements.
As far as testing I expect to test this light in the same plan shown above with the speedlights. I expect this light to function identically to the speedlights but just put out more power. Hopefully the power difference between the lights doesn't cause issues with TTL. I'm very interested to see how well this light performs in my 20" Westcott Rapid Box beauty dish and/or Octa box. I think that this will make a great combo and could also work very well as an assistant held lighting setup.
And now for something a bit bigger:
The Flashpoint Xplor 600 TTL is a 600Ws monoblock with its battery pack installed right onto the back of the unit. I purchased the unit with the bowens mount after finding out that I can purchase adapter rings for my Paul C Buff lighting modifiers. The rings look like this:
If you go to buy these make sure that you are looking for adapter rings with a 5.5 inch diameter disc. There are several with many different sizes and you'll find that most of them are 6 inches (or they don't tell you). Thus you need to make sure you look for the 5.5 inch ones or you'll be grinding them down. At the moment many people sell them but it seems like almost everyone is out of stock on them.
So, now that I've got the modifier solution figured out for the Xplor 600 that leads me to wonder how I might get the Flashpoint 360 into these modifiers. Remember the Einsteins and the Alien Bee B800's all go into the modifiers with ease so for the 360 and the 600 to supplant their counterparts they need to do the same.
My current plan is to use an adapter such as this one:
As you can see the 360Ws head clamps into the bracket and the bracket provides a nice mount to a stand as well as a tilt functionality. These can be found on Amazon with Prime shipping for as little as 18 bucks. The front of this adapter takes bowens mounts just like the front of the Flashpoint Xplor 600. So once I convert all of my softboxes over to Bowens mount everything will just snap into place as expected. An added benefit is that even the standard speedlights can be clamped into this bracket if I was so inclined.
As you would expect the XPLOR 600 light is a 600Ws light that supports TTL and HSS and has the same radio built in as the rest of the system. It is interesting that Adorama provides a 2 year warranty for the Xplor 600 but only 1 year for the speedlights and the 360Ws heads. That leads me to believe it should be a bit more stout and well built than the other units.
A nice additional benefit to this unit is that it has a 10W LED powered modeling lamp integrated into it. I've grown used to working without modeling lamps but in the studio a modeling lamp on your key light can be very valuable. It can help to keep eyes constricted and showing more of their color. As well it can help you direct the subject into the light better if you can see it. I also find that only leaving the modeling lamp on for your key light helps subjects know which side to face toward more easily.
The expectation is that I should be able to have all of these lights in a single studio setup configuration and everything should simply work. At the moment I can already mix Einstein, B800, and speedlights into a single studio configuration and my Pocket Wizard's make everything work flawlessly with power control from the camera. So, anything much less than perfect functionality from this system will send it back into its box and on its way back to Adorama.
This system shows EXTREME promise and if it all works as expected I trust that I'll be able to get well more done in less time. I plan to use that saved time to push myself to go for more challenging and creative setups. I will remain more conservative as before as it is important to make sure I get the necessary shots! Yet the increased efficiency should buy me more creative time in which to grow and improve the value I provide clients.
Setup time is a big deal for me as I am often doing wedding shoots by myself without a second shooter or assistant. I may be adding an assistant/second shooter as I move forward but it's tough to find someone that you trust enough and will be there with you for a while especially for a lower volume wedding shooter such as myself.
A few other parting elements to this system that I've not yet purchased into but consider to be an interesting addition to the family are the remote head cables for the 600Ws pack.
With this unit you can allow an assistant to carry the light on a pole or in hand with much less arm strain. It also allows you to use the system on a boom stand and you don't have to have the full modifier, monoblock, and battery out at the end of your boom. You can leave the monoblock head at the base of the stand and only have the flashtube and modifier out at the end of the boom. Apparently you do lose about 2/3 of a stop of light when you use this remote wiring harness though. That makes me wonder if it's much better than the 360Ws light at that point in time.... Then, last but not least they have dual flash head versions:
With this you can plug in two Xplor 600 monoblocks and you get a 1200Ws light that has a lightweight head. This dual head unit isn't yet available for order but they are currently taking pre-orders. They have mention of a quad version of it in pre-release. This should allow one to get a 2400Ws light into this system but it won't exactly be a quick thing to set up as it'll be a bit of an octopus. But in instances when you need a ton of light it will be an option. Not sure there are many other options out there where you can get 2.4KWs with TTL, HSS and a built in radio.
I hope that these considerations may help you in making your decision and hope that you're interested enough to come back and see how the lights perform for me once I get them in the mail.
Thanks much everyone!