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The strobist (off camera flash photographer) craze continues to sweep across the world as photographers clamber to get better outdoor lighting shots using portable flash. It's not surprising when the likes of Damien Lovegrove and Damian McGillicuddy are producing incredible work from hot shoe mounted flash and demonstrating this in their training and seminars. But sometimes you want studio lighting quality along with a modelling light to see what you're doing, and portable studio packs are big and heavy, right?...well they were!
Here we take a look at a new flash from Photoflex called the TritonFlash. It's not that much bigger than a Speedlite, but has the power and flexibility of a studio light, without the heavier battery pack that models such as the Elinchrom Ranger Quadra have. It's also cheaper than a Quadra and comes with a spare battery and high performance softbox.
In the £1060 (£1272 inc VAT) kit you get a Photoflex TritonFlash head along with the following:
- 1x Power module with connections for two TritonFlash heads
- 1x Lithium ion battery
- 1x Free additional Lithium ion battery (introduction promotion)
- 1x 1.2m Battery cable and 3 meters extension cable
- 1x Power Pack Carrying case with shoulder strap
- 1x AC powered international battery charger (100~240 volts) and power cord with AC plug adaptor
- 1x Swivel stand mount (all metal)
- 1x Flash tube protector cap
- 1x 7 inch reflector
- 1x Extra small OctoDome® SoftBox in carry bag
- 1x SoftBox connector (OctoConnector)
- 1x Hot shoe sync cable for direct connection to camera
- 1x FlashFire wireless kit for cable-free flash firing
What you may be thinking, after seeing the price of £1060 (£1272 inc VAT), is that it looks like kit from China sold on eBay for £600-700. Well you'd be right, it's the first thing I questioned. How can this kit, also made in China, suddenly be worth twice as much as the likes of Phottix PPL-400, CononMark DL4 or the Strobeam DL4? Photoflex may be a lighting company with a huge reputation in the professional industry, but is a Photoflex badge that valuable?
Photoflex could not simply badge this product as it would not cut the mustard in the pro market. While the Chinese kit is fine for amateurs it has a few issues for the profile of Photoflex Pro customers. Their team worked with the factory to improve the specification and rebuild the unit to a level of spec that Photoflex would be comfortable with.
Changes included modifying the head fastening with an exclusive Photoflex track. This accepts the all metal swivel with twist lock handle which in turn supports the use of large softboxes and enables large umbrellas to be used and gripped tightly. The track also means the swivel unit can be adjusted in position to adjust load balance when large modifiers are attached.
Matched output sockets on the power module to allow two identical heads to be attached and fired at full power (the other units have one output for a studio flash and one for a Speedlite style shoe mounted flash).
A redesigned flash tube that dissipates heat more effectively to cope with fast recycle time.
The Photoflex kit is also larger and includes an extra lithium battery (worth £80 to £100 on eBay), OctoDome (£100), battery extension cable and wireless trigger kit that are not found in the other budget kits. But it doesn't have a case or hand grip that seemed to be bundled with most of the cheaper kits.
|Photoflex TritonFlash tube is redesigned to
help dissipate heat.
|The TritonFlash bracket is a Photoflex all metal slide version designed to cope with heavier modifiers.|
Out of the box you just need to attach the swivel stand mount to the head. This slides on using Photoflex's metal track. A hand grip is standard on the other Chinese models and later in the test I wished I had a hand grip. The unit is so portable I was hand-holding more than tripod mounting this flash.
The swivel stand mount is used on other Photoflex products. It works well, has a solid lock and a universal brolly hole which tightly grips any size or weight of brolly. The mount can be positioned anywhere along the head rail to balance the head when a modifier is attached.
|The Photoflex TritonFlash bracket slides on and
can be adjusted to balance heavier modifiers.
|Photoflex TritonFlash battery pack slides onto the battery power module. A spare battery is included.|
Connecting the battery to its power module is a bit fiddly, and could be frustrating if you're in a rush. A sticky label will help. All it needs is a small pair of align dots/marks to be added by the manufacturer.
The bayonet mount at the front of the flash is Comet style. An adaptor is available to accept Bowens accessories, but it creates a slight tunnelling effect resulting in inefficient distribution of light. The benefit in using the Photoflex modifiers, such as the OctoDome below, is they go straight onto the head and maximise light output.
|Assembling the Photoflex Small OctoDome is quick and easy - in fact much easier than many other soft boxes I've assembled in the past.||The inner baffle of the Photoflex OctoDome softens the light and makes it more even.|
|Photoflex TritonFlash mounted on a flash stand. The head has a locking connector with a cable running to the din style socket on the power module. An extension lead is provided if you need extra distance.||Photoflex TritonFlash being used hand held. Seen with the hotshot sync cable attached. This slides onto the camera hotshoe and has a coiled lead and a 3.5mm jack on the other end.|
Here's a view of the various controls on the back of the Photoflex TritonFlash
From top anti-clockwise:
- Battery Indicator
- Sync socket is a 3.5mm jack. (An adaptor from standard 1/4 to 3.5mm is provided)
- Modelling light switch (10sec auto cut-off to preserve battery power)
- Power control offering 1/1 to 1/64 power in third stop steps (press in to switch to fp mode or turn audible bleep off/on)
- Test button - useful for painting with light
- Slave on /off switch
The modelling lamp can be used to check focus and highlights/shadows, but goes out after 10 seconds to help preserve battery life. While this is good on one hand, 10 seconds is not long enough to focus and check light. I found by the time I'd looked back through the viewfinder, found the focus barrel and started to focus the light went out. I'd like an option to bypass the safety feature when necessary.
The first test - can a battery as small as this really provide the quoted 750 full-power flashes to a head as powerful as this? Before reading the instructions I set it going on 1/1 power, firing the flash as soon as it recharged. I managed 199 shots and then the unit died. It came back to life after a minute and I managed another 15 shots before it died again. Further tests proved the longer you leave it the more flashes you'll get. The instructions explain this is due to a heat protection circuit preventing overheating. That's fine and in most cases you're unlikely to shoot 200 pictures without a break, but what if you do. For example catalogue photography with hundreds of fast changing products and it becomes pretty unusable. I did, however, reach the 750 shots mark and beyond -. I squeezed 758 out. That's pretty impressive and with the spare pack will be enough for 99.9% of users.
Next up is a look at exposure, coverage and colour balance. The camera's white balance was manually set to 5500k and the flash was positioned 2.5m away from a white wall and used with no modifiers. I had to increase the ISO at the minimum power as the lens only opened to f/4.
The results are fairly consistent through the range with just a slight cooler temperature at the low power settings. The full power setting is not quite reaching its specified guide number of 56, resulting in a slightly underexposed photo. In day to day shooting you would use a flash meter or check your camera and adjust exposure accordingly.
|PhotoFlex TritonFlash at 1/64 power (f/4 ISO200)
||PhotoFlex TritonFlash at 1/32 power (f/4 ISO100)|
|PhotoFlex TritonFlash at 1/16 power (f/5.6 ISO100)
||PhotoFlex TritonFlash at 1/8 power (f/8 ISO100)|
|PhotoFlex TritonFlash at 1/4 power (f/11 ISO100)
||PhotoFlex TritonFlash at 1/2 power (f/16 ISO100)
|Photos taken using a Sony Alpha a55 with the lens set to 18mm and positioned behind the flash. Click on the individual images to see the full size version.|
|PhotoFlex TritonFlash at 1/1 power (f/22 ISO100)|
Next up is a test of the coverage of the flash when used bare and when used with a combination of modifiers. I pointed the flash at an angle to give a clearer view of the spill. The camera exposure was fixed at 1/125sec and f/22 for all shots so you can see which combination is brightest and which is most even.
The standard reflector is a compact 7in diameter accessory and is efficient as most of the power is directed at the subject, so it gives the strongest output. It also provides an even illumination, but with a hard step gradation from light to dark. It's fine for portraits, but not so good for interiors or groups. The barehead with brolly gives the most gradual fall off and will suit many applications, but it produces a rather flat light which is why many prefer the effect of a softbox. The supplied OctoDome gives a pleasing round light that will suit many subjects. It looks dark because in use you need to open up a stop or two to compensate for light lost in the modifier.
As well as test bench photos I used the TritonFlash in a number of real life situation and it delivered good results in most occasions.
My first test was to see how it would freeze fast motion. I filled a wine glass with coloured liquid and started to drip water to see the bouncing effect. The flash with OctoDome was positioned behind the glass and the camera a Sony Alpha a55, was set to continuous shooting.
The Sony Alpha a55 camera is capable of delivering six frames per second (10 in a special high speed mode). I set the flash to fp mode and started the drip. The camera shutter rattled away but the flash couldn't keep up. The documented 7fps came out at 3 intermittent frames per second*. I got the shots I wanted though. The above left shot is a cropped version of the original and slightly modified exposure. As you can see the flash has frozen the droplet well. Click on the photo to see the original.
I repeated the test and photographed the action of bursting a balloon filled with water. Again I had to time the action quite well by hand as the flash would not keep up with the drive, so the shot I wanted was often missed. The above right is the first frame of a sequence. I counted to three and then pop/trigger in tandem.
* I spoke with the suppliers about this and they did get 7 frames using a Canon camera system. I didn't have time to get a different camera in to retry this aspect, as the flash was needed back for another photography project. Further testing is needed to see if it's down to the Sony having a different shoe and needing an adaptor to convert to hotshoe or the flash was faulty or it really cannot deliver 7 frames per second.
Next up was a trip out to Derbyshire to photograph my favourite rock on Baslow edge. This would be a challenge for the flash as the sun sets behind the rock. I decide to travel light, so had no modifiers. The head, power pack and cables conveniently fit into the top of a standard Lowepro rucksack.
When I started taking shots I soon realised the flash wasn't as powerful out in the field and a lot of light was being lost. I should have had the reflector at least! Also the flash couldn't cover the field of view of the lens when I got closer to the rock. Having said that I still ended up with a reasonable result. Ideally I would have had a longer exposure so I could fire the flash several times to fill in the shadow areas. But working at full power I would have needed at least 12 sec exposure.
The TritonFlash is great for outdoor floral photography too. In fairly shady positions, like the shot on the left, it can be used to fill in on the darker side and balance the exposure.
While in bright sunlight it can be used to more or less replace the harsh contrast. In this shot on the right the brightness has been subdued by using the flash from the right at a half stop lower than the correct exposure, but also at an exposure lower than daylight.
I intended to arrange a model shoot, but time was against me so I stood in. The shot was taken with the camera at a low angle and the flash and Octodome to one side. This was actually daylight but the background was underexposed. On the Sony Alpha you can see the effect on the LCD making it easy to determine a good low light look.
I then did a test shot with the flash on full power and looked to see how it balanced. It was too bright so I could easily adjust the output down until I got the dark moody light. It really is simple to use and TTL flash is just not necessary.
Here's a cropped and edited version. Click on the photo to see the original unedited version.
The key selling point of this flash is portable, and it really is. Not much bigger than a Speedlite, but with a modelling light and a high performance (and lightweight) battery, along with access to the range of Photoflex modifiers, this really is a cool piece of kit.
As you can see with the above results, it delivers a good output in a number of situations. Is easy to carry around in remote locations and proved to be reliable (apart from the overheating in the rapid and consistent fire test).
It's certainly a viable alternative to the Quadra, and with the factory modifications does set itself apart from the cheap alternative. What you have to decide is whether those changes warrant the extra £500 or so. If you are considering a two head kit then the pack redesign will deliver. If you want a robust tripod mount this head is way ahead, and if you want the assurance that it's been designed with a pro user in mind, then you have it.
Photoflex TritonFlash: Pros
Compact and versatile
Easy to balance flash with daylight
High performance battery
Rapid recycle time
Photoflex TritonFlash: Cons
Restricted modelling light duration
|Price||£1060 (£1272 inc VAT)|
|Guide Number||56 (ISO100/m)|
|Colour temp of flash tube||5500k +/-200k|
|Modelling lamp||35W Halogen|
|Flash duration||1/3200sec (1/1) to 1/8600sec (1/64)|
|Accessory fitting||Comet mount|
|Weight||900g (head) 295g (power module) 480g (battery)|
|Head size||89mm Diameter x 140mm length|
The Photoflex TritonFlash kit costs $1500 and in the UK estimated price will be £1060 (£1270 inc VAT) from ProLight Direct.