Quick Hands-On: $100 "Polaroid" PL135 Bare-Bulb Flash

UPDATE: The Polaroid PL-135 (AKA the rebranded "Triopo TR120") has been unceremoniously pulled from the market just a week or so after it launched.

Has the venerable Sunpak 120J bare bulb flash been reincarnated? By a world-famous company, no less?

Well, no. Not exactly. It's no Sunpak 120J (doesn't have the extra stop of power) and, strictly speaking, it's not really a Polaroid flash per se. Keep reading for the bare facts (rimshot!) on the Polaroid PL-135.


UPDATE: Just a few days in, a significant defective rate trend is starting to emerge. See updates scattered below.


When a long-famous company gets into financial trouble, one of the assets that can be sold off is naming rights. In so buying, other companies cam piggyback off of the old company's reputation. (See also: Vivitar.)

In fact, clearly printed on the flash is, "Distributed by C&A Licensing" and the flash is made in China. Nothing wrong with that empirically. But I'd really rather see a company build a reputation of it's own rather than attempt to buy a pre-existing one.

I generally start out skeptical in these situations. (If you want the full convoluted brand-morphing story, it's here.)

"Sunpak 60J?"

The Sunpak 120J, long loved by skateboard photogs and the like, was so named because it packed an extra stop of power (oozing out of a bigger capacitor) and giving you the ability to better match full sun at a decent distance.

This PL135 is your basic garden-variety 60ws speedlight, with a twist. The tube is exposed. Depending on how you'll use it, this will make the flash more interesting—or less.

What It's For

This is a specialized speedlight. Which is to say it probably should not be your first flash, or maybe even your second. But it is bare bulb unit, which will allow you to do some nifty bare-bulbish things like evenly illuminating 3-d spaces, filling soft boxes more evenly with light or evenly lighting a backdrop.

In theory it might work better with beauty dishes. But I hesitate to recommend it as it may be short on power. The built-in reflector in most other speedlights costs you omni-directionality but gets you efficiency. Don't have a speedlight-fitted dish to test, but I am sure someone else will soon.

First Look

Short version: not great, but not total junk either. At least as far as I can tell. UPDATE: The needle is nudging toward "junk."

Build quality is not top notch, but at $100, you would not expect it to be. They clearly re-purposed some existing molds, which looks a little weird. Actually, from the neck up it looks like a cross between a pro and a DIY job.


• Manual, TTL (not eTTL or CLS, tho)

• Slave, PC jack (no 1/8th-inch)

• Uses 4 AA batteries. Recycle is ~4 secs with NiMHs.

• Full-to-1/128 power on manual. +-3 stops on TTL.

• There is a HV battery port, but there are already reports of the flash being fried by HV battery use. Sooooo... not recommended. (This is not a pro workhorse flash.)

• User interface is predictably clunky.

• User manual is human-translated—a nice change of pace from the usual lot of Chinese flashes.

• Locking metal foot.

• 360-degree head rotation

• Also, there is a zoom function, which appears to have come from the previous model the cannibalized to make this one. Because there is no zoom motor. You can, kind of, zoom the head though. More on that below.

• Warranty is one year (surprising, actually, and one of the reasons I am writing about it.)

UPDATE: Just a couple days in, it appears maybe the warranty was ill-conceived on the part of the distributer. We are still at launch and already the problems have started to trickle in:

1. Locking pin not disengaging, fusing the flash to a PW TT5.

2. DOA arrival, and...

3. Disconcertingly, seller forcing buyer to pay return shipping for a DOA. This is how the ultra-low margin import business often works: Bad QC, not enough margin to support it and spotty eBay distribution. (Triopo, the actual manufacturer, apparently has a not-great quality record.)

4. The screw-collar of the reflector is shoddily glued on, and breaks off with minimal torque. (This also happened on mine.)

Supplied Accessories

It comes with a dish reflector, a diffusion panel (which as you can see above is not too diffuse) a stand/foot/quarter-inch thread adapter (typical kind) and a case big enough to hold everything. There is also a soft-pouch for the tube. (You should remove the tube when not in use.)

The reflector "screws" on rather than slides on. The effect being, you can effectively zoom the tube within the reflector. There is not a lot of range, however. But every little bit helps.

The internal "pebble pattern" on the reflector looks decent if not great, and produces pretty even lighting patterns. The balance here is always evenness vs. efficiency and you can go waaay down this rabbit hole when designing a reflector.

Final Thoughts

This is not a general purpose flash, and should not be bought as such. It is a specialty unit for people who need a speedlight-strength, bare-bulb flash. It's no 120J, but it will light evenly.

Replacement parts availability is unknown. In particular, the exposed tube is prone to breaking of course. Also, I'd love an flash tube "extension cord" to get just the tube into tight places. Wish in one hand, spit in the other…

But for $100 (Available in Nikon or Canon models) it will be worth consideration for those with a need. UPDATE: As of this writing, they have either sold out(?) or have been pulled from Amazon. Mass adaption? Tiny stock? QC issues? Unknown.

This is all beta-beta, and all based on very preliminary use. So if you get one, post your experiences below. UPDATE: Just a few days in, this already does not look like a flash I would want to trust on assignment. Shame.


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Blogger Jay said...

Why do I get the feeling that Polaroid have never heard of this product...?

June 05, 2013 1:00 PM  
Blogger Wink of an eye Digital said...

Thanks for the consumer alert. Once your article hits Google search...it will be toast

Is that really a diffusion screen?
or Coke bottle bottom

Have fun with this one Dave

June 05, 2013 1:05 PM  
Blogger Ed from Ohio said...

The people who revived Polaroid are doing a good job considering the mess that the Petters Corporation and Mike O'Shaughnessy put them in. It's literally a new company. All the old stuff was auctioned off during the bankruptcy liquidation.

June 05, 2013 1:05 PM  
Blogger ISA said...

I David. Please take a look at the Godox Witsro AD180 plus the full control manual remote FT-16. Works great. Guide number also 60

June 05, 2013 1:17 PM  
Blogger FLASH HAVOC said...

The beauty dish should actually be one place the bare bulb comes out ahead of a regular speedlight in light output (and quality) -


June 05, 2013 1:18 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@ISA- No thanks. For that kind of money, buy an Einstein e640 and a VML.

June 05, 2013 1:29 PM  
Blogger John Kim said...

what a shame... I was hoping for an economical backup units for my quantum lights...As always, thank you for the information.

June 05, 2013 1:43 PM  
Blogger Simon Fairclough said...

I have had mine for nearly a week and it so far has been working very well.
I bought this for use in an ebay beauty dish the generic 15 inch white variety. I shoot it against a white brick wall as is the tradition, and I found the spread of light very nice and in some ways better than my Bowens (in a snoot its creamy smooth). With the tests in a 15inch BD it came out very well against a SB80dx which I shoot in a BD with the flippy defuser in place so the Polaroid came out about a stop more powerful. But this I put down to the defuser and the bare bulb presenting its light better.
So I guess I've been lucky in getting a good copy, but I've found the build quality to be OK for the money, and I managed to drop mine from waist height on to Asphalt while it was in the BD on a stand, no problems it went on to fire a few hundred more pops.
I reckon I've given it over a 1,000 full power pops and few more between 1/32 and 1/4, it was a bit blue to start I could even see it by eye but its warmed up now.
I shoot mainly fashion for small designers and this is a very cool light for me it gonna get used a lot.
I can't see it being trusted like I trust my SB80s but it will always be with me for BD and Octa box work..
I give it a big thumbs up and might get another..

June 05, 2013 1:58 PM  
Blogger Scott Gant said...

There's still the Cheetah Light CL-180 out there that seems to have taken the Sunpak 120J mantle...yet no one wants to test it. David has already expressed skepticism with it as being Chinese junk in the same vein of Yongnuo, and it's lack of a strong factory warranty....which is key.

I'm still hoping it turns out to be a reliable flash, but who's going to test that? Maybe Cheetahstand will send you an evaluation unit to test out? Otherwise, who's going to be the guinea pig? :)

June 05, 2013 2:47 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


The Cheetah is a rebrand of the Godox, (the original manufacturer). They secured the rights to sell it exclusively in the US, and got to rebrand it.

As I said above, I think for the money you can buy a much more powerful and versatile flash. The warranty situation is a little unclear, but Cheetah is said to be standing behind it. (I prefer a factory warranty, FWIW.)

In addition to the price (Einsteins kill it for not much more $$) the t.1 times at full power are such to where you cannot contain the pulse in a 250th of a sec. Most speedlights have similar 1/1 t.1 times, but in a flash like this, you buy it to be able to push against sun at full power. Otherwise, you buy a speedlight.

So for the money, an Einstein/VML kit kills on t.1, too.

JMHO, and why I never was really interested in it.

June 05, 2013 3:24 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

I have to agree with you about the Godox/Cheetah 180, David; while I'd love a couple for the StrobePack, the expense is too high.

I was hoping these Polaroids would be the answer, but I'm now really happy I didn't buy a set.

Guess I'll stick with the SB-600s and break out the AB800s/VML when I need more power.


June 05, 2013 4:00 PM  
Blogger Leon said...

This wasn't listed on the polaroid site. I couldn't find more then 1 review on YouTube. Very fishy.

June 05, 2013 6:53 PM  
OpenID maykesplana said...

thanks for the review I was about to purchase and try these.

June 05, 2013 7:14 PM  
Blogger lv pg said...

Though I am not a fan of the GF LightSphere, [I think that's what he calls it] as it is advertised. I find it does make a dandy pseudo bare-bulb. YMMV

June 05, 2013 10:38 PM  
Blogger KT said...

Funny these popped up here as was looking at these the other day and decided to wait for others verdict since they're expensive from UK sellers.

Ended up modding an old broken speedlight that was sitting in a drawer to make it bare tube. All parts used I already had lying around.

Carefully took it to pieces, discharged cap and checked with multimeter, cut and soldered the flashtube to end of a long cable (sheathed end in braid with single core outside the pvc jacket of the actual cable just to make end 6inch more rigid) and mounted it stickin through a 6" reflector board to fit into a DIY softbox.

360degree light and works a treat. Adding modelling light too; cree xm-l to the top of the board maybe with small old heatsink. Driver has mutliple output modes for high to low settings. LED I have loads knockign around and will not add optics but leave dome on so it is 180degree light.

June 06, 2013 1:00 AM  
Blogger KT said...

before anyone worries for safety reasons for my previous mod I also embedded all wiring exposed in resin (same kind used for potting circuits) as I wouldn't want to accidentally touch any of that. It's heat stable and doesn't conduct and insulating tape alone would melt close to the tube I guess. I used a crappy old speedlight but the cap is still 330v so not to be messed with.

June 06, 2013 1:09 AM  
Blogger Chris Burch said...

These actually do have a rather cleverly hidden HV port. You have to pull out the little rubber "Photo" stopper underneath the red IR reflector on the front. Annoyingly, it's a Nikon style port on both the Canon and Nikon version.

Amazon sold out. They only had 15 left when I picked up 2 of them...which I'll probably be sending back.

My overall impression can be summed up as follows: "meh"

Its cheap look and feel is a real turnoff. I plan to use them as remote flashes at a wedding on Saturday (with backup available) so that will give me some better info to decide their worth. I HATE that they auto shut-off after 30 mins, just like the YN speedlights.

I think I'll be investing in the Cheetah CL-360 when it comes out even though they cost a lot more. If the price on the 360 version gets too high, I'll just spring for Quantums I think.

June 06, 2013 3:32 AM  
Blogger michael anthony murphy said...

Sad. I was totally diggin' it. It was totally set on having this as my next strobe.

June 06, 2013 9:17 AM  
Blogger david said...

I had been intrigued by bare bulb flash, so last summer I ended up acquiring a Norman 200B kit that was listed locally on Craig's List. It delivers a full 200 Watt-seconds (~485V stored in 1600uF) and it recharges within 2 seconds.

The Polaroid bare bulb flash may be more portable than the 200B but it does not pack nearly the punch. The Godox has 180 in its name but according to the Cheatah person I spoke to, the voltage/capacitor combination places them at 153 W-s.

If one is willing to sacrifice some portability, accept 3 discrete power settings (I've not yet figured out a cost effective way to change this...), and the possibility of repair, 200B kits can be had for at least half the price of the Godox/Cheatah and Qflash. Alien Bees have more power and cost a little more but then they require the Vagabond power source operate via batteries.

June 06, 2013 10:40 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

If you don't need TTL, Used Quantum T2's go for not much $$, and if you have a Turbo already, the value equation is pretty good...

I've seen them for $160-220, I got a couple of Quantum T3DR's for not too much more than that on ebay. They are built to last, unlike some of these.... and with the Turbo, the recycle is great....

June 06, 2013 11:41 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

RE: Norman 200B's power control... the Norman LH3 head has a power control a lot like that of a Vivitar 285. i.e. 4 colors of "auto" + 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 etc.... you can find these heads on ebay from time to time.... also plain old ND filters over the head can do nicely too. Norman made some sort of "black disk with a varialbe sized slot in it" for power ratio control on these too, but I've never actually seen or used one...

I love my 200B's... a very nice little secret in this business, as they recycle VERY fast and have great short durations. Used Lead Acid POwersonic PS1229 batteries with the correct charger can replace the nicads....

June 06, 2013 12:34 PM  
Blogger Jerry Horensten said...

I miss my Armatar's.
Those things were the best...

June 06, 2013 4:22 PM  
Blogger Juan "prcrash" Negron said...

Hello, Mr. Hobby. I just thought you might want to know that the facebook page for the Puerto Rico State Police is using one of your images, namely one from your helicopter shoot. Their facebook site is www.facebook.com/policiadepuertoricolarevista

June 06, 2013 4:26 PM  
Blogger david said...

RE the helicopter shot: A tineye.com search turns up 5 places where that image from the FB page shows up, none of them being the Strobist blog or the Flickr page linked to by the original Strobist post.

June 06, 2013 7:48 PM  
Blogger JF Machado said...

So, basically, for twice the price, you can also grab one of adorama's new portable monolights: http://www.adorama.com/FPBPLB.html , which should at least have some decent warranty.

Btw mr. Hobby, any thoughts about reviewing that kit?

June 06, 2013 9:26 PM  
Blogger lv pg said...

Thoroughly enjoying your blog David. Very inspirational. Seems everywhere I "click" there are points of interest. Wonderful. An audio file as well? Leaves just one important question...even more so than lighting...

Tubes or solid state?

June 09, 2013 7:24 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Tubes. JoLida 102b (EL84 push-pull) and a pair of self-built Fostex 103-based single driver "Onken port-style" speakers.

Here's the Chu Moy-style headphone amp I built: http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidhobby/607353031/ (Burr Brown OA, matched caps and resisters (<.05%).

June 09, 2013 9:26 PM  
Blogger lv pg said...

I knew there was an undeniable warmth to you! Tubes rule in my office. Not an engineer, I let the good folks at Audio Research build my stuff.

Thanks, again, for being my muse. I've been a photographer for more than 20 years in the "volume-portrait" market and am always looking for inspiration. Though the market is profitable, it is far too easy to get complacent.

Funny, you know you are getting old when your inspiration comes largely from those your "junior."

June 09, 2013 10:17 PM  
Blogger Robbert said...

The polaroid is actually a rebranded Triopo, which is already discontinued. See, http://www.lightingrumours.com/triopo-discontinues-tr120-bare-bulb-flash-will-improve-design-4161

June 10, 2013 6:56 AM  
Blogger Moe JJ said...


You've got the power!!! ))I guess you spoke and someone heard you


June 10, 2013 7:24 AM  
Blogger Jose said...

"When a long-famous company gets into financial trouble, one of the assets that can be sold off is naming rights."

Well this explains the "Polaroid" sunglasses I saw (and bought) the other day...

June 11, 2013 12:00 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Cheetah has now released the CL-360. Do you still think that the Einstein is a better option for someone looking for portability? Any chance you will be reviewing one of these? $729 is a lot to fork out for one flash.

March 02, 2014 1:44 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


It's a Godox. And quite honestly, I think I am through playing the will-THIS-one-work Chinese flash lotto at this point.

I have reliable flashes that do what I want and have great warranties. I'll let others spin the roulette wheel.

March 02, 2014 6:12 PM  
Blogger Jay Lack said...

do anyone know where i can purchase the flash bulb from?

May 19, 2014 10:17 PM  

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