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Manual Flashes: Two Debuts and an Adoption

UPDATED March 22, 2009, to add latest user feedback on LP120 and YN460. See below.

At long last, there are finally a few lower-priced alternatives to cruising eBay for a used Nikon speedlight or forking over a few hundred bucks for a new flagship off-camera flash.

Hit the jump for all the deets on the new LumoPro 120, the Yong Nuo YN460 and the Cactus KF36.

Totally In Sync: The LumoPro LP120

So, what if someone came to us and asked what we should include -- and exclude -- on a hot-shoe flash designed for photographers who light?

That's exactly what happened with the new LumoPro LP120, which was commissioned by Midwest Photo in response to the vintage speedlight availability (or lack thereof) and recent Vivitar quality issues.

The LumoPro LP120 was designed specifically for off-camera lighting in the manual mode. The idea was for it to have everything you want -- and nothing you do not want to needlessly pay for.

Major props to Moishe at MPEX for taking on this project. None of the big manufacturers were willing to step up to the plate, so he did it himself.


• Standard bounce and 180/90 swivel.

• Manual zoom head (non-motorized -- similar in function to the 285.)

• Full manual adjustment down to 1/32 power, with no "missing" levels like the 285.

• Important: There is no auto or TTL capability on this flash.

• Power is said to be equivalent to a 285 -- GN 80 in the normal zoom position. (I have not tested this first hand yet.) It's juiced in the tele position, of course, at the expense of beam width. This number can be greatly affected by the flash's zoom setting and is an easy way to fudge the number. Always go apples to apples.

• Shoe is strong plastic and it is able to be replaced if it breaks.

• Two-year warranty.

• Now, the biggie: Four-way sync. It has a hot shoe, an external PC jack, a 1/8" jack and a built-in optical slave. I did get to test the slave and it rocks. A little directional, but that is good as it gives it added sensitivity. The flash head rotates independently of the slave, so you can aim to your best advantage.

The combination of slave and 2-way external sync jack make this one darn near universal. You only have to hard-sync one flash in a multi-flash setting (within reasonable distances) and that one flash can be synched with a hot-shoe based remote, a PC cord or a 1/8" cord. The slave worked just fine around corners indoors in my testing.

This is how I work almost all of the time with my SB-800's, now that I am usually the only photographer in the area when I am shooting. (In multi-photographer settings, you would still want to hardwire or PW everything.)

Price is $129.95, thanks to leaving off the auto and the TTL stuff. The first batch is shipping now from MPEX. Note that the various MPEX kits will henceforth include LP120's instead of Vivitar 285s. (You may be able to swap into a 285 -- I dunno. Don't know why anyone would want to, tho..)

Still unknown: Flash duration at various settings. Factory specs do not list it, and MPEX is looking for someone who can test it. If you are that person, check in on the discussion thread linked below.

UPDATE: Exactly as you would expect, full power flash duration is 1/1000th of a sec and goes down to 1/20,000th of a sec at 1/32nd power.

QnA, discussion and results from early adopters are already being thrown around on this dedicated Flickr thread.

(UPDATE) LP120 Feedback Coming In

The Lumopro LP120s seem to be generaly well-received but there are some reports coming back about switches and WA panels not lining up properly.

The flashes themselves are working fine, but the fit and finish reports are enough to where MPEX is inspecting every flash before it is shipped in a bid to spot any quality issues before they go out.

It's worth noting that MPEX is eating their own cooking on this one, as the flash does come with a 2-year warranty. And any feedback from users is appreciated and will be passed along to the manufacturers for the next run. It is worth the effort to get a standard flash that is both reliable and available.

The discussion thread is here. Please post your questions and/or observations, good or bad. The information is valuable in both cases.

The Cheap Date: Yong Nuo YN460

Second, and looking for all the world like an generic SB-800, is the Yong Nuo YN460. It is just coming into the retail pipeline and I got a chance to play with one last week at PMA.

It is small, and has a very slick-looking manual adjustment on the back -- just tap the button to add or subtract a stop of power, down to 1/64th power. It also has a built-in optical slave, which seems to be housed in the flash tube area. This is pretty dumb, IMO, as you cannot orient the slave in a different direction from the head.

The LP120, above, has the slave in the front so you can swivel the flash to catch another flash better -- independent of the direction the head is pointing.

But the YN460 is popping up for under $50 in some of the direct-to-retail Hong Kong shops, too, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Other things that irk me a little:

It looks like an SB-800 or maybe an SB-600 (and appears to take identical head-mounted accessories) but it is two stops less powerful than the SB-800, at least according to some early testing. Also a bummer -- no zoom for the head and no external sync. But if you use hot-shoe-based remotes, that last one is no biggie.

And I could live with that package if I were looking for a rock bottom manual flash. But more worrisome is the reported inconsistency in the output at the low ranges. Not my findings -- that was from an early adopter on the thread linked below. But at less than $50, you'll have to make that call for yourself.

Lotsa pix here, and a discussion thread (with retail sources) here.

(UPDATE) YN460 Feedback

The Yong Nuo YN460 seems to be experiencing rather more variability in build quality. Some people are getting good copies, and some people, like Dan Wang, are getting copies that they have dubbed, "The Demon Flash from Hell":

The YN460 thread is here. Please sound off with your experiences, good or bad. We wanna know.

Déjà vu All Over Again: The Cactus KF36

Waitaminnit. This one looks a little familar...

The Vivitar 285HV, once the go-to flash for off-camera manual enthusiasts, died a slow and painful death in the quality-control department. And in the end, Vivitar was bought by Sakar, leaving the (once) venerable flash's future in limbo. It has been revived by the same people who make the Cactus remotes, and rebranded as the Cactus KF36.

Same specs as the old Vivitar, but anybody's guess as to the build quality. Main specs: Bounce/zoom head (non-rotating) partial manual control (1/1, 1/2, 1/4 and 1/16 power -- no 1/8 for some insane reason. GN is 120, but that's in the 85mm zoom mode. (See above.)

It has an "auto" mode which can actually be very useful when hi-speed synching with a G9, etc. In the mixed-blessing dept., it has a proprietary (arrrrrrrrgh) sync jack.

For Pete's sake, people, put a PC or 1/8" mono jack in there. Seriously, the world is not going to come to you on this one. Sony Betamax -- white courtesy phone, please...

Again, quality is yet to be determined. Is it the old (really good) build quality from way back? It is the recent (bad) build quality from more recent times? Is it worse?

We will not know until real-world reports start to come in. If you decide to take one for the team, please report back in here, on the Flickr discussion thread.

The biggest thing going for the Cactus KF36 is the anywhere-friendly slippery-customs shipping policy of Gadget Infinity straight out of Hong Kong.

I'll give them this: They can get anything anywhere in the world pretty quickly, for way cheap.

My favorite "feature" listed on the KF36 product page, and I swear I am not making this up:

"Brand new, never used."


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