LumoPro LP180: Designed for Off-Camera Lighting



Short version: The LP180 is rock-solid, with a near-perfect feature set for lighting photographers for under $150. It has been our recommended starter flash since appearing four years ago, and has built a great reputation and solid track record with the off-camera lighting community.

Long version: below.
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Overview



The LP180 is a well-built, rugged, no apologies flash, backed by a 2-year warranty. That's twice as long as Nikon or Canon, and one thing that separates it from the vast majority of flashes on the market today.

Reliability—as quantified by the manufacturer's warranty and service reputation—should be the very first feature you look for in a speedlight. There are a ton of cheap flashes on the market with little to no warranty, and many of them are absolute crap. (Trust me, I have taken chances on more than a few.)

It's simple: if you make a great flash, give it a great manufacturer's warranty to match. If you don't, then gloss over that minor detail and hope enough inexperienced photographers don't notice so you can sell the whole run on eBay before the word gets out.

I have seen LumoPro LP180s survive drops on the concrete, drops down whole flights of stairs, etc. — and survive. One actually got mauled by a leopard in the jungle. It did not survive. But LumoPro replaced it, because HOW COOL IS THAT CAUSE OF DEATH. So, kickass warranty: check.


Power and Recycle



It's slightly more powerful than a Nikon or Canon flagship speedlight. The relative guide numbers vary with the zoom throw, but it consistently beats my Nikon flashes at a given setting. Speaking of power settings, they range from 1/1 to 1/128 in 1/3-stop increments. Which is a nice touch.

Recycle time is officially listed at 4 seconds but you can expect 2.5 seconds with NiMH batteries. (Alkalines do take longer.) The combo of good power and fast recycle is impressive. But all the more so because it also does very well delivering these pops with an external high voltage battery, for which it is equipped if needed (using a Canon style HV cord).

It has an intelligent heat management system for those times when you might ask a lot of it with a high-voltage battery. You'll get into the mid-twenties on fast, full-power HV pops before it starts to complain of heat. But—and this is cool—it doesn't just stop working. It slows recycle times down automatically, to better dissipate the heat until it cools off.

(Please don't do that unnecessarily. It is a torture stress test for any flash. Just a measure of the capabilities.)


Light Control

Everything you'd expect: 180-degrees rotation each way, indexed bounce, slightly down-firing for macro work, zoom range of 24mm-105mm, wide-angle adapter gets you to 14mm, slide-out bounce card.

The fresnel is a latest-gen design, offering even light across the frame throughout the zoom range. This is also important, because some lesser quality manufacturers will shape their beam to be hot in the middle.


Sync

Gold standard. It syncs four ways, just like every other LumoPro flash. It syncs via hot shoe, an excellent slave, a PC jack (if you are a masochist) and, thankfully, a ⅛" mono plug.

The slave can be used with pre-flash TTL systems (with the LP180 firing manually, of course) by setting the slave to count from 1-10 pre-flashes before firing. The slave is also independent of the physical syncs, and can be turned on or off regardless of other concurrent syncing methods. This independent control can come in very handy, and is missing on many flashes.


User Interface

Simple and intuitive. But I can show you better than I can tell you. (The user interface stuff start at 2:15, the rest of the 6-minute vid is a full feature walk-through.)




Mount(s)

The shoe is metal, with a Canon-style sliding locking pin switch. It has a rubberized skirt around the foot as well.

Another standout feature: the LP180 also has an integrated ¼" x 20 female mount, which means you can mount it horizontally directly to an umbrella swivel and easily get the flash on-axis to your umbrella. A nice and unexpected feature for a speedlight.


T.1 Times

The LP180's t.1 (flash duration) times are typical of 60ws flashes, if slightly on the good side. You'll give up about 1/6 of a stop to t.1 at full power at 1/250th. Drop the power even a little and the t.1 times speed up very fast. It handled the leaf shutter of my Fuji X100s at 1/2000th of a second with aplomb, here:




Gel Clip

Yes, a gel clip.

So obvious, but long neglected. Not since the (original) Vivitar 285 has there been an integrated gel holder in a speedlight to my knowledge. But this is also the source of one of my only two quibbles with the flash. (See below for more info.)


Design and Build Quality

Triple aces. The flash feels very rugged and the build quality is spot-on. You could totally brain somebody with it. (After you blinded them, of course.) It was designed by an NoCal-based industrial designer who also happens to be a photographer.

It was designed by California-based industrial designer Hilgard Muller of Springbok Designs. You may remember him from from this post about a very cool DIY PVC-pipe-based splash-proof housing for his Nikon SB-800.

Not surprisingly, he designed the LP180 to feel like, well, the SUV of speedlights. Eschewing the prevalent rounded-edges feel, he wanted to make it look as rugged as it was.

Says Muller:
I find that the products in the photography industry generally lack any attitude or character which makes the product very sterile. When I initially spoke to the team at LumoPro about designing their new hot shoe-mounted flash, I just assumed they would want to follow the trend of making a simple and visually uninspired product. After the first conversation with the team I was extremely pleased to find out they shared my vision.

The design process was very fun, working with Moishe Applebaum and Kevin Deskins of Lumopro was a hoot to say the least! There were no bad ideas (ok, maybe a few that seemed a little absurd). But no idea was not considered. Everything was open for discussion, which lead to some very out-of-the-box concepts. I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't pursue some of those in the future.

The design is really inspired by function. Being a photographer myself I was able to incorporate features that actually provide the user a better overall experience when using the LP180 such as the gel holder and integrated 1/4 insert.

Quibbles and Bits

It's hard to find something not to like about this flash. But let's try anyway!

To that end, two minor quibbles:

First off, the hot keys on flash power and zoom angle—which I love—wrap around if you go past the end settings. I realize this is a matter of opinion, but I would rather see them stop at the ends. I.e., if I wanna bleed power without looking, I want to just grab the down arrow and press-press-press it out, without having to worry about rounding the corner from 1/128 back to 1/1.

Personal opinion, granted. The other argument is basically being able to get from very high power to very low power quickly. I can totally see the other side on that. Even if they are wrong.

The other is a note of caution. LOVE the gel holder, but there is a caveat. The clips are a tiny bit wide for a standard sample-sized gel. They fit but the gel could bow in, leading to a gel touching the front fresnel. When doing higher power pops, this surface generates a lot of heat. And if you are using a gel that absorbs a lot of light (and thus, heat) you might fry it to the fresnel permanently. Any deep color is something you want to keep an eye on here.

Easy solution: cut your gels a little bigger, or laminate one side of your standard-sized samples with a strip of scotch tape so they are a little bigger and bow out.

To LumoPro's credit — and my surprise — they actually include a full bigger-sized gel kit (22 pieces) with each flash. (Along with a sync cord, a foot/stand and a nice case.)

Not big quibbles, but quibbles. I feel a little bad nitpicking the gel clip because it's a freakin' speedlight with a gel clip but there you go.

And I'll grant you the power and zoom user interface thing is a pick 'em.


Where to Get One

The LumoPro LP180 speedlight is $149 at Midwest Photo.


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