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I’ve got a little secret… I’m pretty rubbish at ‘off camera flash’ but you know the best thing, it’s easy to suck at something and not worry so much if you have the desire to learn how to get better.
With digital photography, it’s pretty easy to try and try and try again, because there’s no developing time, there’s no film cost, there’s no fixer to spill! There’s simply no excuse for you to continue to suck at off camera flash… what? you can’t practice because a Canon Speedlite 580EX II is WAY TOOOOO EXPENSIVE? Fair call, they’re not cheap! They are really good, but you’re right, they’re not cheap… So, I have a very functional, robust alternative for you… It costs £80 (or £50 if you don’t ever want to plug in an external battery) per flash unit and you can also get a remote trigger for it for £50… So, essentially, for £130 you’re set up to use flash, off camera, remotely and ‘on the cheap’ Yeah!
The handy remote trigger is called a REEMIX RMII and, as well as being a 16 channel flash controller, can also control your camera* (remote shutter) and the receiver has a handy umbrella holder built in, so you can attach it to your flash unit, slot an umbrella in and go flashing wild.
You can take it a step further, with the GoDox thinkLite TT560PB you can add an external battery pack, the GoDox ProPac PB820. It plugs right into the flash unit and will have you flashing for a good while (250 to 320 full power flashes, 1 sec recharge time, 2 hr battery recharge time) and comes in photographer black or sexy lime green (I went green!)
Having picked up the three units, Here is my experience with them.. The start of my journey to better flashing if you will!
I have a Canon 580EXII.. That’s a great unit! It’s powerful, it’s fully featured and it’s EXPENSIVE. To work on an article that allowed more people who are just starting out, to be involved in trying off camera lighting, I wanted to use readily available and more ‘cost sensitive’ kit… I have tried out the Elemental studio lights once before, So, back on the http://studio-flash.com website I went and I came across the GoDox gear and made my enquiries. Hello? Scotland Yard?
I know how well my Canon flash unit works, so I had a good bench mark… The Canon has the higher guide number (Higher guide number = more powerful flash) of 39 as opposed to the 38 rated ThinkLite.. Not much in it really.. Though, the Canon does have all the bells and whistles, as well as ETTL (basically means your camera tells the flash what to do if it’s all compatible) For this little test, I wanted to set everything to manual to help teach myself what all the buttons did! That, I believe, is what you should do, too!
So, the first little test (that mattered!) that I used my ThinkLite for was a quick real estate shoot, I had a brightly lit outdoor shot of a house to take, I had a lovely blue sky that, if I exposed for, meant that the house was a bit dark.. I bumped the power on the little flash up to full, popped it on a Nasty Clamp and stuck that on the front fence facing the house… Taking a few photos, mostly inspired by a recent “One light real estate shoot” from Strobist, David Hobby, I tried to blend the flash in with the ambient light and get the photograph that I needed. The whole time using the REEMIX II to pop the flash and I also had the battery pack plugged in, giving me simply awesome recycle times (the time it takes for the little red light to come on and say “I’m ready to flash again!”)
You can see the Nasty Clamp attached to the right hand end of the railing above and the shadow of the front porch light headed up and left. This is pretty much out of the camera with a little perspective correction (I couldn’t stand in front, there’s a tree!) So the sky is nice and blue and the front of the house is easy to see because of that light there. It could be a bit brighter and with a bit of an ISO bump, it would be. This was f/8.0, so I probably could have opened her up a little more, too, if I needed to. I got what I was after.
The flash unit is very simple. It has an off / on switch, an 8 level power output switch (1/128, 1/64, 1/32, 1/16, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1/1) and a couple of buttons to use the slave mode, slave mode doesn’t mean you can yell “Hey flash, get me a coffee” form the next room… It means that, in S1 mode, when you fire another flash, that the ThinkLite will also fire – this means that you can start getting all creative and have a pair of GoDox ThinkLite flash units and use one as your main light and one as your fill light or your hair light (fill, adds extra light where you need it – it fills and a Hair light is just that, adds a little light to the hair / side / back of the subject, gives your image some depth)
I had a whole three bedroom house to photograph for our real estate agent, the ThinkLite sitting on the end of the Nasty Clamp (Seriously, If you don’t have Nasty Clamps, get a pair! they’re such life savers!) with the remote trigger and external battery – I’d clip the unit on to the top of a door, angle it around until it was working how I wanted it to work and get my image. Mostly I’d fire the flash into a wall or ceiling to diffuse the small hard light that you typically get from a flash gun, the wall acting as a big reflector (Make sure your walls are white and not burnt orange… imagine light hitting a burnt orange wall and turning your photo into a big cup of Fanta!)
This photo (above) is natural light through the roof / skylights, and the darker back of the house has the ThinkLite on the Nasty Clamp attached to the top of the shower screen door, low power firing out into the hall way. Whilst the balance of the color temp is way off (you see the bluer flash v the warmer sun) that’s very easy to fix with a gel for the flash or, if you’re a bit more lazy, in post!
the external battery hadn’t even dropped down a notch (it has 5 notches to show you when you need to recharge) I can see great use for an external batter as a wedding photographer or event photographer (I wish I had one of these when I was shooting events back in London!!!) You take the thing and clip it to your belt / put it in your camera bag and flash over and over…
As I said at the start, I’m not a ‘Strobist‘ (not even in the same city, park or country!) …though, now with my new found love for lighting and the ability to practice (on everything and everyone… yay for my two year old!) I’m getting better at it!
So, let’s look at the specs of the ThinkLite TT560
Guide Number 38
Flash Modes M, S1, S2
Tilt 0 – 90°
Swivel 0 – 270°
Power Source 4 * AA batteries
Recycle Time 0.5 – 5s
Output Full, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32, 1/64, 1/128
Colour Temperature 5600K +/-200K
Flash Duration 1/800 ~ 1/2000s
Dimensions 190 * 75 * 55mm
Net Weight 286g
There’s nothing automatic about this unit, and that makes you learn!
And a pricing re-cap?
The kit has performed without fault since I picked it up a couple of months ago, it has really showed me that you don’t always need to get ‘amazing’ to teach yourself how to do something properly! Manual mode isn’t as scary as I thought, folks!
I hope this has been helpful to some of you! I hope to come back at some point when I’m more practised in my flashing and give you an update on how the gear’s doing – I’m about to order a couple more of the TT560 units myself.