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Raise your hand if this sounds familiar: you’ve fallen in love with Speedlight flash photography, but you gripe at having to lug around lots of odds and ends for your remote triggers, not to mention boxes of backup AA batteries. Isn’t it time for flashes to catch up with DSLRs and be powered by rechargeable batteries, and have more discrete wireless triggers? It turns out that these features DO exist, but not with Speedlights made by major camera manufacturers.
The Flashpoint Zoom Li-on TTL Flash is a new and affordable system that has the key feature of being powered by a rechargeable Lithium Ion Polymer battery. This battery promises to power your flash longer than any other hot shoe mount Speedlight on the market, and it does so while keeping the flash unit at a relatively compact size. When paired with the Flashpoint Commander Transmitter and Receiver set, you have an intuitive, compact way of using the flash off-camera. Sound appealing? Read on for more specs and details.
To be clear, the flash unit and the commander (transmitter and receiver) are two separate items that are sold separately. You don’t need to have the Commander set to use the flash unit on its own.
The Zoom Li-on unit, made specific for either Canon or Nikon, arrives in a nicely packaged box containing:
The Flashpoint Commander set arrives with a rather large transmitter (it’s about the size of a Pocket Wizard), and a much smaller receiver (about the size of a thumb drive). The transmitter runs on a pair of AA batteries.
Boasting more power than any AA battery, the lithium ion battery is the standout feature of the Zoom Li-on unit. It packs 11.1 volts and 200mAh, and a fully charged battery delivers up to 350 full power shots, with a recycle time of less than 1.5 seconds. You’ll need 2.5 hours to fully charge the battery, but it will function just fine on partial charges. On the unit’s display, there is also a battery icon in the upper right corner that will indicate how much power your battery has left. For longer shoots, it’s recommended that you purchase an extra backup battery, since the flash unit can’t be powered by any other means.
Besides the rechargeable battery, the Zoom Li-on flash has all of the other functionality present in other Speedlights today. These features include standard TTL mode, Manual mode, Exposure Compensation, Front and Rear Curtain Sync, Laser Autofocus Assist, High-Speed Sync, group control, and Slave and Master optics, to name a few. This flash also has complete IR TTL control connectivity with Canon and Nikon flashes, meaning you don’t necessarily need to convert your entire Speedlight system. Other triggering modes for the flash include hotshoe, radio controller, 2.5mm sync port, and optical slave.
The flash head has a built-in wide angle diffuser and white bounce card. It also rotates 180 degrees in any direction and tilts over 90 degrees. It can also automatically or manually zoom from 24-105mm. Basically, if you’re familiar with the Nikon SB-900 or Canon 580EXII, the Zoom Li-on flash is similar in size and layout of its controls. Thanks to my familiarity with Canon Speedlites, I was able to unbox the unit and set it up intuitively without referring to the included instruction manual.
The accompanying Flashpoint Commander set enters a crowded market full of all kinds of remote trigger options, but their main advantages are, an affordable price point and lots of power, packed into relatively small units. Using this set, you can view and change your flash output and trigger your flash remotely from 150+ feet away. There are also 16 channels and 16 groups of control so that you can handle multiple units of remote lighting. The newest version of the transmitter also comes with a 3.5mm sync port, allowing for a direct cable connection to the PC socket of your camera.
The transmitter is slightly larger than a single Pocket Wizard Plus III and it sits nicely in your camera’s hot shoe mount. Unlike most other trigger systems, the receiver looks nothing like the transmitter, consisting of a flat unit that simply plugs into the side of the Zoom Li-on flash. After syncing channels and groups via manual switches on the transmitter and receiver, that’s all you need to do to set it up.
Two complaints: you’ll need slim fingernails or a tool to hit the switches on the channel sections of both units, and the group dials are a little too easy to turn, opening up room for possible syncing mistakes. On the whole, this Commander set is impressively compact and easy to set up, although you’ll want to keep an extra eye out for the tiny receiver as it seems very easy to misplace.
To test out the flash unit, I worked put it through three separate scenarios: table top food photography, on-the-fly event photography, and a posed portrait session.
For the food photography session below, the Zoom Li-On flash was paired with the transmitter and receiver and handheld to camera left. Shot in manual mode with no diffuser, the outcome was a soft, natural light that I’d expect from any speedlight.
The on-the-fly event photography scenario was a quick red carpet photo op with Laila Ali. Fired in ETTL mode on-camera, the Zoom Li-on’s smooth rotating head feature plus fast recycle time came in extremely handy, and I was able to pull off the desired shots without turning to my Canon 580EXII, which I had mounted to a second body just in case.
Finally, the portrait session combined the Zoom Li-on flash, acting as the master, and a Canon 580EXII flash off-camera as the slave. Both flash units synced seamlessly, and thanks to similar control layouts, it was easy to figure out that the master/slave function on both units activates the same way (holding down the Zoom button).
Overall, I declare the Zoom Li-on Flash a winner and a new staple to my camera bag thanks to its power, reliability, and the cost (and weight) savings of not having to haul tons of spare AA batteries. Are you inclined to give this flash a shot?
You can find the Flashpoint Zoom Li-on Flash at Amazon.