Several years ago Profoto started a small revolution in the lighting arena with their B1. The idea of building a high-powered strobe with an on-board battery, capable of shooting in High Speed Sync and TTL metering modes was new, and since the introduction of the B1 and its rise to popularity, there have been many imitators. In this post, I will discuss one such imitator, the Flashpoint XPLOR 600 HSS TTL.

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Flashpoint is Adorama’s new in-house lighting brand, and it already features an impressive selection of full sized strobes and speed lights, all of which include 2.4G radio receivers/tranceivers. This means that you can control any combination of their lights with one smart trigger, the R2.  It should also be noted that products branded as Godox are exactly the same as those labeled Flashpoint, albeit without the product support offered by Adorama.

The XPLOR 600 is currently the flagship offering from Flashpoint, and is available either with or without TTL metering, with a fitting price difference between the two. While I am not in any way endorsed by Adorama or Flashpoint, the unit I tested is my personal flash, so while I hope I can recommend it by the end of this review, I will remain as unbiased in my opinions as I am able.
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I’ve had the opportunity to use the XPLOR 600  on several shoots now, and for the purposes of this review I ran a few very tedious tests to push it to its limits. In real world use it does not disappoint. When using an efficient enough modifier, it’s easily bright enough to overpower the midday sun, and TTL works quite well, in both normal and high speed sync modes. Speaking of which, shooting in HSS is incredibly easy with the XPLOR 600. There’s no stopping to switch the light into HSS mode. With the R2 transmitter, which is currently being offered for free with the purchase of the flash by Adorama, simply crank up the shutter speed of you camera, and the transmitter and flash take care of everything.

Flashpoint XPLOR 600 in TTL mode, camera right.
Flashpoint XPLOR 600 in TTL mode, with 28″ beauty dish, camera right.

Flash Power

The “600” in the light’s name indicates its output in watt seconds. For most situations, this light packs plenty of power. I braved the harsh Los Angeles winter to test the flash power against the afternoon sun, and got the following results. The light was fitted with the included 7” reflector, and placed about 6 feet from the grey card.

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As you can see, the flash is easily able to compete with the direct sunlight in the background. Once I was back inside, I tested the light with my trusty light meter, and recorded the following results:

At full power, from 6 feet, at ISO 100, 1/200th:

  • w/ no modifier or reflector: f/16.0
  • w/ 7” silver reflector: f/22.7
  • w/ 7” silver reflector and plastic cover: f/22.6
  • w/ 32” round soft box, inner and outer baffles: f/16.1
  • w/ 32” round soft box, outer baffle only: f/16.4
  • w/ 32” round soft box, inner baffle only: f/16.2

Honestly, this was about what I had expected. 600 watt seconds is perfectly respectable for a studio strobe. For comparison’s sake, the Profoto B1  is rated at 500 Ws, which, in practice, is really only 1/3 stop less light. The Paul C. Buff Einstein,  an AC powered light (although the Vagabond battery can make it more mobile) is a 640 Ws light, essentially the same as the Flashpoint, but without HSS and TTL.

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Another noteworthy point is that the Flashpoint’s power is adjustable over a 9 stop range, from 1/1 full power down to 1/256 in 1/3 stops. This puts it near the top of its class in this regard.

Color Temperature

One of the most common knocks on cheaper lights is the consistency of their color temperature. The light color is said to vary depending on both the flash power, and the battery level. I put this to simple test: in a darkened room, I set the XPLOR 600 6 ft. from my grey card, and fired it at each major power setting from 1/1 to 1/256. I then popped off 50 test flashes at full power, and repeated the test, until the battery ran out. Please keep in mind that this test was only as scientific as I could make it, considering that I do not own a spectrometer.

ISO 200 1/200 s f/4, XPLOR 600 in TTL mode
ISO 200 1/200 s f/4, XPLOR 600 in TTL mode

I would say that the results of this test were more in line with the XPLOR’s price tag. Flashpoint quotes the color temperature as being 5600±200k. I imported the raw files I shot into Lightroom and Capture One, and used the WB eye dropper tool to read the temperature of the grey card.

Mysteriously, the readings from LR and C1 were different by about 1000 Kelvin, but they were consistent in that they showed a 400 K difference from full power to minimum power, with the warmest (lowest Kelvin temp) coming at full power, and gradually becoming cooler as power was decreased. This is right in line with what Flashpoint advertises, and fairly standard for mid-level strobes. The good news was that the battery level seemed to have no effect whatsoever on the temperature.

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What does this mean for real world use? If you’re shooting anything that requires perfectly accurate colors, such as product photography, or certain types of fashion work, it may pose a slight problem. Especially when using two of these lights at different power levels, it may be an annoying process to find a perfect color balance. In situations where absolute perfect color is less critical, you’ll be unlikely to notice much difference. This may be the weakest point of the flash, however, I always shoot in raw, which makes the problem much easier to fix in post, so it’s certainly not a deal-breaker for me.

Battery Life

The battery on the XPLOR 600 is bigger and heavier than the one on the Profoto B1, and, as you might hope, that extra bulk translates to a much higher capacity. The B1 battery is rated by the manufacturer to have 220 full power flashes per charge. The XPLOR 600’s battery is rated to have “over 450” flashes in the tank. Your results may vary, but in my test, and I made sure to double check myself, I got the equivalent of 549 full power flashes on one battery. That is not a typo. That is ridiculous.

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In addition, you can buy an extra Flashpoint battery for just $150. Compare that to an extra B1 battery, at $266. And on top of that, Adorama offers an optional AC adapter, which slides elegantly into the battery slot, available for $90, so if you’re shooting in the studio, there’s no need to worry about keeping a battery on the charger. The B1 has no such AC adapter, so if you’d like to shoot with wall power… you can buy a D2 for about $1500.

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Recycle Time

Again, low cost monolights get a bad rap on their recycle times. In another quick, unscientific test, using the audible recycle indicator on the flash unit and the voice recorder app on my phone, I found the recycle time at full power to be in the neighborhood of 2.15 seconds. It’s listed as being 2.5 seconds, so this isn’t far off. However, when I lowered the power by one stop to 1/2 power, the recycle time dropped to just about half a second. At 1/4 power and lower, the recycle time was essentially undetectable. So, if you’d like to shoot in burst mode with this flash, you’ll just have to decrease the power a bit.

Wireless Range

While I was out in the brutal Los Angeles winter, I also decided to test the wireless range of the flash with the dedicated R2 transmitter. The photo below, taken on an 85mm lens, (full frame) gives you an idea of how far away I was able to get, with the flash firing consistently.

85mm. That tiny speck is the Flashpoint XPLOR 600 at 1/2 power.
85mm. That tiny speck is the Flashpoint XPLOR 600 at 1/2 power.

This was taken approximately 200 yards from the light, at which point I ran out of park, and was unable to find the distance at which it actually stopped firing. I will, however, go ahead and say that 200 yards is enough for me. Unless I decide to start shooting full length group shots with a 1000mm lens, I think I’m good.

Reliability

I’ve only had this light for about a month, so I can’t speak to its longterm dependability, but in my experience so far, it has been spectacular. Only in a few rare cases when I suspect that I outpaced the light’s recycle time did it miss a shot. While running my series of tests I shot about 170 photos with the light, and had only one misfire, which was during the wireless range test from over 100 yards away. I thought I had found its maximum distance, but it immediately began firing again.

ISO 100; 1/500 s; f/2. Flashpoint XPLOR 600 in TTL mode, camera left
ISO 100; 1/500 s; f/2. Flashpoint XPLOR 600 in TTL mode, camera left

 

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Again, it’s difficult to discuss this type of strobe without mentioning Profoto’s offering. The B1 is the current standard-bearer, and is priced as such. The Flashpoint, however, comes with essentially the same bag of tricks, but packs just a little extra power.

High Speed Sync

If you’re still unfamiliar with high speed sync, check out this primer. It essentially gives photographers the ability to shoot with flash at high shutter speeds, and therefore wider apertures. Prior to the advent of HSS, if we wanted to achieve shallow depth of field with flash during the day, outdoors, you would need a set of ND filters to keep your camera at its prescribed sync speed.

Flashpoint XPLOR 600 at full power, in 28" beauty dish, camera right
ISO 100; 1/1000 s; f/5.6.  Flashpoint XPLOR 600 at full power, in 28″ beauty dish, camera right

With any system, and any flash, HSS does have some limitations. It becomes very difficult to accurately meter your flashes in HSS mode, as you will lose some flash power as you increase your shutter speed. However, you can work with HSS and TTL simultaneously, and let the camera and light figure out the correct exposure. In this series, I kept the flash power and aperture consistent, and incrementally increased the shutter speed, to give you an idea of the power loss in HSS mode.

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HSS also makes up a bit for the relatively slow flash duration of the XPLOR. At full power, the duration is listed at 1/220 of a second, which will fail to freeze any fast moving subject. The flash duration does decrease as the flash power is decreased, or you can opt to use HSS mode and crank your camera’s shutter speed as high as 1/8000.

TTL

TTL, or ‘through the lens’ metering uses a system which is proprietary to each major camera manufacturer. Currently the Flashpoint range works with Canon, Nikon and Sony, and there is a specific R2 transmitter for each brand. In practice, it works quite well; I use it often, and the results have been well exposed and consistent. It’s also easy to adjust the flash compensation in TTL mode in 1/3 stop increments.

Flashpoint XPLOR 600 in TTL mode, camera right.
Flashpoint XPLOR 600 in TTL mode, camera right.

One area where TTL falls short is when the camera picks up on something other than your subject to gauge exposure. During one shoot, I was working in TTL mode when my subject decided to pose with his hands nearer to the camera. The light was close enough that the hands were perfectly exposed and his face was too dark. Profoto has a feature on their Air Remote whereby when in TTL mode, when you get an exposure you’re happy with, you can lock it in and the light will continue to fire at that same power level. I would love to see something like this in a future version of the Flashpoint trigger.

Wireless Operability

Also worth noting is the inclusion of the radio receiver within the light itself. It’s becoming more of a trend in lighting these days, but is still highly appreciated. With the Flashpoint system, you can set your light where you need it, and then control nearly every setting from the transmitter on your camera, with no dangling radio packs to lose track of. The R2 can switch the mode of the light, (Manual, TTL or off) adjust the power setting, adjust flash exposure compensation when in TTL mode, and can even turn on and off the LED modeling light.

Sometimes you forget to bring a lightstand to the desert.
Sometimes you forget to bring a lightstand to the desert.

The only minor gripe I can find with the system is that it’s only adjustable in 1/3 stop increments, while several other competitors (including the Profoto) can be adjusted in 1/10 stop steps. Again, this is a very minor complaint, but it does make it a bit more difficult to fine tune your shots.

Bowens Mount

I appreciate that Flashpoint has chosen to use the already well-established Bowens mount. You can already easily find modifiers of any size and shape mountable to a Bowens speed ring, which is easy to attach to the light, and feels very secure. The mount is made of metal, and gives a satisfying click when your modifier of choice locks into place. The modifier mount is actually one of the main reasons I began to look for lights outside the Paul C. Buff lineup. Their “Balcar” mount has always been a source of aggravation for me. It’s unnecessarily difficult to line up your modifier with the mount, and once it’s on it never quite feels secure. The Bowens mount on this light solves those issues.

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Accessories

I’ve already mentioned the reasonably priced extra batteries and AC power adapter, which provide welcome functionality, but there’s more coming from Flashpoint. The light itself is heavy, which can present a problem when being used on a long boom pole, so Flashpoint offers an extension head.  The extension’s cable attaches to the flashtube socket, and leads to a small, lightweight head, complete with Bowens mount and umbrella holder, and which uses the same flashtube as the XPLOR itself, essentially turning the light into a power pack and head system. Additionally, if you really need a lot of power, you can purchase two XPLOR 600‘s and an accessory that will combine their power into a single flash head, giving you 1200 watt seconds of total power via one light source. The extension goes for about $80, and the 1200 Ws version is $300, including a flashtube capable of handling the power. Most lighting brands would have you buy into multiple systems to achieve the type of functionality possible with the XPLOR and a few well priced accessories.

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While there’s nothing groundbreaking about the overall design of the light, it’s well done, and makes sense. The backlit LCD display on the side of the unit is complete with all the relevant information, and the button layout is well done. In fact, it’s nice that there are enough buttons that most of them serve a single purpose, to prevent users from having to cycle through options. There is also a menu button, which gives access to several lesser-used options, such as the recycle indicator (beep or modeling light). The buttons themselves, and the single scroll wheel, feel well made and responsive, with a good ‘click’ sound when pressed.

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However, in practice, you will rarely use the buttons on the flash itself, since the controls you need the most are included on the R2 transmitter. The R2 is a bit less intuitive than the XPLOR, but can be learned relatively quickly. Turning on the modeling light, for example, requires a double click of the CH/OK button, for whatever reason. The R2 has only one LCD display, 3 buttons, and a scroll wheel. It does have a hot shoe on top, which is nice if you need to stack a speed light, or another trigger on top, as well as a focus assist beam on the front for dark shooting situations.

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Besides the control layout, the light has a solid metal Bowens mount on the front, and a very secure-feeling battery mount on the back. I’ve never been concerned that the battery might inadvertently fall off, as it makes an audible click when fully engaged, and requires a button push to release.

On top is the usb port, for firmware updates, and the sync port, just in case you need that. The bottom has a vent for the integrated fan, which is only a bit troublesome in that it seems possible that dirt or dust may get inside the electronics of the light. I took the light out into the desert for a shoot recently, as was afraid to let it anywhere near the ground for fear that it would come home full of sand.

ISO 160; 1/160 s; f/5. Flashpoint XPLOR 600 in TTL camera right
ISO 160; 1/160 s; f/5. Flashpoint XPLOR 600 in TTL camera right

It’s all on top of a hinged light stand mount, which works with standard light stands as well as the ends of C stand arms. The angle of the light is controllable via a ratcheted handle, which has presented no problems tipping out of alignment due to the weight of a modifier on the front. There is also an umbrella holder incorporated into the light stand mount. It may have been nice to have the umbrella hole a bit further forward on the light, but I suppose it doesn’t actually make much of a difference.

This light is hefty. With the battery attached, it’s about 6.4 lb., which is actually right in line with the B1, which comes in at fighting weight of 6.6 lb. It’s noteworthy that the Flashpoint comes in just slightly lighter than the Profoto, considering the substantially larger battery. Then again, it helps that the Flashpoint is made largely of plastic.

 

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Speaking of plastic, the XPLOR 600 uses a lot of it. It’s certainly not the cheapest, flimsiest plastic I’ve encountered; it actually strikes me as the standard hard rigid type of plastic used in the bodies of lots of electronic products. In general, it doesn’t bother me, and there is metal where it counts. The Bowens mount is all metal, as is the entire front of the unit surrounding the flashtube. The back of the light, where the battery attaches, is also metal. The one area that is slightly concerning is the light stand mounting bracket. The interior of the shaft, where the end of the light stand is actually inserted, is lined with metal, which is reassuring, and the angle adjustment hinge seems to employ some metal hardware, but much of the assembly feels a bit weak. This is worrying considering the weight of the light itself, and the potential weight of any large modifiers you might want to attach.

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That being said, in the time I’ve had the light, the bracket has given me no problems whatsoever. I’m always a bit careful when tightening the ratcheting angle lock lever, as it feels like too much force might crack it, but so far, so good.
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This section is easy; here’s the takeaway quote: The Flashpoint XPLOR 600 HSS TTL offers the best value of any battery powered strobe currently available, without question. The functionality of the light, paired with the versatility offered by Flashpoint’s range of accessories makes it a no brainer if you’re looking for this type of light on a budget. At $750, with the R2 transmitter included, it’s an absolute steal.

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Competition

As I’ve mentioned above, there are now a selection of lights available with the same bag of tricks. I keep rambling on about the Profoto B1 because it’s the current go-to among professional photographers, and will most likely continue to be. If money is not a consideration for you, and you want a battle-tested, top of the line light, go for the B1. It’s currently about $2,100, and the Air Remote  is another $400.

[REWIND:Lighting 201: Welcome to Lighting 201!]

On the slightly cheaper side of things, Phottix offers the Indra500. It’s a slightly different form factor, as it consists of a monolight head, which is slightly smaller than the flashpoint, which attaches to a separate battery pack. It puts out 500Ws, has a built in Phottix Odin receiver, and uses a Bowens mount, and is available for $1200, without the transmitter. The Interfit S1 might be the XPLOR’s closest competitor, which, for $1000, is rated at 500Ws, has an on-board battery, and is capable of running on AC power out of the box, but has only a 7 stop range. It also comes with a brand specific TTL transmitter. I haven’t had the chance to use the Interfit model, so if anyone has any experience with that light, please leave your opinions in the comments below.

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I am pleased to report that I can recommend this light that I’ve already purchased. The specs and features of the XPLOR 600 are class leading, the price is the lowest you will find among this type of light, and it works incredibly well in the field. I do wish that the color temperature was a bit more consistent, and the use of a bit more metal and less plastic in its construction would be nice, but these are honestly the only problems I’ve found with this strobe.

You can get a kit featuring two of these lights, two R2 transmitters, two extra batteries, two AC adapters, and an extension head for less than the price of one Profoto B1. Add a few of your favorite Bowens mount modifiers to that kit, available from the manufacturer of your choice, and you’ll be ready to go forth, illuminate, and conquer. Get your XPLOR 600 here

 

 

This review was originally posted in December 2016*