Lighting 201: Our Three Favorite Camera Flashes ‘Pocket Strobes’
These are our three favorite pocket strobes. They’re amazingly well built, very consistent, and whether you’re an amateur photographer, an aspiring professional, or a professional, we can recommend these three camera flashes without any qualms.
Our Three Favorite Camera Flashes ‘Pocket Strobes’
The Phottix Mitros is my favorite off-camera flash. It is a full-feature off camera flash including a built-in radio system. At $400, it’s actually less expensive than the Canon equivalent, the Canon 600EX-RT, and Nikon doesn’t even have an equivalent. If you are shooting Canon or Nikon, the Phottix Mitros comes in both variants. We’re hoping that they open up to additional brands in the future, like Sony and so forth.
The Phottix Mitros has all the features – TTL, rear curtain sync, high speed sync, and a built-in radio system. It has grouping and channels; it has everything you could possibly need, and it has a couple different options. You can actually control all of the off camera flashes with another Phottix Mitros Plus that’s mounted to your camera, or you can simply use the Phottix Odin, which can control all the groups if you don’t want to have a flash on your camera.
The benefit to getting the Phottix Odin instead of another Mitros Plus is that it is a little less expensive than buying an additional strobe simply to control all the off-camera units. The Odin is also a bit easier to use as well.
It has a good recycle time and a good wireless range. It has external power input, a 3.5 millimeter sync port and case, and a metal hotshoe.
The only downside with the Phottix Mitros Plus worth mentioning is that the overall menu system [the user interface] could be improved. It’s a little bit clunky moving around and adjusts powers very quickly. For most of you, you may not run into that issue or just see it as a slight nuisance. But for photographers that shoot events, they will find themselves constantly turning on and off different groups and making adjustments very quickly. The adjustments are fairly simple to make, but I wish there was a way in the interface that you could click one button to get to each different option to make one-button adjustments to turn on and off, like you would the grouping on a PocketWizard.
Still, it is by far my favorite flash overall.
2. Lumopro LP 180
The Lumopro LP 180 is a full feature camera flash, which comes in at $200, but you need either the PocketWizard Plus III or some other radio trigger to fire this. A PocketWizard X is $100, and the Plus III is $149. That brings the total cost per off-camera flash to roughly around $300 to $350. Granted, there are less expensive radio triggers out there, but I don’t necessarily like using them professionally because they do have consistency issues in firing and triggering and so forth. The PocketWizard series works fantastically well with the Lumopro.
For a manual flash, the Lumopro LP 180 has very solid build quality to it. It also has a very simple interface on the back side: There are basic options to go up, or right or left, or we can put it into slave mode if we want to use infrared and a test button. It’s very, very simple to use straight out of the box.
The Lumopro LP 180 has a 1/4 20 port on the side to mount 1/4 20 screws directly, which makes it very easy to mount on a lightstand, and it has a fantastic wireless range when you’re using the PocketWizard with these strobes. With other flash units we’ve tested, such as the PW and Canon’s 580EXII’s, we’ve run into wireless issues specifically with interference, but not with the Lumopro. It’s been tested, has a great range, and produced very consistent results with good recycle times.
It also has a metal hot shoe, and an external power input, so if you wanted to power the device externally, you could.
This is a manual flash, meaning that we don’t have TTL. TTL’s not a big deal for me since I personally never use TTL, but it doesn’t have rear curtain sync, first curtain sync options, or high-speed sync. Because we don’t have those additional features, you will have to adjust your power settings directly from each off-camera flash. So, if you’re using the Lumopro in conjunction with the PocketWizard, and you need to power the flash up or down, then you need to either have a lighting assistant or walk yourself over to the flash to change it manually. However, with the Phottix Mitros, everything is controlled directly from your camera. You can control zoom and power settings directly from the Odin or directly from your other Mitros Plus.
The other con with the Lumopro LP 180 is that it’s more expensive than other budget flashes – Granted, the build quality is better, so you’re getting a value for that. Still, at $200, it’s not necessarily cheap. Also, it requires third party radio systems which puts its total OCF cost at $300 to $350. If you’re going to be buying three or four of these, you’ll still save a few hundred dollars.
3. Canon 600EX-RT
This flash basically has everything that you’d want in a flash. Compared to the Mitros Plus, the two are nearly identical but the Canon 600EX-RT has two advantages over the Mitros Plus, and you’ll have to decide whether those two advantages are worth the $100.
Firstly, since this is a Canon flash on a Canon device, you are going to get better operative features, like the autofocus assist and low light situations are better on the 600EX-RT. The Mitros Plus still has the autofocus assist, but it’s a little bit sluggish in comparison. If you’re shooting a lot of low-light, then it may be worthwhile to spend the extra money for the Canon 600EX-RT.
The other advantage of the 600EX-RT is that it’s a little bit more refined in its menu system and controls. You’d expect that because it’s a Canon and it’s paired with a Canon system; you’d expect the two to operate together a little bit more nicely.
My favorite overall for a full feature pocket strobe is the still the Phottix Mitros Plus. If you’re using Nikon or Canon, it works across the board, and they should have more compatibility coming out soon for Sony and other camera makers as well.