I am currently updating my Making Light and Making Light 2 eBooks on off-camera flash. They will be merged into one completely revised and updated eBook with loads of new case studies and lighting diagrams. I'll keep you posted on when the eBook will be ready. As all my other English titles, it will be published through the fine folks at Craft & Vision.
One thing that was a lot of work, but also fun to do, was updating the gear section of the book: a lot has changed since the original eBooks were published over four years ago. Luckily, most of that change is for the better: gear has become more powerful and cheaper. Maybe the only downside is that there’s simply too much stuff to choose from, nowadays. In the eBook, I'll offer you some guidelines to help you choose a system that works.
One of the main trends is that we now have a lot more choice in powerful, battery-powered studio strobes that offer TTL (Through-The-Lens) metering and HSS (High Speed Sync which allows sync speeds up to 1/8000th of a second). In this and a couple of future blog posts, I want to introduce you to some of my favorites. In this first installment, I’ll talk about the i6T EX Leopard by Chinese Lighting manufacturer Cononmark, who kindly sent me a review unit to try out. If you live in the US, you can find a rebranded version of this flash at B&H Photo, where it sells as the IMPACT Venture 600 TTL.
Why a portable studio strobe?
When you start to explore off-camera flash, your first stop will undoubtedly be speedlights: they’re affordable and light-weight. After a while though, chances are that you’ll start using them in ways they weren’t really intended: to overpower the sun on a bright day and/or in big modifiers because you want a softer light.
One thing you can do - and which I personally did a couple of years ago - is combine a couple of speedlights on a multi-speedlight bracket. However, the fun of that wears off quickly!
If you have one speedlight at full power and you want to underexpose the ambient light by one extra stop (or add one extra stop of flash light), all you have to do is add another speedlight. That’s still doable, right? But what if you find that you’re still one stop short with those two speedlights? If you want to double your amount of light again, you now have to add two more, leading to a total of four. Good luck to you and your budget if you happen to be using premium speedlights like the Nikon SB-910 or the Canon EX600-RT! And… if this setup still leaves you needing an extra stop of flash light, you have to add another four. Hello second mortgage!
After a while, charging all those batteries becomes almost a day-job in itself, too... Not to mention you'll want to carry some spares, too!
Battery powered studio flashes
That's where a more powerful, yet battery operated studio flash like the Cononmark i6T EX Leopard comes in. Portable flashes like these exist in two varieties. The pack-and-head systems have a separate battery pack with a cable that you plug into the head. The advantage is that the head is generally a little lighter, which is handy if you want to angle the light on a boom stand. The disadvantage is that they take a little more time to set up, and that they are also slightly more cumbersome to handle because of that power pack. The Leopard is part of the other variety: battery and head are one unit. The battery is detachable, though, so you can charge it separately or even buy a spare and use one while you charge the other.
Cononmark i6T EX Leopard: what's in the box?
The Leopard comes in a metal case that looks like it comes straight out of a James Bond movie. At first I thought I’d prefer a soft case, but the advantage of this case is that it protects the flash really well and that in a pinch, you could use it as a small step to put yourself or your model on, depending on who’s taller.
The flash itselfs also packs a couple of features that might have been invented by Q himself. For example, the flash is rated at 600Ws output but by default, it is set up in High-Performance Mode, which offers an impressive 1 second recycle time but only delivers 300Ws. To get the full 600 Ws power, you have to press the Test button for a couple of seconds. The ring around the button will then turn blue, indicating you can now blast away at 600 Ws. Doing this will decrease your recycle time to a 3 seconds, which is still respectable considering that this flash is approximately the power of 6 to 8 speedlights.
For indoor use, the Cononmark also sports a 15W, dimmable LED modeling light.
One of the things that struck me is that the unit is very lightweight yet solidly built: with the default Comet mount, it puts a mere 1.8 kg on the scale, making it one of the lightest portable 600 Ws strobes around. The default swivel adapter that comes in the box has an opening for an umbrella so if you add 200 grams for an umbrella, you can start to produce loads of beautiful soft ligt on location while carrying only 2 kilograms in lighting equipment. I used the Leopard with the optional Bowens adapter though, because I own a lot of lighting modifiers that feature this mount, such as the cheap and easy-to-set-up Phottix Luna Folding Octa or the SMDV Alpha 110. Including the Bowens mount and the battery, the unit weighs 2.2 kilo.
- Power: 600 Ws
- Flash Duration (t0,5): 1/380 - 1/18500 sec
- Wireless remote receiver: built-in, auto-switches to the trigger used
- Sync Mode: wireless trigger, photosensitive receiver, sync cable
- Color temperature: 5500 K +/- 100K
- Modeling lamp: Led, 1500LM, 4200K
- Recycling time (power): 0.2 - 1 sec
- Recycling time (standard): 0.3 - 3 sec
- Full power output flashes (5s for one flash): approximately 400 times
- Overheat Protection: yes
- Dimensions: 210 x 100 mm
- Net weight: 1.4 kg (battery not included), 1.8 kg including battery
- Battery properties: Li-Ion battery, 2000mA (29.6Wh)
Nikon, Canon and Sony HSS and TTL triggers
Although there’s a plug to sync the flash with a cable, if you want to take advantage of the cool features like TTL and HSS, you’ll need Cononmarks wireless ABC Radio Trigger. This trigger exists in a Nikon, Canon and Sony version. The photos in this blog post were made with a Sony Alpha 7 RII. The trigger lets you fire up to three groups of remote (compatible Cononmk) flashes and you can combine manual and TTL settings in those groups. First and Second Curtain Sync and High Speed Sync up to 1/8.000th are available.
As you might know, I'm a Fujifilm user. There currently isn't a dedicated Fujifilm trigger. I don't know of any portable studio flash system that has one, for that matter. My test unit came with a Nikon and Sony trigger and I was able to use the Nikon trigger with my Fujifilm cameras, albeit obviously only in manual mode and without High-Speed Sync. Still, I could remotely change the manual power levels from the trigger, which is convenient. By adding 2 Cactus V6 Mark II triggers to the mix, I could also use the Leopard in Power Sync with my Fujifilm X-Pro 2 (all the way up to 1/8000th). More on that in this blog post.
Having never worked with either the Sony or the Leopard, I was expecting all kinds of issues but everything worked straight out of the (Bond-styled) box. I was impressed! The less you have to struggle with your gear, the more you can pay attention to your model.
Pricing and availability
The i6T EX Leopard is available directly from Cononmark for about $1.000 (excluding shipping and taxes). Contact Sue (email@example.com) for more details. If you live in Europe, I would recommend buying the unit through a reseller such as Mikrosat (this is a link to the Nikon version). At 1.299 € including VAT, the Leopard sits in the mid-range of battery powered studio flashes. Note that the trigger of your choice is included in that price. The Bowens adapter is 35 € extra.
What I liked
- All-in-one concept: battery and flash are integrated
- Easy to set up and works as advertised
- Super fast recycle time of 1 second if you're working at 300 Ws
- Lightweight and compact, even with optional Bowens mount
- Trigger is available in Canon, Nikon and 2 Sony versions. The flash will auto-detect which trigger is used
- Nikon trigger will also work with my Fujifilm cameras (although manual-only and no HSS)
What could be improved
- If you’re into multi-flash setups, the trigger only works with other compatible Cononmark flashes. There currently is no way to include for example a regular speedlight (e.g. as a fill light) in an HSS and TTL setup, although you could obviously still use that flash when you set it up as an optical slave
- Locking mechanism of the optional Bowens mount is perfectible. I added an extra washer under the release lever to facilitate the release