LumoPro LP180 Speedlight: Full Walk-Thru
Short version: The LP180 is rock-solid, with a near-perfect feature set for lighting photographers. It's the first flash that I actually prefer over a Nikon SB-800.
Long version: below.
First, Some Adjectives
Rugged. Intuitive. Fast. Dependable. Guaranteed.
Most of those could be applied to my long-time favorite Nikon SB-800s, of which I own … well, a few.
But if you do not need TTL and/or Nikon's CLS or Canon eTTL capabilities (and I generally don't) the LP180 beats it in almost every other way.
First Things First
The LP180 is a well-built, rugged, no apologies flash, backed by a 2-year warranty. That's twice as long as Nikon or Canon, and what separates it from the vast majority of flashes on the market today.
Reliability—as expressed by the manufacturer's warranty to back it up—should be the very first feature you look for in a speedlight. If all you care about are features and price, you can do better. But in doing so you can also end up with a piece of crap flash, as I have several times.
If a [insert mystery meat flash brand here] lists seventeen whiz-bang features but does not seem to have enough space on the internet to get to the manufacturer's warranty, I'd recommend avoiding it.
To that end, other manufacturers are now seeing the value in this demonstrable quality metric, and I will be writing about them here, too. It's simple: if you make a great flash, give it a great manufacturer's warranty to match. If you don't, then gloss over that minor detail and hope enough inexperienced photographers don't notice so you can sell the whole run on eBay before the word gets out.
So, kickass warranty: check.
Power and Recycle
It's slightly more powerful than a Nikon SB-800. The relative guide numbers ('180 vs. '800) vary with the zoom throw, but it consistently beats my old standby at a given setting. Speaking of power settings, they range from 1/1 to 1/128 in 1/3-stop increments.
Recycle time is officially listed at 4 seconds but I have consistently been getting 2.5 seconds with NiMH batts. (Alkalines do take longer.) The combo of good power and fast recycle is impressive. But all the more so because it also does very well delivering these pops with a HV battery, for which it is equipped (using a Canon style HV cord).
It has an intelligent heat management system for those times when you might ask a lot of it with a high-voltage battery. You'll get into the mid-twenties on fast, full-power HV pops before it starts to complain of heat. But—and this is cool—it doesn't just stop working. It slows recycle times down automatically, to better dissipate the heat until it cools off.
(Please don't do that unnecessarily. It is a torture stress test for any flash. Just a measure of the capabilities.)
Everything you'd expect: 180-degrees rotation each way, indexed bounce, slightly down-firing for macro work, zoom range of 24mm-105mm, wide-angle adapter gets you to 14mm, slide-out bounce card.
The fresnel is a latest-gen design, offering even light across the frame throughout the zoom range.
World-class. It syncs four ways, just like every other LumoPro flash. It syncs via hot shoe, an excellent slave, a PC jack (if you are a masochist) and, thankfully, a ⅛" mono plug.
The slave can be used with pre-flash TTL systems (with the LP180 firing manually, of course) by setting the slave to count from 1-10 pre-flashes before firing. The slave is also independent of the physical syncs, and can be turned on or off regardless of other concurrent syncing methods.
Wonderfully intuitive. But I can show you better than I can tell you. (The user interface stuff start at 2:15, the rest of the 6-minute vid is a full feature walk-through.)
The shoe is metal, with a Canon-style sliding locking pin switch. It has a rubberized skirt around the foot to keep water from seeping into your... light stand? (I kid, LumoPro.)
The LP180 also has an integrated ¼" x 20 female mount, which means you can mount it horizontally directly to an umbrella swivel and easily get the flash on-axis to your umbrella. A nice (and, in retrospect, obvious) feature for a speedlight.
The LP180's t.1 times are typical of 60ws flashes, if slightly on the good side. You'll give up about 1/6 of a stop to t.1 at full power at 1/250th. Drop the power even a little and the t.1 times speed up very fast. It handled the leaf shutter of my Fuji X100s at 1/2000th of a second with aplomb, here:
Yes, a gel clip.
So obvious, but long neglected. Not since the (original) Vivitar 285 has there been an integrated gel holder in a speedlight to my knowledge. But this is also the source of one of my only two quibbles with the flash. (See below for more info.)
Design and Build Quality
Triple aces. The flash feels very rugged and the build quality is spot-on. You could totally brain somebody with it. (After you blinded them, of course.) It was designed by an NoCal-based industrial designer who also happens to be a shooter.
Springbok Designs. You may remember him from from this post about a very cool DIY PVC-pipe-based splash-proof housing for his Nikon SB-800.
Not surprisingly, he designed the LP180 to feel like, well, the SUV of speedlights. Eschewing the prevalent rounded-edges feel, he wanted to make it look as rugged as it was.
I find that the products in the photography industry generally lack any attitude or character which makes the product very sterile. When I initially spoke to the team at LumoPro about designing their new hot shoe-mounted flash, I just assumed they would want to follow the trend of making a simple and visually uninspired product. After the first conversation with the team I was extremely pleased to find out they shared my vision.
The design process was very fun, working with Moishe Applebaum and Kevin Deskins of Lumopro was a hoot to say the least! There were no bad ideas (ok, maybe a few that seemed a little absurd). But no idea was not considered. Everything was open for discussion, which lead to some very out-of-the-box concepts. I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't pursue some of those in the future.
The design is really inspired by function. Being a photographer myself I was able to incorporate features that actually provide the user a better overall experience when using the LP180 such as the gel holder and integrated 1/4 insert.
Quibbles and Bits
It's hard to find something not to like about this flash. But let's try anyway!
To that end, two minor quibbles:
First off, the hot keys on flash power and zoom angle—which I love—wrap around if you go past the end settings. I realize this is a matter of opinion, but I would rather see them stop at the ends. I.e., if I wanna bleed power without looking, I want to just grab the down arrow and press-press-press it out, without having to worry about rounding the corner from 1/128 back to 1/1.
Personal opinion, granted. The other argument is basically being able to get from very high power to very low power quickly. I can totally see the other side on that. Even if they are wrong.
The other is a note of caution. LOVE the gel holder, but there is a caveat. The clips are a tiny bit wide for a standard sample-sized gel. They fit but the gel could bow in, leading to a gel touching the front fresnel. When doing higher power pops, this surface generates a lot of heat. And if you are using a gel that absorbs a lot of light (and thus, heat) you might fry it to the fresnel permanently. Any deep color is something you want to keep an eye on here.
Easy solution: cut your gels a little bigger, or laminate one side of your standard-sized samples with a strip of scotch tape so they are a little bigger and bow out.
To LumoPro's credit, they actually include a full bigger-sized gel kit (22 pieces) with each flash. (Along with a sync cord, a foot/stand and a nice case.)
Not big quibbles, but quibbles. I feel a little bad nitpicking the gel clip because it's a freakin' speedlight with a gel clip but there you go.
And I'll grant you the power and zoom user interface thing is a pick 'em.
Where to Get One
The LumoPro LP180 speedlight is $199 at Midwest Photo, for people outside the US, here are some other sources.