The best manual camera flash lets you bend light and sculpt scenes, people and objects your way. The ideal speedlight offers controls for blindfolded operation and a power range you can set in small and accurate increments. It allows you to upgrade its firmware and power it from an external battery. Rapid recycling, even on AA batteries, a LCD screen with clear information and a design that lets you handle the flash easily under all circumstances are nice too. The LumoPro LP180 Quad-Sync manual camera flash ticks all the right boxes. It even has an effortless locking shoe that you can operate with gloves on.
The LP180 Quad-Sync Manual Flash is the latest camera flash in the range of products developed and marketed by LumoPro (The LP180 is a replacement for the LP160). Except for all the juicy stuff I mentioned in the intro to this review, the LP180 also has a 3.5mm mini-phone port, a PC-Sync port, and the obligatory optical slave — actually on this flash you get 12 different types. Finally, there’s an audible recharge signal, a built-in diffusor that shows when you’ve pulled it out on the LCD screen and a built-in bounce card as well. LumoPro now throws in a great carrying case in padded ballistic nylon and a robust flash stand with a ¼-20 mounting thread.
The LP180 recycles in two seconds and 6/100s using Apple’s NiMH batteries freshly charged, and two seconds and 17/100s using PowerTraveller NiMH batteries. The user guide lists four seconds at full power and one second at full power on high-voltage battery power. I haven’t experienced overheating during my tests, but with a high-voltage battery power pack, you just might.
Just as the LP160, the LP180 has motorised zoom adjustment, with the zoom adjustments ranging from 14mm to 105mm. The LP160 was limited to power adjustments made in one f-stop increments and had a range of 1/64 to 1/1. The LP180 betters that with a range from 1/128 to 1/1 in 0.3 increments.
I tested the accuracy of the increments using a grey card and the histogram of Capture One Pro, and while this doesn’t account for a 100% dependable test, it gave me a good idea of how consistent the incremental changes were from one to the next. They seemed to be pretty much spot-on.
The Guide Number (GN) for the LP180 is 110, whereas the older LP160 had a GN of 140. However, I couldn’t see much difference between the two when used under identical circumstances. The LP180′s slave function has 12 slave modes to choose from. S0 turns off slave mode, S1 offers standard optical slave, and modes S2 up to S10 offer multiple pre-flash synchronisation types.
My test flash didn’t make noise. During recycling, there’s a faint sound and when the camera flash is ready to fire again, you’re warned by a discrete alarm, which you can turn off. What I liked about the recycling alerts was not just the audible alarm, but also the “Ready” LED going blue while the recycling process takes place.
The flash has a head with 180 degrees rotation freedom to both sides. Inclination goes from zero degrees — which I take to be pointing straight up — to 90 degrees. The LP160 had a -7 degree inclination as well. The LP180 doesn’t seem to have that.
A brilliant addition to the LP180, and one that I think is really well thought out, is the ¼-20 mounting thread on one of the sides of the flash head. It’s fantastic when you’re using the Rogue XL Pro Lighting Kit. That one has a quite big and heavy FlashBender reflector and mounting it on top of a camera flash that sits on top of its flash shoe is OK, but there shouldn’t be too much wind to make it all wobbly.
With the mounting thread on the side of the flash head, the Rogue sits as firm as it possibly can. For good measure, LumoPro now also includes a great flash stand. Not the flimsy thing that you got with the LP160, but a sturdy stand with a ¼-20 thread mount in the bottom. Finally, and one of my personal favourites, the hot shoe lock that you can use to mount the flash on a camera or a remote control, is unique — at least, I haven’t seen this extremely efficient locking mechanism elsewhere.
The metal shoe is encapsulated in a rubberised construction that locks the shoe onto the camera mount by operating a locking slider with a safety lock from left to right. It’s so well designed, you can actually operate this slider with gloves on. I never trust the locking rings on flash shoes, as I seem to lack the ‘magic touch’ to firmly lock the camera flash in place. Which makes the whole thing slide off too easy. Not with the mechanism on the LP180. Once it’s locked, it firmly grabs the shoe mount and it feels and looks very secure.
Opening the lock is a matter of pressing the security button and sliding back from right to left.
The battery door is much better and robust than the LP160′s. The old door was a slide-on design that was finicky to handle and you could lose the door while trying to fasten it. The LP180′s battery door has a hinged design. It does take a bit of force to close it with the four AA batteries inside, but it’s sturdy and safe. The power pack interface sits behind another hinged door. Behind that door you’ll also find the firmware update interface (mini USB), and the “mini-jack” and PC-Sync connections. Using an external power pack therefore does mean you’re exposing the other interfaces to the elements, dust, etc. as well.
I think the LP180 is great value for money, even better than the LP160, which was an absolute topper of a manual flash. If I were to wish for anything, then I’d go for a GN help/calculator on the LCD screen. Perhaps a stroboscope feature would be welcome too, although stroboscope functionality would probably severely affect the lifespan of the speedlight. No, in my opinion, the LP180 is a dream of a manual flash. One that may cause a serious addiction to light manipulation…