So, I suddenly discovered a need for blowing out the sun.
On location I typically bring my pair of trusty Nikon SB900 speedlights. Those do their job perfectly but in the end they are still speedlights. Sometimes you just need a little more than that. And preferably without going all McNally with multiple speedlights per light modifier. ;)
So, let's shop! What would my ideal set of flashes be?
- Battery driven! Or at least something you can use where there isn't a 230V socket nearby. This means either getting a large powerpack for the studio strobes, or something else instead.
- Enough power! Obviously. Otherwise I'd stick to speedlights. They work fine!
- High Speed sync: yes please! I like being able to do flashes @ shutter of 1/4000th of a second. That blows away the sun. G'bye sun, hello darkness!
- Oh and if possible: compatibilty with my existing Nikon speedlights would be nice! Let's use everything together!
And... found it! The perfect match actually. The Phottix Indra 500.
Other contenders which I seriously considered where the Elinchrom ELB400 (since I already have Elinchrom), the Profoto B1 (really nice, and also really expensive) and the Foxflash 680 (little known, cheap, and I hear good stories about them too). Each one has it ups and downs, but I finally settled on getting 2 Phottix Indra 500's together with a single battery pack. Read on to know why these work for me.
First of, some specifications:
The Phottix Indra is a battery fed 500Ws studio strobe, which can be triggered using a variety of methods including the Phottix Odin triggering system, which incidentally I already have and use. The Phottix Indra supports high speed sync for Nikon and Canon, which means it can keep up with shutter speeds up to 1/8000 (in my case). I should probably include things like actual watt seconds and recharge times here... but I am not a person that cares about such metrics. Please do see other reviews and/or spec sheets for this. I care about if these flashes fit my needs, and they certainly do!
The good stuff:
- Syncing work perfectly together with (both) my existing Odin trigger, or as optical slaves together with my studio set (which uses yet another trigger system). The Odin trigger never gave me misfires so far, and I love to set the power of each flash directly my camera. Good!
- Light quality: consistent between flashes, both in output strength and in color temperature. Note that I typically don't care about that last bit that much. I often gel everything to crazy colors anyway.
- Powerful enough for my needs (so far ;) ). You will not find detailed graphs on this blog, nor explanations on how these measure up in milliwattsecond-deltas vs other lights. That's all cool for the statistics, but not useful for me in the field. I'll settle on: powerful enough. Let me explain in a picture, taken on a cloudy day in the middle of a forest:
Lit by a single Phottix Indra about 5 meters away from the model. Note: this picture has (obviously) been edited and is not intended as a perfect showcase of what you can achieve with such a light. That said, I couldn't achieve this without such a light. ;)
- The battery pack is amazingly small, light and powerful! Love this! Power wise: it fits my needs. I have used the set a couple of times within an outdoor photobooth, and it easily survives that powering both flashes @ 1/8-ish. After approx 600 photos the pack stills claimed to be 3/4 full. Perfect! A battery pack can power two flashes (and their LED modelling lights if you so prefer), and it can charge your phone too.
- In non-Odin mode (a.k.a. manual) there's a nice big fat turnythingy-knob on the back, which you turn to get more power. Big display also tells you the numbers in nice big letters. Good!
The bad stuff:
- This set is heavier than carrying two speedlights. Obviously! Keep this in mind if you're a speedlight photog.
- That also means that you typically want to take bigger/heavier tripods. Especially when using light modifiers such as an umbrella. Bring a VAL or use a trick like the picture on the right ;)
- The cord: it's long enough, but if you want to fire 2 strobes out of one battery pack, both strobes need to be reasonably close to each other. This is a downside, and I'll probably get me another battery pack later for maximum flexibility.
- At first I got a few strange misfires when using high speed sync, until I figured out that this was because I had my camera set to rear curtain sync. This does not work well with high speed sync. Easy to fix, however I would've liked the system either telling me this, or just reverting to front curtain sync instead.
- The optical sync eye of the Phottix Indra's is quite small and located on the back of the flash. For me this means that it doesn't always see other flashes. However, taping some wite tape near the eye allowed it to catch enough light to trigger.
- Bowens mount. This is a good thing.. but not for me. My studio modifiers use the Elinchrom mount. So I'll need yet another set of converter rings to hook up my existing stash of light mods to this system. First world problem. ;)
To summarize, I love the set! The extra carrying weight to locations is a hassle, but the versatility and flexibility of these lights is perfect for me. I'll continue to do a lot of field testing (literally, by carrying it into a field) and will update this post when appropriate!