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Review: LumoPro LP160

Published: Feb. 19, 2011

Copyright 2012 by Wil C. Fry. All Rights Reserved.

Updated 2015.01.02


All images in this entry are Copyright 2011* by Wil C. Fry. All rights reserved.

* Except where noted

Introduction


The LumoPro LP160 was my first fully manual flash, and the first one that I bought specifically for using off-camera flash. I chose it after seeing it recommended by the Strobist blog (here).

After an extensive series of real-life tests, a few carefully controlled tests, and using it almost every day for four years, I can say I’m very pleased with it.

The LP160 has manual power settings from 1/1 (full power) down to 1/64, in full-stop increments. That’s seven power settings. It also has manual zoom control, including various focal lengths from 24mm to 105mm (with 35mm as the default). Its head is a swivel/bounce head, and it came with a snap-on wide-angle flash diffuser.



Zoom Settings


At first, I couldn’t tell the difference when using it at different zoom settings. However, I generally use it as a bounce flash — off a white ceiling, so the zoom doesn’t matter as much. Later, when pointing it at a blank wall and testing with various zoom settings, it was clear that the light emission narrowed or widened appropriately.



Power Settings


In the table below are the test images I created for the purpose of this review. In all cases, I was using the Canon 400D (Rebel XTi) mounted on a tripod, about a foot away from the subject, which was a four-inch tall porcelain figurine angel. In all cases, I was using the Sigma 28mm f/1.8 EX DG Macro lens, with the following exposure settings: 1/200 sec., f/5.6, ISO400, releasing the shutter with a wireless remote and firing the flash with a Cactus V4 wireless flash trigger.

The only zoom settings I tested were 35mm and 105mm, each as a bounced flash and each as direct flash (for a total of four tests). In each of the four tests, I used all seven power settings, as indicated in the left column of the table below. (Scroll past the table to continue reading my review.)

Power
Setting
Zoom: 35mm
Bounced
Zoom: 105mm
Bounced
Zoom: 35mm
Direct
Zoom: 105mm
Direct
1/1
1/2
1/4
1/8
1/16
1/32
1/64

It’s easy to see the changes in brightness as I adjusted the power setting on the LP160. The top row of thumbnails is clearly brighter than each succeeding row. (Click any thumbnail above to see a larger image on Flickr.) But it’s difficult to see any differences between column one and two, or between columns three and four.

To me, column one looks slightly brighter than column two, and more evenly lit. At 35mm zoom, the flash is putting out a wider beam of light and more of it is therefore reflecting off the ceiling and the walls onto the subject. The opposite seems true when using direct flash, and so column four is slightly brighter and harsher than column three. At 105mm, the flash is much more focused on the subject, and less is escaping to irrelevant areas.

As I said, I don’t intend to use the flash zoom often; I’ll likely leave it at 35mm (it defaults to that setting when you turn it on). But the power settings are the main reason I bought the flash.


My Older Flashes


So you’ll know what I’m comparing it to, I have three older flash units. (1) Vivitar Auto 30D, $10; (2) ProMaster 5550DX Digital, $60; and (3) Canon 420EX Speedlite, $75 used. The first two do not have any power-adjustment settings. The Vivitar is as simple a flash as you can get. It fires a flash. That's it. The ProMaster has a swivel/bounce head, and an optional optical slave unit that works well. The Canon has a swivel/bounce head, and could be triggered with a more expensive Canon flash that I’ll never buy. The only way to adjust power settings with the 420EX is to use the flash on-camera and tweak menu settings in-camera. If used off-camera on a wireless trigger, the 420EX just fires at full power every time.

But back to my review.


Trigger Options


The LumoPro LP160 has a 3.5mm (1/8’) miniphone jack socket and a PC Sync cord socket (visible in the image below), and can be fired using either one. A 3.5mm cord was included in the box. There’s a metal hotfoot on the flash, so it can be fired that way, on any camera with a standard hotshoe. Additionally, an optical slave is built in, so the LP160 can be triggered by another flash. I already have reliable wireless radio flash triggers, so I’ll likely be using it that way most of the time. Not many flash units can be fired in so many ways (for this price).



Extra ‘Ready’ Light


All of my flashes have a red “ready” light that illuminates when the capacitor is charged (flash is ready to fire). But the LP160 has one on the front (visible in the image below) and on the back, which is rare, and is very handy when you’re using off-camera flash.


(Copyright 2013 by Wil C. Fry. All rights reserved.)



30-Minute Auto-Shutoff


Another feature that I loved is the almost nonexistent auto-shutoff. By comparison, my ProMaster flash will become inactive after three minutes of nonshooting, and the Canon 420EX will do the same after just 90 seconds. I get tired of walking over to the flash and pressing the “test” button to reactivate it. The LP160’s auto-shutoff feature only takes effect after 30 minutes. (I didn’t fully test this, but I did go more than eight minutes without firing the flash and it didn’t shut off during that time.)


One-Hand Swivel And Tilt


I also liked that the swivel/bounce head can be swiveled and tilted without having to press a safety catch. (The Canon requires two hands, since you have to press the safety button before swiveling or tilting the flash head.)


Durability / Longevity


Build-wise, the LP160 feels solid. It’s heavier and larger than my 420EX, and has a metal hotfoot (all my other flashes have plastic ones).

After nearly four years of using this flash almost daily — usually on Cactus V4 triggers, but also on-camera and as an optical slave — it’s never let me down. I’ve now fired it thousands of times. Everything still works exactly as it did the day I bought it.


My Only Complaints


My earliest gripe with the LP160 was the battery compartment door. It just slides off. Completely off. If you’re accustomed to battery compartment doors that have a hinge or at least a catch of some kind, you’ll want to be careful to secure the door in the palm of your hand or a shirt pocket before changing batteries. But once snapped in place, it stays in place, which is more than I can say for my ProMaster.

A couple of years later, I noted that the 3.5mm jack doesn’t always work; I finally tested it using audio cable as mentioned by David Hobby in his Strobist blog, running a male-to-male cord from the V4 trigger to the LP160 flash. When connected this way, not only will the flash not fire when triggered, but all of the controls ceased to work (except the power switch). Oddly, it had no issue when using a different — seemingly identical — audio cable; both cables worked in other applications. It does work when connected to the V4 via the PC Sync socket.

After nearly four years of usage, my number one complaint is that it doesn’t remember power settings when you turn it off. The newer LumoPro (LP180) fixed this issue. Personally, I almost always use the flash at the same power setting as the previous shoot, so I sure wish it would remember that setting.


Conclusion


Needless to say, I’m very pleased with the LP160. If problems ever arise, I'll be sure to update this entry.

I did eventually buy a couple of Yongnuo YN560-II speedlights, and they are in several ways superior to the LumoPro flashes, for about a third of the price: more power, easier-to-use controls, and more reliable. The only thing lacking on the YN560-II is a good warranty.


This review was originally published on my blog. See older comments on that old entry.


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