You’ve probably seen the expensive battery-operated, hand-held mini strobe units that pro photographers are using instead of traditional camera flash. The problem with all of these is that they cost a fortune. In tough economic times, what’s a poor photographer to do?
As you know if you are a regular reader, I am a fan of the Adorama Flashpoint line. Everything I’ve reviewed from that line is a great value for the money. Will the 180 mono light reach that high bar? Read on to find out.
Adorama sells this kit in two configurations. The MK-180T is a 180-watt second mono light. The MK-400T is a 400-watt second mono light. I tested the 180-watt second version since the 400 wasn’t available at the time of the test. The small 180 provides a nice quantity of light. Using the included seven inch reflector, it offers a guide number of 150 at ISO 100. Unfortunately, the included seven inch reflector is the first piece of Flashpoint gear that I can say let me down. It’s VERY cheap. It came in the box from Adorama malformed and it is literally so thin I can use my thumbs to reshape it. Unfortunately I can’t get it back into a perfect circle so I threw it away. On the plus side, this kit works with Bowens S-Type bayonet mount so higher quality light modifiers are available.
The light offers power control from 1/16 to full power. Most of the time you’ll want full power since 180-watt seconds is generally considered a low-power light to begin with.
There is a three-watt LED modeling lamp you can turn on and off via the back switches. There’s a flash ready beep/indicator lamp and an optical slave.
The kit includes two generic copies of the Sony NP-F960 battery pack – a widely available battery that powers the mono light freeing you up from the need for electricity.
There are charging bays, a box to hold both charged batteries that connects to the mono light with a five foot power cable. And lastly, there is an old fashioned 10-foot sync cable and a nice handle that makes it easy to hand-hold the flash.
I wish the power cable were longer – say 10 feet but five feet is long enough as long as you stay close to the flash.
Adorama also includes a case, a small, portable umbrella to bounce the light from the lamp and a fogged plastic dome for those who want diffuse lighting without the muss and fuss of an umbrella or big soft box. Again, Adorama disappointed me with the quality of the umbrella. The spines broke the second time I used it. No big deal. I have 10 umbrellas laying around the studio but if they are going to include an umbrella, given their low cost to begin with, why not include a good one?
The replacement batteries are only $25 so it may make sense to have a few extra. Adorama claims 700 flashes out of a set of batteries, I got 650 flashes out of my set. Very respectable in my opinion.
The unit is permanently attached to a somewhat flimsy 5/8″ bracket. This is no bid deal when using the light with the items that come in the kit. But when you try to mount a heavier lighting modifier, you may run into trouble because the 5/8″ mount isn’t strong enough to support a larger soft box.
In terms of the quality and quantity of light, this unit rivals some costing three to four times more. It’s a very nice-looking, natural light with good reach.
The recycle time is fairly slow – about four seconds per flash.
All in all, for $200 you really can’t complain about much here. If you want the top-quality lights you’ll pay much more. If you are new at strobe, just want an inexpensive fill or have to create light on a budget, then I think the Adorama Flashpoint 180 Mono Light Set Mini is certainly deserving of your consideration. I would opt for the MK-400T when/if it becomes available since I assume it would recycle more quickly and offer a guide number well over 300 at ISO 100. I would also plan on buying some Bowens light modifiers to replace the cheap reflector and umbrella.
But nothing is perfect and again, at $200, I am convinced this is a good value. It’s not a great value, but I don’t know of any product that can compete at this price range.
With the aforementioned caveats in mind – still Recommended.