There is nothing more annoying for an artist than to be limited by his or her tools. Imagine a painter that only can use two colors or a sculpture trying to use a dull chisel. Yes, they both can probably still create something, but the process is going to take longer, be more difficult, and not be as good as it could have been. I’ve felt the same struggle with my speedlights over the past 8 years. I’ve tried multiple models and brands, but I always felt like I was being held back in some form or another. I used a Sb-80dx for quite some time, but when I updated my camera, TTL no longer worked. Then, I tried the Sb-600, but it wasn’t powerful enough. The next obvious step was to try to find something with more power, so I bought the Nissin di866 Mark II. This gave a good amount of power and could even be a master flash, but I found that the recycle time wasn’t great, and if you weren’t careful, it would shut down after a few rapid shots. Finally, I decided to dish out some real cash and I got two Nikon SB-910 units. These guys are great and I really, really do love them. I’ve used them for the past two years or so, and honestly, I don’t have any major complaints….except I have to use another transmitter because I don’t trust the reliability of the built in system, and I’ve had the batteries die at a wedding during an important moment. With all that said, I think I might have found my new go to flash and hopefully (fingers crossed) the flash I’ve been looking for. Keep reading this Flashpoint Zoom Li-on R2: In Depth Review and see if it lives up to my hopes or if it’s another disappointment.
Flashpoint Zoom Li-on R2: In Depth Review
Each photographer will want certain things in his or her speedlight depending on the type of work. I mainly shoot weddings, so I have some pretty high expectations and need a variety of things. These are the main things I have to have:
-long battery life
-high flash power and quick recycle speed
-High Speed Sync (HSS)
-overall great quality and reliability
As I mentioned before, I really do love my Nikon SB-910’s, but I get super annoyed with having to charge a bunch of batteries and not knowing when they are going to die on me. The main reason I started looking at and eventually bought the Flashpoint Zoom Li-on R2 is because of the battery. It doesn’t take the traditional AA batteries. Instead it has a Lithium Ion Polymer built into it.
I really love the battery in the Zoom Li-on R2. In the past, I’ve used external battery packs to increase battery life and recycle speed, but that’s another thing to carry, and it was a pain to keep it attached. For the Zoom Li-on, the battery is already built in so it’s basically like any other speedlight. I love that I don’t have to charge 4 different batteries at a time and try to figure out which are charged and which aren’t. Now I just have to plug in one thing and I’m good to go.
The battery life is crazy. Supposedly it can shoot 650 full power flashes in one charge. I’ve used it at two weddings now, and I still have over half power, so I believe them. That’s another great thing. The display tells you the battery life. As far as I know, no other speedlight I’ve used has that. As I expected, overall I love everything so far about the battery.
Most photographers these days use off camera flash in one way or another. I use it quite often during weddings, so it is extremely important that my speedlight be able to do this and do it well. The Flashpoint Zoom Li-on R2 has several nice features when it comes to wireless flash. One, it has a transmitter built in. This is great because having to deal with a receiver is one more thing to carry, attach, and worry about working. Flashpoint has multiple flashes out there, and they all can be controlled by the R2 transmitter. I have the Xplor 600 as well, so if I really wanted to, I could use both flashes at the same time. One other plus to the transmitter is that is has a hot shoe that allows other flashes to be placed on top, even non Flashpoint models. If you own multiple Zooms and don’t like using a transmitter, the Zoom can also be used as the master unit. Turns out the flashes actually have an awesome feature I wasn’t even aware of: they are compatible with the Nikon Creative Light System. That means I can use a Nikon pop up flash or a Nikon SB-910 to control the flash if I didn’t have a transmitter. It also works the other way around. The Flashpoint Zoom Li-on R2 can be used as the master flash with CLS. Besides that, they can also be used in two different slave modes, but I imagine most people won't use that very often.
These are some great features, but if they don’t work or are hard to use, it doesn’t really matter. To be completely honest, I’ve had a few issues getting the flash to work wirelessly. The first few times I messed with them, I thought I had them set up correctly, but they weren’t firing. I fiddled with them some more and then could get it to work. Turns out it’s a smart idea to read the instructions. I think the confusion was mainly in the multiple modes available. I thought I had the remote flash set to the right mode when it actually wasn’t. Some might be able to figure it out straight away, but for most, I'd suggest reading the instructions.
It does work inside with the CLS system, but I prefer to use the radio settings for reliability. The radio system works great. I was able to go outside and walk roughly 150 ft away, and I had no problem triggering the flash. I most likely won't use the flash at that distance, but it's good to know it's reliable. One small annoyance that I have found is that when you switch the wireless modes, the group always resets to A. That might not seem like a big deal, but if I don’t think about it, I have to go back to the flash and change the group to something else. Besides that and me not reading instructions, everything else has been great with the wireless system.
Flash Power and Recycle Speed
Flash power and recycle speed are really important in the wedding world. I often work in dark venues and things are moving pretty quickly. It’s important that I have enough power to light up my subjects and be able to take multiple shots with the flash keeping up.
I tested the Flashpoint Zoom Li-on against the Nikon Sb-910 in both power and recycle speed. As far as power goes, I'd say they are pretty much even. I tested each flash at the lowest power (1/128th) about middle (1/16th) and full power (1/1) at Iso 320, Shutter speed 1/160th , and F5. I didn't use a meter, so I can't say for sure, but just from comparing the pictures, I can't tell any difference in power.
Recycle speed was pretty close for the most part (see video here). When I was shooting at the lowest and even middle power, I couldn't tell a difference in the recycle speed. They both were instant. When I was shooting at full power, the Flashpoint won by a second or two. Now, this might have to do with the batteries used, but again, that's kind of the issue I have with the Nikon. If I were to choose a winner, I'd choose the Flashpoint.
I don’t really use TTL a ton, but I do use it with my on camera flash while I’m shooting events. I’m constantly moving during the reception and the lighting changes and people are different distances, so manual flash isn’t really an option. I need my power to be able to adjust automatically for me.
I tested the TTL on camera and off, and both worked well. From my past experience, I've found that most flashes are not perfect with it comes to TTL. The Flashpoint Zion was about the same. From what I saw in both situations, the photos were about 3/4ths underexposed. This isn't a big deal. I could adjust this in post or simply up the flash compensation.
High Speed Sync (HSS)
Lately I’ve changed the way I shoot, and that’s mostly because of High Speed Sync (HSS). HSS allows me to shoot with a high shutter speed and darken the scene and still use a flash to light my subject. Before, it was a real pain, but now it’s pretty easy. I’ve made HSS a part of the way I shoot, so it’s important that my flashes be able to handle that.
One thing that I’ve never really understood about flashes with HSS is why should I have to turn on that mode? What good is it to not have it on? For some reason, if you are using the flash in manual??? mode you have to turn on HSS but you don’t in the other modes. There’s a button for it, so it’s really not that difficult, but it just seems kind of a pointless step. Why not just leave it on all the time?
I tested HSS out in the brightest part of the day. I had the ISO at 100 and was shooting at F2.8, and I varied my shutter speed from 1/1000th to 1/2000th. I also tried TTL and manual mode. In general everything worked as it should. I felt like the Flashpoint wasn't quite powerful enough for anything over 1/2000th, but I was bouncing the flash into an umbrella. If I had been shooting directly at the subject, I could have gone higher.
Overall I think the HSS is good and will work in a lot of situations. If I'm really looking to overpower the sun, I'll probably go with my Flashpoint Xplor 600. It's a lot bigger and hard to carry around, but it does have the power I need.
Build Quality and Reliability
There is plenty of cheap photography equipment out there, but I’m more interested in buying something that will last and does what I want it to do. The Flashpoint Zoom Li-on feels like a solid flash. It has some weight to it and the plastic feels solid. If it was dropped, I bet it would survive, but I’m not willing to test that right now. The buttons are easy to press, and the LCD is bright and easy to read. It’s quick and easy to get to different settings without having to go through a ton of menus. As I mentioned early, there are several modes, so you will have to get use to them. The head swivels and clicks in place, but it isn’t as smooth as the SB-910. I found that it took me a little longer and more effort to get it in the position I wanted. I’m not a giant fan of the locking system. It’s the type that you have to twist to tighten or loosen. I would prefer a switch similar to Nikon or Canon because that makes things quicker and easier.
So far I haven’t had any issues with it being unreliable. It’s a little slow to start up, but as long as you keep it on that’s not a big deal. One thing I did notice is that when I was shooting with grids, the grids felt warm afterwards. There weren’t any issues or damage to the grids, but I wonder if this could lead to damaging the grids or the flash overheating. The good thing is that Adorama should take care of you if something does happen. Recently, I had something break, and they were quick to get it repaired, so I trust them.
Other Random Things
There were a few other things to note. One, there is a repeating mode to create interesting photos, but for the life of me, I couldn't figure out how to do it on my own. Once again, I had to turn to the instructions. After messing with it for a few minutes, I was able to figure it out. The Zoom does come with a foot (different one than pictured above) and a bag, so that's always nice. I was also excited that I could use all of my MagMod gear with it, so I can continue to shoot the way I was.
Overall I believe the Flashpoint Zoom Li-on R2 is going to be my new go to speedlight. After testing things and writing this Flashpoint Zoom Li-on R2: In Depth Review, I've basically convinced myself to sell my other flashes. It’s got all the features I loved about my Nikon SB-910 and beats it several areas. Plus, I got the Flashpoint Zoom Li-on R2 for $150 (non TTL version is even cheaper)! That’s about half the price of most of the speelights out there. If you’re tired of dealing with AA batteries, transmitters, and high prices, the Flashpoint Zoom Li-on R2 is the way to go!