The other day I was telling a friend of mine that I found some new gear to be in love with but he would never guess what. It’s not some crazy new never been though of gadget, or something that will revolutionize the way we take pictures or talk on our smart phones. No, nothing quite so magical. It is however what is considered to be a “Generic” brand of lighting, at least to professionals, despite the company’s reputation for making well built affordable products for any level of Photographer. I’m getting way ahead of myself though so let me explain.
I teach plenty of workshops each year, and regularly teach lighting at Ivy Tech each semester. One of the hardest parts of doing this is the “Russian Roulette” of gear that students tend to go and buy either during a multi part workshop, or a semester of classes. What do I mean by Russian Roulette? Simple. For the semester class, students have been required to get a speedlight or monoblock of some kind so that they could photograph things outside the school studio. This helps in the sense that not everybody has time to go back in and get time in the school studio while fighting with at least 3 other classes to get that time just to do their homework. The problem here is that
some very few would get a Nikon or Canon branded speedlight, and most would get the more generic of generics off of Ebay or Amazon. Not that there is anything wrong with a Neewer or Yonungo flash as it comes to putting out a blast of light but everybody would come back with something vastly different that I would inevitably have to learn how to use in order to troubleshoot for them and teach them how to use it in the first place. Then on top of that there were different generic brand triggers that would blanket a certain frequency meaning that one persons trigger on channel A would trigger Pocket Wizards on Channels 1 and 2, and other folks triggers on all of their channels ect ect ect. This is where John Scott from Roberts Camera enters the picture. I asked John at the end of last semester to find me some speedlights and triggers that I could recommend to my students that weren’t break the bank expensive, potentially had Educational pricing and were the most light for the dollar if you will. This is where John recommended Phottix, which as far as I was concerned at the time was just as generic as Neewer or Yonungo. (You’ve probably already guessed since you are reading this here that I was not only dead wrong about that whole generic thing, but I am planning on getting a bunch of Phottix gear to use at every shoot because of how great they were). Also, at the time of this writing Phottix and Roberts are not paying me for this review. I in fact asked to do a review on the Phottix gear because of how impressed I was with it. It’s all 100% me and my opinion good or bad. This one just happens to be outstanding.
So when I say generic, some may imply that it’s a bad thing. That’s not the case. As you may recall I’ve fallen in love with Sigma’s lens offerings in the last few years and for a long time they were considered a “Generic” third party brand. I don’t consider them to be that way anymore, and while some may disagree I think everybody should take a look at Phottix the same way. I never would have given Phottix a second look had John not recommended them for me and my classes and then called me to take a look at them when the first set came in. That said you should know that when I think of high quality lighting I always considered Profoto, Elinchrom, and Broncolor to be top shelf. Paul Buff’s stuff is incredibly popular in the photography world and for good reason as it’s cheap, well built, effective and their service department is second to none. It also can easily be considered a “Generic” as it’s about as common in the photography world as Honda’s are in the world of cars. I’ve always felt as though Paul Buff gave an incredible dollar to light value which is why I own three Paul Buff Einstein heads. The Paul Buff Einsteins have been my go to lights for years and it’s for all the reasons I mentioned a second ago. With that, I think that everything is all about to change though now that I’ve had this Phottix gear in my hands. So what makes the Phottix gear so special? Simple. It’s well built, consistent and it’s easy to use. That is of course on top of the fact that the ODIN triggers work with the Phottix Mitros+ Speedlights, Phottix Indra Studio heads AND the 7 Nikon Speedlights I already have. You can say to me that Pocket Wizard TT1’s and Tt5’s can do that too but I’ll say no they can’t and that my TT1’s and TT5’s are about to be dumped for ODIN triggers. Here’s why.
(Chris from WhonPhoto thinks long and hard about the weight of the Nikon 200-400F4 on his shoulder)
(Nikon D4s, 160ISO, Sigma 35mmF1.4Art, 1/4000th@F1.4. Phottix Indra 360 bounced out of a 36″ umbrella set to TTL triggered by ODIN Transmitter on the camera hot shoe)
If you read the camera settings on that photo of Chris you’ll notice that the shutterspeed is well beyond the normal 1/250 sync limit on most studio/large lights. Phottix’s Indra monoblocks using the Phottix ODIN triggers are capable of both TTL and High Speed Sync (using a strobe at faster than 1/250th). Not only are they capable of TTL and High Speed Sync, but the ODIN triggers will do TTL and HHS with the Monoblock, a Phottix Mitros+ Speedlight, AND any Nikon or Canon speedlight simultaneously (System dependent obviously). This is all from the same trigger at the same time. Go ahead and read that again; I’ll wait…… Actually, better yet let me say it again hitting the keys a little harder. Monoblock TTL with High Speed Sync, Phottix Speedlight TTL with High Speed Sync, and Nikon (or Canon) Speedlight TTL with High Speed Sync (SB910, SB900, Sb800, SB700, SB600….doesn’t matter which model really) ALL AT THE SAME TIME, WORKING TOGETEHR. Not only that, but would you believe that you can even zoom the flash head on your speedlights from the ODIN transmitter? Not just the Phottix branded speedlight, the Nikon or Canon ones. And the TTL really works too! Not just gets close kind of works, but it works easily as good as the Profoto B1Air I tested last year. To prove that, I went to the same location and shot the same model as I did with the Profoto for that review.
The B1500Air unit I tested, was only available in Canon at the time that I tested it, but I had a loaner Canon 5D Mark II when I did it. The unit performed flawlessly as you would expect for a strobe that costs $2,100 with no accessories. The 360ws Indra that I tested, costs less than half what the Profoto B1 500AIR TTL costs, and the Indra 500ws head is only a little more than half at $1200 retail (These are retail prices, Education pricing is still lower than that!). While the 360 only has 360ws as opposed to the 500ws of the Profoto, it was able to stand up to the challenge of proving itself to be accurately daylight balanced and overpower the sun using a proportionally smaller umbrella to the zeppelin I used with the Profoto review. I don’t quite recall how the the recycle time stacked up against the Profoto, but the time it took to recharge was really pretty minimal in the grand scheme of a photoshoot. (I don’t recall waiting longer than 2 seconds for my next shot which overpowering the sun on a September afternoon is pretty solid amirite?)
(Nikon D4s, 100ISO, Sigma 50mmF1.4Art, 1/8000th@F1.4. Phottix Indra 360 to camera left bounced out of a 36″ umbrella set to TTL, triggered from a Phottix ODIN on the camera’s hot shoe)
The Indra360 comes with a carrying case, and a cable for if you got the larger battery pack. I really love the size of the battery pack included with the 360 but the cable is permanently attached to the side which means I’m likely to break it in a short amount of time because….well…. it’s me. (I’ve been told that the Indra Engineers are working on a 360 Battery that has a detatchable cable, but there is not ETA as to its arrival on the market). The Indra 500 has a cable detachable from both the head and the battery which in my opinion is a much better system. The carrying case that the 360ws Indra came with was large enough for the head, the cables, the battery pack, the ODIN Transmitter, an ODIN receiver, a MITROS+ Speedlight, a Nikon SB900 Speedlight, AND the reflector for the Indra monoblock. And there was still space leftover. There’s even more space too considering you don’t even need a Phottix ODIN receiver to use any of these since Phottix builds their receivers into the speedlights and Studio heads. Anyway; is it a Manfrotto quality case? No, but is it impressive for something included with a Phottix Monoblock? Hell yes. The Indra felt like it was built very solidly. More solidly than my Paul Buff Einsteins anyway which says a lot as I have been very happy with the Paul Buff Build Quality. If you dropped it at the right height or proper angle of course it would likely need repair, but how much gear do you own that you can drop carelessly without needing a repair? I know the Profoto’s have the bulbs and modeling lights built in, and last I checked it was a few hundred dollars to repair a broken bulb. The Phottix uses a LED modeling light and the flashtube for the 500ws head is only $88!. The Mitros Speedlight feels about as well constructed as a Nikon SB910, with the fit and finish of a Canon 600RX. Both Canon and Nikon’s flagship speedlights are constructed about equally well, but the Phottix uses the matte plastic look of a Canon, as opposed to Nikon’s slightly more glossy finish. That in no way shape or form be an impacting detail on your buying decision though. If it is, you are likely in the wrong line of work to be shopping for a high end speedlight. That said, Canon’s 600EX-RT speedlight retails for $550, Nikon’s SB-910 retails for $550, and the Phottix Mitros+ retails for $399 BEFORE educational pricing, which Canon and Nikon don’t even offer. To add insult to Injury, you know how the Nikon and Canon (finally) have PC ports on their flashes? PC port being that 100 year old flash triggering system that is essentially pointless? Phottix has put a standard stereo jack on their flash, so if you have to use a pocket wizard to trigger the thing from 600 feet away for some reason, you can use the same cable you would on most studio heads that comes with every pocket wizard sold, and is even sold at target, best buy, or Radio shack if you are in a pinch. Seriously. It’s about time someone did this. Speaking of things someone did, the Phottix Indra heads use the Bowens flash mount too, which is one of the best there is. The modifiers are seated behind the flash tube inside the head, meaning there is absolutely zero light spill out the sides. Not that I mind adding tape to my Paul Buff modifiers on occasion, but you know….
Recently I described the whole Phottix System to my buddy Mike. He told me that the system sounded too good to be true; especially when I described the Phottix Laso system for the Canon RT Speedlight system. The Laso system is for Canon only, and it controls the 600EX-RT speedlight system while also using receivers to add old Canon non radio speedlights to the system as well. On top of that the Laso system can trigger the Phottix Studio heads at the same time. Phottix essentially went and undid the problems faced with Canon Speedlight users who have the Pocket Wizard TT1 and TT5 system, as well as added the functionality of controlling the studio lights too. A big issue with the Pocket WIzard TT1’s and TT5’s with the Canon Speedlight was Radio Frequency soak and the triggers not firing unless a radio sheild was added to the flash (which Pocket WIzard provided). There is no such problem with teh ODIN triggers because they use the 2.4ghz band. It was a little more expensive to do that, but for Phottix the customer comes first. While I don’t shoot Canon, and I haven’t seen this system in person I know that if I was a Canon shooter I would be friggin amped.
(Nikon D4s, 320ISO, Sigma 35F1.4Art, 1/800th@F16. Phottix Indra360 with 7″ standard reflector to camera right set to TTL, Phottix Mitros+ speedlight in the grass set to TTL to camera left aimed up at the subject zoomed to 105mm. Both lights triggered by Phottix ODIN transmitter from on the camera hot shoe)
Really to say that I was impressed by the Phottix equipment is an understatement. I’m impressed so much that my Pocket Wizard TT1’s and TT5’s are very likely going to find their way into the used department at Roberts very soon. No Joke. Of course the ODIN triggers aren’t dummy triggers, so the Pocket Wizard Plus III’s, X’s and II’s are going to stay in the bag for when needed, but I’m pretty much decided that I’m going to be making a set of Phottix Indra 500s my primary lighting kit very soon. There is only one complaint I have about the Indra 500 and that is that the strobe does NOT come with an AC adapter. It’s an extra $325 on top of everything else. So you can either get the Indra500TTL Kit, with a battery, you can just get a head, or you can get a head with a power adapter. Really I’d like to see the Indra’s come with a power adapter of some kind but it’s not up to me (obviously). One other thing that I noticed is that while the LED modeling light is daylight balanced and it’s plenty bright, if you are in a quiet room the heads have a fan in them that is audible on occasion. That can make using the LED light for video difficult if you’re trying to record audio as well. Is this an end of the world? No. Why? Because these strobes stand on their own and are some of the best heads I’ve found for the price. If you are thinking that $1200 is a lot compared to a Paul Buff Einstein’s $500 you are correct. But the Einsteins are dummy strobes. Set the power and walk away. For all the functionality of the $1200 Phottix Indra 500 you would have to buy a $2100 for a Profoto head that does the same stuff but doesn’t work with ANY of your speedlights.
As a teacher at Ivy tech, and someone who does Photo workshops regularly the Phottix System is a godsend. It truly is all the features I want wrapped into one system that is not only well built but cost effective. I’m incredibly thankful for John Scott at Roberts who with little information from me pointed me to Phottix to recommend to my students, and now to anyone reading this. As I’ve mentioned I loved the 360 so much that I’m starting my shopping list to add to/replace my existing kit. If you are a student or educator you should be sure to check out the education Selection with Roberts Camera by getting in touch with John Scott. Phottix has fantastic Educational pricing, and you should definitely consider them if you are in the market to buy lights, or recommend lights to your students.
Actually also if you are looking for more information about the Phottix System, I am doing a live shoot at the Roberts Camera Anniversary bash on November 6th 2015. You should sign up and come out and check it all out in person. The class costs $25, but it gets refunded to you as a $25 Roberts Camera Gift card when you show up, so it’s really a Free class. Hope to see you there!