Are you looking for something to add to your smartphone photography and video capabilities without having to rely on natural light? Take a look at this CPFlash 550W review!
Whether we like it or not, smartphones nowadays are widely used by many photographers, videographers, and enthusiasts who may enjoy the ease of use that comes with smartphones and may not want to invest in a whole camera system. As smartphones are getting better and better, so are the possibilities that come with this progress. More individuals and businesses use mobile photography or videography because sometimes that is just enough for their needs. I often use my smartphone when reaching for a camera is not an option (or when I'm simply too lazy to do so), and I've even ordered print books with smartphone images which came out just fine.
I was sent two CPFlash 550W units from Innovatronix to review and see how this flash system could expand the possibilities in adding something different to smartphone photography and video results.
CPFlash 550W, which retails for $199, is a tri-function flash designed to work with smartphones, DSLRs or mirrorless cameras as well as act as a video light. To use it, you will need to download a free app called CPFlash which works with both Android and iOS.
- You can use the native or a downloaded camera app to control your flash unit(s)
- The master unit is connected to your smartphone via Bluetooth; the slave units are connected to the master via radio connection
- Can connect as many slave units as you want
- Powered by rechargeable Li-Ion Industry Standard 18650 battery; can be charged with micro USB
- Uses 550W high efficiency LED technology; maximum lux output of 95,000 at 0.5 meters with light modifier
- Can be used with existing speedlite accessories
- Comes with 6 color gels, a rechargeable smartphone camera trigger, wireless hotshoe DSLR and mirrorless camera trigger, micro USB cable for charging, and a detachable metal bracket
- Has 8 video light effects
This unit should be compared with other continuous light products because it falls within that category, too. The 550-watt power output is not equivalent to a 550-watt xenon flash. Based on the manufacturer's tests, this flash unit is equivalent to approximately 60 watt-second speedlites, such as, Canon 580EX, 600EX, Nikon SB-800, Nikon SB-900, and equivalents from Godox and Yongnuo.
The unit is pretty much the same size as most speedlites but it comes with a detachable metal bracket which means that even if you don't have a stand to screw it on, you can use the bracket to appropriately place the flash to point at the right direction, for example, if you prop it up on a chair or a table. The unit itself feels very solid as it has an aluminum metal casing.
As much as I like the convenience of connecting to accessories wirelessly, a lot of times it can be a cause for a headache because sometimes things just do not connect which wastes your shooting time. This time, however, the flash quickly is found on Bluetooth and connected to my phone. As noted, you only need to connect one of your flashes to your smartphone, which will act as the master unit.
First, I tested out the flashes as videolights and they are plenty bright. The color gels that are included have small magnets on them so they easily attach to the unit. The 8 video light effects can be triggered on your app as well as on the unit itself, and they are meant to replicate effects, such as police lights (using the color gels), lighting, paparazzi, and so forth. Obviously, this is an obscure feature that will come in handy for very specific uses but if it's something you'd use, it's there for you!
This kind of light is easy to manipulate because it is just a continuous video light, especially if you add accessories, like the color gels or if you have anything else to add such as a softbox. As a video light, it is a convenient accessory to just throw in your bag as it doesn't take up that much space, but equally, if a video light is all you need, you may want to look at some more basic options that are designed to deliver just that.
My first impression of using this unit as a smartphone flash was one of trial and error! The app itself is easy to use once you use it a few times. As I was using Android device, I can only discuss that version of the app. To change settings, like the flash power, the different video settings, which flash is a master and which one is a slave, and so forth, you need to use the app itself, however, when taking photographs, you use your favorite smartphone camera app.
When you open that, a small overlay of buttons will show up on your screen. This allows you to make changes to the duration of your flash, the power of your units and it also has a button to turn on the video light. To be able to change ISO and shutter speed, for example, you will need to use your camera app in the manual or "pro" mode, otherwise, auto settings will override the desired outcome you're looking for. You can trigger your smartphone to take a shot either using a button on your screen or by using the included trigger, which is quite handy if you have set your smartphone on a tripod and want to either take a self-portrait or need to hold something, for example, a reflector or anything else. The overlay can be easily moved across the screen so it's not right in the middle of your image or other camera controls.
I don't usually shoot with gels or studio lighting at all but I did really enjoy testing out the different colors. I shot a few self-portraits because we're currently in lockdown and my only choices of models are that of me, my partner, or my cat. When I triggered the shutter, I hid the remote in my hand or behind me. I shot with bare flash because I wanted to test out what's possible for those who would simply take the flash out of the box and start using it without having to buy any extra accessories. Even just shooting myself it's very easy to set it all up by myself and after a few test shots you'll soon find the best angle and distance for your flashes.
I felt that some of the colors worked better than others, even using the same settings, and somehow seemed more vibrant. For example, the red and the green worked great while I struggled with the blue and it looked more "washed out" than the others. This may be dependent also on the type of modifiers you use and other variables. If your camera allows shooting in RAW mode, obviously it will be easier to edit your files should you need to but I was actually quite happy with how they came out even without any editing.
I found the responsiveness of the flash to be really good. Even using the flash indoors behind a door and a wall, it was still triggered just fine. The manufacturer claims that the units will work 20 meters line of sight when linking the master unit to smartphone and 50 meters line of sight when master unit links to slave units. For this indoor shot below, I slightly warmed up the temperature and lowered the highlights to see more detail in the office room. I was actually quite impressed how the image came out considering I shot it in complete dark and my smartphone is not the best in low light; the flash gave just enough light to capture all the detail in the hallway.
The most tricky part for me was finding the right settings for the scene because working with my smartphone isn't as intuitive as it is with a camera and it wasn't always easy to ensure consistency in my shots because although the settings hadn't changed, it seemed that the flash did not always open up the light for the same amount of time throughout. This meant a bit of trial and error during the shooting process which quickly drained the flash unit battery in my case. I found that I needed to lock the camera exposure and focus using the AE/AF lock feature to get consistent results.
Without a light modifier, you may struggle to get the light soft enough for portraits. Even though the flash comes with a white filter among the colored ones to slightly diffuse it, you will probably want to invest in or use an already existing light modifier to get those portraits just right. When working with gels it is a bit easier because the harsher light can work well and produce an interesting result.
I actually quite enjoyed working with the light because it does give you more flexibility and opportunities than just using natural light which, let's face it, is not abundant during the winter season. For example, shooting in a dark room and using the light I was able to create these shots below using just one light and no other accessories. As many of us are still working (and shooting) from home, something like this gives our creativity an extra boost, especially on those dark days.
As noted, you can use this flash with your camera, too. However, I would see this as a bonus rather than the primary function of this flash, because you can get dedicated camera flashes that are more powerful and have been well tested among photographers. Innovatronix shared these unedited studio images taken by John Fantastic, the first one shot with a smartphone and the second one shot with his DSLR camera. If you are using it with your camera, you will still need to use the mobile app to connect and adjust settings on your flash.
It could be useful for photographers who already own this flash and are on-the-go or their primary camera flash has run out of battery, however, I would personally use this for smartphone photography only.
What I Liked
- Solid metal cased unit which feels sturdy and reliable
- Bracket that allows placing flash in different angles
- Included color gels to allow a variety of experimental shots and videos
- No connectivity issues between the smartphone and the master unit and between the master and slave unit
- Works with your favorite camera app by simply overlaying a small window of settings and a trigger button
- Easily triggered with the remote which allows for self-portraits and makes the shooting easier
- The light is quite powerful
- Video light can be triggered directly on the unit's body, too
- Several uses packed in one small body: smartphone flash, video light, and a camera flash
- Compatible with various speedlite accessories which is great for those who already have that in their kit
- The flash syncs with a smartphone camera at any shutter speed
What Could Be Improved
- Improved shutter release that ensures the flash has opened up the light for the same amount of time every time to reduce time spent on repeating shots to get it right
- The bracket can be tightened to hold the flash, however, even at its tightest, the bracket would often still move. I would like for it to be more secure when tightened to make sure the angle of light does not accidentally get changed.
- I think, although the fact that you can use this flash with a DSLR or a mirrorless is great, it could be more beneficial to focus on the mobile creators solely and make sure that the flash performs well with smartphones first and foremost; most users who require a camera flash will prioritize flash units that are manufactured to work well in situations and environments where one is using a camera not a smartphone
I think it would be silly to ignore the growing smartphone photo and video market, which is why something like this could come in handy for those who already make the most of smartphone technology. It is a flexible and easy unit to use and to connect to your smartphone, and the included color gels make it a great tool for experimentation and adding some color to both videos and photographs.
This is not something to use on long and complex shoots but all the features that come packed in this one unit can be enough for someone who wants to expand on their skills and start working with artificial lights instead of relying on natural light only. I can see this being a good tool for those who want to step up their photo and video skills without investing thousands in an extensive lighting kit.
If this is something you'd like to try, you can purchase this flash here.