I pretty much never review products. Mostly, this is because I rarely buy the newest, hottest gear. I’m a big fan of top quality goods that are already a generation old: my bag is stuffed with gems like Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8, the 35-70mm f/2.8, and SB800s. But I’m making an exception today, both because the product is fairly new, but also because I think it’s an exceptional deal.
I posted earlier about lighting alphabet soup, which was essentially a summation of my purchasing criteria. I wanted a bigger strobe than my SB800s, one that could compete with the sun outdoors. I settled on the Nicefoto 680W. “Nicefoto” isn’t the most confidence inspiring name to emerge from the smoky factories of China, but I’d read some good things about it and the specs were excellent.
The Nicefoto 680W is equipped with a rechargeable battery that other reviewers have found to get 400+ flashes at full strength. It comes with both an optical trigger and a built in 2.4GHz radio trigger. The power goes from full to 1/64 in full stop increments. There’s a modeling lamp, and cooling system. And it utilizes IGBT technology, which means the flash has a very short T.1 time (up to 1/7,900th of a second) for freezing the action. Great specs, and at $420 a good price, but how well does it perform?
Features and Build
First, 680 watts is blindingly bright. There’s more than enough power for most people. The unit is built very well-- very sturdy, well thought-out, fairly heavy, and all the parts fit together snugly. It feels, in short, muscle-bound. The Nicefoto has a host of thoughtful little features, too. There’s a handle that folds down for your human light stand, and a hole with tightening screw for attaching to a non-human light stand. It also has a second small handle that flips out from the top to make it easier to hold while attaching to said stand. There’s strap, a cold shoe to clip your radio trigger, and trigger input. The LCD is large and bright, and the button-interface simple. The only misstep in the design is the umbrella holder, which is at the top of the handle. The reflector and the umbrella post collide, making it impossible to use both at once.
Considering how much thought went into the rest of the unit, it’s baffling and there’s no elegant work-around. The reflector is a Bowen mount, though, which means there are plenty of attachments available (including reflectors with umbrella holes).
Both the optical and radio triggers work well. It would have been nice if you could control the output from the trigger. Another odd over-sight. The trigger appears to be universal (it works on both my Nikon and my Pentax) and has a pass-through, which is a great bonus. I can control my other strobes from the camera. The simplicity makes it easy to use, quick to set-up, and really a joy so far. The modeling light is decent for checking your shadows, but too weak for anything else; it’s daylight temperature, just in case 35 watts is enough for your project.
Quality of Light
Independent testing by the folks over at www.lightingrumours.com verify that the color temperature is 5600; it rises to a slightly bluer 6300 as you decrease the power to 1/64th. That’s pretty accurate in my book. Recycle time is about 4.5 for a full pop, and the output is consistent.
Like your hotshoe flash, the IGBT flash times shortens as the power decreases. In regular mode, the flash time decreases from 1/320th at full to 1/7,600th of a second at 1/64th power. There’s a FP mode for that clips it even sharper-- again with a commiserating loss of power. There are five FP settings, the slowest (1/2000) is equal to about ¼ power. The fastest (1/7,500) is pretty dinky. Here’s the confusing part for me. In my initial tests, the FB mode doesn’t appear to be any faster than the regular mode: at ¼ power the flash fires at 1/1,600th of a second in regular mode.* That’s virtually the same as the FB mode. The FB mode appears to be a placebo for the most part, but it’s hard to complain because 1/7,500th of a second is very fast.
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned HSS, only FB. These two terms have merged into something synonymous and they’re not. Frankly, I’m not sure what FB refers to anymore. The 680W has an FB mode designed to reduce the flash duration. HSS, on the other hand, greatly “lengthens” the flash duration by turning it into a serious of rapid pulses. HSS is slightly more useful because it allows a faster shutter speed, thereby reducing the ambient light. With “FB” (or a short flash duration) you use ND filters to reduce ambient light. The Nicefoto doesn’t have HSS capability, but it does have multi-flash, which allows you to program multiple distinct flashes for long exposure photography. It’s use, for example, is to show five distinct moments of a dancer’s movement without photoshop.
All in all I’m impressed with the Nicefoto 680W, and I’m looking forward to spending some time with it in the field. The wireless design and handle makes it very efficient, and it performs just as promised. Comparable strobes costs $100-$400 more, which is why I decided to post a review.
*I’m metering the light output and utilizing the flash duration charts supplied by Nicefoto.