GEAR REVIEW - LENCARTA SMARTFLASH II
The latest addition to the AK Photography studio is a pair of Lencarta Smartflash II monolights. These were bought to replace the Yongnuo YN560 II, as kicker and hair lights. Although the YN560s work perfectly fine and I love their flexibility and simplicity, the lack of a modeling lamp has become more bothersome to me of late.
Sculpting and fine tuning the lighting takes a lot longer if I can't see what it's doing in real time. I also find it annoying when the batteries die and need changing mid-shoot. Sometimes I only have an hour to photograph a product for a client, which means time is of the essence.
Having bought the Ultrapro 300, Super Fast 300, Quadlite and 3 LED 1000s from Lencarta in the past, I was confident that the new Smartflash II would be of comparable quality. The first thing I noticed upon opening the box, was the diminutive size and weight compared to the previous units. At 30cm long and 13cm wide, they are surprisingly compact. Build quality is decent, with a strong aluminum body and tilt mechanism, robust enough to withstand being transported to location shoots. Being just 1.5kg in weight, they won't break your back either. A nice feature of this and other Lencarta lights is the rear handle. It comes in very handy, not only when carrying the light but also for making adjustments to the tilt angle.
The Smartflash II comes complete with a 150w screw-in modeling lamp, which can be dimmed via an analogue dial on the control panel. There is also the option to turn it off completely, which is useful if it's just not needed or you want to keep the heat down on a shoot. The bulb is protected by a replaceable hard plastic cover when not in use. The flashes are also cooled by an internal fan, which is barely audible. Cleverly, if the lamp is left on, after a period of inactivity the software inside will shut it off, to extend its longevity.
The control panel is well laid out and easy to navigate, even if you've never used a studio strobe before. Alongside the analogue dial for the lamp is a digital dial which controls the flash power. This has 5 stops of power adjustment, ranging from 6ws up to 200ws, which allows you to use wide apertures if need be, or to really stop the lens down for greater depth of field.
According to my Sekonic L-758DR, settings 1.1 to 1.3 move in 1/3 power stops. Above that it's 1/10th increments. This is the same as the SF300. Below the dials are 4 buttons. These control the lamp on/off, recycle beep, slave function and also a test button.
Recycle times are again pretty good, with a full power discharge being ready after just 1 second and 0.2 seconds at the lowest setting. This should be more than suitable for most cameras and shooting scenarios. Obviously, if you're doing high speed/action shooting and firing off a lot of FPS, then look at the Superfast range.
Probably the most important feature for any strobe is its action stopping ability. So what can we expect from a flash that cost just over £100? You'd be forgiven for thinking not a lot but, surprisingly, you'd be wrong.
At minimum power the t=0.1 is a respectable 1/400 sec according to the manufacturer's website, which might not freeze fast moving action but certainly more than suitable for posed portraiture or static subjects. At full power the t=0.1 time is 1/900th sec. Definitely not bad at all. Exposure consistency was also very reasonable, with a variance of around 2/10ths of a stop at most. Certainly nothing to cause you any major headaches in post production.
Being an S-fit mount means you can use a great many generic light modifiers that are available from Amazon and eBay. This helps keep costs down, whilst significantly increasing the number of looks and lighting styles possible. The modifiers are held in place by a spring loaded locking mechanism. This allows for simple and quick changing. Care should be taken when removing any softbox, reflector or beauty dish, as it's possible to hit the flash tube or modeling lamp with the metal mount.
For the money, the Lencarta Smartflash II is a very capable little strobe, ideal for beginners, those on a budget or photographers like myself, looking to add additional monolights to their existing gear. The interface is very straightforward and the size and weight, make it easy to transport and position in studio. The power range is diverse, coupled with recycle and action stopping times that rival much more expensive flashes. I'm firing them with the Interfit Titan Pro triggers, which operate on the same 433Mhz as Pocketwizards do in the UK, and so are compatible with my Sekonic L-758DR. My initial impression of the Smartflash II is very positive and I have little reason to think that will change with continued use. They definitely get a thumbs up from me!