We've seen a flood of high quality battery-powered strobes hit the market over the last few years. Increasingly powerful speedlights like the Nikon SB910 were a great start. More powerful units like the Godox Wistro 360 entered the fray and showed us what a small light could do. These were excellent alternatives to the already successful Paul C. Buff offerings and other options like Elinchrom's Ranger kits. Then, Profoto dropped the B1. We've had Broncolor's offerings since and some "lesser" brands like Phottix and Godox creating budget options. Today, we're going to check out Godox's Wistro AD600 (sold in the US as Flashpoint XPLOR 600).
The AD600 is a 600 Ws battery-powered portable strobe. Slightly more powerful than the Profoto offering and just shy of the Einstein 640/Vagabond combo, the AD600 has put itself right where enthusiasts and pros on a budget are looking. It comes in two versions (TTL and non-TTL), both of which are around the price of the Einstein, or just over a quarter the price of the Profoto. As with all budget options, there are a few things that perhaps don't live up to what you expect from more expensive "brand" options. We'll take a look at those, as well as the benefits of the strobe.
Build and Design
The build of the Wistro AD600 is a bit of a mixture. I would place it somewhere in between the Einstein 640 and the Profoto B1. It feels a lot more solid than it looks, yet still doesn't feel like something you'd just toss in the car and forget about (I'd hope you wouldn't with any of these units). The buttons and jog dials are all solid and responsive. Compared to the Paul C. Buff Einstein 640, they feel excellent in build quality.
The Modifier Mounts
I can't speak to Godox's proprietary mount, as I purchased the Bowens version, but anyone who has used a Bowens mount will know what I mean: one false move and you'll smash the flash bulb. For me, this isn't really an issue as I use mostly umbrella shaft mounted modifiers like the Photek Softlighter II. The umbrella mount is slightly off center but sturdy, and the wing-nut tightens well to hold modifiers in place.
Size and Weight
The AD600 weighs in at 2.66kg, which is slightly lighter than both the Profoto B1 and the Einstein 640 with the Vagabond Mini. Physically, it is a little shorter and fatter than the B1, but longer and narrower than the Einstein 640. It is around the size of a 70-200 f/2.8 lens and so fits quite nicely in bags designed to hold such a lens. I have been transporting it in a shoulder bag when I need just the unit and a single camera, or in the Large Pro ICU from F-Stop Gear when I take a larger kit.
Some Small Issues
A couple of small things that feel like might suffer from wear over time are the sync port cover and the light stand mounting lug. Both of these feel like they were almost an afterthought in the overall construction. However, I've yet to see a problem with either.
This is not something I'm generally concerned about if the unit does its job, and the Wistro AD600 certainly does its job. It is worth mentioning though that it is not the prettiest rose in the garden. The design is functional, in that it houses what it needs to house. If the Profoto B1 is the sports car, the Wistro AD600 is the 1980s Volvo: boxy and straightforward. If that's a concern for you, perhaps consider looking elsewhere.
The button interface on this strobe is far more complicated than it needs to be. In fact, the nine buttons and jog dial could be simply reduced to the jog dial and one button by putting features that don't need to be accessed frequently into the menu system. By doing this, the whole system would be a lot simpler, and you wouldn't need the manual with you all the time. The menu itself is operated using the jog dial, and is simple enough to use. However, in normal shooting, I find that the Godox radio trigger is all that's really needed to operate the flash.
The Godox X1 is the proprietary remote trigger that gives you access to all of the features of Godox's system, including High Speed Sync, groups, power settings, and if you buy the TTL-version of the light, TTL. As a guy coming from the SMDV line of triggers, I find this trigger huge and unwieldy, but Profoto or PocketWizard users will be right at home with its size.
Unlike the AD600, the trigger is significantly flimsier in its construction. The buttons feel like they'll wear out very quickly, and I find myself constantly knocking them with my forehead as I shoot, especially the jog dial. The unit does give you complete control over your strobes remotely, though and is quite easy to use. Aside from better build quality, my only wish for the remote would be the ability to power up and power down the strobe remotely.
One final thing to note is that the buttons are not particularly well labeled, and the manual is necessary for a while to understand the secondary function of each of the buttons.
Output and Features
Output is adjustable from 1/1 to 1/256 in 1/3 stops. This can be done from the unit itself or the X1 remote. Aside from power options, Godox also offers all the usual bells and whistles, like flash groups and multiple channels. These can all be set from the unit or the remote as well. Power output is consistent in my tests, as is color output. Recycle is between 0.01s and 2.5s, which is a touch slower than the Profoto B1, but faster than the Einstein 640 when battery powered.
The battery attaches with a solid "thunk" and doesn't feel like it's going anywhere anytime soon. It has a clip to remove it and can be charged when attached or separated from the strobe. A convenient button on top of the battery quickly lets you know how much power is left regardless of whether it's attached to the strobe or not.
The battery has 8700 mAh of power. That is enough for 500 full-power pops, more than double that of the Profoto B1. This to me was actually the dealbreaker for the B1: battery capacity. My purpose for this strobe is primarily an upcoming long-term personal project in remote areas, The B1 would simply have been too pricey, especially considering how many extra batteries I would likely need to take.
High Speed Sync works well and allows you to leave those pesky ND filters at home, provided your camera system is one of those supported by Godox. Of course, you'll lose a little power each time you bump up that shutter speed, but it's completely worth it for the amount of DOF control you gain. When compared to my Nikon SB800, the AD600 puts out about 3-4 stops more light at full power. This is such a treat when using HSS in broad daylight, as you can have the strobe in a large softbox and still shoot at 1/8000 s. These high speeds were useful when shooting BMX and skateboarding at the local park with my pal, Greg Samborski. Despite the fairly standard t.1 times in normal mode, by using HSS, we were able to freeze the riders in mid-air with high shutter speeds and high flash output.
Using the Godox remote, the strobe automatically switches itself in and out of HSS mode as your shutter speed changes. However, I have noticed that it seems to be tied to Canon sync speeds even with Nikon cameras. My D750 syncs to 1/200 s, and my D800 to 1/320 s, but the trigger automatically enters HSS mode after 1/160 s. The other small error I've noticed is that the strobe enters HSS when the camera is powered off but a test pop is fired from the remote. Not too much of an issue, as it automatically switches out of HSS when the camera is switched on. However, it can be a pain when using a light meter to get your exposure.
Perhaps a major concern with off-brand equipment is getting service and parts. Living in Asia, I don't have any issue with getting spare parts quite quickly directly from Godox. The strobe itself took only two days to arrive in Seoul from Hong Kong, and I was testing it by the morning of the third day. Even getting parts to the US or Europe shouldn't take too long with services like DHL widely available out of Hong Kong and China.
The protruding bulb may not feel as sturdy as the B1's covered bulb, but to be honest, aside from an accidental knock, nothing should happen to the bulb during everyday use. I've had my Paul C. Buff Einstein for six years now with no problems in this regard. Also, parts are so cheap for this strobe that you can afford to carry a few extras and still be well shy of the B1's initial cost.
Against the Einstein
I feel that the most useful comparison of the AD600 should be against the Paul C Buff Einstein. They are in a similar price bracket and power range. Indeed, although it seems the AD600 is aimed squarely at the Profoto B1 as an all-in-one unit, the Einstein is actually closer in terms of flash power and battery life (when used with the Vagabond Mini).
Theoretically, the 640 Ws Einstein should be only 1/3 stop more powerful than the AD600, and my tests show it to be 0.2 stops more powerful when set inside my Softlighter II. Both flashes put out exactly the same power each and every time they were fired for 20 shots in a row. At approximately 2 meters through the Softlighter, this was f/11.7 from the AD600 and f/11.9 from the Einstein (ISO 100).
In terms of color, they both performed exceptionally well. There was barely any swing at all when repeatedly firing at full power for both flashes. Each of 10 frames were tested in Photoshop using three different points around the image. The AD600 swung approximately 1 point on the blue channel over the 10 frames and the Einstein 2 points on the red channel. These are such tiny movements that for all intents and purposes, they don't exist.
For me, the Godox wins out over the Einstein in many situations because of its size and portability and High Speed Sync being such a useful addition to my arsenal. However, if I have a wall socket to plug into, not having to worry about running the battery dry and faster recycle times will put the Einstein in my bag every time.
What I Liked
- Good build quality overall
- Great color consistency
- Great output consistency
- Light, all-in-one package
- High Speed Sync
- Godox trigger easy to use
- Excellent battery life
- Quick to set up
What I Didn't Like
- Slightly flimsy mounting lug
- HSS bug with remote
- Convoluted button system
- Bowen's mount
- Wish the remote could power up/down the strobe
So far, this has been a great flash. It might not have the street-cred of the big brands, but it pulls its weight. For the past six weeks, it has been a reliable addition to my kit that has taken the place of the Einstein on outdoor jobs. Having this much power in a small unit that fits in my shoulder bag is really handy when the sun gets high and I need to shoot. Its few shortcomings are not enough to outweigh the excellent performance, especially when the price is considered.
I haven't used the B1 enough to do a full comparison yet, but I look forward to renting one again and doing a full showdown between this, the B1, and the Einstein. Stay tuned!