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White Lightning X1600 mini-review

Ah, my first studio strobes – the White Lightning X1600’s. I remember them fondly…unpacking them, the first test firings, and the first actual shoot I did with them. And I also remember selling them. So before I forget what I liked and disliked, let me write it down here, in the hopes it helps someone.

First, what I liked. The build quality was excellent – they feel like you could drop them and they’d probably still work. I also liked the 1/4 power mode – effectively giving you a 660 ws strobe with a 7-stop range; very nice.

Other plusses are the 250W modeling lamps (nice – only a few manufacturers ship more powerful ones), and the relatively quick (for the price) flash durations.

Here’s a list of what I didn’t like about them, though:

  • The little fingers that hold accessories on the end (such as speedrings) aren’t confidence-inspiring. If I was hanging a 7-foot octadome on the end of one of these strobes, especially on the end of a boom where I’m adjusting angles on the fly and such, I’d be pretty nervous that the whole thing might come crashing down. Now, I get that there are other ways to mount heavy accessories without having them hanging off the mount on the strobe, but I’d rather not have to worry about it.
  • There’s no ready-beep. This sounds stupid, but it was a deal-killer. When the strobes are fully recycled and ready to fire again, there is a little light on the back panel that goes on…but unless you’re looking at the light, that doesn’t do any good. Just a little beep is all I ask! This is especially important if your style of shooting is pretty quick – for me, this comes up in fashion shoots.
  • They will fire when partially charged. This compounds the ready-beep problem. Since there is no audible ready indicator, you have to just wait until you think the strobe is probably recycled (a second or two maybe), and then shoot again. But if you fire too soon, the strobe will still flash – just not at full power. So you get a random amount of power – not a good situation if you’re shooting where every shot counts. I’d rather they not fire at all until they are charged and ready.
  • I don’t like the slider power controls. Say you’re using several strobes, and you want to take one of them down 0.5 stops. You slide the slider thing a bit, so it looks like 0.5 stops…but you’re never sure. If you have two strobes, and you want them both down 0.5 stops, and you and your assistant each adjust one of them, it’s almost certain you’re not going to move them the same amount…so out comes the meter. IMHO, digital controls are much easier to manage.
  • Power consistency on the lower end was iffy. On several occasions, I noticed that when shooting at low power settings, the shot-to-shot power difference would vary by perhaps 0.3 to 0.4 stops. I hesitate to mention this, because this was anecdotal, and I wanted to do a bit more analysis, but I never did do that…so I mention it here in case someone else has run into this.

All in all, the WL1600’s were bulletproof and completely reliable, and I still recommend them to some folks…but the negatives I listed above eventually became show-stoppers for me and the way I shoot, and I ended up selling them and buying different lights of another brand. More on that here.

7 Responses to “White Lightning X1600 mini-review”

  1. Doug Wade Says:

    re: the ready beep – you can set it so the modeling light goes off when there’s a flash, and only comes back on when the unit is recharged. Less annoying than a beep and works really well.

  2. gregr Says:

    Doug – that’s true…however, there are problems with the modeling lights going out. For one, if you’re in a dark studio so the modeling lights are actually proving most of the light, it’s very annoying to have the lights go out. And if you have the room lights turned on, it can be difficult to tell (through the viewfinder) when the modeling light is back on.

    All in all, the whole modeling-light-as-ready-indicator was not at all effective for the way I shoot.

  3. dalegaspi Says:

    “Power consistency on the lower end was iffy.”

    i had the similar findings and wrote it in my blog about a year ago. i feel much more normal now…though i’m sticking with my ABs. :-)

    btw, i came across this post through a thread from the dpreview lighting forums.

  4. Brandon Harper Says:

    Greg,

    I came across your blog while searching for White Lightning reviews, and am a fellow Denver area photographer, though still very amateur. :) Anyhow, I looked through your blog and you haven’t followed-up to post about what lighting setup you did end-up going for– do you plan on writing about what you switched to anytime soon?

  5. gregr Says:

    @Brandon – you’re right…I forgot to post about where I ended up! I’ll try to get something up in the next week or so.

  6. Greg Reinacker Photography - Blog » Blog Archive » Elinchrom RX and BX strobes Says:

    […] ago, I posted about my first studio strobes, and in that post I said I would write again about what I switched to. Well, just over two years […]

  7. Kate Benson Says:

    Just stumbled across this older post about pro’s and con’s of White Lightning and figured it would be worth adding a few things in case someone else comes across it in these newer years.

    Yes, you can in fact drop them and they will keep working. More than once. Eventually those little metal arms spring gets stuck and they won’t release or hold because they won’t move anymore (but this is after years of use)

    The light temperature seems a little unstable between heads. I’ve noticed slight variations in light temperature as years have elapsed. A bit annoying.

    Also as they get older they start to overheat…. then a constant beep starts till you let them cool down. This can be awkward in the middle of a shoot. I recommend having a few backups (but by the time you buy backups you may consider buying a level up of lighting).

    For a first set of lights, it’s a great place to start. They’ll survive most of the newbie mistakes you make.