FlashQ's new Q20 flash with wireless trigger.


For  the last twenty years, Ted Grant (who the US magazine, Photographer's Forum has called "Canada's greatest living photographer") has drilled into me, that "if you an see it, you can shoot it" and that there is little need for "twinkie lights" as he calls them.    So, I'm a bit of a flash skeptic.  For a flash to impress me, it has to be good! And the Q20 is!

Now, I do own a flash ... a perfectly good, Vivitar 283. When it was first sold, in 1970, (my unit is from about 1985) it quickly became the favourite of pros and advanced amateurs alike, and outsold all other flash units of it's day, combined. It had a manufacturing run that lasted over 30 years!

The problem is that it's big and heavy and although a "thoroughly modern Millie" in its day, it lacks many of the modern features, like a modeling light and, more importantly, variable flash power.

Having abandoned my Leicas, in favour of Olympus mFT bodies (and now being somewhat older), I wanted something that did not weigh half as much as my camera.  (My EM-1 Mk II comes in at 1022 grams, with battery, wrist strap and Oly's 12~40/2.8 PRO zoom.   The 283, with batteries, tips the scales at almost half of that, at 458 grams... all by itself!)

Any new flash had to be small and lightweight, for travel (I've shot images in some 29 countries, and don't plan to stop any time soon) and  have a tiltable head for bounce flash.  The thought that it could have a wireless trigger built-in, is a bonus beyond my wildest expectations.

So, when the opportuntity came up to test Lightpix Lab's new  (introduced in early May, 2017) Q-20, I jumped at the chance.

Lightpix Lab's first product was the FlashQ T1 ... a set of tiny (some say the world's smallest), yet high quality and easy to use radio triggers, that allow you to use almost any* flash, off camera.

Unlike optical triggering (used by Olympus, among others), radio triggers need not be line-of-sight, so you can position your flash unit(s) anywhere within about 30 feet (10 meters) of the camera.

LightPix's goal, it seems, was to create a small, lightweight, yet low cost portable flash with almost every modern conveniences and include the radio trigger technology from the FlashQ's, too boot!

That's a tall order, but in the Q20, LightPix Labs seems to have done the job - and incredibly well, at that.
Why use off-camera flash?

Everyone knows the problems with direct flash... harsh shadows, stark lighting and,of course, the dreaded "red eye".  These problems can be reduced by using diffusers, angling the flash upwards (or, better yet, both) and, in the case or red-eye, using multiple pre-flashes to cause your subject's iris to close.  These methods can help, but simply using the flash away from the camera becomes a quick and total cure for red-eye.  Using your flash off-camera allows you to do things like high-light hair, even in daytime shots among a host of other effects. 
(If you really want to learn more about off-camera flash, I recommend you read the tutorials at: http://strobist.blogspot.ca /2006/03/lighting-101.html. David Hobby is the acknkowedged master of flash-lighting, though I don't always agree with his choice of gear.)

Design and Build Quality


The Q20 is as nicely made as any flash I've seen.  Fit and finish is good, and the unit is markably attractive - especially from the back, which is the bit you, as the photographer, see.

Controls:

There are only what's needed. An on/off switch, Modeling light intensity (up/down) and flash intensity (up/down) and a manual flash button.  The only other control is a small pushbutton, just below the on/off switch, which controls whether the unit is in flash mode, modeling/movie light mode or Optical Slave mode.  There are two O/S modes, and we'll get to them, later.

Oh... and a button at the bottom, marked "Push Release".

Operation:

When you first turn the unit on, the LED's do a little dance, as it goes though a short self-test.  Then, it settles down to work.  I rather like the "flash-ready" light.  It flashes orange, while the capacitor is charging. When the unit will fire, but is not yet at full power, it glows  a steady orange.  When the flash will fire at full selected power, the light changes to green. 

To use it as an ordinary, on camera flash, simply slip it into the flash shoe, gently tighten the knurled lock ring, turn it on and shoot.  To determine your f-stop just divide the guide number (20 in meters, 65 in feet) by the  distance from the flash to your subject.
 
That gives you the f-stop to set.  If you go closer, or if the subject is more reflective than you expected, the sensor will pick up both the ambient and reflected light and turn off the flash at the correct time, so that your exposure is correct, without much fuss.  So, don't think of it as "manual flash", but rather as "semi-automatic" flash.

(I'm old enough to remember "manual flash" and it was a real pain in the potoot!  Using a flash with an automatic light sensor, as with the Q20, is a "piece of cake"!)

This is the same as any automatic, non-TTL flash and the system has proved eminently satisfactory for decades.  True, TTL metering is  more accurate, but only marginally so, and at great cost.... 5 or more times the cost of a Q20!  So, if you're a pro, and use flash extensively, then fine, go TTL. But, for most of us, a standard, non-TTL flash will be more than satisfactory, in nearly every situation, at far less expense.
Light Control:

The flash level is easily adjusted with two buttons (see photo above) from full power down to 1/64th power, in 7 steps.

The shot at the left is our cousin's summer beach cottage, in the eastern US.  1/32nd power proved perfect to soften the shadows and lighten any dark corners, while retaining the look of daylight coming through the windows.  In this shot, the flash was about 1 meter (3.3 feet) to my left, just sitting on a small table.

Gel Slot:

Since the (original) Vivitar 285 there been exceedingly few flashes with an integrated gel holder. (The LumaPro 180 is one, but it's much bigger, heavier and nearly twice the price - not to mention no wireless triggering.)  There are, of course, a myriad of acessory gel holders for various lighting items.

The Q20 comes complete with a neat, trans-
contains 6 coloured gels and a white diffuser.


Camera shown is the Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mk 1.
All photos taken with the OM-D EM-1 MkII.

lucent holder, which These gels fit into a slot behind  fresnel lens.  (shown at the left.)

The most useful one, for me, is the translucent white diffuser, which helps to soften the light, even when bounced. But, if you like to "create" your photos, then they may well prove invaluable.

Bounce Flash:

The Q20's head swivels, for bounce flash, with stops at  45, 60, 75 & 90 degrees.
Modeling light:

The front of the unit has
a modeling/movie light that is fully adjustable, in 7 steps, like the flash power. (See image, below, left.) I can't tell you how well it works for movies, as I never shoot video.  But, it is very useful in predicting how shadows will fall on your subject - especially so in close-up and macro work.

When triggered wirelessly (the modeling mode does not work with optical slave system - see below) the modeling light turns off an instant before the flash fires and comes back on when the ready light comes on, again.
 A really nice addition.


The Wireless Trigger:

This is what sets the Q20 apart from virtually every other small flash in existence.  Like all radio triggers, you have to set 
the two sender & recevier to "talk" to each other, but this is bog simple.

For off camera flash, just press the "flash release" button (arrow) and the Q20 separates from the base/trigger.  You'll note that the trigger has two small buttons ... one with a dot in the middle (power) and on with a star [*] which is your test-flash button. Hold the power button for three seconds and the unit will turn on, signalling this with a one second burst of a Red/Green/Blue sequence on the LED.

To Sync the units, press and hold both buttons on the transmitter, for 3 seconds.  This puts the unit into Sync mode, and the LED flashes in Blue.

Now, hold the left video light button (marked with a radio-beacon symbol) down for 3 seconds, and the flash goes intp Sync mode.  The two halves of the row of blue LEDs that normally show modeling light power will now flash alternately, indicating the flash is in communication with the sender.  In a few seconds this will stop, indicating success.  All that remains is to briefly press the power button on the sender, once, to take it out of sync mode and put it in flash mode.

Trust me, it takes far less time to do, than it does to tell you how to do it!
(If you are setting up the FlashQ T1 or T1-S triggers, the process is almost identical.  And you can mix them with the Q20 to use your old flash in conjunction with the Q-20 to make a multiple flash setup that's both simple to use and inexpensive.)

You can use the 1/4-20 socket on the bottom of the Q20 to mount it on a tripod, or just use it's nice, flat bottom to sit the Q20 on a table or anywhere it's convenient.  (There is a 1/4-20 tripod socket on the cold shoe of the receiver of the T1/T1s FlashQ wireless triggers, as well.)  Anywhere up to 30 feet (10 meters) from the camera will do.

The Optical Slave system:

You can also use the Q-20 with remote optical triggering such as used by Olympus, among others.  The Q-20 has two modes for this, so that the Q20 can work with both regular and the newer, more expensive, TTL flash units. These are selected via the S1/S2/Modeling button.

After the first press on the button the Q20 is in the S1 mode (red led) & the FlashQ Q20 synchronizes to the single flash of a non-TTL flash, just as you'd expect.

TTL flash units fire two flashes, in rapid succession ... the first allows the camera to measure the light received on the sensor and (to a lesser degree, help prevent red-eye by causing your subject's iris to close down) and a second flash to acutally make the exposure.  In S2 (green LED) mode, the Q20 ignores the pre-flash and sychronizes to the second, or main flash.

If you press the small button again, the LED turns blue and turns on the modeling light.  (See above.)

Press the button one last time and the LED goes out, indicating "normal" operation.

Performance:


With a guide number of 20 (meters) or 65 (in feet) , at ISO 100, the diminuative Q20 has more than enough power for most uses.  Especially in this age of cameras with really good performance at higher ISO settings.  I seldom shoot my Oly OM-D E-M1 Mk II at less than 400 ISO.  This means an effective GN of 40 (meters) or 130 (in feet).

My own tests confirm that the Q20
will deliver approx.  100 flashes with a fresh pair of alkalines, with a starting  recycle time is about 6 seconds. Natrually, this time will extend, as the batteries become depleted.  Recharging times with NiMH rechargable batteries are claimed to be a wee bit faster, due to their lower internal impedence, but in my own experience, they are about the same.

Minor Quibbles:

I've had the FlashQ Q20 for about 3 weeks now, and I'm having a hard time finding anything to quibble about.  I had worried, at first, that the removable shoe/sender would somehow be a weak spot (after all, there is a booming cottage industry building replacement feet for my old 283!), but, in use, the two steel clamps that gripo the sender are remarkably sturdy, providing a rock solid connection.  Better yet, they also act as contacts, direct to the camera's hot shoe, so when you're using the Q20 as a  normal, on-camera flash, there is no need to turn the trigger in the shoe on, nor do you have to sync the flash with it. It works just like you'd expect it to.  Pop it on, power it up and shoot!

If there is a quibble, it would be the CR2032 Lithium battery in the shoe/sender.

These batteries are long lasting, but the sender does draw a tiny bit of power, even when off, so it can sense when the power button is pressed & held, to turn it on. Thus, the life of the battery is about a half year.  Because of this, LightPix Labs recommend removing them (it's easy to do!) if the units are not going to be used for a while. Outside the units they should last a decade or more.  
The batteries are not expensive, nor are they large or heavy, so I'd simply you be sure to have a spare or two in your bag, just in case.

The other quibble would be that the recycle time gets longer, rather quickly. This is due to the use of just two AA cells. But, to use four would have made the unit much larger.  Everything in this world is a compromise and I'd far rather have the smaller, lighter Q20 and carry a spare set of AA batteries, rather than lug around my old 283.
Of course, if you are using  low (1/32nd or 1/64th) power, the recycle time is almost instantaneous no matter how worn your batteries are!

When you press the "test flash" button, the flash does not fire until you take your finger off the button. This seems counter-intuitive, but you soon get used to it.  Just an oddity.

Oh, and it would be nice if the English language owner's manual (well, OK, the owners sheet of paper) had a more detailed explanation of the S1 & S2 modes.

Conclusion:

For the hard-working pro, this flash is not going to "cut the mustard".  It's too light on accessories (diffuser snoot, etc.), not powerful enough and too short on battery power.  But, then, the Q20 is not intended for pros.

Because you have to set the f-stop, it could be a problem for some neophytes, but that's easy to learn and, becasue it's not a TTL flash, it works with any hot-shoe camera ... Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Pentax, Sony and, well, just about everything!

However, for all but the most advanced amateurs the FlashQ Q20 provdes a powerful, compact, lightweight, easy to use electronic flash, that offers almost every feature that you'll ever really need, at a remarkably low (US$ 89 + s&h) cost.

It's compact size makes it ideal for use with smaller (mFT & APSC) cameras and it fits in a shirt pocket, so it's perfect for air travel!

Will it prove to be a workhorse?  I don't know... ask me in 10 years.  But, every indication is that it will be.  It's solidly made, nicely finished and beautifully engineered.  


If you want a versatile, reliable, compact flash, without breaking the bank; you'll be hard pressed to do better than LightPix Lab's FlashQ Q20.

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Where to get one:

You can order your Q20 from:

robertscamera.com (USA)

ukphotodistro.co.uk (UK)

lightpixlabs.com (elsewhere)

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You can order the FlashQ T1/T1-s Wireless Triggers from:

robertscamera.com (USA)

ukphotodistro.co.uk (UK)

cameratools.nl (Netherlands)

lightpixlabs.com  (elsewhere)

LightLPix Labs keep a list of up-to-date list of distributors/resellers on their webste: LightPixLabs.

If you need more information, contact them directly at: info@lightpixlabs.com

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* IMPORTANT NOTE:
 
As I said, you can usse your Flash Q triggers with ALMOST any flash.

If you have a "vintage" flash (more than, say, 15-20 years old)
it may have 200 volt, or more, on it's contacts.  Older, film cameras had mechanical contacts that could handle that much voltage.  But modern digital cameras can handle only 5 to 12 volts... so using an older, high voltage flash with a digital camera can fry it.  And once smoke comes out of your camera, it's almost impossible to stuff it back in!

If you're not sure, charge your flash and use a volt-meter to measure the voltage on the two terminals of the flash's hot shoe or at the PC cord. As an example, this little, 30 year old, ARGUS flash still works perfectly, but shows a smoking 239.2 volts at the flash terminals!

If you have one of these relics, you can purchase "Safe Sync" adapters that isolate the high trigger voltage of the old flash from your camera.   Better yet, treat yourself to a new FlashQ Q20 and get a lot more, for not a lot more!!

(While the FlashQ T1/T1-s receivers are self-protected up to 300 Volts, they are not recommended for use with older, high voltage flash units.)


If you have found this (or any of my reviews) helpful, please consider purchasing my e-book, "A Brief History of Photography".  It covers the seminal cameras, lenses and accessories, as well as the complete development of the chemistry from 1614 right through to early 2017.  

This second edition is 33% larger than the revised, first edition, it features over 100 new entries, both in the history and in the always fascinating trivia categories. It now boasts over 200 photographs and illustrations, as well as an extensive glossary.

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For more information, click here, or on the image at the right.



If you've found this review helpful, you might enjoy some of my other reviews, found here.  You might also enjoy
my wildlife photos, all taken with Leica or Olympus glass. You can find my photo-instruction DVDs here.

If interested, you can also find my antique Debrie Sept and 1950 Beauty Six (one of only two known to exist in the
world)
at Camer-Wiki.org.

Thanks for reading.

Last updated: 10 June, 2017

Disclaimer:  LightPix Labs provided me with the Q20 and a set of T1 triggers for this review.
I have no other connection with LightPix Labs, or with any of their distributors.
I do not make any money if people buy the units.
The opinions expressed here are truthful and solely my own.