Review of Interfit Stellar Xtreme 300w AC/DC Flash System
If as a working photographer you want to take your studio lights with you to shoot in the great outdoors you have a lot to consider……
+ Heavy and bulky equipment
+ The cost of battery packs (normally) far outweighs the cost of heads and power isn’t always available, although actually a cheap generator is an option if you are prepared to risk damage to the heads…maybe not!
+ Using flash in wet or dusty conditions may cause expensive damage to gear
+ Battery capacity is an issue and certainly a limiting factor of all DC flash gear
+ Triggering issue..Wires, wireless, infra-red etc.
+ Available accessories
Below, I will try and detail a few thoughts I’ve had about these issues.
Interfit have basically adapted an existing model of flash and created a portable system. They arrived well packed in a large box (per head) containing a stand, head, battery various cables and a standard diffuser.
They will appeal to most levels of photography being a natural step up for Strobists and a cheap and robust option of commercial, industrial and even architectural work.
Although the units surprised me with their weight, being quite light, they do seem well made. They are coated with a strange rubberized finish that makes them easy to handle but also easy to mark. Make sure you mark down your serial numbers safely too as these will rub off with the slightest touch being printed on cheap sticky labels.
The stands are very solid and actually are air-damped, unlike some that are advertised as such. You can spin a collar loose and the unit gently descends with a menacing hiss, furthermore in terms of the balance of weight they are neither overly heavy nor flimsy. Undoubtedly on rough ground or in windy conditions you’d want to ballast the legs or peg them down but they may rarely be in these conditions.
Features and Usability
The units are easy to tilt with the rubberized handle at the back. The sliding mount on the base of the unit is an essential feature when using heavy accessories such as soft boxes, enabling you to alter the pivot point on the head itself. I’m sure a model wouldn’t be injured by a falling soft box but it would be a bit embarrassing for any self respecting commercial photographer !
All the switches and knobs function correctly and with a positive action. The units never seemed very hot although the fan constantly runs on both my heads. I presume this keeps all the internal gubbins cool but surely it can’t be suggestive of a long battery life.
The heads come with a protective dome for the flash tubes and the standard diffuser although the whole point of buying these is the fact you can use big softboxes, snoots, barndoors etc.. The S-type mount allows the usual Bowens attachments to be used.
One of the functions that becomes essential when shooting on the battery pack is the recharge beep. When using full power and low batteries a charge can take up to 10secs..although it feels like more.
Finally the modelling light is something not provided on small flashes but is extremely useful in a studio environment.
The Stellar Xtreme range are very portable and take only a little longer to set up than the typical Strobists kit. I manage to get into a simple holdall: 2xheads, 2x stands, 2x 70cmx100cm softboxes, 2x diffusers, 2x snoots, 2x cables AC/DC with large extension lead, 2x triggers, 2x batteries, card and tape for rigging up emergency light modifiers(as you do?). If you had a reasonably sized car you could transport the assembled units with battery packs attached to the stand. This system would save a little time setting up on location.
There is no doubt that 100 flashes on full power is about right but I suspect 250 plus on minimum power is a bit optimistic, although ensuring the units are turned off when changing set-ups does help. The good news is that you can now buy the battery packs separately. I have used one head on some jobs and taken both battery packs just in case. Battery Packs pictured.
The range would be ok for your average 1 hour PR job but not good enough for a more involved commercial or corporate shoot.
This is where I got rattled by these units. In a nutshell the Elinchrom Skyport System I use for my small flashes only works on AC. On battery power the heads actually switch off after one exposure. I spoke to Interfit and Elinchrom about this and they all said that there was no known issue. Since then I’ve bought some Interfit radio triggers (Interfit INT412, see pic) and they work fine giving 50M of range.
When shooting indoors on AC/mains I can use three lights as I just use a 3x Skyport system and a Canon Flash as an extra light. The irritating aspect of this is that outdoors I’m limited to two lights unless I buy and adapt another Interfit receiver to trigger the Canon flash.
When will someone come up with a universally wireless and cross platform protocol for camera lighting….?
The flash heads have built in infra-red receivers to work with an interfit transmitter. My Canon St-e2 infra-red transmitter did not work due to pre-flash (ett-l) issues however Interfit do make compatible transmitters. Personally, I have found Infra-red transmission works fine indoors nevertheless outdoors on a sunny day, range can be surprisingly restricted due to background interference.
In confined spaces or due to excessive walking the Stella Xtreme heads are a burden. You can’t really lift both including batteries and carry them for more than a few metres without suffering... I clearly need an assistant!
In fast paced or unpredictable circumstances I much prefer (if I need flash) small flashes on ultra-light Manfrotto nano stands triggered with the trusty Skyports. Another issue is dust and rain; Small flashes and skyports can however be covered with small plastic bags and survive the worst downpours or building site dust. On the contrary you can’t do the same with the ‘air-cooled’ Stella Xtreme heads.
Don’t expect masses of power either. A good hotshoe flash such as Canon’s 580ex mkII is actually more powerful on paper. The factor the matter is that you can do a lot more with the Xtreme system.
The system offers all the flexibility of a cheap studio set up but also provides you with the option of using them on batteries so you can still do the odd locationjob when needed. All in all compared to your average studio light they are only marginally more expensive, particularly in comparison to a Canon Speedlite 580EX mkII, they are very good value.
Working with small flashes (in a Strobist fashion) is fine for most stuff but I wouldn’t want to be using it all the time for my commercial and studio work. Therefore having no AC function is a huge disadvantage.
Yes, you can use umbrella's and get half decent flash accessories nowadays to convert your hotshoe flash into a studio light, however they tend to be as expensive as the s-type stuff, or more in terms of decent softboxes. I noticed that Interfit are doing a ‘Strobies’ range which looks interesting:
http://www.interfitphotographic.com/Strobies/Strobies%20index.html based in Birmingham.
I see hotshoe flashes as great, all purpose, portable light sources like, if you will, a swiss army knife. Studio flashes on the other hand are the sort of tools you bolt to your bench in the workshop. You may not use them as much but when you do it’s a real pleasureSo why buy the Interfit Stellar Xtreme?
Personally, I’d say they offer all the portability and benifits of similar Elinchrom and Bowens battery set-ups at a price that is competing more with the hotshoe flash market.Any further info just mail me or leave a comment.
Available in 150w and 300w
Each kit contains:
1 x AC/DC Stellar Xtreme powered head
1 x COR751 Air damped lighting stand
1 x Xtreme battery pack with self contained charging unit and carry case (INT470)