Hink: Spacefish flashgun will be “modular with a British voice inside”

This week I sat down with the founders of Hink, the British startup that wants to take the photographic lighting industry by storm. The company — based in Bedford — has been running a teaser campaign since March for their mysterious first product, the “Spacefish” flashgun, which is due to be unveiled and released this summer.

hink

Team Hink, headed by Christopher Clark and fiancée Philippa Oliver — both photographers — gave an interview that was frank and taciturn in equal measure: the pair tried to balance getting across their enthusiasm for the product without revealing too much about what it actually is. The project is also being backed by David Huke of Wildfire Solutions, a technology consulting firm.

At 22 years of age Clark could hardly be accused of being an industry old hand, but he isn’t starting Hink as a blind venture either: he was formerly an employee of phoenix photographic retailer Jessops and then a product designer at self-proclaimed “cool” tripod company Three Legged Thing.

Team Hink: Christopher Clark and Philippa Oliver

Team Hink: Christopher Clark and Philippa Oliver

So what has this flash got that “changes everything” as they claim? In a word: modularity. The flash will be part of a system offering a whole host of interconnecting accessories, with different combinations for different applications.

As previously revealed, there will be a modelling lamp, which will be made up of four “super bright” LEDs, along with a conventional flash tube and a standard hotshoe foot. Everything is powered by a non-removable lithium battery, which charges via micro-USB, akin to a smartphone. If you don’t like that, the modularity allows you to add extra batteries, for instance AAs or even a mains adapter.

Adjustment is fully manual via a simple control panel of blinky ‘idiot light’ LEDs, as seen on the Yongnuo YN460. Need TTL exposure control? No need to buy a whole new flashgun, as there will be an add-on module for that, coming “quickly” but not in the initial line-up of accessories and not before Christmas 2013. We can look forward to “a really cool user interface” with an LCD control panel when the TTL module finally lands. Though there is a USB port, for the manual flash it is “unlikely” to be used for firmware updates.

The first generation of add-ons, coming out with the main flash unit this summer, will include a clip-on wireless triggering module “that looks very cool”. This will just be a simple radio slave but more advanced remote control units will also be available, probably later. It will also be possible to increase the maximum intensity of the flash, presumably with a module that adds extra capacitors.

There is no umbrella holder, but being a shoe-mount flashgun you can use a swivel bracket as with any normal speedlight. Proprietary adapters will be available to link the Hink with other lighting accessories, such as softboxes.

And how about filters? “The only thing I will say is ‘be there or be square'” says Clark.

“Haters gonna hate, Hinkers gonna Hink”

Up to now, no images of the Hink “Spacefish” have been published and the only reported details were that it is a flashgun with an LED modelling lamp. With much talk and little substance so far, some commentators on our past articles have been sceptical, branding the campaign as “mostly hype” or “cheap and easy publicity”.

But Clark and Oliver shrug off such claims. Apparently, Hink’s managing director has yet to meet a photographer — who knows or has seen what the product actually is — that wasn’t bowled over by the concept. The Hink flash solution is “so obvious that it kind of hurts”, Clark says.

“The development of flashguns has been forgotten” and “looks dated” compared with advances in cameraphones and digital SLRs, he adds. “Currently it is hard to be creative with a flashgun unless you are sure what you are doing with it.”

Oliver summarises: “Haters gonna hate and Hinkers gonna Hink”.

“The Iron Man of flashguns”

Short of revealing the whole thing, I ask what would be the best analogy for the Hink Spacefish system. “The Iron Man of flashguns,” answers Clark: “Modular, with a British voice inside… and it’s cool.”

He also compares the system to a “studio in a lunchbox”, designed for “photographers who like to use multiple speedlights off-camera in a creative sense”, with the modularity of the set-up making it possible to add “creativity into it with more ease. Certain industries will use [spacefish] and certain industries won’t. Wedding and portrait photographers are going to love this.

“It is not a replacement for a pop-up flash, though it can be and you can use it that way if you want to.”

What will the flashgun look like? Despite what they have revealed to us about the system and its features, Team Hink did not show us a sample or any pictures, à la Sony. They did say however that they are not looking at black. Instead it will be available in “shades of grey and more”.

“Keeping it Old Blighty”

The Spacefish (not a final title — Clark and Oliver say they are “still [sitting] up nights thinking of a name”) will be publicly revealed in the coming months, “aiming for a summer release”. Hink’s founders stopped short of promising an exact date, claiming their “biggest worry” is a compromise in quality from bringing production forward too quickly. A prototype is supposedly two weeks away.

Some well-known American photographic retailers have expressed an interest in distributing the product in the USA, where it will be released around November 2013.

All aspects of the Hink flash’s design and — interestingly — production take place in the United Kingdom (even the printed circuit boards), partly to stop the Chinese copying the idea. In fact, Christopher Clark says Hink will be crowd-sourcing the making very first batch: “When we assemble the first lot in the UK we will be recruiting volunteers to work for one. It is literally that small a company. We will buy them a beer and give you a flashgun”.

“Keeping it Old Blighty” is a running theme and Clark plans to operate as a startup incubator “to use students who are coming out of university into a world short of jobs, especially in the industry of photography, engineering, design.” Some of the first-generation software for the Hink flash may be developed by engineers at the University of Edinburgh.

Where to buy

How much will it cost? In our interview Clark and Oliver kept mum on exact figures, but did say that they will be handling distribution in the UK themselves, with customers able to buy the main flashgun from photographic retailers and then get certain accessories as well as servicing directly from the manufacturer.

In a statement to the Hotshoe Anthologist blog, they said: “We’re not finalised on price yet, but the plan is not to price ourselves out of the market!” Precise release dates, dealers, technical data and feature lists for the Hink flash are all to be confirmed.

A modular flashgun is not the only thing Hink has planned, so don’t expect the Spacefish (or whatever it will be called) to be the only product to come from them: “video is on our agenda”, they said. For further information on Hink, visit their web site.

For the record, I have no stake in this project. Chris Clark told me not to put up the following picture. To prove my editorial independence, enjoy:

Hink's Christopher Clark

What do you think about the Hink Spacefish? Do you like the idea of a modular flash system?

Update 3/9/2013: Hink have apologised for starting their teaser campaign “probably… a little early” but promises to reveal their as-yet-unseen product “before the end of September”.

  • Mark Boadey

    Interesting, I hope it’s not hype though. Heard many a company claim their new toy will revolutionise the industry only for it to be nothing of the sort.

    I’m fully behind this though, always happy to support home grown innovation, I just hope their price point in below the £200 mark, for me that’s the sweet point to compete with the huge range of Chinese’s imports.

    • http://twitter.com/adamgasson Adam Gasson

      I agree Mark, if the base cost is over £200 I’d continue to buy second hand Canon speedlites. Looking below that, and from a UK perspective, if you want a flash from a UK retailer you’ve got the likes of Calumet but their latest offering is pretty poor (although well made I’d say, just all the issues from a design that hasn’t been worked on, just bought).

  • Louisa Smith

    So he used to work for Jessops, and after that he was a product designer for a Company that sells re-badged Chinese tripods and claims that they design and make them themselves?
    And he is going to get them made in the UK to stop Chinese firms copying them. How will that work?

    I await this brilliant new product with baited breath!

    • Herbert (Yes, Simon)

      Incidentally, Louisa, can you tell me which tripods were the ones re-badged to create 3LeggedThing?

      • Louisa Smith

        Designed by Obau, made by Horusbennu

        • Sam

          Fair One – just checked it out on google

  • http://twitter.com/ohnostudio Libby Stack

    For me to buy into a new system, the units would have to hover in midair without lightstands and be adjustable via voice
    command. In order to deter chinese knockoffs. hopefully proper patents
    have been filed. Although that usually doesn’t totally stop them either. I admire the homegrown attitude, but it’s easier said than done. I wish him good luck.

    • Gary

      “proper patents” don’t stop Chinese knock-offs being manufactured and sold, they stop them being re-manufactured IF the patent holder finds out about them…. The “knock-off” manufacturers (most of the time the same as the original manufacturer) don’t care and do it anyway….

  • http://twitter.com/intensitystudio Antonio Carrasco

    Wait, is the ginger rubbing his nipples in the photo above in charge of this company? LOL! I have total faith in this company now.

    • Hink

      Hi, Yes I am :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/ryszard.krakowski Ryszard Krakowski

    The only thing that would interest me is if it was was really powerfull. Eg 360ws or more otherwise my canon mk2 speedlights and yn622 triggers and existing lighting mods already offer what this product seems to propose.

    • http://twitter.com/adamgasson Adam Gasson

      I can’t see how you can get that much power from a speedlite just from the size alone – that much power needs bigger capacitors. Even with the modules it could mean you’d have a very large speedlite and for that hassle you might as well get a studio head.

  • Mike

    I’m really not sure how it will revolutionise the market, if I can get a decent manual flash for £50. For a little more even with built-in trigger and probably soon those will be able to adjust power remotely as well.

    Also, let’s hope the modularity doesn’t make it clunky.

  • http://twitter.com/adamgasson Adam Gasson

    I think there’s a lot to like about this initiative, the modular approach could be a great asset to photographers dipping their toes in the world of off-camera flash. The built in battery worries me slightly though – I can’t imagine the AA battery module will be free, after all – so if the lithium battery only lasts a day shooting you could be left stranded. Also there’s the long term issue of battery degradation and, in a couple of years time of regular use, will the built-in battery still hold a good charge?

    Ultimately this could come down to price as I can’t see how ‘new’ features can be added to speedlites as they stand at the moment. I’d be happy to pay a slight premium to get a UK product and the customer service Hink can provide.

    It’s good to see someone choosing to manufacture outside of China though. The market is pretty full with replica units that, long term, don’t add anything to industry. It’s great as a consumer to get cheaper equipment but who will innovate and develop new products?

  • http://twitter.com/adamgasson Adam Gasson

    Having thought a bit more the issue with speedlites in general is that they’ve never been designed to work with light modifiers so you have to work around to get the angle of light correct, something you don’t have to do with studio lighting. Light quality is more about your modifiers than you light source and, typically, speedlights have quite consistent colour temperature across the board. If the Hink ‘Spacefish’ is built as a standard speedlite then you inherit the issues that already exist when it comes to using speedlites off camera with modifiers. A bare bulb system would help (fitting a flash tube into a plastic cup dictates the light direction from the off) but would also scare off newcomers I think.

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