Jinbei Discovery DC-600 review

After a long trip from China (thanks to the efforts of our audacious editor) we got a Jinbei Discovery DC-600 to review. How will this pack stack up against the established brands? Check our in-depth review to find out.

Foreword: The gear reviewed here was paid for with our own money FWIW.

There have been for some time now different approaches on how a ¬†location strobe should be – from Norman’s compact pack and heads to the big, heavy duty, industry-standard Profoto 7b, and several choices in between for most needs and budgets. However, some options lacked the flexibility in terms of features that some shooters needed: be it size, maximum output, power range, price, etc.

Along came the Elinchrom Ranger Quadra, which offered a compact 400Ws pack and head system that many people instantly loved for its size, weight and features. So many lighting manufacturers ventured on releasing their own version of a Quadra-like pack (including the Walimex PBS-400, which we reviewed a couple of months ago).

Although not known to many, Jinbei (China’s biggest lighting manufacturer) has have been making battery-powered location strobes (and studio gear too) for quite some time, mostly for European and Asian markets. There have been previous versions of this pack and head, and you can see improvements in size and technology inside them with each iteration.

Timeline of Jinbei battery pack-and-heads

Fast-forward to today and we have the Jinbei Discovery DC-600, offering 600Ws of output power distributable in one or two heads (symmetric and asymmetric), a lithium-ion battery (which in theory is less problematic than Ni-Mh or NiCad batteries in the long run) and some other nifty things. There is also a 1200Ws version of the Discovery (unfortunately not being reviewed in this article).

Jinbei Discovery DC-600 specifications

  • Power output: 600Ws
  • Number of heads: 2
  • Power output distribution: Symmetrical: 300 and 300 Watt seconds
  • Asymmetrical: 400 and 200 Watt seconds
  • 1 head in socket A: 400Ws, if you press A+B button 600Ws
  • 1 head in socket B: 200Ws
  • Power output range: 1/1 to 1/16 (in all configurations described above).
  • Protection: Auto-diagnosis for overheating, battery malfunction and capacitor failure (with their own respective error code).
  • Mount: Bowens AKA S-type bayonet
  • Modeling light: LED (on, off, programable time for it to stay on)
  • Battery: interchangeable lithium Battery
  • Charger: 110-220V AC (50/60Hz) charger

In the case:

Yup, I said case because you receive a kinda stylish metallic case with the Discovery 600. Of course, it’s no Pelican case that you can throw around and jump on, but isn’t bad at all considering the case and contents survived the long trip from China to Spain (although knowing how rough luggage is treated at airports, I would probably go with a Pelicase just in case).

Inside you’ll find*:

  • 1 discovery standard head
  • 1 discovery DC600 pack,
  • 1 Discover Standard¬†head
  • 1 flash bracket
  • 1 handle and cable for the head
  • 1 transmitter and receiver
  • 1 sync cable
  • 1 a 100-240V 50/60Hz charger (meaning if you are traveling to other countries you can charge it almost everywhere as long as you have the right adaptor for the standard plug of the country you visit).

*Kits configurations may change and you may find stores selling a 2-head kit or a ringflash (not reviewed here) and 1 head kit.

Kudos to Jinbei for adding a radio trigger with the kit since it let’s you play with your DC600¬†immediately even¬†if you don’t already own a set of radio triggers or if your camera can’t use a PC sync cable. However there is another reason for this: as weird as it sounds the DC600 doesn’t has an optical slave cell. I am really confused at why would anyone would leave an optical slave cell out of the design of lighting gear… Even more when cheapie cheap monolights this days even¬†come with ¬†pre-flash override functions for them to be dumb-synchronized with wireless TTL or override the red eye features of some flash systems, but at least Jinbei provided another option to trigger your gear and included in the case (and of course the price, I will cover the performance of the radio triggers later).

The pack:

I have worked with different studio and location packs in the past first as a student with a Speedotron Brownline 400Ws pack (heavy as an aircraft carrier!) and as an assistant with a Profoto 7b pack and a D4 2400ws pack. I have also played a little with a Elinchrom Ranger (non AS Speed), and they all have something in common: they are likely to survive their owners thanks to their build quality. These things are made like the proverbial tank (specially the Speedotron which I tend to think -and imagine will resist a nuclear explosion!) so I know how well built quality lighting gear feels.

To my surprise the DC-600 is really, really well built, solid and you get a lot of confidence out of how rugged it is. I am not talking about “so-so”, “regular”, “OK” or “good enough” – I am talking about really solid, which impresses me since for the price point you don’t expect to receive something of this quality.

From the top:

It has a handle to transport it¬†that can be stored on top of the pack to operate the pack without the handle being a hindrance, here we can see the different buttons and knob to control your DC600:¬†You have “Fast” button meaning it will turn on or off the speed up recycle time feature, the next button is “Lamp” which activates the LED modeling light, you ca set it to just light when you have it pressed or if you push it twice it will stay on until the configured time for it ends, “Set” is to configure how much time the modeling light will stay on: it can be configured to stay on from 05 seconds to 99 secons (use the “lamp” and “fast” buttons to increase or decrease the time), the “A+B” is to set power symmetrically (300ws in each head or asymmetrically 400ws in socket And 200ws in socket B) the test button to fire a flash pop. the next thing you will find is the sync port (3.5mm mono jack) and later you will find the stepless knob used to regulate the output power of the flash, being 5.0 the maximum power and 1.0 the minimum.

Above the Lamp button there are 2 lights one to tell you the unit has gone into sleep mode and the other tells you when it is working with the pre programmed time for the modeling light, next to them is the screen where you can see how much output power you have given to the unit and to see the countdown for the pre-programmed time for the modeling light.

In the center of the panel above you can find the battery power level indicator it shows you the state in 3 levels. and above them is the handle to carry it which tucks into the body of the pack. at the sides it has the holes so you can attach the included strap to carry it with your shoulder instead of your hands.

When you turn the pack on it will auto diagnose itself to check if the temperature of the battery is right, if the capacitors are working and if there is enough battery power, if one of these 3 factors has a problem it will display a coded message E1, E2 or E3 on the display which are explained in the user manual.

To the sides of the pack you will find 2 buttons which say “Press” those are the buttons to release the battery from the pack. ¬†The battery has a entry plug for the charger (which is worldwide friendly 110/240v 50/60hz). One word of caution is that you should never use the pack when the battery is charging, it isn’t designed to be used like that at all (get a spare battery).

One thing that I liked is that the sockets for the heads (in both the heads and the pack) have their protective caps and their own lanyards to hold them with the pack, this isn’t found in other options in the same price rangeand seeing them here it is nice.

Some may complaint about the DC600 didn’t include a radio trigger inside but I am actually cool with that because:

  1.  I like the freedom of choosing the radio trigger I want to use.
  2. Jinbei’s radio triggers aren’t as popular as PocketWizard, Elinchrom Skyport, Yongnuo, Cactus, etc.
  3. If it used something like PW it would mean the price would go up because of the price of licensing their technology to be used by Jinbei packs.

The Battery:

The battery (like the pack) it is extremely well built. At the bottom it has a rubber gasket. You can buy spare batteries online.

There is one nit-pick for me and it is an important one: the cables of the battery charger are kind of thin (the one that connects the battery to the charger), being that this gear is going to be lugged around and it will meet the rugged life of a location shooter then I would like to see a more rugged cable for the battery charger in the future. You should be careful with your gear but accidents do happen and that is why one expects this kind of stuff to be more rugged. I am buying an extra charger to have it in the bag if the first one goes kaput and I recommend you to do so too. Hopefully they will change the design of this part soon.

The head:

The new Standard head is a whole lot more compact than the older RD head. Like its predecessor it uses the popular and readily available S-type bayonet (AKA Bowens) for modifiers; the shell of the head is made of good plastic and the swivel mount made of metal, good quality all around. The head comes with a protective cap for the flash tube. Now, the nifty thing is, this head sports an LED modeling light.

There are equivalences to how much light it provides with a similar tungsten modeling light, but since it can easily confuse some people, I flipped out my trusty light meter and took meter readings of the modeling light. As said before you can preset on the pack how much time the modeling light stays on (from 5 seconds to 99 seconds). The longer you have it on the faster it will deplete the battery though (as with every battery powered flash).

The head comes with a reflector and a diffuser for it. The reflector has a lip to hold grids although since it is smaller than the common 18 centimeters then it isn’t going to be easy to find many grids for it. If you need grids you may want to think to buy a more common diameter reflector (S-type bayonet, aka Bowens) to use grids with this head.

You can detach the cable that connects the head to the pack which is a great feature to avoid damaging the cables because of how it bends attached to your pack, to protect the connector on the head there is a cap that is being held by a lanyard.

The heads comes with a nifty ergonomically shaped handle that can be removed if you like to, the idea of this handle is to be used by your voiced activated stands or with the included bracket to remember the old good days of the Graflex Century Graphic camera (google it for a good chuckle), in theory you have gained the ability to shoot events with a powerful flash to bounce around on ceilings.

One consideration (and a let down for me) is that the head isn’t designed to hold big and heavy modifiers (much like the Elinchrom Quadra adapter), so no big octabox or softbox is recommended to be used : (… this is a huge con since the Jinbei RD standard head was capable of holding big modifiers…

Note to manufacturers: some of us prefer a bigger flash heads that can hold heavy modifiers than tiny heads that can’t, at least give us the option of buying a heavier duty head along with the compact one, thank you.¬†ūüôā

However we got word from Jinbei they are going to launch a new line of lightweight plastic speedrings and less heavier softboxes and octas.

There is also an optional Ringflash for it too (and I know many of you people love ringflashes) which is a nice expansion to this kit.

So let’s do some meter readings:

Sekonic L308s, ISO 100, 1/250th, 1 meter of distance, Jinbei DC standard head barebulb

(note: add one stop to the meter readings if you want to know the power output of the DC standard head with its own umbrella reflector).

A socket only:

1.0 f/5.63

2.0 f/8.04

3.0 f/11.4

4.0 f/16.7

5.0 f/22.6

A socket (with “A+B” button activated)

1.0 f/5.6

2.0 f/11.1 (being 1.5 f/8.03 and yes, it is weird)

3.0 f/16.0

4.0 f/22.1

5.0 f/32.2

B socket

1. 0 f/4.0

2.0 f/5.63

3.0 f/8.04

4.0 f/11.6

5.0 f/16.5

(note: add one stop to the meter readings if you want to know the power output with the DC standard head with its own umbrella reflector).

The metering were consistent through the range, I tested firing 7 pops per power level and sometimes (rarely) it would go over or under 1/10th of a stop, for the prince range the consistency is excellent, no probs here. Activating the “Fast” button (fast recycling) didn’t affected the consistency at all.

Something to consider is that in the B socket at the lowest power setting the white balance starts at around 4700k but without colour casts (no purple, magenta or blue casts, color is neutral).

On the field:

I carried the Jinbei to all my jobs since I received it and to tell you the truth I didn’t had a single problem with it in all this time in terms of performance, it behaved well and did its job like it should, the only thing to report is that the LCD panel on top showing the power output isn’t readable in the sun unless you shade it, it could be that the background for the display isn’t black enough for the numbers to not be washed with the light but it is a thing to keep in mind when shooting with it in the sun, it isn’t a problem on an overcast day or in the studio though.

Here are some samples, The DC-600 could do easily f/18 or a bit more with an 1.5 meters -5 footer- octa (threaded to the stand read because of the weight limit of the discovery head) however it also was able to work at wider apertures too, this examples are from an overcast day, with studio flash it can be hard if your gear isn’t flexible in the output power department to match the ambient or if you want to do wide aperture photos with the DC600 I could drop down the power to f/2.8-4.0 without a problem :).¬†

Conclusions

Jinbei has been producing portable lighting gear for quite some time and to see the final iteration of their battery pack and head system and being able to use it and test it is great, we are not here in front of a product made by a company founded yesterday,  and who lacks knowledge in manufacturing a good product we are in front of something manufactured by a company who has a story and a track record too.

For the money you pay you are receiving an incredibly rugged pack and battery with features that are really impresive for the price point and even puts to shame some of the competition in the higher price ranges, the new standard head is really well built, compact and the addition of LED modeling light should be great for extending the battery life when using it compared to tungsten modeling lights. The included case is elegant and rugged (and it is a welcome option for those without something to store and carry their gear).

The lack of an optical slave still confuses me because I can’t see why it has been left out of the design board (at least Jinbei included a radio trigger though), but I am really¬†disappointed¬†to see the older RD standard head was able to withstand all kinds of modifiers and this new one isn’t capable of doing the same thing, some may argue that the idea of a compact location flash system ¬†is to stay small without big modifiers, but having the precedent of the RD head then the point of not being able to hold heavy modifiers is stronger IMHO, for them to do the same mistake as Elinchrom did with the Quadra adapter (which is to use stronger and metal problem solved in the case of the Quadra adapter) ¬†is really a let down, maybe Jinbei can offer in the future the guts of the new standard DC head inside the older RD head ¬†for those of us who want to use heavy modifiers with our Discovery 600 or 1200? time will tell.

But these are minor things because you are receiving quite a bundle which doesn’t represent its price tag at all, you are receiving a solid pack and head system featuring an excellent consistency in exposure and colour.

Exposure consistency is surprisingly great for the price range, it is a peace of mind not having wild variations and having to deal with them in photoshop later, there is one thing that quites intrigues me though: when there’s only a head in socket A and when you push the A+B button (meaning all 600 ws of power will go to that head) the jump from output power setting 1.0 to 2.0 is 2 stops, in the rest of the power settings each jump (3.0 to 4.0 and 4.0 to 5.0) is a stop only, so it is weird, but if you dial 1.5 you get the missing stop, this doesn’t happens when you aren’t using A+B button or with the head in socket B though.

Something to keep in mind is that when the head is in the B socket the colour temperature (at the minimum power output) starts at around 4700K and progressively ramps up to sunlight territory if you go up in power output, but there are no color casts (purple, pink or blue) present.

Remember this pack shouldn’t be put to work while it is charging the battery.

And the case is really neat :), silver bling, bling for your photo gear.

What I like:

  • Rugged and excellent build quality and construction of pack and battery
  • Lithium battery (instead of NiMh)
  • Nice set of features (although it is missing an optical slave)
  • Auto diagnosis to let you know if something is wrong with specific coded messages to let you know if something is wrong
  • Radio trigger and receiver included (because there is no optical slave)
  • Nice output power range (400ws to 25ws in channel A, 600ws to 37.5ws in Channel A when using “A+B” and 200ws to 12.5ws in channel B)
  • Good build quality of the new standard head (sadly it cannot withstand heavy modifiers…)
  • LED modeling light (the WB isn’t daylight, it has the same WB as white fluorescent lamps).
  • The head uses the popular, cheap and ready available s-type bayonet (AKA Bowens)
  • The fact you can detach the cables from the head is a welcome feature to store them safely.
  • It includes caps held by lanyards in the pack and heads to protect the sockets
  • Worldwide travel friendly 110/240v 50/60hz charger (just remember to get the plug adapter for the country you are going)
  • Well made metal case to transport it (it survived the travel from China so it isn’t bad at all although I can’t provide a recommendation to use if you are flying)
  • Exposure consistency is great with only 1/10th of a stop variations that happen rarely.
  • Symmetric and Asymmetric power output distribution options.

What I didn’t like

  • New standard head can’t withstand heavy modifiers (the RD head did can hold heavy modifiers).
  • Thin cable to connect the battery to the charger is a no, no (I hope they change it soon).
  • Lack of optical slave (Murphy’s law is prone to attack photographers, having a 3rd option other than radio triggers and sync cables is always welcomed).
  • I cover a lot more in this review about the features of this kit than the user manual does (while it explains the basics in a good way it needs a bit more in depth explanations of some of the features).

I wouldn’t doubt to recommend the Jinbei DC600 to anyone, in fact I highly recommend it, just remember there’s a limit to the weight and size of modifiers you can use with it (no 1.5 meters/ 5 foot or bigger octaboxes/softboxes are recommended to be used with it) but if you need a huge soft light there’s always the 50″ Westcott Apollo, Parabolic umbrellas with diffusers and the 60″ Photek’s Softlighter II), and treat with some love the cable that connects the battery to the charger (I am getting a spare charger just in case).

Where to buy

For more technical information, please visit the Jinbei web site.

 

Eduardo Frances
Based in Spain, Eduardo Frances is a professional photographer specialized in portrait, fashion and advertising photography. You can check out his work in his website: www.eduardofrances.com
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