Jinbei has consolidated its place in the photography gear market in China and little by little they are gaining momentum here in Europe too: especially with their location lighting gear.
Since the RL 630 battery flash, Jinbei have updated the RD (“Recharge Digital”) system with the DC (Discovery) line and simultaneously done the same for their FL (Freelander) system with the FL II. The latter line of gear is aimed at those wanting something smaller than the Discovery packs but stronger than a hotshoe strobe. The previous version had a NiMH battery, which is known for memory charging issues (despite this the FL 500 and 250 had their fan base). Practically, the Freelanders’ prices – half that of other small location lighting systems – was the reason they were well received.
The FL II 500 incorporates some changes that we like: the most significant one being the addition of a Lithium Polymer battery which discharges itself at a slower pace and doesn’t suffer memory charging issues that NiMh batteries are known for. An LED display to show output power is also a welcomed addition.
Let’s check out the specification list for the FL II 500:
Now let’s get on with it and see what’s up with the FL II 500…
What’s in the box:
- One FL II 500 Pack (1 head outlet)
- One Lithium Polymer Battery
- One head for the FL II 500
- One long Sync cable
- One shoulder strap for the pack
- One hand handle for the FL II 500 flash head
- Battery charger connector
- Instruction manual
- Padded hard bag to carry the gear around
The pack is really something to praise: sturdy and well made metal is used generously; though it also has plastic in some places it is good quality plastic. There’s one outlet to connect one head – it should be noted that while you can use the DC Pro head (if you plan to use heavy modifiers like octas bigger than 1.2 meters/ 48 inches this head is a must) you can’t use the FL II 500 head on the DC 600 or DC 1200 packs simply because this head uses a flash tube that’s not suitable for 600 and 1200Ws.
Above the head outlet you can find where the 15A fuse is stored. Below the outlet there’s the sync port to attach radio triggers or sync cables, to the side of it there’s the 3 stage battery meter indicated by 3 LED lights. There is also (from left to right) the flash test button, the timer for the modeling lamp, the button for modeling light and the output power button (marked with up and down arrows) above which you will find the on off button. The specified recycle time for the lowest power (1/16) is 0.3 seconds and at the highest power (1/1) is 2.8 seconds and in our tests these figures were found to be accurate.
To the side there’s the battery compartment with its door, behind which resides the 4,200 mAh Lithium Polymer battery. One thing that you must have in mind is that you can’t charge the battery while shooting (the pack must be turned off) and the battery takes around 3-4 hours to charge completely. When the battery is the depleted, a long “Beep” will sound and the LED screen will indicate “OL”, which means you need to turn off the pack and charge the battery.
The flash head is really similar to the DC-series one, the main difference being that the FL II 500 head uses an incandescent 35W (G6.35 12V) instead of the LED lamp found on the DC heads (a cost-cutting measure, says Jinbei, in order to make the FL II 500 more affordable).
You can set a self timer for the modeling lamp to turn itself off in a fixed period of time (programmable in the pack). Obviously the incandescent light will drain the batery at a much faster rate than what the LED light would, so keep that in mind. Also, incandescent lights are known for the heat they produce and, since the FL II doesn’t include any fan cooling, remember that every time you use it to turn it off later. The flash power output rated for the FL II 500 is 400 Ws and the flash tube is user replaceable.
Also, you won’t be able to detach the cable connecting FL II 500 from the head but you can detach it from the pack; the cable is really heavy duty and sturdy (but take care of it if you want it to last longer). Color balance is neutral at all power settings (no silly blue, green or purple shifts) although the range is a bit wider than advertised: around 5100 to 5400 K (which is still within “daylight” territory so no probs).
So far I like most of the things of the FL II 500 and at that, I like them a lot because they are well put-together with good quality materials. The ability to use the DC Pro head with the FL II 500 is also a welcome addition (something other brands are neglecting to their users even today…); the change from NiMh to Li-Polymer is also great.
Overall, it is a fully featured pack-and-head system. However there’s one thing that I miss, which is an optical slave (my main reason for wanting one is because Murphy’s law is always chasing photographers really close: sync cables and radio triggers fail sometimes so having an optical slave integrated with your gear is a blessing that can save your butt). Take it as a minor con IMHO.
Geeky stuff you may like:
The color temperature starts at around 5000K, increasing by around 300-400K at the highest output power. There are no magenta shifts (magenta, purple, green) at all at any power setting. Recycle times are in line with what the manufacturer says, not super fast at high power but there’s no other pack in this price range that is faster (at least of those we have tested so far). For faster recycle times at full power, you need to increase your budget.
Some samples of real life work done with the FL II 500 🙂
FL II 500 in an octabox, DC600 through a large strip light
FL II 500 into a 1.8 meter white parabolic umbrella with front diffuser.
I have put my normal load of my professional work on the FL II 500 and it has performed like a champion: notwithstanding its limitations, it does a whole lot. My main complaint would be the lack of an optical slave integrated in the pack. I hope this issue is solved in the next generation of the FL II’s and DC’s; however this is a minor con and it doesn’t represent a big issue IMHO (just pack an extra radio transmitter and/or sync cables).
Its price is really attractive (at the date of this review 419,90 €) and you certainly receive quite a bit for your money.
Remember the head included with the FL II500 isn’t compatible with the DC600 or DC1200, however you can use the DC Pro head with the FL II 500 if you need to mount big octas, softboxes, etc.
I know you’ll ask the following questions… so before you send me Flickr mails or emails at my website’s mail 🙂 lemme ask the question and then answer it for you:
Which one should I buy: the DC 600 (585,90 euros) or the FL II 500 (419,90 euros)? Of the two, the DC600 is much more versatile (you can read the full review here) but if you want to add more lights to your DC 600 kit (or any other location kit) that can be adjusted independently then the FL II 500 fits the bill well.
Also, for those wanting something more powerful than a hot shoe strobe and not wanting to go above the 500 Euros threshold, the FL II 500 is a nice option. If you are a one-light guy (and I’m not talking about Zack Arias please don’t sue me Zack! :D) and love to do location work then go with the FL II 500. If you are on a budget, you can always expand your system later down the road with more FL II 500’s or DC600’s or any other location pack-and-head systems you like.
I can fully recommend the FL II 500. Just pack an extra battery if you will be using the modeling light a lot; this isn’t a con because it is the nature of an incandescent modeling lights: they draw more juice from a battery, the same was true for the Walimex PBS 400 and any other battery operated location lighting system that use this kind of light bulb.
We would like to thank Foto-Morgen for their help with this and other gear we have reviewed on the site. They are Jinbei’s largest official distributor in Germany. As always, this review wasn’t conditioned in any way to be positive, in spite of their help. You can find the FL II 500 listed here.