About two months ago, Apeman contacted me and asked whether I could do a review of one of their flash units the SL350. I was pretty excited as I like reviewing products especially when their price tags challenge the big brands. The Apeman SL350 costs only £40 on amazon so let’s see what this flash unit is about and whether its price tag makes it a bargain.
A smart pouch and accessories
The Apeman SL350 comes in a protective pouch made of heavy-duty nylon material. While the material is identical to the one used by Canon and Yongnuo for their pouches, the Apeman’s protective case design has some great additional features.
A strap holder
Unlike all the flash carry cases I have ever seen before, the SL350’s protective case includes a strap holder. This can be very practical when you want to keep your flash close by during a shoot in case you need it.
Spare batteries storage
The first thing that caught my eye when I unboxed the Apeman SL350 was the pouch bottom compartment which has a strap to hold four spare AA batteries. While Apeman predicts you can fire between 100 and 1500 flashes with a single set of fresh batteries, being able to carry with you spare ones can be convenient when you are out shooting an event for hours.
A light diffuser
As explained in Soft Light vs Hard Light: theory & practice, the bigger the light source is to our subject the softer the light. When using such a flash unit like the Apeman SL350, we often use diffusers to soften the emitted light. The Apeman SL350 comes with a white hard light diffuser which can also be stored in the bottom compartment of the carry case.
An Infrared remote control
This last accessory came as a surprise to me. Why would you need a camera IR remote control with your flash? My guess is you could use it to trigger your flash indirectly. Let’s imagine you have your flash mounted on your camera’s Hotshoe and you need to measure the flash exposure on your subject with a flash meter (as seen in Perfect Exposure at 1st shot: 1 Flash & 1 Flashmeter) but you don’t have a radio trigger. You can use the included IR remote control to trigger your camera which will trigger the mounted flash. Is it the easiest way of doing things? Certainly not but if you are on a tight budget or just starting flash photography it would let you do the job.
Unlike the majority of flashes, the Apeman SL350 is compatible with all DSLR camera with a standard hot shoe: Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic, Pentax, Olympus.
A powerful flash unit
The Apeman SL350 is a powerful flash unit with a maximum Guide Number of 58m. This is en par with my Yongnuo YN-568EXII and YN565EX and the much more expensive Canon 580EXII. The higher the Guide Number the more powerful the flash is. We will come back to Guide Number in another tutorial.
Recycling time & flash duration
When choosing a flash unit, we are drawn to check its maximum power but power is nothing if the flash recycling time and flash duration are slow.
The recycling time of a flash is the time it takes for the unit to be ready to burst again after an initial burst at full power. For my test, I inserted a fresh set of Eneloop batteries and used the video to get an accurate reading. I did ten consecutive bursts and the results showed an average of 2.35sec.
1) 2.36sec 2) 2.14sec 3) 2.31sec 4) 2.16sec 5) 2.05sec 6) 2.43sec 7) 2.09sec 8) 2.37sec 9) 2.07sec 10) 2.12sec
The flash duration is the time it takes for the flash to emit the brightest light at a given setting. This is very important for sport or macro photography where the action needs to be frozen. I am not equipped to run an accurate flash duration test. Apeman claims the SL350 has a flash duration capacity from 1/200s (at full power) to 1/20000s (at 1/128th power), which matches my Yongnuo 568EXII. The Canon 580EXII does 1/285s at full power.
Like most portable flashes, the Apeman SL350 takes 4 alkaline batteries. I must admit I am not a fan of the narrow battery compartment cover. Because of the springs located under the batteries, there is quite a lot of tension when trying to close the lid. Being so narrow, compared to the Yongnuo or Canon versions, makes it feel flimsy when attempting to close it. On several occasions, it did not engage properly.
External charging port
The Apeman SL350 has a charging port on its front which enables you to plug an external battery pack to extend the shooting time and reduce the recycling time of the flash.
PC Synchronous port
The Apeman SL350 includes a PC synchronous port on its side which enables you to plug a radio trigger like PocketWizzard or the old fashion way with a long cable linked to your camera.
Apeman claims the colour temperature of the light emitted by their flash SL350 is 5600k which is the standard daylight temperature. While I do not have a tool to accurately measure the colour temperature I decided to run a little experiment:
- Shoot eight images going from 1/128th to full power, with the flash zoom set to 70mm.
- My Canon 5DIII on a tripod to ensure the same angle of view and distance from the subject.
- Manually set the camera’s White Balance to 5600k to ensure each shot would get the same rendering.
This is a screenshot of all the eight images once imported into Adobe Lightroom without any alteration. I hope you can see the colour temperature changes slightly between takes. Note the file name indicates the flash power setting.
Should you care?
While it is better to have consistency, especially if you are to have additional flashes, to avoid a mix of colour tones, I would not worry too much here. This would be more critical to those shooting some fashion clothing or commercial photography where colour accuracy is a branding requirement. In such a scenario, I would not expect a £40 flash to be used. In the worth situation, it would most likely mean your darker tones might be slightly cooler or warmer that the highlights and you could always use the Split Toning to correct it.
The Apeman SL350 is a manual flash with 4 modes:
- Manual mode lets you set the power output from 1/128th to full power in a 1/3 increment.
- Multi is a stroboscopic mode enabling you to have multiple flash bursts within one exposure. The power output can be set from 1/128th to 1/8th power.
- S1 is the slave mode which enables the SL350 to be triggered remotely by a master flash. The power output from 1/128th to full power and a 1/3 increment.
- S2 functions like S1 but ignores any TTL pre-flash burst.
Off camera flash
As mentioned above, the Apeman SL350 has 2 slave modes which enable the unit to be triggered remotely using the burst of a master flash. I covered such a triggering system in the How to trigger external Flashes: built-in popup flash. It does come with its load of challenges since the slave flash needs to see the master flash beam. Hence, as shown in many of my tutorials (like Perfect Exposure at 1st shot: 1 Flash & 1 Flashmeter & Perfect Exposure at 1st shot: 3 Flashes & 1 Flash meter) I use the Yongnuo YN-622C and the YN622C-TX to radio trigger my flashes. I love these triggers; they work like a charm with both my Yongnuo flashes and my Canon 430EXII. As I expected it, they do not fully work with the Apeman SL350. While the triggering functions perfectly, I cannot set the power output remotely. This is not a big deal.
Like any modern portable flash unit, the Apeman SL350 has a zoom functionality which enables you to broaden or narrow down the emitted light beam. The zoom can be set t0 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 70mm, 85mm or 105mm. However, the flash includes a wide-angle diffuser panel which broadens the beam to 18mm. Note the zoom value does not change to 18mm on the display when flipping down the wide-angle diffuser!
While the user manual mentions the existence of Auto Zoom, such functionality did not work on any of my Canon 60D, 5DIII or 5DIV. For any of these cameras, the Speedlight menu is not accessible as the camera cannot communicate (besides triggering the flash) with the unit. Hence the focal length is not passed onto the flash unit.
Auto Focus assist lamp
The Apeman SL350 is supposed to burst a red light from its front panel to assist you with your camera autofocus. This can be a practical feature when shooting in a very dim environment where the camera focusing system can struggle to detect contrasted points. Sadly, in all my tests I was unable to see such assist lamp.
The Apeman memorises its last used settings. This means that when switching on the unit, you find it set like you left it. This is also true when you change the batteries.
The Apeman SL350 has a temperature detection feature which prevents the unit from overheating. When it reaches a certain level, the unit locks itself for a couple of minutes and display a blinking lightbulb. In my test, it took me about 20 consecutive flash bursts at full power to get the unit to lock.
Who is Apeman (Aperlite)?
Truthfully, I do not know much about the brand. They have a website http://www.apemanelectronic.com with a store on amazon. Interestingly, several months ago I was approached by a seller on amazon to do a review of the Aperlite YH-500C flash unit. I never got around to do it but the two flash units are both identically built. Not only are the buttons the same but the English user manual even shares the same typos. That being said there is one technical difference between the two units since the Aperlite YH-500C offers TTL. The Auto Focus assist lamp does work on the Aperlite YH-500C.
During my Colour Temperature tests, I came across some interesting findings. I realised how unpredictable the real power output of the Apeman SL350 is (there is the same phenomenon with the Aperlite YH-500C).
- Set the Apeman SL350 at full power at 105 mm zoom
- Place the Sekonic L-358 flash meter at a distance to get an f45 reading
- Go through a series of flash bursts from full power all the way down to 1/128th using full stop increment
- Such a run down should affect the flash meter reading accordingly
Here are the values I collected and the ones I expected:
Conclusion of the experiment
The Apeman SL350 is a powerful flash which overexposes from 1/2 to 1/64th power. Is this a real problem? I believe so because this means that you cannot rely on logic to adjust your flash power. Let’s imagine you notice your subject is overexposed by 1 stop. You can easily find this by using a flash meter which would tell you (for example) that a correct exposure with the chosen flash power would require f11 but you wish to shoot at f8. You logically decrease the flash power by 1 stop but instead of obtaining the correct exposure, the flash is still too strong. So you need to keep taking several readings as you keep decreasing the flash power until you get the correct match between the power and the aperture f8 you wish to use.
While you can work with such a flash, my concern is mostly about its targetted audience. Most likely amateur photographers with little budget or starting flash photography. If the former then it is fine, one could say you get what you pay for. If the latter, it is more concerning as such behaviour for a flash can easily confuse a beginner. I’ve been teaching photography for many years using the notion of full and 1/3 of a stop. My students understand the correlation between the exposure factors (aperture, flash power, ISO and time). If you take from one factor you need to get it back one way or another or your exposure will be unbalanced. With the Apeman SL350, you take off a stop of power and yet you do not loose a stop of light. That is my issue with this unit, especially when reading “Accurate brightness control” in the list of features on page 2 of the user manual.
It is undeniable the Apeman SL350 is a powerful flash unit. It is a solid design and its features are en par with its more expensive competitors (ie. Yongnuo, Canon and Nikon). Having said that, one important question remains: Would I buy the Apeman SL350 Flash unit? It depends!
As a professional photographer
When the execution time is critical, things don’t only need to function well, they need to be time efficient. Personally, I would not use such a flash as my main flash because it is not fully compatible with my radio triggers, it does not TTL not High Sync Speed and I would not trust its overpowering behaviour to use it as my fill light at a wedding. The only way I would use this flash is if I needed a flash in a corner of a room to lit it and did not need to change its settings. As a professional photographer, I too have a budget to deal with and the Yongnuo 565EX and 568EXII fulfil that constraint while providing me with my technical needs.
As a hobbyist
The greatest advantage of amateur photographers is they do things only for the sake of the art. Time is rarely a constraint and often the “DIY” process is the appeal. Hence, the popular use of pinhole and other vintage cameras and lenses today. Amateurs do not necessary look for speed and are willing to compromise more if it means spending less money (or they should). Therefore the Apeman SL350 is a great flash unit for the hobbyist photographers who want to have a powerful flash and cannot afford or need all the features of a Canon or Nikon flash that costs nearly 10 times more. When it comes to Apeman vs Yongnuo, it depends on how much your budget is a priority.
Let me know in a comment below, whether you would buy this flash and what are your decision factors when you’re hunting for a flash.