Bolt VX-710N TTL Flash for Nikon Review

Let’s face it. Flashes are expensive. Wouldn’t it be great if you could purchase a new flash and only spend half of what a new flash typically costs? I’m a Nikon shooter and already have two SB-800s, but another flash can sure come in handy when shooting with off-camera flash at a wedding reception. When I got the Bolt VX-710N, that’s exactly what I had in mind for it, but I decided to go ahead and try it as an on-camera flash as well.

Bolt VX-710 Flash-7

Product Specifications

Mount – Shoe
Guide No. – 164.04′ (50 m) ISO100 at 50 mm position
Exposure Control – Manual/TTL
Vari-Power – 1/1 – 1/128
TTL Dedication – Yes
Bounce Head – Yes, -7° to +90°
Swivel Head – Yes, 180°
Coverage – 18 mm – 180 mm (Full frame)
Zoom Head – Full frame: 24 mm – 180 mm
Off Camera Terminal – PC
Recycle Time - Approximately 0.3 – 3 seconds
Flash Duration – 1/800 – 1/20000 sec
Flash-ready Indicator – Yes
Compensation – -3 EV to +3 EV (in 1/3 EV steps)
Slave Timing Modes
-Instant Sync (S1)
-Skip Preflash (S2)
Power Source - 4x AA Alkaline, Lithium, Rechargeable Ni-MH Batteries
Dimensions (WxHxD) – 3.1 x 5.7 x 4.7″ / 78.0 x 146.0 x 118.5 mm
Weight – 14.39 oz / 408 g Without batteries

First Impressions

This flash comes with everything you’d expect a flash to come with. It has a carrying case, foot stand with tripod thread, diffuser cap and instructions. You’ll need to supply batteries, but other than that it’s ready to use right away.

Bolt VX-710 Flash

Anytime I get a new piece of gear, I try to use it without reading the instructions. If a product isn’t user friendly, it’s got to really impress me in other ways for me to continue using it. If you’ve ever used a flash, the Bolt VX-710N should be easy to use without looking at the instructions. The controls on the back are minimal and the screen is easy to read. One thing that I noticed right away was that changing modes is as easy as pressing the “Mode” button, compared to the SB-800 where you have to hold down a particular combination of buttons and then cycle through and make selections with a variety of buttons. The simple, sliding “On/Off” switch is also much faster and easier to use than the SB-800’s press-and-hold power switch.

Bolt VX-710 Flash

This flash is noticeably larger than an SB-800. In fact, I compared it to an SB-900 and it’s the exact same size. In fact, they look exactly the same. They look so similar, I can’t help but think that the Bolt is designed to look like the SB-900.

Bolt VX-710 Flash

Connections

Attaching the flash to your hot shoe is as easy as sliding it on and tightening the threaded collar. I prefer the locking mechanism on my SB-800 (the same as on the SB-900), as I feel it’s faster to put the flash on and take the flash off of the camera, but honestly don’t have a problem with the threaded collar.

The side of the flash has a PC sync port and a port for use with an external power source (such as a Bolt Battery Pack). Connecting it to your camera or radio trigger can be easily done via the PC port. One thing to note, the cover for the connections on the side easily swings out of the way so that it’s not hard to connect anything, but the hinge material feels a little flimsy. I didn’t have any problems with it, but have a feeling that repeated use over time could cause it to break. If that did happen, the ports would be exposed, but that’s it. Not really a big deal.

Bolt VX-710 Flash

On Camera Use

To test this flash in real world conditions, I photographed a big gala that I knew would require flash for almost all of the photos I’d take that night. I didn’t do anything differently than normal and used the settings and batteries that I’d typically use with my SB-800.

The first thing I noticed was that I liked the sliding power switch much better than the button you have to press and hold on the SB-800. It’s easy to instantly turn on or off, which I tend to do throughout the evening of an event. The next thing I noticed is that the bounce card is much more difficult to pull out than on my SB-800s. Of course, that’s something you only typically do once at the beginning of shooting, so that’s not a huge drawback.

Bolt VX-710 Flash

One other big difference that I noticed was how the flash power is adjusted. On my SB-800, every time I press the up or down arrow, flash power decreases or increases by 1/3 stop. Every time I press the left or right arrow, the flash zooms in or out. On the Bolt, when I press the up or down arrow, the flash power changes by 1 stop and every time I press the left or right arrow, the flash power changes by 1/3 stop. It took a bit of getting used to, but I think I prefer the option to change flash power in full or 1/3 stop increments.

Once I actually started using the flash, it felt just like my SB-800. The TTL mode worked great and exposure was accurate and consistent. Recycle times were fast enough that I didn’t miss any shots, but towards the end of the event I did start to notice that when I photographed in bursts of 4 images, the 2nd and 4th images weren’t properly lit. I decided to re-test with fresh batteries and found that when I fire more than two shots quickly in a row, the flash just can’t recycle quickly enough and doesn’t fire on the third shot. When I tried the same thing with my SB-800, I could consistently fire off at least 5-6 shots before the flash couldn’t recycle and I got a dark frame.

Off Camera Use

Using the flash off camera was simple and straightforward. There are three different ways to use it off camera. The first way I tried was with a radio trigger. I was able to hook up my Pocket Wizard to the flash via the PC port. Once that was done, it was as easy as positioning the flash, setting the power and shooting.

The next way was with the flash in slave mode. This means that the flash senses when another flash fires and then fires as well. This mode worked great. There are actually two slave modes for it to operate in. In the first mode, the flash simply senses a flash and fires at the same time. If you shoot with your flash in manual mode, this is the mode you’ll want to use. The second mode is useful if you shoot with your on-camera flash in TTL mode. The Bolt flash will ignore your on-camera flash’s TTL pre-flash and then fire on the actual flash.

Bolt VX-710 Flash

Other Thoughts

A few weeks after my initial on camera test of this flash, I ended up using it again for another event. This event required photos to be taken much more quickly than the previous event. What I found when I started shooting more quickly was that the flash would overheat and lock up while it cooled down. Remember how I said it looks exactly like an SB-900? It seems to have the same overheating issues as well.

Curious, I came home and decided to do a test. I set both the Bolt VX-710N and Nikon SB-800 flashes to the exact same settings (TTL+1) and started shooting on 5 second intervals. After only 33 shots, the Bolt overheated and shut down. It was very warm to the touch. The Nikon kept firing away and never missed a beat. I got to 181 shots before I got bored and stopped.

This is a huge deal! If the Bolt overheats so quickly (both in testing and in normal use), it is definitely not fit for use as an on camera flash for wedding photography. As I mentioned before, it worked fine for casual event photography and as a lower powered off camera flash, but you will never find it on my camera at a wedding.

Conclusions

Initially, I really liked this flash. It’s easy to use and costs half the price of a new Nikon flash. Unfortunately, due to it’s size, it is too bit to fit in my camera bag (Think Tank 4-Sight). It also overheats fairly quickly, making it unsuitable for wedding use. Unless you set it up in manual mode and use it sparingly at 1/4 power or so, the flash won’t last. It won’t find a place in my bag for regular use, although I will continue to use it as an off camera flash.

Pricing and Where to Buy

The Bolt VX-710N is priced at $224.95 (as of 06/07/2014) and is available at B&H Photo Video.

Bolt VX-710N TTL Flash for Nikon
  • Features
  • Build Quality
  • Handling
  • Value
  • Size and Weight
  • Packaging and Manual
  • Speed and Performance

Photography Life Overall Rating

3.6

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Ron
    June 23, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    Get the Cheetah V850/Godox, for $104-129.. comes with a lithium battery.

    • June 25, 2014 at 11:50 am

      Ron, this sounds pretty interesting, especially with all of the follow-up comments. If I come across one I’ll give it a shot!

    • 19
      ) Alex
      July 29, 2014 at 7:25 am

      Please note that the Cheetah V850 is not TTL on camera.

      The Bolt seems to be a rebranded Version of the Oloong 690II (Nikon version)
      http://www.oloong.com.cn/productview_en.asp?id=27

      I personally have 3 660II for off camera use as I use a Nikon branded flash on camera as trigger and do not need the TTL of the 690. Also great is that these flashes can do Nikon and Canon Wireless Flash mode so if a Canon shooting friend comes along, it’s a matter of one button to make the setup work for him.

  2. 2
    ) Nishant Rana
    June 24, 2014 at 12:22 am

    Its a great and very practical review. Helps a lot to newbies like me. I have a Nikon SB 700 and a Yongnuo YN 568EX II. I love YN568EX II as it is cheaper then SB700 and works good on and off camera. But SB 700 is pretty good when it comes to continuos shooting. Recycle time is good and can shoot for almost 250 shots without over heating at interwell of 5 sec. YN 568EX II can go only 100-125 shots.

    • June 25, 2014 at 11:56 am

      Thanks Nishant! Sounds like Nikon is generally better for continuous shooting and recycle times. Thanks for the info!

  3. 3
    ) HomoSapiensWannaBe
    June 24, 2014 at 7:31 am

    Did you consider the Phottix Mitros+ ?

  4. 4
    ) Motti
    June 24, 2014 at 10:00 am

    A colleague of mine decided to give the new Yongnuo a try and he is so impressed I am going to do the same (he has had the for two months now). He purchased two YN-568 EX for $180 each and three YN-622N radios (one to trigger and two to receive) for just over $100 for the three. He also bought two battery packs for around $40 each. The battery packs have only one connection so the PC outlet on the flash is free to use a radio trigger (in case you do not want it on the hot shoe).

    Total cost: Around $550 for a complete set
    2 flashes, 2 battery packs and 3 radios Vs. 1 SB-910

    I met a photographer this weekend that uses the new Yongnuo 560 III with the built in radio and said she absolutely love them.

    Flashes do not have to be expensive, not no more :-). My SB-900 is the last Nikon flash I will ever buy unless I find one for a song..

    • June 25, 2014 at 11:59 am

      Very interesting, Motti! This Bolt is the first non-Nikon flash I’ve used, so I’m definitely interested in checking out some others. This sounds like a great setup!

  5. Profile photo of oluwadamilare
    5
    ) oluwadamilare
    June 24, 2014 at 10:58 am

    please educate me on the proper use of flash, how to position it, when to use it and when not to use it.

  6. 6
    ) Motti
    June 24, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    @Ron, just took a look at the Godox v850, very impressive. I was equally impressed with the V860. I do not need another TTL flash though. Amazing that you can have a battery pack equivalent to 12 batteries. Add a built in radio and you have the ultimate flash. For a fraction of Nikon’s or Canon’s.

    I believe the V850 has a built in radio right?

  7. 7
    ) sceptical 1
    June 24, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    Another great review! What a bummer re the overheating.
    I really like less expensive flashes because its really nice to have 3 or more. I have 2 Metz 44’s for off camera flash. They work great in either manual or TTL and they don’t overheat. They are very easy to use – no manuaI needed! I also have an SB-900 which is great as an on camera flash in low light. (preflash is very good)
    I do have two small issues with the Metz. First the battery compartment is hard to open and it isnt clear how the batteries go in. Second, while they are less expensive than the Nikons, they are still $200. Compared to Yongnuo or Bolt, they cost a bit more. If I were buying again, I would consider less expensive options.

    • June 25, 2014 at 12:01 pm

      Thanks! I was really excited about it too until I experienced the overheating. Good to know about the Metz flashes. They sound like a good alternative.

  8. 8
    ) Richy
    June 25, 2014 at 10:12 am

    Like Nishant I use the SB700 and a yongnuo (mines the 565EX) and although im a big fan the the cheaper flashes, the Nikon just keeps going.
    Good review! The flash looked very tempting until you got to the overheat part, thats a big deal as I also shoot weddings

    • June 25, 2014 at 12:02 pm

      Thanks Richy! There is definitely something to be said about a flash that just works and that you can rely on, especially for shooting weddings.

  9. 17
    ) Dc Akowua
    July 13, 2014 at 1:40 am

    Oh boy I was so excited reading your review till I got to the overheating part, My SB-900 started overheating and does so a lot more after two years of use.
    I like the features an price but the over heating is a bummer.
    Have you tested any other as good but with no overheating issue at a reasonable price?

    • July 14, 2014 at 3:15 pm

      Yeah, that’s exactly how I felt using it! Excited until it overheated. I haven’t tested any other “off-brand” flashes that are less expensive, but I’m thinking I need to as there seems to be quite an interest in them!

  10. 20
    ) Pat
    August 2, 2014 at 9:44 am

    I have a Nikon SB 600. Is it worth it to upgrade to a SB 910?
    Thanks!

    • August 4, 2014 at 10:14 am

      Hi Pat,
      I’ve never used the SB 600 or SB 910, so I can’t really help. Sorry!

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