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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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