Let me rewind the clock a decade: It’s the end of 2012, and the NYPD was about to clear Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. Over the past year, Occupy Wall Street had gathered momentum, with a camp filling most of the park and protests regularly spreading to the streets.
The police had cordoned off the streets around the park and expelled most of the press, but I had managed to find an area to sneak through and made my way into the park. It was a mass of people – on one side was the motley collection of protesters and on the other a sea of NYPD blue. The lights in the park were off, but on the way out of the house I managed to snag my SB800 and whatever batteries I had on hand. When the police started moving in and making arrests, I put my camera to my eye and started shooting. After the third shot, the flash went out, leaving me in almost complete darkness.
Luckily, a lone TV crew was standing next to me on the bench, and the camera’s light provided enough light to catch the police officers dragging protesters out of the park. The shots weren’t great, but I was able to keep my editor happy. But still, it could have been a lot worse and I swore to myself that day that I would always be prepared.
My camera bag is always a bit crowded. It’s hard with lenses and gear, but the upside is I’m much less likely to have a single point of failure. Still, I always try to lighten the load.
When Godox announced the release of their retro-inspired Lux Junior lightning bolt, I was intrigued — but probably not for the reasons you might be thinking. Sure, I’m not immune to the lure of retro designs – half the gear I carry with me these days was built decades before I was born – but it was more the size and weight that caught my eye. Instead of the bulkier flashes I usually carry, this was small and light enough to fit in my pocket without further strain on my already overworked back and shoulder. INSSTRO was kind enough to allow me to use a test model that I ended up taking on a 2,500 mile cruise.
Let’s start with the things I liked about it. As I mentioned earlier, the flash itself is relatively small – maybe as wide as a deck of cards, and even with the two AAA batteries, it feels extremely light. The body is plastic with a metal and faux leather exterior, which goes well with the Nikon FM and Leica M3 I brought with me. That’s a big plus for some people, although I have to admit that I’m more of a “function over form” guy. Still, it’s pretty enough. The knob on the back controls the power output, while the power button also allows you to switch from auto to manual. There is a light on top of the flash that changes from red to green when the flash is ready to fire, and another switch on the side for remote trigger options. The flash clips nicely to the camera’s hot shoe and there is a cord that comes with the flash for triggering PC syncs. For older cameras with cold shoes like my M3, this was a big help.
My road trip started in Denver, Colorado and meandered through the Midwest, Canada and New England. We went to the top of Mount Evans (about 14,000 feet), where snow and rain blanketed everything, to the wineries in upstate New York. While the flash isn’t weatherproof, it seemed to hold up well enough – at no point did I have a weather-related failure.
At this point I should address where the flash failed. Or at least it didn’t work quite as well as I had hoped. First, the power delivery isn’t great – the GN14 struggled in bright light conditions. Even at sunset I spent quite a bit of time fiddling with both the camera and the flash to get it just right. Second, it’s a battery hog – especially when shooting at higher power settings and draining AAA batteries faster than I’d otherwise be happy with. Third, no TTL or high-speed sync options.
This last part has been mentioned in other publications and I am convinced of it. While it would be nice to have TTL and high speed sync, it’s important to note that this is a budget retro design flash. Its simplicity is a selling point and a way to keep costs down.
Are there more functional options in this price range? Sure, there are actually a large number of different manufacturers. Does that mean this one has no value or shouldn’t appeal, but you should know what you’re getting into? It’s an extremely simple design that’s practically out of the box with a wide range of modern and classic cameras. The simple power dial on the back comes with a table for appropriate camera settings, and with a little practice it becomes easy; really almost intuitive to use as long as you understand the limitations laid out in front of you.
Would I use this as the main flash for a larger job? No probably not. I brought it out during a recent deployment, and it just didn’t have enough power for reliable messaging in uncontrolled environments. It would be interesting to compare this to the Godox Lux Senior which has many more options and is significantly more capable.
But it really isn’t designed for that. Its best use is as a fun, unobtrusive, and fuss-free tool for fun and casual recordings. And while it might not be the perfect device for a press conference or political rally, it wouldn’t be useless there either. It’s small enough that it fits in my bag as a decent backup should my main flash fail, and can stay there without taking up valuable space or weighing me down like my SB-900 might.
What I liked
Small, handy and lightweight Affordable Unobtrusive Relatively easy to use Solid construction and reasonably weatherproof
What I didn’t like
Slight learning curve Slightly underpowered No clicks on the rear dial
You can buy the Godox Lux Junior here.