Sometimes you come across product that seems to have a price / quality balance that is much better than other comparable products. In the nineties for instance Hyundai made cars that were cheaper, bigger and more luxurious than their competitors. But as soon as you got in them and started driving you’d quickly find out that everything is worth its price. They just didn’t drive as good as their European and Japanese competitors. Every once in a while you will find a product that seems to outclass it’s price, and can actually keep its promise. Like for instance the Nikon D700. When that was introduced Nikon gave us 95% of D3 performance for about half the price. Hähnel have now introduced a new speedlight system that, at first look, seems to offer the same unbelievable performance for a low price as the Nikon D700 did back in the day. In this review I’m going to see if it is as good as it seems to be.
In this review I’ll talk about the Hähnel Modus Pro kit. That is a complete starter kit with two Hähnel Modus 600 RT flashes, two Hähnel extreme batteries, a charger and the Viper TTL transmitter. You can also buy a smaller kit with just one speedlight and the Viper TTL. Of course the Modus 600 RT speedlights and the Viper TTL are available as single products so you could start with a small kit and add extra speedlights later on. The Modus 600 RT is available for Nikon and Canon and a Sony-version will follow soon. In this review I’ve used the Nikon version with my Nikon D800.
The Hähnel Modus 600 RT
You may know Hähnel from their wide range of accessories for cameras. For instance batteries and chargers. One of the especially interesting product lines Hähnel offers are the Extreme batteries. That’s a line of very durable and powerful replacement batteries for professional cameras. It’s only logical Hähnel has chosen to base their new speedlights on an Extreme battery. Instead of using normal (rechargeable) AA batteries you use one powerful Extreme battery in the speedlight. Later on I’ll tell you more about the battery, but there is more that makes the Hähnel Modus 600 RT stand out:
- Powerful (60m range at ISO 100 and 200mm);
- Powerful Extreme battery (more than 500 full power flashes on one charge and just 1.5 seconds recycle time);
- Full TTL support, both on and off camera (using Viper TTL transmitter);
- Support for Nikon, Canon and later also Sony;
- High Speed Sync (up to 1/8000th of a second);
- Big, illuminated, graphical display on the back of the Modus 600 RT;
- Small, illuminated display on the Viper TTL commander;
- Wireless connection using 2,4 Ghz. Band for long range and stable connection;
- The Modus 600 RT speedlight can be used on camera, as an optical slave, wireless 2.4 Ghz slave and can be used as a master to command other Modus 600 RT speedlights. You can also use the Viper TTL commander;
- Comes with protective soft-pouch, stand and has a built in bounce-card and wide-angle diffuser;
- USB-port to install future firmware-updates;
A single Hähnel Modus 600 RT costs a little less than 300 euros. That makes it about the same price as an original Nikon SB700 speedlight. The Hähnel Modus 600 RT has got more functionality, but what surprised me the most is that the Hähnel seems to be better built. The Hähnel Modus 600 RT feels very sturdy. The buttons have a nice feel to them and give good feedback, and adjusting the head feels good and it ‘clicks’ in to place at every stop with a nice sound. You don’t have to unlock it with a button before you can adjust the head, making it fast to use. Even so you don’t have to worry about it changing positions unwanted as the stops offer more than enough resistance. The mechanism in the head feels nicer than with the similar priced Nikon speedlight. It offers 360 degrees horizontal adjustability and 90 degrees in vertical direction making it work in just about any situation.
The only downside I can find on the Hähnel Modus 600 RT is the locking mechanism you use to attach it to your camera. Hähnel has chosen to use a simple but effective screw to lock it in to place. That works fine and is durable, but it just isn’t as nice as the lever Nikon uses or the button other brands use.
Looks and functionality
The Hähnel Modus 600 RT looks sturdy and professional. It’s made of durable matt-black plastics that seems to be scratch resistant. On the front you’ll find the see-through red windows that houses the focus-assist LED’s and the light sensors. On the left is the big battery compartment and on the right is the Micro-USB port and the flash sync port for syncing non-wireless speedlights.
On the back is the big, illuminated graphical display and the other controls. Because Hähnel has chosen to use a big graphical display it can show a lot of information at once. For instance in HSS-mode it shows the effective range in meters (or ft.). I found the information the display shows very helpful. The backlight of the display is illuminated in red or green making it easy to read in bright light or in darkness.
You can adjust the head in all directions. That makes the speedlight very flexible. The head offers an automatic, built in zoom mechanism that offers zoom from 20 to 200 mm range (full frame). It also has a manual diffuser built in to the head expanding the wide angle range up to 14mm.
Viper TTL transmitter
The Hähnel Modus 600 RT can be used as a wireless slave using another Modus 600 RT speedlight, using it as an optical slave or using the Viper TTL transmitter. That gives you a lot of options to create an easy to use strobist setup. When using the Viper TTL or another Modus 600 RT to command other Modus 600 RT speedlight the system uses 2.4 Ghz wireless technology, that offers a stable connection and a range up to 100 meters (in open terrain). You don’t need a line of sight between the commander and slave.
You can mount the Viper TTL directly to your camera and use three different groups of speedlights. For each group you can choose if you want to use wireless TTL, TTL with compensation or manual control. In manual mode you can adjust the power from full power to 1/128th. Adjusting the settings on the Viper TTL is also very easy because of the small illuminated display on the back. You can see the current setting for each group and adjust it with just a few buttons.
Using the Hähnel Modus Pro kit and the Hähnel Modus 600 RT
When using the Hähnel Modus 600 RT speedlights you’ll notice the Modus-system is very capable. The build quality stands out. What also stands out is the powerful batteries. If you are used to a normal speedlight with 4 AA batteries you’ll be surprised with the speed of the Hähnel Modus 600 RT. When using full power the recycle time is just 1.5 seconds, which is way way faster than any speedlight using normal AA batteries. When you use ‘normal’ power you can almost keep flashing without noticing any recycle times in use. It just seems to be ready at any moment. That makes the Hähnel Modus 600 RT very useful for professional users that rely on their speedlights in fast paced shoots like photojournalists and wedding photographers. Besides speed the batteries have another big advantage: stamina. With a fully charged battery Hähnel says you get more than 500 full power flashes. I’ve been using the Hähnel Modus 600 RT for a while now and have used it a lot, and I haven’t even managed to deplete the batteries once. When using normal power (you will almost never use full power in normal use) you’ll get hundreds of photos without having to charge the battery. Charging is done with the supplied charger, and is quite fast. The charger shows the current charging status while it is busy so if you don’t have the time to fully charge the battery you can at least see how much power is in them.
Because the Hähnel Modus 600 RT is so fast you would risk overheating it quicker. But luckily Hähnel has put quite some work in the thermal management. I didn’t manage to get it to overheat at all. Using normal power you can almost keep using it without ever getting in trouble with it overheating. At maximum power you can use it up to 30 times in a row before you would get in to trouble.
Besides the batteries the Hähnel Modus 600 RT is a very capable speedlight that offers a lot of functionality. The head is widely adjustable and the Modus 600 RT is more than powerful enough for most situations. Even using it in HSS mode it is still powerful enough to give you an effective range of a few meters. Setting up the Modus 600 RT is easy using the big display, especially in a busy shoot that is a big plus. Because you can see all the current settings it is also easy to adjust it to your needs.
The wireless connection using the Viper TTL is very reliable. Despite it using the same 2.4 Ghz band that is used by WiFi-routers, wireless doorbells, DECT phones and baby monitors I never had any problems using it. It was stable and reliable in every situation, indoors and outside.
The High Speed Sync mode on the Hähnel Modus 600 RT is very easy to use. On my Nikon D800 I just changed the maximum sync speed to 1/250th (FP) in the menu and everything worked. You don’t have to change any settings on the speedlight itself, just let the camera do the work. If the camera selects a shutter speed lower than 1/250th of a second it would work as normal using TTL. As soon as the shutter speed got faster it would switch over to HSS-mode. The Hähnel Modus 600 RT shows a little symbol in the display and it would show the effective range in meters. That’s comes in very handy.
The new Hähnel Modus 600 RT offers amazing quality for a relatively low price. For the price of one high-end Nikon or Canon speedlight you get a complete Modus Pro kit with two speedlights, batteries, charger and the Viper TTL transmitter. A single Modus 600 RT is about as expensive as one midrange Nikon or Canon flashlight, making it great value. Too good to be true? I don’t think so. Despite the relatively low price you get a very capable speedlight with a lot of functionality and very good build quality that can match or even surpass what you get from Nikon or Canon. That Hähnel has managed to add a powerful battery only makes it better and even more capable for professional users. So if you are thinking about buying a new speedlight I’d advise you to at least consider the Hähnel Modus 600 RT. I’m sure you won’t regret it!