Sunpak 622 Pro System with zoom head: Front View

Sunpak 622 Pro System : Review for Strobists

Sunpak Auto 622 Pro System : General Features

This handle-mount flash dates back to the late 1980s, when it was a very pricey unit… in the range of $600 (and those are 1980s dollars). It still sells at places like B&H for $200 without a head. This is clearly intended for professional shooters that require plenty of power and longevity, such as wedding photographers or sports photographers. I recently purchased my unit for $50 from a guy who claimed that he bought it in 1987 shortly before being busted for cocaine dealing and spending several years in jail… but they can be found on Ebay or Craigslist for well under $50 pretty regularly.

Despite its intended market, the unit does feel a little bit cheap in parts. Although the handle and battery bracket feel good, the zoom head (the only one that I own) feels a little too light. That said, my particular head dates to 1987 and still works perfectly, so perhaps the impression is misleading.

There are several heads available for this unit: a zoom head (manual), a standard, a wide, a bare bulb, an INFRARED head and a ring-light, making it very versatile. I’m keeping my eye out for the light ring head on Ebay… it looks like it would be fun to play with. It can be triggered via a PC sync cord or via a dedicated module that attaches to the camera hotshoe. With the proper module, TTL shooting would be possible, but as far as I know, there are no modules made for modern digital cameras. Mine has a module for a Nikon F3, though I have not tested it. I have not yet found documentation that provides the triggering voltage, so I have no intention of trying it on-camera.

The unit is big. While the reflector area of my Nikon and Canon flashes measure approximately 3.5 x 7 cm, the reflector on the 622 measures 6.5 x 10 cm, over 3 times the area! I’ve seen the guide number for this model (the Auto Pro as opposed to the Super Pro) listed as 160ft at ISO 100, which is impressive, but guide numbers can be misleading. To get a better idea of how this translated into actual shooting power, I set up a light stand about 10 feet from a wall and used my Gossen flash meter to test the output of 3 different flashes: a 300 ws monolight, the Sunpak 622, and the Canon 430EZ (GN 140). The Sunpak and the Canon were both zoomed to their widest setting and the monolight had only a standard 7″ reflector, and all were on full power.

The results were as follows over 3 test readings:

  • Monolight: f11 .9 , f16, f16
  • Sunpak 622: f8 .3, f8 .5, f8 .3
  • Canon 430EZ: f5.6 , f5.6, f4  .9

I apologize for the unusual f-stop designations; my meter displays the exposure as the full stop number plus 10ths, so 5.6 .5, for example is simply a half stop above 5.6 (ie, f 6.7). As you can see, the  Sunpak provides somwhere near a stop and a half more light than the Canon, but about a stop and a half less than the monolight.

Sunpak 622
Matthew Gore | Light And Matter Sunpak 622

The Sunpak 622 can be powered several different ways. Most typically it is powered by its own mounted battery pack, which holds 4 C-size batteries (the CL-3 NiCad pack can still be purchased for it, too). With alkaline batteries, the refresh rate at full power is a sloooow 13 seconds, but with the NiCad pack, it drops to 3 seconds! This pack mounts in front of the handle, and can be detached for quick replacement with a fully charged pack. Alternately, it has a power jack to connect to a 510v battery pack (refresh rate: 1 second), or it can take an adapter (Sunpak AD-26) and be plugged directly into wall current. I’ve been running mine off of alkaline batteries, but will get some 5000 or 9000 mAh NiMh batteries to see how it affects the charge time.

[Update : I’ve finally purchased some Size C, 5000mah NiMH batteries and a charger. I’ve only had them for a day now, but it seems impossible to run them dead! They recycle the flash on full power at just a hair under 3 seconds. These are the ones I bought, plus a charger: HERE . Altogether, around $63 for TWO sets.]

Strobist Advantages

Another interesting possibility is that the bracket could also support a second strobe instead of a camera, so if you’re in a situation in which you really need to overpower the sun, you’d have some extra power.

Strobist Drawbacks

Sunpak Auto 622 Pro-System Controls
Matthew Gore | Light And Matter

There are two main drawbacks to this unit. While the power can be an advantage, the size can be a problem…. it’s not going to just slide into a fanny pack like a Nikon SB-900 would. Along with the size is the weight. With alkaline batteries, it’s over two pounds.

The second issue is that the controls are not especially easy to read. The displays are obviously all physical rather than digital readouts, and even with the backlight, they can be hard to read because of their small size. I imagine that this will be more of a problem the older you are.

One thing that has come to my attention is that at full power, the duration of this flash is 1/500th of  a second [I’ve since seen this published as 1/1000th not sure which is correct]. This means that if you’re using this flash to stop action, you’ll need to use it at 1/2 power at least, but 1/4 or 1/8th would be better.

The Verdict

I’ve been using this unit for over a year now, and love it! With the addition of the 5000mAh batteries, it lasts forever and recycles quickly, and produces great power when I need to overpower the sun. An excellent Strobist flash, if you can find one (Check Out Current Sunpak 622 listings on Ebay).

Sunpak 622 : For scale, the battery pack with the silver/grey stripe on the front of the handle contains 4 size-C batteries.
Matthew Gore | Light And Matter Sunpak 622 : For scale, the battery pack with the silver/grey stripe on the front of the handle contains 4 size-C batteries.
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Artis Forbes

Hello Mr. Gore
I have a sunpak 622 super with the rechargeable nc510 battery. My question is how can I adapt it to use with my canon t3i ? I also have a set of pocket wizards plus ll

medal nguyen

Hi matthew, I love the power of sunpak 622. But I have a problem with battery. I use NiMh battery chargeable for sunpak, but it doesn’t work. I have no idea with this. Do you any idea with the battery? The battery I use is here: http://www.ebay.com/itm/2x-1-2v-5000mAh-Size-C-R14-Ni-Mh-Rechargeable-replacement-Batteries-for-Toys-/251669875182?pt=US_Rechargeable_Batteries&hash=item3a98b189ee

James

Greetings again, Matt. This has been a very busy and productive season for me at the BMX races. I have had more than ample opportunity to put the Sunpak 622 Super to work and the value of this flash certainly shows in the pictures I take. When I look at the Facebook pages of other amateur track-side photographers I notice a distinct lack of shadow detail that my pictures have. BMX racing uniforms are mostly brightly colored and photographers shooting without flash just don’t get the rich and bright colors that I get. I am getting compliments from other photographers as well as the track-side vendors who follow the photographers of the national magazines and are appalled at the practices they have seen becoming commonplace in slick-newsstand-magazine photography; automatic cameras set up track-side to capture images while the “Photographer” is busy rubbing elbows with the big names. Sheesh! I am seriously considering adding professional photography to my day-to-day routine. Until about a year ago flash photography was something I shied away from and now I am hooked. I think I can consider myself a strobist now. I don’t see myself doing much shooting without flash anymore. This is a stark turnaround from my past 25 years during which I could never foresee myself using flash.

I did, however, discover as shortcoming of the Sunpak 622: This flash is not designed or built for rapid firing, especially on a hot sunny day. When rapid firing the flash out in the sun even at reduced power settings the flash will overheat and begin to smoke. The solution to this is to be more selective when pressing the shutter button. I burned out one flash this way but it was still under warranty and ToCad America was very helpful in rapidly replacing the flash and head. While I was waiting for my flash to get replaced I went ahead and bought a few more kits with the wide-angle head and other goodies including the NiCad battery cluster CL-3, one of which became the best Father’s Day gift I have ever given. My father is now talking about upgrading from his Honeywell-Pentax Spotmatic to a more modern camera to match his new flash. I have yet to put the NiCad cluster through its paces but it recycles the flash in about the same amount of time as the NiMH batteries.

I now have three 622 Supers. Oh the possibilities.

Marcel Cabrera Jr

Hi James!

I just want to thank you for an awesome and well detailed review. Not too many personal reviews on the sunpak 622 auto or super. You really took the time to give your insight and explain the pros and drawbacks, especially for “strobist” shooters like me!

I had some questions about making DIY batteries and maximum power to bring this flash to life.

1) Have you ever thought about using “8 AA battery packs” for the Sunpak that are used to power up the Nikon/Canon Speedlites? And… (I’m not technically saavy with batteries, cords, re-wiring, how to strip and convert cable plugs, etc….) is there any way to use these on the Sunpak 622 Super by wiring it to the flash or maybe using the “Quantum CS6 Sunpak 622 adapter” and converting it to work with an 8 AA battery pack?? (And when I mean use the 8 AA Battery pack, i mean using it ONLY… and taking off the actual default battery pack that comes with the Sunpak 622 to cutdown on weight/mobility… so it looks like a standard “potato masher” flash on a single handle?)

I have 4 of these battery packs (1 nikon, 3 Youngnou: –> http://www.flashzebra.com/products/0153/index.shtml) I usually have these packs bungee ball cord strapped (like david hobby suggests in storbist.com) to carbon fiber monopods or light stands and attached to Nikon Speedlights. These packs are awesome power supplies for the speedlites as they had an extra 8 AA batteries to the 4 that need to be placed in the speedlites to power up. The batteries I use are the:

1) MAHA Powerex AA NiMh 2700 mah (http://www.thomasdistributing.com/shop/-p-286.html?frontpage=1)

2) Delkin AA NiMh 2900 mah (http://www.delkin.com/shop/product.php?productid=141&cat=99&page=1)

I get super fast recycle times at full power….. about 1 second at full power… 1/2 power being an instant recycle.

I don’t usually use my flash at full power… ONLY when I want to overpower the sun and kill the ambient.

Here is the Quantum CS6 Cable: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/43267-REG/Quantum_Instruments_CS6_CS6_Cable_for_Sunpak.html/BI/5256/KBID/6027

2) Same question as #1 but for an RC Car or RC Airplane Battery Pack?? If and how can they be connected to the sunpak 622 WITHOUT the standard default Sunpak 622 C battery holder that comes with the flash?? Again I would be connecting this to a monopod and thinking of bungee ball cord strapping the battery pack to the monopod/light stand with Sunpak 622 attached…. or even having an assistant “Hand Carry/hold” the Sunpak 622 with the RC Battery pack hanging below and placed in his/her pocket or small lens bag attached to waist belt???

I was thinking of these batteries (they come in both NiMh and LiPo:

1) http://www.hobbypeople.net/index.php/11-1v-5000mah-25c-lipo-battery-pack.html

2) http://www.hobbypeople.net/index.php/hi-energy-6-cell-4500-mah-sub-c-nimh-w-trx-conn.html

3) Any advantages of using: LiPo vs NiMh?

4) I found this “Sunpak 622 Service Manual.PDF” (Scroll to the bottom)

http://www.butkus.org/chinon/flashes_meters/sunpak_flash/sunpak_flash_units.htm

Page 7 on the PDF shows different battery/power sources and their recycling times. It states that the Sunpak can be powered to a “510V Battery!” and pretty much have 1 second recycling times!!

anyways.. sorry to bombard you with sooo much info and soooo many questions.. I don’t know much about the “electrical/power/wiring” side of flashes and batteries.

if there is ANY help you can give me, i would greatly appreciate it!

Thank you very much!

respectfully,

Marcel

Marcel Cabrera Jr

**EXCUSE MY LAST POST**

Correction…

the post should be addressed to “MATTHEW”

Sorry for confusion!

thanks again!

Very Respectfully,

Marcel :)

James

Matthew, thank you for your insight into the Sunpak 622. I just purchased one at B&H yesterday (With the display model flash head) and I look forward to using this flash. I also ordered the NiMH batteries and charger you referred to above and I can’t wait to experience this flash with cycle times under three seconds. I am using alkalines and with new alkalines my cycle times are about 30 seconds for full power manual flashes. What settings did you use to arrive at the “just a hair under 3 seconds” figure? The TR-2000 power pack may also be in my near future.

This is a flash I wanted to buy about ten years ago during the peak of my large format experience but I could not afford the $600 that the basic flash with the strobe head was going for back then.

James

I got to put this flash through its paces over the past week or so. I’ve been using it with the 5000 mAH NiMH C-Cells referenced in the article. While my Full Power Manual Flash Recycle Times are not under three seconds; about seven seconds with freshly charged cells. The Sunpak 622 Super is always ready when I need it. I was shooting pictures at a BMX race today and I was popping full power flashes all day. The NiMH cells just wouldn’t quit. After about 200 Full power flashes my recycle time is still around ten seconds. Still much better than the 50 seconds I came to expect of similar duty on alkalines last weekend. In addition to rapid recycling I am now able to stop down much more than I was under similar circumstances with my Vivitar 285 HV/Cullman MD 44 dual flash setup I was using up to a few weeks ago. Even though I am not experiencing the three second recylcles I was expecting I am satisfied with the results. This flash will allow me to broaden my scope in photography.

James

Matthew, we are apparently comparing apples to oranges. I am using the 622 Super Pro and I am counting until the blue Full Charge light comes on. I should note that I did a few shots for which the blue light had not yet come on yet I got adequate light out of the flash. The Ready light only takes three or so seconds to light up. Now that you’ve closed the expectation gap for me I am relieved that I did not get a defective unit or cells. By the way, what, if anything, is indicated when the blue light is blinking? I cannot find reference to this light blinking in the manual and I thought (although I may remember wrong) the light stayed on steady when I was still on my first set of fresh alkalines.

Dwain Coufal

I’m curious if you ever tried 5000mAH NiMH ‘C’ batteries in the flash? If so, what was the recycle time?

Dwain

Jim

Thanks for the good report on these terrific units! Still among my favorite strobes, especially since I finally nailed down a good setup for using them w/modifiers and light stands.
Anyone know if these are still being made? I have several, along with all the available heads, and use them almost daily, but I am curious if they are still being made.
I know B&H and others are still selling them new, but not sure if this is old stock or not.
Thanks,
Jim

Joel MacKenzie

Just to let you know, I have the 622 super pro model and have measured the trigger voltage, it varies, but never exceeds 7.5 volts. I use it directly attached to the hot shoe on a Canon XSi / 450D with no problems.

Joel