FlashgunsAs flash technology tends to develop in response to camera trends and innovations, new flashguns are generally released less frequently than cameras. 2010 has been no different to previous years, with the likes of Canon and Sony not releasing a single new flashgun for their DSLR ranges, and only the solitary Speedlight SB-700 emerging from Nikon.

It is clear, then, that these manufacturers believe that their existing ranges include all the necessary features and compatibility to suit their cameras. On the other hand, specialist flash manufacturers Metz and Nissin have been very busy, having released several units in 2010. Their flash technology is designed to be compatible with most major brands, so while there has been little action from camera-specific brands, there are still a number of new options for photographers looking to purchase a flashgun.

Proprietary flashguns may bring compatibility advantages such as through-the-camera control, but third-party models offer many of the same features as well as TTL compatibility. What’s more, equivalent models are often cheaper and provide more powerful outputs.

Flash technology

While the basic build of a flashgun remains unchanged with its tilt-and-rotate head, we are now starting to see the release of smaller dedicated flashguns for use with the growing number of compact-system cameras (CSCs).

These adopt a similar build, although many do not include a rotating head. As camera manufacturers choose not to include a built-in flash in some CSC models, it is worth investing in a flashgun.

This year saw the first dedicated Four Thirds flashgun released by an independent manufacturer, the Nissin Di466, while the size and output of the Metz 24 AF-1 also makes it ideal for such cameras. With the potential for growth in this sector, we will probably see many more small and lightweight dedicated flashguns for compact-system cameras.

The longer shelf life of flashguns compared to cameras is reflected by the fact that it is commonplace for flashguns to offer USB or through-the-camera connectivity, which enables future firmware upgrades. This should extend the working life of the product as it keeps older flashguns up to date with the latest cameras. In some cases a charge is applied to this service, but information can be found on the appropriate websites.

Wireless technology for off-camera use is a focus in many devices, and is perhaps where we will see the biggest steps forward in flash technology. Some flashguns already offer several wireless modes and can be used as part of a multi-flash wireless TTL setup, as well as single flash slave mode and
with studio lights.

Nissin Di622 Mark II flashgun1. Nissin Di622 Mark II £99.99

Available from: www.nissindigital.com

Described as an ‘advanced’ model, the Di622 Mark II does not replace the Di622, but rather offers more advanced features such as three slave modes for wireless flash photography, slave digital, slave film and wireless TTL. Its 270° rotating head has a GN of 44m @ ISO 100 output with 24-105mm coverage.

Like all Nissin flashguns, the Di622 Mark II includes the My TTL feature, but in this model the flash level compensation controls are found on the back of the unit instead of via an LCD screen.

Not only is there USB connectivity that enables firmware updates, but there is also an X-terminal connection for X-contact and external synchronisation. The Di622 Mark II offers many of the same features as its direct brand-specific flashgun competitors, but at a lower price.

Nissin Di466 for Four Thirds flashgun2. Nissin Di466 for Four Thirds £79.99

Available from: www.nissindigital.com

Released in the first quarter of 2010, the Di466 was the first Four Thirds-dedicated flashgun from an independent manufacturer. Despite its small dimensions, the Di466 is packed with features. Nissin’s My TTL is present, and allows users to fine-tune the default TTL output level to ±3/4EV in 1/4EV increments, while the TTL flash level can be adjusted by up to ±1.5EV in 0.5EV steps.

The flashgun takes four AA batteries via the quick-loading system, and as a result its recycle time of 0.2-4.5secs is quicker than many of its competitors.

The head does not rotate, but tilts up to 90° in 15° increments. The GN of 33m @ ISO 100 output has a coverage of 12-53mm, which is opened to 9mm using the wideangle diffuser. The Di466 is available in black or white to match special-edition camera bodies such as that of the Olympus Pen E-P2.

Nikon Speedlight SB 700 flashgun3. Nikon Speedlight SB-700 £289.99

Available from: www.nikon.co.uk

In September, Nikon announced the Speedlight SB-700 as the replacement for the SB-600. Many of the improvements in the SB-700 can be found in the professional SB-900 model, such as the i-TTL metering system, three illumination patterns and an extended range of 24-120mm, covered by FX and DX compatible multi-step auto zoom.

The flash is capable of an output of GN 38m @ ISO 100 and it has a recycling time of 2.5sec using Ni-MH or alkaline batteries. The SB-700 detects the heat of the flash head and delays recycling if it gets too hot. A diffusion dome is included, as are fluorescent and incandescent filters. When either filter is added the flash adjusts the colour temperature accordingly.

Some of the SB-700’s controls can be operated through the camera and it uses storage media in the camera to upgrade firmware.

Metz Mecablitz 50 AF 1 flashgun4. Metz Mecablitz 50 AF-1 £199.99

Available from: www.metzflash.co.uk

The Metz Mecablitz 50 AF-1, has evolved from the 48 AF-1. As its name suggests, the 48 AF-1’s guide number of 48 has been increased to a GN of 50m @ ISO 100 in the 50 AF-1.

Like the 58 AF-2, this unit has a 300° rotating head, but no sub flash. It shares the same zoom coverage as the higher model, plus many refinements, including the metal hotshoe and built-in wideangle diffuser.

The Mecablitz range also saw the launch of the 24 AF-1 (for compact-system cameras), 36 AF-5 and 44 AF-1. All these models offer compatibility with most major camera systems, and work via the TTL system.

Metz Mecablitz 58 AF 1 flashgun5. Metz Mecablitz 58 AF-2 £299.99

Available from: www.metzflash.co.uk

The 58 AF-2 succeeds the 58 AF-1 and is the most powerful flashgun in the range. Stand-out features include a 300° rotating head and a sub flash that fills in shadow areas created using bounce flash. It retains the GN of 58m @ ISO 100 output and 24-105mm zoom mode coverage of its predecessor, but has a revised motor.

Refinements include a metal hotshoe base with quick-lock system and a built-in wideangle diffuser that offers focal lengths from 12mm. Metz has improved wireless possibilities by introducing a new servo flash release, triggered by the built-in camera flash and it can also work with cameras without master function.

A better high-performance flash tube should ensure the 58 AF-2 is more durable than its predecessor.

Other flashguns to consider

There are many current flashguns available that were released prior to 2010, but still provide plenty of options for your camera. Here is our selection for the main camera mounts:

Canon users:

  • Canon 430EX
  • Canon 580EX II
  • Nissin DI866

Nikon users:

  • Nikon SB-400
  • Nikon SB-900
  • Sigma EF 530DG ST

Sony users:

  • Sony HVL 42AM
  • Sony HVL 58AM
  • Metz 36 AF-4

Pentax users:

  • Pentax AF-360FGZ
  • Pentax AF-540FGZ
  • Sigma EF 530DG Super

Four Thirds users:

  • Olympus FL-50R
  • Olympus FL-36R
  • Metz 24 AF-1

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