Callum McInerney-Riley looks at a selection of flashguns ranging from high-spec examples to models for photographers on a budget
Metz Mecablitz 52-AF-1
The Metz Mecablitz 52-AF-1 is one of the more high-tech flashguns we have on test. It is billed as the world’s first hotshoe-mounted flashgun with an illuminated touchscreen display. This handles all the control functions, so it is very easy to change settings and navigate the menus. The design looks great and the build quality is very high. Also, it is the most widely compatible of the six flashguns on test here and the various versions will fit Canon, Leica, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax and Sony cameras.
During this test, the flash had a recycle time of between 0.2sec at lowest power and 5secs at the highest. With a guide number of 52m @ ISO 100, means it is capable of outputting a sufficient amount of power to cover most situations.
Although the Gloxy GX-F990 is available only in Nikon and Canon fits, in slave mode it will work with any camera that has a standard hotshoe. The build is very similar in look and feel to Canon’s own-brand flashguns, with an almost identical button layout and a scroll wheel to change the settings values.
This flash features TTL flash metering, exposure compensation, bracketing, exposure locking, a wireless triggering sensor and an impressive high-speed sync mode of 1/8000sec. This makes it very good for high-speed action photography. Overall, the functionality is fantastic and suitable for almost every situation. A guide number of 54m @ ISO 100 is given, while its recycle time is between 0.1sec and 6secs. However, using an external power pack via an in-built port allows a 4.5secs full-power recycle time.
Best in Group
The Sunpak PZ42X is the smallest and lightest flashgun on test. Measuring 64x116x102mm, it is nearly 40% smaller than the Sigma unit (right) in terms of volume, and it weighs just 260g. This
is perhaps reflected in its rather low guide number of 42m @ ISO 100. However, the Sunpak achieves great results in both manual and TTL modes, and would be a good choice for those who don’t demand too much from their flash.
The PZ42X is a very usable little unit thanks to its simple control menu, which features only four buttons: on/off, test, mode and select. The mode button switches between different settings and modes, while the select button changes the values. When a button is pressed, it illuminates the display in red making it easy to see, especially in low light.
Very easy to use straight from the box, the Nissin Di700 is the most suitable model for those who lack confidence in using flash. It features a colour LED control layout on the back with a menu section and a ± bar to control EV compensation in TTL mode or a power output control in manual mode. The 24-200mm zoom is taken care of automatically by the flash, and values for the EV and output level are changed using a scroll wheel.
The Di700 has a guide number of just 48m @ ISO 100, but what it lacks in power it makes up for in functionality, with a speedy 1/8000sec sync speed, an optional external power source and multi-channel wireless capabilities.
In comparison with the rest of the flashes here, the Marumi D35AF is very basic with limited controls. It has a 38-85mm zoom head, which needs to be set manually by sliding the front of the head forward. The body is plastic and the manual setting is controlled by one simple ‘slide up and down’ mechanism. The guide number is rated at 34m @ ISO 100, which is the lowest of any on test. The main advantage of this flash is that it offers a very inexpensive way to add a lot more power than a standard pop-up flash. It works with ETTL/ ETTL II when fitted on Canon DSLRs and i-TTL with Nikon DSLRs. It is very much a ‘slide on and shoot’ kind of flashgun, and provides good results in TTL mode.
Best Budget Head
Sigma EF-610 DG Super
The menu and layout of the Sigma EF-610 DG Super are similar to that of the Gloxy model. However, values are changed via a ± dial rather than a scroll wheel. This can be quite confusing for the first-timer, but those used to a Canon Speedlite flashgun should find these controls easy to adapt to. Aside from Sigma cameras, the EF-610 can be used with Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony models.
The EF-610 DG Super boasts many of the same features as the Gloxy model, plus a few more: multi-pulse, high-speed flash, rear-curtain sync and wireless TTL are all available. This flash is therefore good for more advanced users. One feature I particularly like is that when the flash is tilted 90° or upright, it locks in position so it won’t move when using flash-mounted softboxes.