Big test

We shed some light on eight of the best Nikon-com­pat­i­ble flashguns

NPhoto - - Contents -

Of­ten re­ferred to as ‘the most avail­able light’, a de­cent flash­gun is an amaz­ingly ver­sa­tile cam­era ac­ces­sory. It can make a huge dif­fer­ence to the qual­ity of light­ing in al­most any sce­nario, from night-time shots and gloomy in­te­ri­ors, to por­traits on a bright sunny day. What’s more, all of the flashguns tested are fully ded­i­cated to Nikon cam­eras.

With TTL (Through The Lens) me­ter­ing, ded­i­cated flashguns can team up with your cam­era to en­able cor­rect ex­po­sures in all sorts of shoot­ing con­di­tions. The sys­tem works by us­ing a brief pulse of light, fired by the flash­gun prior to the ac­tual ex­po­sure. This is re­flected from the sub­ject and passes through the lens, after which it’s mea­sured by the cam­era’s me­ter­ing sys­tem. The cam­era then com­mu­ni­cates the cor­rect set­ting back to the flash­gun, and the du­ra­tion

of the flash dur­ing the ex­po­sure is ad­justed as nec­es­sary.

The Nikon and Metz flashguns on test ac­tu­ally go be­yond reg­u­lar TTL flash me­ter­ing and add a TTL-BL (Bal­anced Light) mode. Pi­o­neered by Nikon, this aims to give a bet­ter bal­ance be­tween flash and am­bi­ent light­ing, for more nat­u­ral­look­ing re­sults. It works in wide-rang­ing sce­nar­ios, from rel­a­tively dull in­door con­di­tions to bright out­door light­ing where, for ex­am­ple, you’re us­ing a flash­gun to fill in shad­ows caused by di­rect sun­light. Typ­i­cally, how­ever, over­all ex­po­sures can look a lit­tle darker, so you might pre­fer the re­sults you get with reg­u­lar TTL mode. Ei­ther way, it’s easy to ap­ply some pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive flash ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion to ad­just the flash­gun’s out­put power to your de­sired value for any given shot.

Apart from the com­pact Nikon SB-500, all other flashguns on test have ‘zoom heads’. These have a zoom range of at least 24-105mm or more, in full­frame terms, equat­ing to 16-70mm fo­cal lengths on a DX for­mat cam­era. What’s more, the zoom mech­a­nisms in the flashguns are mo­tor­ized so, as part of the ‘ded­i­cated’ fea­tures, the flash can au­to­mat­i­cally zoom to match the fo­cal length or zoom set­ting of the lens you’re us­ing. The bonus is that, as you sweep from wide-an­gle to standard and tele­photo set­tings, the an­gle of flash cov­er­age be­comes cor­re­spond­ingly nar­rower. This makes more power avail­able for il­lu­mi­nat­ing sub­jects that are some dis­tance from the cam­era when us­ing longer lenses. For ex­tra widean­gle cov­er­age, a flip-down re­flec­tor is usu­ally in­cluded in the flash­gun head.

All the flashguns fea­tured have bounce and swivel heads. These en­able you to bounce the light off walls and ceil­ings, in­stead of fir­ing it di­rectly at the sub­ject. This can pro­vide a softer qual­ity of light that’s much more flat­ter­ing for por­traits. The soft­ness of the light in­creases with the size of the light source so, if you bounce the light from a flash­gun off a large sur­face like a white wall or ceil­ing, it ef­fec­tively be­comes much big­ger. The trade-off is that the light has to travel fur­ther, and some in­ten­sity is lost, so greater max­i­mum power rat­ings be­come prefer­able.

Another op­tion is to use the flash­gun off-cam­era. This en­ables you to use shad­ows and high­lights to cap­ture the mod­el­ling of your sub­ject, which gives im­ages a much more three-di­men­sional look, rather than typ­i­cal ‘flash­gun’ light­ing, which can ap­pear very flat.

Bounce and swivel heads en­able you to bounce the light off walls and ceil­ings, in­stead of fir­ing it di­rectly at the sub­ject. This can pro­vide a softer qual­ity of light

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