Top critical review
20 people found this helpful
Good unit but only fits one lens. Here's how to improve it.
on May 23, 2013
Yes, this is a top-end flash, but Canon sure makes it difficult to use on all but their standard macro lens. I was coming from an Opteka RL-600 E-TTL II Macro Twin Ring Lite Flash, and the transition was frustrating. First of all, the Opteka starts out to fit any 77mm filter size and provides adapters for smaller lenses. With step-down adapters, the Opteka will fit virtually any lens. This Canon starts out at only a 58mm filter size, which means that larger lenses will be blocked by the ring, and that's a really poor design choice. This rig could double as a fill flash on many lenses, not just macro, if only the design allowed for it.
Knowing that going in, I assumed that this would still fit any lens with a 58mm filter size. Not so. It only fits the original, non-L, non-IS 100mm macro lens. (In order to fit the "L" macro lens you are asked to buy a $40 adapter which is little more than a step-up ring which should only cost about $5.) I had assumed it would fit the new Tamron 90mmm Macro VC lens, because that lens has the same 58mm filter size as the original Canon 100mm macro. But no, the clamps on this ring are designed ONLY to fit the Canon. I had to buy a different $15 adapter which then allows this to fit any lens with a 58mm filter.
Once I had that annoyance straightened out, it's down to the performance of the unit itself. There are two main modes, an ETTL mode which sets the brightness of the flash automatically, and a manual mode which allows you to set the brightness. The ETTL mode is easier to start with because you can adjust the flash compensation in your camera. Still, getting the right balance of flash and background light is difficult. You will need to experiment, and should be comfortable using the M (for Manual) mode on your camera.
The main problem with macro flash is that the light drop-off is very dramatic and at the default settings you will get a well-lit subject with a very dark or even completely black background. This may be what you want for some photos but you will quickly tire of this look as it is not natural looking at all. This combines with the fact that the light from the flashes is too harsh and what you end up with is a very sharp but very artificial looking photograph.
There are two ways to improve upon this and achieve more pleasing, natural-looking photos. The first is to use a diffuser to soften the light. I got some custom-built ones from the UK on the auction site. Secondly, you have to find a way to light your background. There are several ways to do this. You can remove one of the flashes and manually aim it at the background. This is difficult to do with only two hands. You can utilize sunlight, a slave flash or a light on a stand to light the background. You can use a slower shutter speed to capture more background light. You can turn up the ISO and turn down the flash compensation. You can also add some fill light in post. Or you can use a combination of these. There are all techniques that you will need to explore on your own to achieve the look that you're after.
This is a well-built but overpriced unit that is capable of very good lighting of macro subjects, but only if you are willing to take the time to do some customization, manual exposure adjustments, and background lighting. I don't like the fact that Canon forces you to very limited choices of lenses, but now that the Opteka RL-600 is no longer available this is essentially the only twin light true flash rig available for Canon.