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Sony HVL-F58AM High-Power Digital Camera Flash with Wireless Ratio Control and Quick Shift Bounce for Sony Alpha Digital SLR
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- High-power Guide Number 58 external flash
- Effective range greater than 45 feet (14.5m)
- “Quick Shift Bounce” for lighting freedom
- Wireless operation featuring Wireless Ratio Control
- Fast 5-second recharging time w/ quiet recycle charge
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|Item Dimensions||4.87 x 3.12 x 4.25 inches|
|Shipping Weight||1.6 pounds|
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This item Sony HVL-F58AM High-Power Digital Camera Flash with Wireless Ratio Control and Quick Shift Bounce for Sony Alpha Digital SLR
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|Item Dimensions||3.12 x 4.25 x 4.87 in||9.3 x 17.8 x 9.3 in||4.3 x 4.57 x 8.6 in||5.2 x 8.6 x 3.6 in||2.5 x 3.5 x 4.5 in||2.16 x 2.95 x 7.48 in|
The Sony HVL-F58AM Flash Unit delivers flexible lighting control for α (alpha) DSLR photographers. The innovative new “Quick Shift Bounce” system allows the flash to pivot 90 degrees left and right to maintain a proper lighting position, even when shooting vertically. The HVL-F58AM can also wirelessly control up to three groups of flashes, and Wireless Ratio Control allows users to specify luminosity ratios for each group. Additionally, the HVL-F58AM features an effective range of more than 45 feet (14.5m) and a fast, 5 second recharge time. A built-in wide panel and bounce sheet provide an even greater degree of creative control.
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In this review, I will state my experience using this flash and list down all the bells and whistles this flash offers plus any notes of use you need to know. It will be long, but hopefully I will answer all your questions about this flash.
Here we go:
The first question of anyone considering this flash is: "Is it worth 400-500 bucks?" Yes, it is. This flash will give you much more flexibility than any other flash you can mount on your Alpha camera for several reasons.
This flash has a Guidance Number of 58 at 105mm at ISO 100. This provides a wide range of power to cover different distances, although it can vary depending on your settings (shutter speed, aperture, ISO). This is a VERY powerful flash, compare it against the built in flashes in DSLRs and they range between 10 and 12 GN, which is good and better than nothing when you need more light, but you won't be able to reach very far with it. Now you see why everyone else is raving about this flash in their reviews here. Using a GN 58 flash against a GN 10-12 one, which one would you pick?
The major selling point Sony uses for this flash is the Quick Shift Bounce technology, which allows you to move the flash's head left and right from 0 to 90 degrees quickly. Have you ever shot vertically with a normal flash that will just tilt upwards maybe to 90 degrees or 120? Some of them let you swivel the head on its own axis, but you can't move the head and set it like if you were shooting horizontally. This flash let's you do that. Why is this important? Because it allows you to have even light horizontally or vertically. If you shoot vertically with a normal flash, it will illuminate your subject from the side, not from the front, and this may cause exposure problems in your photos. With this flash you just pull or push the head to the desired position and you got the same lightning in any position you're shooting at. Simple but above all, quick.
This flash allows you to tilt the head to bounce the light off the ceiling or a wall. If the 0 degrees position is the flash head looking straight forward, it goes up to 45, 60, 75, 90, 120 and 150 degrees. At 120 and 150 degrees the flash is looking backwards, that means AT YOU, so be careful to not fire the flash while you're looking ahead or you can damage your vision. Duck or keep looking through the viewfinder. In case you wonder, the use of the 120 and 150 degrees tilt is to bounce the flash off a wall behind you (assuming it's close and bright enough) if the roof is too far. Trust me, it's better to have the option than not having it. Just be careful about it in order to avoid any damage to your eyes, the light discharge from this flash is really intense, not to mention hot.
The F58AM flash has an in built wide panel difusser and a bounce sheet. The wide panel diffuser is to help the flash illuminate evenly the scene you're shooting when using a wide angle lens (18mm or shorter) otherwise the left and right sides may come out dark. The bounce sheet is used when you need to bounce the flash but there is no roof or wall nearby, so it gets you out of the jam, it also creates a highlight on your subject's eyes if you fancy that. These two accesories come out both at the same time when you pull them, but you can use them independently, you just push back into the flash the one you won't use.
This flash is heavy, compared against a Minolta 3500xi Program flash, the Minolta is paper weight and the F58 is a heavy weight boxing champion, even more when the 4 AA batteries it requires to function are inserted. I've read some reports that because of the weight of this flash, the accessory shoe in their cameras broke off, forcing them to send their cameras to a repair center for a new accessory shoe. So far, I haven't had that problem with this flash, but I do tend to relieve the accessory shoe of the weight whenever I can. Examples: if I'm using this flash and I need to put the camera down for a moment, I remove the flash from the shoe and I let it sit there on its own, not mounted. If I'm using the Quick Shift Bounce, I hold the flash head or the flash body with my other hand if I don't need it at the lens. So far I haven't had a problem like that, but then again I do find it possible since the mounting foot of this flash is really small for the huge thing it carries. It's a big flash. However, if you relieve the weight stress off the camera's shoe, you shouldn't have any problems.
When using this flash, your camera's AF sensor (be it IR or the in-built flash) is overriden by the IR AF sensors of this flash, this is normal behavior in all flashes. Housed along with the AF sensors are the Wireless flash sensor and the wireless mode light (the one that tells you the flash is in Wireless mode).
This flash requires 4 AA batteries to operate. They can be alkaline or rechargeable. I suggest you use rechargeable batteries. Alkaline batteries require a bit longer for the flash to recycle them when firing and they are exhausted sooner than rechargeable ones (Alk: 100 repetitions or more - Rechargeable: 200 repetitions or more). Besides, alkaline batteries are usually thrown to the garbage when they are empty, which damages the environment and your health. I suggest you go with rechargeable batteries like the Sanyo Eneloop 8 Pack AA NiMH Pre-Charged Rechargeable Batteries. Always recycle alkaline and rechargeable batteries.
One hidden feature of this flash is that it automatically detects whether your camera has an APS-C or Full Frame sensor and adjusts accordingly. This is done to fire the proper amount of light for the selected focal length, since the real and effective focal lengths vary in APS-C sensors (in FF 50mmm are 75mmm in a APS-C sensor for example).
In the back of the flash you'll find a screen to check status and shooting options. The buttons found are: Mode (to select wether the flash acts like a fill flash, wireless flash or you can "turn it off" without moving the switch or removing the flash from the camera, pretty handy if you need to switch from flash to no flash in an instant), TTL/M (to switch between Through The Lens metering or Manual metering) Zoom (to manually zoom the strobe to the desired focal length, although it automatically zooms in or out as you move your lens), there is a button to light the screen with a cinnabar orange color that has become a trademark of Alpha products, there is the Power button (to power on or off the flash), a translucid Test button (has multiple functions: it tells you when the flash is ready to fire by glowing orange, when you fire and the camera determines a correct exposure, the button glows green but the flash has to be attached to the camera for that to happen, finally it works as a modelling light; it fires a single burst of light for you to check where the light will fall and the shadows that will be created in case you want to fix that beforehand). Finally you have a Fn (Function, like the one in your camera) button that let's you switch between having the flash work as a controller for other flashes, working wireless in the old wireless protocol or in the new one. It also let's you access Custom functions such as whether to enable HSS shooting, power save modes for wireless and on-camera mode, the kind of burst you want the Test button to fire, if you want it to display meters or feet, if you want to switch between wireless channels (in case you're working near another photographer also using wireless flashes). The Fn button has arrows around it to let you navigate through the menus.
One neat feature of this flash is that you can force the head down beyond the standard position to use it when you're doing macro shooting. This comes in handy when you're shooting small things with the flash mounted on the camera but the burst doesn't cover all the subject, lowering the head a bit more may be the solution and this flash let's you do that. If that won't work, go wireless.
One of the best features of this flash is the Wireless mode. In this mode you can use the flash without having it mounted on the camera. It's triggered by the in-built flash in your camera (if you're using an A900/850, you need a Sony HVLF20AM TTL Digital Flash for Sony Alpha Digital SLR Cameras to trigger the F58). Wireless flash opens up a plethora of options to illuminate your subject, because now you can set the flash anywhere independently from where the camera is, as long as the flash can see the trigger burst from the in-built flash. You don't have to worry about metering either, because the camera sends that information in the triggering burst and the flash receives it and adjusts accordingly. You can meter manually if you prefer and still trigger the flash wirelessly.
NOTE: Even though you need to raise the in-built flash or use the F20 flash to trigger a wireless flash, the burst emitted is not powerful enough to affect exposure on it's own. If anything, it will yield an underexposed shot. When using wireless, the light that counts is the one coming from the flash in wireless mode, not the in-built flash. Unless you're shooting REALLY close to something using a wide aperture, then the triggering burst will affect exposure, but that is very rare to happen. If it does happen, just cover the in-built flash with your hand or something else but make sure the burst can still be seen by the flash and that should be it.
This flash can also be used to control 3 groups of flashes with different light ratios independent of each other. So now you can set 4 or more flash units wirelessly with different light outputs (full power, half power and down to 1/32th of power) and using this one will control all of them. While this flash can control other F58 flashes, it can control F42, F56 and F36 flashes (or their Minolta equivalents). You just need to set the proper wireless protocol: New protocol (F58-F42) Old protocol (F56-F36). I'm not sure if you can combine new and old protocol flashes when using this one as a controller, but I'm thinking no. Check yourself though, plenty of sites around that discuss this issue.
In order to help you get all the advantage of this function, you are supplied with a mini stand to mount the F58 on. So now you can set the flash on the floor or other surface with no problem. The stand can also be mounted on a tripod head, which takes a load off from you because you can move around without having to hold the flash with your hand. The only warning I will give you with this stand is that it's not exactly that robust, so while it can be mounted on a tripod head, I don't suggest you tilt the tripod head or place it in weird positions that will exert pressure on the flash's stand and mounting foot, because the flash is heavy and I don't think the stand can handle the weight of the flash if set at a tilted angle. This one is meant to be used in the position the flash would be if it was mounted on the camera. Don't say you weren't warned.
When not used, you can store the mini stand in the carrying case Sony provides you with this flash. The case is not a hard one, it's soft, but it's better than nothing. It's really meant as a place to put your flash when not in use and carry it around, but it won't protect the flash from falls or hits, and you shouldn't let that kind of abuse to happen to this flash, this is precise and delicate equipment. The case can be carried on a belt, it has grooves on its back for horizontal or vertical belts.
The flash has connections for a cable extension, which let's you work with the flash in a tethered way. I haven't tried it myself since I don't have the cable and I use wireless, but if you got them, you can use them with this flash. It also has a port to connect a battery back, which will allow you to shoot again quicker without having to wait for the flash to recharge. I do find this option handy but I don't have the battery pack to try it out.
In any case, this flash recycles FAST and I mean F-A-S-T. The manual says it ranges between 0.1 and 5 seconds with alkaline batts and 0.1 and 3 seconds with rechargeable batts. This is really fast. You appreciate this kind of performance when shooting people once and then they do that face or gesture you were looking for and you can fire again knowing that the flash will fire properly and not at half power or less or just won't fire, yielding an underexposed picture which ruins the effort.
The flash doesn't have the "whine" most flashes have when they recharge, some people like the noise and others don't. Personally I like the whine sound but I can live without it, in any case, it's better not to have it when you're shooting sound sensitive subjects like animals. I'm mentioning this in case the sound its a must or a no-no for you.
There are tons of other options with this flash but it would take forever to cover them all here, so I will just close this review with my favorite option besides Wireless Mode: High Speed Synch.
When using in-built flashes or old flashes, the shutter speed at which you can shoot at is capped by the use of a flash, in the Alpha DSLRs and DSLTs it varies around 1/160 and 1/200 (1/250 if you turn the Steady Shot option off in some models). This may not be enough to freeze movement or to black out the background if it's distracting. HSS allows you to shoot your camera's top speed and the flash will fire! I'm talking of 1/8000 (top speed for A700/850/900) of a second, which is such a small instant. You may not always shoot at 1/4000 or 1/8000 of a second, but if you need to capture fleeting moments in a snap using flash, this flash will let you do it with no fuzz. Thinking in more practical speeds (1/250, 1/500, 1/1000), you can capture action with full detail using flash and that speed. You're no longer bound by the synch speed of the in-built flash.
As you can see, this flash has all the bells and whistles you can need or want in a flash. It all works perfectly and seamlessly with your camera. Despite how expensive, big and heavy it is, it's extremely simple to use. It's intuitive and you can't get lost in the menus. The screen is big and easy to read, plus the fact you can light it up when working in the dark is a huge plus, I just wished the button that does that was translucent as the Test button and glowed too, that would make it easier to find it in the dark.
The only problem I've had so far with this flash is that sometimes the small switch that's hidden in the mounting foot that tells the flash whether it's mounted on something or not does not move as it should, so the flash sometimes will still think it's mounted when it's not, so it won't respond to wireless commands. I thought my flash was defective and had to be sent back but after asking around, I was pointed to this issue and I solved it by mounting the flash on the mini stand. The mini stand has a groove specially for that switch, so it moved and the flash responded again to wireless commands. Whenever I have that problem, I repeat the operation and that takes care of it. I'm thinking that probably I was sent a flash that someone else returned for the same reason but didn't find information to fix the problem. My win though, I got this flash for 200 bucks less. If you receive a unit that does work in wireless mode for a while and then it won't respond, do as I did and that should fix the problem, or try pressing it yourself with something tiny. If it won't respond after that, then it may be a real defective unit. Look carefully for the switch though, you can miss it on a quick glance, it's hidden below one of the rails in the mounting foot.
In the box you receive: F58 flash unit, carrying case, mini stand, user manuals in English and French and printed warranty.
I really suggest going for this flash instead of the F42, even if you're on a budget, save more money and be on the look out for sales on this flash, it's worth every single penny. I would go for a F42 as a secondary flash or to make a group of them to release them using the F58. I'm not saying at all that the F42 it's a bad flash, on the contrary, but the F58 is just too darn good. Who knows what Sony will have to do to top this one and make it look little and weak.
Every review here that praises this flash tells the truth (except for that buyer who gave it 2 stars because you need to raise the in-built flash to trigger the F58, that's just being dumb and not doing enough research). You will not be disappointed by this flash. It does what you need it to do and more.
As of this date, there is no better flash to mount on a Sony Alpha DSLR or DSLT, there is just this one. Period.
I hope you find this review helpful. Sorry for the length of it, but I'm trying to provide as much information as I can for you to make an informed decision when purchasing.
If you got any questions, feel free to leave them.
Unique Swivel Flash Head
Ease of Operation (IF you read the manual)
Solid Ratio Control Transmitter
Cons: Extremely Heavy
Occasionaly will not feel secure in Hot Shoe
Burns through Batteries
Tends to Over-Expose with the a77
Even with some of the Cons listed above, you won't find a more powerful hot-shoe mounted flash unit with the features that this unit does. If you use a better than average brand of rechargable NIMh batteries, you will get a satisfactory operational time when in TTL mode. All bets are off though if you need to pop this flash in Manual at full power.
Reliability is good when shooting events. The Flash does have a tendancy to over-expose, and I have had to program in a -1 to -2 Flash Exposure value for consistant image quality. That being said, it is entirely possible that this has more to do with the a77 than the flash itself. Sony has way too long delayed the release of new firmware 2.0 for the a77, and hopefully this will be addressed in the next revision.
Also note that although they include a wide lens deflector in the head of the flash, you actually need a better diffuser to elliminate shadows. Because of the size of the flash head none of the traditional diffusers I have will fit on it properly so I had to get creative and build several diffusers, which have worked quite well, and did not drive the flash power up.
During heavy duty use, just be aware that this flash is not just heavy, it is a brick on top of the camera, and it tends to slightly wobble in the hot shoe.
Off Camera avtivities work very well with this flash, but at $500.00 each, you need to decide how many you want to keep in the bag, and exactly how you want to use them, because for $1,000.00 bucks, you can buy a really decent protable multiple mono studio flash system that may be even more flexible.
Otherwise is does deserve 4 stars, and does perform pretty close to what Sony advertises.
The unit arrived new in the box and I haven't experienced any overheat problems so far. Frankly, every flash I've read about regardless of brand seems to get nailed for this reason. Clearly, if you push the flash with several bursts within a short period, it will overheat. However, the same is true with Canon and Nikon based on their product reviews as well. You simply have to work within its design and limitations. The only other solution is to have a second flash to change out when this occurs.
BTW, I opted for this model versus the newer flash HVL-F60AM simply because the 'F58 has received higher reviews than the new 'F60. I also like the self locking shoe mount of the '58 vs. the screw-on '60. At some point I'll be ordering a second flash so I may well end up with both, or possibly the '43.