Light IS photography. If you are looking to get an external flash to play with or optimize your existing flash setup, here is a list of speedlights I found particularly interesting for 2014.
If you are just getting started with flash photography I encourage you to check out the Strobist blog to get yourself acquainted with the techniques and philosophy of bending light to your will :). David Hobby is a master of flash photography and has been practicing his craft longer than I have been alive. I think its safe to say everyone can learn something from him.
Canon 600 ex-rt (only if you can get it used for $350 or less)
The reason I said $350 or less is because its simply not worth the money Canon is asking for it. Yes, it is the first speedlite that has a built in radio transmitter. However, if you are planning on spending upwards of $550 for a single flash unit there are far cheaper and equally reliable options to get you the same results.
If you are coming from a 580EX II the only differences with the 600 ex-rt are as follows:
- radio trigger;
- zoom range has been expanded to 20mm-200mm from 24mm-105mm;
- new on flash menu system which is more efficient to navigate;
- additional buttons to help cycle through ETTL, Manual, Group, Multiple, ExtA and ExtM modes as well as the wireless radio master, radio slave, optical etc wireless options; and
- a gel holder (sigh…).
The weather sealed body is slightly taller than the 580 EX II but nothing major. Flash power and everything else is virtually the same.
At this point you may be asking why I am recommending this since I have basically been bashing it the whole time. Well, the built in radio trigger is the main reason and, actually, only reason to buy this flash. It is a convenience and combined with Canon’s rugged build quality and reliability it will be enough to persuade the rich photographers out there to forego the third party alternatives and go straight to what they know will work. Unless of course, they are using an older Canon body like the 5D Mk II which has trouble syncing past 1/100 when using the flash at full power with the radio trigger (which again is the only reason to buy this). Also, older cameras built before 2012 will not be able to use high speed sync (HSS) through the radio transmitter. If you ask me, the point of buying a premium flash is to get all the bells and whistles like ETTL and HSS so if you have a 6D, 5D MK III, 1Dx or a 70D these problems will most likely not affect you. IF you don’t continue reading.
Yongnuo YN 586 EXII
This flash has the following features:
- Master control ( on and off camera);
- TTL wireless led flash function able to slave all Canon EX speedlites which offer slave mode;
- Supports HSS and HSS sync up to 1/8000sec;
- Guide number = 58 @ ISO100, 105mm;
- auto and manual zoom of 24mm-105mm;
- supports HSS, FEC, FEB, Rear-curtain sync, FE lock, Modeling Light and best of all it can be accessed through the in Camera flash menu system;
- 3 seconds recycle time at full power;
- has a 2.5mm PC sync slot;
- beeps at you when recycle time has refreshed (don’t worry it can be turned off);
- pressing the camera’s aperture preview button will enable a modeling light so you can see a preview of what your subject might look like with your settings;
- lets you save presets for convenience (there is also an auto mode for this so it remembers your previous settings);
- LCD display with a much better on camera menu system and button layout than the 580 EX II;
- Metal hot shoe;
- compatible with Nikon;
Basically its a 160$ 580EX II that retains a rugged built quality, has a better menu system and a workflow friendly on-flash button layout to match the menu.
Yongnuo YN 600 EX – RT (Not yet available)
This flash, as stated above, is not yet available for sale. However, it should be released sometime near the beginning of 2014.
As you may have already made the link in your minds, this will rival the Canon 600 ex – rt by introducing a built in radio trigger. Given their reputation in build quality and comparing the reliability of the 586 EX II to the Canon 580 EX II, we can expect the YN 600 ex – rt to match and, most likely, exceed the features of the Canon counterpart for what will most likely be an introductory price of around $200. At the very lease, we were promised by the Yongnuo chief engineer that the YN 600 will be fully compatible with all Canon camera and EX flash units. This alone will make it more appealing to consumers who do not feel the need to invest in a Canon body manufactured post 2012.
The very notion of this looming possibility is something to be excited about if you are looking to invest in a flash that has all the features of a flagship first party model but for 1/3 of the price. Yongnuo has set itself up for success here and we all hope they can deliver so we can get the gear we want without breaking the bank :)!
Godox Ving V850
Okay, I had to add this one because the idea of having li-ion battery in a speedlight that gives it 650 full power shots at 1.5 sec recycle times is real sexy.
This is the first flash unit to step away from the AA batteries but, don’t think its a one trick pony. This flash also comes equipped with features including:
- compatibility with all DSLR camera brands;
- compatibility with triggers from most brand;
- guide number of 58 @ ISO 100 at 105mm;
- standard zoom range of 24mm – 105 mm;
- 360° rotation on the horizontal axis and -7° to 90° on the vertical;
- modes include: manual, s1 and s2 slave mode, multi mode, and HSS;
- power ratio extends from full to 1/128th in 1/3rd increments;
- HSS trigger supports 1/8000sec;
- as mentioned before, 1.5 sec recycle time for approx 650 full power pops;
- LCD and recycle ready indicator;
- sync cord jack and wireless control port;
- AF beam;
- it can also beep at you (can be disabled);
So while this unit doesn’t support ETTL it does support HSS. If I couldn’t have both I would definitely pick HSS over ETTL anyway. Most photographers would agree that manual mode for a flash setup will give you more creative room to work and, of course, a higher degree of control over your lighting which is always a good thing in photography.
This flash is another rival to the Canon 600 ex – rt in that it comes equipped with a built in radio transceiver. I guess that is the future of flash since everyone is headed in that direction.
This unit comes equipped with the following features:
- guide number of 58 and TTL compatibility with Canon flash units;
- internal Phottix Odin Transmitter and Receiver, and Strato Receiver;
- optical slave mode;
- Canon-compatible Master/Slave IR Triggering Modes;
- ETTL I/II, Manual and Multi Stroboscopic Modes;
- HSS and Second Curtain Sync;
- AF beam;
- zoom ranges from 24mm-105mm;
- 3.5mm Sync slot;
- quick flash;
- 1/1 to 1/128 in 1/3 stop increments;
- power control in A:B ratio modes with +/- EV adjustments;
- remote power control of groups in TTL with EV adjustments (3 stops in 1/3 increments);
This unit is similar to the 600 ex – rt but has one major drawback. Its internal radio transceiver is not compatible with Canon’s. In other words, if you choose to go this route you are thus buying into a system. This may be fine for some users (especially those that don’t have speedlights from other manufacturers), but I personally prefer to have compatibility across the board so that I can mix and match flash units based on their usefulness to price ratio and not so much based on being locked into a brand.
Nissin MG8000 Extreme
I hear good things about this flash. Namely, it does not suffer from overheating when fired at full power continuously. However, I have not had any experience with the unit myself. Please let me know what you think of it and if it should be included in this list or not.
Here are the specs as presented on bhphoto (am not an affiliate of the site):
- Supports Canon ETTL/ETTL II Flash System
- GN 198′ (60m) @ ISO100, 105mm Setting
- Heat Resistance & Quartz Tube Design
- Built-In Sub-Flash Below Main Flash
- TTL, Manual, Av & Multi-Flash Modes
- 24-105mm Focal Length Coverage
- Wireless Remote Flash Slave
- Lift & Rotate Bounce Head
- Auto-Rotating Color Display
- Mini-USB/ X-Terminal Interface
This was an extensive wall of text. If you have made it this far down the list please accept my sincere apologies :).
Thank you for reading and I hope this has helped with your flash pursuits!