And now, for my full-on geekout report of the new Sony HVL-F58AM flash with Quick Shift Bounce! This is affectionately known as the Cobra Head.
* I’ve added a Color Temperature Orange warming gel with a custom-made cardboard holder. Doesn’t he look like Decepticon Shockwave, guardian of the Cybertron Space Bridge?
Its new swivelling design allows you to quickly bounce the flash upwards in portrait orientation. With any other flash of any other brand, you’d need to press a button to unlock the flash head to allow it to turn!
With this, there are no buttons to unlock movement. I can nudge the flash head with my chin if I wanted to!
It also comes with a wider, foldable stand to support its weight as it turns extreme angles. Here, it is rolling 45 degrees left.
I shall now refer to the HVL-F58AM by its short form, the F58, and the same for all Sony Alpha flashes.
Its body is a lot fatter; here you see it almost aligns with the head of my Sony Alpha 700. The body is lighter despite it carrying the batteries, and it may feel a bit flimsy if you rotate it when it’s not attached to a camera… but the moment it’s on a camera it feels very solid and doesn’t feel like it could break if you rotate it too quickly.
Having used it for a few jobs already, I can say that this makes portrait-orientation bounce flash, rear-bounce flash, ceiling-bounce top-down macro flash all very easy and quick to get to. The built-in white card really helps, to give a bit of front fill. No more “hold on…” while I attempt to mash down on the flash head unlock button. My F56’s flash head was rather hard to unlock!
This is the F42. (Thanks to KJ.) This has the conventional pitch and yaw turning flash head. Left is how it looks like in bounce mode, with the wide-panel diffuser pulled up to provide some front fill flash. Right is the same but in portrait orientation – notice how the wide-angle diffuser is no longer facing the front? There is no way for it to face the front.
And so, we have the F58 (left) and F42 (right) this time stocked with a Gary Fong Whaletail clone. People here call it the toiletbowl, but I will not show you why here!
Both in portrait mode. See that the F58 keeps the white card (I did not pull out the wide-angle diffuser) while the
toiletbowl Whaletail keeps the light pointing forward.
The F58 gets rid of the Whaletail, DEMB Diffuser and any other re-orienting diffuser on the market! Now all you need is a white card for some front fill, and maybe a Stofen Omnibounce if you’re fussy. Of course, I like being able to quickly slip on my orange gel cardboard holder, so I don’t use a Stofen.
I’ve noticed that the F58 is a lot more secure in the hotshoe, and the exposures are very consistent. Or maybe that’s just me.
Yes, I like my F58 very much! One F58 fired from camera left, about 70mm zoom, F56 bounced off wall on right, on camera right.
Wireless Ratio Control
Finally, a wireless ratio control system on digital bodies! The wireless controller mode of the F56 could only be used on Minolta film SLRs which supported it. On the Konica Minolta 5D and 7D and all subsequent Sony Alphas it simply could not be used… neither was the Ratio control on the F56.
There are two modes;
CTRL1 = CTRL+ = 3 Group Mode
Now when they say 3 group mode… one group is the CTRL group, on the camera. So I wouldn’t call the solitary F58 sitting on the camera a “group”, but heck…
The other 2 groups are called RMT and RMT2. You can set the F58 to be in RMT or RMT2 (and even CTRL, so it won’t be triggered).
The F42 has no such option, so it’s always in the RMT group.
That means, to fully use all 3 groups, you need:
– one F58 flash on the camera
– one or more F42/F58 flashes in the RMT group
– one or more F58 flashes in the RMT2 group
You can then set the ratio. 1:2:4 means that the F58 on the camera outputs 1/7th of the final flash exposure. The flash(es) in RMT group output twice the power or 2/7ths of the final flash exposure, while the flash(es) in the RMT2 group output four times the power (or 4/7ths of the final flash exposure.)
You can also set any group to “-” which means that group does not show in the final flash exposure. This is very useful for the CTRL group, on the camera! So we don’t get the wireless flash signal in the picture, like we used to, when we used the pop-up flash!
Here’s an example – a F42 was placed on the camera left and set to 24mm zoom, while the F58 was on camera and I pointed the flash head towards the camera left. The ratio was set to -:1:1 so that the on-camera F58 didn’t add to the final shot. Thanks to Ronnie of Furniture for being in this final shot, too!
This is another example with the same setup – the bassist in the back was always in the dark, so it was nice to have a flash hit him, what more from this angle. Note the flash from the left, on the guitarist/vocalist Ezam of Stoned Revivals.
As you can see, it can push enough wireless power in such sunny times where the pop-up flash might not send a strong enough wireless signal. F22 ISO200 1/200s means it was a Sunny F16… plus 1!
Now there is one sucky thing – you can’t trigger your good ol’ F36 and F56 flashes with this new technology. If you’ve seen the wireless ratio pre-flash signal, you’ll see that it’s longer and very different from the pop-up flash wireless signal. So the F36 and F56 won’t recognize this.
No wait, there are two sucky things – you can’t use this 3 Group Mode unless you have a Sony Alpha 700 or Sony Alpha 900! When I activate this mode and mount it on an Sony Alpha 200, it switches to RMT mode automatically.
Sony, please come up with a firmware fix that will allow the Sony Alpha 200/300/350 to use this wonderful wireless ratio flash technology. Who knows how many A200/A300/A350 owners have bought a F58 expecting it to work wireless control effortlessly?
And what about the photographers who have amassed a few F36 and F56 flashes for studio work?
Fortunately, there is the second mode;
CTRL2 = CTRL = 2 Group Mode
Again, one group is the CTRL group, on the camera. However, this mode can trigger the F36, F56, F42 and F58!
All good, except that it only works on the Sony Alpha 900! I can turn this mode on, but when I mount it on a Sony Alpha 700 or A200 it changes to RMT mode.
Sony, please come up with a firmware fix that extends this CTRL2 mode to the Alpha 200/300/350/700 as well!
So now I can’t trigger my F56 using my F58 on the Sony Alpha 700. That’s why I swapped my F56 with KJ’s F42 for the time being.
If you have an A200 and buy an F58, you get Quick Shift Bounce but you cannot mount the F58 to trigger other F42/F58 flashes.
If you have an A700 and buy an F58, you get Quick Shift Bounce and can mount the F58 to trigger F42/F58 flashes in CTRL+ mode. You cannot use CTRL mode to trigger the F36/F56.
Both the A200 and A700 can use the pop-up flash to wirelessly control the F58 if it is set to RMT or RMT2 mode.
The A900 can use the F58 to control the F36/F56 in CTRL mode.
So which has more mileage?
1) A900 + F58 + F56
2) A700 + F58 + F56
1) lets the F58 mount while triggering the F56 off camera. But you cannot remove the F58 as you won’t be able to trigger the F56 (or the off-camera F58!)
2) To use both in a similiar fashion to 1), you are forced to put the F58 on a flash bracket (which is not so cool because you’ll shoot portraits with the body shutter downwards, since the F58 will be on the left) and trigger it wirelessly.
However, you can use the A700’s pop-up flash to trigger both F56 and F58 in off-camera positions. Which means more moveable wireless lights than option 1).
If you have a bunch of F36, F42 and F56 flashes lying around, there are 2 ways to get them all to trigger off-camera:
1) A900 + F58 in CTRL mode and possibly flashes in manual power for ratio control
2) A700 with pop-up wireless flash and possibly flashes in manual power for ratio control
More Bad News
The F58 is not dust, weather or splash resistant and it says so specifically in the manual.
The F58 foot is fully plastic. That is cause for concern for some people though not me.
There’s nothing about radio or WiFi or Bluetooth or that other Sony proximity network technology being implemented, not at least in the manual.
My Minolta Dynax 7 cannot even trigger the F58 wirelessly as a plain remote slave. It doesn’t let me use the 3 Group Mode or 2 Group Mode, either! So it’s not one of the “supported cameras” suggested in the F58 manual (obviously printed when the Sony Alpha 900 name was still a supposed secret.)
The F58 does not automatically pick a wider angle when in portrait mode and the flash is pointing forwards but rotated 90 degrees. Hence you get a dark stripe, and the manual warns you to pull out the wide panel.
And now, for some F58 manual captures!
The “cameras without built-in flash” and “Supported camera” obviously refers to the Sony Alpha 900, not to be named at the time the manual was printed.
The best combination to get for maximum wireless control, would be a Sony Alpha 700 with 2 F58 flashes and 1 F42 flash.
You could have 1 F58 on the camera, controlling the F42 and F58 in 3 Group Mode. So, 2 independent lights you can place anywhere, plus you can control the ratio from the F58 on camera.
You could use the pop-up flash to trigger all 3 flashes wirelessly. So, 3 independent lights you can place anywhere… though you’ll need to set power manually on 2 of the 3 flashes if the light ratios are intended to be different.
The Sony Alpha 900 is limited to the first scenario since it doesn’t have a pop-up flash.
The full power recharge is INSANE. I shoot mostly mixed bounce ambient stuff so I very rarely hit the 1/1 power limit… so I wouldn’t appreciate this. However, if you do, 4-5 seconds to recharge a full blast is amazing. And that’s not even including the Sony FA-EB1AM external battery pack, which makes the recharge speed even faster (well I don’t know how fast, I don’t have or need one.)
The complex interface gets slowly less complex in the span of a day’s use I guess.
You can also use the new rotation methods to add effects, like so:
Flash zoomed to 105mm and rolled 45 degrees clockwise. I think it was also yawed up a bit. This gave that thin blue stripe you see in the picture! I couldn’t flash the drums at a full 90 degree clockwise turn; the drums nearer to me would get overexposed. At the same time, the drummer had a very strong light on him so I tried to avoid the flash beam from hitting him.
Oh, and there’s a new firmware update for the Sony Alpha 700, version 4, which allows High ISO Noise Reduction to be turned off, enhances image quality, and enables 3-frame bracketing at 2 EV stops. Nothing about supporting 2 Group Mode, sadly.