Sometimes you’ll find that your built-in flash unit isn’t cutting it for you. Maybe you can’t get the result you want with the built in unit. Or perhaps you have a Sony A7, and don’t even have a built in flash unit. There are just some situations where you’re going to need an external flash unit.
If you have bought a mirrorless camera to reduce the bulk, or If you have a DSLR but don’t want to carry any more gear than absolutely necessary, buying a big and bulky flash unit doesn’t really make sense. Most brands do offer smaller flash units, like the Sony HVL-F20M or the Nikon Speedlight SB-300. Both are nice and compact flash units, but they are a little limited in some ways. They have limited power, the head isn’t as flexible as more advanced units and you don’t have a lot of control over the flash.
Nissin has got a very capable alternative, in the compact form of the Nissin i40. A compact, powerful flash unit with user-friendly controls and a lot of extras. Nissin builds several versions of the i40 that can be used with cameras from Sony, Nikon, Canon, M4/3 and Fuiji. In this review I’ll review the Sony version that I have tested with my Sony A7. There may be little differences between the different versions that are mostly caused by the capabilities of the camera you use. The Nissin i40 is sold in the Netherlands for about €239, all versions are priced the same.
Nissin supplies the i40 with a wide variety of accessories. Besides the flash unit itself you’ll find a protective bag, carabiner (not for climbing), an omnibouce-style hood and a stand to put the flash on when you use it wireless. Most other flash units aren’t this complete.
The first thing you’ll notice is how powerful the i40 is. A built in unit normally doesn’t go beyond guide number 10 to 12 (meters). The smaller units built by Sony and Nikon have guide numbers of around 20. The Nissin i40 outclasses them all with a guide number of 40. The flash is powered by 4 AA batteries. That helps the battery life, makes the flash charge fast but does make the unit quite heavy. With the batteries the flash weighs about 370 grams. The whole body of the unit is filled with those 4 batteries. Makes me wonder where they have put the electronics?
Unfortunately it isn’t possible to use the flash with only two batteries in case of emergency, it will only work with 4 batteries.
The head of the Nissin is adjustable in different directions with a sturdy feeling, metal mechanism. When you adjust the head it snaps in to place with a reassuring click, so the direction doesn’t change by accident.
Horizontally the head is adjustable over a range of 180 degrees to the left and 180 degrees to the right. Vertically you can adjust it in 5 steps with a total reach of 90 degrees, making it possible to adjust it from horizontally to completely vertically. Of course it is possible to combine horizontal and vertical adjustments, so you can adjust the flash to accommodate almost every shooting situation. The best result is obtained by bouncing the light of the ceiling. When you are shooting a portrait you can use the built in reflectioncard to brighten up the eyes of your subject.
Body and design
Tough the Nissin’s body is very compact it still has a lot of extra’s. On the front you’ll find the built in LED-videolight, with two high power LED-lights. You can adjust the LED-lights power in 9 steps, from -2.0 to +2.0. The videolight is powerful enough to used when filming a subject that aren’t too far away (the maximum range is about 1.5 to about 2 meters). If you want to shoot subjects that are further away you’ll still need a dedicated videolight.
Below the video light you’ll find the IR-sensor that is used for remote or slave use. Even lower you’ll find an AF-support light. The Sony A7 unfortunately doesn’t use this light as it uses the one built in to the camera body.
The flash units head has got a built in reflectioncard that you can use to bounce a little extra light on to your subject when you have the head pointing upwards. Besides that it has also got a diffuser tucked away under the light. You can use that for (semi-) macro or close up photography to evenly spread the light.
When you slide up the refelectioncard you’ll find you a summary showing the different colours the power LED turns when you use the manual zooming of the head. You’ll only need manual zooming when using the wireless option where you can’t use the wireless iTTL function or when you use a vintage lens that doesn’t send focal length information to your camera. If you have the unit attached to your camera with a native lens it can use the iTTL information to automatically zoom the head to match the setting you’ve chosen on your lens.
On the back of the unit you’ll find the user-friendly controls. The unit only has got 4 controls. The power button, the release button you use to detach the flash from your camera, and two dials. Besides those controls there are 4 LED’s that tell you about the status of the unit. It’s got a multicolour Power LED (showing if the unit is on, charged and the manual zoom setting). Besides that there are three LED’s that show the manual or automatic modes and power adjustment settings.
Controlling the unit is done by combining the two control dials. The smaller primary wheel is used to switch operation modes (like iTTL or Manual). The secondary wheel controls the power settings. In iTTL mode the power is adjusted in steps from -2.0 to +2.0. If you put the unit in Manual mode you control the output power in steps from 1/1 to 1/256th.
The primary dial has got the following settings:
iTTL, camera controlled power setting with manual flash compensation
A, camera controlled power setting without manual flash compensation
M, manual power setting
Sd, slave digital, the flash reacts to other flash units while ignoring the pre-flash most digital cameras use.
Sf, slave film, the flash reacts to other flash units that don’t use a pre-flash, like older film cameras or studio flash equipment.
Movie, turns on the videolight
RMT-M, RMT-TTL and RMT-TTL 2 for wireless use.
As you can see the i40 has got a lot of functionality, so it can adjust to almost every situation. Because of all the functionality It will appeal to both novice and more advanced photographers. Unfortunately my Sony A7 doesn’t have a built in wireless commander. So I didn’t get a chance to test the wireless TTL functionality.
I did try the Slave digital remote setting, where the camera reacts to other flashes it detects. This worked like a charm, just make sure the unit can detect the flash of the other unit. It doesn’t even have to be in direct line of sight, and as promised the i40 didn’t get fooled by the digital pre-flash.
In day to day use
The i40 works very good in tandem with the Sony A7. Despite it not being an original Sony flash unit I didn’t encounter any problems with the communication between the Sony A7 and the Nissin. If you zoom the lens on the A7 the i40 adjusts the zoom setting accordingly. With a zoom range of 24 to 105mm (35mm eq.) the i40 has more than enough range to use with most lenses. The camera recognizes the flash being attached, so it automatically adjusts the maximum shutter speed to 1/250th.