Test Report: Nissin i60 Compact, Multi-Mode Shoe-Mount Flash for On-Camera and TTL Wireless Operation, Including Radio TTL Wireless
Nissin introduced TTL radio wireless capability with the Di700A shoe-mount and Air 1 transmitter (reviewed here). Now this same wireless capability comes to Nissin’s latest flash, the i60A.
What sets the i60A apart from the Di700A is the new shoe-mount’s compact size and more extensive feature set. Does this mean it’s a better fit for you and your style of shooting? Let’s see…
But First a Few Words about Nissin TTL Radio Wireless Flash Nissin labels its proprietary 2.4GHz TTL radio wireless technology NAS, for Nissin Air System (not to be confused with NAS, or network-attached storage, drives). Hence the “A” designation in both the Di700A and i60A – for Air-compliant. Out of the box, and without accessories, both shoe-mounts support on-camera and wireless TTL operation – but without radio triggering. It takes one key additional component to activate radio triggering, the Air 1 transmitter. “Air” represents a key link in the system. An integral component (albeit optional) is the Nissin Air 1 transmitter, which sits in the camera’s hot shoe. The Air 1 controls and triggers the Air-compliant off-camera flashes, which are said to be slaved to the Air transmitter, or master. All output and zoom settings are made on the Air 1. Only Group (and, where applicable, channel) settings are made on the remote units. You might want to designate different remote flashes under separate groups for better lighting control of subject and background. (Channel settings are rarely required and usually only come into play to prevent interference with devices on the same channel.) If you use a TTL-dedicated, non-Air-compliant flash, whether Nissin or another brand, simply attach the optional Nissin Air R remote receiving module to the flash by way of the hot shoe and you’re in business, with camera, Air 1, and all remote components talking to each other to deliver reliable TTL flash exposures. Radio control in this wireless system, according to Nissin’s specifications, will work with off-camera flash units to roughly 100 feet. Typically, radio triggering has the added advantage that it works even when those remote strobes are situated around corners or behind obstacles, in contrast to photo-optical and infrared triggering, which require a direct line of sight. And radio triggering is more reliable outdoors. Keep in mind that these A-designated flashes will not trigger TTL dedicated strobes in any fashion (not even other Nissin strobes). They require a separate Master module, whether radio or optical/infrared, to trigger them in order to produce TTL flash exposures. However, they will trigger any flash that has a built-in photo-optical sensor, for conventional flash operation using manual exposure control.
Nissin i60A: A Closer Look The i60A is rather odd-looking. Seated in the camera’s hot shoe with head down (default position), the i60A presents a remarkably low profile. It manages to fit 4 AA batteries and all the circuitry into a squat little form factor. So, what’s odd about it. Sitting on that compact battery housing/control center is a ginormous flash head. At least that’s how I’d describe it. The base of the i60A measures roughly two-thirds that on the Di700A in height. But the flash head itself is a tad longer than the head on its older sibling – by about 1cm. The depth of the head on the i60A (measured at the face, top to bottom), is about 2cm less (not including that odd bump toward the back of the i60A - possibly housing the capacitor). But when you add it all up, the head looks out of proportion, judging by its size relative to the base. Nothing wrong with that, but the overall size does warrant closer examination.
Small, Yet Packs a Punch Getting past the look of the flash, let’s see what this little shoe-mount is all about. For starters, the i60A is pimped up with all the shooting modes found on the Di700A, but with even more control. That means full TTL flash operation on camera and remotely. Remote operation extends to optical/infrared TTL wireless, photo-optical non-TTL wireless, and TTL wireless radio operation. While we rarely use Guide Numbers (GN) in this day and age of TTL dedicated flash, the GN does give us a sense of the effective reach and power of the unit. And in that sense, it serves as a practical guide, hence “Guide” Number. At ISO 100, the i60A will cover a distance of 89 feet (27 meters) at the 24mm zoom setting. At the 200mm setting (ISO 100), that jumps to 198 feet (60 meters). Compare that to any camera’s built-in flash. The i60A’s built-in diffuser panel and included dome diffuser will knock these numbers back a bit. By the way, the i60A is a bit more powerful than the larger Di700A. At the 200mm zoom setting, the GN for the Di700A is 178/54 (ISO 100, ft/m). And the new flash is considerably more capable than the even smaller and older Nissin i40. The i60A is also the most expensive flash in the current Nissin lineup, even more than the flagship Di866 Mark II. The i60A draws on much of the functionality from the 866 Mk II while replacing more esoteric features and expanding on others. The i60A adds one more feature not found on most shoe-mounts: a video light. This light, consisting of two LEDs (diffused), can be adjusted in brightness. And it’s bright! I didn’t realize it at first, but this video light would really come in handy at some point in a studio setup. And, if nothing else, it makes a great flashlight in a pinch. (You’ll also find this feature on the earlier i40.)
The Interface – User-Friendly… to a Point The interface on the i60A consists of a color LCD panel, dials, and buttons. The LCD panel is small but easily readable, if you have fairly good eyesight, that is. It is, however, difficult to read under bright lighting. I recommend you shade the display outdoors when changing settings. Somewhat disconcerting, the panel dims almost immediately and there’s no way around this. But you can bring it back to full brightness by a press of any button, except, obviously, the on/of switch, or when changing modes. The control dials may be a bit harder to read for some, especially if you suffer from astigmatism. The lettering is tiny and the detent marker on the mode dial doesn’t precisely align with the mode settings - nor is it clearly marked (it's raised), so you may do better paying close attention to the LCD display to get a better sense of the flash mode than to the mode dial itself. And in dim light, that may be the only way to read flash modes, unless you bring a flashlight or a cell phone with you.
Nissin i60A interface showing flash in full TTL mode (non-wireless), at -2 EV. To use the TTL wireless modes, shift the mode dial down to the Group settings: A, B, or C (with matching settings on the Master controller/transmitter/trigger).
Nissin i60A interface showing flash in Manual mode, at reduced output, with zoom set at 105mm (zoom setting uses dial on the right).
Speaking of Those Control Dials The dial on the left is for flash modes, with the following options. For on-camera (hot-shoe) usage: the green “A” is for fully auto TTL flash, whereas “TTL” gives you more complete TTL flash control, with the added option of onboard flash exposure overrides (to +/-2, in 1/3-step increments). For remote operation, the dial offers SD (for pre-flash digital), SF (non-TTL-flash exposures with any optical flash/trigger), and A/B/C. The A/B/C settings are used with the Nissin Air radio-controlled system. (More on wireless operation below.) The dial on the right provides settings for wireless radio channels (1 to 8) and manual zoom. The other settings control audio (beeps) and high-speed sync for cameras that don’t have that option built-in (not applicable to Nikon DSLRs). The key problem with these controls is that they’re so small that you need a fingernail to access them. Hold down the button until the display changes to the required parameter, for example, zoom focal lengths. Then turn the outer wheel, which is also used to change output settings for the applicable modes. The central button locks in settings.
Wireless Operation By the way, and this may confuse the issue somewhat, my D610’s built-in flash can be used to trigger the i60A in any wireless mode. In the absence of the Air 1 trigger, the A/B/C settings can also be used for non-radio (that is, optical/infrared) wireless TTL operation of either or both the i60A and Di700A, in the current example, with Nikon CLS controlling exposure. You should also be aware that the i60A (and the Di700A) respond to the built-in flash on the Nikon D610 regardless of channel setting made in the camera or on the i60A. (There are no channel settings on the Di700A.) In the final analysis, what’s really important is that TTL wireless control works reliably, whether via radio or optical/infrared control.
Now More on That Flash Head The flash head itself raises, lowers, and swivels without the use of a release button. The detents appear to be well enough engaged that the head won’t drop easily when you’re running around with the flash head up at an angle. Adding heavy bounce panels or other accessories to the head may, however, cause a precipitous and unexpected drop if you jostle the flash too much. However, the flash appears constructed well enough to tolerate a bit of mistreatment. We should point to one practical consequence of this disproportionate head on the i60A. When you raise the head fully erect and position it on the mini-stand, the flash will topple over backwards, owing to a high center of gravity. Either lower the head two or three notches or, better yet, reverse-mount the flash on the stand for better support while still maintaining the original stance.
Size Matters The raison d’etre for this flash is its compact size. Compactness is one thing. But we do have to evaluate how this shoe-mount’s size affects performance. As it turns out, size does matter. But not as much as you’d think. One of the reasons we avoid using the camera’s built-in flash with people (and sometimes animals) is because the on-axis light produced by the flash results in red-eye, where the pupils take on a pronounced blood-red color (due to bounce-back of light off the back of the retina). To mitigate against this possibility, we prefer to use flash off camera, or at the very least use a full-size shoe-mount flash. You could use a red-eye reducing pre-flash, but that destroys the spontaneity of the shot – not to mention the likelihood that your subject will move during that interval. The i60A sits low enough that it could conceivably result in that same red-eye effect encountered with a pop-up flash. We can’t say that categorically, since numerous factors come into play – but I’m just throwing it out there as a possibility, perhaps even a strong probability. We also have to consider the lens barrel and/or lens hood (lens shade) getting in the way and blocking the light. The good news is that tests with my Tamron 70-300mm lens, with and without lens shade, on my Nikon D610, bore out that, at normal shooting distances, you don’t get that arc-shaped shadow at the bottom of the screen, which would typically occur when the lens blocks the flash. So I decided to push it further. It proved to be true even when I moved in close with the lens. I had even used a Tamron 90mm macro lens with attached lens shade on my Nikon D500 with no observable ill effects, shooting some very tight close-ups, I might add. I also tested the flash with my Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 lens (with built-in lens shade), which has an 82mm filter diameter – a wide schnoz going up against a compact head – with no ill effects to report in terms of light blockage. However, and this is not directly related to size, further tests revealed that light coverage was uneven at very wide lens focal lengths, as tests with the aforementioned 15-30mm lens on my D610 bore out. In fact, I’d recommend you shoot no wider than 24mm, even with the diffusion attachments. You may not notice this in everyday subjects, unless you’re shooting a wall or other uniformly toned flat surface.