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Nissin MF18 Digital TTL Macro Flash: A Versatile Ringlight - By Jack Neubart

The Nissin MF18 fully supports Nikon’s i-TTL autoexposure as well as Canon’s E-TTL system. I tested with the Nikon 60mm Micro, but also had success with a zoom, namely the Tamron 70-300mm with a Marumi DHG Achromat Macro (plus-diopter) lens attached, both on my Nikon D300. Much of my close-up work with the MF18 involved Manual shooting mode set on the camera for tighter exposure control, and manual focus.


  1. Overview

  2. TTL & Manual

  3. Wireless

  4. Recommendations

  5. LED

  6. Specs

MF18: The Controller Unit

Seated in the camera’s hot shoe and tethered to the flash tube assembly is the Controller. This Controller houses the batteries and, as the name implies, directs all flash activity. On the surface, the MF18 Controller looks like the company’s Di866 Mark II unit, except that it lacks the tilt/swivel flash head. It sports a similar auto-rotating, full-color display on the back, which gives you a quick read on what’s going on. And the function buttons are identical, with cursor keys that are used to navigate and adjust settings. The on/off button also serves to lock in settings (check this indicator in case flash settings are not responding—you tend to forget you’ve set it).

Main Menu & TTL Mode

The Main Menu shows six icons, five of which represent operating modes, the sixth for custom settings. Note that TTL mode is highlighted, making for a highly legible screen.

Two Halves: Better Than One

The MF18 employs a screw-in (stepper-like) adapter ring that the circular flash head clips onto on the face of the lens. The system comes with a wide range of adapters (52, 58, 62, 72, and 77mm)—neatly packed inside a hard leather case.

The circular light actually consists of two flash tubes, so you can adjust the output ratio between them, via the Controller. In TTL and wireless TTL that ranges from 1:1 to 8:1 (or 1:8) for modeling—or shunt all power to one half for dramatic lighting or when attempting to avoid intrusive or potentially glaring surfaces. But be careful, as the brighter side may also get hotter in the process and need to be toned down.

The flash tubes themselves are heavily diffused and very slightly angled in an effort to further reduce glaring reflections. But that doesn’t always work, regardless of ratio settings, since shiny leaves rarely cooperate and tend to throw off some hot spots that you may wish to deal with in post. The same is true of brightly colored flowers. In Lightroom, for instance, I may use the Graduated Filter or Adjustment Brush to tone down offending areas.

You can rotate the ring, notably, to modify where shadows fall when using light ratios or to place greater emphasis on certain areas (or to deemphasize others). The two halves can also be expanded to accommodate larger diameter lenses and larger subjects (keep in mind that the idea is to bathe the subject in light).

I should also point out that, because the quantity of light is weak, compared to a standard on-camera flash such as the Di866 Mark II, the formation of shadows on the background is minimized or alleviated entirely. Using smaller lens apertures will further ensure the success of this technique, by limiting the reach of the light even more. Again, keep in mind that your primary lighting target is that small subject immediately in focus.

Expanded Circle Of Light

I used the Nissin MF18 attached to a 60mm Micro lens (=90mm, 35mm format) on a Nikon D300, and moved in for this dramatic viewpoint. I had to tone down the flowers in the foreground, in Lightroom. (TTL flash mode; ISO 200, f/16, 1/125 sec.)

© Jack Neubart

Bright LEDs

A set of four LEDs is embedded in the ring head: one pair flanking each flash tube. These bright lights are superior focusing lamps. And they serve as proportional modeling lights roughly corresponding to flash output, extinguishing on one side when the respective flash tube is switched off.

The LEDs are activated by holding the Set button on the Controller unit for 2 seconds. (I would have preferred a separate on/off switch, since tiny critters don’t wait around.) Interestingly, these LEDs remain in an active state, entering standby after a fixed interval. Partially press the camera’s shutter button and they’re back on (ditto when switching the camera off and on again). They also come alive again after each exposure, so you’re not left in the dark. This is an amazingly helpful feature, since it frees you to focus on the subject instead of distracting you with needless added steps to switch the focusing lights back on. The power draw is minimal, since they are LEDs, so no need to worry about that.

Light Ratios In Action

I photographed this miniature garden rose in a tabletop setup in my home studio, so that I could set the camera on a tripod. Light ratios (top to bottom) in TTL flash mode are 1:1, 8:1, and 1:8. Aside from light falloff, which left the rose at the far left edge in the dark (along with the white wall backdrop), note how the flower is fully illuminated at 1:1. In contrast, at 8:1, the far side of the bloom is in shadow, but note the rich texture in the foreground petal. At 1:8, the bulb on the left goes too dark and the rose appears a bit hot. Moral: in time-critical situations (flighty critters), shoot at 1:1, but if time permits, play around with light ratios for interesting results. (ISO 200, f/32, 1/200 sec.)

Photos © Jack Neubart