Coming from Nikon to a Fujifilm ‘X’ camera, the choice of flashguns appeared somewhat limited – something Fuji have since acknowledged and are working on. None of the complete flash systems that Canon and Nikon offer – just 3 flashguns. Firstly the diminutive but expensive EF X-20 model with a modest guide number of 20, no bounce flash facility, and it only works in TTL mode off-camera using a cable.
Then comes the EF-20 model, again with a guide number of 20, but this time with a bounce (but no swivel) facility. Lastly the EF-42 model, really just a rebadged and slightly re-engineered Sunpak unit, it does at least do bounce and swivel flash, and has a guide number of 42, but for off camera TTL use again needs an extension cable. It’s quite bulky for its power and limited functionality, and the menus aren’t particularly intuitive, but it was the best on offer at the time so I bought one.
It turned out to be ‘ok’ for general use (not that you need flash a lot for everyday photography – the amazing low light sensitivity means the Fuji ‘X’ cameras pretty much see in the dark.) Family and group photos came out reasonably well, especially if the flash was bounced off a wall or ceiling. Exposures weren’t always dead accurate on auto, but not bad.
HOWEVER, where I really struggled was with product photography, something I do from time to time. It really needs much more than just bounce flash to create consistent lighting across a range of products, and the relative lack of control means lots of ‘bright’ spots or indeed reflections. Shooting through an umbrella or softbox is pretty much the only way to go, but this means off-camera flash. The extension cable route worked, but was a PITA – the longest off-camera lead I could find (has to be a Canon OC-E3 type) was a coiled type that only stretched to 1m or so before it pulled my lighting stand over, so this seriously compromised my camera and shooting position. Then the lack of power really showed up shooting through an umbrella, and I found I needed to switch to manual operation anyway as the exposures were inconsistent because the products varied so much in colour/reflectivity and this affected the TTL flash metering.
A couple of Yongnuo RF-603C II flash triggers overcame the extension lead and stand instability problem – one on top of the camera set to Tx mode, and the other underneath the EF-42 flash set to Rx. Triggering was 100%, and I completed the assignment without further problems. I was using 2 cameras simultaneously on each shot so had to switch the RF-603 transmitter between cameras for each shot – awkward, but ok. A bit more power would also have been useful, and next time around I will probably want to use an additional flashgun for some fill-in. So what to do next?
Enter the Yongnuo YN560-III speedlight – an inexpensive manual only flashgun with a guide number of 56, and bearing a marked resemblance to the ‘old’ Canon 580 speedlights. At under £50 (yes – £50!) and some good reviews, it seemed worth a try. It will operate on-camera on its own or triggering other YN-560s, or can be triggering by the above RF-603s. It’s fairly simple to set up, and with the recently announced YN560-TX controller/trigger, flash output for single and groups of flashguns can be set remotely. Given the price, these flashguns and triggers are remarkably robust, and the quality seems at least as good as the Fuji brand flashguns. The extra power of the YN560 over the EF-42 makes about 2 stops exposure difference, or the option to still use lower power, but with improved flash recycle times.
There are a couple of other options for 3rd party speedlights (notably the Cactus RF60 and the Godox 850) but both are much more expensive and also have their drawbacks, whereas my £150 investment in Yongnuo gets me 2 speedlights, 2 triggers and the 560-TX controller. This gives me the 2 flashguns, triggers for 2 cameras, (3 if I use the controller on camera instead of off-camera.) Everything I need for a mini-photo studio in terms of flashguns!
I have to say I am completely knocked out by the Yongnuo gear – I was sceptical about quality and performance given the price (my ‘old’ Nikon SB flashgun were upwards of £300 each new!), but there is absolutely nothing wrong with these. The design and operation is exactly what is promised, the fit and finish of the component parts is good, and I’ve seen no significant complaints regarding reliability or longevity.
What about the EF-42? Well, it is now going on eBay and should pay for at least 1 of the YN560s. But what about a nice small on-camera flash for those family and group photos where auto operation is needed? That’s covered too – the newly announced Nissan i40 has just arrived. It’s 2/3rds the weight of the EF-42, around half the bulk, and looks so right on a Fuji camera. It’s SO easy to operate, and also to use flash exposure compensation when needed. Its actually small enough to carry in my everyday bag, which is a real bonus. The following shows just how different these 3 flashguns of mine are in size:
So until Fuji (or someone else) brings out a significantly better flash system at a decent price, I’m set up – the Nissan i40 for everyday and event photography, and a set of the Yongnuo’s for ‘studio’ and setup work with umbrellas, soft boxes and reflectors. I’m happy with that, (and haven’t spent the earth!)