Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Olympus FL600R Flash Review

Olympus FL600R


Following up on my previous Yongnuo flash review, I would like to talk to you today on my TTL capable, but rather tiny, Olympus flash.

I learned to use on-camera bounce flash from Niel VN, and ever since, I have been a fan of using this method to give a better light quality and direction when shooting indoors, and sometimes even outdoors, you'll find a lot more about that if you search this blog for bounce flash, or just go directly to the master of the "black foamie thing", use google.

So when I switched to Olympus MFT, I wanted to buy a TTL flash that would have similar features to my Canon behemoths (600EX & 580EX), but be relatively small to fit the tininess (?) of the MFT system. These were my requirements:

  • Small & light
  • Powerful enough
  • TTL capable
  • Fast recycle time
  • High speed sync
  • Swivel head 180 degrees both directions
  • Zoom head
  • Manual power control
  • Wireless slave (i.e. can be fired remotely from camera)
  • Nice, backlit LCD


Three Olympus flashes attracted me, FL50R, FL600R & FL36R, the first one (50R) is excellent, but way too large and expensive, so I skipped it, the last one (36R) looked ancient, was large, and if I remember correctly, it used 2 AA batteries, so it didn't recycle fast enough. That's why I selected the FL600R, it was the newest and smallest, it matched all my requirements mentioned above, and it had a GN of 36 which is not bad given its size and how fast it recycles (2 seconds for a full power pop using Sanyo Eneloops). Here's how it looks like beside the monstrous Yongnuo 560 (which is similar in size to the Canikon flagships).



David & Goliath


Backside


Front


How does it perform?

Before I get to that, let me get something clear first, for some reason, Olympus TTL metering is not as accurate as Canon or Nikon, it underexposes severly, and I am not alone in this with my EM-5, if you visit the MFT dpreview forum, you'll find this mentioned a zillion times, that's why I have a PERMANENT +0.7 FEC dialed in my camera, and with that I get spot-on TTL metering, now that this is out of the way, here's what I like and what I don't like about the flash.



RC mode, i.e. Remote Control, here it is set as a slave


LIKES

  • Powerful enough for most indoor usage scenarios, never fired it once at full power. GN = 36 @ ISO 100.
  • Fast recycle times (it uses 4 AA batteries),a full power pop takes 2 seconds, however, lower power ones are much faster.
  • Swivel head 180 degrees in both directions, tilt 90 degrees up, and 7 degrees down.
  • Incredibly tiny and cute.
  • Has a bounce (catch light) card and a wide angle diffuser.
  • Supports high speed sync (even in manual mode! Does your Canikon support this?)
  • Acts as a wireless master or slave (supporting TTL of course), with advanced flash groups, I use my EM-5 flash to trigger it.
  • Supports manual power adjustments, either in guide number, or power ratios in 1/2 or 1/3rd stops, it goes from full power to 1/128.
  • Supports automatic power adjustment using a front light receptor, don't confuse this with TTL, this is what preceded TTL, it fires and stops the light when the light receptor in the flash (has nothing to do with the camera's exposure or settings) has sensed that the reflected light is enough, even if it was a bounce flash, but in order to use this mode, you have to tell the flash the ISO and the aperture you're using. This is how they used flashes before TTL (by the way, my Canon 580EX II supported this mode), this means that the flash can be used on any camera that does not support TTL communication, and this method is surprisingly accurate for how it works. What is the benefit you say? I will explain later in the dislikes.
  • Modern locking lever, not the old rotating rings (detail pictures coming further down).
  • Push power on/off button, the flash turns on and off automatically when you turn the camera on and off, how neat is that?
  • Charging lamp, acts as a test fire button.
  • Surprisingly, a powerful LED at the front, which can be activated manually at various power levels, useful as a modeling light (when used off-camera), for videos (though I never used it like that), or simply can be used a torch, which is my main usage for it.
  • Very fast flash durations, from 1/20,000 to 1/500 seconds depending on the power level, useful to freeze motion, like water splashes for example.


DISLIKES

  • Slow firing, let me explain for a second, with my Canon flashes, once I released the shutter, the flash fired instantaneously, not with the FL600R, it hesitates for a few milliseconds before it fires, I suppose it is firing a pre-flash to measure the exposure during this hesitation period, because when I set it to automatic mode (not TTL), it fires instantaneously. It is not a deal breaker, but it needs some getting used to, overall, I am not disturbed by it anymore.
  • When the flash is setup as a wireless slave, the front LED keeps blinking, and there is no way to turn it off, if it bothers you, just put a black tape over it.
  • Very sensitive to direct line of sight when used as a slave, unlike my Canon where It fires as long as it sees any glimpse of bounce flash from the trigger, take the example in this post where I had the camera in one room, and I put the flash outside the room to fire through a window with shades (zero line of sight) and the flashed fired every single time.
  • Fiddly to set different things since it doesn't have direct control buttons (actually similar to changing settings on cameras), for example, in order to change any setting, you have to press the middle button, the move with the 4-way dial pad to the setting you want to change, then you rotate the ring surrounding the 4-way dial pad to change that setting. It works well, but not as well as direct buttons for certain functions.
  • Plastic foot, but given it's tiny size and weight, I don't mind it.
  • Flash head only zooms to 85mm, not that it will make anyone suffer, for tighter beam requirements, I use a grid.


That sort of sums everything up, as a general conclusion, it is a brilliant flash that is reliable, small, and very rich with features. I wish I could make a video review (to show the firing delay, and how it sounds like firing, which is very unique by the way), but given the huge delay it took me to post this, I didn't want to delay it anymore. If I get enough requests to do a video review, I will certainly oblige.

If you're looking for a TTL flash to acompany your Olympus MFT system, I recommend you get this one. [Mic's note: I believe this flash will also work on Panasonic cameras, including point-and-shoot. I have an Olympus FL-36R that is fully compatible with my Panasonic LX5.]  Now I will leave you with some detail shots (all taken with the EM-5 & 45 1.8 plus the Vivitar close-up filters).


Bounce card and wide angle diffuser


Push button to release head for rotation & swivel


Flash head angles


Plastic foot


Front bits, the thing in the middle is the LED light


Locking mechanism, nice and easy


Backlit LCD, easy to read


Here's the dial pad with 4 direct functions


Surprised by the metal thread, a nice touch


Vs Yongnuo version, which is a copy of the Canon version


OM-D EM-5 Flash


Brilliant ThinkTank battery cases


The Vivitar close-up filters


I bought two sets, 58mm and 37mm


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