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



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


  • 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.


  • 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


Yongnuo 560-II, 560-III & RF-603 Review

Yongnuo 460 Preview

Yongnuo 560EX (600EX) Review

Meike MK-RC7 Wireless Trigger Review

Modifying Yongnuo RF-603 to work with Olympus


  1. Do people like the push-button-to-release "feature"? I've always hated that about my Canon flash, which makes me glad I don't use it anymore.

    1. Hi Wil. If you don't like that feature, you should really stay away from the FL-36R. :) On that flash, there is a separate button for swivel and another one for bounce! Ugh.

      Best regards,

    2. That's what I thought, from the pictures. My Canon 420EX has the same two buttons, which seems really counter-productive (none of my other swivel/tilt flashes have them). I suppose there must be a reason for the buttons, but I can't guess what it is. :-)

    3. I think mechanically it's just simpler and easier to make it that way. Some of my old Nikon flashes (SB-24, SB-26) were like that too.

      Best regards,

  2. I like this feature for only one reason, when I position the flash head at a certain angle, and release the button, it doesn't move. Let me explain, I have a Lumiquest SBIII softbox (reviewed on this blog) that mounts to the flash head directly and adds some weight, when I use a flash without a release button, and angle the flash head upwards, it falls back downwards under the weight of the softbox, which is quite frustrating. It also protects the flash head from moving on its own when you have the camera hanging to your side with the flash mounted, not that I would ever do that.

  3. The delay you mention is more due to the camera's processing speed (or the lack thereof) and shouldn't have much to do with the flashgun. The E-M1 is definitely faster than the E-M5 in this aspect.
    In addition the pre-flashes are pretty visible this way, often leading to people blinking.

    If you have been around in DSLR-land long enough, you might remember this from cameras like Nikon's D100 and D70. No issue with today's DSLRs but it shows that Olympus is unfortunately not up to par in the flash department.

    Another huge issue with this flash is the lack of AF-illumination. How this was omitted I cannot understand.

    Uh, yes, my Canikon (= Nikon D800) supports High Speed Sync in Manual mode. Always has.

    1. Thank you for your reply Thomas, I am very glad to hear that the flash will be faster with the EM-1, which I am planning to purchase.

      I usually turn off any AF illumination, be it the flash or the camera, as I find them distracting to my subjects, maybe that's why I forgot to mention it. Good that you noted it for future readers of this post.

      And I didn't know the Nikon flashes supported HSS in manual mode, I am getting old. :-)

  4. jaybird50
    Owned fl50r; purchased a fl600r for work camera (EM-1, 12-40 and Pan 35-100). At work the over exposure issue (FL600r, FL50r and a Metz 58AF) is frustrating when shooting receptions when all of sudden it blast to subject. For me it usually happens repeatedly then calms down. Tried turning flash and camera off, removing flash and turn both off, no obvious luck. A couple calls to Olympus in PA; OGPS folks (have you heard of this? They are aware of the issues and not sure where the problem is originating from. They suggest better luck with a Metz 58 AF. Big like FL50r. Still issue with overexposure. I've send a bunch of images upon request. I've tried TTL AF and the like. I believe it is the camera. Owned a EM-5 and had same issues. Still own E-3, E-5, EP-3, 8mm, 12-60mm, 7-14mm, 11-22mm, 50-200mm, 18-180mm, two older kit lenses.
    OGPS Olympus Global Professional Service.

    1. That's weird, my issue with the FL600R is underexposure, not over exposure. And my solution is to apply +0.7 flash exposure compensation, then I have no issues anymore.


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