1. Metz 64 AF-1 Digital
Premium build quality, pro-grade power
Guide number: 64 | Bounce (degrees): -9 - 90 | Swivel: 180 - 120 | Zoom range: 24-200mm | Wireless/Slave: Master/Slave
One of Metz’s flagship flashguns, this model has professional-level enticements including a Gn 64 power rating, 24mm to 200mm motorised zoom range, -9 to 90-degree bounce and all the flash modes you could possibly want, including a programmable repeat mode. Everything’s accessible via an oversized color touchscreen. Other pro-level features include a sync terminal and a power input socket – the latter for attaching an optional external power pack. A neat extra feature is a secondary flash tube, which is great for adding a little direct flash when you’re using the main flash head in bounce or swivel mode. Overall performance was excellent, matching the flashgun’s professional-grade aspirations.
2. Nikon SB-910
Nikon's top-flight pro-spec flashgun
Guide number: 54 | Bounce (degrees): -7 - 90 | Swivel: 180 - 180 | Zoom range: 24-200mm | Wireless/Slave: Master/Slave
Nikon’s top-flight flashgun (until the arrival of the SB-5000), the SB-910 features three illumination patterns (standard, even and centre-weighted), and a visual indicator on the LCD screen for flash tube temperature. It also comes with a diffusion dome and colour filters, and can detect when they’re attached to the flashgun. Pro-grade additions include a sync terminal and power input socket for an optional external battery pack, greater output power and a programmable repeat mode. The control panel uses a set of context-sensitive buttons for intuitive adjustments of modes, including easy switching between TTL and TTL-BL modes. The tested maximum output power of the SB-910 was only slightly higher than from the SB-700 and TTL accuracy wasn’t as accurate. Recycling speed was slightly slower. The extra features are certainly nice to have though.
3. Nikon SB-700
Feature-packed and keenly priced
Guide number: 38 | Bounce (degrees): -7 - 90 | Swivel: 180 - 180 | Zoom range: 24-120mm | Wireless/Slave: Master/Slave
The SB-700 boasts -7 to 90-degree bounce, full 180-degree swivel in both directions, a 24mm to 120mm motorised zoom and full wireless master and slave modes. The usual wide-angle diffuser and reflector card are built into the head, and the flashgun is supplied complete with a diffusion dome and colour filters. Cleverly, the SB-700 is also able to automatically detect when the dome or filters have been fitted. Considering the level of sophistication in most areas, it’s surprising that you still need to select the host camera’s spot metering function to enable TTL instead of TTL-BL flash mode. Less surprising, given the relatively inexpensive price tag, is that there’s no ‘repeat’ flash mode. TTL metering was accurate, and the SB-700 exceeded expectations for its maximum power output, while recycling speed was super-swift as well.
4. Metz 52 AF-1 Digital
Features an intuitive and handy touchscreen
Guide number: 52 | Bounce (degrees): 0 - 90 | Swivel: 180 - 120 | Zoom range: 24-105mm | Wireless/Slave: Master/Slave
Instead of featuring lots of buttons that could be hard to use or even to see in the dark, the Metz has a touchscreen. You can therefore simply poke your way around the flashgun’s extensive menu, making it quick and easy to access the settings you want to alter. As this is a reasonably low-budget option, it lacks a programmable stroboscopic mode, but it does feature full wireless master and slave functions, which are compatible with Nikon’s Creative Lighting System. The maximum power output of the 52 AF-1 fell some way short of its quoted Guide number of 52, and this time TTL metering was a bit on the bright side. We also found recycling speeds were a little pedestrian. Even so, it’s good value, and the touchscreen is perfect for quickly accessing advanced settings.
5. Gloxy GX-F990 N TTL
Boasts some clever features at a great price
Guide number: 54 | Bounce (degrees): -7 - 90 | Swivel: 180 - 180 | Zoom range: 18-180mm | Wireless/Slave: Optical slave only
The Gloxy is a disarmingly inexpensive flashgun, yet has an impressive range of advanced features, including an 18mm to 180mm motorised zoom head and programmable repeat mode – the latter being practically unheard of in such a ‘budget’ flashgun. The maximum power rating of Gn 54 is pretty good and the control panel is logical and easy to use. Build quality feels good, too. The only real disappointment is that there’s no wireless master or slave mode, so TTL metering isn’t available if the flash is taken off-camera. There is a more basic optical slave mode, which senses the output from a pop-up flash or another flash, and fires the flash at the power that’s been set manually. Recycle speeds proved to be pretty brisk, even after a full-power flash, but the maximum output was a little disappointing compared with the claimed values. We also feel that TTL accuracy could be better as there was slight under-exposure.
6. Nissin Di866 Mark II Professional
Relatively inexpensive for a pro-spec flashgun
Guide number: 60 | Bounce (degrees): 0 - 90 | Swivel: 90 - 180 | Zoom range: 24-105mm | Wireless/Slave: Master/Slave
Professional by name, the Nissin is mostly professional by nature as well. It has a full set of advanced flash modes including programmable repeat; a sync terminal; external battery pack socket; solid build quality; and some smart extras. There’s a color LCD screen around the back, and the display rotates automatically depending on whether you’re shooting in landscape or portrait orientation. As you’d expect, the Nissin also supports full wireless master/slave functions. Compared with other ‘pro’ flashguns, the motorised zoom has a relatively limited range of 24mm to 105mm, but the maximum power rating of Gn 60 looks impressive, at least on paper. In our tests, the maximum power output and TTL flash accuracy were both disappointing, and the recycling speed was sluggish. Ultimately, the upmarket feature set looks amazing at the price, but performance proves to be rather more average.
7. Phottix Mitros + TTL transceiver
A solid on and off-camera flashgun
Guide number: 58 | Bounce (degrees): -7 - 90 | Swivel: 180 - 180 | Zoom range: 24-105mm | Wireless/Slave: Master/SlaveRF
There’s plenty to get excited about in this flashgun, with its high-end features that include a full range of flash modes – programmable repeat among them. Build quality is excellent, pro-grade additions include a sync terminal and external power sockets, and the flashgun comes with a diffusion dome. Wireless connectivity gets a real boost with the inclusion of a built-in RF (Radio Frequency) TTL transceiver. This enables remote triggering of multiple master and slave flashguns without the need for a ‘line of sight’ optical path. The control panel is also easy to use, thanks to a four-way pad that’s particularly intuitive. The Phottix is one of the most powerful flashguns in the group but TTL accuracy was poor, with a tendency towards noticeable over-exposure – and there’s no TTL-BL mode. We found it’s best to permanently apply negative flash exposure compensation. Apart from that, performance was very good.
8. Nikon SB-500
Basic, but with the bonus of a constant light
Guide number: 24 | Bounce (degrees): 0 - 90 | Swivel: 180 - 180 | Zoom range: 24mm | Wireless/Slave: Master/Slave
Quite a bare-bones affair, the SB-500 is the only flashgun in the group to lack both an LCD info screen and a zoom feature. It also has a relatively low Gn (24), and runs on just two AA batteries instead of the usual four. Pretty much all adjustments need to be made via the host camera, and compatibility is limited with some older D-SLRs. One positive is that the SB-500 is the only flashgun in the group to feature a constant LED light as well as a flash. This is good news if you spend a lot of time shooting close-up stills and movies. In flash mode, you can use the SB-500 in wireless slave mode (Channel 3 only), or as a wireless commander, but only with Nikon’s latest D5500, D7200, D750 and D810 cameras. Despite its modest power rating, in our tests the SB-500 matched the Nikon SB-700 at its 24mm zoom setting. We also found TTL accuracy was spot on, meaning you won’t need to fuss with exposure compensation, but recycling speed is the outright slowest in the group.