SONY'S NEW HVL-F28RM FLASH
Usually, we don't ourselves to be excited about the release of a flashgun, but this small and powerful radio wireless flash seems so reliable that we had to give it a special shout. Also, it appears to be the perfect combination for our previously discussed imaging solutions by Sony, the ɑ7C camera and the FE 28-60mm ƒ/4.0~5.6 zoom lens. But let's start talking a bit why we haven't reviewed gadgets like this one before getting deeper into Sony's HVL-F28RM External Flash.
All About the Light
It is no secret that here at MegaGear we have a thing for street and lifestyle photography. And that same passion towards these particular genres, has inspired us into crafting several of our camera bags, cases and straps; especially our most iconic camera accessory. And shooting in the streets with a flash is quite hard to achieve, even when we know that there are some photographers that have made this particular aesthetic part of their own personal trademark. Therefore, relying in naturally available light has been our main way to go when shooting our frames on the streets. Even lifestyle photography for us benefits from that particular look.
Learning the ways around naturally available light is also a challenge, but it gives back plenty of rewards disguised under the lovely veil of natural lighting. Direct flashes, on the other hand, tend to be just too much for us. Although, fixed flashes mounted with their huge soft-boxes deliver unbelievably good looking results, but again, that is just not an option when doing street photography. Lifestyle does benefit from that, but we love traveling light as you might have already guessed from our genuine leather products and accessories.
Is This Flash an Exception to the Rule?
In a nutshell, yes, it is. Why? Well, let's take a broad overview of some of its features and you should understand why we think that the HVL-F28RM is what one could consider an inconspicuous and reliable flashgun.
Sony has categorized it as a "small, powerful and reliable radio wireless flash", and boy it is. Its high output flash guide number of 28 offers an enhanced kind of performance and control that will make you think if you are really shooting with a mounted flash on your camera. One of the great things about it, despite its accessible price ($250.00), is that it can be controlled directly from the camera, and is so compact that it can even fit in a regular pocket! And don't let that small size fool you, it really offers a professional performance as well as wireless radio communication for a wide range of applications.
On the guide number 28, the specs place it at 50 mm at ISO 100 in meters. Also, the wireless control function can make you create a mighty complex set-up of up to 15 flash units packed in 5 groups (up to 5 groups in "GROUP" mode setting, and up to 3 groups in TTL or Manual mode settings). The overall flash (head and internals) has been redesigned to reduce its size and achieve a major portability while still being reliable. The HVL-F28RM is the perfect match for Sony's compact mirrorless cameras, APS-C and full-frame. And even when being pocket-size (literally) it delivers an output that even rivals with the higher end HVL-F45RM at the same illumination angle and can be effectively used for bounce lighting in a wide range of shooting situations.
A bit More on the Construction
At the bottom of the flash unit, we find a multi-interface shoe, which features a state of the art developed metal shoe foot with a rugged side frame that significantly increases both strength and reliability. And just like all other Sony's higher end flashes, the HVL-F28RM has been built with a dust and moisture design capable of withstanding all the demands from regular professional work under challenging outdoor weather conditions. And if that wasn't enough, the HVL-F28RM flash is also being designed to prevent overheating thanks to an optimized flash control algorithm, which provides an excellent flash performance while effectively preventing it from failing due to heat.
And sometimes, flashes can be quite challenging to operate, but thanks to the overall user interface in the HVL-F28RM, controlling it is quite intuitive in fact. The flash compensation, light ratio, and other common flash parameters can be controlled directly from a compatible camera. Sony clearly states that one should verify if a camera model is compatible with it before buying one, but since we are in the terrains of the newer Sony cameras, this flash works splendidly. Also, a custom key can be assigned to call up the flash parameter display, making the adjustments reachable while looking through the viewfinder and gripping the camera. Also the flash parameters are shown in the selected camera display language.
Some dedicated light output level buttons (-/+) directly control light output and flash compensation for a fast and efficient control. The light output of other wireless paired flash units can also be adjusted in this way for a smooth, stress-free workflow. The HVL-F28RM also includes the same high-speed sync, multi-flash, and other flash features just like those found in both the HVL-45RM and HVL-60RM flashes from Sony.
Now, a bit more on that wireless mention above. The HVL-F28RM features stable radio wireless communication, and this is important because , unlike infrared wireless transmitters, radio based ones are capable of triggering flash units that are far away, up to 35 meters to be precise. So, one HVL-F28RM flash functioning as a commander can be mounted on a compatible camera and paired with a second off-camera HVL-F28RM unit that will function as a receiver. Radio communication provides reliable communication over longer distances than are possible with optical communication, even in bright sunlight or when there are obstacles between the camera and subject.
The WHD dimensions on this bad-boy are approximately 2.56 x 3.29 x 3.6" (65.1 x 83.5 x 91.4mm), and it weighs about 7.8 oz (219 g) without the batteries. Now this is quite a flaw, because it uses two AA-size alkaline or Ni-MH batteries, but nothing to worry about; just remember to keep at least a fresh (or charged) pair with you just in case. The shooting frequency on alkaline batteries is a bit slower when compared to Ni-MH ones, 0.1–6.4 seconds for the first battery and 0.1–4.1 seconds for the latter.
The recycle time is the fastest time from when the flash is emitted until the TEST button lights up. The approximate repetitions is a bit more than 110 times when loaded with Alkaline, and just a bit more than 130 times when using Ni-HM. The number of flashes is the number of times that maximum light output can be emitted once in 30 seconds. And last but not least, the continuous flash performance is 40 flashes at 10 flashes per second with a normal flash power level of 1/32th, 50 mm and Ni-MH batteries.
For some experienced users, the HVL-F28RM will feel quite limited, especially when it comes to directionals and movements. For street uses, is quite perfect, but for a more sophisticated shooter, it won't be that great. According to Sony, this flashgun has been tailored for individual scenes, hence the great potential we see in it for casual shooting. With it's powerful output, there is plenty of light available for bounce applications, and the flash angle can be set as required at 0°, 20°, 40°, 60°, 80°, and 120° click stops. Also, a handy lock is provided at the 0-degree position to prevent unwanted angle changes in hectic shooting situations. The conveniently built Multi/Micro USB terminal suggests to us that Sony is not planning to leave this one behind, and we could joy some nice firmware updates in the upcoming days too.
The test flash mode enables us to check on shadows on the subject before taking the photos. It also checks the light level using an external flash meter, an essential tool for ambient controlled photography (studio, mostly). The light level of the test flash depends on the light level setting in manual flash (M) mode; and the flash unit fires with a beam of 1/1 (100% of its power) in TTL mode. And beyond that rather standard feature on pretty much any decent flash, the HVL-F28RM also comes with flash control based on face detection, and auto white balance adjustments.
For the first feature, the flash works with the built-in facial detection technology from the cameras it is attached to it. Therefore, it communicates with the body for a more precise portraiture and other face-related purposes shootings. More precisely, the face detection communication helps to balance the flash beam with the ambient light conditions, making the subject's face rendered better with a naturally accurate white balance.
And if that wasn't enough, the information related to color temperature is transferred from the flash unit to the camera! Ensuring an accurate white balance for natural looking colors, so forget about those greenish casts on your flash shots! Also, when working with 100% compatible cameras, the is automatically balanced with ambient light conditions so that skin tones are rendered with ideal white balance.
And if you want to dive deeper into all the specifications on this flash unit, you can check them out here.
Now Let's Talk a bit more About Flashes
This is not intended to be a manual nor a course on flash photography, but we think it might give some interesting insights to the newcomers of photography. First thing's first, there are at least two huge differences between naturally available light and artificial light, especially the one coming from a flash. The first big difference is the consistency of the light, and the other one is the temperature.
About consistency, let's figure it out like this, with a flash you can shoot photos with the light that you need at any moment of the day, without any problem and still getting the same consistent results. In other words, you can shoot from dusk to dawn, and you will have the same look if shooting in a studio, filled primarily with artificial light sources. If shooting on the outside, you might get a nice array of mixed light situations and shadows, but the main light source will still feel consistent across your shots.
Now, about temperature, flash lights have a fluorescent nature that makes them shine in a peculiar way that feels quite unnatural. Hence our hype when noticing that the HVL-F28RM is capable of figuring out the best white balance setting for every shot, meaning that the odd look on the skins won't be present in our shots anymore.
The main difference between built-in flash lights and external flash units, is the size of the light source. Light has a physical property that inversely relates its source magnitude with the distance it travels across a portion of space which is better known as the inverse square law. We don't discuss this property right now, but we had to mention it in order to share the following fact, larger flashlights look better than smaller ones. The reason, the size of the source. As long as the source is larger, the light traveling through space spreads more generously, resulting in more pleasing looks. Hence the need of nice and big light diffusers when working in photographic studios for example.
Although an external flash setup can enhance visual depth in a shot, it's usually easier and more effective to simply bounce the light from an on-camera flash unit off a nearby surface such as a wall or ceiling for more natural lighting with enhanced dimensionality, hence the nice angle movements found in the HVL-F28RM. By doing this sort of movements, the achieved result is drastically different from a direct shot with the flash. Also, external units allow photographers to reduce or increase the power from their light beams by fractions of the power like these: 1/1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32, 1/64, 1/128 and sometimes 1/256. Bouncing the flash also provides broader coverage, and is ideal when you need to light a group of people, but being able to anticipate the visual results requires a lot of practice, so keep that in mind when working with an external flash unit for the first time.
If you have more doubts about flash lighting, we recommend this brief post by the Sony folks themselves in which they explain a lot of interesting stuff that any entry-level photographer should know, even if not interested in shooting with flashes on a regular basis. One never knows when this information might come in handy someday. Said that, we do consider that the HVL-F28RM is a must, especially after investing in the conveniently compact ɑ7C camera with the FE 28-60mm ƒ/4.0~5.6 zoom lens.