This may seem a bit late for a first impressions type of review on this product as it’s been around for nearly two and a half years, but I only got my hands on one just a week ago. I’ve always had brand named flashguns to match the camera’s that I’ve had, but the one thing I’ve never had is the actual high end flashes that proclaim to be so much better/powerful that they can charge double the price for them over a middle of the road flash with a guide number of say 42 and as this claims to be a “Professional” flashgun, because it says so on the back, I thought I’d write about it.
As soon as I took the Nissin Di866 MKII out of its box I thought it felt well built and looks like a solid piece of kit that should stand up to some hefty use over the next few years, just as long as the internals are just as resilient and don’t let it down, so the actual first impressions were good. Hidden away in the top swivel and tilt head, just above the flash, is the wide angle adapter and inbuilt flash bounce card, something of which I have never had or used before. I’m always looking to bounce my flash off of the ceiling to give my images a natural feel and to get rid of unsightly shadows, so it will be interesting to see exactly how the bounce card affects what I do, and whether it will become part of my approach.
Another handy feature is the sub flash which sits beneath the main flash, on the actual body below the tilt and swivel head. This remains looking forward all the time no matter whether you have the camera in landscape or portrait orientation, whereas the flash bounce card can’t be used if you have the camera in portrait orientation with the flash head swivelled to bounce the main flash off of the ceiling. The thing I particularly like about the sub flash is that you can adjust the power of it. I believe that it may be the case that how much adjustment you can make is dependent on whether you have the Nikon, Canon, Sony….etc etc compatible flashgun but the one I have goes right down to 1/128th. It provides brilliant fill flash without being powerful enough to overly influence the image. It’ll just fill the little areas of shadow around the eye sockets, or under chins, where the bounced flash has failed to light if your subject is a little closer than you’d like.
The mount plate footing is metal and looks well made, and when slotting it in on top of the camera the connection is very firm. In fact there is cause to say it’s a little too snug as it takes a bit of a wiggle to get it off again afterwards. One slight negative is that the lock ring is made of plastic, and although it is reasonably chunky you’d probably think twice about tightening it to far just in case over time the plastic become weakened, but having said that, like I say above, the fitment between the flash and the camera is already quite tight so there’s almost no need for the lock ring.
In use, so far I have found no problems, although I have had one very odd experience and I’ll come to that in a minute, but from the shooting side of things its all been good and worked as it should do both on the camera and off the camera via a wireless set up. It’s great to have an easy to navigate, but almost gimmicky, digital display on the back of the flash. Comparing the screen against the kind of screens we are used to on the back of our cameras and on our phones and tablets is a tad unfair though because we only need to see what is going on and to change settings, not view anything in high detail, so all in all it does the job, it just doesn’t look spectacular.
It has been noted elsewhere that via TTL it has a tendency to underexpose by no more than a stop and that seems to be true of mine also. Its a problem that is so consistent that simply dialling in +0.7 flash compensation solves it, but why should you have to work by already having to add 2/3rds of a stop before adjusting the compensation any further to meet your requirements for the perfect exposure of the shot that lies before you. Here in lies another handy feature in the main settings menu, it’s called My TTL. It’s basically a way for you to calibrate your flashgun. If you know it consistently needs to be dialled up by 0.7 then do it in My TTL. Then when you head back to the TTL settings you can now bring the flash comp back down to 0.0 and you can work as normal using the flash comp where you need. One thing that comes to mind is that if this is a common problem why do Nissin not just solve it with a firmware update, because if I can solve it via the My TTL telling the software in the flash to tell the hardware to put out more (or less) light then so can a firmware update. It also begs the questions why they put My TTL in the settings. Was it a stroke of genius that not everyone’s idea of what the perfect base setting for a flashgun is, or were they being lazy in there approach to getting things right and that if it happened to be off a bit well then the photographer can just adjust it themselves and be done with it, either way it matters not because mine is now set correctly and seemingly works perfectly.
Or does it?
The other day I went to a christening where my friends children were being christened, so I took my camera along and the Nissin as it was a great chance to use it properly, and it worked very well, until I went to take a further shot some 5 minutes since I took the last. Looking through the viewfinder I could see which focus point was selected, which was blacked out, but nothing else, just as normal when the camera goes to sleep. So I hit the shutter halfway to bring it all back to life and nothing happened. So I tried again and again, and hit some other buttons as well. It was apparent my camera was no longer asleep but in a coma. On checking the rear of the flashgun it to was not in a full working mode either. There was life there on the digital screen but it wasn’t lit up and didn’t respond to settings changes. Now I don’t have my camera set to actually switch itself off in any manner just merely have the view finder details switch off after 10 seconds of inactivity and the same with the rear screen. The flashgun does have an Auto Off which can be set to 10, 15, 30, 45 or 60 minutes, of which my gun was set to 10 minutes but there was no way I’d been 10 minutes since the last shot. I’ve since set this to Off just in case it was this feature getting twitchy and that it affected the camera and put that to sleep to, somehow.
My solution at the time was a simple one, but not one I’d want to have to continue to do should it be a common thing, and that’s to just turn off the camera and then switch it back on, and the same with the flash. Now I know the 1st version of this flashgun did suffer a sleep mode problem, the actual details of which I don’t know but what I am aware of is that a firmware update solved it, and my flashgun, although being the MKII, has the latest available firmware. I have put the flashgun/camera through a sequence of tests where I tried in vain to recreate the problem but it has never happened again, which in many ways is no bad thing and hopefully it was a complete one off.
So, am I happy, oh yeah. Why? because it works, and works well and because it comes in brand new under £200 as opposed to £350+ for the Nikon, Canon, Sony etc etc branded top of the range versions.
It’d be great to hear from anyone who has one of these, or has any thoughts on going 3rd party for equipment such as this, or indeed anyone who has a clue about what happened to my camera and flashgun with the sleep/coma issue, so feel free to leave your comments below.
Catch you all again soon