Macro Flash Reviews

by Johan J Ingles-Le Nobel
Last updated August 31, 2017

FacebookGoogle+Mail

Whilst most flash reviews don't review extreme macro flash requirements, my flash reviews only look at these flashes from the perspective of extreme macro - studio photography and field photography.

As I use Pentax cameras myself, the reviews will obviously have a Pentax system slant about them. Nevertheless, there are points in the reviews that you might like to consider if you're looking to purchase a flash for extreme macro, even for any other system. We all want the same things when it boils down to it.

Pentax Ringflash

A recent addition to this set of reviews, the Pentax macro ringflash rocks the socks off any other flash unit for extreme macro - it can even do PTTL well with two attached Raynoxes on a 50-200 consumer zoom. But the problem with it is that it's very very expensive. Given its expensive price, most people will consider the alternative offerings from Metz and Vivitar, the Metz Mecablitz 15 MS-1 digital or the Vivitar 5000AF macro ring flash. Both of these are a fraction of the cost of the Pentax unit and are praised by their purchasers, but this maybe because they don't know what they're missing with the Pentax unit.

The use of ringflashes in macro was invented for medical photography back in the 60s. Back in the day a ringflash was perfectly circular so they gained a bad reputation in macro circles because the light is so flat and even. Unfortunately a lot of macro photographers still believe this to be the case today, but this is outdated information. Good ringflashes nowadays allow the user to vary the power between two two semi circular tubes, so the previous problem of dull uniform lighting is no longer actually a problem.

Large is not Better!

Flash and camera brands love for us to buy huge flashes loaded with features costing a lot of money, but for macro, large flashes are really not better. Smaller flashes that we can place closer to the thing to be photographed actually give a much nicer reflection and light rather than a small big power flash placed some distance away. Smaller flashes are also lighter, and if they carry 4 batteries, will recharge very quickly, much quicker than the large unit. And they're cheaper.

The Perfect Extreme Macro Flash

a simple, dependable and consistent manual mode, with a decent range of adjustable settings that can be shot with rear curtain sync makes us perfectly happy

Extreme macro photography really doesn't ask that much of its flashes. The TTL modes don't work all that well for extreme macro, so a simple, dependable and consistent manual power mode, with a decent range of adjustable settings that can be shot with rear curtain sync makes us perfectly happy, both for extreme macro studio use and extreme macro in the field. Put that in a nice lightweight flash that recharges quickly, has a vaguely decent interface, doesn't cost the earth, doesn't break easily and works in ways that are photographer-friendly and we're happy. Unfortunately, these are all too hard to find.

Pentax Flashes for Extreme Macro

Pentax flashes actually have less functionality than 3rd party Pentax-compatible flashes, cost-wise they're not cheap and they're not the sturdiest flashes around

Pentax produces two conventional flash guns; The mid-range Pentax AF360FGZ and the top of the range Pentax AF540FGZ. Pentax also has one ringflash, the Pentax AF160FC. Although the Pentax AF160FC ringflash might be the obvious choice for macro and extreme macro, the cost of this model is so stupidly steep (£500+) that it doesn't cost much less than a camera body. So I have not bothered with it; for what it is it's simply not worth the money as there are 3rd party ringflashes available at a fraction of the cost. In terms of what I do use though, the mid-range Pentax AF360FGZ and the top of the range Pentax AF540FGZ are not bad flashes per se, but for extreme macro use they're inadequate.

The Pentax flash system is one of the more irritating aspects using the whole Pentax system for extreme macro. Pentax still using exactly the same flashes as 10 years ago is just not a good advert for progressive Pentax technology. Pentax flashes actually have less functionality than 3rd party Pentax-compatible flashes, cost-wise they're not cheap and they're not the sturdiest flashes around. Bottom line, flash innovation is not top of Pentax' list - to the extent that when mailed about functionality changing between the Pentax K-7 and Pentax K-5, Pentax itself was not even aware of certain functionality. Sigh.

Also, sadly, unlike Canon or Nikon, Pentax does not produce a nice twin flash extreme macro flash unit such as the Canon MT-24EX Macro Twin Lite Ringlite Flash or the Nikon R1C1 Wireless closeup Speedlight flash system with Commander SU-800 (Macro Kit A). The Pentax AF160FC tries to be this but this is a ringflash rather than twin adjustable flashes and this omission in the Pentax flash lineup is regrettable.

Metz Flashes for Extreme Macro

the Metz 58 AF-2 flashgun has proven its worth a dozen times over

Having initially purchased a Pentax AF360FGZ only to find out that this has a timeout that can't be switched off, then bought a Pentax AF540FGZ only to find out that this can't do rear sync with manual, I eventually purchased the then top of the range Metz 58 AF-2 only to find out that Pentax mysteriously disabled certain functionality that only the Metz 58 AF-2 can do, somewhere between the Pentax K-7 DSLR and the successor Pentax K-5 DSLR.

On the Pentax K-7 though, the Metz 58 AF-2 flashgun shines, and is the flashgun of choice used in all my extreme macro work. The Metz 58 AF-2 was at the time Metz' top flashgun model and isn't the cheapest, but the Metz 58 AF-2 flashgun has proven its worth a dozen times over.

Comments (1)

Article: Flash Reviews
Jacek says...
Pls check with Sigma EM-140DG PA-PTTL Macro Flash, quite a nice unit dedicated for Pentax. (+) Has Rear-Curtain syncro and HSS (Sigma calls it FP), and may work with wireless P-TTL. (-) Sigma is not a ringflash, there are two tiny flash units left & rigt side (or top & bottom if you wish so). Actually I try to use it as a small portrait flash (flash correction - 2 steps) to highlight shadows detalis.
1st February 2015 11:40am
Page 1 of 1