Nov. 4, 2008: At long last, the A900 is starting to wind its way into the hands of eager photographers and it looks to be every bit as sweet a camera as we hoped. Of course it is hard to miss with a 24.6mp full frame dSLR, but it appears that Sony has exceeded most people’s expectations.
There are plenty of other sites discussing the A900, and I will be offering up my 2 cents as well. Today, however, I want to talk about options for triggering a remote flash with the A900.
This post came about because, as expected, the new A900 doesn’t not have a popup flash. Not a big concern, as the top level dSLRs from other makers don’t include a popup flash either. Pros seldom, if ever use flash units located directly above the lens axis, so why design a pro-level camera with a popup that will never be used? Besides, the flash might not fit so well with the A900’s impressive looking pentaprism.
There is just one fly in the ointment. All the past Sony dSLRs, as well as the dSLRs from Minolta were equipped with a popup flash. All these cameras use the popup as a trigger for the Sony/Minolta wireless flash system. It is a good thing those cameras had the popup, because until recently, the popup was the only way to trigger the wireless flash system. Some of the older external Minolta flashes could act as trigger for other flash units in the wireless mode, but that only worked with film cameras. In the dSLR arena, the only trigger for Sony or Minolta wireless flash units was with the built in flash. Which as I already mentioned; the A900 is lacking..
Fear not, the A900 supports wireless flash, when equipped with the brand new HLV-F58-AM flash unit. The 58AM can serve as a flash trigger for any flash in the Sony Alpha system.
The HLV-F58AM lists just south of $500, and since it is brand spanking new, you will probably have to pay the full sticker if you want the privilege of using wireless flash with your new A900.
That isn’t to say the HLV-F58AM isn’t worth the price, but who wants to shell out all that cash just to use that top-of-line flash unit as a lowly flash trigger?
Consider the poor guy who already has a collection of Sony and Minolta D series flash units. To use them wirelessly, he has to buy yet another flash unit. The kicker is the F58AM specs make it hands-down the best flash available for the Sony Alpha. If you use it a s a flash trigger, however, you don”t get the benefits of all that power and multi-jointed flexibility. With the Sony wireless system, if you use the trigger to fire two or more remote flashes, the trigger fires before the exposure so that the trigger’s light doesn’t spoil the lighting setup. That”s all well and good, however, it means if you buy a HLV-F58AM to trigger multiple wireless flashes from your A900, your newest and very best flash can’t be used to light the scene. it can only be used as a trigger. Unless you are sufficiently well healed to be in a position to acquire an A900 and multiple copies of the F58AM.
Now I fully expect to hear from someone pointing out that: “If you can afford a new A900, I guess you have enough cash to add a F5AM or two.”
That isn’t how it works in real life. Sure, there will be some people who have a fat enough wallet that they can afford three A900s; one for the summer house, one for the winter house and another one to use while traveling between the two. But there are many shooters who have to scrimp and save to snare a copy of a A900, For these photographers, digging up another half-grand for a flash trigger represents somewhat of a hardship.
Of course pro photographers can shell out for any piece of equipment they need, right? In reality, pros have to watch their expenses just like anyone else. There is an old joke that “only wealthy amateurs can afford pro photography equipment.” It is simplistic statement, but there is more than a grain of truth there. Working professionals have a whole raft of stuff to spend their cash on. In addition to cameras and lenses, there are any number of things like computers, software, marketing, studio rent, lighting equipment and much more that can eat up the budget. What’s another five bills on top of that overhead? For some pros, it’s a lot.
It is possible that Sony could offer develop some optional, less-expensive way to trigger the wireless flash system, but for the moment it appears its the HLV-58AM or nothing.
Hmm… maybe there is another option. That will be the topic of my next post….