Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Amazon Basics DSLR Flash Review - Is It a $27.99 Wonder or Dud?

Image © Amazon.com

Sometimes you just need to see if a deal that is too good to be true is really bad or if you find that diamond in the rough.  Here is another one of those, the Amazon Basics DSLR Flash.

I originally saw this on a news post advertised for $25 a few months ago.   I got around to thinking about picking one up to just see....and they were sold out.  A few days ago, I got a notification that they were back in stock.

I snagged 2.

So lets get into it!

Initial Impression

They arrived in a plain brown box with an Amazon Basics sticker sealing the box. Words in different languages reads "Electronic Flash for DSLR Cameras".

Opening the box, you get a manual with instructions in 8 languages, the flash unit itself, a ripstop-like pouch for the flash and a little hot shoe stand. Everything wrapped up in anti-static type plastic wrapping.

Image © Amazon.com

The flashes are big. A few millimeters taller and wider than a Nikon SB-26. My SB-28 and SB-600 are much smaller in comparison.

<pics of flash units lined up together>

It takes 4 AA batteries. I initially tested with Eneloop Pros the flash fired up almost instantly and just popped away, even at 1:1. Manual claims that it could take up to 3 seconds to recharge after a full power pop.  I did not notice this.  Recycle time seemed almost instant.  Another thing I noticed is the sound.   There was no capacitor charging "whine" that I'm used to hearing from other flashes.  Just a few very quiet clicks and that was it.

Guide number is listed as 33 @ ISO 100 at 1M. Power is rated from 1:1 through 1:128 in 1 stop increments.

The flash has a power port for external power, the standard one with 3 metal pins. It also has a PC sync port for off camera triggers. 

Image © Amazon.com
On the back part of the fresnel is a built in wide angle diffuser and a white bounce card.

It states in the manual that the flash will sleep after 5 minutes of inactivity, but can be woke by pressing the test button or by turning on the camera. I will have to test if this will power on by half pressing the camera or by waking the remote flash trigger.

A bit of a shocker, but the hot shoe is metal. I was expecting plastic. While we are on the subject of plastic...this is one of the small let downs of the unit. The plastic seems flimsy, but not sure if that is because of the quality of the plastic or if it is just not supported well with an internal frame of some kind.

Image © Amazon.com

All the buttons have a positive press and are labeled well.

Image © Amazon.com

There are 3 modes. Manual (M), Slave 1 (S1) and Slave 2 (S2).
Manual is what you expect it to be. You trigger the flash and it goes off. 

The slave modes are the interesting part. S1 is a built in optical slave. It fires as soon as it sees another flash fire off.

S2 claims to understand TTL signals and in theory ignores the TTL preflashes and only fires at the "correct" time. I did a quick test with my Ricoh GR II in TTL flash mode and it appeared to do as advertised. I will need to test this a bit more to see if it really does work.

The head does swivel and tilt, however, there is no lock. If you have a heavy mod on the flash, it will not be able to lock into an angled position or stay straight up and down while the whole unit is angled.

Image © Amazon.com

I tested the optical slave as well as remote triggers. Radio triggers of choice were the Radio Popper JrX. Flash fired every time with no failures, probably did 20 low power pops and 10 full power pops.

Full Test

We are going to run these through a full photo shoot.  I have a a few events coming up where people get portraits done.   Those sessions normally run between 100-300 shots depending on the number of attendees.

This will be a great initial stress test.

These test were done using the AmazonBasics Flash as a hair light.

Light quality

Light quality is generally more about the modifier than the light itself.  The important thing for the light is color temperature consistency a well as power output being consistent from pop to pop.

From what I can tell the consistency in both color temp and power is the true.

Here, we can see what the light looks like when the Amazon flashes are used as the primary or key light and secondary light.  The same umbrella boxes used in the three portraits above were used in this series below.  The flashes had no problem filling the softboxes fully with light.

Shooting info for those interested:
Nikon D700 and Nikon 50mm f/1.8D
Amazon Flash at 1/4 power (2 flashes)
1/250, f/5.6, ISO 320

Over the course of an hour and a half, I took over 100 images.  The lights were set at 1/4 power.  They never missed a beat and worked as expected.

I did get a chance to test the flashes in sleep mode.  Half press of the camera does not send a signal through the remote triggers, so that did not wake the flashes.  What does, though is getting a signal from the transmitter.  So, when the flashes went into stand-by mode (the power light flashes and all the other indicator lights go off) I just tapped the test button on the transmitter to wake them up.  Easy as can be!

I know this is but one test, however, this one test was a very successful one.  I plan on continuing to test the flashes out on more jobs here in the next few weeks.  If they work as well as they did here, I'll continue to highly recommend them.