Trigger remote flahes means using one or more system flashes „off-camera“ to free yourself from the limiting frontal flash light illuminating the object and to make use of more creative light setups without studio flash lights. There is something new now for the Sony flash system I would like to write about:
Of course, trigger flashes remotely was and is possible with Sony cameras and flashes that are compatible to the Sony Remote System aka Minolta Wireless Protocol (see Nissin Di866 Professional Mark II from June 2011, german only). I don’t want to go into the technical details of the Sony Remote System because that would go beyond the scope of this article. I recommend the Minowiki-post „Drahtlose Blitzsteuerung (german only)“ for those of you who are interested. But let me say this: The Sony Remote System has many limitations and prerequisites which can only be matched by either investing some money, exasperate the photographer or can’t be solved with technical means. One of those limitations is, that the control of flash power of a remote flash requires one of the bigger and more expensive flashes to be the master flash on the camera. A smaller flash like the cheaper HVL-F20M can trigger the remote flashes but can’t server as control unit to adjust the flash power, which can only be controlled on the remote flash itself. Well, this problem can be solved by manual control of the slave by the photographer or an assistant, but what happens if the assistant is off-duty or the slave flash is 3 meters above you and can only be reached by a ladder? The Nikon system is some steps ahead and integrated the flash controls into many of their cameras and triggers the flashes through the pop-up flash.
Another challenge and somehow nerve-racking is the stability of the infrared light signal based Sony Remote System in a brighter environment. I personally made the experience many times that the slave flashes are not fired or this is not reliable. The entire situation gets unsolvable when the controlling flash signales do not reach the receiving flash, e.g. when flashing from the outside into the inside through a window.
Remote trigger systems
There are plenty of remote trigger systems on the aftermarket which use the free frequency in the 2.4 GHz band – especially for the older Minolta hot shoe there are a few flash triggers which support the use of HSS¹ (High Speed Synchronisation) like Pixel King für Sony next to the manual flash control of e.g. Pixel Soldier TF-373. The disadvantage of these systems is that controlling the amount of flash light has to be done on the flash itself. This manual control of flash light is not needed when using trigger systems supporting TTL but using TTL for unleashed flash usage never was my preferred mode which is related to the way TTL works. Last but not least there are trigger systems like the PHOTTIX ODIN™ TTL FLASH TRIGGER FOR Sony with Minolta hot shoe which offers the functionality to control the amount of flash light on the transmitter unit – the downside is that this system is not yet available for the new Sony hot shoe which has been introduced by Sony with the alpha 99, a mixture of the traditional middle-contact hot shoe with and additional contacts in the hot shoe to support video and sound accessories. The adapter ADP-MAA enables the use of accessories for the Minolta hotshoe like the transmitting unit of the Pixel Soldier TF-373 or the Pixel King für Sony, which creates a weak point around the hot shoe. Using the newer flash lights like the Sony HVL-F60M or Sony HVL-F43M requires the adapter ADP-AMA to mount the flashes on the receiver units Pixel Soldier TF-373 and Pixel King for Sony. This adaption also makes turns this mount into a weak point which tents to break, but is not as dangerous as mounting the transmitter onto the camera with the referring adapter, because will be put at danger when walking around with the camera on a belt or in hand. Some may see this positive as this adaptation turns this weak point into a predetermined breaking point causing less damage to camera and flash – an opinion I don’t really share.
Nissin Di700A + Air 1 Commander
Nissin now offers a new solution for the new Sony hot shoe which is called the Nissin Air System (NAS) – a kind of remote trigger system which is available for Nikon and Canon cameras since quite some time, either from Nikon and Canon or third party manufacturers. As of writing this article, the flash Nissin Di700A and the Air 1 Commander were sold separately or as NAS set. Nissin announced receiver units for the end of 2015 which enable the usage of system flash units integrated into the Nissin Air System.
In the Box
Nissin packs the Di700A and the Air 1 Commander in a Kit-Box, which conatins the flash in a pouch, a flash stand, the Air 1 Commander as well as a quick guide in English and Germand and a waranty card.
Positive: Nissin keeps using the battery pack which can be ordered separately. This makes a change of batteries very easy and a matter of seconds. The flashes have 3.5mm phone jack and a PC-sync – very good! The opposite side is a connector for a power pack like the Sony FA-EB1AM or an identical power pack – very commandable, that Nissin is not using a proprietary connector. I also like the release button for the hot shoe which is much better than the release screw of the adapter ADP-AMA or the Metz flashes.
Negative: There are no covers on the sophisticated flash connecters, no pouch for the Air 1 Commander and the flash pouch does not have a seperate pocket for the flash stand, which is solved a lot better with other manufacturers. Some of this is easy to solve: The protecting covers for the connectors can be ordered for a couple of Euros and a small pouch for the Air 1 Commander may be found in one of your photo boxes. One point is not really negative but is something which could have done better: Flash and Air 1 Commander are using different types of batteries. Using AA batteries for the Air 1 Commander would only have made this unit a little bigger but I would have appreciated just using one type of batteries.
Before I come to the details of bringing to service, flash grouping and controlling some words to the different modes of the Nissin Di700A:
A – Automatic flash control
In A mode, the control of the flash is performed by the camera and can’t be compensated by Air 1 Commander or the flash. The only way compensating the amount of light is via the in-camera flash compensation. This kind of flash control is not available with Sony flashes.
TTL flash control
In TTL mode a pre-flash is given by the flash and the camera measure the amount of light reflected by the object throught the lens (TTL). By this measurement the camera determines the amount of flash light needed which is transmitted by the Air 1 Commander to the flash lights. Flash compensation can be performed either on the Nissin Di700A when mounted onto the camera, via Air 1 Commander when used as a remote flash or through flash compensation in the camera setup. Keep in mind that in-camera flash compensation and flash compensation on the Air 1 Commander or on the flash have to be added in.
M – Manual flash controll
In manual flash control the amount of light can be selected in 8 steps from 1/1 (full power) down to 1/128.
SD and SF – Wireless flash triggering with and without pre-flash
These modes let the Nissin Di700A act as a master flash to control the remote flashes. D stands for Digital and F for Film, which means in SD mode a pre-flash is expected, SF is not expecting the pre-flash. This is another difference to the Sony flashes which do not over these servo-modes.
Wireless flash triggering (optically in Sony Remote System or via radio)
Using this mode the Nissin Di700A can be trigger as slave in a setup of master and slave flashes using the Sony Remote System as well as per radio through the NAS, both of which require the camera to be put in wireless-flash mode. The desired mode of the Sony Remote System is selected by the referring group: Group A = RMT-TTL, Group B = RMT2-TTL and Groupe C = RMT-M (manual). The master flash has to be configure in the same mode. The wireless servo flash mode supports HSS which can be activated by pressing the test flash button for at least three seconds until the control LED in the test flash button is starting to blink twice in short interval. The flash mode of the camera is changing from WL to WL HSS when using exposure times shorter than 1/250 of a second and can also be used with the flash head set to bounce mode.
Bringing to service
After inserting the batteries into the flashes and the Air 1 Commander all devices need to be connected. Coupling the devices is done by pushing the set button and the on/off switch for three seconds starting with the flashes and on the Air 1 Commander at the end. Coupling the devices was successful when the piep sound turns off and is saved even after switching off the devices.
When working in a team with several photographers all using remote triggering systems, radio interference is possible which can be solved by changing the transmitting channel. Push the set button on the Air 1 Commander for three seconds and chose one of the 8 channels by turning the selector wheel. Save the selection by pushing the set button again.
Assigning flashes to groups
The NAS offers three groups (A, B or C) to which flashes can be assigned. The assignment of a flash to a group is depending of the usage of the flash in the entire system. If you want to use 2 or 3 flashes in combined mode in a bigger light former it makes sense to assign the same group to these three flashes and to control theses flashes at the same time. Several flashes from different directions required the assignment of different groups to each flash to control the flashes independantly.
Group assignments are performed on the flash by choosing the wireless servo mode and confirm the selection with the set button. The group can now be selected by the selector wheel and confirmed with the set button. Using the optical wireles servo mode in the Sony Remote System via flash or through a master device like the Air 1 Commander the Di700A flashes are controlled through all channels of a selected group:
- A = RMT-TTL
- B = RMT2-TTL
- C = RMT-M
Flashes in one group are controlled simultaneously independant of the selected mode (TTL or M). Flashes in different groups can be controlled seperately within the group or simultaneously by selecting two or all groups:
Keep in mind!
One of the major differences between the NAS and any other radio trigger system I worked with up to now is, that the camera cannot be set into fill-light flash mode and has to be set into wireless flash mode, which is a clear indicator for the fact, that the Air 1 Commander is acting like a master flash of the Sony Remote System and is simply a translator of the infrared flashes into radio signals:
The following setup was chosen to emulate a practical approach – simply repace the symbol of the sitting model with the arm chair:
The following four pictures show the difference between using the flashes with and without softboxes or light formers, hence the difference between directed and diffused light. The Nissin flashes can be used in both ways depending on which way you prefer.
The light formers or softboxes were mounted using these system flash to Bowens adapters:
Nissin Di700A as on-camera flash
Apart from using the Nissin Di700A as remote flashes in the Nissin Air System they can of course be used as on-camera system flashes. I think it is very important how the flash lights cover the area in front of the camera and to do a comparison I used my full-frame camera Sony A7 with both the Sony HVL-F60M and the Nissin Di700A and the later one additionally on the Sony A6000, both cameras with different focal lengths:
24 mm on A7 and 16 mm on A6000
50 mm on A7 and 35 mm on A6000
70 mm on A7 and 50 mm on A6000
The flash head can be tilted and turned when the release button on the side is pressed. Unlike on other flashes like the Sony HVL-F60M this is not deactivating the HSS-function.
In my opinion the Nissin Di700A in combination with an Air 1 Commander and a second Di700A is the ideal starter set for a strobist, simply because the set can be bought for 219 Euro and the additional flash for 165 Euro which sums up to a total of cheap 384 Euro. The system can be extended by further Di700A up to 24 flashes assigned to 3 groups (8 flashes per group) if needed. By the end of 2015 there will be receiver units available to integrated systems flashes like the HVL-F60M or Metz flashes into the Nissin Air System. Once the devices are connected setup and control of the devices by mode-, set-button and control wheel is quickly learned. Sure, some of the functions could have been made available with an extra button, like the activation of HSS – pushing the test flash button for 3 seconds is not really intuitive, but once done, HSS keeps active even after switching the flash off and back on and therefore needs to be done only once.
The results without and with lightformers and softboxes are good. The illumination and light coverage is good and can be controlled easily by varying the flash power and the zoom setting of the flash head. The usage of softboxes and lightformers of course depends on set, style and taste.
I can’t really completely recommend the Nissin Di700A as a on-camera system flash. The illumination of the frame is not as harmonic on a full-frame camera like the A7 as with the HVL-F60M. This is better above 16mm when mounted on the A6000 which has an APS-C sensor and is surely related to the fact that the flash is not considering the crop-factor when calculating the focal length for setting of the reflector in the flash head. Therefore the zoom reflector is set to 35mm when an APS-C lens is set to 35mm which is a 52mm full-frame equivalent.
¹ HSS (High Speed Synchronisation) allows the use of a flash at shutter speed below flash sync times of the used camera (between 1/160 and 1/250 of a seconde), like e.g. a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second. The duration of the flash is extended to illuminate the frame during the whole time of shutter activity.