Enter the accessory shoe-mount flash, or simply shoe-mount. This flash slides into the camera’s hot shoe (“hot” meaning there’s a singular electrical contact point whereby releasing the shutter triggers the flash).
Making things even simpler, on practically every camera today that accepts an external flash, that hot shoe features a camera brand-specific array of “dedicated” contact points that allow the camera and flash to communicate with each other. This dedicated hot shoe gives any flash unit amazing capabilities centering on the ability to effortlessly deliver usable exposures tailored to the subject and surrounding conditions automatically, with little or no user input, aside from switching on the camera and flash and selecting TTL mode on the flash.
What this does is, when using any camera autoexposure (AE) mode, it directs microprocessors in both the camera and flash to talk to each other to determine a proper exposure for a given subject and situation. And all by reading light through the camera lens (TTL), much the way normal ambient-light exposures are made—and the way the built-in flash works. This is what allows camera and flash to deliver balanced fill-flash so that backlit faces are not lost to the murky depths of shadowland.
TTL flash is also usable when the camera is set to Manual mode, but here you have to set both the lens aperture (f-stop) and shutter speed. With shutter-priority autoexposure mode, you need to set a flash sync speed or slower so that the flash is triggered at the right moment. If you use aperture-priority AE mode, the camera should set a suitable flash sync speed, and in program AE mode, the camera also sets the required f-stop as well.
TTL flash, in any camera mode, does away with having to manually calculate flash exposure when: the flash is bounced, filters and/or lens extension is employed, and the flash is used off-camera—it’s all calculated automatically.
Of course, there is one piddling little problem with a shoe-mount. Most are big clunkers, whereas the small ones can’t really do much. So a flash worth carrying is often a pain to carry around and it weighs the camera down when mounted.
Well, that picture has changed with the new Nissin i40. This is the one shoe-mount flash you’ll want to carry with you all the time. Unlike its more robust siblings, the Di866 Mark II and MG8000 Extreme, the i40 is not a bells-and-whistles kind of flash. There’s no fancy display. It’s understated in size and appearance, yet packs a punch where it counts. You might say it’s flashy without being obvious. And it’s small. Really small.
Just Dial It In
In contrast to some of the more high-tech flashes, with their fancy and sometimes colorful LCD panels, the i40 simply relies on two mechanical dials and accompanying indicator lights to set modes and output. Unfortunately, for those of us who need reading glasses, using the mode (“function”) dial unaided can be a chore and, for anyone, reading even the larger output (“power”) dial under low light levels is not an easy task. A flashlight would be handy (or your cell phone).
The main mode is TTL. When TTL is selected, a white indicator light glows next to TTL and a corresponding white indicator light glows alongside the power dial setting, where you adjust output upwards or downwards, up to +/- 2 steps.
Whereas detents on the mode dial are positive enough to lock in the mode without fear of moving the setting, the same can’t be said of the output dial. I’ve noted the setting inadvertently changed by apparently a slip of a finger. So that’s something to keep an eye on.
There’s also an Auto setting, but this deactivates the power dial, so, for me, this setting is meaningless. However, you might feel more comfy with it if you don’t fully understand when and by how much to override the flash exposure. (Tip: use plus settings for more fill light or when encountering overly reflective subjects; minus settings for the opposite effect.)
Manual mode is something you’ll rarely use, so one wonders why Nissin bothered with it on this flash. Select this mode and the power dial selections switch to the left side. You can choose full (“1/1”) to 1/256th power output. The reason to choose Manual is where you don’t want the camera controlling output. Specifically, unlike TTL flash, where output can vary from one exposure to the next just by the inclusion of an object passing through the frame or by reframing, Manual output is constant. You have tighter control over a sequence of exposures. If you hadn’t guessed, Manual mode requires a more studied approach.
Manual mode is also the only mode that supports manual zooming. In contrast to the majority of TTL flash units, which offer manual zoom overrides in practically any mode, that’s not the case here. Disappointing that Nissin chose to take this route, but it’s not a major flaw.
One little extra you’ll find on this flash is a built-in video light. Consisting of two white LEDs, light output can be increased or decreased with the power dial. Frankly, this light is not strong enough to be of practical value, but it does make a great flashlight. Since it’s a mode and not a separate function, it can’t be used to help with focusing in flash photography.
Tilt & Swivel
The i40 has both tilt and swivel functionality, although it does lack a couple of things. For one, there’s no negative (macro) tilt to lower the flash head for close-ups, but this is not a feature ordinarily found on compact shoe-mounts. Also lacking is a locking mechanism that prevents head movement when the head is fully raised. That means that attaching accessory flash panels such as the weighty Rogue FlashBender is an iffy proposition because the flash head might plop down under the weight.
In fact, the detent positions are not all that secure—they’re fine to work with, but can easily be knocked out of position if the head brushes up against something. Not a major concern, but something you should watch for when running around. That being said, raising and rotating the head is made that much simpler because there is no lock-releasing mechanism to deal with.
In wireless operation, the flash can be used remotely, that is, off camera, without any sync cords connecting flash to camera. A triggering pulse (the “Master”) triggers the remote flash (the “Slave”). That triggering pulse can come from a camera’s built-in flash (where that function is provided—it’s not available with all cameras or all camera models), or from another flash (again provided this function is built in) or triggering device seated in the camera’s hot shoe. There are different kinds of wireless technologies. This describes a simple scenario, and when all connections and devices support TTL auto flash operation, it’s known as “TTL wireless” or “wireless TTL.”
The mode dial features several wireless settings. The i40 supports TTL wireless flash when the mode dial is set to A, B, or C. These represent Groups, which must correspond to the Group setting on the Master/transmitting pulse. In theory, any number of flash units can be assigned to any Group.
TTL wireless operation on the i40 is omni-Channel. That is, there is no Channel selection required and the flash responds to pulses from any Channel on the Master/triggering unit. Normally, you’d select a Channel for the Master/triggering flash and that same Channel on the Slave/Remote flash to avoid other flashes from triggering yours if they’re on the same frequency (Channel). That is only likely to happen when you’re among a crowd of photographers, and only if they’re using compatible flash units specifically set to trigger remote strobes. Which is rare, so it’s not a real concern.
Nissin offers two additional wireless modes. In contrast to the TTL A/B/C settings at one end of the Mode dial (where output is controlled by the Master device, whether that be the Master flash or the camera, in the case of the Nikon D610/D300 that I was using), the SF and SD modes let you select output by way of the Power dial.
Unfortunately, you need to access the e-manual to find out how to use these modes. And, frankly, as often as I’ve written about it, I don’t entirely get the SD mode. Normally, any wireless flash (other than Nissin) that I’ve worked with made jumping through such hoops unnecessary—it was all controlled by the microprocessor.
That said, SF wireless mode is a nice touch. SF allows the flash to be triggered by any flash pulse, so the i40 can be used as a kicker or fill light when used together with a conventional studio strobe. Otherwise, you’d need an optical Slave connected to the flash, which in this case would not be possible, since there are no input terminals on the flash.
Keep in mind that wireless operation with the i40 and compatible triggers requires a direct line of sight. Also, outdoors bright or glinting light can interfere with the signal. And distance between trigger and remote flash should be kept short. Indoors you have more leeway, but don’t place the flash in a different room or otherwise block the sensor from receiving the triggering pulse. The signal will bounce off walls and furniture, but it won’t go through them.
I loaded up the i40 with four freshly charged Ansmann 2850 mAh NiMH batteries and hit Chicago’s Michigan Avenue and surroundings. The flash was seated in the hot shoe of my Nikon D610, with Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC lens attached.
When I work with my Nikon flashes, I typically attach the included diffusion dome (dome diffuser). It may reduce overall output and reach, but the dome softens the light, making on-camera flash less harsh, and produces a more uniform light spread. And often I’ll use the dome in conjunction with bounce flash. Yes, outdoors there’s nowhere to bounce light off of, but the flash in this instance either provides a kicker or fill for a candid portrait or, again, creates a less harsh light when shooting close-ups. So, I employed the diffusion dome that came with the i40, with the head in bounce mode, where warranted.
I must admit. This tiny flash surprised me, very nicely, I might add. Okay, it’s not perfect. Light distribution on the raw head (sans diffusion), when used with a Nikon D300 and 60mm Micro lens (sans lens shade), was uneven. It was visibly weighted toward the upper half of the frame (horizontal format), with some vignetting occurring in the bottom corners.
I brought the i40 indoors for a simple studio still life, to test wireless flash. I set up a resin figure inside a rectangular light tent with both my new Nikon SB-700 and the Nissin i40 providing all the light, triggered by the D610’s built-in flash serving as Commander (Master/triggering pulse). I set up output for each flash on the D610’s menu, with the camera in Manual mode and each flash in TTL mode. I often prefer Manual mode on the camera for tighter control, whereas TTL mode on the flash allows camera and flash to talk to each other and deliver the best exposures without worrying about light lost with diffusion and bouncing and flash-to-subject distance. Of course, things aren’t really that simple in the real world. You do have to play around with settings to arrive at the right combination for the two flashes, as well as positioning each relative to the subject. A practiced hand can do this in minutes. Give yourself time if you’re new to wireless photography. And if you don’t have a second flash, no worries. Use a bounce card instead. There are always workarounds.
You really can’t go wrong with this flash, especially for travel. Although it doesn’t automatically adjust beam spread for sensor size, the Nissin i40 worked flawlessly with my Nikon D610 and D300. In wireless TTL mode, I had no problem triggering the flash with the pop-up strobe on either camera in the corresponding Group (A/B/C) setting.
One small thing that concerned me: the lack of a low-battery indicator. The flash does enter standby mode (on/off indicator—aka test flash button—blinks) after a short spell. However, it doesn’t respond directly to the camera’s on/off/standby status, unlike Nikon’s dedicated strobes. But it’s easy enough to press the microswitch on the flash and turn it off when it’s not needed. Besides, after 60 minutes of sitting idle, the flash shuts itself off.
Very user-friendly; tiny size; lightweight; appears to be ruggedly built—certainly feels that way; wireless functionality (remote only); durable metal foot; included dome diffuser proved very handy in a variety of situations.
Difficult to remove flash from camera hot shoe (not for arthritic hands); flash head does not lock in position; output dial can too easily be moved to another setting; mode dial is difficult to read (both dials are difficult to read in very low light); requires the e-manual for a fuller explanation of how to use the flash.
Canon, Nikon, Sony DSLR systems; 4/3 & Fujifilm mirrorless (Canon E-TTL II/ E-TTL, Nikon iTTL, Sony PTTL, 4/3 TTL, Fujifilm TTL).
Where can I get more info?
P.O. Box 123 Meriden, NH 03770
TEL: 866-469-3080 / 603-287-4840 / FAX: 603-287-4834
How much is it?
$269. At B&H and Adorama.
What’s in the box?
Nissin i40 flash, mini stand, dome diffuser, quick guide instruction sheet, padded soft case.
Does It Reach pixelPERFEXION? (100 pixels is best):
Nissin i40: 90 pixels—eminently practical for travel and everyday use, and a great kicker/fill light for the home studio. Leave the padded case at home and you won’t even know the flash is in your jacket or vest pocket.
For complete specs, visit: http://www.nissindigital.com/i40_spec.html
Guide Number (GN) @IS) 100/ft: 89 (at 35mm zoom position)
Auto zoom range: 24 – 105mm
Interface: 2 dials (modes & power output); on/off button
Special features: video light; spring-loaded release
Power: 4 x AA
Recycling: 0.1 – 4 sec
Color temp: 5600K
Size: 3.35” (H) x 2.4” (W) x 3.35” (D)/85 x 61 x 85mm
Weight: 7.16oz (w/o batteries)/203g
Design and specifications subject to change without prior notice.