TTL Flash vs. Manual Flash — Two Choices for Sony Mirrorless Photographers
Never before have there been so many choices for manual and TTL flashes that work with such a variety of cameras. Third party companies such as Yongnuo, Neewer, Cheetah, Phottix and more have dotted the photo marketplace and are giving the name brand manufacturers a veritable run for their money when it comes to available flash units.
In the past you virtually had a couple of choices — your Nikon, Canon, etc. branded flash or perhaps something like a Vivitar 283 or 285.
Not only are there a myriad of choices there are also a load of accessories that make using small portable flashes almost as useful as using bigger, more powerful studio flash units.
In this blog post I will cover two brands of flash units for Sony mirrorless camera users.
TTL Flash – The Phottix Mitros +
In the TTL realm, Phottix has introduced the Mitros+ flash. It is the first flash for Sony (name brand or otherwise) that offers full wireless radio transceiver capabilities. This is big for users that prefer TTL as I do for events.
The Phottix is relatively large and powerful — about the same power as the Canon 580 EXII — it has a guide number of 58 with 100 ISO. Slightly smaller and slightly less powerful than Canon’s new flagship (and probably the standard bearer in the TTL flash space — the 600 EX-RT). It is just a little bit top heavy on the smaller form factor of the Sony a7 line of cameras, yet still workable.
It has a conventional swivel and bounce head, much like a Canon or Nikon branded flash.
The key thing though is the radio control from the flash. If you simply must have full radio control from your on camera flash, currently this is the only option available for Sony mirrorless users. It also has High Speed Synch in TTL and Manual modes.
(I plan on a longer review of this particular unit in the near future). Sony makes a very good line of TTL flashes though they do not feature radio control (a more detailed review on the Sony top two coming up soon as well).
The only downside that I have found is that the price is a bit high — $399, though not as high as the cost of the Canon 600 EX-RT which is selling for $499 at the time of this writing.
The Phottix Mitros + I have for the Sony is the one with the Minolta foot and thus requires a special add-on adaptor (ADPMAA) to work on the current Sony a7 hotshoe (called the ISO foot). Phottix is manufacturing a model with that ISO foot but I have not used it. (As I write this article I’m finding a lot of backorders on the Sony strobes by Phottix. Amazon, normally a great resource has no new, just used, and B & H and Adorama are showing that the Sony Mitros + is on backorder. I have contacted Phottix re: the issue and will report my findings).
How I Configure my Sony camera when using the Phottix Mitros + flash
Working with this flash with mirrorless is slightly different than I used to work with flash in the hotshoe with my previous Canon cameras. It took me a bit of time to come up with an effective way to work. Now that I have, I have to say that I enjoy working with these cameras with flash more than I did with DSLRs!
Here is the way I currently configure my camera when using flash in the hotshoe:
1. Use Manual Exposure settings control
2. Auto ISO (my range is 100-6400 ISO) (yes, this is a new one for me — I always used to use one ISO that I selected–indoors that would typically be 800-1600 ISO).
3. Set focus to DMF (Dynamic Manual Focus)
4. Set focus start to back button or AE_L button on Sony a6000 or the AF/MF button on the a7 (With DMF this allows me to control the AF with the thumb and then the exposure lock is handled by depressing the shutter halfway.
5. Set focus peaking to color Red and High
6. Optional: Turn focus magnifier on if you would like the camera to “zoom in” when you tweak manual focus by turning the focus barrel ring). This is really handy for those group photographs where you can make sure that the focus is exactly as you like it. It does take a bit of getting used to the rhythm of the switch between wider and tighter views but it is one of the killer reasons for using an EVF.
(ETA: Someone asked what the magnification factor is when zooming the lens. I am not certain but will check and add it).
Optional: Setting effects OFF — In a dark room such as a wedding reception, this will help keep the EVF at a consistent level, much like you might find from an optical viewfinder on a DSLR. In low light this often helps to brighten the scene.
7. Focus set to Flexible Spot Large — I have been using this lately with much success and while it takes a bit of practice to move the focus point, you pick it up quickly. This is such an improvement from my old center single focus only spot on the DSLR. I prefer this new method over the center only focus point because focus can change if you recompose and you’re working at a large aperture. I find that my sharpness % of images has improved by virtue of the ability to move the focus point over a large area of the scene.
8. Set flash exposure compensation to -1.0 to start if bouncing off a white ceiling. Use that as a starting guide for your own shooting. You’re personal taste in the density of your file might dictate a change in exposure compensation. I shoot RAW + jpeg so I have some flexibility in bringing back any slight exposure imperfections, but have found this to be a consistent and useful starting guide for using flash with the Sonys.
Please note that the infrared focus assist comes from the body and not on the flash. It is a bit brighter than I am used to but it makes the camera and flash combo work well.
Manual Flash — The Yongnuo YN560-III and YN 560-TX radio transmitter
There are are huge selections of third party manual flash units out on the market mostly on Amazon and Ebay.
Brands like Yongnuo, Neewer, Cheetah are very popular.
When I purchased my last manual flash, a little over a year ago, I opted for the Yongnuo YN-560III. This flash is currently selling for the insanely low price of $66 on Amazon!!!!
It was a tough choice because I almost went with the Neewer TT850 which is a similar strobe to the Yongnuo with the exception that it has a proprietary lithium ion battery and an add-on external receiver to enable wireless shooting.
Initially I was attracted to the idea of that battery because it was fast recycle time and didn’t require an external battery pack. BUT since it is proprietary it thus requires a separate charger (another battery). The Yongnuo uses common AA batteries which you can find in any corner gas station AND it has a built in receiver on the flash — nothing external required.
The new Yongnuo YN-560IV is a further refinement of this flash and might very well be the best choice because it is a transceiver — so that means with a flash in your hot shoe you can control the flash on board AND any external YN-560IV flashes. That is a very cool feature.
With the YN-560-III I use the YN-560-TX transmitter which allows me to use a radio frequency to fire the flash. If you own the YN-560IV flash units the transmitter would not be necessary
My Essential Tool for Manual flash
Something that I find essential when using manual flash units is something that might seem a bit “old school”. Now you don’t NEED it but I do find that it helps me make much more effective use of limited time and I’m able to dial in precise exposures because of it.
What is it?
It’s a flash meter. I happen to use the Sekonic L-758DR which is probably overkill for most folks–even me. But it does include a spot meter feature as well as measuring the light falling on the dome for flash exposure (or ambient light exposure, too!).
If you want a smaller one, or a basic flash meter, then check out the Sekonic L308s flash meter that costs around $200.
A slightly larger and with a few more features meter is the Sekonic L-358 flash meter. You can find those used on Amazon at this time.
A newer, and digital flash meter that Sekonic has is the L-478DR meter. I have not used this meter but it looks superb, as are all the Sekonic meters that I have used over the decades (dating back to the late 80s!).
You can always use the view screen on your camera to tweak manual flash exposures on the fly. After a time you will get good at gauging the exposure.
Still for fast moving events like weddings, I prefer TTL and for more quiet portrait situations I like using manual flash. Each has strengths, each has weaknesses. Your style, your experience and your comfort level will dictate which works best for you!
I hope you find this post useful. Please share it on your social sites and with your photographer friends that you think might be helped by it.