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There are many important things a professional photographer must get right when doing a photo shoot but none are more important that getting the lighting right.
This is also the case for anyone wanting to get the best from their own photography, light is everything. Many people assume that if they have the best DSLR camera or even a very good DSLR camera then they will instantly be taking top notch photos but this is simply not the case.
No matter how good the camera or the photographer using it, if the light is poor then you will get poor images. On camera flashes or built in flashes as they are commonly known offer a solution to low light situations but in truth they are as good as useless, the reason for this is that the straight on light that they offer is harsh, it takes colour out the skin and casts really dark shadows which offers very poor final images.
If you own a DSLR camera then you can turn to flashes like this Sony HVL F42AM, flashes like this fit on to the cameras hot shoe which is found above the pop up built in flash. The Sony HVL F42AM is dedicated to the Sony alpha range of DSLR`s but every DSLR has its own option of flash unit that can be used and there are increasingly more third party flash units which can be used universally.
The design of this Sony flash is very modern unlike some of the older flashes from just a few years ago which were unsightly and very heavy. Although this flash offers a lot of options and adjustments to fine tune it to work exactly the way you want it to, they are kept simple with a very clear layout.
On the back of the flash you will find a mode button, a zoom button, a level button a test button, an HSS button and the on/off switch as well as a very clear screen so you can see exactly what you are setting as well as your battery power.
The mode button allows you to set up the flash to work auto, wireless and set which channels to work on if you are shooting with radio triggers, the zoom button allows you to set your focal length (105, 70, 50, 35, 28, 24, wide (up to 16) or Auto), the level button allows you to set the power of the flash if full power is too strong (1/1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32 and Auto), the HSS button allows you control shutter sync times, the test button simply allows you to fire the flash without taking a photo to make sure everything is ok and the on/off button surprisingly enough allows you to switch the flash on or off!!
If all that above sounds far too complicated then fear not, the great thing about this Sony flash is when it is used on the Sony alpha range of DSLR`s (A100, A200, A300, A350, A700 or A900) it operates on a system called TTL which stands for through the lens and what that means is that the flash follows exactly what the camera is doing through the lens and will set all the setting automatically to suit, so although you can be very adventurous with your lighting you can also let the flash choose if you prefer.
Now the simple fact of the matter is that as with the built in flash on the camera, if you point this flash straight at someone at full power then you will get a horrible outcome. This is where the Sony HVL F42AM comes into its own though.
This flash unit can tilt up which allows you to bounce the flash off the ceiling and back onto your subject and it also turns both left and right allowing you to bounce off walls if the ceiling is too high. Bouncing light in this way causes it to become what we pro`s call diffused light, meaning it is no longer bright harsh white light and it doesn't cause dark shadows either because it is being spread around so much.
There are other options when using this flash unit also, if there are no suitable white ceilings or walls to bounce the light off, then you can turn the power down and you will get much better results. You can also buy different types of diffusers which fit onto the flash and help diffuse the light instead of having to bounce it and the other great thing with this flash is you can take it off the camera all together and place it at different angles depending on which type of effect you are going for and fire it using sync cables, wireless triggers or even wirelessly using the wireless setting on both the flash and the camera.
This flash is even powerful enough to be mounted on a light stand and used with bounce or shoot through umbrellas like a pro would do with proper studio lights, so you can have a studio light and a on camera flash gun without the huge cost of buying both. If you only shoot from a home studio like a lot of amateurs do or perhaps a custom built garage studio, then a couple of these flash guns could be all you will ever need to do great portrait or product photography.
The other huge benefit from using this flash as opposed to the built in flash is the recycle time, with the built in flash you are constantly waiting for it to recharge before you can shoot again but with this unit the recharge time is almost instant and you can even shot continuously at up to 5 frames per second for 40 shots without having to wait for the flash to become ready.
I have used this flash on both my A350 and my brand new A900 and must say I am very pleased with the outcomes. I do have much more powerful flashes but they are heavy and not always needed so this flash offers me great results without having to bring out the big boys!
At a cost of around £180 this flash is not the cheapest bit of kit but it is a must if you want to be taken seriously as a photographer, a pro or even high end amateur will never or at least hardly ever shoot an image using a built in flash (especially if photographing people). These flashes are very durable and come with a one year guarantee but also the option to sign up to the Sony users site and upgrade the guarantee to three years for around £30 (well worth doing)!
WIDTH - 3 inch
DEPTH - 3.9 inch
HEIGHT - 4.8 inch
WEIGHT (without batteries) - 12 oz
Type - Hot-shoe clip-on flash
Guide Number (m / ISO 100) - 42
Lens Coverage - 24mm - 105mm
Supported Exposure Control - TTL, ADI
Shooting Range - 3.3 ft - 59 ft
Vertical Rotation Angle - +90 / 0
Horizontal Rotation Angle - +180 / -90
Colour Temperature - 5500K
Zoom - Automatic, Manual
Manual Power Control Levels - 1/32, 1/8, 1/1, 1/4, 1/16, 1/2 1/1
Features - Wireless off-camera control, High-speed synchronization (HSS)
REQUIRED BATTERIES - 4x AA
POWER CONSUMPTION - 180 flashes per set of batteries
If you are a Sony DSLR user then I would not only recommend this flash to you I would urge you to get one and watch your photography improve in an instant. There are other flashes in the Sony range; this flash has two little brothers and one big brother.
The smaller ones do not offer as many settings nor do they fire wirelessly but they are still good flashes that offer the ability to bounce light or use diffusers and they are slightly cheaper (around £110 for the smallest and £140 for the next size up). The bigger brother and the top of the range will set you back around £350 which is more expensive than the lower end of the camera range (the A100, A200 and A300 DSLR`s can all be bought for less than the price of the flash), so I would suggest it is more for the pro market than the average user.
As a pro myself I found this flash to be highly useable and therefore I am certain it will offer everything an amateur photographer could wan, you can play around with settings and placement to get some great effects and excellent images or you can just pop everything into auto and let the camera and flash set it all up for you, either way you will be getting 100x better images than you are now with built in flash!
Thanks for reading.