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A flash ‘revolution’ – the Sony HVL-F58AM

Sony has announced the September introduction of the most powerful flash yet for the Alpha system, the Sony HVL-F58AM which incorporates a brand new body design allowing optimum bounce flash illumination regardless of how you hold the camera.

By using a rotating two-part body, the entire information display can revolve with the head between two different vertical orientations and the normal horizontal position. This allows a much better distribution of light for some bounce flash shots as well as better balance and ergonomics.

Sony HVL-58AM Simulation

What it is not shown in any Sony photo, but features in the video simulation above, is the direct-flash benefit of this design. With the camera held vertically, the flash head can be aimed forwards (wrongly oriented to produce a horizontal light spread) and its position will be above the lens axis. This avoid the ugly purely side-positioned shadows produced when using direct flash with the 5600 (etc). The shadow will be finer, and have a more natural position. It’s not as good as a more directly above-axis position, though.

Rotating the flash puts the display in line with the rotated camera screen display – neat!

The HVL-F58AM has a nominal guide number slightly higher than the former Minolta 5600 (HVL-56AM) model, and its extended range of bounce position echoes the changes made in the midrange HVL-42AM also introduced recently by Sony. However, the GN is quoted at 105mm, and must not compared to traditional GN values for flashguns which have always been quoted at either 35mm or 50mm coverage (Metz, for example, use 35mm lens or 60° angle as their old standard for guns like the CT45 or CT60 ranges). Earlier Minolta and KM flashguns, which did not zoom to 105mm, give their GN for 85mm coverage.

The Sony HVL-F42AM also uses the 105mm standard. Tested, we found that despite this optimistic way of quoting the figure, the 42′s real output does indeed sit between the 36 and 56; it is not just a 36 re-rated for a narrow beam angle. We can expect the 58 to be more powerful than the 56 but it’s not a dead cert. The GN calculation change could be enough to account for the small shift in apparent ‘power’.

The older units from Minolta and Konica Minolta have limits to the bounce movement which prevent efficient use when a vertical grip is used with the camera – they were designed on the assumption the camera would be held the other way up, with the shutter release at the bottom.

It also allows the control of remote wireless flash groups from the camera position, acting as an alternative flash ‘commander’ to the built-in pop-up unit, something which is not possible with existing models on current DSLRs. This is enabled by activating CTRL or ‘Controller’ mode. Through the interface of the HVL-F58AM, the user can define three groups (and two channels) of remote flash units and assign a power ratio to each group, without having to adjust the remote flashes themselves. This sees the effective return of wireless power ratio setting, which has been missing from the Alpha mount system from the introduction of the KM 7D.

However, to use this function you must have more Sony HVL-F58AM or Sony HVL-F42AM guns. There is no provision on the older units (HVL-F36AM, HVL-F56AM, 3600HS-D, 5600HS-D) to define the flash in groups. It looks as if an on-camera HVL-F58M flash is classed as one group, with Remote and Remote2 as the other groups. The built-in pop up flash can not control the groups or ratios. To make full use of this system you are looking at a $1,000 investment in three flash heads. Paul Genge of Sony UK confirms that although the HVL-F42AM manual makes no reference to functions enabled by the 58 model, it can be used in ratio setups with the 58 as controller.

Third-party flash units may be incompatible with the new functions of the 58, which have no direct equivalent in earlier Minolta, KM or Sony units. They should work in normal fixed ratio wireless mode. My solution to ratio lighting is easy; use one 36 and one 56!

Another noted improvement is that the wide diffuser extends direct flash coverage to 16mm (full frame) rather than the 17mm previously stated (without the diffuser, the wide angle limit is 24mm). This is a minor difference but indicates an intention to cover lenses as yet not announced, and was first seen in the HVL-F42AM. The September launch may also mean that by this date – and photokina in Germany – we will see both an Alpha Pro body and a 16-35mm full frame lens on the way. If not before then!

- DK

Here is Sony’s US press text about the flash:

Quick Shift Bounce and Expanded Versatility

This new flash features a new and innovative Quick Shift Bounce system. It offers more creative ways to achieve lighting, flash and bounce angles you may not have been able to experience before.

The flash head can pivot 90 degrees left and right on a horizontal axis in addition to the conventional up and down vertical adjustment. With this system, the camera and flash unit can keep the same orientation regardless of portrait or landscape shooting. This gives a higher degree of flexibility when arranging the direction of light.

For example, you can take full advantage of the flash unit’s built-in bounce card even during portrait shots since the flash head can maintain the same orientation as it would in the landscape position.

Enhanced Operability and Ease-of-Use

A powerful performer, the HVL-F58AM flash unit features a maximum guide number of 58 at 105mm and ISO 100. It recycles (or recharges) in as little as five seconds, approximately 55% faster than the predecessor HVL-F56AM model, so you are ready to capture the next shot. And because it features a quiet recycle charge, there’s no whine to distract you from your subject.

It also has a large, easy-to-read LCD screen that is about 13% larger than its predecessor’s. Its intuitive control layout makes it easy to control flash functions and configure the settings based on your shooting needs.

Wireless Auto Flash Control

This new flash has wireless auto flash control so you can remove the flash unit from the camera and easily light subjects from different angles. Photographers can create soft shadows to add depth to their images and avoid the strong shadows and hot spots that can occur with front lighting. The HVL-F58AM flash unit can also control the ratio of lighting from several off-camera flash units.

Up to three groups of flashes can be set up for optimal, complete control of lighting via a wireless connection. Flash output ratios can be adjusted automatically without having to do tedious exposure calculations. Additionally, you can fire a modeling flash to preview flash effects before taking the picture. Even with multiple units, the modeling flash fires according to the flash ratio you have set.

Advanced Features for Optimal DSLR Performance

One of the flash’s most advanced features is its sophisticated zoom control that automatically optimizes illumination angles that are suitable for either APS-C size or 35mm full frame sensors. This control reduces light “fall-off” at the periphery of images.

It also has an advanced white balance compensation system that gathers color temperature information, complimenting the white balance information reading of the camera. This achieves more accurate results when the main unit is in auto white balance mode.

Other features include: high-speed synchronization at shutter speeds of up to 1/4000 of a second, ADI flash metering, manual flash and zoom (six levels), multiple-flash, and a supplied mini-stand for greater wireless freedom.

Price and Availability

The HVL-F58AM flash unit will ship in September for about $500 at sonystyle.com, Sony Style® retail stores (www.sonystyle.com/retail), military base exchanges, and authorized dealers nationwide. Pre-orders begin online on Jun. 20 at www.sonystyle.com.

(end of press text)

We can assume that this means it will be available by Christmas in Britain at £499! In fact, it seems likely to be a £349 inc VAT priced unit if the US price is $500 before tax. This compares to equally powerful units from other brands.

The technical specification follows:

General
Material: Poly-carbonate plastic
Operating Conditions

Operating Temperature: (+32 to
+104°F (+0 to +40°C)

Storage Temperature: (-4 to +140°F (-20 to +60°C)

Flash Effective Range: GN58 = up
to 58 meters (190 ft) at ISO100
with 105mm lens

(Editor’s note – this piece of pure nonsense is on the Sony PDF of what appears to be the flash brochure. Of course it does not mean the flash can operate at up to 58 metres or 190ft with a 105mm lens – in order to do so, the lens would have to be f/1.0 – 58/58 = 1.0. The closest combination would be the CZ 135mm f/1.8, which would in theory give a correct exposure at ISO 100 at 32 metres distance. GNs are calculated allowing for a ‘domestic room with neutral decoration’, and are typically reduced to half in large dark interiors like churches, and to one-quarter when used outdoors at night. Tele-zoom GNs may be less prone to reduction in value than GNs quoted for wide coverage.)

Flash Mode(s): Control: Bounce
angles: Upward – 90 degrees;
Downward – minus 10 degrees;;
Left/ Right (Front/Back) – 180
degrees

Flash Modes: Automatic Light
Control

Power
Battery Type: AA Alkaline /AA Ni-
MH – requires 4

Dimensions
Weight: 15.6 oz (440 g)
Measurements: (WHD) 3-1/8 x 4-
7/8 x 4-1/4″ (77 x 147 x 106
mm)

Supplied Accessories
Case
Mini Stand
Color: Black
UPC Code: 027242730250


6 comments to A flash ‘revolution’ – the Sony HVL-F58AM

  • jon dea

    hi
    I have just got the f58am for my A65 and works great
    triggering with the pop up flash is fast and easy
    the only confusion I can see is the Manual as crap as most sony manuals are , states use wireless by remote
    but set of channel 1 or 2 , none of my wireless remotes for my studio lights etc can trigger it
    AM I just in the wrong thinking and missing an easy solution :(

    • Your wireless remotes for studio flash have nothing to do with the Sony system. They are RF (radio) where the Sony is optical infrared communication. Sorry! It is still ‘wireless’ but not wireless like your radio…

  • I was trying to find more information about the Channels/Groups functions, but actually what I found from Sony mention only Groups, no Channels.I still don’t understand the idea of having both -variation on the power can be done using the Ratio function or working on Manual.
    Anyway, it is a exciting new flash, the pivotal head is a smart solution, but if only the 42 and the 58 are compatibles, we will have to broke the piggy-bank in order to re-build the flash system at home…

  • admin

    The assignment of ‘Groups’ is done from the control panel of the HVL-F58AM, just as Channels were/are assigned from the flash itself. No firmware upgrade should be needed to the camera, but the flash used must be compatible with groups. I checked this with Sony UK and the 42 model is compatible despite having no reference in the manual; the older models are not, and can only be assigned Channels, not Groups. The 58 is a master controller, the 42 is not. Remote and Remote2 are Groups, not Channels. You can have one camera using Channel 1 with two groups of remote heads, and varying the power from each group, without affecting another camera using Ch 2 (etc).

    It may be impossible for third party makers to implement Groups, we don’t know yet.

    David

  • Hi David,
    This new flash will need a firmware upgrade for cameras already in the market? The A700 Flash menu doesn’t have any option for “controller” or channels/groups -ergonomics on the Maxxum 7D or even the Maxxum 7 will be better than getting in the menus in order to change all this settings.

    And, how about Maxxums 7D and 5D? I understand that Sony keapt the same OS from the Maxxum 7D/5D, this will probably make that update easier? or we have to forget about this new functionalities in the older cameras?
    Regards
    Pako

  • colmo

    Thanks David,

    “However, to use this function you must have more HVL-F58AM or HVL-F42AM guns. There is no provision on the older units (HVL-F36AM, HVL-F56AM, 3600HS-D, 5600HS-D) to define the flash in groups. It looks as if an on-camera HVL-F58M flash is classed as one group, with Remote and Remote2 as the other groups”

    Can we take this to mean that Remote and Remote2 are unrelated to the original wireless channels?

    If so, it’ll certainly (as you say) eliminate the current third-party flashes for now, though Metz might be able to add support via their new USB firmware facility in the 48 and 58 AF-1.