By Don Chick, M.Photog.Cr., CPP
The impressive Nissin Di866 flash is an economical flash option that deserves serious consideration from pro photographers. I tried it out at our annual NHPPA Conference in April and am excited to say that I was more than pleased with the results. I also found the backlit menu was easy to read in low-light conditions and, as a whole, the flash unit menu was easy to navigate while making any necessary changes on the fly.
I spoke with photographer Steve Sedman about his experience with the Nissin flash on a recent job. Using fast lenses and the appropriate ISO settings, Steve was able to get several hundred flashes from the unit during the course of his event. He also found the ETTL wireless feature worked very smoothly. Comparing notes from our experiences, Steve and I agreed on many reasons photographers may want to purchase this flash. Our only notable negative comment was about the level of noise the flash makes as you adjust zoom settings.
On top of good performance, the reasonable $299 street price makes the Di866 a great buy. That’s nearly 40 percent less expensive than the street price of a Canon Speedlite 580EX II at $475.
The menu structure is practical, well thought out and easy to navigate. Its simplicity enabled me to begin using the flash without even reading the quick-setup pamphlet. It also has menu display that rotates depending on the orientation of the camera, which is a plus (see below).
The backlit display also has large multi-colored letters that make it easy to read in any lighting condition. If you normally need reading glasses to navigate your Canon flash, you may find you don’t need them with the Nissin’s larger menu.
The Nissin flash does not have a position lock like my Canon flash, but I actually found that I prefer it that way. It seems to me that the lock feature on my Canon flash interrupts the flow of my shooting. The lock-free feature lets me quickly adjust both the vertical and horizontal angles of rotation. The flash manual claims a guide number (GN) of 198 (ISO 100 @ 105mm setting), while my Canon 580EX boasted a GN of 190. Checking the power output with a flash meter, I found the Nissin had a slightly higher reading at the 28mm setting, but at the 105mm setting both flashes put out nearly the same amount of light.
When I am photographing an event with my 580EX set on TTL mode, I often use the plus/minus compensation feature on the camera. When the Nissin flash is set to TTL, the arrows on the back of the unit can be used to adjust power compensation, and the adjustments are mirrored in the camera. I found it so much easier to make adjustments this way, 1/3 EV at a time, reading the large alpha numeric characters on the backlit display.
Another great feature of this flash is the quick-load magazine that holds four pre-loaded AA batteries and slides easily into the flash unit. If you purchase several additional magazines and pre-load them with batteries, this would be a wonderfully quick and easy change in a dimly lit reception hall.
The Nissin flash is compatible with the Canon external battery pack, but Nissin does offer their own as well. The manufacturer claims that the Di866 with fully charged batteries is good for 150 full-power flashes with a recycle time of 3.5 seconds. However with the Nissin Power Pack Pro 300 ($499 street price) attached, the unit will recycle in .5 seconds and provide 300 full power flashes.
One possible drawback, the Nissin brand external power pack requires a specialized battery. In order to cover an event as well as have backup power, you’ll have to purchase several of these specialized batteries and keep them fully charged. The Canon compact battery pack uses standard AA batteries.
I couldn’t test life expectancy for the Nissin Di866, and none of the manufacturer’s documentation gave an indication of what to expect either. I suspect that it depends on a wide variety of conditions and would thus be very difficult to predict with any degree of reliably.
One other factor to consider about the Nissin flash is that the shape of the flash head is not exactly the same as my Canon flash. I suspect that most accessories will fit the same on either, but it’s worth checking into the compatibility of any modifiers and accessories you may already own you purchase.
Considering the price, ease of use and excellent array of features, the Di866 is a superb value for the professional photographer. If you are in the market for any new flashes or simply want to add some easy-to-use backup flash units to your equipment bag, the Nissin Di866 proves to be a worthy contender in the marketplace.