The Sony HVL-F60RM
made this whole week. It was the product that leapt off the shelf into my hands as soon as I saw it - because big fancy flashes are the sort of thing that I want to see in every manufacturer's range of products.
Sneer if you like, but I have always regarded a flash as an essential tool for photography - inside and out. Whether it's the fixed flashes of emplacement in the studio or the battery-powered field guns, I want to see bursts of light I can depend upon to go where I want to see something. And I want my camera to work with that flash in the easiest possible fashion
Before you assume that's just advertising bumf, consider:
a. You need to be able to fire a flash on the camera full-bore straight out. Sounds simple but sometimes you need that deer-in-the-headlights look. Then you need to run.
b. Sometimes you don't need full-bore - the TTL mechanism lets the camera and flash decide what to do when you don't know or don't have time to do mental arithmetic.
c. Different subjects do different things under flash. If the flash is slow to charge up, they have time to blink, run, or snarl.
d. If you can get the flash off the camera - but still fire it easily in synch with the shutter - you get about 800% more control of how things look. If you can do this without wires make that 1000%. If you can do it round corners and out of the line of sight, I'm not going to hazard a guess at the number...but it's better.
e. Bounce. The light. Everywhere. Unless you're taking shots in the Nullarbor, there's usually something to bounce the light off - and frequently it makes things look a lot more natural - artificially natural, if you will, but you're the photographer and you get to suit yourself.
f. The Shadow Knows...Lamont Cranston may or may not have been a photographer, but as The Shadow, he knew how to fight crime. You can also fight the crime of horrible nose shadows in portraits if you can get the flash above the subject and the lens' line of sight. This will happen for a lot of on-camera speedlights when they are plugged into the hot shoe and used in the landscape orientation, but once you tilt over to portrait orientation, the tube is out to the side and the shadow shoots sideways across the face.
The Hasselblad square shooter of old had no problems - there were rigs made that bolted onto the hand grips of the 500-series and placed flashes right above the lens with a slight down-tilt. I even used one that held the Metz 45-Cl1 gun up there and as you never had to tilt the 'Blad sideways, all was well, Yes, it was heavy, and yes, the last hour of the wedding reception required stamina...but a wedding was 10 rolls of film and 120 shots. And if you were lucky, the gardens work was on a tripod.
Sooo. The Sony. Big - the size of the equivalent units from Canon, Nikon, and Fujifilm. Powerful - quoted GN of 60 metric for a 200mm lens in full-frame or APS-C format. Sophisticated:
a. TTL - natch. Manual - natch.
b. Fires from hot shoe, wireless, or pc connection. Can draw power from an external source for fixed work. Has an input port for firmware updating.
c. Commands or obeys - probably more faithfully than most studio assistants and definitely better than family members...
d. Tilts - And not just front and up - front, up, and back. And sideways. And into the portrait mode. This is the big fat Sony deal that they introduced in their Alpha DSLR days and it really does work.
e. Models - there are 3 LED's on the front that pump out modelling/video light at a very useful intensity.
f. Locks - onto the hot shoe with a tough lever grip. and puts the delicate connectors under a front lip to protect them.
Sony have also done what Nikon do with their bigger guns - provided clip-on filters that will change the colour temperature of the flash light to match incandescent and fluorescent lights. Clap one on when you're in these sorts of illumination and then you'll not be fighting so hard for white balance in the post-processing phase.
Oh, how I wish that the speedlights I have incorporated that tilting tube mechanism - all the phenocky rigs I devise to get the tube and shadow equation right for portrait shooting - and then right again for landscape orientation - could be done away with and the speedlight left firmly attached to the hot shoe of the camera in TTL and no-one would have to hear me swearing. Soooo tempting...
Another question to ask myself in the dark reaches of the night...should I have worked backwards from the flash to the camera when I chose my photo system?
Ingredients: Sony flash from CE storeroom. Everything else from my Little Studio.