External Flash / Video Light
Just as good as the F43AM, with some improvements
Just like it's predecessor, the F43AM which I still own, this makes for a very solid external flash option for newer Sony cameras- the big change of course is the new F43M unit uses the new MIS (Multi Interface Shoe) interface.
So what's changed over the F43AM?
- a built-in LED light which the specs indicate are 400 lx at 0.5 m or 100 lx at 1 meter; you can adjust the power levels from 1 to 10 on the flash unit. The dimmest setting is not so bad for people in the vicinity (and is already much more bright than the an iPhone's LED flash), though at level 10, even people wearing sunglasses will be complaining- everyone else will be momentarily blinded, as this reviewer was when testing it. The LED light can be only be used independently of the main flash and is activated by a button on the side of the unit. It can be used without the flash unit being mounted on the camera, which expands its creative use. It can be used as solid-state lighting for taking pictures for when you don't want to strobe and becomes very useful for taking video. There is only a single bright LED but the reflector design works well and you end up with a very even spread of white light in a large egg shape. Video professionals may still want to opt for a dedicated LED panel with dozens or hundreds of LEDs for more power and a softer effect from a larger light source.
- flash exposure compensation is now featured prominently on the flash so you have direct access to it just by pressing the up and down keys, see it right on the flash unit's LCD, and not have to dive into a menu in the camera to change this- this was relatively quick with the A99's Function menu or Quick Navi interface, but this saves steps with the camera's buttons and joystick. This is a big usability plus especially during a busy shoot! Thanks to Gary Friedman's article about recent Sony Alphas dealing with flash exposure differently, I have FEC set to -0.7 EV most of the time for natural-looking exposures; I currently do this with FEC on the A99 permanently set to -0.7 EV and 0 EV on the F43M. Should I want to manipulate the FEC depending on the scene, I would just make adjustments on the flash unit.
- the new hotshoe mount is very nice. It's very firm and secure on both the camera shoe and the flash unit's stand and has a reassuring locking lever, which also employs 2 locking pins which stops any movement. To release the flash unit, a button on the lever needs to be depressed. One of the unfortunate changes Sony has made in the transition to the ISO hotshoe from its (much-loved by Sony users / hated by all others) auto-lock shoe was with the adapter that came included on its newer cameras and caused older flash units to slip off even with proper tightening because it did not have a locking pin. I've been dreading the F43AM on the adapter falling off with each outing and it hasn't been until this F43M that I no longer have to worry about that. The shoe is still made of plastic, though that has the upside of not damaging the camera hotshoe or flash should something cause heavy stress on this connector (ex. dropping the camera with flash mounted)- should it break, there are 4 screws to replace this part, in theory (I have not seen how much this part costs).
- the overall finish of the unit is less shiny than the F43AM, and has a fine sandpaper feel. It appears to show my oily fingerprints more. How's that for making your gear truly yours? (hah)
- the flash unit has increased in height slightly from the F43AM, though when mounted on the newer Sony cameras, it becomes much lower from not having to use the adapter. There is a much improved lower center of gravity with the F43M on the A99 than the long neck contraption that was the F43AM with adapter.
Differences with the F60M
- this unit's larger brother, the F60M had many reported issues of overheating, and only after a handful of near-full power flashes (granted GN60 is pretty powerful), when it would go to the bleachers for several minutes of cooling down. I wanted to like the F60M though this factor and the increased heft ultimately made me wait for a replacement for the F43AM. I wanted to make sure that this part of the Sony DNA (sorry, couldn't resist!) didn't trickle down to the F43M and so I test fired in manual mode- 1/1 full-power shots as fast as I could basically whenever the amber light lit, indicating the flash had recycled, approximately every 3 seconds until it overheated and it was able to do it straight for 36-38 full-power shots- for a total of around 2-3 minutes of flashing. Not bad and I don't see this ridiculous scenario happening in the real world!
- the F60M has probably the world's most user-friendly LCD with software that looks like it was built from the ground-up for it with graphical bars for flash exposure compensation and the LED light level which works well with its control wheel; unfortunately the F43M does not inherit this (and continues to use the directional arrows) and the LCD looks slightly revised (mainly with the addition of the FEC adjustment) from the F43AM's older, but still straightforward interface.
- the F60M's LED light is on the flash head which allows it to be tilted in all sorts of angles for creative use, whereas the F43M's LED light is fixed on the base. The F60M also has a snap-on diffuser and an amber-gelled attachment for the LED light, which the F43M doesn't have room for.
- the F60M is Sony's only current flash unit that can be attached with an external battery pack, which some wedding photographers consider a must-have.
- the F43M doesn't come with a STO-FEN-like diffuser nor does it come with an adapter for backwards-compatibility with older Sony cameras.
- unless the F60M I tried at Sony's booth at a B&H event was abused, this F43M feels much more solid and better built
Price-wise, it is a little on the high side. At $400, this is currently a bit more than the F43AM, which I thought was perfectly priced at around $300 when it was released. It's easy to justify this expense should you need a good bounce flash solution and know you would be using it often, however. Every serious shooter should have one for indoor photography. Acquiring a bright lens would get you more light, however gives you no control over how shadows are cast on your subjects and areas of focus (ex. needing F/5.6-8 so subjects are not blurred) will become much more limited. Also, as lighting and composition are the 2 main components of great photos, this is an outstanding tool for supplying most of the lighting portion.
In summary, unless you must have the F60M's features and aren't concerned of its overheating tendencies, and feel just as I do, that the benefits of this flash outweigh the size and weight advantage of the F20M/AM, I can wholeheartedly recommend the F43M for all Sony shooters with recent cameras (starting with the A99, A58, NEX6, RX100 II, RX1, etc.). The F43AM remains a great choice for those with the auto-lock shoe, unless you have plans to acquire a newer Sony camera, in which case I would then get the F43M and Sony's ADP-AMA adapter. Sony appears to be committed to this new MIS interface across all their cameras and this update to the F43 has been done very well.
July 15, 2013