When I got my hands on the Bower SFD926C Digital Shoe Mount Flash for Canon SLR’s I was pretty jazzed when I looked at the specs and saw that this $104 flash (as of the time of this article) was able to support ETTL and act as a off-camera slave. I thought it might be a good flash to recommend to beginners and one I could add to my off-collection collection as you can never have enough off-camera flashes (as Joe McNally proves quite well in his book Hot Shoe Diaries).
This is no high tech device here. You simply mount it to your camera (which can be tricky using the wheel lock it has – careful to get it tight to prevent falling), and turn the switch to on. At that point you’ll get the feeling that you are on a jet as you’ll hear this high pitched whirling sound you haven’t heard from a flash since you were a child (or in the case of many of my younger readers – never in your life).
Using identical batteries between my Canon 580 EX II flash and this one I observed that the flash recycle time for the Canon was under a second and about 4 seconds for this flash. Again, that’s using the same batteries back and forth – with two test iterations.
In the real world this long flash delay during startup and between flashes results in missed shots like the one below (mouse over) versus the nice shot when it actually fires as it should.
Shot A – 0 Flash Exposure Compensation Flash Fired as Intended (Mouse Out)
Shot B – Same Settings but fired too soon after turning on the flash (Mouse Over)
Both are bounce flash off the ceiling to my rear
During this same session I decide to do a straight on flash to see what would happen and the results were rather shocking. The shots below are at -1 2/3 and –3 flash exposure compensation with TTL turned on, so it is clear to me that in this mode the TTL doesn’t do its job every well – at least not in these conditions:
Head On Flash
-1 2/3 Flash Exposure Compensation Shown (Mouse Out)
-3 Flash Exposure Compensation Shown (Mouse Over)
That clearly didn’t work, but here’s how the 580 EX II handled it – same head on flash with no flash exposure compensation and using the same batteries:
Canon 580 EX II fired head on with no exposure compensation
just as I had done with the Bowers in the shots above this one
Moving out into the hall way at a far away subject that was in the dark I tried the same test again. The first is test was done with the Bower flash set at –3 flash exposure compensation (FEV):
Bower Flash – Head On
Even at –3 FEV the LCD blinkies came on as this is a pretty high key shot
The shots below were done with the 580 EX II at 0 flash exposure compensation (Mouse Out) and and –3 (Mouse Over):
Canon 580 EX II – Head On
At 0 FEV (Mouse Out) the results were about what I expected
but I would have added some FEV for a real shot
At –3 FEV after the Bower test the Canon did exactly what it should
it produced a very dark shot
Advantage Canon and spending more money – no doubt! Having more light is good – when you can control it, but this is clearly a flash that is out of control with head on shooting. The TTL just doesn’t get it done.
580 EX II Off Camera (Mouse Out)
SFD926C Off Camera (Mouse Over)
The slave mode switch works in the sense that it does fire a flash, but I failed to ever get it to emit enough light to actually do anything with my shoot through umbrella that was facing down. Hover over the photo above to compare the 580 EX II results (shown) and the 926C’s results (mouse over) – yes, that’s a pure black image – it fired (check the EXIF), but it didn’t emit enough light. I did 10 tests – all the same results. All conditions were equal between the two flashes and they used the same batteries, but the 926C just wasn’t up to the task.
Bounce Flash Card
The bounce card comes up and works fine and the head rotates for bouncing the flash of the walls. I took a series of shots using both techniques and the results were identical. Here’s an unmodified example of bouncing the flash off the ceiling behind me (head rotated the exact opposite of what’s shown in the picture above):
Bounce Flash produces the best results
-1 2/3 Flash Exposure Compensation
This is by far the best way to use this flash and it emits a ton of light so you’ll definitely need some flash exposure compensation. I found –1 2/3 to –3 to be the best during my indoor testing. Doing this results in usable shots, but this photo doesn’t tell the whole story. What it doesn’t show is the 4 seconds between each shot that I needed to wait in order to shoot again which for a child is eternity. The Canon 580 EX II recharged near instantly using the same batteries from the Bower after I tested it.
A Word about the Sample Photos
A picture is worth a thousand words so I’ve included a series of shots taken during my testing (which consisted of about 40 shots before I had all of the data I needed).. All of these shots were taken with a Canon 1D Mark IV in manual mode set to 1/200 sec @ f/4 using ISO 100 or 200 with the Flash white balance preset and the external flash fired. I was using my 24-105mm lens with IS on at a variety of focal lengths. ALL photos are in-camera jpeg’s that have been totally untouched and simply exported from Lightroom at a lower resolution for faster web loading. Even white balance and cropping are unmodified.
If you are doing bounce flashes and you crank the exposure compensation down this flash can produce results that can be tamed with in-camera settings making it obviously better than no flash at all. However, when pointing it directly at your subject or putting it off camera to shoot through an umbrella it simply doesn’t work.
As a business owner for many years I try hard to be respectful of other business owners, so if a product does extremely poorly in a review I usually give that company a call to explain to them why I seriously dislike their product and work with them to offer product improvements. In those situations I may elect to limit my honest opinion about those products to personal conversations, but I don’t review them on the blog as I don’t feel it is appropriate to totally bash a product in an article. This means that if you see a product reviewed on my blog, you can trust that I either liked the product or I gave my honest and unfiltered feedback.
For this product my feedback is very simple – I wouldn’t personally buy or recommend this flash to anyone. Unless my unit was defective, I found the results I experienced to be horrible and completely unacceptable. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I wouldn’t even give this flash away to a friend for fear of ruining a relationship!
My advice to Bower is to take this product off the market and fix the TTL or market the existing unit as a hot shoe mountable flash light as that how this unit that I evaluated behaved.
A blog partner provided me with an evaluation unit for the purpose of this review. If you make purchases using the links in this article then I may get a commission. Thanks for supporting this blog!