Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Review: Bower SFD926C Digital Shoe Mount Flash for Canon SLR

Bower SFD926C Digital Shoe Mount Flash for Canon SLR

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).


Rear View

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.

Mouse over to see firing before ready, mouse out to see a normal flash
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:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
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):

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
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.

Mouse over to see the Bower SFD926C photo (yes, it is black), mouse out to see the Canon 580 EX II
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.


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1 comment:

viscara said...

wow... Amazing I never even heard of this flash company. But then again how does any expect 100 bucks for a ETTL canon performance. I would really have looked at this flash as a "Manual" type of flash replacement for using in the strobist method. This is one of the reasons why I really like to promote individuals learning "Manual" flash and lighting skills. Honestly its just as easy to learn if not easier. Also if a individual learns the manual way the reap so so much more in knowledge and skill about lights and lighting. Its much like driving a automatic trasnmission in a sports car versus manual stick. For a 100 bucks I really would just invest in a good hard proven salty dog of a flash like a 285 vivitar. Those things are built like tanks cost about 90 bucks. I have used one for nearly 15 years with constant abuse and nothing I do to it stops it from working. I just cant see spending 450 bucks on a pocket flash or flashes that are so underpowered for most jobs. I completely understand the Joe McNally thing and in "Some" but "Few" situations thats the way to go ie: Backpacking into the amazon to shoot caves and you have to use what you pack into the jungle. Also I hate for a 450 dollar flash to fall or get knocked over as this "Does" happen at times. Thats a very expensive delicate flash to use all the time dangling on a light stand. I would look at this flash as a simple manual flash maybe. But it looks like its a cheaply made just by looking at the plastic on it. Much like a cheap Ebay Knock off type of flash. Somewhere a old adage my mentor use to tell me "there are no cheap tools" if you buy it once and it breaks and you have to buy another one that was not a cheap tool.... Good honest review glad you are not afraid to give a honest opinion on a product.