Like many professional cameras, speedlites seem to be getting bigger, so it’s a huge relief to see the new i40 flash system from Nissin totally buck that trend.
With a guide number of 40 it’s clearly not going to be the most powerful flash you can buy, but in terms of portability it has to be worth considering, especially if you’re also thinking about converting to mirrorless cameras for similarly reduced size and weight.
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The great news is that not only are Nissin supporting the big guns of Canon & Nikon, they’re also supporting Fuji, Sony and the Micro-Four-Thirds community of Olympus and Panasonic directly. I bought my Nissin i40 here.
The model I’m reviewing was purchased by me for use with a Panasonic GH4, but it’s essentially the same size and controls as those available on the Canon / Nikon / Fuji / Sony models.
What’s in the box?
The first thing to notice is how small the box is. Inside there’s a quick start guide, a carabiner (marked ‘not for climbing’), a dedicated pouch holding the Nissin i40 Flash, a sto-fen style diffuser and desktop stand. Kudos to Nissin for including a metal threaded light stand instead of the cheap plastic threads we’ve become used to nowadays.
The pouch is almost square, with a belt loop on the back as well as a loop for attaching to the carabiner and then to your bag. I’m not a fan of stubby square cases since they don’t tend to hang nicely from your belt, but the design is functional and fits both stand and diffuser fit in dedicated compartments.
So how small is the i40?
IT’S TINY! I don’t think words alone can describe how tiny this flash is, so here is a picture next to a Yongnuo YN560-III which is essentially the same size as a Canon 580EX II.
As you can see, the Nissin i40 fits completely underneath the Yongnuo head!
The weight is a mere 203g (7.17oz) without batteries or 308g with a set of 4 Sanyo Eneloop AAs.
Another great feature for such a tiny flash is that the head tilts upright to 4 preset positions (although not down) and goes through a full 360˚ turn, with locking positions in 30˚ increments.
The battery compartment is the usual slide to open, then spring loaded to stay open while you fit the batteries. The hinge mechanism is a little odd, lifting the door both up and away from the body, so closing the door takes some getting used to since it requires both pushing down and sliding at the same time.
Mounting to Camera
Mounting the i40 to a camera is as simple as sliding it on to the hot shoe, with the spring loaded pin locking in to place. To release the i40 push the small plastic ‘Unlock’ button and slide back. There appears to be no attempt at weather sealing the foot.
To turn the i40 on or off simply tap the power button for a short time. There is no need to hold it down like some other models require. On powering up you’ll hear the motorised zoom head initialise and then it’s ready to go.
Controls & Modes
The simplicity of the Nissin i40 controls is refreshing. With two dials and clear legends offering a plethora of modes and power adjustments, the left dial provides operating mode selection while the right dial is dedicated to power settings, depending on the currently selected mode.
Controls not Illuminated
The one major complaint I have about the i40 is that neither of the control dials are illuminated, so if you’re operating in a relatively dark environment you can’t see what your settings are. While there are some hints about modes, based on how three different LEDs are lit, if you accidentally moved the power dial there’s no easy way of knowing, other than your photos not coming out as expected. This is a major omission and is something Nissin would do well to fix in a version 2.
Let’s start with TTL mode which directly supports both Olympus and Panasonic micro-four-thirds cameras as well as Canon/Nikon/Sony depending on which model you buy.
When selected, the two outer LEDs are illuminated to confirm TTL operation, with the flash compensation settings indicated by the right most LED position. Flash comp can be adjusted +/- 2.0 in 0.5 step increments (from -2.0 to +2.0). Having this as a manual dial is refreshing and very quick to use.
The i40 responds well to the GH4 I tested with, providing fast and accurate results. In fact, the results were completely in line with my expectations of how a TTL flash should work.
Automatic mode is similar to TTL where the camera is controlling the flash power, but in Auto mode the flash compensation is no longer available, so I wonder how many people will ever use this mode?
In manual mode the left and middle LEDs illuminate and the legend on the left side of the power dial shows the absolute power in full stop adjustments only, from 1/1 all the way down to 1/256.
SD and SF
There are three slave modes built in to the Nissin i40, one being remote TTL and the other two being for optical triggering from other visible flashes. In ‘SD’ mode the system will recognise and ignore the pre-flash from a TTL master and trigger instead on the main flash. In ‘SF’ mode it will trigger on the first flash it sees, so is suitable for use with studio strobes or other flash units used in manual mode.
TTL Remote / Slave Mode (not Fuji)
In TTL remote mode the i40 can be set to any of the three A, B or C groups available. Not all cameras can support this, but the latest Olympus and the Panasonic GH4 do, allowing each group to be controlled from the camera for both mode (TTL or Manual) and power (+/- EV or manual power). On the GH4 the manual power settings are only 1/1 down to 1/128 so I’m assuming the 1/256 setting on the i40 is unachievable remotely.
Nissin make several variations of the i40 and the remote control options vary depending on what system you’re using. The Canon/Nikon/MicroFourThirds systems have A/B/C groups controllable from the (supported) camera body, the Sony version has RMT-M (Manual), RMT -TTL and RMT2-TTL while the Fuji version provides only the optical slave (SD & SF) modes with no on-camera control.
High Speed Sync (HSS) (not Fuji)
The i40 includes a high speed sync option that is conveniently remembered between power cycles. This means that if you select HSS then power the i40 off, when you power back on it remembers the HSS mode for you. Using this mode I was able to shoot up to 1/8000 shutter speed with no problems.
High Speed Sync is only supported in A, M, TTL or wireless mode. To enter HSS mode hold the pilot button (the LED next to the power button) for 3 seconds, or until the left LED starts blinking. To exit HSS mode hold the pilot button for 3 seconds or until the left LED stops blinking.
Zooming the Head
The i40 will zoom the head automatically when camera mounted, but when used as a remote/slave in M, SD, SF or Wireless mode it could be desirable to set the zoom position manually, such as when you need to fill an umbrella or when using as a hair/rim light.
The zoom settings are 24mm (12mm), 50mm (25mm), 80mm (40mm) or 105mm (53mm) – the first numbers being full frame equivalent and the numbers in parenthesis being micro four thirds settings. To access these positions press and hold the power button for 3 seconds. When changing position the colour of the pilot light with change as follows:
Dark Blue: 24mm (12mm)
Pink: 50mm (25mm)
Blue: 80mm (40mm)
Orange: 105mm (53mm)
In case you’re worried about having to remember these, they are also printed inside the bounce card flap!
A bounce card is built in to the i40 flash head for creating catch lights and flips up to reveal the colour coded zoom settings to the back.
Wide Angle Diffuser
As is the case with most speedlites a wide angle diffuser is built in to the head and automatically zooms the head back to the 24mm(12mm) position.
The i40 includes a focus assist beam to help with focusing in low light.
Something that’s beginning to appear on more and more flashes is a video light and the i40 is no exception. These lights are of little use unless your subject is really close and are really only useful in a real emergency. Any further than a couple of feet and you need to be getting a proper video light.
The i40 includes a thermal protection system so if the pilot light starts blinking you know it’s overheating! Under normal circumstances the pilot light will be green when ‘ready’ an red while recycling.
Unfortunately the i40 does not include any audible signal to indicate when it’s recycled and ready.
For it’s size this really is a great flash for use with micro-four-thirds systems or when travelling with DSLRs. Other flash guns can totally dwarf and unbalance smaller cameras so the small (tiny!) size if the i40 could well be the perfect flash if you’re heading over to mirrorless shooting.
If you’re looking for maximum power then it’s guide number of 40 may be a little limiting, but I’ve yet to find a problem in ‘normal’ shooting situations.
The ability to operate in ETTL (Canon), iTTL (Nikon), P-TTL (Sony) and TTL (MFT) makes this a truly flexible tool when shooting in run & gun situations.
If I had to find fault with the i40 it would be a really simple yet significant one. Flashes without control illuminations are always going to be harder to operate in dark environments. Nissin really need to address this in future versions since accidentally knocking the power dial could mean ruined shots and it may not be obvious why until it’s too late.
If the controls were backlit and there was an option for an audible beep then I would without doubt give this a 5 out of 5, but alas without those two options it’s a straight 4 out of 5.