Flash photography is a complicated subject. As soon as you experiment with flash (and most likely that will be the incorporated unit in your phone or digital camera), you learn that pictures taken with flash are bad. That is true for DIRECT flash in low light conditions, however direct flash can also (and is absolutely necessary to) get wonderful results as fill flash, in contrasty lighting situations.
Enter big bulky flash guns with big displays and a lot of buttons, that you see on paparazzi’s cameras at the end of the red carpet. These look like you need a doctorate and another pair of hands to operate them.
That is definitely not the case with Nissin Di700, a $260 brilliant unit that is meant to do everything you need from a powerful flash gun, right out of the box, even if you have never held a flash gun in your life. And it achieves that objective with flying colours.
This review is based on a Nikon version which i have used as my main flash gun for more than a year, but the Di700 is also available for Canon and Sony DSLRs.
The main idea behind this model is ease of use. This unit has been completely stripped of any nonsense and marketing fluff, aiming to painlessly get newbies going with flash photography. It manages to provide hassle-free operation and reliability (and flexibility!!), even to advanced flash users.
The flash features a selector wheel, a “Set” button in the center of it, a power button that doubles as a “Lock” switch and a “Ready” led light that doubles as a pilot button, to test and discharge the flash. That’s it.
And that is all you see when you take it out of the box. The rest of it is just black. No display anywhere.
But before i go on describing to the operation of the flash (which is not going to take that long), let’s see what we get with this unit:
- GN of 54@ISO 100 and zoomed out at 200mm (and GN of 48 at 105mm)
- Bounce and swivel (-7 to 90 and 180 left and right)
- HSS up to 1/8000s
- PC Sync Port, 3.5mm jack & external battery pack connection (for the Nissin Power Pack PS 8)
- Wireless (brand-specific optical) slave, HSS/FP sync with an equipped master
- Wide zoom range 24-200mm
- Quick loading battery magazine BM-02
- AF assist light
- Bounce card and wide angle diffuser panel
The Di700 comes in a standard-sized box, inside a pouch. The pouch is not padded, so i’d be careful with that. The package contains a flash stand, manual, quick start guide and warranty info. No dome-type diffuser thingy.
The build quality is exceptionally good, Nissin did a great job on this unit. The head has enough resistance to be positioned by feel precisely without too much effort and concentration. The wheel and buttons have good and precise feedback, the rubber covers are easy to move aside and be closed firmly in place. Nothing loose or flimsy about it anywhere, it looks and feels ready for battle.
Compared to some of its competitors,the Di700 is a medium sized flash 350g (12.3oz). The higher spec Nissin Di866 Mark II weighs 380 grams (13 oz), The Canon 600EX is 425 grams (15 oz), the Pixel X800 is 408.7 grams (14.42 oz) and the Godox Ving 860C weight 420 grams (14.8 oz) and 540 grams (19 oz) with it’s Li-Ion battery inserted.
The hot shoe locks in place by a standard lock ring that screws over it. It sits firmly in place with no play whatsoever on my D700 and has never once lost contact during my one year of use.
The battery loading magazine is a unique Nissin feature. One BM-02 magazine comes included with the Di700 and it can also be purchased separately as a spare. You preload it with batteries and the swap takes about 4 seconds. Brilliant. The flash will go for about 200 full power pops on a charge of Ni-Mh, more than i had need for at kindergarten parties and various family or school events, but wedding photographers will appreciate this smart, time saving feature feature.
One of the most important features on a flash is the feel and operation of the head for tilting and turn it. You need to push a button on the side of the head to start moving it to a different position. It offers enough resistance not to be moved by accident. I personally prefer not to have to push any buttons to move the head, but many photographers prefers to have it lock into place once the desired position is reached, so it can’t be moved by accident.
The back panel is solid black. A short press of the power button with turn the flash ON, another short one will lock it so you can’t change the settings by accident (released by a long press), and then a final long press will turn it off. This is not ideal, i like to have a physical switch and turn the flash off when i require ambient light only, but since this has been my main flash for a year, i managed to overcome this by setting the preview button on my Nikon D700 to “no flash”.
I used the Di700 a lot when i needed power in mid day strong light and it has never once let me down. I rarely had to fiddle with the compensation, the TTL exposure did a fantastic job and i was very happy with the results:
The SET button will turn on the menu which is just colourful, very bright led indicators for each mode and its options. You circle through using the selector dial:
A – completely automatic, no exposure compensation, flash will set exposure by itself.
Ttl – does what it says, and you can use the selector wheel directly to change exposure compensation in half stops (up/down to 2 stops from the flash itself), and the setting appears as yellow LED lines on the display with the exact compensation value in white above them. I was immediately taken with the display. This is in fact all you need to know when shooting and it’s bright and visible at any time. One downside here, if you don’t lock the flash you may change FEC by accident. But that would only add one click (of the lock button), so if you’re testing various power settings, these are accessible directly. I like that a lot.
M – manual mode, down to 1/128th power, visible via the same yellow led lines, but this time the scale will show beneath them in white.
Sd – standard optical slave, with pre-flash ignore (i assume the “d” stands for digital). You set the power as in manual mode above.
Sf – standard optical slave, the Di700 will fire at the manually set setting, as above, at the first flash of light it detects.
Wireless mode – Brand-specific wireless slave. Another press of the set button here will now move on to the slave group selection. Select A,B or C with the wheel and press Set again, now the Di700 will flash 2 red leds in the front to show it is in slave mode.
The flash will go into standby in about 2 minutes of idle time when on camera, and 5 minutes in any of the slave modes off camera. 60 idle minutes will turn it off.
A long press of the SET button will reset the settings.
That’s it!! Did i mention that it’s brilliant in it’s simplicity?
The selector wheel is easy to turn with the tip of the finger and you can feel the clicks very clearly.
Ready light is green, charging light is red. AF assist is a standard red light, very useful in the dark.
Exposures are always right on and very consistent. I have had very very little problems with wireless triggering with my D700, even outdoors during the mornings i shot macro. Reliability is one of the features you are paying for here, besides a fine build.
This has been my main flash unit for more than a year now, and i shot it around the house, on and off camera, outside when i needed high speed sync (FP sync in Nikon speak) and at every family, kindergarten and school event, as you can see on this page. It was a joy to use and one of the best purchases in my gear.
2 things are missing in my opinion, but obviously these have not been a deal breaker since i went on using it for as long as i did. One is audio confirmation, in many situations i could use a “ready” beep. And secondly, there is no manual zoom for the head, it will zoom all by itself and you cannot set it where you need it. This would be a good time to mention that zooming is very quiet.
Lots of power is available. Recycling is reasonably fast, advertised by Nissin at 4 seconds or less, i can confirm that is about right.
During normal use (which for me is running after my girls around the house and snapping away), it was a joy to use and after a very short while shooting with it, i noticed that it keeps up with me and i don’t need to worry about it. At 4 sec recycling you need to mind full power pops, and remember to let it recycle. If shooting indoors, go to the highest ISO you can live with so you can save on flash power, thus in recycle times, depending of course how fast you intend to work it. An external power pack dramatically improves recycling and the total number of flashes (around 1s with the Nissin PS8 power pack).
Overheating is on par with other units i used, such as Yongnuo’s, Oloong and Sunpaks. When the red LED starts blinking, the overheat protection is on and it does a very good job of looking out for your flash. That will happen somewhere beyond 20 to 30 consecutive flashes, depending of course on the power level used, and the flash will be down for 15 mins to cool off. I never had the patience to wait it out, i just turned it off, waited for a couple of minutes and put it right back to work. If you’re not careful, you risk frying it, so please don’t try this at home :).
In summary, i would like to say that i whole-heartedly recommend this unit. Especially if you are a first time buyer, looking to get a good flash gun and are not that comfortable with spending your money on one of the chinese units (which have quite a lot going for them, i must say).
It’s well built, incredibly easy to operate for both beginners and advanced users, which will appreciate the simplicity, consistent, and has all the features you need for serious flash photography.
If you’re after radio capabilities for the triggering, Nissin has good news for you. For 2015 they introduced the newly developed NAS (Nissin Air system) which features a radio capable version of the Di700, the Di700A, and a radio trasnsmitter, the Nissin Air 1, which can control 3 groups in wireless TTL from the top of your camera. The pair is announced at the same price the Di700 currently retails for, so expect the Di700 prices to drop significantly once the Di700A hits the market.
Whichever one you choose, Nissin offers a great deal here.
Link to the Di700 User Manual.