Trent Chau | Photographer and Instructor

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The Nissin Di866 Flash for Canon – A real world usage review

I wish all my boxes came with cool little icons that actually do a good job of showing what the product does.

The Nissin Di866 isn’t a particularly new product, having been announced and released well over a year ago. So when I messaged B&H Photovideo about testing the Di866 I wasn’t looking to ooh and ah people about the tech specs of the flash, or mesmerize people with what newfangle technology the Di866 possessed, but really answer two simple questions:

1) How well does it work in real use situations?

2) How does it compare to Canon’s 580 EX II.

In the last 2 weeks the Di866 has been through a gauntlet of three weddings, macro usage, portrait usage, and more and here is what I came up with.

Not familiar with the Nissin Di866? Find out more at Nissin’s Di866 Website

Check out the Nissin Di866 Flickr Group for samples of photos taken with the Nissin Di866

Apologies ahead of time. The Nissin Di866 was stored in my bag for wedding use and have gotten a little dusty, and also my cat is shedding a wee bit. So pictures posted may not be 100% commercial clean. Hey a product that looks used looks more loved right?

The Nissin Di866 out of the box :

There’s no use going over all the features of the flash (check the link above if you would like to read up on that), but it’s always nice discussing how something new feels in our hand. Once you open the well design box, and take the Di866 out it looks like a pretty good flash. It’s well designed and doesn’t look too old like say a 550ex or a Sigma EF530DG, and compares well in design to the SB-900 or the 580ex II. Unfortunately the feel of the housing doesn’t match well to the composite materials of the 580 EX II, and it feels a little flimsier/lighter/cheaper to the touch.

Compares in size to the 580 (old 430 there for reference). You can see from the image the plastic is molded differently (smoother) and from touch it feels less durable

Something I was disheartened to see is the old screw style mounting mechanism for the hot shoe, while this isn’t a deal breaker of any sort I’ve been spoiled by the sliding switch mechanisms of the 580ex II, and even the SB-900. Almost to the point that I forgot which direction tightens and loosens on the old screw heads like this one.

Ah the old hotshoe screw mount. Met with a big giant resounding meh.

A feature that Nissin pitches is the use of a battery cartridge (Vivitar 285 users should be familiar with this) that doesn’t require you to match positive/negative terminals because all the batteries are suppose to face the same direction. How this really helps eluded me, as the cartridge itself looked more cumbersome and annoying that a door flap that lets you drop batteries and put some in. It’s really a moot point though, I never had to change the batteries in the field during use, and it was easy enough to replace the batteries to recharge them in the luxury of home.

It felt like I was loading a six shooter each time I had to replace the battery.

A feature of the flash I was really excited about was the sub flash up front. Since I shoot a lot of weddings with the stock bounce card (Nope, no Gary Fong or anything like that) it was exciting to see the possible results from the sub flash up front. The review will further cover it later, but my initial response and final response was a resounding “That’s a neat trick”, so take that as you may.

Lastly the screen and interface itself. Now here is something I wish Canon would jump on. The LCD in the back is cool. I wish the Nissin Di866 screen would refresh faster (it reminds me of viewing jpgs on a 286 computer in 1993, but a little faster) but outside of that the interface is way too cool. The menu is simple to navigate, and it makes sense. There’s really not much too it, and you really don’t need instructions to just jump in and use it.

Unlike the 580 EX II the Nissin flash head doesn’t require an unlock button press to tilt/pivot/rotate its head. While this may be an issue of you held the flash sideways and had a heavier modifier on it, it really didn’t affect me any during field use. Pretty much during the whole time using it the Di866 was as quick to alter and configure as the 580EX II in the field.
Overall the Di866 is a pretty good flash. The build quality and lack of a new type shoe are areas that could be improved, along with the refresh of the lcd, but outside of that the flash feels nice and seems well built. Compared to the 580 EX II you don’t immediately get any feelings that it lacks much unless you are looking for things like weather tightness (the 580EX II looks better protected)

The conclusion of the review will say a little more about how the Di866 compares to the 580EX II, now it’s time for real world reviews.

The review will talk about the Nissin Di866 for Portraiture, for Macro shooting, and lastly some heavy testing on the wedding front. I’m still actually shooting some test shots with it so those following components will be up soon.

The Nissin Di866 for Portraiture


Here are a few samples portraits taken with the Nissin Di866:

Lighting - Norman ML600R camera left with Gridbox, Nissin Di866 Camera right as kicker running 1/2 power. Test was to see how quick it refreshed (which it did admirably, no issues during the 160 shots we took that night).

Lighting - Norman ML600R camera left with Gridbox, Nissin Di866 Camera right as kicker running 1/2 power. Test was to see how quick it refreshed (which it did admirably, no issues during the 160 shots we took that night).

Lighting - Nissin Di866 with 20 degree grid on camera right at 1/4 power with CP-e4 battery pack. Nikon SB-24 on camera left with a 10 degree grid. This test was to see how it performed with a CP-e4 battery pack outside on wireless. Once again it didn't miss a beat.

 

Lighting - Nissin Di866 with 20 degree grid on camera right at 1/4 power with CP-e4 battery pack. Nikon SB-24 on camera left with a 10 degree grid. This test was to see how it performed with a CP-e4 battery pack outside on wireless. Once again it didn't miss a beat.

The Nissin Di866 for Macro Close Ups

The fun of being a photographer is you randomly end up with parts that you think you may use one day. In this case I have a lot of random videographer mounts that allow you to put the hotshoe on the side of the camera. Long story short I jury rigged one of those mounts and created a contraption to attach the Nissin Di866 too. On the Nissin itself I carved a soft-box out of some black matte board so that that it was position just to the left side of my Canon 100 2.8L IS Macro. Shooting at 1/8th power, it was time to go explore the world at f11~16, iso 100~200, with the Nissin Di866.

There really isn’t anything special to say about the Nissin here. Paired with a off camera cord it flashed perfectly every time, and worked like a charm. I never really had to change the flash power, so there was no worries about control handling, but if one had too the settings are as simple as pressing left and right on the multi-controller.

Here are some samples pretty much straight out of camera (minus some cropping).

Some type of flower - Canon 5D mark II with 100 2.8L IS Macro

Some type of bug on some type of plant - Canon 5D Mark II with 100 2.8L IS Macro

Seeds – Canon 5D Mark II with 100 2.8L IS Macro

Elly looks up - Canon 5D Mark II with 100 2.8L IS Macro

 

The flash put out clear, consistent light. The zoom head is a little loud and can potentially scare some insects or things sensitive to sound. This was important because if the flash goes to stand bye, it seems to reset the zoom factor to zero. I can’t say this with 100% accuracy but I do remember hearing it zoom a bit.

The Nissin Di866 for heavy duty shooting, a.k.a. Weddings

Having a lot of wow features on paper is one thing, but a true test to any photography device is use in heavy shooting, fast pace, stressful environments. Weddings are well in the top 3 of the most equipment trying situations a professional photographer can place themselves into every year. Your flash head is firing hundreds, or possible over a thousand shots in less than 8 hours. You are constantly jerking the flash head in various different positions. The motor from your flash head is zooming in and out constantly, and lastly the hot shoe is constantly being hit while you suspend the camera around you. Most flashes survive the first day, but you can imagine after 30~40 weddings in a year the effects start showing.

Obviously I couldn’t put the Nissin Di866 through 30~40 weddings. What I did do though is put it through 4 weddings. This gave me enough feel for the flash to test results from flash, ease of use, any possible issues, and come up with a commercial conclusion about the flash.

 

__________________________________________________________________
Thank you and credits :

Thanks to Aglae and Reagen Michelle for Modeling – and to Tiffany Bayona and Ian Smith for assisting at said shoots
Thanks to Jamie Howell for allowing me to 2nd shoot at three weddings and test out the Nissin Di866
Thanks to B&H Photovideo for loaning me the Di866.

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About trentchau

Photographer, videographer, and photography instructor in Atlanta. Born in New Orleans. I love food more than photography, but do love photography quite a bit.

20 comments on “The Nissin Di866 Flash for Canon – A real world usage review

  1. Joe Hoyle
    September 13, 2010

    Great review. Love the cat photo above. I own this flash and I have been have fun with it.

  2. Ivan Lietaert
    October 2, 2010

    After reading your hand’s on review, I purchased a used Nissin Di622 on eBay. For my kind of photography – family stuff – I couldn’t be happier! Just swiveling the flash to the ceiling makes so much nicer pictures than the my 550D/T2i pop-up flash. Batteries last very long, and the flash communicates very well with the camera in TTL mode.

  3. Michael Mitten
    October 20, 2010

    Great review Trent. Glad you got to review my flash!! You should buy one. 😉

  4. Howard
    November 24, 2010

    Great review. I was thinking about this Nissin Di866 and the Canon 580ex.

    After reading your review, I decided to get 2 x Nissin instead of just 1 Canon 580ex.

  5. Stratman
    December 21, 2010

    Nice short and sweet review, Trent. I’d like to have an additional strobe for off-shoe flash but I don’t want to spend on an expensive Speedlite 580EX II or another 430EX II.

    I’ve read that only Speedlites can be controlled directly by an EOS dSLR. Can an EOS dSLR camera control the Di866 from the camera’s menu? I can never figure out the cryptic Fn settings on my 430EX II, lol. Flash photography is my weakest point therefore forgive this noob question.

    Also, in your opinion would you use the Nissin Di866 as your main, on-camera flash instead of the 580EX II or would you rather delegate it as a slave unit?

    I know off-brand flashes are supposed to be compatible with EOS dSLRs, but am a bit wary of mounting one on the hot shoe. You know how it is with Canon – they would not honor warranty claims if a third party flash somehow damages the camera’s electronics.

    thanks for your time,

    Stratman.

    • TrentChau | Photography
      December 21, 2010

      ’ve read that only Speedlites can be controlled directly by an EOS dSLR. Can an EOS dSLR camera control the Di866 from the camera’s menu? I can never figure out the cryptic Fn settings on my 430EX II, lol. Flash photography is my weakest point therefore forgive this noob question.

      Currently only 2 camera’s in the EOS system can remotely control a EX speedlite, these are the 7D and the 60D. If you use a ST-E2 transmitter, a 550ex, or a 580ex I/II you can make those units controller units also. The 430 ex II, and the 420 are only recieving units along with the flashes mentioned above. The Nissin Di866 has both master/slave function also like the 580EX II.

      Also, in your opinion would you use the Nissin Di866 as your main, on-camera flash instead of the 580EX II or would you rather delegate it as a slave unit?

      I think the flash is a very capable main flash easily comparable to the 580ex II in many regards. The only hesitation I have is that it doesn’t have much of a proven track record as the 580ex II in usage and pedigree, but that’s just a small worry.

      I know off-brand flashes are supposed to be compatible with EOS dSLRs, but am a bit wary of mounting one on the hot shoe. You know how it is with Canon – they would not honor warranty claims if a third party flash somehow damages the camera’s electronics.

      It’s a standard universal mount that’s been out for a while, so it’s rare that Canon would say such things unless it’s blatently obvious. The Nissin Flash wouldn’t be a problem.

  6. Stratman
    December 21, 2010

    Thanks for the speedy reply, Trent.

    I’ve read some folks’ recommendations using cheap, China branded strobes like Yong Nuo, JJC, et al but none of them are IR controlled and I have to use RF wireless triggers and set the flash units on manual output. I doubt if those generic cheapies are E-TTL II capable either.

    Thanks to your recommendations, it looks like the Nissin Di866 will be my second flash after my existing 430EX II. I found out that the Nissin costs only half that of a brand new 430EX II where I live.

    Actually my original question pertained to the Nissin Di866 being able to have its settings, e.g. FEC, 2nd curtain, high speed sync, etc controlled via the camera’s menu so that I could dial in the external flash settings from the body and not from the Nissin’s flash menu. (Hope I’m getting through here!) 🙂

    I do know about the optional ST-E2 transmitter and the 7D and 60D’s (I have the latter now, yay!) built-in wireless Speedlite controller, which is a totally different subject matter.

    I should have made myself more clearly, sorry! 🙂

    cheers,
    Stratman.

    • TrentChau | Photography
      December 21, 2010

      I’ve read some folks’ recommendations using cheap, China branded strobes like Yong Nuo, JJC, et al but none of them are IR controlled and I have to use RF wireless triggers and set the flash units on manual output. I doubt if those generic cheapies are E-TTL II capable either.

      Yep they are mostly all manual control RF. There are some TTL solutions though coming out that are radio. THe most popular one right now is the Radio Popper Px system which works well enough from what reviews say. Because of how new it is you pay a premium for the convenience. Upwards to $600 just for one flash to work (and you need at least one controller flash, so total cost can be as little as $1300 just to start). There is a really cool system called the Radio Popper JrX that uses TTL squelching. Pretty much what this means is your flash is on manual control, but from your camera you can control the output power of the flash and still have the convenience of radio triggers (consistentcy over IR, and 100~200 meter range).

      Thanks to your recommendations, it looks like the Nissin Di866 will be my second flash after my existing 430EX II. I found out that the Nissin costs only half that of a brand new 430EX II where I live. I wouldn’t be surprised if you use it as your primary. It outputs more power out, and the Di866 is meant to be an alternative to the 580ex II so you get a lot of the “Pro” features with it. Pair it with a CP-e4 and you can get like 800 pops out of it. A lot more than the 430ex II anyday.

      Actually my original question pertained to the Nissin Di866 being able to have its settings, e.g. FEC, 2nd curtain, high speed sync, etc controlled via the camera’s menu so that I could dial in the external flash settings from the body and not from the Nissin’s flash menu. (Hope I’m getting through here!)

      Argh wish I can tell you this one, I made all the changes via flash. Part of me remembers changing it via the camera….but don’t take my work for it. Let me try my buddies this week and I’ll get back to you about it.

  7. Dee
    December 28, 2010

    Hello, I have had my Nissin Di866 for a year now and used it a half a dozen times for less than 100 pictures. The other day the timing just went wrong. I think something shorted out because i could smell a burnt electrical type smell. Now it will flash but not at the right time so on auto or ttl the frame or pic is dark and on manual it is way over exposed. Anyway, I think it had a two year warranty but I am finding it impossible to know where to send it for repair or who to talk to about repair. I bought it from amazon. Do you have any suggestions. the website for nissin has English but no US numbers. I emailed them and have yet to hear anything back. 2 days ago now. I am probably going to have to eat it and I think I will buy the cannon 580 – maybe get better customer service. Thanks for any suggestions.

    • Howard
      December 30, 2010

      I found that they have an office in Hong Kong. may be you can try calling their Hong Kong Office directly and get the local contact details.

      http://www.nissin.com.hk/index.htm

      A small brand like this should provide better customer service to stay in the market. I had a Sigma flash and it doesn’t work with the 5D mark II, and I sent that back for service, they upgraded the firmware without charges.

      I hope Nissin will do similar things for you.

      BTW, now I have a Sigma 500 DG Super and Nissin Di866 they can work together in wireless mode. very happy with them.

    • Ivan Lietaert
      December 30, 2010

      You should contact the reseller, Amazon, and they should take care of any warranty issue. At least, that’s the case where I live, in Europe.

      • Daniel
        December 30, 2010

        Hello, I have the same issue as Dee, the TTL stoped working suddenly, the flash still works in manual (baring you adjust it for every shot..)

        It actually died doing remote flashing, it wasn’t behaving as normal when you push the power button and on changing the batteries the TTL menu was all screwy.

        I bought it this summer so that 6 months of amateur use. Was not flashing a lot when it broke down either.

  8. lightscript
    February 13, 2011

    Hi Trent! Great review. Thank you! You still have us waiting for the promised sequel though! After 6 months+ of use, I guess a more insightful review would be of great value.

    Thanks again!

    Best regards
    Yannis

  9. jonggi
    February 21, 2011

    thanks for the review. it helps me now for i had been thinking of which flash to choose, either the 430 or this nissin 866. my choice is nissin d866. thanks

  10. Locography
    May 6, 2011

    Hi Trent,

    It was probably the best review of the flash but was expecting more on the technical terms.
    I am about to buy a flash and I am not really aware of the most important aspects that a flash should have.

    I figured out that

    1 The guide number is important. I do portraits so probably a very large guide number isnt what i really need.

    2. The recovery speed. Not sure how much difference it makes.

    3. The noise. A lot of reviews dont mention the noise. How important is it?

    4. Swivel head. This flash has really good swivel functions, but still lacks the -7 vertical degree bend. Is it really that important?

    5. Wireless ability

    6. Cord. One thing i wanna ask you is, does this flash support a cord, by which I can hold d flash in my hand and still retain the TTL II function. This also solves the swivel head function

    7. Master / Slave capability. which u have answered in one of the answers.

    Would you be able to answer this briefly? or maybe have a tutorial on how important each aspect of a flash is and list out the most important one?

    • Sotir
      December 1, 2011

      1. You can never have enough power. What if someday you need to shoot at f/22?
      2. The recovery speed is one of the most important things. You have to make 3 shots in 1 second but the flash can’t recover= missed shots.
      3.It’s not an issue. I prefer the noise on my older flashes because once it stops I know the flash is charged. I don’t need to take my eye of the viewfinder to see if the green light is on. However some flashes offer a “beep” sound, but sometimes it may be inconvenient to use it and that’s when the recycling noise comes in handy.
      4. I never use the -7 degree tilt.
      5. Wireless is somewhat important if you are planning to improve your light techniques. Off camera flash, etc.
      6. The cord doesn’t solve the swivel function. All flashes support cord! But it won’t solve the swivel, mainly because you will have to hold the camera with one hand, giving you a great potability to drop the camera and be sorry for the rest of your life.
      I know it’s a very late response but who knows, you might be still looking for the answers.

  11. Coastal Retreats
    November 27, 2011

    At the start of your review you say “it was exciting to see the possible results from the sub flash up front. The review will further cover it later, but my initial response and final response was a resounding ‘That’s a neat trick’.”

    Do you cover this again somewhere late, I couldn’t see it

    • trentchau
      February 29, 2012

      Sorry, this review kinda just died. I’ll look through the image archives and see if this can be salvaged.

  12. Pingback: Is Nissin Di866 mk2 good as a starter flash ?

  13. andy
    July 4, 2012

    Hello! I recently (2 days ago) bought a 600D and I want to buy a flash. What do you recommend? 430X II or Di866? And do you know if my pop-up flash can trigger any one of those?

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This entry was posted on September 10, 2010 by in Flash and Studio Lighting, Photography Equipment Reviews and tagged , , , , , .

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