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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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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).
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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