In all of the hype surrounding the announcement of Sony’s a7R III, you may have missed the unveiling of the company’s latest flash, the HVL-F60RM. The updated flagship flash prioritizes portability and versatility by slimming down its physical size and adding wireless TTL capabilities. Additionally, the new flash can be accessorized with the FA-EBA1 Battery Pack, which is also compatible with the older HVL-F60M, adding up to 660 flashes per set of eight AA batteries. Recycle times have been chopped in half, to 0.1-1.7 seconds between exposures in the new flash, and further reduced with the addition of the battery pack. The HVL-F60RM can support the a7 III and a7R III's unique 10 fps shooting with flash. Although this is the norm with high-end studio lighting, it is almost unknown in the world of speedlights. Speed of use is enhanced with the flash's Quick Shift feature, which is Sony's original flash-head rotating mechanism, with the main unit tiltable from horizontal to vertical, allowing fast flash position changes. I got my hands on a pair of flashes and the new battery pack to test out in studio.
The first thing I noticed about the HVL-F60RM was its small size compared to its predecessor, even though it manages to pack a guide number of 197' at ISO 100 and 105mm. This should come as a welcome change for Sony’s mirrorless users, though there is a minor sacrifice to power and zoom range compared to its predecessor. Don’t get me wrong—it still looks comical when attached to an a6500, but that’s where the HVL-F45RM fills the gap with smaller bodies. Add a grip to your a7R III or a9 and the proportions start to even out. A metal shoe has been added to improve stability and durability. The built-in LED light has moved from the top to the bottom part of the flash. The interface has been simplified and a “Lock” position added to avoid inadvertently changing settings while shooting. Internally, Sony has made material and computational changes that it claims have doubled its resistance to overheating. I did not encounter any problems with overheating during my test.
The battery pack is a little 8-AA battery holster with a coiled cord that attaches to the bottom of the flash. This design is not unique to Sony; several manufacturers offer them. It is also not new—Minolta introduced theirs more than 20 years ago. These external battery packs have DC-DC converter switching power supplies, which raise the voltage of the AA batteries to provide much more power to the flash. That’s also a reason the coiled cable is so thick. This configuration not only enables longer battery life, it also enables faster operation and higher output for longer periods. The battery pack can operate on four batteries, if needed, and the cartridge design makes it easy and simple to load—especially since it’s symmetrical and can fit both ways. Therefore, you don’t fuss with figuring out which orientation is necessary to insert it.
The battery pack comes with a protective pouch, which is a good thing because I don’t have a lot of confidence that its plastic shell could survive a drop when fully loaded. A belt loop is included on the pouch for easy, hands-free carry. The belt loop also works as a tripod leg strap, especially handy when the flash is on a stand and the photographer is shooting from a distance using the FA-WRC1M Commander.
Over the past few years, Sony has been building its wireless flash capabilities, first with the FA-WRC1M Commander and FA-WRR1 Wireless Radio Receiver, and more recently with the HVL-F45RM. The HVL-F60RM boasts a 2.4 GHz radio transceiver with a 98' operating range. It can act as a commander or receiver in setups that include up to fifteen flashes in up to three groups; it can be triggered by another radio-equipped flash or the Wireless Commander. Pairing the devices was a relatively painless endeavor. Because I had two samples, I could test the flash as a commander, as well as receiver. Overall, the communication was consistent; however, there were a few frustrating moments when a flash failed to trigger, leaving me with a poorly lit subject and unusable image.
Shifting to a wireless flash system not only eliminates the need for annoying TTL-cables but, even more importantly, allows you to move your light source wherever you might need it. This capability especially benefits photographers shooting on location in difficult-to-access places. Being able to pack a few flashes instead of a few strobes can make a huge logistical (and chiropractic) difference when heading off the beaten path. Similarly, this freedom allows you to pair the flash with larger light modifiers than can be used on-camera easily. For example, it was easy to set up with Profoto’s Deep White Umbrella (51") using the Dot Line Triple Flash Bounce Umbrella Mount. I was impressed by the output and quality of light that I could produce using this simple, very portable setup. The performance boost offered by the new battery pack only furthered its appeal. Two memory settings are available for near-instant recall of different setups, and custom keys allow you to assign functions. While I would not recommend trading all your strobes for HVL-F60RMs, when faced with a situation where you need solid light in a small package, the updated flagship presents a great option.
Do you use Sony’s wireless flash system? Are you excited for this new release? Let us know in the Comments section, below.