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NonEntity1 Sep 17, 2009 6:02 PM

Pentax AF160FC Ring Flash review
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Here is the official NonEntity on the Pentax AF160FC ring flash (in case you did not get that from the title of the thread). I have only had it out on a couple of expeditions thus far, being somewhat delayed by my K20 going down, but I am happy thus far.

The ring flash comes in a fairly large well padded nylon case. It is soft sided, so it is no Pelican case but it does seem to offer ample protection. There are several rings that screw into different size filter threads and the flash unit itself mounts to those. The battery portion mounts to the hot shoe and the two halves are connected by a thick cord. The overall impression handling the flash is a quality build. The cord is quite thick and the unit is heavier than the Pentax 540 flash.

The controls are fairly simple. On the rear side of the ring itself are the controls to bias the flash power to one side or the other. The on/off switch and overall flash power control are on the battery pack end.

My only quibble with the design and construction would be the cord, which is long enough to sometimes snag on plants and otherwise get in the way. I have, however, learned to run it around the strap on the right side of the body. This keeps the cord out of the way and leaves just enough slack to fully extend my Kiron 105mm macro lens. If this cord had been coiled it would have been more convenient. I guess a second quibble could be the fact I cannot put my lens cap back in place with the flash adapter screwed into the filter threads. Nothing in the flash documentation led me to believe I could, though, so I don't know if this would be a legitimate complaint. It would have been convenient, as I envision keeping the flash adapter on my macro lens most of the time.

Aside from these minor issues, though, I am very happy with the quality case and apparent sturdy construction of this flash. I have not seen the Sigma or Metz competing ring flashes but I would be surprised if either had the same build quality of this unit.

Now, if all goes well, I will attach photos of the lens itself and continue this review with some photos taken with and without the ring flash.

NonEntity1 Sep 17, 2009 8:09 PM

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In use I find the ring flash is slightly slower to recycle than the AF540. It also does not throw light nearly as far. This is not surprising, it is intended to illuminate close up objects after all, but this has resulted in me having more "black" backgrounds on macro shots than I did with the AF540, which would also illuminate further into the near background. The overall difference in light seems to be about one stop and moving to ISO 200 with the ring flash largely evens things out. As I mentioned earlier, the cord tends to hang on branches if it is not tucked through the strap but this is such an easy fix I can hardly quibble.

On the plus side, the ring flash has reduced, though not eliminated, the hot spot reflections in my macro shots. The batteries also seem to last much longer. My first day out with the ring flash I ended up switching batteries long after I would have had to replace them in the 540. I did try biasing the light to one side or the other but seemed to like the ring flash balanced the best. I will continue playing with this feature though.

The flash mounts quickly and securely, two push buttons on the side of the ring retract two retention pins that fit into grooves on the adapter. I did not have any worries about it coming loose and hitting the ground. It is a somewhat front heavy but not too unbalanced on the K20d with the battery grip. Having my flash in line with my lens proved to be a true virtue and I ended my first day out with some great shots of a mining bee digging its burrow. The hole was directly under a scrub oak and my AF540 would have been largely blocked on these shots; the AF160 worked perfectly.

I am pleased with this flash. The build quality exceeded my expectations and it has achieved the results I was looking for. I think the hot shoe flash will continue to see use for some of my macro work but I expect I will be using the ring flash in most instances in the future.

Examples (all shot in jpeg, either full frame or close to full frame resizes):

I tried to find the same or similar species shot with each flash. The first two shots are wasps, #1 with the AF540 and #2 with the AF160. You can see reflections are still there but are more subdued. Also, shot #2 was biased to the camera right, resulting in slightly blown highlights on the rear insect legs. With the ring flash balanced this was generally not an issue.

Shots #3 and #4 are bee flies, the first shot with the AF540 and the second with the ring flash.

Shot #5 is the digger bee photographed under the scrub oak. It is not really a comparison but the ring flash was a definite advantage for this shot. As an interesting side note, she kept coming up from her tunnel with mandibles full of sand, flying a short distance away, apparently dumping her load, and returning for another trip. It was just as I had worked my way in close enough for 1:1 shots when my K20d died).

Hopefully this will be of some use to another forum member considering the AF160.


mtngal Sep 17, 2009 8:52 PM

I've thought about a ring flash off and on. I still am not totally comfortable with flash at all, so I'm not sure I want to invest in one. And I'm not so sure I see enough difference to see where it's offered you that much of an advantage. On the other hand, your last picture is really outstanding!

NonEntity1 Sep 17, 2009 9:20 PM

Thanks for looking Harriet. For the reduced glare the difference is subtle and the hotspots probably bother me more than any one else looking at the photo. I would recommend the flash to anyone who really does a lot of macro, someone who only occasionally photographs insects might be better served spending the money on a lens.


DMJJR Sep 18, 2009 7:54 AM

Thanks for the great review-I am considering using this for portraits as a fill flash-not macro. It is listed at Guide #53 ISO 100-have you tried any other shots other than macro. Just checked the B&H site-seems the price has decreased slightly. Looks like it is really built well. Thanks for all the info

beachboy2 Sep 18, 2009 11:04 AM

Hi Tim. These photos are fabulous!

robar Sep 19, 2009 5:12 PM

can you have only 1 side work or do you have to have the whole thing flash??
great shots.. what's wrong with your k20??

NonEntity1 Sep 19, 2009 7:27 PM

DMJRR: I have not tried using it outside macro. I will make a point to see if one my kids will sit still for some tests, though. Any particular distance you would be interested in?

BeachBoy2: Thank you very much, I had fun taking them.

Roy: Yes, you can have it all right or all left, 1/2 strength right or left with the other side full strength or balanced. I have not heard anything from Pentax yet on what was wrong with my first K20d, hopefully it will be an inexpensive fix, at which point I will have a backup body.


DMJJR Sep 20, 2009 10:50 PM

Thanks for the reply-usually my shots are between 8-15 feet. Would be outdoors used as fill. Thanks

NonEntity1 Sep 27, 2009 9:06 PM

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Sorry it took so long, but hopefully these can help you make your decision. Remember I don't photograph people all that often. The shot of my son was taken with my 105mm macro, set to about f/14. I was about fifteen or so feet away photographing insects in the shallows; it was an overcast day but the sun would have been behind him in the clouds.

The two of my wife were taken with the 18-55mm, f/8, from about eight feet and ten feet. I tried to position her so her face was in shadow and backlit. I thought it did pretty well as fill flash, it certainly gave nice catch lights.

All three shots are from the camera jpeg, no pping except cropping and resizing. My wife did comment the flash left her seeing a white ring for a few seconds after the shot.

Hope that helps,

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