This is part one of a three part series on using flash the Fuji X Series. This part is a review of the EF-42 flash and this will be followed by Part 2 : TTL Off Camera TTL and then ending with Part 3 : Using Multiple Flashes With Radio Triggers.
I often get emails asking about using Flash with the Fuji X Series. Mostly the questions are about using TTL, Nikon or Canon Flashguns or the Nikon SU800 Commander with the X series. Another big question is - Can an off camera TTL cord be used and if so, which one? So I thought I'd take a fresh look at using Fuji X cameras with flash. My friend John a commercial photographer and he's really tempted by the X-Pro1, but he uses flash most of the time and isn't sure if the X system is up for it. I have a job at the end of this week that might need flash due to the time of day in January and a dark venue. There won't be time to use one of my Nikon guns in manual mode with a radio trigger, so TTL will be a must. This all added up to a good excuse to pick up a Fuji EF-42 TTL Flash and give it a blast.
FUJIFILM EF-42 TTL FLASH The EF-42 is basically a Sunpak PZ42X with a jacket on (the EF-20 is also a Sunpak model). It's not as well made as a Nikon or Canon flash gun, but at half the price, it's good enough. When you mount the flash on the camera and switch it on, autofocus won't work until the flash charges and the Test/Charge light is iluminated and like a kettle boiling, it seems to take a long time when you're watching it. But when it's lit there's no problem and everything works as it should after that. But I would rather take a shot without the flash firing than miss the shot as it could maybe be recovered in Lightroom with a bit of exposure and a possible conversion to black and white.
The back panel on the EF-42 is minimalist compared to a Nikon or Canon unit, with buttons for Mode, Select, On/Off and Test. It’s certinly easy to understand how the controls work, which is a breath of fresh air if you have ever used an SB800 at any point. But it would be nice to have dedicated a couple of buttons for -EV & +EV, as there's too many button presses to move up and then down EV. TTL works well and the handy pop-out wide angle lens is usefull. I think it's a bit mean not to include a dome diffuser or a foot/stand, but I picked up a diffuser from eBay and I had a spare Nikon foot. A Nikon SB600 Dome Diffuser will fit, but it's very tight and once attached it would be a good idea to leave it in place. A soft case would also have been a welcome addition, but I have a solution for that in Part 2. The hotshoe mount at the bottom of the flash is plastic and looks cheap, plus a switch style lock would have been preferred over a screw down plate.
I would recommend buying a Dome diffuser as the bare flash can be a bit harsh. With the diffuser attached and the flash head tilted up you will get great soft and even light that can fill a small room without any problem. You can find a suitable diffuser on Ebay for very little money. There are even packs of three available (one white and two coloured) that allow balancing the colour of the light from the flash with the room (I prefer gels).
In conclusion, the EF-42 does the job well, but could be a bit better on the built quality front. I think if Fujifilm had made this flash from the ground up, it would have been a much higher quality unit. Now that the X Series lenses are plentiful (almost), it would be nice if Fuji could dedicate a little time to develop a flash system on a par with Nikon's CLS system, but with built in radio instead of infrared and a dedicated commander unit that allows the user to set the power on multiple flashes without moving from camera position. A dedicated flash system is about the only thing the X Series is lacking now.
So that's the EF-42. Stick it on the camera, set it to TTL and you'll get a pretty decent job. But a flash on a camera hot shoe is not the best look for your pictures. The shots look flat, lifeless and can make ugly shadows in the background. So in Part 2 we will look at getting the flash off the camera using a TTL cord and what cord will work with the Fuji X range.