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Review posted 09/9/03

The Zenon MagneFlash 57 is a flat-panel electronic flash unit for use with digital or regular film cameras (does anybody still use one of those?)   This is a self-contained and slave-activated flash unit with a 5 x 7 inch metal backed optical panel that's only 1/8-inch thick. It has a standard shoe foot so it can be mounted on a camera's flash shoe, mounted on a flash stand (not included) or handheld.

The MagneFlash is ideal for illuminating objects photographed at close range, especially highly reflective objects. The flash light is diffused by the large optical panel and much more evenly distributed than conventional, direct flash units. It's also good for head and shoulder portrait shots. The flash color temperature is 5600°K, the same as daylight so it can be used as a fill source with mixed daylight illumination. The light output is sufficient to use an F8 aperture @ 0.5 m at ISO 200.

The MagneFlash 57 works like a flash with a soft-box but it's more compact and easier to use. You can produce professional looking product photography with one or two of these flash units and a seamless background. The sample photos below were created using only one MagneFlash 57, two or more will give you even better results by totally eliminating all directional shadows. These flash units are reasonably priced (approx. $103 USD) so purchasing two or three of them won't require a loan from the bank.

Even excellent macro digicams like the Nikon Coolpix line have a problem with closeup flash pictures. On-camera flash is harsh, reflective and wreaks havoc on the exposure system. The solution is to cover the camera's flash with one of the included infrared filters and use the soft and diffused light from the MagneFlash 57. No wires are needed, it is triggered by an integral infrared sensor when the camera's flash fires -- the camera's flash light is now invisible thanks to the IR filter. You can also leave the built-in flash uncovered and use both flash units when desired.

Shown here is a Coolpix 4500 with the infrared filter over its flash tube. This filter can be easily attached or removed whenever you want normal use of the camera's built-in flash.

MagneFlash 57 Plus kit

We reviewed the MagneFlash 57 Plus outfit which includes the flash unit, AC charger unit, manual and a PC sync cord. Only the "Plus" unit has the PC sync capability, all of them will operate in slave mode.

The available MagneFlash 57 kits are:

  • MagneFlash 57 Kit 1 - One MagneFlash 57, Mains Charger, IR Filters, Instructions. 65+vat (~$103 USD)

  • MagneFlash 57 Kit 2 - Two MagneFlash 57's, Mains Charger, IR Filters, Instructions. 112+vat (~$178 USD)

  • MagneFlash 57Plus - for digital SLR cameras - Includes low voltage sync. cord & Hi/Lo power switch. 88+vat (~$140 USD)

Click here to order a MagneFlash 57 or to get more information

Side views of the MagneFlash 57 Plus with the Hi-Lo power switch (Lo reduces light output by about one F-stop) and the PC sync connector jack. On the front is the large and sensitive infrared receiver port.

All MagneFlash 57 units are powered by a built-in NiMH rechargeable battery, it's good for about 250 flashes per charge. The battery can be charged in six hours or less with the included AC charger. The battery is internal and not removeable.

MagneFlash 57 Sample Photos

MagneFlash pictures on the left -- on the right is built-in flash only

All pictures taken with a Nikon Coolpix 4500 in Aperture priority mode at approx. F4.7 at ISO 100 with the built-in flash set to forced On, white balance on automatic and a shutter speed of 1/60 second. The product photos were taken at a range of about 2-3 feet, the portrait shot was taken at about 5 feet.

Steve's conclusion

A picture is worth a thousand words so if you look at the sample photos above you'll see about four thousand words of approval for this product. If you you need to do high quality closeup pictures or product photos or you post things on eBay or whatever - this is a simple and very functional lighting system. For the occassional hobbyist the price might be a bit prohibitive but for even the semi-serious user it would be cheap at twice the price.

The only "gotcha" I can see is that the infrared slave trigger only works with cameras that use a single-pulse flash. Luckily this is the vast majority of the digicams but not all of them, some Olympus and Minolta cameras employ a pre-flash pulse and these can't be used. However, some of these cameras can be put into "fill" or "forced on" flash mode and trigger the MagneFlash 57 properly. If in doubt about your camera, be sure to ask before placing your order.

I love this flash unit, it produces an even and well diffused source of light that makes your subject look very natural with no shiny "hot spots." This nifty small and highly portable flash unit should be in any digi-photographer's bag of tricks - it's a definite winner.

MagneFlash 57

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