Nissin MG80 Pro & Air 10s Commander

The build quality of the Nissin MG80 Pro is what you’d expect from a high-end product. The flash is rather heavy, perfectly finished, with a ventilated head that enables it to maintain its highest speed over a good number of shots. Its colour LCD-interface shows largely graphic but clear information. The battery door closes with a robust locking mechanism, the mounting foot is all metal with a large ring for fastening with gloves on. The knobs are big enough for gloves-on operation, but the select dial is a bit too small. Luckily, it controls lesser-used features such as HSS, channel switching for Nissin Air System), manual zooming and the switch for audible feedback.

A first, for me at least, is that the flash comes with two exchangeable lenses. You can remove the zoom head by gently pulling the back away from the body and pry off the Fresnel lens, then insert a clear lens or one that has small squares etched into the plastics. It’s a nice accessory but one that I think I wouldn’t use much.

The Nissin website tells you the MG80 Pro is incompatible with a Sony A700 — my antiquated DSLR — but I found it works well. The MG80 Pro offers TTL automatic flash exposure with /- 2EV compensation in 1/3EV step intervals and a manual flash output mode, offering 1/256 to 1/1 control in 1/3 step intervals. My test unit — the Sony version — is NAS enabled and the distributor sent me the Air 10s Commander to test that as well.

On Sony cameras, the MG80 Pro supports both ADI and PTTL. The flash offers first curtain and second curtain sync, red-eye reduction, HSS (up to 1/8000s at 1/32 to 1/1 output) and slow shutter sync. It zooms from 24mm to 200mm. With the built-in diffusor, you can throw a flash covering up to an 18mm wide-angle’s range.

Other high-end features include continuous flash mode with up to 10 shots/sec, a really useful modelling light, advanced grouping capabilities and TTL memory.

I was pleasantly surprised by the user-friendly interface. Many of the controls hide more functionality than is shown; to operate those, you’ll have to consult the manual; many of them require you to hold a button for several seconds. The firmware of this flash can be updated using a Micro SD-card slot.

One thing I couldn’t test with my old A700 was its performance with NAS for off-camera control of multiple flashes — it offers eight channels, eight groups and a maximum transmission distance of 100 meters — but the A10s is correctly listed as incompatible with my camera. I couldn’t make it do anything but trigger the flash by pressing the test button on the thing itself.

One of the advanced and best features of the MG80 Pro is its modelling light. On my Mecablitz 64 AF–1 digital, this feature makes the flash itself strobe for about five seconds and on top of that, it’s an optional feature you have to select in the menu.

On the Nissin MG80 Pro, it’s a constant light you turn on with a simple button for as long as you wish. When used in a NAS setup with other flashes, the modelling light of the whole group can be switched on.

The HSS functionality of the MG80 Pro is simply brilliant. It uses a bracket of 1/32s to 1/1s which is really useful and it implies you can not just freeze action but also, for example, shoot an interior without the need to create an HDR image in post-production to show what’s outside a window that happens to be in the frame.

The basics of the Nissin MG80 Pro are spot-on as well. My test unit created beautifully even results at every output level with only a very slight falloff in the bottom left corner at the 1/256s setting. The Li-ion recycling time was spot-on as well, but “only” for about eight shots instead of the promised 10.

Yes, the Nissin MG80 Pro is a fantastic flash to work with, both on- and off-camera. It’s not cheap, though. The flash retails at €499 in some areas of Europe. In the US, it retails at $549.95.