My favorite things to review for this website are flashes. Most people read about cameras and lenses. But the true creators care about light. Flash is, unfortunately, a place where there needs to be a lot more innovation. That's the case with the Sony HVL-F60R M2 especially. Being announced today, this is Sony's new flagship flash. For such an incredibly innovative company, they're surely holding back on their flashes. In fact, the Sony HVL-F60R M2 flashes feel like a bit of an afterthought. And to be frank, we're still not sure who would buy them.
Too Long, Didn't Read
The Sony HVL-F60R M2 is a humdrum update to their flash lineup. It's competent, but there are much more effective lights out there for cheaper. And for a few hundred bucks more, you can get an Elinchrom One. For what it is, it's a good flash. But it's one that the market didn't need. Sony is an incredibly innovative company when it comes to lenses and cameras. You wouldn't think so when you look at the flashes, though.
Pros and Cons
Cobra head continues to unlock so much potential
Stills turns on and off with the camera
Faster flash sync with the a1 is pretty awesome, but not necessary at this point
Feels well built
Comes with Gels and diffuser.
Insanely easy to pair with the Sony wireless radio transmitter.
Fantastic and incredibly fast recycle speed, but I never machine gun shoot with a flash anyway.
Can be used as a receiver with lower end flashes
Rear sync and slow sync is a lot better than the previous version
Solid white balance performance, except when gelled
Never once overheated, but that's not really an issue with flashes these days anyway.
Why is it still using Double A batteries? It's 2021
Sony touts auto white balance accuracy that only first-party equipment can achieve. But I haven't had that problem with other brands in years.
There is no point in using this this off-camera except if you're indoors, at night, or have a lot of light control. For the money, you may as well get an Elinchrom One or a Flashpoint flash instead.
While the faster flash sync abilities with the Sony a1 are awesome, high speed sync is incredibly accessible these days without issue.
Slow flash duration
A touchscreen would've been a nice addition.
The need to constantly pair with other flashes is kind of annoying.
Pretty weak for the price point.
Sony's own TTL is really weird compared to Profoto's
It's $599.99. Why? Just get a Flashpoint Zoom Li-on X R2 TTL that will give you more power output for less money.
If you have an older Sony camera body, there's no point in getting this.
It's 2021 and Sony released a flash without a USB-C interface. Even a far cheaper Flashpoint flash has USB-C.
We tested the Sony HVL-F60R M2 with the:
Sony 35mm f1.8 G
Sony 85mm f1.8
Sony FA-WRC1M Wireless Radio Commander
Sony HVL-F46RM flash, also being announced today.
Roundflash beauty dish
Phottix Luna Octa softbox
The Sony HVL-F60R M2 has better durability at the hot shoe. They're also touting better white balance, but otherwise, it's not an innovative flash at all. Compared to Canon's EL1, which is more pricey, the Sony HVL-F60R M2 can't adapt its power output accordingly. It also lacks a fast flash duration that more affordable Flashpoint lights boast. Overall, the Sony HVL-F60R M2 is an incredibly disappointing update in that it just brings Sony flashes up to par with others in some ways and doesn't innovate at all.
Guide number 60
Linked to camera face detection
Enhance auto white balance accuracy
More rugged shoe
1.7 second recycle time
Up to 200 continuous flashes at 10 fps
The Sony HVL-F60R M2 is a flash that, for the most part, looks like all other hot-shoe flashes on the market. But it's indeed much different. However, it's also akin to much of what Sony has done for years.
Turn to the back of the flash, and you'll find the settings. These are straightforward and simple to use. There's also a solid lock on the bottom.
Turn to the side of the flash, and you'll find the batteries. These are double-A batteries. Why Sony is making a flash like this in 2021 is beyond me.
On the bottom, you'll find other ports. You can connect a PC sync cable and a cable for a battery pack.
And perhaps the biggest insult is the old USB interface. This isn't even a USB C interface. Why did you do this, Sony?
Like some of Sony's other flashes, the Sony HVL-F60R M2 has a cobra head. That means it will turn from side to side. The head will also move forward and back. It gives a great coverage area, but it does so differently from other flashes.
The Sony HVL-F60R M2 is overall built very well. For the record, we didn't go banging the flash up, dropping it, or even using it in the rain. Quite honestly, I don't think I'd ever use an on-camera flash in the rain. And if anyone would, I'm pretty sure it would be me. However, it feels incredibly solid, as does every single turn of the cobra head.
Sony did the right thing in addressing the hot shoe concern, though. For years, if the hot shoe got a little bit soaked, the camera would freeze up and wouldn't let you shoot. It felt almost like using an Epson or Canon printer and being told that you can't use the scanner because the ink ran out. Using the Sony HVL-F60R M2 on the camera will help prevent that from happening.
For the record, it feels more substantial than anything from Flashpoint, though only slightly. And it almost feels as durable as Profoto's A10. And sure, the Profoto flash is double the price. But it's also significantly more capable.
Ease of Use
To start things off, the menu system of the Sony HVL-F60R M2 is super easy to use. In fact, I'd argue that it's the simplest to use I've seen in years. One wouldn't think that's the case with Sony considering their mantle-piercing menu system. However, pairing the flash was a straightforward affair. Changing the configurations, however, got annoying. Here's what I tested:
Sony HVL-F60R M2 as a receiver from the radio transmitter, since this has radio built in
Sony HVL-F60R M2 as a receiver for the 46R flash.
Sony HVL-F60R M2 as a commander for the 46R flash
Sony HVL-F60R M2 and the 46R flash both being receivers for the radio transmitter
Basically, you'll need to constantly pair them over and over again to get the configurations you want. It doesn't take long, but it's a tedious process that could've been fixed with the Imaging Edge app, camera, or something.
During my entire time using the Sony HVL-F60R M2, I honestly searched deep in my thoughts to figure out who'd use it. When I spoke with Sony's external PR reps, we were recommended wedding photography. And that sort of made sense before I got the flash in my hand. When I started to use it, I got different thoughts. I haven't shot a wedding in years, so I asked Reviews Editor Hillary Grigonis. She agrees with me that it probably wouldn't make sense vs. the Flashpoint stuff. If a flash breaks, you'd just buy a new one with Flashpoint. And you can find deals for three Flashpoint R2 Zoom Lion lights for the price of one Sony HVL-F60R M2.
Where the Sony HVL-F60R M2 really started to show its colors is with real-life use. I tested the flash in documentary, portrait, and event scenarios. It's fantastic that you can get exposure preview with the Sony a1, but it's still not always accurate. Sony's PR reps, again, reasoned that this is because the camera doesn't even know that the flash exists. In my mind, that made sense. So a lot of the time, I ended up not even using the exposure preview setting. As it is, exposure preview is terrible for autofocus performance, and it drains battery life. I rarely use it. By that logic, I also don't wear sunglasses in the dark.
The Sony HVL-F60R M2 is a Guide Number 60 light. And for what it's worth, it also has a pretty slow flash duration. I know this from the results we got shooting high-speed sync. What that means is that you'll consistently need a faster shutter speed to kill the ambient light. That could affect the battery life and, of course, the motion-stopping ability. Comparatively speaking, the Flashpoint Zoom Lion R2 flashes can overpower the sun with less effort. In actual life use, it means that you're also staying more consistent with shutter speeds. You could be outside shooting at 1/1,000 and overpowering the sun with fast flash duration. Then you only have to go to 1/125th when you go inside, theoretically. But with the Sony HVL-F60R M2, you'll have to go to 1/8000th all the way down to 1/125th instead. The extra fiddling around with the shutter speed could cost you a great shot that you'll miss.
One of my more significant problems with the previous flashes from Sony was the second curtain flash sync and slow sync. It sometimes felt like I was using an old Minolta system instead. Thankfully, the Sony HVL-F60R M2 addresses that very well. But it's still not the best I've seen for the second curtain. Take a look at the photo below; it's from an old Lumopro LP-180 flash. It was excellent at stopping motion and accentuating the faster stuff. This photo was shot at 1/6th of a second, according to the EXIF data.
Sadly, the Sony HVL-F60R M2 can't do stuff like this partially because of the slower flash duration. Instead, Sony leaves trails like you see in the photos below. They're alright, not, but they're again, nothing special at all. For these, we had to shoot at around 1/30th of a second because the Sony couldn't stop the fast motion. Why? Again, it's a flash duration issue.
I really wish Sony had given this flash a faster flash duration. But instead, you're better off reaching for Flashpoint, Godox, or Profoto gear. For the record too, these images were harder than you'd think to pull off. The Sony light kept trying to overpower the background and made the scene super bright when I was using Tamron lenses. This was in TTL mode. When I switched to Sony lenses, it was fine.
Sony tells the press that the flash also works to deliver better white balance. And indeed, that's the truth. My buddy Alex came to visit me in Queens, and in total, we shot maybe five photos maximum. In this specific place, we only shot two images. But the Sony HVL-F60R M2 and the Sony a1 nailed the shot. Granted, there's something to be said for just how incredibly efficient I am on a set. But it's also hard to deny how good the white balance is.
High-speed sync is yet another issue. Specifically, it's an issue with looking at the camera's exposure preview setting. The Sony a1 tells you that it can estimate what the flash exposure will be. But with HSS, that predictability is as accurate as a weatherman who predicts a sunny day when it's raining outside. Yet again, because of the lack of fast flash duration, you're probably going to need to do more editing. In fact, lots of these images were edited in some way or form. Essentially, stand by typical flash principles, look for controlled light areas.
Can you really tell that this output is from the Sony HVL-F60R M2? No - that's especially the case when it comes to editing the photos. But you can tell it's from a weak Speedlight of some sort. By looking at images, we can know if they were shot with a strobe or a high-powered Speedlight. If you've shot with flash for years, that's pretty easy to do. But you can't identify a photo by the manufacturer at all. That, especially, is the case with the Sony HVL-F60R M2. It doesn't make a case for buying it any better.
Extra Image Samples
From day one, the Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. You're not showing what the product can do. So we have a whole section in our Extra Image Samples area to show off edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.
Slow flash duration
Sony had years to change the flash world and they twiddled their thumbs
Double A batteries? Really, Sony?
No USB-C interface to update firmware. Why can't this thing have a battery that charges via USB-C?
$599.99, which isn't justifiable.
Why no touchscreen and why does Sony hate the happiness that touchscreens give us so badly?
As you can tell, I don't think you should buy the Sony HVL-F60R M2 even though it's not a bad flash. There are just far better options on the market out there. Instead of reiterating all the things it does wrong, I'll rather talk about what I expect from Sony:
Radio control of the flash within the camera system
Flashes running on a bluetooth or wireless wifi system
Much faster flash duration
A touchscreen interface
Integration with the Imaging Edge apps to do things like firmware updates via the app
USB-C interface and tech. This shouldn't be using double A batteries. Give us batteries that can charge via USB-C and that will charge while the flash is plugged into USB-C power.
Change the head design to a round head with a frosted design.
Built in modelling light that can change colored and double as being used for video
Exposure preview that works with the camera to tell you what the exposure will look like even when the flash is off-camera within 15 feet.
Personally speaking, I like the output of quartz speedlights like Nissin's. Maybe do that?
If Sony did all of these things and even made the price something like $799, I'd be head over heels for it and screaming from the tops of rooftops. But instead, this is the weakest sauce that met water and decided to be watered down weaker sauce.
The Sony HVL-F60R M2 receives two out of five stars. Don't buy one.