Monday, July 29, 2013

Phottix Mitros TTL Flash for Nikon Review

Phottix Mitros TTL Flash for Nikon

There is a new kid in town, the Phottix Mitros TTL flash and if you're in the market for a good, TTL flash for your Nikon (or Canon) camera and don't want pay the equivalent of a high-end car payment, then this is definitely an option to consider.

Ever since Phottix released the Mitros for Canon, I've been frothing at the mouth to try the Nikon version out which is now on the market.  Why?  Because (as many of you may know) I'm a die hard Nikon fan, especially their flashes and CLS system, so when another flash came out on the market claiming to work seamlessly with the CLS system for considerably less cash, I'll admit my curiosity peaked.  The good folks at Outdoor Photo Gear got a few in and gave me one to run through the ringer, so below is my review...

First off, this is not some cheap knock-off.  This flash is built as good as any of the popular brand big boys and feels like a really solid piece of equipment.  It has a fully rotating head, a metal shoe and a rubber skirt to protect the shoe with a locking pin design just like the big boys.  It also has a simple array of buttons that control all the flash functions and a back-lit screen.  A feature I really like on this flash is the sliding on/off button as opposed to the recessed button on other flashes.  I sometimes fumble turning my Nikons on, but this one is incredibly easy to handle.  Small details like this add up big time in my opinion.  The controls may not be as user friendly as on the Nikon SB-910 but its not a deal breaker by any means (more on that in a bit).

Also, I tested the Mitros against a Nikon SB-910 and noticed a little difference in power, the SB-910 being slightly more powerful but the Mitros was more powerful than the Nikon SB-800.  I didn't use a light meter to test this, it was simply a matter of taking a portrait with the camera settings the exact same and the flash to subject distance the exact same.  Then I simply swapped the three flashes in and out, and adjusted the power as necessary to get a good exposure on my subject.  The Mitros is also in the same ballpark size-wise as the SB-910, which pretty much makes it appear to dwarf the old, reliable SB-800 flashes.  In the lineup below, from left to right, is the Nikon SB-800, the Phottix Mitros and the Nikon SB-910.  As always, you can click on any image for a larger view.

The first tests I did were to see how it handled in TTL mode on and off camera.  There are a few other excellent manual flashes out there but since this one has TTL capabilities, I thought this should be where the hard hitting testing should go.  For my first test, I simply set the flash to TTL mode and popped it on my camera, and in a nutshell, it worked every single time.  Once or twice I had to adjust the flash exposure compensation (FEC) up a tad to get a good exposure, but that is a fairly simple and quick adjustment done on the flash.  I shot several different types of situations with the Mitros on camera in TTL mode and it simply did what its supposed to do, or what you would expect it to do.

The next test was to see how it handled the CLS signals and get it off camera.  I mounted the Mitros on a stand with a shoot thru umbrella camera right and took a test shot.  In the camera I set the flash mode to CLS, using the pop-up flash as the commander and set the output power on the off camera Mitros to TTL.  Also, it should be noted that when using this flash (just like the Nikon flashes) you need to make sure you have the same channel and group number settings in camera that you use on the flash.  I also did these first shots in Aperture priority mode because I just wanted to see how much variance would show up using the Mitros in TTL mode.  Since I was in a studio environment, I noticed very little change if any at all.  Also, I noticed no color casts.  Good news so far!  So then I decided to add another Nikon flash as a hairlight just to see if throwing another flash in the mix would throw off the signals.  I dialed the flash power in manually for this flash just to see if it made any difference.  So, the key light was on TTL mode with no FEC dialed in, and the hairlight light was on manual mode, both triggered with the pop-up flash using CLS and it fired off every single time.  Well this is child's play right?  So lets test it out with something a little more difficult, outside and using High Speed Sync.

Anyone who is familiar with the CLS system knows that triggering a flash outside in broad daylight can be a challenge.  Mostly though, this is simply because the eye on the off camera flash has to see the signal from the on camera triggering flash or it can't fire.  Also, sometimes, using the pop-up flash outside doesn't create a strong enough pulse of light for the off camera flash to see.  This is a simple fix though by using another flash on camera as the master.  In any case, using this system outside is always more of a challenge than using it indoors so I thought this would be a good test to do.

So for this test, I decided right off the bat to test the Mitros' high speed syncing capabilities.  It should be noted that if your camera doesn't have this feature, then the Mitros won't high speed sync... unless you have triggers that enable that feature... which I haven't tried yet.  This is a test to see how the Mitros works with the CLS system using the Auto FP High Speed Sync feature engaged on the camera.  I placed the Mitros (again) camera right in a shoot thru umbrella and used a Nikon SB-910 on my camera as the master flash.  The settings for this shot were f/2.8 at 1/2000 second at ISO 200.  I was using matrix metering on the camera and shooting in manual.  I actually could have shot this at many different shutter speeds depending on how bright or dark I wanted the background to look but I just chose one that I felt would stress the flash to create a good image.  I think for this shot I had to dial in +1 FEC to get my model lit appropriately.  Lexi (my model) was actually standing in the shade of a tree in our front yard... I didn't want to push the flash too hard... just yet.  I shot several of these, and the Mitros went off every single time.

Something I have noticed by now with the Mitros is that when it fires, it does make an audible chirp that lets you know that it fired, however its very low in volume so its hard to notice.  I researched the manual quite thoroughly to see if this is something that can be changed but the only available option was to turn the sound off.  With the Nikon flashes you get a beep that tells you the flash has fired and then you get another beep that tells you that the flash has recycled and is ready to fire again.  This is a feature that I dearly love about the Nikon flashes that the Mitros doesn't quite have yet.  However, the Mitros does have a USB input so maybe this is something that could be fixed with a firmware upgrade somewhere down the road.  Phottix are you guys listening?  :)  In any case, its not a deal breaker.

On to the next test.  So I got Lexi out of the comfortable shade and in to the searing sun.  It was right around 4PM EST so the sun was still pretty high over head and although there were a few clouds about, there were none that were shading us... my poor model. ;)  I used the same setup as the previous shot except I went to 1/4000 sec on the shutter speed (still f/2.8) to see if could get a little more saturation in the sky.  Again, I was using an on camera Nikon SB-910 as the master, and the Mitros was off camera right in a shoot thru umbrella.  For the first portrait I took the Mitros triggered with no issues, but on the second photo, I got a little further away from my model and noticed that the Mitros wasn't firing.  This is because on the Mitros, the flash "eye" is actually on the front of the flash whereas on the Nikon models its on the side.  After using the Mitros for a bit, I think I actually prefer that the eye of the flash be on one of the sides as opposed to directly in front of the flash.  So, to get the Mitros to fire at the distance I was working at from my subject, I simply spun the body of the flash around towards me and angled the head back in to the umbrella, and it fired.  Every. Single. Time.  I even got back about 20 feet and was still able to get the Mitros to fire.

Since this test worked out so well, I decided to swap my flashes out.  This time I used the Mitros on camera as a Master Flash and used the Nikon SB-910 off camera as the slaved flash.  The menu on the Mitros for the master setting took a little fiddling with to get everything set, but once I figured it out, it was a breeze to make adjustments.  The Mitros as a master works just like the Nikon flashes in that it gives you full control over type of output (Manual/TTL/Off) and power settings for the master and three more groups:  A, B & C.  Be sure to read the Mitros' manual though as out of the box the controls can be a little puzzling, but with a quick skim of the manual, and a little practice, it becomes fairly intuitive to use.

So my next test was to see how far away from the flash and my subject I could get and still have the flash fire, but this time I set the flash to Optical Slave mode.  Long story short, I ran out of room to back up yet the flash kept on firing.  The Mitros' optical slave is VERY sensitive and my last working distance was about 60 feet.  I suspect I could have moved back much further and kept it firing, and keep in mind this is in bright, afternoon sunlight!  This test would have been better if I had a longer lens on the camera.  I was actually using a 24-70 which on my body equals to about 36-105 and on this shot I had the lens racked out to 105mm.  This test was convincing enough though so I didn't bother going in and getting a longer lens.

For my last test I wanted to see how well it would work with my radio triggers.  I've been using Cybersyncs for several years now and while they are a "no-frills" set of triggers, they have worked flawlessly for me.  They only trigger the flash which is all I need most of the time since I tend to use CLS about 90% of the time.  So I put the CST Transmitter on the camera and the CSRB receiver on the Mitros flash.  Another cool thing about the Mitros is that it does not incorporate a PC sync jack, I hate those things!  They have to be the worst method out there for connecting a receiver to your flash.  Instead of the PC port the Mitros have a 3.5mm sync jack and it also comes with a 3.5 to 3.5 sync cable, Suh-Weet!

Editor's note:  we decided to go with something a little more lively for this shot.

After getting everything connected, we found a different spot to shoot in (other than our yard) and took a few test shots.  Using the radio triggers, I simply set the Mitros to manual mode and dialed in the power that I thought would work.  For these shots I believe I had the power set to full or 1/1.  It was pretty darn bright out and rather than using High Speed Sync I decided to use my native flash sync speed of 1/250 sec which meant stopping my aperture down to f/18 to get the desired look I wanted in the background.  I also had to keep the flash in reasonably close to my model (I think it was about 4 feet away) but since it was unmodified, it still had enough power to illuminate my subject.

Oh and another note, after all the frames we shot today, including many full power pops with the Mitros, the battery indicator on the LCD showed that we were still at full charge!  That's sexy.

So lets close this up.  After playing with the Mitros all day I can safely say that if you are looking for a new flash that is TTL capable and CLS compliant then I would be hard pressed to not recommend this flash to anyone and I am a diehard Nikon fanboy.  This flash does seem to be an excellent Nikon flash replacement and you know what's even better?

Nikon SB-910:  $546.95
Phottix Mitros:  $299.99

Yikes!  That is a HUGE difference for a very similar flash unit.  Lets look at the Pros and Cons of the Phottix Mitros.


- $299.99 ...that may be the best bargaining chip out of the bunch
- CLS and TTL capable
- Sturdy build and rock solid reliability
- 3.5mm sync port
- I love the On/Off switch
- High Speed Sync capable
- Optical slave option
- Use as a Master Flash
- Battery meter
- ...many more, including a huge customizable functions menu (which I didn't even get in to)


- Eye placement, I really don't like that the eye of the flash is located on the front, but since the flash rotates in every direction, its not a big issue
- Beep notifications are low volume and non existent for recycle status
- TTL mode tends to underexpose about a stop when compared to using the SB-910, but since its easy to make a FEC adjustment, that's really no issue either.
- No built in gel holder (didn't get in to that in the post)
- Zoom only goes to 105 mm

When you get the Mitros it does come with a collection of goodies too.  First off, it does have its own dome diffuser which comes in handy quite frequently.  Its shaped a little differently than the Stofen type diffusers and although I didn't test it out, it looks pretty cool.  You also get a 3.5mm to 3.5mm sync cable, a plastic foot that has a 1/4-20 threaded socket for attaching to light stands or tripods, a USB cable that will allow for firmware upgrades down the road and also a proprietary port for external battery packs.  Phottix makes a battery pack that will work with this flash, but if you have the Nikon battery packs the Mitros also comes with an adapter so that you can use those units.  I was surprised to see that there wasn't a user manual in the case, but there was a USB thumbdrive.  After popping that in to my computer, I realized they had put the user manual on there!  How cool is that?  Also, the Mitros comes with a killer case that is better than any of the Nikon cases I have.  It seems more rugged and has pockets on the sides for your extra cables.  Very cool.

In summary, this is one awesome flash!  It has all the capabilities of the big boys for about $250 less than what the flagship flashes cost.  Also, I don't believe there is another non-major label flash on the market that can compare with this and as a Nikon fanboy, I hope Nikon is paying attention because this puppy is a new serious contender!

Would I recommend this to someone looking for a Nikon flash but not sure about spending the money?  Yes, I most definitely would!  Matter of fact, I think I will be adding one or two of these to my Nikon flash family.

Outdoor Photo Gear has a few of these in stock, so if you're interested, I'd jump on them now because I suspect once word gets out, these guys are going to go fast.

The Strobist also did an excellent review on his blog so you might want to check that out for his thoughts as well.

If anyone has any questions that I didn't address, please sound off in the comments!


Anonymous said...

i am new to flash- can i trigger this flash off camera with pocket wizards as apposed to using the pop up flash?

John said...

Anonymous- Yes, you absolutely can use Pocket Wizards with the Mitros! It has a 3.5mm jack to attach the PW with a 3.5-3.5mm sync cord.

Anonymous said...

just bought commlite G430 slave set and
yongnuo 622n ttl slaves. how will these work with the slaves above?

ur telling me its 1 stop down on ttl, no matter? this is ittl (balanced) or ttl?

what about FP/hss? can it do that? off camera as a slave flash?

what does this have over the yongnuo 568N?

John said...

Anon - I can't tell you anything about the Commlite G430s or the Yongnuos as I haven't used them. I don't see why they wouldn't work with the Mitros, but again, I haven't tested or used those products.

I've noticed in testing that it seems when using TTL mode that it underexposes by about 1 stop, that is not to say it has one stop less power than other comparable flashes, only that the metering methods from the camera to the flash seem to render that setting.

It is Auto FP High Speed Sync capable and it can also be used off camera as a slaved flash or optically triggered flash.

Again, I can't tell you anything about the Yongnuo flashes as I haven't used them. I have only read reviews about them, which have been mixed on quality.

Anonymous said...

Thanks John.

the flash looks of nice build.
but I must absolutely be sure of compatibility with the 622n slaves and the commlite. I will contact phottix to ask them as well. thanks for the assist.

the 1 stop underexposure is a bit frustrating to know but maybe it can be updated to run a bit brighter throught the firmware slot?

also do you compensate in the camera or on the flash?

Anonymous said...

Does it work with PW Flex TT5 and able to change the power settings remotely?