When you’re shooting wildlife, you need all the help you can get. You’re dealing with a moving subject that’s leery of humans, creatively composing your shot in your head and making sure all of the technical stuff like f-stop is right. In addition to all of that, you need to pump some light into your subject to open up the dark areas around the face. That means using a flash.
Most often when you’re shooting wildlife, you’re using a long lens between 300mm-600mm. The light from your average flash isn’t going to travel that distance on it’s own. As a result your picture often lacks any fill flash at all. That can turn a potentially great shot into a terrible shot. But the Visual Echoes Better Beamer Flash Extender pared with Canon’s Speedlite 580EX II packs a whopping one-two punch in getting light on your subject no matter the distance.
The Better Beamer gets the light to travel further by concentrating it through a fresnel lens held in place by two long black arms that are secured to the flash by Velcro. The light travels right down the barrel of the lens and to the subject.
Dad likes to attach his Speedlite to the Wimberley flash bracket that in turn is attached to his Wimberley head plus side kick on a Gitzo tripod. He uses an off-camera flash cord to connect the flash and camera.
This has been a winning combination on Dad’s hummingbird shoots. He can give the birds some room at the feeders or flowers, but still highlight the amazing colors of their feathers with his flash from a distance. Of course he also uses multiple flashes at different angles on each side of the bird, but the Better Beamer is crucial to lighting up the front of the birds.
Beyond the obvious benefit of shedding light in dark areas, the Speedlite and Better Beamer combo have other advantages. Because the light is concentrated, the flash uses less power than it would minus the Better Beamer. This is a major plus when in the field shooting. The flash refreshes faster between shots and requires fewer battery changes. That means Dad has a better chance of nailing a great picture.
Side Note: Even though the flash is using less power, Dad doesn’t want to run out of juice in the field especially if he’s in a photo rich environment. He uses a Canon battery pack with each flash. It gives him more shooting time between battery changes.
The Beamer also allows you to get more f-stop and/or shutter speed than before because the light is concentrated on your subject. This can be critical in capturing details like feather patterns on a bird or freezing a running elk. Dad was able to capture feather and worm details on a green jay and its breakfast thanks to the extra f-stop from the Speedlite with the Better Beamer. The light also filled in the facial details of the bird.
Another benefit with the Beamer is that the entire unit can be assembled in mere minutes. Whip out the flash, attach the arms with Velcro and slide the lens in place. You’re done. Each component pulls apart and can be stored easily in a Ziploc bag.
The entire Better Beamer weighs next to nothing. Literally. The flash weighs a lot more than the Better Beamer. If you’re hiking a good distance to photograph rare birds, you’ll really appreciate this feature. Really what photographer wouldn’t want less weight in his camera bag?
You may be wondering how the wildlife reacts to the intense light coming from the Better Beamer. Dad’s been using the Beamer for about 8 years and he’s never had a problem with birds or other animals running away from the flash. In fact, he says it’s almost as if nothing happened.
How does he know? Dad’s seen “repeat birds” after shooting in one location for a while. If the bird has a distinct personality or unusual physical marking, he recognizes them. He figures the duration of the flash is so short it must not upset them. The camouflage ghillie suit he wears and the Lenscoat camera camouflage might play into that too. After all, it’s what they don’t see that’s just as important as what they do see. Nonetheless, the Speedlite/Beamer combo is great for the photographer and the wildlife.
Have we sold you yet on this extender and flash combo? Then you’re really gonna love the price! The Better Beamer sells for about $40 at places like Naturescapes.net and B&H Photo. That’s a bargain considering how many options it gives you when shooting long distances.
The flash, on the other hand, will set you back about $550. But the old saying “you get what you pay for” holds true here. To capture stellar wildlife photos, you need stellar gear.
If you do decide to purchase the Better Beamer Dad recommends running tests at home before heading into the field. Use a door or a wall as your subject. Shoot pictures using the flash extender with different lenses. Study how the circle of illumination on the door changes with the different lenses and distances from the wall. This will give you a good idea of what to expect when shooting real subjects.
Dad also suggests taking lots of batteries and a back up flash plus another extender. You never know when a bear might dig through your camera gear looking for the granola bar you stashed inside. The gear might not survive. Of course, you might drop the flash and have similar results. Dad’s motto: Always be prepared so you don’t miss the perfect photo opportunity.
So to sum it all up: You can’t go wrong with the Visual Echoes Better Beamer and Canon Speedlite 580 EX II combo. They pack a hefty one-two punch that will have you singing their praises for a long time to come.