Olympus FL-700WR Flash — a quick look

Lost in all the hustle over Olympus‘ latest camera body offering (the intriguing yet rather pricey E-M1X), some less-glamorous items were far more interesting to me. Namely, Olympus’ new line of weather-resistant flash gear. The hub of this lineup is the FL-700WR, so I thought it’d be a good thing for me to quickly review (I’ll circle back to the subject in a few months after I’ve had time to put some serious miles on it).

For starters, let’s look at broadly how the new flash fits in the current Olympus line-up:

  FL-600R FL-700WR FL-900R
Dimensions (W x H x D), cm 6.2 x 10.4 x 9.8 7 x 10.6 x 10 8.1 x 12.1 x 12.5
Weight (gm) 255 303 382
Zoom range (mm) 12 – 42 12 – 75 12 – 100
Guide # (meters) @ 100 ISO 36 @ 42 mm 42 @ 75 mm 58 @ 100 mm
Recycle time (sec) 2 – 2.5 1.5 – 2.5 2.5 – 4.5
Current retail price in US $299 $399 $579

The FL-700WR is an interesting beast. It’s just a bit brighter than OlympusFL-600R in terms of power, but has a far more-capable control scheme that appears to be an upgrade of what’s in the FL-900R. Of course, the FL-700WR also provides for RF remote control (no more line-of-sight limitations), and it’s weather-resistant (splash-proof to IPX1 standards, as well as dust-proof and freeze-proof). One particularly nice thing for those with a collection of flash gear is that the FL-700WR still supports Olympus’ legacy optical remote functionality — both for TTL and optical slave use. All-in-all, you can make a strong case that it deserves the 30% price premium over a FL-600R.

FL-600R and FL-700WR

Old guy meets new guy

I’ve only had my copy to play with for a few days, and so far my only real complaint per se is that Olympus’ implementation of all this is a bit more complicated than I think it needed to be. As with the FL-900R, the back of the FL-700WR has a dedicated “Mode” button (vs. the scroll-wheel pseudo-button on the FL-600R). Push this, and you get the following choice of modes:

Mode Description
TTL Flash auto control
M Manual flash intensity
FP TTL High shutter speed auto
FP M High shutter speed manual
MULTI Repeated interval flash
RC Optical remote control
SL M Optical slave

All well-and-good — and very similar to what the FL-900R offers (the FL-600R does not provide the MULTI interval flash mode). But there’s a new button to turn the RF remote functionality on and off — it looks like this:

The manual doesn’t seem to know what to call this button — so its hieroglyphs just reappear as needed. But push it, and you get an additional set of modes (note that since I can’t insert the little lightning bolt in this post, I’ll just call it “zap”):

RF Mode Description
“Zap” Regular flash usage
CMD Radio wireless commander, flash does not fire
“Zap” CMD Radio commander and flash
RCV Wireless receiver, group control
X-RCV Wireless receiver, individual control

It makes sense to have a separate button for these to a degree — you will want to use one of the regular modes in combination with any of the RF remote modes. It seems to me, though, that the RC and SL M modes really belong along with the RF modes. It’s probably a minor deal in most cases — but you’ll need to remember that some remote control setup occurs under one button’s set of modes, while most are under the other’s.

There’s another thing I can’t quite explain in the new line-up of flash hardware. So far, Olympus offers 3 pieces of RF-enabled flash gear:

Again, the FL-700WR‘s RF modes allow you to use the on-camera flash as either an RF commander with flash, or an RF commander alone. What’s puzzling to me is that the Flash Commander costs (in the U.S.) only $50 less than the FL-700WR. So why would I pay $349 for a commander when an extra $50 will get me a commander built into another flash?

Anyway, my bottom line is this — the FL-700WR has some significant improvements over the FL-600R (many of the FL-900R‘s features in a smaller, cheaper, slightly-less-powerful package). Whether it’s worth the money to you, though, will largely be a function of your need for its two marquis features — weather-proofing and RF remote capability.