A very critical equipment review. The doggiest flash I've owned.

The Sony HVL-60 (no link!)

I read a lot of equipment reviews and it's very, very rare for reviewers these days to come right out and say, "Hey! Don't buy this. It's a piece of ©$@&." I guess that's because most of us bloggers are consciously or unconsciously chasing ad link dollars in one form or another. We'd rather ignore a piece of crap than write it.  But there is a purchase I made that I so regret that I must warn others of my experiences. 

The item in question is very pricy. It had a lot of marketing "promise" but in nearly every category it fell short. It's the Sony HVL-60 flash. I bought it when I was shooting with the Sony a77 and a99 cameras. In a word? It sucks. It's a $600 package of non-performance. 

The number one issue is yet another non-standard hot shoe implementation. It looks like it's nearly a standard set up (if you ignore the small wires on it) but it would not work in my Flash Waves (radio trigger) receivers which work with every other flash I've owned. I get that Sony could implement all kinds of gadgety faux cool stuff with all the extra pins but maybe they should have thought about getting the flash connection right first! So, first strike: once you take it off a dedicated Sony camera you are going to have a hell of a time triggering it. Added to this is the fact that there is no additional PC socket (old school) on the flash. This would have allowed me at least to trigger the flash if nothing else worked. 

It's a crappy shoe and I'd rather have the older Minolta shoe Sony got so much flak for keeping. If I had an unpopular product feature (Minolta proprietary hot shoe)  I'd make it a point to make my upgraded product truly universal. Sony just doesn't get the off camera flash, multiple flash ethos. Yikes it's bad. 

But it might have been well worth it if you could put the HVL 60 in the shoe of your dedicated camera (Sony a77? or Sony a99?) and bang out perfect flash images every time. Right? But the joke continues. No matter how I set this flash (other than in full manual) I got remarkably inconsistent exposures. It's slightly better with the a99 but un-usable for any fast breaking professional work. One frame might be nuts on while the next frame is one stop under and the next frame is two stops over....and NO, I did not have flash bracketing engaged.  Really remarkably bad exposure control. And I have to tell you that Nikon had perfect flash figured out nearly eight years ago!!! Yikes.

But all of this is only academic because as a working pro you'll only have a short while to experience all of the frustrating things that make this unit so dreadful. Why? Because once you've shot ten or twenty exposures, bouncing off a twenty foot high ceiling (no matter how much time between exposures) your HVL-60 will shut off, flash a little thermometer on the LCD screen, and refuse to do anything for at least ten minutes. Dead. Dormant. A useless lump of plastic and capacitors. 

If you are a working professional covering a corporate event and your flash dies after the third person walks across the stage to shake hands with the CEO and get their award then, barring a non-HVL-60 back up, you are toast with that client. Just toast. I've kept the flash around anticipating that I'd use it with the RX-10. But just looking at it makes me angry so I'm taking it back to the dealer and they can deal with it. 

Why the late epiphany? Eh. I spent the best part of the last two years experimenting with LEDs and fluorescent lights. They trigger every time... But really, the wake up call came when I went to outfit myself for last week's shoot. I'd sold off most of my older flashes. Those were the ones I used for off camera zaniness when I wrote the first few books on lighting. I needed to replace them for a portable, airline checkable, low weight flash system and I ended up with some Yongnuo flashes. I didn't expect much from the Yongnuos but at around $50 each they ran circles around the $600 Sony fiasco flash. They fired every single time I clicked the shutter. The built-in optical slaves meant I never even had to pull the radio triggers out of the case. The cheap flashes never, ever shut down or flashed me the thermometer of death

When I looked at them this morning, lying next to the outrageous Sony flash, my little brain made a direct comparison and then I recalled all the ways in which the Sony flash disappointed me. Don't make the same mistake I did. 

If you must buy a flash for your A7, A7r or A7s and you think you want this HVL-60 model be sure to go to a bricks and mortar store, put the flash on YOUR camera and bang away for a while. Make sure you can live with the exposures and make sure you can push the button as many times as you'll need to push the shutter button in a real life job. Be aware that you could buy 12 Yongnuo 560 type 2's for about the same outlay of precious cash. Even with a 50% failure rate you'll still be light years ahead. Or at least six flashes ahead. 

Oh, and I just checked one thing....every one of these Yongnuo flashes has a real, traditional PC socket tucked right under a little rubber flap on the side. They are (so far) a good cheap flash for manual only work. 

So, that's my GRRRRRRR! product review. If I had it all to do over again that flash would never come near my camera bag, or make a dent in my bank account.  Your mileage may vary but you are forewarned.

(no links to product on this one....).


Anonymous said...

There are no comments to this post while I'm typing this, so let me be the first one to ask the dumb and obvious question: Did you try another similar unit, just to make sure yours wasn't a lemon?

You know, just to make sure, not to defend or bash Sony more than necessary. I've read blog posts from some other Sony users, even pro ones, who have been more or less content with similar units.

Klarno said...

Yikes! Sony's new hot shoe looks good on the surface, and probably is if you want to use manual flashes such as the LumoPro flashes, or "dumb" radio triggers, or GPS loggers, or anything else you want to stick in there that fits in an ISO standard hotshoe. But this...yeah I'm sticking with anybody but Sony as my TTL flash system.

Patrick Ormerod said...

Funny. No, not really. I bought my Yongnuo 560's so I would have a couple of throw away hot shoe flashes for those dicey situations or just in case moments. I figured that after my initial time playing with them they would mostly sit around collecting dust waiting for their triumphal call from the bench only to be destroyed upon their first real use. Turns out they spend significantly more time in use than said piece of Sony junk. I've always gone against the grain, I accept that my choices often put me at odds with the rest of the world, but for Sony to have made such a big deal about the ISO standard shoe on the HVL-60 when in fact it, so far as I can tell, is not compatible with anything, angers me beyond words.

I suppose it wouldn't really matter if my triggers worked with the HVL-60 since it overheats in a matter of frames anyway. I'd still be resorting back to my trusty, faithful Yongnuo 560's.

Unknown said...

Thank you for giving us your unvarnished opinion. I've been considering giving the Sony A7 a try and this is a significant minus. Are you aware of any E-TTL flash options other than the HVL-60?

Kirk Tuck said...

Sony launched a couple of new flashes recently but once snake bit....

Kirk Tuck said...

To the commenter at the top: Yes, at one point I did have two of the HVL-60 flashes and an HVL-58 and the two 60s were identical in their faults. The 58 was a better unit, at least from a heat management point of view...

Tom Judd said...

Is this the flash that pivots when the camera is vertical so that you can bounce off the ceiling? If so, that's one thing Sony got right (and nobody else has). Who needs some goofy flash bracket to shoot portrait mode.

Diogenes Montesa Baena said...

I've had exactly the same experience with the HVL-60 on y a99. Exactly the same experience. Even using the LED leads to the vertical temp bar showing up. I may be putting up this unit on craigslist soon.

Ross said...

Is this really the most canine-like of flash units? That's a most unusual comparison to draw. I could understand if you considered it to be the dodgiest (i.e. the most dodgy)!

Kirk Tuck said...

Nope. Doggiest. As in "this flash is a real dog!"

Craig said...


I bought my A77 when it first came out, and swallowed pretty hard shelling out the price ($500) for a HVL-58, but at least it works.

I've read dozens of reviews about what a turd the HVL-60 is overheating after 20 shots, and even worse, Sony refuses to even acknowledge there is a problem.

Then adding insult to injury for owners of the HVL-58, Sony sent me an email offer on the SLT-A58 at a great price last December, but required that I spend $25 for the cheapest, crappy adapter to allow me to use the old mount HVL-58 on the SLT-A58.

The adapter is light weight plastic, uses a friction wheel to "lock" it on the camera, and once the HVL-58 is mounted, I have no confidence that either the adapter won't snap from the weight of the flash, or come loose from the hotshoe allowing the flash to fall to the floor.

Talk about abandoning your existing customers and then releasing a defective designed HVL-60 to alienate the new customers.

It doesn't look like Canon or Nikon have much to worry about if the photographer values having a flash made by the manufacturer.

Lucas said...

Firstly I must say I never liked flash photography and try not to use flashes whenever possible. That said, I thank Kirk for his comments on the HVL-60, since I've had an HVL-58 for over four years now ( since I got an A900 ) and was considering trading it for the 60. I believe I may instead be getting a Chinese unit or a Metz as companion to the A58. I sold the A900 a couple of years ago and bought the A99, which came with the "(in)famous" adapter and my HVL-58 works fine with it. Lucky me, but the adapter never gave me any problems, though I take extra care in strongly tightening the friction wheel and doing regular checks during a shoot. As for heating, the HVL-58 is also known to have that issue but not so bad. It actually only happened once with me, after some 40 almost continuous shots. Now before it happens I just exchange the batteries for fresh ones and it works fine. As I said, I'm no lover of flashes, so I try my best to not use them, and with fast lenses and the A99 allowing me to increase ISO considerably,
I've lately taken entire weddings without any flash help.
I hope Sony gets their act together soon.

Kirk Tuck said...

I also owned the 58 and it was clearly superior to the 60. Automatic flash is enough to push one to continuous light....really.

Mark said...

Kirk, thanks for your "belated" review of the F60 flash that provides further evidence of how bad this unit is, and how badly Sony "messed" up when it changed the flash shoe with the A99.

I had (and have) an F58 flash that I regularly used for event photography for years. When I got the A99 I used the F58 with the cheap adapter that came with the camera but soon realized that the adapter has a fatal design flaw - it will not securely lock in the camera's flash shoe, no matter how tight the friction wheel is turned. Thus, at times the adapter would slip in the shoe, causing flash failure. A tiny bit of slippage lost TTL contact at the front of the shoe (those little wires you mentioned) but still triggered - in full manual mode, causing gross over-exposure; a bit more slippage caused all contact to be lost and no flash firing (there also are reports of the flash falling out of the camera shoe entirely).

I thus ended up getting the F60 flash to use natively on the A99 (i.e., not adapter), only to quickly discover it's overheating problem (unlike you, I did not and have not experienced exposure consistency issues). I have written to and talked to Sony about the overheating, but there is no fix by Sony (a repair outfit in Miami claims to have a fix, or at least an improvement, for $100 but I have not tried it). There is a rumor that Sony is coming out with a new flash later this year, perhaps in conjunction with Photokina, that if true hopefully will resolve all the problems of the F60 flash (though the crappy adapter and overall shoe design remain an issue).

Sony has tried giving the F60 flash away for "free" as a bundled item with several cameras. It probably has lots of inventory of these dog flashes that it is trying to unload.

One of Sony's problems has been its failure to get the flash system "right," issues it has had since the beginning (mostly exposure consistency problems). While it finally got exposure consistency matters worked out (at least in my experience with the A77, A99 and the F58 and the F60), it introduced a whole host of new problems with the A99, the new flash shoe, and the F60. One really has to wonder to what extent Sony understands the flash needs of working photographers, or how much it cares. Did nobody at Sony even test the F60 flash before it was released? Given the overheating problems Nikon had with the SB900 flash, quickly replaced by the SB910, how could Sony have been so careless? And then, once the problem is discovered, it provides no customer support to address the problem. It's a great big "FAIL" by Sony in my book, and one that likely has affected sales of the A99 camera (and perhaps others). Really, really lame on Sony's part.

Scott said...

Just to update this thread, Sony did release a firmware update for the flash aimed primarily at the overheating issue - basically, the more you pop the flash, the recycle time slows down to reduce overheating problems. I just did 50 pops in manual mode, full power, with the diffuser in place over approx 10 mins with no overheating. Also, exposures on the A7II seem fine. The non-standard / standard hot shoe remains a royal pain in the backside though... even now, nearly 4 years after they made the change, it is barely supported outside of Sony itself. As a consequence, I only use TTL flash guns at event.. in a static lighting set up I use Yongnuo 560IIIs and their 560Tx wireless unit (4 flash plus Tx is slightly cheaper than the F60 at the moment as Sony has a cash back offer, making the price about £280.