In 2016, I joined team Fuji after being extremely impressed with the X-T2 body. I had been watching mirrorless technology for a while, but this was the first time a system had everything I wanted in a camera body.
While I finally had a satisfying mirrorless experience, with great autofocus, low-light capabilities, and image quality, I quickly realized the system was lacking in the flash department. Not only did Fuji lack a dedicated speedlight, the low market share has kept 3rd party companies from building dedicated lighting products for Fuji systems.
After plenty of delays, the flagship Fuji EF-X500 speedlight has finally hit shelves globally. While it fills a monstrous gap in the system, it comes with a steep price of $449.99, which may be a tough pill to swallow for photographers who have become accustomed to affordable feature-rich solutions such as the Godox X series lighting.
I have been holding out myself, but thankfully Fuji fiend Jeffrey Lewis Bennett let me borrow his 3 EF-X500 flashess to see if they were right for me. Here’s what I found in my testing.
Typical Speedlight Features
Fujifilm’s flash has all the standards of speedlights. It rotates 135° left and 180° right, and has tilt from -10° to 90°. It has a bounce card and diffusion panel, and uses 4 AA batteries.
Build Quality and Size
The EF-X500 is well-balanced for their top-tier APS-C mirrorless cameras, which are quite smaller than DSLRs. It’s a great fit for cameras such as the X-T2 and X-Pro 2, but may still seem a little oversized for their smaller models. Like their camera bodies and lenses, it feels exceptionally well crafted, and built to last. It’s actually quite heavy despite it’s size. The grip portions are a familiar and perfect match to the camera bodies. It is shorter and more narrow than flagship speedlights for DSLRs such as the 600 EX-RT and SB-910.
Since it’s a bit smaller, my first question was how much light does it put out. I tested it against a Flashpoint Zoom R2 TTL Li-Ion (aka Godox V860ii). I positioned them the same distance from a Sekonic light meter, with the Fuji @ 24mm zoom and the Flashpoint @ 35mm, to ensure they were putting out an equal spread of light (Fuji with no head priority). The Flashpoint put out a half stop more light than the Fuji. This was consistent in other zoom comparisons as well.
I’ve grown quite accustomed to the 2 second recycle speed at full power of my lithium-ion pack Zoom R2’s, so I wasn’t expecting much when I loaded up the Powerex AA’s into the Fuji EF-X500. From the jump, it recycled full power in about 4.5 seconds. After continued recycling, it eventually dipped to 5 and 6 seconds. It took over 3 full minutes of instantaneously firing before the heat protection came on. The speedlight would fire whatever power it had stored even if it was not ready to fire full power again. After a few seconds, the test button light would begin to blink, meaning it had some juice to fire, but not until it stopped blinking was it prepared to fire at 1/1. It also still functioned after the heat protection came on, just not as fast/powerful as it is by default.
The EF-X500 has TTL, HSS, stroboscopic (multi), and “full wireless control”. The TTL was very accurate, and worked as expected over various metering modes and using compensation.
The HSS was a bit of a disappointment, as it lost about 2.5-3 stops of light by switching to a pulsating source. With HSS being most useful in bright situations, and the EF-X500 being less powerful than DSLR flagship flashes, I can’t see it being very useful outdoors. This would be even more difficult if you are using it with larger modifiers.
Lastly, let’s talk about Fuji’s “full wireless control”. Systems from Canon, Godox, Phottix, and Yongnuo have implemented radio technology within speedlights, allowing photographers to reliably adjust power and modes from the top of their hot-shoe mount, without excess radio receivers or line-of-sight requirements. Unfortunately Fuji did not implement this, and line of sight is still necessary to maintain control between the flashes. There is also no radio controller or receiver system from Fuji to combat this, meaning you have to use a speedlight on camera as the master. Line-of-sight systems are known to be problematic due to distance, bright conditions, and modifiers / environmental blockages. 2.4 Ghz Radio technology has since solved all these issues with no downside. Not implementing this technology into a brand new flash with no alternatives is a big failure by Fuji.
The only Fuji camera I have used is the X-T2, and I’ve been asked a lot about the support for the EF-X500 from photographers using other camera bodies. The flash features are only 100% compatible with 3 of their bodies, the X-T2, X-Pro 2, and X-T1, the latter 2 requiring firmware updates. All other bodies are listed on Fujifilm’s website as “the camera is compatible with some of the function”. I’m waiting to hear directly from Fuji on what functions do not work from their 17 other cameras, whether it be TTL, HSS, or remote control of off-camera flashes.
Flash Menu and Camera Control
One place where the flash shines is the ease and depth of control from both the flash menu and in camera menu. It is quick and intuitive to dance around the menus, even for more complicated functions such as controlling the remote speedlights. Pair that with the EVF and you have an entirely new experience of controlling your off-camera lights without ever having your eye leave the viewfinder. Fuji manages to pack a ton of options for controlling the flash into a tight space, while still making it easy to view and understand every aspect of your flash.
LED and Autofocus Assist
Auto-focus assist grids are a very popular feature of modern speedlights, allowing users to quickly attain focus in even the darkest of environments. Unfortunately, a typical red grid doesn’t work well with the Fujifilm sensors. They opted to combat this by including an LED lamp on the front of the camera which can serve multiple functions.
You can power it on to use for general illumination, and control it’s power from 1/1 – 1/128. You can use it as an AF-assist lamp to temporarily illuminate an area when your camera is struggling to focus. Lastly, there is a catchlight mode where it stays powered while the shutter captures an image, to create a catchlight in a subject’s eyes.
Personally, as a wedding photographer I find the LED lamp to be a pitfall of this strobe. I find it to be highly distracting to use in a dark environment, where it would draw attention to the user. It also doesn’t have the reach that a red grid has on a DSLR. While I think it’s the best solution for their cameras, it still leaves me reaching for my Nikon system in dark scenarios.
There are a few other details about the Fuji EF-X500 that I thought were worth mentioning. One thing people worry about with line-of-sight / optical triggering systems is the idea of other flashes triggering your off-camera lights. If you are in an environment such as a reception with many other cameras, the additional flashes can cause the flash to dump right before you take a shot, leaving you with wasted power and a dark frame. Fortunately this is not a concern with the EF-X500 as when it triggers other flashes it does so with a specific pattern of light that acts as a “code” between flashes. This ensures only you can trigger your off camera flash.
Within the custom functions is the option to choose the output level that your TTL is metered at. For those unfamiliar, TTL works by firing a “pre-flash”, and using that information to select what flash output to use to properly illuminate a subject. With the EF-X500 you can choose 1/1, 1/32, or 1/128. This is a clever option from Fuji, as most TTL systems illuminate to the power required, and then dump that power again instantly. Imagine your flash decides it needs 1/2 power to illuminate the scene, you are constantly recycling and using battery on those 1/2 power pre-flashes. Fuji solves this by keeping a constant pre-flash setting. I recommend 1/32, as it provides the largest range and will not significantly affect your recycle speeds or power consumption.
The EF-X500 has a lowest minimum power of 1/512. This is 2 stops less than other speedlights, and gives it a 10-stop power range.
Finally, the flash has 3 zoom head modes that can modify how the head operates. Normal mode, which stays rigid with the zoom head’s focal length.. Power priority will sacrifice spread and increase the zoom head to achieve more output (great when you are bouncing and the spread is not critical to your focal length. Spread priority will widen the zoom to ensure maximum coverage. All 3 option are available whether you are in an automatic mode or manually choose the zoom of the flash head to fine tune to your liking.
Fuji needed a dedicated and full-featured speedlight for their system, especially as many photographers jump to the X-T2. They created a well-built and highly functional flash that provides reliability and opens new doors for Fuji strobists. However, the EF-X500 still has quite a few flaws.
The LED as an AF-assist lamp is a step backwards for DSLR photographers. The inclusion of HSS may have been desired, but the light’s output and efficiency loss prevent it from being very useful. The use of line-of-sight for flash to flash communication with no alternative makes for very restricted off-camera use.
Unfortunately, I feel the price is asking a lot for what it offers. I’m hoping Fuji can get on Sony’s update schedule to give us a model with radio technology that is more consistent with modern releases.