DigitalCameraReview.com
Better Beamer Flash Extender Review
by JerryJ -  8/21/2008

If you've ever purchased a telephoto zoom lens for your digital SLR or an ultrazoom camera like the Canon PowerShot S5 or Panasonic DMC-FZ50, then you know that sometimes you need more light to get the photos you want at the extreme telephoto end of your zoom lens. Most photographers use "fill flash" to help add enough light to the shadows to give an evenly-lit exposure. However, fill flash techniques usually don't work well at extreme distances – such as when you're photographing animals at the zoo or your kid playing sports.

Better Beamer

This is where the Better Beamer comes to the rescue. This flash extender does what the name suggests: it extends the reach of your external flash so that you can use fill flash with telephoto lenses. Let's take a closer look and see how it works.

Product Overview
For most telephoto shots, particularly of wildlife, fill-flash is frequently needed but doesn't always work. Most wildlife and sports photography is done with telephoto or "long lenses" at focal lengths of 200mm or greater. Even the largest (and most expensive) external flash units run out have trouble projecting a beam of light beyond about 50 ft (15 meters) because the light spreads out over a larger area as the distance between the camera and the subject increases.

The "Better Beamer" ($40 or less in most stores) is a remarkably simple attachment for your external flash that promises to greatly extend the working range of your flash. The Better Beamer is offered in models that fit all popular external flash units from various manufacturers (Nikon, Canon, Pentax, etc.).

Better Beamer
Photographed with a Pentax K10D and Sigma 70-210mm f/4-5.6 lens and Pentax AF-360FGZ flash in TTL mode without Better Beamer.

Better Beamer
Photographed with a Pentax K10D and Sigma 70-210mm f/4-5.6 lens and Pentax AF-360FGZ flash in TTL mode with Better Beamer.

The sample image above shows the problem with fill flash and telephoto lenses. As the distance between the lens and the subject increases, the amount of light coming from the flash that actually hits your subject decreases. Sure, you can use a slower shutter speed or higher ISO, but then you run the risk of introducing image blur or ISO noise, making the image look worse.

Design and Construction
The Better Beamer uses a small Fresnel lens (magnifying lens) to focus the light from the flash so that it doesn't spread out as quickly over distance.

Better Beamer

Not only is it great for putting light on dark objects, but it's ideal for fill flash of objects set against bright backgrounds which are too far away for even lighting of both the subject and the background.

Better Beamer

The Better Beamer itself consists of two rigid plastic side panels, a plastic Fresnel lens which attaches to them with Velcro strips glued to the edges of the lens, and a Velcro strap that holds the entire unit on the flash.

Better Beamer

It comes apart and assembles very easily and stores flat. The build quality is okay, but I have my doubts about how well this contraption will hold up after months of abuse inside a photographer's camera bag.

Better Beamer

The field of view or rather beam spread of the flash is reduced from about 40 degrees to less than 10 degrees with the Better Beamer attached. In other words, with the Better Beamer attached, you get a "bright spot" of coverage of about 16x8 inches at a distance of four feet, and about 36x18 inches 12 feet.

Performance
There are two shortcomings of the Beamer. First, the small Fresnel lens only captures 60 percent of the flash's beam. The rest is lost. A slightly larger lens or a tube/snoot around the flash would increase the efficiency of the Better Beamer. Second, the illumination isn't uniform, leading to a "hot spot" effect in many images.

Better Beamer
Photographed with a Pentax K10D and Sigma 70-210mm f/4-5.6 lens and Pentax AF-360FGZ flash in TTL mode without Better Beamer.

Better Beamer
Photographed with a Pentax K10D and Sigma 70-210mm f/4-5.6 lens and Pentax AF-360FGZ flash in TTL mode with Better Beamer.

One of the most attractive elements of the Better Beamer is that it's easy to bring with you. Unlike many other flash extenders on the market, it folds completely flat and weighs almost nothing. At less than $40 it is also cheap enough for any photographer who owns an external flash.

Better Beamer
Photographed with a Pentax K10D and Sigma 70-210mm f/4-5.6 lens and Pentax AF-360FGZ flash in TTL mode without Better Beamer.

Better Beamer
Photographed with a Pentax K10D and Sigma 70-210mm f/4-5.6 lens and Pentax AF-360FGZ flash in TTL mode with Better Beamer.

The manufacturer claims that the Better Beamer can effectively add 2 stops worth of "reach" which basically means the difference between shooting an image at ISO 100 and ISO 400. I haven't performed detailed measurements but I did find the flash to be effective in the automatic Pentax P-TTL mode out to at least 100 feet.

Better Beamer
Photographed with a Pentax K10D and Sigma 70-210mm f/4-5.6 lens and Pentax AF-360FGZ flash in TTL mode without Better Beamer.

Better Beamer
Photographed with a Pentax K10D and Sigma 70-210mm f/4-5.6 lens and Pentax AF-360FGZ flash in TTL mode with Better Beamer.

Conclusions
At the end of the day, the Better Beamer remains the gold standard for flash extenders. The availability of this flash extender at most camera stores, combined with the compatibility with most flash units and the low price make it a must have for photographers who need to use fill flash with telephoto lenses. While there is certainly some room for improvement, we can't complain much when the price is less than $40.

As you can see in the sample images we've provided, the Better Beamer provides a dramatic increase in the light from your external flash...and might just make the difference between a great photograph and a wasted opportunity.

Pros:

Cons: