Sometimes it’s necessary to use a flash for wildlife photography just to add a little fill, or add a catchlight to the eye of your subject. The problem is that most hot shoe flashes simply don’t have the necessary range and power to adequately light up a subject that is as far away as wildlife often is. The Better Beamer Flash Extender is a solution to this problem!
Priced at only $35 from B&H, it uses a simple plastic frame that attaches to your flash, and a thin plastic fresnel lens that sticks to the end of it using hook-and-loop. The fresnel lens concentrates the flash beam onto a point that is much further away than a regular flash and is claimed to increase distant flash power by 2 to 3 stops.
This has several benefits. Firstly, it allows you to shoot your flash at lower power than you would have to if you weren’t using the Better Beamer, which increases your battery life and decreases flash recycle time during moments of high action. It also allows you to shoot at a lower ISO for increased image quality, and to stop your lens down to a smaller aperture, allowing you to maintain more of your subject in focus if that is your wish. Pretty great for a $35 accessory, right?
It’s definitely not all good news though, but I suppose that usually is the flip side to a product being so cheap. The Better Beamer Flash Extender feels like a very cheap product. The plastic arms are made from very lightweight plastic, and the hook-and-loop strap that holds the whole thing together is simply glued to one of the arms.
Mine often comes unstuck in hot weather, and the hook-and-loop strap is forever getting attached to all manner of items in my luggage. Perhaps it’s just me, but when I pull out my gorgeous Really Right Stuff carbon tripod and mount my beautiful super-telephoto lens to it, I also don’t particularly like sticking something on the top of the whole thing that looks like it was created at home in a 3D printer. Although I do like that you can buy replacement fresnel lenses for just $10.
Better Beamer Vs. MagBeam Wildlife Kit
For many years, the Better Beamer was the only thing of its kind on the market. Visual Echoes, the company that makes it, had a pretty captive market. They solved a problem at a nice price point, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Now though, there is another player in town, and that’s the MagBeam from MagMod.
The MagBeam was created as a direct competitor to the Better Beamer, and if you’re willing to pay the higher $75 price, it’s a better product in many respects. The MagBeam can adjust the point of focus of the flash beam by extending and collapsing to different lengths, and it mounts much faster to your flash by using magnets. A considerable benefit in a situation where you have just come across some surprising wildlife.
The MagBeam feels like a high-end product, and the rubber casing is certainly sturdy enough to last many years of use. If you leave the magnets on the flash, then you only need to bring the MagBeam with you in the case that’s provided with it.
One of the disadvantages of the Better Beamer is that you have three individual parts to it, and on more than one occasion my lens has been separated from the attachment arms during packing or travel, leaving me with only half a Beamer when I needed it. LensCoat makes a case for it called the BeamerKeeper, but at that point, if you’re going to spend $20 on that case, you might as well spend a few $ more and get the much nicer MagBeam extender.
The following images give you an idea of how the Fresnel lens shapes and concentrates the flash beam from a hot shoe flash. I have included the samples from the MagMod MagBeam as well for comparison. Whilst there is considerably more edge spill from the Better Beamer, I should point out that in my measurements, both devices performed almost identically in terms of light intensity, with both of them increasing flash output by 2 1/3 stops. There are other pros and cons to these two options, but in terms of efficiency, it appears to be a dead heat.
The Better Beamer Flash Extender does what it says it will do, in a lightweight package for a very low price. The design can probably best be called “functional” in the same way that you might call a run-down cabin “rustic” if you were trying to convince someone to stay there.
If sticking to a low budget is your absolute priority, then the Better Beamer will work, but I can’t help thinking that most people out there who are using large telephoto lenses can afford to shell out the extra $40 and get the MagBeam instead. The MagBeam also has the additional virtue of being able to work with MagMod’s other accessories, such as grids and coloured gels, all of which I also own and also recommend.
Where to Buy
- B&H Photo sells the Better Beamer, the BeamerKeeper case and replacement fresnel lenses.
- Amazon also sells the Better Beamer, the BeamerKeeper case and replacement lenses.
If you want to spring for the slightly more expensive MagMod MagBeam, which I think is a better product, you can buy the MagMod Wildlife Kit directly from MagMod here.
10 thoughts on “Better Beamer Flash Extender Review”
I own and have used both products extensively. Totally agree with your assessment here. The BB is a pain to put together when you have surprise contact with wildlife. It falls apart and frankly the velcro sticks to others things in the camera bag and is just a pain. We have all missed a shot not being prepared for a situation that quickly arises. Well with the BB you will miss a lot of those shots. I certainly have. Its such a pain you tend to not want to use it at time when you need to and that defeats the purpose of having specialized equipment. Its time has passed. The MM is significantly faster to install and get to shooting which is why you are there. Plus its quick to remove or change to another modifier or add gels in their product line. After working with both its a no brainer. Hey, I have a BB if anyone wants one cheap.
Thanks for your thoughts Charlie! It’s good to get some corroboration from someone else who also has both products!
Great review. And, in reference to you getting an affiliate money you totally deserve it. I hate those fake reviews that just throw up those affiliate links, without putting much effort into it.
I have a question. I’ll be using a beamer with my sb80dx on my 70-300mm lens using a d5300, using a flash bracket. So, I’ll have use the flash in manuel. But, I won’t be using a tripod.
So, here’s my question, the better beamer weights 1.6 ounces and the magbeam 15.2 ounces. So, would it be better for me to use the better beamer?
And, in terms of catching fire or melting the flash, if used improperly, are they both the same in that department?
Thanks! Good questions…
In terms of fire, there won’t be any difference between the two. Such an issue would be VERY unlikely though…
In terms of weight… you’re right, the Beamer is considerably lighter. It’s a hard one to answer because whilst you won’t have a tripod, I would hope you might have some form of support. Perhaps a beanbag or a roof to rest the setup on? A monopod?
Then you have to weigh up the considerable benefits of the MagBeam.. for me I’d still pick the MagBeam every time.
Are you going on a safari in a vehicle? Walking through a rainforest?
I’m keen to get a Better Beamer for a Godox TT685O flash but I can’t find any info about which is the right version. I’m hoping maybe you may be able to help. Here’s the link to the spec’s for the TT685O http://www.godox.com/EN/Products_Camera_Flash_TT685o.html
I really wouldn’t know. Why not contact the makers of the Better Beamer? That said, as you can see, the fit in these things isn’t exactly air tight anyway. You could probably use several different ones. If you can’t contact them just use the Canon 580 one.
I was wondering if I could use the MM inside a softbox to get more power from my speedlight so that I can step into doing daylight/stopped down outdoor portraits before I bite down and get a Godox or AlienBees expensive higher power light system. ?
No, not really. It would focus the light on the centre of the softbox diffuser so it would ruin most of the positive effects of a softbox in terms of softening the light.
Dan, I love your highly objective reviews.
I’ve just read your ‘Better Beamer’ Review & the notes following on, and I would like to add a comment from my ‘witnessed personal experience’ following a Photo Trip to Costa Rica, where everybody used supplimentary flash all the time, and with 25% of the Group using “Better Beamers” that I rather unkindly renamed “BETTER BURNERS”!
Both our ‘BB’ Users experienced seeing smoke errupting from their Camo-finish neoprene-lens coats, as the ‘BB’ focussed the sun on to the lens bodies! This happened several times, and forced ‘BB’ Users to remove their magnifiers when any sun was likely to fall on the ‘BB’ lens.
Personally, I was using a Godox V860 Mk2, which of course also has fresnel lens, but which I choose to manually extend only when required to focus for long distance flash, and it’s generally always aligned with the lens’ field of view, so it’s very obvious when the sun is likely to pose even the remotest ‘Burning Threat’.
It seems as if the ‘Mag Beam’ shares the Godox’s fully contained lens arrangement, which means that it would only be possible (and then only if one tried really hard!) to use the fresnel lens to burn from the front ~ whilst the open lens arrangement of the ‘BB’ can easily burn with incident sunlight ‘Fore or Aft’ at any angle, making it a far greater potential fire hazard!
I love my V860-II, as it is a compact, Li-Po powered and reasonably robust gun which projects the supplimentary flash very great distances; even allowing capture of a highly useable night-time image of an owl in a tree 50 metres away (watch out for the ‘red eye’ though).
Hi Tony. Thanks for the kind words and also this fascinating anecdote! I’m glad you are getting on well with the Godox. I must say that recently I have been using the Godox AD200 Pro on a ring above my lens. It’s that much brighter than my old hot shoe flashes that it doesn’t need the Mag Beam. I guess it might be similar to your V860. Perhaps we are starting to get to a point where small flashes are powerful enough without fresnel attachments. At least for those who are willing to experiment with 3rd party options. Cheers for taking the time to comment!