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.