Sunday, January 23, 2005

Christmas Toys - Part 1

OK, so it's already a month past Christmas and I'm just NOW getting around to saying what I got? Well, bear with me, because I have a pretty good excuse.

When I created my list, I picked out a number of photography accessories I was interested in, including some books, some cokin filters, extension tubes, and a flash. The flash was the major ticket item on the list. I was interested in the Sigma EF-500 DG Super flash. It is very much similar to the Canon 550 EX flash (a few things better, a few things worse), but $100 cheaper. However, there was only one problem...Sigma released a new version of the flash with the same model # but a different part #.

According to some of the Sigma tech support people and the FAQs on their web site, it seemed that the new version of the flash added support for ETTL-II, which the old version was missing. Being that ETTL-II is supposed to be a function of the camera, that didn't seem to make a whole lot of sense. However, it is worth noting that Sigma builds their Canon equipment by reverse engineering the hardware, not through official licensing. Therefore, it is conceivable that they reverse engineered the spec incorrectly, and that mistake only shows itself once you try to take advantage of newer feature. In fact, this very type of thing has happened several times before, where a Sigma lens which worked with older Canon cameras fails on a newer model and needs to be sent back to Sigma to be rechipped before it will work. So it seemed very possible that this is indeed what happened with this flash.

Now, the Digital Rebel doesn't have support for ETTL-II, but since I anticipate upgrading my camera body at some point, it only seemed to make sense that, given the choice of two flashes otherwise identical in features and price, I should choose the model with ETTL-II support.

So, back to the issue of locating one in stock. Looking around, Amazon was the only one I saw specifically listing the new part number, but they were continually out of stock. Then, after keeping an eye on the flash at several places, I noticed that B&H delisted the flash with the old part numbers and listed a new flash with a different B&H part # and the Sigma part # corresponding to the new model. That seemed like a good sign, so I told my wife that she could now order the flash from B&H if that was what she was going to get me.

So, Christmas arrives, and I open my gifts and find (among other gifts, which I will get to in my next update) the Sigma flash I asked for. The box said "EO-ETTL" on it (which was an indication of the new model...the old one just said "EO"), however the flash on the inside was only labeled EO. It seemed someone had put an old model flash into a new model box. A quick check with Sigma tech support indicated that this was indeed the old flash, and that it would NOT support ETTL-II. Checking with other people on internet message boards, it seems many people had the same problem, and got the same advice from Sigma. One of the higher ups from B&H even chimed in and was also under the impression from his conversations with Sigma that there was a difference. So with that, I contacted B&H to arrange for an exchange of the old version for the new version. I sent back the flash and included a notice indicating how to identify the new model flash and to ensure that I get the correct one this time.

A few weeks later I finally receive my replacement, only to find that once again I received the old flash in the new box. So it was with displeasure that I contacted B&H to arrange to resolve this problem, only they couldn't guarantee that I would get the correct one next time. At that point, I was prepared to simply ask for a refund, however, that's when the story took an interesting turn. B&H contacted Sigma once again, this time speaking to the company president, and Sigma seemed to reverse their stance on the issue, indicating that the differences were purely cosmetic. That seemed mighty they were trying to cover it up while unloading all the old inventory on unsuspecting customers. However, there was also another detail...several people with the 20D camera (which DOES support ETTL-II) were claiming that they were seeing definite improvements with the old flash on the 20D versus the Digital Rebel, a sign that ETTL-II was working correctly. In addition, one person indicated that they saw absolutely no difference between the old and new versions of the sigma flash when used on the 20D, further evidence that they were the same. However, I imagined that there could still be some differences that might only show up under special conditions. Also, in spite of Sigma's president's statement, their web site was still indicating that the old model flash did NOT support ETTL-II.

At this point, I didn't know what to thing. Then a few days later, Sigma finally updated their FAQ to indicate the flashes were the same, and the only differences were cosmetic. With this public endorsement of the facts, I was ready to take off my tin foil hat, forget the idea that sigma was trying to pull a fast one, and accepted the idea that Sigma had just made a mistake, and the flashes WERE the same in every way that actually mattered to me.

Luckily, I was still waiting on B&H to send me the UPS label to ship my second flash back to them. In light of the new evidence, I decided to cancel the return. So, after getting my flash for Christmas and not being able to use it for nearly a month, I finally was able to take it out of the box and slap it on my camera. Tomorrow, I'll update with a little about the flash as well as my other Christmas presents.

No comments: