Sunpak PZ40X AF Electronic Flash for Canon E-TTL

Text and images copyright Thomas L Webster, 2005. All rights reserved.


After reviewing all of the Canon flashes in March of 2005 I decided to purchase the Sunpak PZ40X AF electronic flash. I did not need a fancy flash with a lot of functions and did not want to spend a great deal of money purchasing the Canon OEM flashes. The Sunpak flash offered the features I most needed...E-TTL compatibility and manual flash settings. This flash is plenty powerful for macrophotography with a guide number of 133' at ISO 100. The flash features manual power settings from full power to 1/16th power in full f. stop increments. I found the manual settings very useful for photographing shy subjects, such a long-legged flies, that are disturbed by the pre-flash of the E-TTL flash metering system.

Other features of the flash includes an illuminated control/information panel, distance scale for auto-flash, auto-flash confirmation, and a red autofocus assist light. The Sunpak PZ 40ex flash has a tilt head with detents at 45°, 60°, 75°, and 90° but the flash head cannot be swiveled. Zoom settings on the flash head range from 24mm to 80mm.

The flash is powered by 2 AA cell batteries. I only used rechargeable NiMh batteries in my flash and received a fair number of flashes before battery changes. Recycling times at full power were a little slow but, used at macro distances, were adequately quick. All in all, the flash functioned well the first few months of use.


Sunpak PZ40X AF electronic flash. Unit on the right has a Sto-fen Omni-bounce flash diffuser attached.


The Sunpak PZ40X flash is considerably more compact than any of Canon's offerings except for, maybe, the Canon Speed Lite 220ex. This Sunpak flash offers more features than the Canon 220ex and considerably more power at a retail price $20.00 less than the Canon 220ex. The PZ40X is considerably more compact and lighter in weight than Canon's contemporary offerings. This was a big deciding factor in my purchasing this flash. The PZ40X flash is mounted over the front of my macro lens on the long arm of my Kirk Enterprises Macro Flash bracket. At the end of this long extension the flash is not uncomfortably heavy.

All is not roses with this flash, however. After just a few months use, the flash has quit functioning. There is an easily forgotten warning in the flash's user manual that states, "Do not use the flash continuously for more than the number of times stipulated in the table below, in order to prevent damage to the unit. Once the maximum number of flashes has been reached, allow the flash to rest at least 10 minutes before using it again." The table goes on to stipulate that in E-TTL mode and manual mode at full power to 1/2 power, no more than 15 exposures can be made before resting the flash. In manual mode at 1/4 to 1/16 power, 20 exposures may be made before resting the flash for 10 minutes.

Nowhere in the pre-sale literature nor in advertisments is this limitation mentioned. If it were, I think the sales of the flash would suffer. I don't know about you but I don't always count the number of flash exposures I make while photographing a willing subject. Also, when photographing certain mobile subjects a photographer does not have the luxury to wait 10 minutes between successive groups of 15 to 20 exposures. All too often our macro subjects are here and gone quite quickly and we must maximize the number of exposures we can make while our subject presents itself.

For average photography this limitation is not a serious issue. The flash functioned well in most situations integrating nicely with Canon's E-TTL exposure mode. Lately, however, exposures have become quite variable and the flash failed to function entirely on a recent shoot. I have decided to replace this flash with an older Canon 380ex Speed Lite for "heavy duty" macrophotography. I will get the PZ40X repaired for those times that I need to use manual flash with skittish subjects. I'll rport on Sunpak's return and repair policies when I receive the flash back from Sunpak.
Would I recommend this flash to other Canon EOS macrophotographers? This would be a big, emphatic...NO!!

Disclaimer: These are only my opinions and must not be confused with product evaluations written from carefully controlled tests. My reviews are "real world" reviews based on my experiences using these specific pieces of equipment utilized for my type photography and the manner in which I work. Other photographers may offer differing and valid opinions of the same equipment.

Copyright Thomas L Webster, 2005. All rights Reserved.
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