The original Backscatter Mini Flash (MF-1) was a revelation. It seemed that everywhere I dived, these compact strobes and accompanying snoots were present. While I never got to spend a lot of time with the MF-1, for the few dives I shot with it, the benefits of a dedicated strobe for macro were obvious. At DEMA Show 2022, the Backscatter crew gave me an impressive demonstration of its successor, the Mini Flash 2 (MF-2), along with the Optical Snoot (OS-1), which is also compatible with new strobe. Of course, I was very keen to get them in the water.
When Backscatter recently sent me a trio of MF-2s to review, I was very excited to put the new model to the test. I was able to take the strobes on multiple dives at Blue Heron Bridge as well as up to the North Florida springs. Florida’s famed muck dive, in particular, offers a variety of interesting macro critters that are ideal subjects for the high-contrast, black-background images that this system is so well suited to. Would all the added features and functionality of the upgraded Mini Flash translate to new creative possibilities?
Dual snooting moving subjects can be a difficult endeavor. With the MF-2 aiming light, I waited for this scrawled cowfish to swim into the beams of light and fired the shutter, confident the snoots would be perfectly lined up (OM System OM-1, Olympus 14–42mm f/3.5–5.6 II, AOI UH-OM1 housing, 2x Backscatter MF-2 with OS-1, f/14, 1/250s, ISO 80)
Shooting at a wide aperture allowed natural light to bleed into the frame and a single MF-2 with snoot to light this striated frogfish (OM System OM1, Olympus 14–42mm f/3.5–5.6 II, AOI UH-OM1 housing, Kraken Sports +6 diopter, 1x Backscatter MF-2 with OS-1, f/4.8, 1/250s, ISO 80)
1. Fully Loaded with Features
The original Mini Flash was a simple strobe. With its big red dial to adjust strobe power and its single button to cycle through output levels of the built-in aiming/focus light, it was easy and straightforward to use.
With the second incarnation of the Mini Flash, Backscatter has added various features that allow you to light subjects more creatively and produce effects that weren’t possible with the original strobe. The MF-2’S notable new capabilities include remote triggering, high speed sync (HSS), and TTL automatic flash exposure when the strobe is paired with Olympus or OM System cameras. In addition, the MF-2 boasts an aiming/focus light with double the power (now 1,000 lumens), a higher-capacity battery, and a handy test fire mode. But fear not, every accessory for the MF-1 carries over to the MF-2, so if you’re a user of the original strobe, you won’t need to purchase all new accessories.
Physically, the MF-2 is quite similar to the MF-1, but in addition to the power dial, there is now a knob to select the various operating modes: Manual, SC, SC Macro, HSS, Remote, and Test. “SC” stands for Smart Control, the automatic TTL flash power mode for regular (SC) and close-up (SC Macro) shooting with Olympus or OM System cameras. As on the MF-1, the final push button control on the flash body is used to control the aiming/focus light. Like the MF-1, the new flash comes with a ball mount. It now uses a single 21700 battery (rather than the lower-capacity 18650 battery of the MF-1), and the battery compartment seals comfortingly with a double O-ring and a hard stop, so there is no chance of over- or under-tightening.
Clockwise from top left: Mini Flash 2; close-up of control button, mode dial, power dial; MF-2 and OS-1 on Remote Lighting Muck Stick; close-up of Light Pipe
With the new battery, the MF-2 may as well be rated to a million shots per charge, as the strobe is capable of shooting over 2,000 full-power flashes on a single charge. I generally charge batteries at the end of each day if I did a decent amount of shooting, so I never came close to the rated shots per charge. I never once had an issue running out of juice and the batteries charge quite quickly. I also rarely found myself shooting at the highest output settings, as the strobe is powerful enough for most macro shooting without needing to crank it all the way up to full power.
The MF-2 also boasts a faster recycle time. At full power, it takes just over a second to be ready to fire again. But the only time I ever used the strobe near full power was for high speed sync (HSS) shooting. At the lower powers, I never worried about the strobe’s recycle time; indeed, the flash trigger in the AOI OM-1 housing was much more limiting.
The full test rig: OM System OM-1 in AOI UH-OM1 housing and dual Backscatter MF-2 strobes with OS-1 snoots
While the Mini Flash 2 is tailor-made for macro shooting, the strobe can be used for wide-angle imagery, and there are diffusers available. However, the MF-2 is definitely geared towards small subjects, and it excels especially when paired with the Optical Snoot (OS-1). The snoot includes inserts to further restrict the beam. With the focus/aiming light, you can easily see where the flash beam will fall, making it a breeze to precisely position the strobe to illuminate your subject. Being twice as powerful as on the MF-1, the focus/aiming light works very well, even during the day. As an added bonus, if you forget your actual focus or dive lights, the strobe can double as a focus light with a 90-minute burn time. Overall, the new Mini Flash remains compact, easy to use, and very well designed for creative macro shooting.
Dual snoots allow for fantastic cross-lighting to emphasize textures on your subject, like this balloonfish (OM System OM-1, Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro, AOI UH-OM1 housing, 2x Backscatter MF-2 with OS-1, f/11, 1/250s, ISO 100)
This lined seahorse was lit with an MF-2 and OS-1 while the rest of the frame received just a hint of strobe light from my Sea&Sea YS-250 to provide a little context (OM System OM-1, Olympus 14–42mm f/3.5–5.6 II, AOI UH-OM1 housing, AOI UWL-09PRO wide angle conversion lens, 1x Backscatter MF-2 with OS-1, 1x Sea&Sea YS-250, f/10, 1/50s, ISO 80)
2. Snooting Like a Pro
The OS-1 snoot is an optical design specifically made for the Mini Flash (first and second generations), and it works flawlessly. It is an easy push-on/pull-off mounting to the head of the strobe and small enough to stash in a BCD pocket if need be. In fact, I would often bring a pair of strobes with snoots in my BCD pockets in case I found a use for them on a dive when I didn’t necessarily think they’d be my main strobes.
The snoot comes with oval and circular aperture inserts with different openings to further help control the size and shape of the beam. I found the circular aperture insert especially helpful, as you can configure the beam very accurately to nearly every subject. As the snoot contains optical elements, you don’t lose strobe power when the snoot is attached, while the elements themselves help control the beam. This is an advantage over snoots that have no optical elements, as you lose power and perhaps do not have the most controlled beam. I particularly enjoyed shooting dual snoots—while still having a compact rig—as the ability to control light precisely from two strobes is invaluable.
Dual snoots aimed across the subject at each other bring out textures and contrast while emphasizing the face of this polkadot batfish looking out of the darkness (OM System OM-1, Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro, AOI UH-OM1 housing, 2x Backscatter MF-2 with OS-1, f/11, 1/200s, ISO 80)
For this image, one MF-2 with snoot was shot on lower power from straight ahead of the frogfish with a second on higher power to emphasize the crazy spinules with some rim light. Long strobe arms made this shot much easier to get the second strobe far enough behind the subject (OM System OM-1, Olympus 14–42mm f/3.5–5.6 II, AOI UH-OM1 housing, 2x Backscatter MF-2 with OS-1, f/13, 1/250s, ISO 80)
Using the snoot inserts allows for precise control over the size of the beam from the OS-1. Dwarf frogfish are extremely small, this one being about the size of a nickel. The differently sized apertures of the snoot insert enabled me to find the right opening to light this diminutive angel from both front and back (OM System OM-1, Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro, AOI UH-OM1 housing, 2x Backscatter MF-2 with OS-1, f/10, 1/200s, ISO 80)
3. Maximum Creativity with Remote Lighting
One of the exciting new features of the Mini Flash 2 is its ability to be triggered remotely as an off-camera strobe, with or without the snoot. The MF-2 ships with a Light Pipe (also sold separately), which threads into the fiber-optic port on the underside of the flash, where your fiber-optic cable would normally go. With the Light Pipe installed on an MF-2 as your off-camera strobe, it is then ready for triggering using your on-camera MF-2.
Backscatter has created a Remote Lighting Muck Stick, complete with a sand anchor, to help hold your off-camera flash in place in the sand or muck and prevent it from spinning or turning. Also, if you don’t want any light from your on-camera strobe showing up in your image, you can use the new Remote Lighting Infrared Filter accessory for the MF-2. Personally, I never encountered an occasion when I really needed it, as I could usually compose or position the lights in a way that I didn’t have to worry about the primary strobe light ending up in the frame. However, at night time, I tended to use the filter, just in case, to block any wandering light.
You even have the ability to control the output power of the off-camera strobe. To do that, you set the power on the on-camera strobe, make sure it’s aimed at the off-camera strobe, and press and hold the silver button. The on-camera strobe will emit a burst of light signals, while the remote strobe emits two flashes, a second apart, to confirm that it has received the new power setting. The ability to control a second (or third) MF-2 that’s connected to the camera opens up lots of new possibilities for creative lighting.
I discovered one potential obstacle to reliable off-camera shooting with the MF-2: extremely bright, shallow water. I found that the Light Pipe on the remote strobe would not always pick up the flash from the primary strobe in situations like this unless the primary strobe was quite powerful (like my Sea&Sea YS-250, for example). Also keep in mind that you need static subjects if you are going to use off-camera lighting, as even tiny changes in your subject’s position can throw off your carefully placed off-camera beam. In many instances, I found it easier to have snooted strobes on extremely long arms (dual 12-inch arms on each side). That way, once I had my lighting the way I wanted it, I could move with my subject as it moved.
Even with long strobe arms, it can be quite difficult to get lighting where you want it on bigger subjects. For this large striated frogfish, I had to move one of the strobes off camera right to get the harsh back/side light (OM System OM-1, Olympus 14–42mm f/3.5–5.6 II, AOI UH-OM1 housing, Kraken Sports +6 diopter, 1x on-camera Backscatter MF-2 with IR filter for triggering, 1x on-camera Backscatter MF-2 with OS-1, 1x off-camera Backscatter MF-2 with OS-1, f/13, 1/250s, ISO 80)
A technique that has become more popular over the last few years is dragging the shutter and lighting your subject selectively to introduce motion to the image. With the remote shooting capabilities of the MF-2, I was able to plant the off-camera strobe in the sand and experiment with different camera movements and shutter speeds. The frogfish still gets hit with strobe light, so it is sharp while the rest of the frame turns into a watercolor (OM System OM-1, Olympus 14–42mm f/3.5–5.6 II, AOI UH-OM1 housing, 1x on-camera Backscatter MF-2 for triggering, 1x on-camera Backscatter MF-2, 1x off-camera Backscatter MF-2 with OS-1, f/14, 1/6s, ISO 80)
4. Smooth, Dark Backgrounds with High Speed Sync
Another significant new feature of the MF-2 is the ability to shoot with high speed sync (HSS). HSS allows you to shoot significantly faster shutter speeds or more open apertures than you would normally be able to in a given situation. I found the HSS capability especially useful while shooting at Blue Heron Bridge as the dive is so shallow and often the tide necessitates you diving in the middle of the day with a lot of ambient light.
The OM System OM-1 normally syncs at a maximum speed of 1/250s. With the ability to shoot at higher shutter speeds, I was still able to get nice dark backgrounds in bright conditions. HSS also allows you to select wider apertures, which is great for smoothing out cluttered backgrounds. The seahorse below was shot at f/4 in the daytime in about eight feet of water. Getting a clean black background at such a low f-stop with normal shutter speeds in such shallow water during the day would be just about impossible without the benefit of HSS.
There’s one quirk to be aware of when using the MF-2 with the OM-1. With Olympus or OM System cameras, the camera must be put in RC Flash mode (using the flash menu), while the MF-2 has to be set to either SC or SC Macro—not HSS mode. The MF-2 also offers TTL automatic flash exposure with Olympus cameras, which is very effective for straightforward macro shooting—ideal for those who want a simple and reliable setup.
Getting clean, black backgrounds in shallow water during the day can be extremely difficult, especially with wide apertures. With the HSS capability of the MF-2, just crank up the shutter speed and problem solved! (OM System OM-1, Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro, AOI UH-OM1 housing, 2x Backscatter MF-2 with OS-1, f/4, 1/1250s, ISO 80)
This frogfish was perched on a rock in around four feet of water during the day. I used HSS to black out the surroundings and then added in strobe light—one strobe with snoot to rim-light the fish and a second to illuminate just the eye (OM System OM-1, Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro, AOI UH-OM1 housing, 2x Backscatter MF-2 with OS-1, f/13, 1/400s, ISO 80)
5. Going Wide
The Mini Flash 2 was designed and built with macro shooting in mind, and I found it to be very much a macro-centric strobe. However, it can be used in certain wide-angle situations, even if one would not rely on it as a primary wide-angle strobe.
I found the MF-2 to be particularly useful for close focus wide angle (CFWA) situations, where you don’t need big, powerful strobes to illuminate a large area. Here, the MF-2 has enough power to light your central subject and its immediate environment.
Wide-angle snooting is another scenario when the Mini Flash 2 can be put to good use. Especially in murky water or settings when the surroundings are unattractive, selectively illuminating just your subject with the MF-2 and snoot can help eliminate a lot of backscatter and/or draw your attention to specific parts of the frame. For example, for the largemouth bass image below, I used the MF-2 with OS-1 to light up the eggs, and a larger, wide-angle strobe to light the scene and the fish.
While it was made for macro, the MF-2 can be used in a pinch for certain wide-angle images, especially close focus wide angle shots, as with this yellowline arrow crab (OM System OM-1, Olympus 8mm f/1.8 Pro fisheye, AOI UH-OM1 housing, AOI DLP-02 4-inch dome, 2x Backscatter MF-2, f/11, 1/15s, ISO 80)
In murky water, the relatively narrow beam of the MF-2 and accompanying snoot avoids spraying light everywhere and lighting up every bit of backscatter. The small size of the strobe itself also makes it much easier to position it exactly where you need for precise lighting, as required for this lined seahorse (OM System OM-1, Olympus 8mm f/1.8 Pro fisheye, AOI UH-OM1 housing, AOI DLP-02 4-inch dome, 2x Backscatter MF-2, f/11, 1/13s, ISO 80)
This largemouth bass was fiercely guarding his nest but eventually got used to my presence. I was able to use the MF-2 with snoot to light up just the eggs so they stood out from the drab surroundings (OM System OM-1, Olympus 8mm f/1.8 Pro fisheye, AOI UH-OM1 housing, AOI DLP-02 4-inch dome, 1x Backscatter MF-2 with OS-1, 1x Ikelite DS230, f/10, 1/30s, ISO 80)
A behind-the-scenes image of the above bass shot
6. Final Thoughts
As a macro photographer, you may find it hard to get excited about an underwater strobe. After all, when it comes to most strobes, it’s all about how powerful, wide and even the beam—none of which matter very much to those obsessed with the small stuff. But if you’re like me, with the Mini Flash 2, you will be in for a surprise at just how creatively inspiring this diminutive strobe is in use.
Along with its companion Optical Snoot, the Mini Flash 2 has become my go-to strobe for macro photography. The combination of compact size, seamless relationship between flash and snoot, remote shooting and HSS capabilities open up so many opportunities for creative and impactful imagery. It is also a flash system that grows with you as you grow: From beginner compact users shooting with TTL to accomplished pros trying out their most creative ideas, the Mini Flash 2 offers something for everyone—and at a very affordable price.
Dual snoots and a cooperative subject allowed for this spotfin jawfish portrait. Larger strobes and snoots would have made this much more difficult, as the fish wasn’t in the easiest spot to make images (OM System OM-1, Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro, AOI UH-OM1 housing, 2x Backscatter MF-2 with OS-1, f/13, 1/200s, ISO 80)
About the Reviewer: Matthew Sullivan is a Florida-based wildlife photographer who has been diving since he was 10 years old. He has traveled extensively, visiting well-known dive destinations such as Guadalupe Island, Indonesia and the Philippines, but he also likes to dive closer to home in the Pacific Northwest. When not taking pictures underwater, he can be found trekking mountains, or exploring national parks and rainforests in search of new adventures and wildlife encounters.
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