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Flash systems

Customer guide

I have been thinking a lot about recently on what subject I should give advice to our readers. This time I chose to write about flash systems. In this new column you will not find product tests but entirely subjective opinions about certain products and comprehensive information. Today’s DSLR camera bodies and almost all of the new mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras support external flash systems. We receive plenty of enquiries via e-mail asking about which one is good, which one to choose and what aspects to considered, etc. Now we would like give some guidance about the currently available products and their characteristics. Among the currently available flashes the most suitable are the through-the-lens (TTL ) metering (TTL ) flash systems. The best choice is to use the producer’s own flash systems. I am not going to describe all types in detail, now I just focus on the products of Nikon and Canon. However, what I will say about them is true for the flashes of other producers as well. The currently available and well-suited flashes include but are not limited to the following: Canon Speedlite 430 EX II, 580 EX II, 600 EX and EX RT , Nikon SB 700 and SB 910, Olympus FL-50 and FL-36 wireless, Panasonic DMW-FL360, Pentax AF-360 FGZ and Pentax AF-540 FGZ flash, Sony HVL-F60M and HVL-F43AM . These current types can be purchased or ordered at every professional camera shops or stores and are compatible with all the available cameras on the market at present. What flash do I need? This is the most frequent question. Let’s see first which one is for what. The inbuilt flashes usually have little power but are still suitable for simple tasks. The point is the performance which is indicated by the so-called guide numbers. The guide number always refers to a certain sensitivity - ISO 100 - and a determined distance. For example at ISO 100 sensitivity a flash with 32 guide number gives good result from 2 meters distance with f/16 aperture in manual mode. Of course, at higher ISO sensitivity and with wider aperture, e.g. f/4, flashes perform well from much longer distance. Getting back to my original thought, with inbuilt flashes with guide numbers of 12 or 14 you can get quite good pictures from even 5 or 6 meters distance.
Photo: © Canon

If you want more, watch for the following. Flash systems can be divided into two groups: there are slave flashes and master flashes. In additions, a master flash can work as a slave flash too. What is it all about? The inbuilt flashes of some cameras are able to flash external flashes wirelessly. Nikon’s D7000, D90, D300s and Canon’s EOS 600D, 650D, 60D and EOS 7D is suitable for that. If you do own none of them, then you simply mount the flash in the hotshoe and done. If you want to control several flashes, you must buy a master flash which is able to control slave flashes wirelessly. Besides the control, flashes cooperate with the system, but how? Cameras with curtain shutter have a flash synchronization which limits shutter speed to a certain extent. Flash sync speed is generally between 1/60 and 1/200. Almost every SLR cameras can produce that (the max. sync speed of Olympus and Pentax is 1/180). It is fine, as in case of indoor shootings and at little light flashes can be easily used. The problem starts if you want to use flash in daily light to illuminate the shaded parts. The inbuilt flashes only work with sync timing. If it is not enough for you, then mount an external system flash and set the quick flash sync in the menu and you will get good quality results in daily light without burn-outs or correction. Here comes the cold shower: producers make difference between the flash compatibility of their cameras. For example, Nikon’s D5100, D5200 and D3200 do not know flash sync. Canon, Olympus and Pentax leave that for the external flash, so there is no problem with them. Well, I hope I confused everybody. To summarize: At Nikon’s D3200, D5100, D5200 the inbuilt flash works well in TTL , it controls the slave flash as well but only within sync time. Nikon’s D90, D7000 and D300s can be master flashes and handle the quick flash sync as well. You have to buy a master flash for D3, D3s and D4 cameras as they do not have inbuilt flashes. SB 700 and SB 910 can be both slave and master flashes. As for Canon EOS 1100D, the inbuilt flash works well in TTL , it also controls the mounted external flash and the quick flash sync too. The inbuilt flash of Canon’s EOS 600D, 650D, 60D, 7D can be master flash too, and know quick flash sync as well. 430 EX II can be slave flash too. Canon 5D Mark III and 1Dx have no inbuilt flash, so buying a bigger master flash for them is recommended. Canon 580 EX II and Canon 600 EX are both master and slave flashes.
Olympus FL-36 is only a slave flash, but FL-50 can be a master flash too. At Pentax AF-360 FGZ only a slave flash and AF-540 FGZ is a master flash. In Sony’s palette HVL-F43AM is a slave flash and Sony HVL-F60M is a controller master flash. These flash systems work through infrared and the master flashes have the information which is required for the master flashes to light metering, aperture and length settings. Attention, here comes a novelty, Canon 600 EX RT ! The newest technology represented by the radio controlled flash systems, PocketWizard was a pioneer on this field and it can be compatible with both Canon and Nikon in TTL system. The system is simple: through a two-way radio communication every TTL function can be controlled within 100 meters. Why is it good for us? Because in case of photo themes captured in daily light the infra does not sense the master flash but there are no limitations in radio controlling. They work well even if the receiver and the transmitter is in cover. Wow, this is a really good thing, every photographer’s dream is a set in which the master flash fires in every case and one has to focus only on the composition. If it is so good, what’s the problem? Why not everyone has it? A transmitter and a receiver cost only HUF 120,000 to 150,000. If you can afford it, buy it for your TTL system. Canon’s recently introduced 600EX-RT is the newest flagship flash unit, this technology has an inbuilt radio control system and can be both master or slave flash. Moreover, unlimited number of flashes can be connected to it and it will not fire only the controlled ones. It has another huge advantage: in case of hide tent photography the external flash does not have to see the flashing as it receives the values through radio frequency. This is a very good equipment, but there is some question here too: the system is not infrared flash compatible! I can sell out all my flashes and start to build a new system. Dear Readers, everyone should decide to what extent he or she wants to develop the system and think twice in what you invest your hard-earned money.
Have a good shopping!
Text: Tamás Imre
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