New tools for flash photography

In my experience as a wildlife photographer specializing in insect photography, two of the more critical factors in my formula for success include using a fast shutter speed along with some sort of flash, preferably a powerful external flash unit.

  • Shutter Priority AE Mode: Use a fast shutter speed, equal to or greater than the reciprocal of the lens focal length (actual focal length for full-frame sensor cameras or 35mm equivalent for crop sensor cameras), in my case, usually no less than 1/800 s for a 600mm equivalent telephoto lens.
  • Use either a built-in flash or external flash unit for fill flash: “… the real secret of wildlife photography is fill flash. Fill flash is one of the key techniques for easily improving wildlife images. Electronic flash improves the color balance of the image, improves color saturation, fills in dark shadows with detail, adds a catch light to an animal’s eye, and may help increase sharpness.” Source Credit: Wildlife Fill Flash. Note: Burst Mode cannot be used with flash.

I bought some new tools for flash photography that should enable me to make better use of two of the more capable cameras I own, rather than using my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 superzoom bridge camera exclusively in the field.

Nissin i40

The first photo shows my Fujifilm X-T1 mirrorless digital camera and 55-200mm zoom lens (88-320mm, 35mm equivalent). In order to shoot tack-sharp photos using a hand-held camera and mid-range telephoto lens, I would prefer to use a combination of a shutter speed of at least 1/640s with fill flash. This configuration doesn’t work with my Fujifilm X-T1. Mirror-less digital cameras aren’t shutterless — they still require a mechanical shutter in order to properly expose larger image sensors such as the APS-C sensor featured in the X-T1. Using the X-T1, flash will synchronize with the shutter at shutter speeds of 1/180s or slower. Editor’s Note: 1/250s usually works as well or better than the X-T1’s 180x default flash sync speed, but that’s the built-in speed limit.

Fujifilm X-T1 mirrorless camera and Nissin i40 external flash unit.

Fujifilm X-T1 mirrorless digital camera | Nissin i40 external flash unit

I recently discovered a third-party external flash unit that is capable of shooting in high-speed sync mode like my Canon Speedlites: Nissin i40 for the Fujifilm mirrorless camera system. Although the Nissin i40 is fully TTL compatible at shutter speeds equal to or less than the X-T1 flash sync speed, high-speed sync only works when the i40 is set for manual mode. This is a game-changer nonetheless — I’m eagerly looking forward to field-testing my X-T1 using flash with shutter speeds faster than 1/250s. And after a year-and-a-half of experience using my Panasonic superzoom bridge camera with a Canon 580EX Speedlite set for manual mode, shooting manual flash is relatively easy.

Fujifilm X-T1 mirrorless camera and Nissin i40 external flash unit.

Fujifilm X-T1 mirrorless digital camera | Nissin i40 external flash unit

Note: The lens hood is reverse-mounted in the preceding photo in order to minimize the apparent length of the lens barrel.

Yongnuo YN622C II Wireless Flash Trigger Transceivers

The next photo shows my older Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR camera plus a hot shoe-mounted Yongnuo YN622C II Wireless Flash Trigger Transceiver that can be used to control off-camera flash units using both E-TTL and high-speed sync.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR camera plus Yongnuo YN622C II Wireless Flash Trigger Transceiver.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR | Yongnuo YN622C II Wireless Flash Trigger

New words formed by fusing together parts of existing words are known as “blends.” The word “transceiver” is a blend of the words “transmitter” and “receiver.”  Using a pair of Yongnuo YN622C II Wireless Flash Trigger Transceivers, the unit mounted on-camera automatically acts like a radio transmitter while the off-camera unit automatically acts as a radio receiver for the Canon 580EX II Speedlite mounted on top.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR camera, Canon 580EX II Speedlite, plus a pair of Yongnuo YN622C II Wireless Flash Trigger Transceivers.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Canon 580EX II Speedlite | Yongnuo YN622C II (2)

Wireless off-camera flash is another game-changer, especially for macro photography. I tried using a coiled six-foot Vello Off-Camera TTL Flash Cord for Canon Cameras that is fully compatible with the two-foot Canon OC-E3 Off Camera Shoe Cord, but the cord always seemed to get in the way and couldn’t be extended fully without causing either the camera or external flash unit to tip over.

The simple set-up shown above features a Canon “nifty fifty” 50mm lens and a couple of Kenko macro automatic extension tubes from a set of three. In this case, the 20mm and 36mm extension tubes combined with the 50mm lens produce ~1:1 macro photos.

As a bonus, the Yongnuo radio transceivers work with every other camera I own to wirelessly control my Canon Speedlites in manual mode. Makes sense, since the “C” in YN622C II means the flash triggers are designed for Canon cameras and flashes.

First impressions

In my opinion, the Nissin i40 is overpriced for a somewhat underpowered external flash unit. But hey, since the i40 is currently the only external flash unit compatible with Fujifilm X-T1 that enables high-speed sync, it’s a price I was willing to pay!

In contrast, $80 for a pair of Yongnuo 622C II transceivers is a bargain — there is no less expensive option for wirelessly controlling external flash units that enables both E-TTL and high-speed sync. I highly recommend this product, despite the virtually unintelligible English translation of the user manual. Special thanks to Alan Pezzulich for suggesting I consider the YN622C IIs!

Related Resources:

Editor’s Note: The photographs featured in this post were taken using an older Canon PowerShot G9 compact digital camera along with a hot shoe-mounted Canon 580EX Speedlite and Sto-Fen Omni-Bounce plastic diffuser; the camera-flash combo was mounted on an inexpensive Sunpak tripod. Adobe Photoshop was used to remove some distracting elements from the upper corners of all photos.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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7 Responses to “New tools for flash photography”

  1. Mike Powell Says:

    I can’t wait to see how all of this new gear will function in the field, Walter. I really enjoyed reading about both the equipment itself and your reasoning behind your choices.

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  4. Mark Says:

    Does the yn-622c tx/rx work with the i40 and your x-t1 for radio triggered hi speed flash sync? Thanks!

    • waltersanford Says:

      Good question, Mark. First, I don’t own the “TX”; I own a pair of YN622C II flash triggers. Second, are you asking about using the Nissin i40 in its “undocumented” hi-speed sync mode? If so, then I don’t recommend it. I did, and fried my i40; had to order a replacement. (The new Fujifilm EF-X500 is due to be released in May 2016.) According to my notes — taken when I tested a variety of hardware combos — the i40 doesn’t work with the Yongnuo flash triggers when the flash is in TTL mode, but it does work in Manual mode.

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