Flashback – reflecting upon nearly two years of flash photography

Once upon a time I was a photography purist: Every photograph I shot was taken in natural light. Then one day I had an epiphany: Fill flash brings out detail and enhances color, contrast, and sharpness. In a word, flash good!

I remember the day of my conversion from the dark side vividly. I was trying to photograph a Blue Corporal dragonfly (Ladona deplanata) during Spring 2013: Male Blue Corporals are dark blue and the subject was backlighted by the Sun; all of the photos I shot appeared to be underexposed and showed almost no detail. I decided to try using the built-in pop-up flash on my camera, and boom, the results were much better! For the rest of the year, I used the pop-up flash full-time.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150

My love of flash photography began with the built-in pop-up flash on my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 superzoom camera. Eventually I came to realize the obvious: The pop-up flash is better than nothing but it’s underpowered in many (if not most) situations.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 pop-up flash.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 pop-up flash.

Canon external flash units

Mid-way through 2014, I started experimenting with using external flash units for Canon digital cameras mounted on my Panasonic camera.

  • Canon 580EX Speedlite (Guide Number: 58) plus Sto-Fen OM-EY Omni-Bounce plastic diffuser
  • Canon 580EX Speedlite II (Guide Number: 58) plus Vello Bounce Dome plastic diffuser. (Note: The Canon 580EX II is slightly larger than the 580EX.)

Both Canon flashes are virtually identical and are compatible with every digital camera I own, including the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150, although the flashes must be used in manual mode.

External flash units for Canon digital cameras: Canon 580EX Speedlite; Canon 580EX Speedlite II.

Canon 580EX Speedlite (left) | Canon 580EX Speedlite II (right)

By experimentation, I quickly discovered three things:

  1. Both Canon flashes work with my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 at any shutter speed. This is huge, especially since I prefer to shoot in shutter priority mode at faster shutter speeds.
  2. Manual flash isn’t as hard to understand as I was led to believe.
  3. The Canon 580EX works better with my Panasonic camera than the 580EX II. (For example, when the camera goes into power-saving mode, so does the 580EX flash unit; when the camera “wakes up,” so does the flash. In contrast, sometimes it is necessary to power-cycle the 580EX II in order to wake it from power-saving mode when it is mounted on my Panasonic camera.)

The following camera/flash settings are my usual starting point.

  • Camera: ISO 100; Shutter Priority mode at 1/800s.
  • Flash: Manual Mode; 1/16 power ratio; 105mm zoom.

Correct exposure is never more than a few stops away from these settings. (Note: On both 580s, every three clicks on the selection dial equals one stop of exposure.)

Fujifilm external flash units

I own several external flash units for my Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera.

  • The Fujifilm EF-X8 (Guide Number: ~8) comes with the X-T1 camera body. Although the EF-X8 is almost as underpowered as the pop-up flash on my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150, it can be used to fire the Nissin i40 off-camera with the i40 set for “SD mode.”
  • The Fujifilm EF-42 (Guide Number: 42) plus Sto-Fen OM-600 Omni-Bounce plastic diffuser enables TTL flash photography at shutter speeds equal to or less than the X-T1 flash sync speed of 1/180s (actually, 1/250s). The EF-42 can be used to fire the Nissin i40 off-camera with the i40 set for “SF mode.”
  • The Nissin i40 (Guide Number: 40) enables both TTL flash photography at shutter speeds equal to or less than the sync speed, and high-speed sync with the i40 set for Manual mode. (Note: The Nissin i40 comes with a snap-on plastic diffuser, not shown in the following photograph.)
External flash units for Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera: Fujifilm EF-X8; Fujifilm EF-42; Nissin i40.

Fujifilm EF-X8 (left) | Fujifilm EF-42 (center) | Nissin i40 (right)

Flash accessories

The last photo shows a few of my favorite accessories for external flash photography.

Accessories for external flash units: Ansmann battery case; Sanyo Eneloop rechargeable batteries; Vello Off-Camera TTL Flash Cord; Yongnuo YN622C II Wireless Flash Trigger Transceivers.

Accessories for external flash units.

One of my goals for 2016 is to experiment with on-camera versus off-camera flash using some of the accessories shown above.

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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8 Responses to “Flashback – reflecting upon nearly two years of flash photography”

  1. Mike Powell Says:

    I love the title of your posting and welcome all of the detailed info on your flash gear. I love new gear, even though I find myself using the same limited set of equipment over and over.

    • waltersanford Says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Mike! I edited some of the text and reformatted several sections of the post for better readability — I’m curious to know whether you think the edits enhance the latest iteration from the initial version.

  2. Victor Rakmil Says:

    Have a look at my about page. I use a soft box on a Nikon flash mounted on the camera. A big soft box. It works.

  3. Christy Says:

    Light is light, whether it’s from the sun, or reflected off another surface, or from a flash unit. I think your use of flash has enabled you to take very sharp, perfectly exposed photos. If I’m taking photos and the “natural” light isn’t enough, I am happy to pull out my speed light.

  4. You complete me | walter sanford's photoblog Says:

    […] of carrying my Manfrotto 055XPROB Pro, the heaviest tripod I own. Now that I’ve become a flash enthusiast, I plan to give the Canon a second chance — I’m hoping that the problem of camera shake […]

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