Dissent Against Dedicated Flash, i.e. X-24greenspun.com : LUSENET : Konica 35mm SLRs : One Thread
From time to time, the issue arises about using dedicated flash units such as the Konica X-24 with the F-Series SLR camera bodies. I think using a dedicated flash unit is a bad idea, and am not bashful about explaining why.
What Konica's version of flash dedication accomplishes is 3 things:
1. When the flash unit is recycled and ready to fire, it sends a signal to the camera body which turns on a ready light in the viewfinder and automatically sets the shutter speed to 1/100th second.
2. Flash dedication allows the lens aperture ring to be left in the AE/EE position. The actual shooting aperture is set by moving a switch on the flash unit to either the f/5.6 or f/11 position.
3. The combination of 1 & 2 above enable the photographer to shoot by available light while the flash unit is waiting to recycle, and when recycling is complete a different shutter speed and lens aperture are automatically invoked to achieve correct exposure by flash illumination.
In short, taking flash pictures with an X-24 or similar dedicated flash requires only that the photographer select f/5.6 or f/11 as a working aperture - and the electronics do everything else. Unquestionably, this simplifies the process tremendously.
However if simplicity were the goal, a single-use, disposable camera would be a more logical choice. Or if not that, the programmed exposure Konica FP-1 body delivers exactly the same flash functionality and performance as the FT-1 when the X-24 flash unit is used. If you don't want to control your equipment, why bother with owning an FT-1?
While having the shutter speed set to 1/100th sec. for flash synchronization is a reasonable compromise, it is not ideal for either indoor or outdoor flash. For hand-held flash photography indoors, flash sync at 1/60th sec. shutter speed provides much better results. This is because the areas of the scene which the flash can't reach into are rendered brighter by the existing available light at slower shutter speeds.
When mixing flash illumination with sunlight outdoors, the photographer almost always needs to use the highest shutter speed at which his camera can synchronize with flash. In the case of the FT-1, this is 1/125th sec. The reason is because of the issue of depth- of-field within the scene.
Flash is normally used outdoors in sunlight for portraiture of one stripe or another. A goal of portraiture is to create the illusion of separation between the subject and the background, which adds depth and dimension to the image. One way of separating the subject from the background to to use selective focus, which means to render the subject in-focus while the background is rendered out-of-focus.
Shooting at small apertures (high f/stop numbers) such as f/11 and f/16 inherently provide extended depth-of-field (depth-of-focus), and will often render the background as sharply focused as the portrait subject in the foreground. To de-focus a distracting background in an outdoor portrait, it is best to use apertures of f/5.6 and larger.
Now, the lens aperture not only determines the degree of depth of field - but also film exposure. To use a relatively wider lens aperture outdoors in sunlight, a correspondingly higher shutter speed is required to correctly expose the film. Naturally, using a relatively slow film such as ISO/ASA 100 and a telephoto lens will both contribute to keeping outdoor portrait backgrounds de-focused. But you still normally need to use the highest shutter speed you can at which the shutter can sync with flash.
To sumarize this part, using 1/60th sec for flash sync indoors will prevent your subjects from appearing to be surrounded by or emerging from a dark tunnel. Using 1/125th sec. for flash sync outdoors in sunlight will let you use a wider lens aperture, and thereby de-focus your portrait backgrounds a bit more. And the point is, a dedicated flash such as the X-24 forces you to sync with flash at 1/100th sec. - which is not optimal for either indoor or outdoor flash photography. So while you gain in simplicity of operation, you lose in exercising creative control of the pictures you are making.
Now, on to the issue of dedicated flash restricting the photographer to using either f/5.6 or f/11 as a working aperture. In the first place, virtually all lenses deliver their best optical performance at f/8. Here, I'm referring to color contrast, edge-to-edge sharpness, correction of chromatic aberation, spherical aberation, coma, flare, etc. Secondly, f/8 delivers the "average" or "medium" amount of depth-of-field. In other words, if you don't really care how much depth of field your picture has - f/8 is a good aperture to shoot with. Ever heard the old saying "f/8 and be there?" Well, if you're using an X-24 or any other dedicated flash you can still "be there" - but you can't shoot at f/8. It's gotta be f/5.6 or f/11.
Here's another old saying to which all should take heed: "a good flash picture is one where you can't tell that flash was used." The remainder of this treatise will be devoted to explaining how that goal is achieved. And take for granted that using a dedicated flash does not figure prominently in the solution.
Unless you are taking pictures in a totally darkened room, there are always 2 light sources present. Your electronic flash is one, and the ambient, available light is the other. Now, if you cared to set your shutter speed to 1 full second, and open the lens aperture to f/1.4, you could make accurate exposures by the light of a single candle. We never use flash "because there isn't enough light." There is always enough light. We use flash because we don't wan't to mount the camera on a tripod to eliminate the blur caused by camera shake, or there is subject movement which needs to be frozen, or we need to use a smaller lens aperture to keep all of the subject matter in focus. But the point is, when using flash indoors - the flash is only 1 of the 2 light sources present. Using flash illumination is a choice, not a requirement.
Using studio jargon, the "main" light creates the highlights and shadows on the subject while the "fill" light reduces the density of the shadows caused by the main light. When using electronic flash indoors, creative photography always requires that a conscious decision be made as to whether the flash will be the main light or the fill light. If the ambient, available light is bright enough, and your film speed is fast enough, and there is little or no subject movement, and you have a tripod handy - there is no reason why flash can't be used as fill light while the ambient light is used as the main light. It really depends on the subject matter, what film speed you are using, and how much depth-of field you need.
For example, your indoor subject may be a pet cat, dog or newborn baby asleep on the livingroom sofa. The subject is illuminated by sunlight streaming in through a north-facing window. The available light exposure calls for 1/30th second at f/4. If you set your flash to output f/5.6 light on the subject, then the flash is the main light and the available light is the fill. If you set your flash to output f/2.8 light on the subject, then the flash is the fill light and the available light is the "main" light. Which do you think would make the better looking picture, using flash as the main or fill light? Well, if you use a dedicated flash you will never know - because there is no way to set it's brightness output to anything but f/5.6 or f/11 - and it will force you to use a 1/100th sec shutter speed instead of the 1/30th sec which balancing with the available light calls for.
When using flash indoors, one should strive to keep the brightness of the flash within 2 or 3 f/stops of the available light brightness. If you don't, there is no way to disguise the fact that flash illumination was used. And the same applies when mixing flash with sunlight outdoors. The flash brightness should be within 1, 2, or 3 f/stops of the sunlight brightness, depending on whether the flash is being used as the main or fill light. Of course, all of this is quite difficult or near impossible if your equipment forces you to use 1/100th sec as your only shutter speed and forces you to choose either f/5.6 or f/11 as a working aperture.
In conclusion, using a dedicated flash essentially forces you to produce amateurish looking snapshots - and prevents you from accomplishing anything else. Konica 35mm SLR cameras and lenses are capable of delivering professional results - magazine covers, Penthouse centerfolds, saleable portraits, etc. But dedicated flash was never intended to be anything but a marketing gimmick for lazy photographers who value no-brain simplicity over exercising creative control. Controlling the light is what photography is all about, and dedicated flash gives you no control at all - in fact, it controls you.
So what are the other options? What flash unit is better than the X-24? In my opinion, the Sunpak 383 Super is the best all-around electronic flash for use with your Konica 35mm SLR. Here is a list of things the Sunpak 383 Super can do which the Konica X-24 can not:
1. The 383 provides a choice of 3 automatic f/stops, while the X-24 is limited to just 2.
2. The 383 has adjustable power output which covers a 5 f/stop range in manual mode. This is tremendously useful when balancing flash with available light, either indoors or outdoors in sunlight. This one feature alone makes the 383 function like a studio monolight, and in can in fact be used off-camera in studio applications as a main light, fill light, hair light, background light, or accent light.
3. The 383 has a jointed head which can tilt up and down vertically, and swivel from side to side. This enables bouncing the flash off of a white ceiling or a white wall in a room. This lowers the contrast quality of the light by diffusion, and illuminates the subject from a more natural-looking direction.
When bounce-flash is not desirable, the shape of the 383 flash head lends itself to use of the many after market accessories available for it. For example, Lumiquest makes a miniature softbox diffuser which attaches with velcro and also a low-priced "snoot" which is quite functional when using the 383 off-camera as a studio hair light. The Sto-fen Omnibounce is also a very popular and useful accessory which creates a very soft, nearly shadowless lighting effect.
4. The 383 elevates the flash reflector several inches higher than the Konica X-24, which helps to reduce the "red-eye" effect.
5. The 383 has an input jack for attaching a high-voltage battery pack, such as the Sunpak TR-IIa or a Quantum Turbo battery. These provide hundreds of full-power flashes, with 1 second recycling time.
6. The 383 has a removable/replaceable sync cord, which enables triggering it with inexpensive Wein Peanut optical slaves, long PC-tipped sync cords, radio slaves, etc.
In summary the Sunpak 383 Super has all the functionality of an "automatic" shoe-mount flash, a very versatile manual flash, and can be used quite well off-camera for the most professional studio applications. Most importantly, and unlike a dedicated flash such as the Konica X-24, it allows you to shoot with flash at any shutter speed and f/stop you choose. In addition, the 383 is fully functional with any camera you own now or may own in the future. These are available new from B&H Photo for $70.00
-- Anonymous, March 11, 2001
Thank you for your detailed and thorough response. Your narrative is just what I need to develop the skill I desire to make better photo's.
On the lighter side I will offer a couple insights as to why I use the dedicated flash.
1) Because I own one. Purchased along with the FT1 in the mid 80's before our kids came along and I didn't know the difference between a point & shoot, a kodak brownie, and an SLR. Plus, I was so terrible at taking pictures and working the FT1 I relegated the camera to my wife for the next 17 years.
2) The flash is light, small, and easy to carry around. Great for lower quality snapshots that wouldn't have otherwise been taken.
3) Excellent for an introduction to the basics of flash, taking pictures, and evaluating the shortcomings of auto flash. Despite the fact I am the smartest and most brilliant human ever--I seem to make EVERY textbook mistake described in photography. That includes flash, exposure, composition, lighting etc. And this with AUTO! Now that I know more of what to look for in pictures I see all these mistakes and can endeavor to improve.
4)X-24 works well on manual and sits atop my Leica M6 without dwarfing the camera. (How 'bout that for expensive Point & Shoot combo?)
So I too have ordered a SunPak. After reviewing the virtues of the 444D from Alan Myers I have one coming. What do you wanna bet I can make mistake's with it also?
Thanks for the information.
David S Smith
-- Anonymous, March 12, 2001
Though I'm a portrait studio owner as well as a Konica enthusiast, I must confess that I'm occasionally called upon to do non-paid work - such as shooting a nephew's birthday party, etc. And I also normally bring a simple Konica outfit along on vacation trips for travel photos. On these occasions I often use a single, on-camera flash in automatic mode. I've found that the Sto-fen Omnibounce flash diffuser does a wonderful job of creating soft, natural-looking indoor lighting - of a type that doesn't advertise the fact that on-camera flash was used.
Lighting is the last thing that most photographers ever learn, and most never learn it. Yet, lighting is probably the single most important aspect of photography. The photographer's willingness and ability to control the lighting is the main thing that distinguishes satisfying or saleable pictures from mundane, amateurish-looking snapshots.
Every photograph has an underlying lighting technique, whether the photographer was deliberate or consciously aware of using it or not. If one can simply stop using bad lighting techniques, good lighting will result almost by default.
Lighting techniques are sort of like a stage magician's card tricks - they must be learned, practiced and perfected one at a time. And while there may be thousands of lighting techniques, including all of their variations, one needs only 3 or 4 to be a very versatile, confident and accomplished photographer.
The lighting technique which always produces the worst possible effect is undiffused, frontal flash with the flash unit mounted on the camera. This is always guaranteed to produce the deer-caught-in-the-headlights effect. Fortunately, this is fairly easy to correct when shooting indoors. One of these 2 methods will normally work:
1. Bounce the flash off of a white ceiling. When you angle the flash unit up toward the ceiling, the ceiling in effect becomes the light source. The subject is then illuminated from above, which creates a much more natural-looking lighting effect. Secondly, the flash illumination is diffused when it strikes the ceiling and this lowers the constast quality of the light. Over-exposed bright spots on the oily parts of the subject's face will disappear, deep shadows are lightened, and skin blemishes become less obvious.
However, bouncing flash from a white ceiling creates another problem which must be attended to. Because the light is descending directly from above, objectionable shadows will appear in the subject's eye sockets and under the chin. A simple solution is to attach half of a 3"X5" white index card to the top of the flash unit with a rubber band. The white card should protrude forward above the flash reflector by about 1 1/2 inches. This little reflector will cast some of the light directly forward, which lightens the shadows on the subject's face. This technique will work fine with the flash unit in automatic mode.
2. There are times when bouncing the flash from the ceiling is impractical, either because the ceiling is too high or some other color besides white. In these cases, effort should still be made to lower the contrast quality of the flash illumination by diffusion - and also change the angle of the light.
Any flash unit can be diffused by simply using a rubber band to hold a thickness of white facial tissue, a paper napkin, toilet paper, etc. in front of the flash reflector. This will lower the brightness of the light output by about 1 f/stop, but the gains in lowering the contrast quality of the light are worth the sacrifice. A more permanent flash diffuser can be manufactured by cutting a rectangular section out of the side of a plastic milk jug.
The flash unit can be attached to the camera by some type of extension cord for synchronization. Simply hold the camera in your right hand, and hold the flash unit in your left hand at arm's length above your head. Again, elevating the flash unit to a higher angle provides a more natural looking lighting effect and causes objectionable shadows to fall down behind and below your subject and out of view. This technique also works fine with the flash in automatic mode. Just make sure that the light sensor on the flash is aimed directly at your subject.
When shooting indoors, use a flash sync shutter speed of 1/60th sec. if the camera will be hand-held and there may be some subject movement. If there is no subject movement, use 1/30th or 1/15th sec. for a shutter speed and mount the camera on a tripod.
The higher the film speed you use with flash indoors, the brighter the ambient light will be recorded. The less difference in brightness between the flash and the ambient lighted portions of the scene, the less obvious your use of flash will be.
Applying these techniques I've described don't require much effort or expense, yet they yield a dramatic improvement in results. Just remember that great pictures are never served up on a silver platter by automated conveniences. Great pictures must be "earned" by the photographer. Think about what you are trying to accomplish with lighting before you do it, and you'll discover that you are more capable than you thought. Treat every picture taking situation as though you were going to submit the resulting image to a photo contest. Great pictures are roughly proportionate to the amount of human ingenuity and effort that went into making them. There is no free lunch.
-- Anonymous, March 12, 2001
Gene.... I agree completely, and to show that agreement, I do NOT own any "X" flashes anymore. Sold them all as I replaced them with Sunpaks. I have 383, 422, 433, among others. I get manual modules (single contact) for the 400 series and they are grrreeaat. If you have the need for "automation" then set the lens to a fixed aperture and let the flash do the rest. Depending on the stop selected, you can shoot from 6-60 feet without doing anything more than focusing or 3-30, etc. you guys know the drill!!! This turns your great Konica into almost a PHD camera!! (push here, dummy) Also, the 383 has the correct exposure preview button which is a good learning tool! I think you guys that are hung up on just Konica are missing out on some good experience by not trying some other brands! In addition to much more flexibility. For what it's worth.............................jim
-- Anonymous, March 12, 2001
To Jim's comments, I wanted to add that the Sunpak 383 Super, the 422D, the 433D and the 444D are all quite similar in size, shape, configuration, and power output. The differences are as follows:
1. The 383 Super is like the base unit. It has no dedicated features, and no interchangeable "foot" modules. It's main limitation is the inability to attach a remote sensor.
2. The 433D (the "D" stands for "dedicated") is like a 383 Super, except it is dedicated to specific camera brands with a non-interchangeable foot module.
3. The 422D is like the 433D, except that it has interchangeable foot modules which are configured to the different brands of cameras. Because of the interchangeable module feature, an optional remote sensor module can be used.
4. The 444D is like the 422D, and was apparently introduced when the 422D was discontinued. It also has interchangeable foot modules and can accept a remote sensor. But in addition, the 444D comes equipped with the Sunpak Tele-Fill adapter. This is a zooming, fresnel lens arrangement which changes the spread of light to match various focal length lenses. This gadget is normally an optional accessory, which can also fit onto the 383 Super, the 422D, and 433D.
The Konica dedicated module which fits onto the 422D and 444D has no provision for using a PC type sync cord, which is something of a limitation. But as Jim pointed out, there is a "standard" non-dedicated module available and this does have a sync cord available.
No sync cord provision implies the flash must be mounted into the camera's hot shoe, and some difficulty if you have hopes of using the flash unit with a flash bracket or off-camera. If you do intend to use a flash bracket, there are a couple of solutions:
1. If you have a 422D or 444D with interchangeable modules, you can buy the remote sensor. The remote sensor fits into the camera's hot shoe, and a coiled cord then connects to the flash unit via the module connection on the bottom.
2. A common item on the eBay auction is the Altrex Duo-Sync cord. This is a 4' coiled cord with an adapter on one end which fits into the camera's hot shoe, and a hot shoe at the other end of the cord. This is ideal for using a Sunpak flash (or even a Konica X-24) on a Stroboframe flash bracket. These cords are dedicated for Konica flash operation, and have the 2 extra contact pins matching the camera's hot shoe and the foot of an X-24 type flash unit. The Altrex Duo-Sync cord has a hot shoe built into the end of the cord that attaches to the camera's hot shoe, so you can actually mount and fire 2 flash units in sync - using one as a main light and one as a fill light. The Altrex Duo-Sync cord has long been discontinued under that brand name, but you can still buy them new from the Spiratone mail-order catalog.
3. Another option for flash bracket or off-camera useage is a Paramount hot shoe sync cord. This is a coiled cord with a plug on one end which connects to the camera's hot shoe instead of the PC terminal. The other end of the cord has a Sunpak specific plug which is inserted into the flash unit. (By the way, sync cords which connect to the camera's hot shoe are much more reliable than the kind which connect to the camera's PC terminal socket.)
-- Anonymous, March 12, 2001
I have a Sunpak 383. What is the exposure preview button you write about? My unit has a green light that can be used to show that you are within the distance range for you flash settings.
I rarely use my Sunpak over my dedicated units. In fact I try to avoid all flash. I find manual flash one of the most difficult things to control in photography and extremely difficult to control on the Konicas. In automatic mode the Sunpak estends you range but produces the same dreadful exposeures as the Konica flashes. Also the Sunpak seems to use a propritary off-camera sync cord, or a sych cord that is different from the one I use with my Konica models.
The main reason I got the Sunpak was for the variable light output control so that I could handle outdoor fill flash situations. The skimpy manual the Sunpak provides gives very poor instruction for doing flash fill. By the time I have everything set-up my subjects are off doing something else.
If you have any tips or tricks you know of in using the Sunpak FT-1 combo outdoors for fill flash situations, so that you can make all the needed calculations and settings quickly, it would be much appriciated.
-- Anonymous, March 12, 2001
While Jim can speak for himself, I wanted to offer a few comments in the spirit of helpfulness.
>>If you have any tips or tricks you know of in using the Sunpak FT-1 combo outdoors for fill flash situations, so that you can make all the needed calculations and settings quickly, it would be much appriciated.
With the Konica FT-1 and Sunpak 383, there is no need for calculations. First, set your camera shutter speed to 1/125th sec. with the lens aperture ring in the AE/EE position. Depress the shutter button half-way, and take a meter reading for the background. Take note of the f/stop indicator selection in the viewfinder display. If the red LED for f/11 lights up, that will be your working aperture.
Next, set the auto aperture on your flash unit for 1 f/stop less than the f/stop required for the background exposure. If the viewfinder display indicates f/11 for the background exposure, set your auto f/stop on the flash unit for f/8. That's all there is to it - there are no calculations that need to be performed.
Unless you are a lighting expert and willing to argue with me, always set your flash to output 1 f/stop less light than the background exposure when doing "fill-flash" outdoors in sunlight.
If you were a lighting expert, you would own and use a hand-held incident/flash meter. The outdoor lighting technique involves using the meter to measure the ambient light on the shadow side of your subject. Then, you set the flash to output 1 f/stop more brightness than the meter reading on the shadow side of your subject. In almost every case, your flash output will be the same as if you had made it 1 f/stop less than the exposure for the background - as previously explained.
>>The main reason I got the Sunpak was for the variable light output control so that I could handle outdoor fill flash situations. The skimpy manual the Sunpak provides gives very poor instruction for doing flash fill. By the time I have everything set-up my subjects are off doing something else.
The "skimpy" manual can't second guess what you are trying to accomplish, indoors or out. Photography is a creative endeavor. Only you can decide whether you want to use the ambient light as the "main" or the "fill" light. If you make the flash brighter than the ambient light, then the flash is the "main" light. If you make the flash less bright than the ambient light, then the flash is the "fill" light. The sole purpose of a "fill" light is to lighten the density of the shadows created by the "main" light. But only you can decide whether to use your flash as the main light or the fill light. Sheesh! If everybody used the same technique, all pictures would look the same - and there would be no point in shooting any more of them. Unlike Sunpak and the camera manufacturers, I'm not trying to sell anything and thus I'm not concerned about hurting anybody's feelings.
Make your exposure settings and flash unit adjustments before you pose your subject. That way, your subject doesn't have to wait while you consider what you are trying to accomplish with your equipment.
>>I rarely use my Sunpak over my dedicated units. In fact I try to avoid all flash. I find manual flash one of the most difficult things to control in photography and extremely difficult to control on the Konicas.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, "a good flash picture is one where you can't tell that flash was used." There is no benefit in using flash if ambient, available light can provide a high enough shutter speed to freeze the action in a scene - or provide enough depth-of-field to keep all of your subject matter in focus. The modern ISO/ASA 800 films are like magic.
However, electronic flash is also like magic - and it provides the photographer with a means to produce light where none (or not enough) existed before. If you can't learn to control it, that is a problem of your own attitude and not the operational controls of the flash unit.
Becomming a good photographer is an acquired skill. If you don't want to learn and practice the skill, then buy a modern, computerized camera outfit and let an anonomous Japanese software engineer design all of your pictures for you. Most consumers are satisfied with terrible looking snapshots, and you may fall into that catagory.
The Konica FT-1 and Sunpak 383 Super are about the best equipment that money can buy for doing "fill-flash" outdoors - unless you want to invest in leaf-shutter lenses with a medium format camera and an $800 (all manual) flash unit such as the Lumedyne or Norman professional outfits. The equipment you have now is capable of doing more than your current knowledge and attitude allows.
-- Anonymous, March 13, 2001
Thanks for the advise, Gene.
I am surprised you trust the Sunpak outdoors in automatic mode to properly expose your flash fill subjects.
In addition to what you advise I also go through an additional cumbersome process of setting the Sunpak to manual mode and setting my f-stop/subject distance scale accordingly. To do these setting properly I need to know the distance I am from my subject and take that into account.
I do this because I do not trust the ability of the Sunpak ( or the Konica's ) to automatically shut down the flash duration when outdoors.
Is there any working outdoor subject to flash distance range/lens combo you try to maintain that gives the best flash fill results?
-- Anonymous, March 13, 2001
>>I am surprised you trust the Sunpak outdoors in automatic mode to properly expose your flash fill subjects.
Automatic flash units, such as the Sunpak 383 or Vivitar 283, do a surprisingly good job of emitting reliable amounts of light outdoors in daylight in automatic mode. But for more ambitious photographers, it is correct to exercise suspicion and attempt more precision.
Precise results can be achieved by using a hand-held, incident flash meter. The technique involves first taking an ambient-incident light meter reading of the light falling on the background. To take this reading, hold the meter so the translucent dome is pointed straight up toward the center of the sky. If the meter reading is f/11, set this as the working aperture on the camera lens.
Next, meter the ambient, natural light falling on the subject's face. Hold the meter directly in front of the subject's face, with the translucent dome aimed directly at the camera lens. Meter both sides of the face, because one side may be brighter than the other. But often, both sides of the face will be the same brightness - and you will get a meter reading that is 2 or 3 f/stops less than the background exposure - such as f/5.6. To recap this section, f/11 will likely be the brightness of the "background" light, and f/5.6 will be the brightness of the natural, ambient "fill" light.
Next, use a light stand or human assistant to position the flash unit 30 to 45 degrees away from the lens-to-subject axis. The flash should be elevated above the head-level of the subject. As a starting point, the flash can be positioned 7 or 8 feet away from the subject.
With the flash in full-power, manual mode, fire the flash and take a flash meter reading from the subject's position - with the translucent dome of the meter aimed directly at the flash unit. With ASA 100 film, the flash meter reading will likely say f/11 - which is the same as the background brightness. In this example, the natural fill light from the open sky was f/5.6 - which is 2 f/stops less bright than the off-camera "main" light (the flash) and the background illumination. This 2 f/stop difference between "main" and "fill" light is an acceptable portrait lighting ratio, which is often used by studio portrait photographers.
How bright you make flash depends on the reflectance (relative brightness or darkness) of the background objects. For example, the background may be a row of evergreen trees, or grass on a shaded hillside. Such a background is lower than average in reflectance, so you may want to make the "main" (flash) light on the subject 1 f/stop less than the background illumination - making it f/8. Correspondingly, this also makes the "main" light only 1 f/stop brighter than the "fill" light - which is still acceptable.
If the background contains objects that are brighter than average in reflectance, such as white buildings, or a lake with bright spectral reflections of the sun on the surface of the water - then you should make your main light (flash) 1 f/stop brighter than the background illumination. In other words, if the ambient light reading for the background was f/11 - set your flash to emit f/16 light. However, this will correspondingly make the difference in brightness between the "main" and "fill" light 3 f/stops - which is too much difference for flattering portraiture. You would then need to introduce a second flash unit set to f/8 brightness as the "fill" light, or use a silver reflector on the opposide side of the subject from the "main" light.
>>In addition to what you advise I also go through an additional cumbersome process of setting the Sunpak to manual mode and setting my f-stop/subject distance scale accordingly. To do these setting properly I need to know the distance I am from my subject and take that into account.
If the flash is mounted on the camera, you can always learn the flash-to-subject distance by reading it off the the focusing scale on the camera lens.
When using a flash unit outdoors in manual mode, you should be aware that the distance-f/stop calculator scale will be over-stated by 1 f/stop. The calculator scale is based on the assumption that the flash will be used indoors, where reflections from surrounding walls and ceilings will bounce light back into the scene and onto the subject - contributing to the brightness level on the subject. But outdoors, there are no nearby reflective surfaces to bounce light back onto the subject. Consequently, one should "calibrate" the flash unit's calculator scale for outdoor use. This is accomplished by simply cutting the film speed setting in half on the flash unit's ISO/ASA scale. For example, if you have ASA/ISO 100 film loaded in the camera - then set the film speed on the flash unit to 50. This will make the calculator scale more accurately represent how much light is emitted with the flash unit in manual mode.
Another trick which professionals often use is to attach a measuring string to the flash unit. In use, the string is stretched out between the flash unit and the subject's face. This involves taking a 10 or 15 foot length of white string, and attaching it to the foot or body of the flash unit. But instead of marking it off in feet, you mark it off in f/stops. For example, assuming you are using an Sunpak 383 and ASA 100 film, mark f/8 on the string at the 10 foot distance, mark f/11 on the string at 7 foot distance, mark f/16 on the string at the 5 foot distance. Of course, you would need a different string for each different film speed that you use.
Believe it or not, many professional wedding photographers use the "marked string" method of flash exposure determination for "quick and dirty" portraits when working under stress and time constraints. The string method is much faster than taking flash meter readings, and does not waste precious battery power doing test/meter reading flashes.
>>Is there any working outdoor subject to flash distance range/lens combo you try to maintain that gives the best flash fill results?
Not really; there are too many variables involved. The brightness you choose to have the flash emit will depend on whether you are using it on-camera as "fill" light or off-camera as the "main" light. It also depends on the film speed you are using, whether the background is more or less reflective than average, and whether the sun and sky are clear and bright or cloudy and overcast.
However, it is helpful to reduce as many of these variables as possible. I recommend that one always use the same kind of film for outdoor portraits. Fuji Reala (ASA 100) is a good choice, or Fuji NPS (ASA 160), or Kodak Gold 100, or Kodak Portra 160NC. The kind of film you use should be based on which one your processing lab can produce their best results with. Just ask your lab technician - he'll tell you which type of film he prefers, and that is what you should use.
The focal length of lens I use is normally based on how attractive my outdoor background may be. If it is a nice looking background, which would make a beautiful landscape photo in it's own right - then I may choose a wide-angle lens and pose the subject for a full-length body shot. But if the background is ugly or distracting, I would probably choose a telephoto lens and a wide lens aperture - to throw the background out of focus. My suggestion is to scout your neighborhood and find locations that produce the most pleasing backgrounds. Then, take your portrait subject there for the photography.
Choose background locations that lack bright or distracting, man-made objects - such as white houses, white fences, utility poles, etc. Look for objects than can form diagonal lines through your background scene, or natural curves. Find locations that have background objects at different distances, such as an over-hanging tree which is 15 feet behind the portrait subject - then something else which is 50 feet behing the subject. As background objects at different distances behind the subject gradually fade out of focus, this effect creates depth and dimension in the scene.
Among my Konica lenses, the one which has produced the most impresive portraits me - and earned me the most money, is the Hexanon 100mm f/2.8. I much prefer using the Hexanon 100mm to the "legendary" Nikkor 105mm f/2.5, which I also have. Actually, I do most of my work in medium format, using either the Bronica SA-Am SLR outfit or my beloved Mamiya 6 rangefinder cameras. In my opinion, the Mamiya 6 lenses are the sharpest, most contrasty, flare-resistant lenses ever made by any manufacturer - which produce jaw-dropping image quality. But I must confess that enlargements up to 8X10 which are made with the Hexanon 100mm f/2.8 are close to being indistinguishable from the results of the Mamiya 6. I can't pay any lens a higher compliment than that.
My most valued piece of equipment (aside from my wife)is my hand-held, ambient/flash meter. Next to using a professional lab for film processing, using a hand-held meter is the next most important thing which distinguishes professional from amateur results. A good choice is the Shepherd/Polaris digital meter. These cost about $200 - $225, depending on where you buy it.
-- Anonymous, March 14, 2001
Wow! You've done a tremendous job here putting into words many of the things I've been learning recently, in my own initial expertiments with FT-1s and a couple "dedicated" Sunpak flashes.
I have one small "dissention".... that the Konica FS-1, FP-1, etc. "dedicated" module of the Sunpak already has a "Std" setting on it, so it's a simple matter to use that and still have the two auto settings available as well. So I didn't recommend buying a "Standard" module as well, why spend the additional cost? The modules are quite easy to change, however! Neat if you have various camera systems.
I'm on the same track as you, though, have quickly learned that manual settings of the flash & camera are still, for me, the best way to go. Although I am envious of TTL flash control capabilities of many "modern" cameras!
Incidentally, one reason I recommended the 444D to David was the little flip up silver reflector it has built-in to the tele-extender. I also like the fact that the tele-extender can be removed easily (unlike the Vivitar 285) to allow either direct use of the flash or other attachements.
Speaking of accessories, I have a Lumiquest Soft Box that I've used on this and other flashes, & like it well enough that I've been looking at the Mini they make, for use on a macro flash set-up. Ever tried them? They only "cost" about 1 stop and IMHO work well too. Some of Lumiquests "bounce" reflectors look pretty neat, too.
I suggested to David that he shoot a couple test rolls of cheap film with a lot of bracketing and have them quick printed, as practice with his flash/camera and to determine a couple baseline flash exposure settings to work around manually.
Great job on your treatise! I agree with all you have said and found it very "illuminating" (no pun intended... well maybe a little!)
Alan Myers San Jose, Calif.
-- Anonymous, March 12, 2001
>>I have one small "dissention".... that the Konica FS-1, FP-1, >>etc. "dedicated" module of the Sunpak already has a "Std" setting >>on it, so it's a simple matter to use that and still have the two >>auto settings available as well. So I didn't recommend buying >>a "Standard" module as well, why spend the additional cost?
The Konica dedicated module for the Sunpak flash units has no provision for a sync cord. My contention is that on-camera flash produces the worst possible lighting effects. With the Konica dedicated module, one is forced to use either the the Altrex Duo-Sync cord, or grafting together a PC (or Paramount hot-shoe) tipped cord with a hot shoe accessory adapter. While this is not onerous or expensive, a sync cord jack on the flash unit or module is more versatile, inexpensive and easier to work with. Believe me, I've tried them all - and this is the best way to go.
>>Incidentally, one reason I recommended the 444D to David was the >>little flip up silver reflector it has built-in to the tele->>extender. I also like the fact that the tele-extender can be >>removed easily (unlike the Vivitar 285) to allow either direct use ?>>of the flash or other attachements.
Good point. The Sunpak 444D is superior to the Vivitar 285 in every way.
>>Speaking of accessories, I have a Lumiquest Soft Box that I've used >>on this and other flashes, & like it well enough that I've been >>looking at the Mini they make, for use on a macro flash set-up. >>Ever tried them? They only "cost" about 1 stop and IMHO work well >>too. Some of Lumiquests "bounce" reflectors look pretty neat, too.
Yes, I've tried them all. Both the Lumiquest Softbox and the Mini-softbox do a fine job of diffusing the flash illumination and lowering the contrast quality of the light. In my portrait studio, I sometimes use a Lumiquest Softbox attached to a Sunpak 383 Super which is attached to the ceiling with a bungee cord as a hair light for groups of people. Both this and the Mini-softbox work great for on-camera use.
>>I suggested to David that he shoot a couple test rolls of cheap >>film with a lot of bracketing and have them quick printed, as >>practice with his flash/camera and to determine a couple baseline >>flash exposure settings to work around manually.
In my experience, that is not necessarily a good idea. What a photographer does with his camera, film and lights is only 1/2 of the equation. What the lab does with your film, once they get their hands on it, is the other half of the equation.
Consumer labs use automated printing machines which average out the density of the negative. The print paper exposure time is based on the average density of the negative. No human, conscious thought is given to the subject matter. Consequently, you may have exposed your subject exactly correctly - but if the background is lighter or darker than the printing machine's program expects as average, your final print will likely be off the mark.
Professional labs use a human video analizer technician. This is a trained, human evaluator who views each negative on a color-corrected video monitor. The video analizer tech adjusts the print paper exposure time and color balance to provide the best possible human skin tones - and lets all of the other colors in the print fall where they may. This has proven to be the best technique for selling the most pictures to clients. People are interested in what they look like, and those they love - and don't give a crap about the background or color accuracy. Cheap lab processing is never a good investment if you hope to produce optimal results. If Wal-mart processed my negatives instead of my custom lab, I would go bankrupt within a very short time. If the amateur photographers in my neighborhood used the same processing lab that I do, I would go bankrupt in a very short time. What you do with your camera, film and lights is only 1/2 of the equation.
One does not have to be a professional photographer to use a professional lab. In fact, my first use of a professional lab is what convinced me that I had the talent to become a professional. The only downside of using a professional lab is that you have to abide by their rules - and pay their prices. The cost of film processing, proof printing and shipping will amount to about $1.00 per print. Of course, Wal-mart will process your film for about $0.25 per print. This difference of $0.75 per print may be the only difference between being an amateur and a professional photographer.
Finding a pro lab that suits you is about as difficult as finding a camera and lens that suits you. I suggest that one review the lab advertisements in Shutterbug Magazine, and find one that is near your geographical location and that provides the services you want at a price you are willing to pay.
-- Anonymous, March 13, 2001