OTTAWA PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER RYAN STUDIO/ KANATA/ STITTSVILLE/ BARRHAVEN/ MANOTICK / ORLEANS/ PHOTOGRAPHY EDUCATIONAL ARTICLE “PORTABLE ELECTRONIC FLASH UNITS -(PART 1)
PREPARED BY OTTAWA PROFESSIONAL STUDIO PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHER / TEACHER / INSTRUCTOR / JEFF RYAN PHOTOGRAPHY SERVING THE REGIONS OF OTTAWA / KANATA / ORLEANS / STITTSVILLE / BARRHAVEN / MANOTICK / ONTARIO
“CAMERA CORNER”–PHOTOGRAPHY ARTICLE / COURSE-WORKSHOP-FIELD TRIP
PHOTOGRAPHY ARTICLE–“PORTABLE ELECTRONIC FLASH UNITS–PART 1”
The numerous features found on today’s electronic flash units are quite simply, remarkable achievements in comparison to those of yesteryear. I will address several features for the benefit of the reader, addressing in detail their functions but initially, will review the various models I have used over the years which have proven themselves dependable upon repeated occasions. In a general sense, there are several models designed to attach directly to the “hot shoe” mounted directly on the top of the camera, and others, which can be situated on a separate flash bracket commonly placed to the left of your camera. It has been my experience that flash units situated in hot shoes literally attached to the top of your camera are overall, not recommended. Several flash units are heavy and large and frequent problems such as the hot shoe of the camera or the mounting system of the flash itself breaking/detaching from the camera/base of the flash, has been my first hand experience.
Regrettably, the camera owner is now faced with repair charges which at times depending upon model of camera/flash unit, can be fairly significant. The recommended area to attach electronic flash devices is NOT on top of your camera, but off to the side on a sturdy extension bracket. The obvious benefit is that the hot shoe itself is not jeopardized in any way plus the issue of “red eye” may be eliminated when the flash is placed in this position. Regarding problems with red eye, the simplest method of addressing this concern is as mentioned, by placing the flash unit off to the side of the lens. Red eye is caused by the intensity of your electronic flashes burst of light placed too close in proximity to your lens axis to the subject. The blood vessels in the eyes retina are being illuminated/reflected at this point creating undesirable imagery. On another note, when flash units are placed on a bracket adjacent to the camera, the connection between the flash and camera is now terminated. The solution is to purchase a relatively inexpensive connecting cord often called a “sync cord or a PC cord” which reconnects the flash to the camera permitting a continuance of flash photography. Camera owners should locate this female, circular receptacle on either the front or side of their camera body. If the camera dose not contain this sync cord receptacle, off camera flash operation via PC connecting cords is not possible. My recommendation at this point to the reader would be to visit “Article 3” in the “Photography Articles Section” of my website titled “Purchase Required Equipment Only”. There, I have listed the many features of a camera which I believe are worth while when making a purchase.
Various Portable Flash Units I Have Experienced:
There are at the time of this writing, an exorbitant amount of electronic flashes for camera enthusiasts to make their selection from. Many of these units produced by brand name manufacturers and other companies as well, are very sophisticated in nature offering a host of “automatic functions” in comparison to other products which are “fully manual in design” for the professional photographer. Recalling the flash products I have used over 40 years of photography includes many brand name manufacturers. For the sake of my own curiosity or to upgrade to more sophisticated items, I have purchased many of these and have endeavoured to list several of these products for reference purposes below.
-Portable flash units—Canon, Nikon, Vivitar, Sunpack plus many non descript, no name products early in my career.
-Professional Portable Units—-Lumedyne, Metz, Vivitar, Norman, Quantum.
***The reader may appreciate the following information pertaining to extremely high powered, very fast efficient recycling times of a unit called the GODOX AD-600 currently valued at $725. on Amazon.ca. (Here is a convenient link for you to this professional portable battery operated strobe…..https://www.amazon.ca/Godox-AD600BM-Wireless-0-01-2-5-Adjustment/dp/B01B2OLY7U/ref=sr_1_6?dchild=1&keywords=GODOX+AD-600&qid=1591901447&sr=8-6). For photographers being more advanced or professional, I would very much recommend a unit such as this particular model. It’s ability to generate remarkable high power flash bursts in comparison to small sized units will enable a photographer to easily determine the correct exposure of the scene altering flash output producing a tremendous variety of effects.
While I will not take the liberty to reflect upon “each particular brand” and it’s apparent functions due to excessive repeatability, I will address in a general sense, the overall characteristics of more popular items/features that will benefit the reader. Below is a limited breakdown of functions pertaining to models still worth noting.
Vivitar Flash Units:
The brand name of Vivitar has been in existence for numerous years at the time of this writing, and practically every professional photographer has either heard of them or have already used their equipment for an excessively long period of time. Although these flashes are dated, they still have the basics of operation and should not be discarded when considering a purchase particularly as back up equipment or otherwise. These electronic flashes for many photographers have been used as either their main flash system or as predictable and very dependable back up pieces of gear. Presently, I still own four of their most popular flash units being the models 283 and the 285. One can hardly imagine that these electronic flashes built so long ago are still available to this day typically on the used market. Brand new units in a box are still available on the internet from various camera retailers or Ebay for instance. Should the reader ever consider purchasing one of these units, my preference and recommendation would be to purchase the Vivitar 285 device as opposed to it’s counterpart, the 283. The reckoning of this decision is that, the 285 contains a built in power ratio control device enabling the photographer to gain significant control of the output of the flash. Many “variables of light intensity” are now available for the photographer to select from enabling them to use the unit as a fill, main or accent light. This is a tremendous benefit providing photographer’s access to camera apertures at settings which are not fixed. For example, if your camera’s metering system is set at a specific aperture of F8, you now have the option of setting your flash to ratios slightly higher or low than this reading. You now have the advantage with power ratio control, of setting your flashes output to F8 ½ or F5.6 ½ in comparison to fixed output auto flash settings such as F11, F8 or F5.6 which several flash units only contain. Again, when flash units are typically placed on automatic, they commonly must be set at fixed aperture settings such as F4, 5.6, 8, 11 etc. One can appreciate the convenience in having the luxury of overriding the standardized settings, to that of full image control. Photographers may purchase a separate power ratio control device for the original 283 however, it would most likely be wiser to purchase the 285 that comes complete with it from the manufacturer thereby reducing your overall expense. All these smaller sized portable flashes I have listed will never deliver the power of units such as The Godox mentioned above however. In closing, the Vivitar units can stand up to quite a lot of abuse over the years and still operate fine. My units have unfortunately been dropped on pavement by assistants, left in extremely hot car interiors during summer months etc. and still operate perfectly. Newspaper photographers used to continually depend upon these units because they knew that they always would deliver excellent exposures while they were attending press conferences, weddings etc. Here are a couple of additional links to retail suppliers you may appreciate receiving…….B & H Photo-(https://www.bhphotovideo.com/) KEH PHOTO -( https://www.keh.com/ ) The reader can purchase units of this type second hand in brand new condition or otherwise ranging from $90. or lower depending upon condition.
TILT / ZOOM HEAD FEATURE:
Tilt/Zoom heads for electronic flashes are also popular and beneficial in redirecting the light for bounce purposes or altering the pattern of light from a wide angle perspective to that of telephoto. (The above mentioned Vivitar 285) also includes this feature incidentally. The raw, directional light of a portable flash unit can create harsh, uncomplimentary lighting on a subjects face, and by bouncing the light into an attached white card or off a low ceiling if available, softens it’s effect and expands it’s overall coverage. Zoom heads are for the most part displayed with the following settings: Normal, Wide, Telephoto. By sliding the head of the flash to either of these areas changes the characteristics of the flashes light when it exits the front of the unit. When using camera lenses that are wide angle, you can now appreciate a wider coverage of “flash light” as opposed to when it is set at the more narrow telephoto setting. Telephoto settings will tend to tunnel the light as it leaves your flash as opposed to broadening it’s dispersion of light. Each photographic environment/application you are presented with will dictate the usage pattern of the flashes light in accordance to the camera lens you are using. A suggestion to the reader would be to conduct a test on your unit to visually determine the alteration of flash light when set at these different coverage’s. I have placed my portable flash on a bracket attached to my camera in a very dark room with wide, black backdrop paper. I have then altered the coverage of flash light/zoom head from wide to telephoto to determine the subtleties of change from one setting to the other. One can appreciate a difference visually in overall coverage when you have either a digital camera or are reviewing prints from your lab. A commonly used camera aperture of F8 was used during my tests to represent the spread of light on the backdrop. By using camera apertures smaller or wider than F8 will make the appearance of the width of light on the backdrop appear smaller or broader. Set your camera’s aperture at the F stop you use most often when conducting this type of test procedure. The reader should be made aware that flash units containing a zoom head feature are somewhat larger and slightly heavier as opposed to those that do not contain this option. This has not been a concern for many photographer’s who elect to use the previously mentioned flash bracket mounting system.
FLASH COLOURED FILTER KITS
Photographers often have various needs of their flash systems. I have found that for special effects purposes, I have placed my auxiliary flash units on small stands with coloured plastic filters over the actual flash tube changing the colour of the light exiting the unit itself. This commonly is reserved for altering the colour of the backdrop or altering the colour of light striking items typically such as “product photography”. Vivitar manufactured a filter kit containing not only coloured filters but clear coloured wide angle dispersion filters as well. These kits are still available second hand should you wish to alter the characteristics of your imagery.
TODAY’S PORTABLE FLASH EQUIPMENT MODELS
The remarkably sophisticated and highly electronic flashes of today house features almost unimaginable in comparison to many models I have previously made reference to. The digital marketplace has unquestionably elevated options for photographer’s that other units simply could not match. With these more developed digital units regrettably comes much higher price tags. To not make the above information sound repetitive from my end, I have included another link to a page featuring Nikon’s array of flash equipment for you. I own a Nikon film and digital camera system and this is why I have selected information pertaining to Nikon’s products however a quick search on the net for your particular brand will provide equally satisfying results. ( https://expertphotography.com/best-flash-for-nikon/ ) While years ago I would be expected to pay approximately $200-$400 for a reputable flash system, now we are expected to accommodate pricing up to $600 and higher depending upon each retailer. Here is another link to a page on Amazon.ca for the Nikon SB-5000 listing it’s features and value….
( https://www.amazon.ca/4815-Nikon-sb-5000-Flash-AF/dp/B01A7Q0N9Y/ref=sr_1_3?crid=8LPIBYDSIF4X&dchild=1&keywords=nikon+sb-5000&qid=1591905859&sprefix=nikon+sb%2Caps%2C403&sr=8-3 ). Here is a link to Henrys.com regarding the same unit retailing for $700……..
( https://www.henrys.com/92862-NIKON-SB-5000-SPEEDLIGHT-FLASH-MAR16.aspx )
**Should you for whatever reason determine that you cannot commit to the purchase of any new piece of equipment for testing procedures, consider the rental department of your local camera outlet. They often have a variety of good quality refurbished gear available for rent at a modest rate in comparison to the cost of new products. In addition, many photographic items at very discounted rates are frequently obtained on Ebay.ca/com which may suggest another route for you to travel in your photographic journey. There are additional features that smaller sized portable electronic flashes contain however the information presented here will provide you with a good groundwork as a starting point.
*****IN CLOSING……….PLEASE DO NOT GET FIXATED ON ALL THE SPECIAL EFFECTS AND EXAGGERATED DISTANCES THAT THESE PORTABLE FLASHES CLAIM TO OFFER. THINK ABOUT YOUR PHOTOGRAPHIC APPLICATION IN REALISTIC TERMS AND MAKE YOUR SELECTION ACCORDINGLY. MANY PHOTOGRAPHERS BECOME SO IMPRESSED BY EXCESSIVE AMOUNTS OF FEATURES AND THEY FREQUENTLY FORGET THE BASICS BEHIND WHY THEY NEED PORTABLE FLASHES FROM THE BEGINNING. FURTHERMORE, UNITS WITH SUCH TREMENDOUS QUANTITIES OF SOPHISTICATED ELECTRONICS BECOME VERY COSTLY WHEN REPAIRS ARE REQUIRED.
REMEMBER ALWAYS……………”LESS IS MORE” !
WITH GOOD WISHES,
JEFF RYAN PHOTOGRAPHY/OTTAWA PROFESSIONAL FILM & DIGITAL PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHER IMAGING STUDIO, ONTARIO.
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