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Can the Godox AD600B radio remote TTL battery portable flash keep up with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II at 10fps and 15fps? My test results.

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

As mentioned in an earlier post, the Godox system now allows radio remote TTL flash at up to 100m from the camera when used on most camera systems, including Micro Four Thirds at last!

The Godox AD600B is a Bowens S mount studio flash with attached 500 shot lithium ion battery and ability to use a remote head also with Bowens S mount lighting accessories.

This makes it a great option for location shooting, but how well will its recycle time keep up with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II rapid fire burst modes of 10fps and 15fps mechanical shutter (NB. unfortunately you can’t use the flash in electronic shutter mode rapid burst modes as sync speed is far too slow).

The short answer is extremely well IF you drop the flash output level to around 1/16th or 1/32nd of full output.

When testing I have taken the flash out of TTL mode and used Manual mode so I can see exactly what outputs will keep up.

Let’s first look at 10fps (the usual LOW burst setting on the camera):

At 1/16th output or less there were ZERO dropped frames where flash did not fire.

At higher outputs up to 1/4, there were sequences of mainly 2 (and sometimes 1, 3 or 4) consecutive frames where the flash did not fire:

At 1/16th + 0.3EV, you get 29 frames then drops 2, then 11 frames then drops 1, etc.

At 1/16th + 0.7EV, you get 14 frames then drops 2, then 5 frames then drops 2, then 6 frames then drops 2, etc.

At 1/8th output, you get 9 frames then drops 2, then 4 frames then drops 2, then 3 frames then drops 2, then 4 frames then drops 2, etc.

At 1/4 output, you get 3 frames then drops 2, then 2 frames then drops 4, then 2 frames then drops 3, then 2 frames then drops 3, etc.

At 1/2 output, you get 2 frames before dropping frames

At full output you get 1 frame before dropping frames as it does a full recycle.

Now let’s first look at 15fps (the usual HIGH burst setting on the camera):

At 1/64th +0.7EV output or less there were ZERO dropped frames where flash did not fire.

At higher outputs up to 1/8th output, there were sequences of mainly 5-6 consecutive frames where the flash did not fire:

At 1/32nd output , you get 26 frames then drops 5, then 10 frames then drops 5, etc.

At 1/16th output , you get 10-11 frames then drops 6, then 5 frames then drops 6, etc.

At 1/8th output, you get 5 frames then drops 6

At 1/4 output, you get 3 frames then drops frames

At 1/2 output, you get 2 frames before dropping frames

At full output you get 1 frame before dropping frames as it does a full recycle.

Summary:

If you don’t want any dropped frames for the 1st 25 frames, use 1/16th+0.3EV output or less at 10fps, or 1/32nd output or less at 15fps.

In reality most of use just need the first 9-10 frames or so, and if this is the case then 1/16th at 15fps is fine, as is 1/8th output at 10fps.

The flash sync on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II in TTL mode or manual mode with this outfit is 1/250th sec (it can be pushed a little faster if you use PC sync only connection to the trigger and only use manual mode).

The kit will allow HSS / Super FP mode but this does drop the flash output and significantly affect the recycle times when using TTL FP mode as well as increase the risk of over-temperature protection system kicking in (at 50 full output flashes or 100 1/8th output flashes, or 150 16th output flashes) which forces the unit to recycle at 10 secs instead of a full recycle of 2.5 secs, and you should then cease firing for 10 minutes.

At 1/16th output, the t0.1 flash duration is 1/3448th sec which should be plenty short to stop most action such as a ballet dancer in a studio and at a GN of around 16m at ISO 100, you are still getting a reasonable output, so that when used at ISO 200 which is the base ISO of the Olympus cameras, you need to use f/11 with the flash at around 2m away from subject with just the standard Bowen’s 7″ reflector head in place – enough output to get it back a bit further.

Bouncing off an umbrella or shooting through a double diffused softbox at 1/16th output will give you exposures around ISO 200, f/2.8 at a flash to subject distance of around 3m, but at f/2.8, ISO 200 and 1/250th sec, you do then run into potential issues with a bright outdoor ambient lighting – in this case, use the bright outdoor ambience to backlight your subject.

At 1/32nd output, the t0.1 flash duration is 1/4651th sec which again should be plenty short to stop most action.

Of course, you could go down to 1/128th output on the remote which gives a t0.1 flash duration of only 1/8130th sec, and although the AD-600B itself allows you to manually dial in a 1/256th output setting which gives a t0.1 duration of 1/10,000th sec, this is not currently possible to use with the Godox XT1-O transmitter which will set it back to 1/128th output as lowest output.

If you need more power output at 1/16th output, buy two AD600B units and a 1200Ws bulb and the 1200Ws remote head connected to your two AD600B units.

 

Hands on testing of the Godox AD 600B for radio remote TTL mobile studio flash, high sync and pushed sync on Olympus OM-D cameras – even works in conjunction with Cactus V6 II system!

Sunday, August 6th, 2017

Godox has created a dream come true for many Micro Four Thirds users with Olympus OM-D or Panasonic mirrorless cameras – not only do we now have access to a radio remote TTL flash system but it is easy to use, seems reliable and you can get an amazing very powerful battery operated studio flash with Bowens S mount – the Godox Wistro AD600 / 600B which remotely supports TTL exposures as well as high speed sync (Super FP flash mode in Olympus nomenclature) for flash at all shutter speeds to 1/8000th second (with mechanical shutter).

The instruction manual for the Godox X1TO remote TTL flash trigger can be downloaded here and that for the Godox AD 600B downloaded here.

AD600

 

First the hard bit – upgrading the firmware of the AD600 unit for Olympus TTL capability:

The AD600 does not come with Olympus/Panasonic radio TTL compatibility by default thus you need to upgrade the firmware, nor does it come with a USB cable – but most of us have plenty lying around – you just need to find one that fits the AD 600 USB port.

Next you need to download the Godox firmware updater software from the Godox download web page, as well as the correct firmware for your flash model, noting the G1 install procedure instructions.

You then need to extract the software installation files from  the .rar format for both the updater software and the firmware file – you can use a program such as 7-zip to do this.

Then you run the setup for the updater software installer, however, on the latest versions of Windows 10, BEFORE you can install the USB driver correctly, you may need to Disable Signed Driver Enforcement – see instructions for doing so here. Then you must reboot the computer and then install the software by running setup.exe of the updater software and hopefully all will install properly.

Next you need to TURN OFF the Godox Remote Controller AND DISCHARGE ANY POWER buffered in the AD 600 unit by REMOVING the BATTERY then press OFF/ON Button for 2 seconds BEFORE YOU ATTACH USB cable to computer – otherwise I am guessing you can fry your computer.

If your device driver installed correctly, when you attach the USB cable to the computer, it should be recognised.

Now run the Updater Software and click on the bottom left button to select English.

If you are running a high resolution display, you will not see the bottom buttons which makes life harder – in this case change your display resolution to 1920 x 1080 temporarily so you can use the software better.

Now it becomes obvious that you first press the top left button called Select File and then you need to find the firmware file you downloaded and extracted which has the file extension .fri.

Then you press the top middle button to Connect to the flash unit – if this fails, either your USB cable is not the right one or is faulty, or, you didn’t install the USB drivers due to the issue above.

If the flash is detected then you are ready to upgrade the firmware by pressing the Upgrade button – of course, you do NOT want to disconnect the unit until this is complete!

Configuring the AD600B flash for radio wireless TTL flash:

Connect the lithium ion battery (after you have charged it up which takes 4hrs).

Plug in the globe (many use gloves to avoid skin oils contacting the glass but its not as critical as with halogen globes) – or plug in the optional very useful H600B remote head and the globe plugged into that instead.

Turn the flash unit ON using the On/Off button.

Press the “Z” top middle button on the flash unit to activate the WiFi mode (other options on toggling are Manual mode or optical remote TTL Canon/Nikon).

Ensure the channel is on the desired one (usually Channel 1 by default – press and hold GR/CH button then use the dial to change it).

Ensure the Group is the desired one (usually Group A by default – toggle through the groups by pressing the Gr/Ch button).

The flash should now be able to be fully remotely controlled from your X1 remote controller which sits on your camera hotshoe.

Using your X1T-O remote controller:

You need to purchase the Olympus version which is the X1T-O model (can be used on any Micro Four Thirds camera including Panasonic).

X1

Install two AA batteries then attach it to the camera hotshoe.

Turn the camera on, and I generally set the camera’s PASM dial to Manual so I can choose shutter speed (to control ambient exposures) and the aperture (to control depth of field) and generally set ISO to base ISO of 200.

Ensure the camera’s flash mode is set RC = OFF (RC is for optical remote control which we are NOT using) and to Fill-in flash or similar so that a signal will be sent to the hotshoe. Note , you don’t activate Super FP in the camera – the remote control will do this for you!!!

Turn the  X1 on using the switch on the side, and decide which mode you want to use for the other switch – normal or HSS (Super FP mode) – unless you are shooting in bright sun and need a fast shutter speed to allow a wide aperture, use the normal mode.

Check the LCD screen on the X1 to ensure the channel corresponds with that on your flash unit and use the rear dial to go to the Group – you can then use the mode button to choose TTL  or Manual Flash Output control.

By default, turning on the X1 will activate the flash’s controls automatically (if your channel and group are correct) and so the LED modelling light will be turned on (you will need to go to the flash unit to turn this off manually).

Now the fun part – it just works!

The X1 remote specs indicate you should be able to control the flash up to 100m away – assuming you have no nasty water pipes, etc in the way which block radio signals.

Change your shutter speed to give a desired ambient exposure for a given aperture and ISO.

Take the shot and hopefully it will all work as if you are using a normal Olympus remote flash but without the annoying optical pre-flash signals and with far more flash output and remote distance capability.

HOWEVER, an important point – the camera’s flash settings such as flash exposure compensation and FP mode are IGNORED by the X1 – to set a flash exposure compensation, select the flash group on the X1 then, assuming the flash mode is set to TTL (use the mode button for this),  press GR button then the dial to change flash exposure compensation and then GR button again to save it. As mentioned above, if you want to use FP mode, slide the side switch to H mode.

Now for some advanced stuff – over-powering the sun:

On the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark I and Mark II, you can flash sync up to 1/250th sec in normal mode – the camera won’t let you go faster than that shutter speed unless either:

  • you set the X1 to HSS mode (but this dramatically reduces the maximum output of the flash as shutter speed gets faster), OR,
  • use what I will call “push-sync” (similar to the Cactus Power Sync or Pocket Wizard Hypersync mode) you still use the X1 in normal mode, but trick the camera into firing flash at faster shutter speeds without FP mode by placing a single flash pin hotshoe adapter between the camera hotshoe and the X1 (or connect to the X1 via a PC sync cable) in which case you lose TTL capability but my tests show you can now fully sync at 1/320th sec, and even get to 1/500th sec with some loss of flash effect (black band) on the top 1/3rd of the image – but this could be usable for some compositions in outdoor shots and allow you to over-power the sun.

Using an on-camera flash as well:

If you attach an Olympus TTL flash onto the X1′s hotshoe, unfortunately, the X1′s hotshoe is only a single pin type and NOT a TTL pass through (unlike the cactus V6 II remotes which do have TTL passthrough) and thus the ONLY control over the flash via the camera is triggering the flash.

The flash unit acts like it is connected via a PC sync cable – no auto TTL, no auto zoom control, no RC master capability.

If the X1 switch is turned OFF, then the flash does not fire at all.

If the X1 is switched ON and set to HSS mode, the flash will fire, but at shutter speeds above 1/250th sec, it will not sync properly as the flash HSS mode will not be activated – at 1/320th sec with an Olympus FL-50R flash only 1/3rd of the top of the image receives flash which is the opposite to usual over sync speeds and thus unusable.

The good news is that if the X1 is set to normal mode (not HSS), you can just use the flash in “AUTO” mode (you must manually dial in the ISO, aperture and exposure compensation as well as zoom position), or in Manual mode where you just dial in the manual flash output and the zoom position.

One man band hand held Octabox outdoor portrait shooting:

The Godox AD600B can be mounted to any Bowens S mount studio light accessory (there is a locking device to ensure they don’t fall off) such as the 43″ Godox Umbrella style Octabox softbox for nicely diffused portrait lighting, and usually these are mounted on a lighting stand.

However, the AD600/600B has a wonderful trick in that you can remove the flash bulb, plug in a remote head (the AD-H600B), plug the flash bulb into the remote head and mount your softbox to the remote head.

remote head

This allows you to carry the heavy part , the AD600 itself with battery, in a specially designed shoulder strap case (the Godox PB-600 should case/carry bag), or perhaps in a backpack, hand hold the AD-H600B with softbox attached in one hand and shoot with your light Olympus camera in your other hand.

Tiring – yes, but at least it is possible, and you may be able to overpower the sun!

Need more power? Just buy a 2nd AD600B and attach a 1200Ws AD-H1200 remote head with a 1200Ws bulb and you have twice the output from the one remote flash head!

And of course, you can add other radio remote slave units:

There are a range of other X1 compatible Godox flash units which can be used in the same or in different flash groups (each group will have the same exposure setting).

If the AD600B is too big for you, then you can still get to a Bowen S mount lighting system via the Godox AD-B2 twin head which allows you to use either:

  • power it with either one or two Godox AD-200 units plugged directly into it
  • use either one or two Godox AD 200 flah bulbs, or one Godox AD 360 bulb (which is a little more powerful than just using one AD 200 bulb)

If that is too big, then the very popular Godox Wistro AD360 with separate lithium ion power pack gives you plenty of power in a more speedlight styling although too heavy for on-camera use.

360

 

For additional remote slaves, there are the pocket sized but powerful Godox AD 200 units, or you can go the traditional speedlight route with a variety of Godox on-camera style TTL flash units – some of which are cross-platform for on-camera use on a variety of camera brands.

AD200

Godox also make a range of AC powered studio lights with various capabilities and also the AR-400 hybrid ring flash/LED.

But why stop there – you can even add a Cactus V6II radio remote flash system into the mix!

Now I am really going crazy!!!

Stacking a Godox transmitter on top of a Cactus V6 II transceiver really does work amazingly well to give you TWO SYSTEMS at the same time!

First, insert a Cactus V6 II radio remote controller onto the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II camera’s hotshoe.

Insert a Godox X1 TO radio remote transmitter onto the hotshoe of the Cactus V6 II and turn it on.

Turn on the camera, and half-press shutter while turning on the Cactus V6 II transceiver to transmitter mode, it should then AUTO-DETECT BOTH the camera AND the Godox X1 as being Olympus TTL devices – now we are cooking indeed!

Ensure the Cactus and the Godox are set to DIFFERENT CHANNELS (and any slave devices for each are set to the appropriate channels to match).

NOW, you can use the Cactus V6 to control your Cactus V6 II compatible transceivers or flash units (and when the firmware upgrade comes this month hopefully, we are promised Olympus TTL compatibility of remote flashes – even Canon/Nikon flashes – until then we have to use manual power control only but there is HSS functionality) PLUS you still get TTL remote control of your Godox mediated slaves including the AD600B!!

Furthermore, if you set the Cactus V6II mode to Normal-HSS so it can automatically use either, the X1 switch of HSS or normal will control the Cactus and the camera as to whether to use HSS or not! Now that is very cool indeed.

I have tested this with a Cactus controlled remote Olympus FL-600R flash in manual output control at the same time as remote controlled AD600B in TTL mode and it seems to work very nicely, even in HSS/FP mode.

This should then allow 8 groups of flashes to be remotely controlled from your camera at up to 100m away, with each group having their own power output setting, and once the Cactus firmware is available – all with TTL and HSS functionality, even if they are Canon or Nikon flash units (just need a cactus V6 II transceiver for them).

If you have a Sony A7 II full frame mirrorless camera as well – just buy the Sony versions of the transmitters to go on the camera and all should be well.

Likewise for your Canon, Nikon or Fuji cameras (although for these you only need a special Godox transmitter as the Cactus V6 II will fit all except Sony).

Enter the new world of cross-platform radio remote TTL flash compatibility!

For more information on the Godox and Cactus systems see:

 

 

At last, radio TTL remote flash coming to Micro Four Thirds – PocketWizard FlexTT5 for Panasonic

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

One area where Micro Four Thirds users have been seriously neglected is in radio TTL remote flash capability.

Micro Four Thirds users have had to settle for either light-based line-of-sight TTL remote flash, or non-TTL radio remote flash.

A big player in third party radio TTL remote flash technology is PocketWizard who have had their FlexTT5 units available in either Canon, Nikon or Sony versions for several years now.

This week PocketWizard have announced a Micro Four Thirds version – albeit at this stage only compatible with Panasonic GH4 camera in combination with either a Panasonic DMW-FL360L or DMW-FL580L flash but will support radio remote HSS TTL as well as normal remote radio TTL mode and their proprietary Hypersync non-TTL mode.

These units thankfully are firmware upgradeable, and they do intend adding support for other cameras and flashes, and there is no physical reason why this could not be extended to Olympus cameras and flashes given they use the same hotshoe pins (although Olympus has an additional power supply pin now which would be ignored by this units without issue) and essentially the same TTL technologies.

The units will cost $US186 per unit or $US299 for a pair (you need one for the camera and a receiver for the flash).

 

 

Adding a PC sync port to your Micro Four Thirds camera for manual off-camera flash or studio strobes

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

Most Micro Four Thirds cameras (other than the Olympus OM-D E-M1) do not have a PC sync port to connect an off-camera flash in manual flash exposure mode.

Why do this?

Whilst you can use a radio flash transmitter system to achieve this without cords, there are several main downsides:

  • potential issues with the radio triggering – particularly in areas where radio waves don’t transmit well or when there are others using the same radio channels
  • transmitter and receivers cost more and are a little bulky attached to the flash units
  • cannot push shutter speed above flash x-sync well due to the radio triggering latency

Solution is cheap and easy:

There are several types of hotshoe adapters which provide a PC sync port:

  • hotshoes with full TTL pass through capability to a top mounted hotshoe
    • these are ideal if you wish to also mount your Micro Four Thirds compatible flash and use it as you normally would
    • I have bought and used the Flash IS-HC120 hot shoe adapter for Canon EOS (pin compatible with Micro Four Thirds and Four Thirds flash systems), and it works very well and appears to be well made – NB  see post script at bottom – mine has stopped functioning!
  • hotshoes with only a single pin pass through capability to the top mounted hotshoe
    • these are ideal if you wish to mount your Micro Four Thirds flash and use it in manual mode while pushing shutter speed above x-sync
    • these are getting hard to find!
  • radio transmitter unit with PC sync port
    • also can function as a radio transmitter but usually do not have TTL pass-through compatibility for Micro Four Thirds
    • but even when not used as a radio transmitter may give latency preventing use in allowing faster shutter speeds above x-sync
    • NB. PocketWizard TTL Canon units do not seem to be able to fire mounted Olympus flash units even in “pass-through” mode, and the Mini-TTL does NOT have a PC sync port

     

 

Flash IS-HC120 adapter

More on flash units for Micro Four Thirds and Four Thirds – here.

P.S. I purchased one of the iShoot adapters but unfortunately the PC sync connection appears to be very temperamental and thus I have had to stop using it – it may only be an issue with the one that I received and not a general issue with them but I have decided to resort back to my non-TTL multi-PC sync hotshoe adapter, even though the PC sync ports are not threaded.

Radio remote TTL flash for Micro Four Thirds?

Saturday, September 28th, 2013

As much as I love Micro Four Thirds, there is one area which I would really love Olympus and Panasonic to address – the lack of radio remote TTL flash capability.

Nikon and Canon users have access to this technology thanks to 3rd party products such as Pocket Wizard – unfortunately they have not come up with a Micro Four Thirds solution – although this could be potentially possible using their Canon modules given the TTL pin system is at least physically compatible.

Canon have recently added radio wireless TTL flash to their latest dSLRs and flashes in addition to infrared TTL flash.

Nikon still only have infrared TTL flash.

Olympus uses a visible light remote TTL flash system which I personally find intrusive on the subject compared to either infrared or radio, and like infrared, it requires line of sight and relatively short working distances, which are further impacted by bright sunlit conditions.

Olympus and Panasonic have added ad hoc WiFi connectivity to their latest cameras for rapid and easy connection to smartphones which allows a device such as an Apple iPad or iPhone to remotely control the camera – even displaying the live view and allowing AF selection and shutter release.

It would seem to me that if this is possible then it should also be possible to make flash units which could be connected via ad hoc WiFi network to the camera and to other such flash units, and then Olympus and Panasonic can easily add radio wireless remote TTL flash to their system.

Well here’s hoping that this is possible and soon, because this would be fantastic for strobists everywhere who would love the Micro Four Thirds system for its portability – they just need radio TTL flash, and the option of a powerful compatible off-camera flash to allow them to push their creativity.

This would open a new market for Olympus and Panasonic.

Furthermore, using WiFi means each photographer has their own unique radio network for their flashes – no more worrying about which radio channel to use and accidentally triggering or being triggered by other photographer’s setups – particularly an issue in workshops or major events.

So what about it Olympus?

Wifi based remote TTL flash please.

 

ps. I have been told about a hack around radio TTL system that will probably work if you don’t mind taping up your flashes – see http://www.aokatec.com/AK-TTL.html which uses a similar technique as does RadioPopper.

addendum:

Seems like I am not the only one wanting this, users have started up a Facebook petition for radio TTL flash and see also blog post on LightingRumours.com.

 

Pushing the flash sync of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera

Friday, May 4th, 2012

The new Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera is great for lots of reasons, but one of them is that it has easily the BEST flash capabilities of ANY Micro Four Thirds camera, or for that matter, ANY mirrorless camera currently available.

Unlike the Panasonic cameras prior to the GH-3, it has remote TTL flash capability, much better control over manual flash output, the TTL flash metering appears to work perfectly with legacy lenses, you can over-ride the flash sync speed* and the flash sync with new flashes is a lovely 1/250th second.

The Fuji X-Pro1 with its lovely sensor only has flash sync of 1/180th sec, no remote TTL flash system as I understand it, and has major trouble with autofocus or manual focus in low light conditions where you would be most needing flash, and of course, no image stabilisation on any of the only 3 lenses available.

The Sony NEX cameras persist with Sony/Minolta proprietary hot shoe which is not compatible with every other manual hotshoe ever made, and flash sync only 1/160th sec.

The Samsung NX cameras have flash sync of 1/180th second, but no remote TTL flash that I am aware of.

Most of the EM-5 features also exist on the current Olympus PEN cameras except the nice fast flash sync of 1/250th second.

Another benefit of the identical Micro Four Thirds and Four Thirds hotshoe pin layout is that they can both use the Canon off-camera TTL cord as this is TTL pin compatible for use as a off-camera TTL cord to an OLympus flash unit – fantastic if you also happen to use Canon gear as I do!

But being who I am, I like to see what happens when I push the system, because sometimes you want full output flash at faster shutter speeds (not just Super FP or HSS flash which saps your flash output dramatically as you increase shutter speed!).

On the Panasonic GH-1 there was no way I could push it like I have always been able to do on my Olympus dSLRs, and now with the E-M5 – by using a manual flash only adapter in the hotshoe which then connects to your flash in non-TTL mode, you can trick the camera software to allow any shutter speed not just a shutter speed up to the “flash sync”.

The downside, is that as you increase the shutter speed, you get increasing vignetting along the top of the frame from the flash exposure due to the mechanical focal plane shutter obscuring the sensor during the flash exposure.

However, if you are shooting a portrait outdoors in the sun with camera rotated into vertical portrait mode, and you position your subject to the opposite side of where the vignetting is occuring (and preferably have no close objects which will only be partly lit by the flash, as this would betray our little trick and spoil the photo), you can succesfully use this technique very nicely indeed to get results that are otherwise not possible.

So here are the test shots of a wall to demonstrate the increasing vignetting when using an Olympus FL-36R flash:

1/250th sec
1/250th sec (above)

1/320th sec
1/320th sec

1/400th sec
1/400th sec

1/500th sec
1/500th sec

The hotshoe adapter could also be a non-TTL radio trigger device, or a MiniTTL PocketWizard set to non-propietary mode which ignores the TTL pins.

The main reason for doing this is to effectively make your flash more powerful when trying to use it in bright sunlight as a fill in flash, and at the same time, the faster shutter speed allows wider apertures for your portraits, although you will almost certainly still need to use a ND or at least a polarising filter to further assist in getting a wide aperture in bright sunlight at ISO 200.

Food for thought.

 

 

 

Tips for better Christmas party indoor photos – all you need is a Micro Four Thirds camera, pancake lens and a flash

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Indoor Christmas party photos can be a very trying issue for the social photographer.

Sure you can use a point and shoot digital with its built-in flash and get the usual shots, but what about aiming for a bit more flattering portraiture without taking a studio lighting kit with you?

My favorite indoor party camera kit is the following:

  • a compact unobtrusive Micro Four Thirds camera – the smaller the better so you can carry it – try the Olympus E-P3, E-PL3, E-PM1 or Panasonic GX-1, but the larger versions such as my GH-1 or the new GH2 or G3 will be still much better than a dSLR. It MUST have a hotshoe – so the Panasonic GF-3 will NOT be a good choice!
  • a compact wide aperture lens like the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 if you will be doing mainly group shots, or the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 if you will not need to do any wide angle shots.
  • an external flash which you can swivel such as the Olympus FL-36 or FL-36R (the FL-50 will work even better but it is a bit too big for these cameras)

Now, the above kit could work well without the flash even indoors IF you have nice flattering lighting for your portraits such as window light or a light hitting the face at a 45deg angle.

More often than not, venues will have very unflattering and often quite dim lighting – downlights are among the worst for flattering portraits unless you position your subject very carefully indeed.

Faced with difficult lighting, your best option for easy to achieve nice portraits indoors is to put a nice powerful flash on your camera and swivel its head so that it bounces off the cornice region of the wall behind you or to the side of you. BUT you do need relatively light and relatively colour neutral paintwork to bounce off – if its is natural wood panels, forget this option!

Set your camera for bounced flash:

  • shoot in RAW + jpeg so you can more easily adjust white balance in Lightroom and add some nice vignette effects, etc afterwards.
  • set exposure mode to M for MANUAL EXPOSURE – this is to stop the camera choosing a shutter speed that is too long and allows the ambient light to add nasty colour casts and shadows as well as camera shake and subject movement blur to your precious photo.
  • set shutter speed to 1/160th sec (a starting point on these cameras as this is the faster shutter they can do in flash mode “the flash sync”)
  • set aperture to a nice wide aperture like f/1.7 or f/2.0 as this will help blur the background and allow you to use less flash power – if you are taking a group shot with subjects relatively close to the camera (eg. 2-3m) but at different distances (eg. closest person is 1.5m and furtherest person at 2.5m), and you want them all in focus, you may need to stop the aperture down to f/4 or so.
  • set ISO at lowest acceptable ISO (eg. 200 would be reasonable, although if you find your flash is not powerful enough, you may need ISO 400)
  • set up the flash: put flash on camera, turn flash on (remember fresh set of batteries), set flash to TTL
  • double check that your flash adjustment setting is zero (I tend to often have mine set to -1EV to -2 EV when using it for fill-in flash so don’t forget to put it back to normal as your flash will be your main light source).
  • set AF mode to face recognition
  • make sure flash is aimed at a nearby wall, ceiling or cornice that will bounce onto your subject’s face
  • and you are ready for fun!!

Here is a QUICK impromptu snap of my friends using this method at f/1.7 using the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens – my “party lens”:

portrait

If the room ambient lighting in the background is too dark for your liking, just play with the shutter speed – the longer the shutter speed using the above technique, the more ambient light you allow and the lighter the background will be.

If you are using a wide-normal lens like the 20mm f/1.7 pancake, avoid getting too close to your subjects as this will cause unflattering distortion making their noses appear larger than they are, etc, so stay at least 1.5 – 2m away, and if need be, crop your images later.

Also be careful of arms coming towards you such as resting on a chair, as these will also gain an unflattering distortion.

Your friends will be blown away with the quality of your photos – far better than point and shoot cameras with inbuilt flash and as good as dSLRs.

They will then likely say wow, what camera did you use to take those with – instead of saying what a great photographer you are – but that’s life – people treat photography quite differently to music – they would not dare say, wow, that sounded great, what brand piano did you use?

If you do not have an external flash, then you will have to settle for harsh, direct on-camera flash in the same manner as a point and shoot shot – just use the above settings but DON’T FORGET to POP UP the built-in flash!

The big group shot:

Then once everyone realises that you are a brilliant photographer capable of making them look good, inevitably you will be asked to do the group shot.

Now, in a dim room, with downlights, a group shot with minimal equipment could be hard to pull off well.

But not with the above kit and a bouncable ceiling, a great photo is easy to achieve, just step back far enough to get everyone in making sure that your flash can aim at the ceiling well in front of the group (you may need a decent flash for this or increase your ISO and open your aperture to get enough light from your flash).

 What happens when you use other exposure modes on a Panasonic GH-1 in low light indoors?

SCN mode “Party”:

  • this should do the trick shouldn’t it?
  • if you don’t put the flash up, it puts ISO = Auto ISO and you will probably end up with ISO 400 even if you have ISO limit higher than that, and if you have a f/1.7 lens, a slow shutter speed to match the ambient lighting which will most likely end up with camera shake or subject movement – not what we want unless ambient light is bright enough and your lens aperture is wide enough to allow a fas shutter speed.
  • if you put the flash up, ISO is set to 100, aperture at the widest but still shutter speed is set to match ambient just as above, so now our subject will be blurred from subject motion but combined with a sharp component from the flash – this may be a useful effect but most will not want this.

Portrait mode:

  • don’t use this indoors without a flash unless you choose “indoor portrait” otherwise ISO is set to 100, and even at widest aperture that it selects, shutter speed will be far to slow.
  • with flash up, it can be useful, ISO set to 100, aperture widest and shutter 1/30th sec and you have the option of “soft skin setting”
  • interestingly, even with the flash up, the flash does not fire using the “indoor setting”

iA exposure mode – the “dummies” mode:

  • if the flash is down, ISO will be the highest allowed as set in ISO LIMIT, aperture the widest, and this will give you the fastest shutter speed possible for the available light – if you don’t want to use flash, this is just what you want.
  • if the flash is up, ISO will be set to 100, aperture the widest, and shutter to 1/125th sec which will expose your subject well with the flash and reduce blur, while the background ambient will be under-exposed – again this is not a bad outcome indeed.

“A” exposure mode – aperture priority:

  • you should set the widest aperture for the lens
  • if the flash is down, Auto ISO setting will give the  lowest ISO to keep the shutter faster than 1/30th sec as long as ISO LIMIT is not reached due to very low light, in which case, shutter speed becomes slower and you will get subject blur.
  • if the flash is up, shutter speed will be set to 1/30th sec and Auto ISO will set ISO to 100 – this shutter speed will risk subject blur  if ambient light is bright enough.

“P” exposure mode – programmed mode:

  • aperture will be set to the widest
  • Auto ISO and shutter speed will be set as with A mode with lens at widest aperture

“S” exposure mode – shutter priority:

  • this could get you into a lot of problems in low light with flash down if you are not careful
  • with flash down, you select the shutter speed, and if ambient light allows, Auto ISO will be set to lowest (100) as first priority with aperture at the widest needed for this ISO. If there is not enough light at widest aperture and lowest ISO, the ISO will then be increased but not beyond the ISO LIMIT setting. If higher ISO than this is needed, the image will be under-exposed and the viewfinder values will flash red to indicate this. You should then choose a slower shutter speed until you are back in a possible exposure range.
  • with flash up, you can select a shutter speed but no faster than the flash sync speed of 1/160th sec. Auto ISO will set ISO to 100, and the aperture will be set to the widest available without causing over-exposure due to ambient light.

My conclusions:

  • use manual mode when using the flash up if you want control over the aperture, shutter speed and ISO but still have automatic exposure of the flash.
  • using iA mode seems a reliable option for either no flash or flash and is the probably the best option for beginners
  • avoid A mode for indoor parties as you are likely to end up with a slow shutter speed of 1/30th sec which may cause subject blur unless you specify a higher ISO setting such as 400 for indoor parties with a wide aperture lens and aperture set to the widest aperture
  • consider S mode if you want to achieve a certain blur effect from a longer shutter speed, but use Auto ISO setting
  • avoid the Party Scene mode unless you want blurred subjects when they are moving
  • if you want softer skin effect, choose Soft Portrait mode but use a flash!
  • the Indoors Portrait mode will NOT allow use of a flash!
  • there is also a creative portrait mode which allows you to alter depth of field by adjusting the aperture.

new Metz flashes – 58AF-2 and 50AF-1

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Metz has just announced two new camera-specific flashes in versions for either Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony, or Four Thirds (includes Olympus and Panasonic Micro Four Thirds).

These  may be of interest to many as they add some features missing on the branded flashes, in particular:

  • extra wide diffuser which allows coverage of lenses as wide as 12mm focal length in 35mm camera terms.
  • secondary light which adds fill light and catch lights while the main light is swiveled to bounce off a wall, etc
  • extended range of manual flash output settings – 25 levels
  • wireless master TTL function (58AF-2 only) even if camera model does not support wireless TTL – but only for Canon, Nikon and Olympus – seems that although TTL flash works on Panasonic, Pentax and Sony cameras, the wireless TTL does not work on these according to the pdf documentation

58AF-2

I had hoped this would add wireless TTL flash capability to my Panasonic GH-1 Micro Four Thirds camera, but seems that this is not the case – otherwise it would have made the perfect (albeit a bit large and heavy) solution, particularly when you can also get the Metz slave wireless TTL ring flash – the 15 MS-1 which would make up for the fact that Olympus and Panasonic have been very slow to redesign their macro flash system.

However, perhaps the Metz promo documentation accidentally left out Panasonic in the wireless TTL capability as the MS-1 documentation reads:

“The remote TTL flash operation of the mecablitz 15 MS-1 digital can be used for digital cameras of the following makes: Canon, Nikon, Olympus/Panasonic, Pentax/Samsung and Sony-Alpha. In this case, the camera must either have an integrated flash unit acting as master, or be equipped with add-on flash (e.g. Metz 58 AF-1 digital).”

Well I am a bit confused, perhaps someone can enlighten me on this one!

Will you get wireless TTL capability with a Panasonic?

Given that many Micro Four Thirds users also have either a Canon or Nikon dSLR system, it would have been nice to have a new third party flash such as one by Metz which could be used in TTL mode on each of the different cameras as with the Metz SCA flashes such as the Metz 54 MZ-4i digital and Metz 44 MZ-2 digital, but neither offer wireless TTL flash. Perhaps the next SCA flash from Metz will offer wireless TTL.

The documentation does not indicate whether the wireless TTL functionality can be allocated to groups of flashes as with the branded flashes, nor whether you can mix branded flashes with these in wireless TTL mode.

Metz press release here.

An excellent tutorial on high speed sync flash or Super FP flash

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

See Neil van Niekerk’s excellent tutorial he has just posted demonstrating High Speed Sync flash (HSS) on a Nikon D3 and on a Canon 5D.

For Olympus and Panasonic users, this technology (which was actually first developed for Olympus OM film SLR cameras) is equivalent to Super FP mode.

The actual maximum flash sync speed in normal flash mode depends upon the camera – most Micro Four Thirds and entry level dSLR cameras have a flash sync of ~1/160th-1/180th sec, while pro level dSLRs tend to have a flash sync of 1/250th sec.

High Speed Sync (HSS or Super FP mode) is very confusing to most people, and this tutorial goes a long way to helping you understand it.

It’s main purpose is to allow wider apertures to be used in flash photography in sunlit conditions, but as Neil points out, most single flash units will not be able to overpower full sun even in HSS mode as HSS mode inevitably results in a substantially reduced maximum power output or Guide Number, and this reduction is power is generally in proportion to the higher the shutter speed selected.

Natural looking outdoor portraits with a single flash

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

As I mentioned in a previous post, last weekend I offered to help a friend shoot some beginner models for their portfolios in an outdoor urban setting on a freezing cold, windy day.

I thought this would be a great opportunity to try my portable Westcott umbrella softbox and a flash in manual mode, much as how the excellent blog from Neil van Niekerk advocates.

It doesn’t matter which camera or flash you use – I could have done this with any flash with a wireless trigger and either an Olympus E510 with Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 lens, or a Panasonic GH-1 with Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro (manual focus only on this camera), but for this outing, I blew the dust of my Canon 1D Mark III and used one of my favourite (although often difficult to use) lenses – the Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L.

Neil has some great pointers in his blogs regarding use of a single flash as the main light for outdoor portraiture.

He manages to achieve this by ensuring ambient light on the subject’s face in only 1-2 stops underexposed from the main flash light, thus ensuring there are no dark shadows while using the flash in a softbox which ensures the edge of the shadows are nicely blended rather than being harsh – if you don’t have a softbox, you could bounce flash off a white cloth or wall.

The first requirement is finding a location with an aesthetic background lit approximately1-2 stops more than the subject – and as I found, finding such locations out of the wind can be more difficult than it would seem – a sunlit background is generally too bright for the ambient light falling on your subject unless this is reflected sunlight from a wall rather than from open sky.

Once you have found your location, then you need to work out how you would like to render the background
:

  • set your camera and flash to manual exposure mode
  • set your shutter to maximum flash sync (eg. 1/160th – 1/250th sec depending on camera)
  • set your aperture to f/2.8 or f/4 to blur the background while still having all of your subject in focus,
  • set ISO to give the background exposure you want (as long as ambient light on your subject stays under-exposed so that it acts as a fill in).
  • if your ISO setting is going too high for your liking, you could use a longer shutter exposure as long as you avoid camera shake or subject movement.

Your subject exposure then becomes entirely dependent upon the manual flash output setting and how far you have the flash to your subject – this will take a little trial and error while checking the histogram on the camera after you take test shots – unless you happen to have a flash meter – and even then he suggests it is wise to check your histogram.

I like this concept as it produces images that look natural, can be flattering to the subject and avoids the flat lighting that often results from overcast conditions.

Here is an example of what I achieved with this technique on this horrible day for taking photos of people outdoors, although I have purposely limited the degree of main light from the softbox and increased contrast and added some vignetting in PS:

Helena

I highly recommend you peruse Neil’s excellent blog – he has some great examples of simple flash and ambient light portraiture, and there is much one can learn from his experience as a wedding and fashion photographer.