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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.

Macrophotography with the Micro Four Thirds – what options do we have?

Monday, January 11th, 2010

This post is an attempt to answer one of my reader’s questions on whether to buy a GH-1 for dental macrophotography.

As popular as the Micro Four Thirds cameras have been in 2009, the system is still very young, and one area that is yet to be developed adequately is macrophotography.

Micro Four Thirds allows you to embark on either an expensive auto-focus route with the Leica-D 45mm f/2.8 macro lens, or an extremely large range of very cheap but high quality, legacy manual focus macro options.

First, the bad news:

There is only one dedicated AF macro lens available for the M43 system at present – the expensive Panasonic Leica-D 45mm f/2.8 OIS MFT lens which is a very nice lens with focus range limiter and allows one to image a subject size 1/4 that of a full frame film, but its lack of focus scale makes manual focus more difficult than with other macro lenses.

The Olympus Four Thirds ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro lens, although one of the sharpest lenses ever made, it will not AF on a Panasonic M43 camera, and will AF slowly on an Olympus M43 camera. This AF issue also applies to the cheaper Olympus ZD 35mm macro lens for Four Thirds.

The Olympus SRF-11 Ring Flash for Four Thirds has a FR-1 adapter for the Olympus Four Thirds ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro lens but it is 1mm too wide to attach to the Panasonic Leica-D 45mm macro lens, and is quite a large flash to use on the small M43 bodies – but you do get TTL exposure and it is a lovely ring flash with full circumferential flash unlike the Canon ring flash.

The 14-140mm lens will have difficulty with AF inside the mouth given its f/5.6 aperture (I have tried that!)

The built-in popup flash of the GH-1 is not high enough to prevent lens shadowing when the 14-140mm lens is used at focal lengths 14-20mm, or when the ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro lens is used at closer than 0.26m focal setting.

The GH-1 will not allow TTL flash with legacy lenses – seems it needs to know what the aperture is and works on the assumption aperture is ~f/2.8, furthermore flash exposure compensation with legacy lenses gives strange results – please Panasonic fix this up with a firmware update! Fortunately, you can easily set the Ring Flash to a manual output setting (you can’t do this with the built-in flash though!).

Now the good news:

1:1 macro on these cameras is HIGHER magnification than 1:1 on 35mm cameras as it gives subject size of 23mmx17mm not 36mm x 24mm.

From dpreview.com’s review of the Panasonic 45mm f/2.8 macro lens:

“On Panasonic G-series models, the 45mm becomes capable of something that’s simply not possible with any DSLR system – genuinely usable autofocus when shooting macros. These cameras allow you to choose an extremely small AF point and place it wherever you like within a large area of the frame (although not at the extreme borders). This means you can tell the camera to focus precisely where you want within your composition, and it will just do it without any fuss – it’s a very useful tool indeed.”

Most photographers who are serious about macro work do not use autofocus but use manual focus – often setting the lens to a given magnification setting (ie. a focus point), and then move the camera in or out from the subject until focus is achieved.

Autofocus is generally a challenge in macro work, particularly when the subject is not in a plane parallel to the camera, and in the low light levels inside someone’s mouth, and where there is low contrast such as on mucosa or teeth, combined with specular reflections of the light source.

Thus, the lack of AF macro lenses is not a big deal.

The absence of a mirror means you have much more efficient access to accurate manual focus and you can choose any area of the screen to magnify, plus you don’t have to worry about vibrations of the mirror and having to use mirror lock up for each shot at high magnification.

For instance, to see how easy and accurate it is to manually focus with the Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro lens on a Panasonic GH-1:

  • turn GH-1 on and set it to Manual Focus, set desired aperture/exposure mode as usual.
  • turn focus ring of the lens to closest focus
  • half-press shutter to return view to full view and then move camera in to get approximate focus
  • either press the AF button on the rear of the GH-1 and press OK button, or better still, rotate the lens focus towards more macro (and thus it won’t change the focus point as it is already at closest focus, but this will activate the magnified view function of the GH-1)
  • now magnified view is activated, move camera in or out to achieve perfect focus
  • take the shot even while in magnified  view mode if you wish – there is no mirror to drop down as with dSLRs
  • manual focus with this lens on a M43 camera is super easy and accurate, much better than on ANY dSLR I have seen.

The M43 cameras allow you to use a wider 16:9 aspect ratio which may be more applicable to cosmetic dental photography.

The EVF or LCD means that even if you stop down a lens, your viewfinder does not become dark as it would in optical dSLR viewfinders.

If you use the GH-1 on a tripod, you also have the wonderful advantage of the flip out swiveling LCD to make your life that much easier.

This means you have access to using almost every macro lens ever made with or without extension tubes or bellows or teleconverters.

For example, you can pick up an excellent Olympus OM 50mm f/3.5 macro lens on Ebay quite cheaply, and as this is a legacy lens, it has magnification markings (although you will need to double these for the 2x crop factor).

If you are going to routinely use the same magnification, then manual macro flash photography becomes a LOT easier and you could even use a Canon Ring Flash on your M43 camera in manual mode, and attach it to whichever lens you wish to use via the appropriate filter adapter – see using Canon flash on M43 cameras here.

If you have the Olympus Ring Flash, it can be used without an adapter for a lens by holding it as the lens sits inside the ring, and of course you will have TTL auto exposure, even if using legacy macro lenses (as long as you use an Olympus M43 camera as TTL on Panny’s seems to assume lens is set to f/2.8!)

The hopefully near future:

I posted a blog in August 2009 suggesting that it was time for Olympus to revamp their macro system, in particular, a faster focusing 50mm f/2.0 macro lens for Four Thirds – in fact, Olympus has announced a M43 50mm macro lens will be available in 2011 – hopefully a f/2.0 so it can be used as a portrait lens as well, and a more compact macro ring flash kit with ability to adapt onto M43 lenses.

Although neither Olympus nor Panasonic have announced a new Ring Flash for M43, I am sure it can’t be too far away, presumably it is more likely to be 2011 than 2010.

In the meantime, there are many options to consider, and the many Canon dSLR users who have adopted M43 as their 2nd camera system will be thankful that their Canon flashes can be used without modification on a M43 camera – albeit only in manual mode.

What options now for dental work using a Panasonic GH-1?

Option 1 for AF  and  TTL flash but need to hand hold the ring flash:

  • Panasonic Leica-D 45mm f/2.8 OIS ($US899 or $A1549 RRP) + Olympus Ring Flash ($A1299)
  • manual focus more difficult as no focus distance scale thus hard to preset a focus distance
  • perhaps the best macro AF system available with any camera system
  • softer corners on imaging flat surfaces as not a true flat field lens

Option 2 for MF only and TTL but no need to hand hold the ring flash:

  • Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro ($A769) + Four Thirds adapter ($A345) + FR-1 Ring Flash adapter ($A100?) + Olympus Ring flash ($A1299) +/- EC-20 2x teleconverter for 23mmx17mm subject size ($A675)
  • focus distance scale makes presetting manual focus distance easier
  • f/2.0 allows better use as a portrait lens for blurring the background
  • very sharp edge to edge image quality
  • can add the EC-20 teleconverter to give a 35mm equivalent 200mm focal length reach at f/4 light levels, and subject size 23x17mm
  • FR-1 ring flash adapter makes a very handy and effective lens hood as well as helps to protect the lens – I leave mine on!
  • can be used with full AF on Four Thirds cameras, and with slow AF on Olympus M43 cameras
  • only marginally larger than the 45mm f/2.8
  • this would probably be the best option for those who also have Four Thirds dSLRs.

Option 3 for good quality on the cheap, manual flash and hand hold the ring flash:

  • Olympus OM 50mm f/3.5 macro ($A150 Ebay) + OM-M43 adapter + Olympus ring flash ($A1299)

Option 4 for good quality on the cheap, manual flash but no need to hand hold the ring flash:

  • Olympus OM 50mm f/3.5 macro + OM-M43 adapter + Canon ring flash + 49mm ring flash adapter (or 49mm step up ring)
  • Olympus OM bellows or OM 65-116 auto tube with OM macro lenses + OM-M43 adapter
  • Nikon micro lens + Nikon F-M43 adapter ($A40)
  • Canon FD macro lens + Canon FD-M43 adapter ($A40)

NB. of course, you may find the cheaper Olympus E-P1 is adequate for your needs instead of a GH-1, in which case you will get some slow AF with the ZD 50mm macro and you will also get image stabilisation for non-flash uses, and presumably you will get TTL external flash even with legacy lenses (unlike the GH-1 but I have not tested this on the E-P1).

See also my links to macrophotography information although this article was written before Micro Four Thirds system was developed and some of my macrophotography photos (mainly taken with an Olympus E510 before I bought my GH-1)

Ring flash
Panasonic GH-1 with Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro, flash adapter and Olympus Ring Flash. The hand grip on the GH-1 is very handy here.

Finally, Metz offer a Mecablitz 15 MS-1 Slave Ring Flash which is compatible with Olympus and Panasonic Four Thirds wireless TTL, however, as no M43 camera yet has remote TTL capability you may need to resort to also using its 6 level manual output control and either an in-built or external flash to trigger it optically (I presume that is what is meant by Slave Flash with pre-flash suppression). It has adapter rings for 52, 55, 58, 62, 67, and 72mm filter threads.

Get shallower depth of field in flash-filled sunlit portraits II – high sync flash

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Following on from my previous post on getting shallower depth of field for flash filled sunlit portraits by using a trick to use a higher shutter speed with a normal flash, this post is about doing the same but using a high shutter speed sync flash (HSS or Super FP as it is termed).

In the 1970′s, Olympus invented off-the-film TTL flash for their OM2, and in the 1980′s went a big step forward again when Olympus invented Super FP flash for their OM3 and OM4 film cameras that would allow the flash to operate at all shutter speeds not just up to the x-sync speed of 1/60th sec (as it was in those days and 1/160th-1/250th sec in most digital cameras now).

Since then, the other manufacturers have adopted this technology and while Olympus calls it Super FP mode, Canon calls it High Speed Sync (HSS), and for brevity I will just call it HSS here.

The main purpose of HSS is to allow outdoors flash at high shutter speeds so that you can balance with sunlit ambient light and still have a relatively wide aperture for shallow depth of field portraiture.

The good news is that it is quite simple to use and allows shutter speeds up to 1/8000th sec usually, and thus apertures of even f/1.2 depending on the strength of your ND filter.

The bad news is that you need a camera and flash that will allow this, and the maximum output of your flash in this mode decreases very rapidly as your shutter speed becomes faster – typically, the flash output halves for every 2 stops shutter speed up from the x-sync speed.

Unfortunately, Canon do not publish the maximum GN available for each shutter speed for their main flash – the 580EXII – I can’t find it anywhere in their user manual, but the following is from the Olympus FL-50 user manual:

Note that instead of using a ND8 filter for the below calculations, if your camera is capable, you can use ISO 50 and ND4 filter instead. If your camera’s ISO starts at ISO 200 then life is that much more difficult as you are not going to want to use a 4 stop ND 12 filter as you will have trouble focusing, so you will have to settle with a 1 stop higher aperture and more depth of field – sorry Nikon users.

In HSS/Super FP, maximum flash distance remains unchanged (~3.5m when using the FL50 at full zoom and using -1EV fill), and the figures below assume you want to fill flash at 1 stop under the ambient sunlight exposure as an example.

Using x-sync instead of HSS allows you to effectively gain more flash output and thus maximum distance or in reality, ability to use soft boxes with your flash, as you shorten shutter speed BUT at  a cost of an increasingly large unlit band at the bottom of the image which limits this to 1/400th sec.

Olympus FL50 at ISO100 and zoom at 85mm focal length in 35mm terms Normal X-sync
Super FP mode
GN in m at maximum output at 1/180th sec 50 30 – yep we already have taken a hit!
aperture bright sunlight at 1/180th sec f/12 (f/4.2 with ND8) f/12 (f/4.2 with ND8)
maximum flash distance in meters 5.6m 3.4m
GN in m at maximum output at 1/250th sec 50 25
aperture bright sunlight at 1/250th sec f/9.8 (f/3.5 with ND8) f/9.8 (f/3.5 with ND8)
maximum flash distance in meters 7m 3.5m
GN in m at maximum output at 1/320th sec 50 but some banding at base of frame 22
aperture bright sunlight at 1/320th sec f/8.9+ (f/3.1 with ND8) f/8.9 (f/3.1 with ND8)
maximum flash distance in meters 7.9m 3.5m
GN in m at maximum output at 1/400th sec 50 but banding at base of frame 20-30% of image 20
aperture bright sunlight at 1/400th sec f/8 (f/2.8 with ND8) f/8 (f/2.8 with ND8)
maximum flash distance in meters 8.9m 3.6m
GN in m at maximum output at 1/500th sec 50 but banding covers at least 50% of frame 18
aperture bright sunlight at 1/500th sec f/7 (f/2.5 with ND8) f/7 (f/2.5 with ND8)
maximum flash distance in meters 10m 3.7m
GN in m at maximum output at 1/1000th sec not possible 13
aperture bright sunlight at 1/1000th sec not possible f/4.9 (f/1.7 with ND8)
maximum flash distance in meters n/a 3.7m
GN in m at maximum output at 1/2000th sec not possible 8.9
aperture bright sunlight at 1/2000th sec not possible f/3.5 (f/1.2 with ND8)
maximum flash distance in meters n/a 3.6m
GN in m at maximum output at 1/4000th sec not possible 6.3
aperture bright sunlight at 1/4000th sec not possible f/2.5 (f/1.2 with ND4)
maximum flash distance in meters n/a 3.7m
GN in m at maximum output at 1/8000th sec not possible 4.4
aperture bright sunlight at 1/8000th sec not possible f/1.7 (f/1.2 with ND2)
maximum flash distance in meters n/a 3.7m

Thus, HSS or Super FP mode is great for direct flash fill of sunlit portraits, but if you are doing a wedding group in the sun, your flash GN will be much less for wider focal lengths and you generally will be more than 3.7m away, so you would be better off with using 1 or 2 Metz 45CT, 45CL or 60CT flashes (these have much higher GN at wide angles than a FL50 or 580EXii and you have to use manual mode anyway for this trick) at a slightly higher shutter speed such as 1/250th or 1/320th sec given the unlit portion at the bottom may not come into play anyway.

Likewise, if you are wanting to use your flash in a soft box or bounced, then even at maximum zoom, you may find you don’t have enough flash output in HSS / Super FP mode unless you get in close with the flash, and you may be better off using x-sync.

Lastly, the above figures are just one example. You may wish to slightly over-expose for the sun so that it becomes a kick light such as a hair light which would allow wider apertures and more flash distance, and you may want to change the amount of flash fill – less flash fill needed means more flash distance that can be possible.

Try out your camera and flash combination, and let me know how it fairs by writing a short note in the comments.

Have fun!