Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Little Canon Flash

The small REVUEtron flash has been retired forever. In the last blog I sang his praise which was appropriate as he did indeed good service and it was his retirement speech after all. He is now gone and we can confess openly that he could be a pain in the ass at times.

The manual flash is not very precise as distances have to be estimated. (In advance.) It is completely unpractical in fluid situations when distances change rapidly. In Situations when there is sufficient time to calculate exposure and aperture, like in macro or still photography, the distances from Objects to flash and/or camera are so short that small errors of estimation make a noticeable difference, so one actually needs to measure them.

The (photographic) world was longing for some flash automation.

I planned to make some experiments with the little manual flash and then introduce two automated flash systems. Unfortunately the little REVUEtron left us so that I will jump right to the first flash system, CAT from Canon.

The idea of the CAT system was simple: The lens of the camera is focused anyway to the most important part of the picture, so one can use the focusing information from the lens and translate it somehow into an electronic signal to vary the flash output. (When the DSLRs appeared and the film based TTL did not work anymore. The technique of reading the focusing information from the lens was re-introduced.)

One catch of the Canon CAT system was that it worked only with cameras which where built specifically for it (a trend started by Canon that has become widely the norm today) and it worked only with a few select lenses.

For SLRs the CAT flash was the Speedlite 133D.
For compact cameras without interchangeable lens it was the Canolite D
For the Datematic and the Canon 110 Pocket camera it was the Canolite ED.

The Canolite ED, or short ED, is .... you might have guessed "The Little Canon Flash". I think I never owned a camera which would work with ED. So I really can not remember why and how I bought it. I am however pretty sure that it must have seemed like a good idea at the time. (In the picture ED is connected to a Mecalux 11 optical trigger from Metz.)

It works perfectly in manual mode and has a guide number of 14m. I will use ED for all the experiments I intended for the REVUEtron. ED is still in perfect working condition and I guess that it has to do with the fact that ED is powered by two AA batteries. ED has a flash ready lamp on the back and a guide number table for ISO 100. Any other ISO must be calculated. ED has no manual release switch! The recycle times with fresh batteries are about 3 to 4 seconds. Much faster than the REVUEtron Not bad.

I will not use the flash on a film camera because I am too lazy and to cheap to make the many intended test shots on film. Therefore I needed to trigger ED with a digital camera.

First a word of WARNING. Old flashes can have VERY high voltages on the contacts. Do not ever attach an unknown and/or old flash to your modern digital camera. Always consult your manual about the voltage your camera can take and then measure or look up the flash voltage.

A second word of warning: Your measurement might be very imprecise, but looking it up might not be safer as you put your trust in results that might be manufacturers specs of a new unit. Internet search for trigger voltage might produce a result, but it was measured by someone you don't know. And you do not know how good his equipment and method was.

How does ED measure. My Multitronic measurement device is very slow and therefore not very good in this situation. The problem is, that the flash fires the moment you connect the measuring probes of the Multitronic. So my readings when first charging the flash and then measuring were about 85 V. However I tried a second method by leaving the measurement device attached and then switching the flash on. It will charge and the voltage raises. At some point it will fire.
The reading in this case was about 165V. Hmmm that is the voltage when the flash will EARLIEST fire. I still do not know the voltage when it is FULLY charged, which might be considerable higher.

The Handbook of the Nikon D300s specifies 250V maximum. Sorry ED you will never be attached to it!

At this point I got sidetracked by the question how best to use photocells to fire ED when using Nikon i-TTL.

I have two models of all round photocells available: The Metz lux 11 and the China Import DS-1. The China Import claims to be specifically suited for digital flash systems with pre-flash. The half page manual is in a bit of a garbled English but makes a lot of sense once you ignore the grammar.

I tried three i-ttl flashes on my D300s: SB-800, SB-900 and Metz MZ54 4i

I got some expected and some unexpeced results:

The Metz photocell performed as expected. It did not work at all with any flash. The ED was fired by the pre flash and contributed nothing to the picture.

A flash picture of a flash! So far so good.

But listen to this: I tried the China gadget and it does NOT work with the SB-800 however it does work reliably and repeatedly with either the SB-900 or the MZ54 4i.

Why? I have no clue !


SB-900: Hurray the ED fired in time!

More fun with the ED in the next post.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

My more serious photographic journey started with the Revue 3000 SL which is a re branded Chinon CX. With it came the small electronic flash the Revuetron 18.

The camera is still in good working order. When I tried to use the little flash for this Blog I found out that the power supply seems to have issues. It started to make funny noises when switched on.

So there will be no new experiments with this little gem. For its time (I got it in 1979 and it was not exactly new) the little flash was already quite comfortable.

The Guide number was 18 (m). It operated on an internal rechargeable battery and came with the power supply, a hot shoe adapter (not in the picture) and a PC extension cord. The last two items allowed off shoe flash !

How did it work in practice?

On the camera all the orange timings up to 1/125s could be selected to synchronise with the flash.

On the flash the red switch had three positions. Charging, or operating by internal battery, or operating directly from the attached power supply. Using the flash with the power supply plugged in had the slowest recycling times.  The recycling time from the internal rechareables was a bit faster but still distinctly pedestrian.

The dial on the back of the flash was set so that the white arrow pointed to the film ISO number. In the picture it is set to ISO 100. The scale at the lower half then matched aperture and distance. In this example aperture 4 is aligned with 4.5 meters. Quick check 4 * 4.5 = 18 the guide number! The dial is only for "comfort" as it has no internal function whats however. It is only a help to perform the guide number calculation.

A guide number of 18 seems to be low these days, and it was not ample at the time, but with a 400 ISO film and aperture 2 the distance was theoretically 18 m. That is a long way to stand from your subject(s).

The big drawback of this little fellow is, that he always delivers full output. The biggest drawback is, that you have to wait the full recycling time for the next shot. When connected to the power supply or fully recharged batteries that was already a long wait . If the batteries where no longer fully charged it became veeeery looooong.

The work flow for "snapshots" with the flash in the hot shoe something like this:
a) Set the camera focusing to the snapshot distance, usually 2,5 to 3 m depending on the occasion and the location.
b) Determine and preset the aperture for the selected distance, say ISO 100 film, 3m preset results in 5.6. (In those days the aperture was still set on the Lens)
c) If you want frozen movement flash pictures with potentially dark backgrounds choose 1/125s as time. If you want to see some ambient light in the picture; measure it with the camera meter for the chosen aperture and select to taste.

Taking Pictures:
d) Now you are set, take care to be approximately your chosen distance from the subjects, aim, adjust focus and fire away. And after only 3 - 5 minutes you can take the next shot!
If you want to be nearer or further away, just open or close the aperture a half or one stop. In case you bothered in step c) with ambient light, you might need to adjust the time accordingly.
(That all sounds a bit complicated, but it becomes very quickly quite intuitive. Also with up to 5 min recycling time you can adjust the camera, have a drink and a bite from the buffet before the next shot is due.)

e) Repeat d) until the party (occasion) is over. If you were dedicated a 36 frame film could last for about 2 to 3 hours! (Dedication and exact time varied depending on the quality of the buffet.) The good thing is, that the flash actually lasted for that number of shots, and it could then recharge over night.

With more static subjects, when the camera was mounted on a tripod the flash could be used off camera. That was very handy for the obligatory beginners choice of subjects like flowers, macro shots and macro shots of flowers!

Two examples below. I still love some of the pictures shot with the little fellow. He has now definitely reached the end of his serviceable lifetime and can retire forever.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Using flash in your photography has never been simpler! Or has It?

My photographic journey started when I got my first camera, a simple Agfa model with 126 cassette film when I was nine years old. Since then photography has been a dear hobby. Sometimes more time was devoted to it sometimes less. Like with most hobbyists my focus of interest meandered through a wide array of motives, techniques, and processes. And there has always been a certain technical fascination. A Pro naturally specialises on subject matters, equipment and process to obtain best results and to build a reputation in his special field. Not me, I could try and experiment to my hearts content.

My first camera had flash cubes that fired four times, then you threw the cube away and needed a new one. The second camera, a handed down cosina in the guise of REVUE 3000 came with a small fully manual electronic flash. The guide number table is printed on its back and you have to cross reference distance and aperture. My third flash was a Metz 45 CT-1! What a Monster! Automatic flash exposure! Today I use Metz Remote for my TTL film cameras and since a few month with my newest toy Nikon CLS for digital!

I couldn't help noticing that marketing promised with each evolution of ever more sophisiticated flash units that handling will be much much simpler, however the manuals have become thicker and thicker. I have read a number of books watched the Nikon DVD, read strobist and other helpful websites but still a number of questions remain in regard to the Nikon flashes and CLS.

Entering a new chapter in my hobby I decided that I want to do two things:
1) Take all my old and new flash stuff and experiment to see how I can get it to work together in a systematic fashion. (There we are, after all I am German therefore the word systematic had to pop up sooner or later.)
2) Play with the nice technology of remote flash. It seems to be the current fashion anyway.

The blog will be a mix of new things, old things, and experiments.

P.S. You will notice that I used "strobe" in the title and use "flash" in the text. The simple reason is, that I am used to the word flash but the domain flashex was already taken.