Old 01-11-2012, 03:34 PM   #1
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Default Flashes/Strobes: where to start?

I need to get a flash for my camera, primarily for indoor family snapshots and fill-flash applications. However, eventually, I would like to be able to set up a more elaborate system for trains. Anyone have any thoughts/ideas? I don't really want to spend $400+ for the top of the line Canon shoe-mount flash, but if that is really the best way to go, I'll figure out a way.
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Old 01-11-2012, 03:58 PM   #2
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I need to get a flash for my camera, primarily for indoor family snapshots and fill-flash applications. However, eventually, I would like to be able to set up a more elaborate system for trains. Anyone have any thoughts/ideas? I don't really want to spend $400+ for the top of the line Canon shoe-mount flash, but if that is really the best way to go, I'll figure out a way.
www.mpex.com <---- go here, look for the Lumopro LP160...

Unless you really just HAVE to have the iTTL type capabilities that Canon and Nikon push. If you're doing off camera flash, and from multiple points, you won't need TTL.
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Old 01-11-2012, 04:20 PM   #3
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I highly suggest the Canon 580EX II for on camera use. Yes it's pricey. Yes it's awesome. There hasn't been a single situation in my customer work that I didn't have what it took to capture the shot(s) when using this flash.

For off camera / multiple flash work, go cheap. The one Sean listed, or some of the 50 dollar jobs you can find on Amazon and Ebay.

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Old 01-11-2012, 04:37 PM   #4
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I understand that it makes sense, if one isn't going to spend the money now on something like a 580EX, to spend as little as possible, as down the road one is planning to end up with the nice unit.

But please keep in mind that cheap is inflexible. Make sure the flash you choose for family use isn't manual only, unless you want to do your own flash settings. I myself prefer to rely on TTL automatic for my around-the-house family shots. Also, make sure you are happy with the range of motion in the flash head. The reason I spent more on a Canon 430 over a 270 was just that.

For off-camera use I will defer to the experts.... Heck, I will defer to anyone, I've never done it!
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Old 01-11-2012, 05:52 PM   #5
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Go with the best you can afford for the on-camera flash. I use a 420EX for my on-camera family stuff that works great. Sure the 580 is a great flash - my sister has a couple (she's a wedding photog), but for the amount I shoot with the flash, the 420 was, and is, just fine.

As for off-camera night train shooting, I sit in a different camp. Sean, along with guys like Gary Knapp and John Ryan, all use many shoe mounted flashes set up around the scene (I think Sean's latest used 12 flashes if I recall from his FB post), which of course requires a bunch of setup time, as well as the initial investment. I'm lazy, so I usually only use two or three flashes for my shots, but using that few flashes means they have to throw a lot of light. I use Lumedyne flashes, which are essentially portable studio flash units. I like the Lumedynes because they're self-contained, relatively lightweight, and expandable. But if you look them up, they're quite pricey to pick up new from B&H and the like. I've purchased my two Lumedyne setups gradually on eBay, saving a ton of money. For both my Lumedynes, including stands and radio remotes, I've spent less than it costs to pick up one new Lumedyne setup. A few recent examples:

All were done with just the two Lumedynes:
Image © Thomas J. Nanos - www.nanosphoto.com
PhotoID: 385083
Photograph © Thomas J. Nanos - www.nanosphoto.com

Image © Thomas J. Nanos - www.nanosphoto.com
PhotoID: 384742
Photograph © Thomas J. Nanos - www.nanosphoto.com

Image © Thomas J. Nanos - www.nanosphoto.com
PhotoID: 383929
Photograph © Thomas J. Nanos - www.nanosphoto.com

Image © Thomas J. Nanos - www.nanosphoto.com
PhotoID: 382207
Photograph © Thomas J. Nanos - www.nanosphoto.com


And for this shot, I used one Lumedyne, one Norman studio flash (on a battery/inverter for power) and my 420EX

Image © Thomas J. Nanos - www.nanosphoto.com
PhotoID: 348139
Photograph © Thomas J. Nanos - www.nanosphoto.com


There are tradeoffs to me going the route I chose, but I made my decision with those tradeoffs in mind. I like the portability (my entire light kit can fit into a backpack easily with room for two more lights), and the fact that I don't need a 110v power source (like you would using standard studio flashes, like my Norman, or Alien Bees monolights). Recycle time is slower, which is the biggest negative of the Lumedynes (5 seconds for the higher powered one, 2.5 seconds for the other - compared to one second on the Bees). Again, I knew that going in, and worked with it.

Like anything else in our hobby, there's more than one way to skin a cat. You just need to decide on what's best for you. As always, I'd be glad to answer any questions anyone may have...

-Tom
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Old 01-11-2012, 07:39 PM   #6
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Thank you all for the advice, but now I have a headache.

What do I need to trigger the off camera flashes? I thought about the Canon 430ex, but I read that it can't serve as the master in a master/slave system. I think I am not understanding something.
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Old 01-11-2012, 08:00 PM   #7
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Thank you all for the advice, but now I have a headache.

What do I need to trigger the off camera flashes? I thought about the Canon 430ex, but I read that it can't serve as the master in a master/slave system. I think I am not understanding something.
The master/slave in that system is done with infrared, so the master and slave have to "see" each other. The advantage to that is you maintain TTL capabilities of the flashes, the disadvantage is you can't put the flash behind anything. Plus the range is quite limited (maybe 20 feet tops? I don't know off the top of my head)

I use radio triggers, which just send a "fire" command to the flash and that's it. You can get TTL capable ones, but you'll pay for them. I use Paul Buff CyberSyncs for my radio triggers.

http://www.paulcbuff.com/cybersync.php

Inexpensive, and they work very well. Basically what you do is put the transmitter on the hotshoe of the camera, and a receiver on the flash. When the camera fires, the transmitter tells the flash to fire as well. Much longer range than IR. If you notice in all of the shots I posted, one light is behind the train - the range on the CyberSyncs is pretty good. In this shot, the light down by the crossing signal is about 160 feet away from me (there's a second behind me and to the left).

Image © Thomas J. Nanos - www.nanosphoto.com
PhotoID: 326640
Photograph © Thomas J. Nanos - www.nanosphoto.com


There are other options - both cheaper (Chinese ones on eBay) and more expensive (PocketWizard), and have varying ranges, features, etc.

Hopefully that cleared the headache a bit...
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Old 01-11-2012, 08:31 PM   #8
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Hopefully that cleared the headache a bit...
OK, I'm moving in the right direction.

So those triggers work with AC-powered flashes which are powered by big batteries?

You would need at least two of them. Quick math and we're in the $1000-$1500 range. One problem is then I don't have a speedlight for my family shots...must keep wife happy or at least unaware of what I'm doing.

Does the 5Dii sync speed of 1/200 pose any issues with this type of setup?
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Old 01-11-2012, 08:40 PM   #9
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They'll work with any flash, but you'll need some adapters (which are pretty cheap) - all flashes use the same principle to fire, it's basically closing a circuit, which is what the trigger is doing remotely, instead of being tied directly to the camera.

My Lumedynes aren't AC - they're battery powered, which is why I favor them. I have one AC powered flash that I no longer use in the field, since I picked up the 2nd Lumedyne. As for price, I paid about $500 for both my Lumedynes picking 'em up used on eBay. Add a couple hundred more for the remote triggers, and another $70 for the light stands, and I'm done.

Sync speed - nope. I shoot a 50D for my night shots, which is 1/250 for the sync speed. I usually shoot at 1/200. Once you start shooting at night, you'll figure out why shutter speed doesn't really matter (for the most part) For example, here's one shot at 1/160, and the train was doing about 30

Image © Thomas J. Nanos - www.nanosphoto.com
PhotoID: 340397
Photograph © Thomas J. Nanos - www.nanosphoto.com


Anyways, back to the dilemma of "happy wife, happy life" (the mantra of my wife, and how true it is) - I'd say get the best Speedlite you can afford and build from there. In the meantime, do more research, ask more questions, and make the decision as to which type of flash setup you want to go with - more shoe mount types or the studio/monolight route). Either way you go, you'll still be able to use the Speedlite in the setup.
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Old 01-11-2012, 10:19 PM   #10
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These are by no means good photographs, but I wanted to include them just to give you some reference to flashes at night.

The first shot was a dedicated flash to freeze shot. 1/160th, F4, ISO 1600 with a single 580EX II on the camera hot shoe. Taken about 2100 a couple nights ago.

The second shot was a 5 minute exposure, f6.3, ISO 200, with two 1/4 power blasts from the 580 handheld. I include this to show you what Thomas is talking about when he said shutter speed really didn't matter. You can clearly see perfectly stopped motion from both of the flashes. Once on the lead engine, once on a hopper about 10 cars back from the engines.

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Old 01-12-2012, 12:36 PM   #11
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Again, thanks guys for the advice. It's given me a good place to start.
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Old 01-12-2012, 05:37 PM   #12
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Rob,

You might be surprised what you can do with relatively primitive equipment. I've owned a Nikon SB-600 Speedlight for a couple of years, but had never used it off-camera or in conjunction with other flashes. During December, when several New England tourist lines were running Christmas trains, I decided to try some hair-brained experiments, to see what I could do with what I had. As with the Canon process that Tom described, Nikon Cameras can trigger arrays of off-camera Nikon Speedlights. The speedlights just have to "see" the "commander" unit for it to work.

AFAIK, no one had ever shot the Head Tide Water Tank at the WW&F Museum at night, so I figured I'd give it a shot. I stood back about 50 feet, set the ISO on my D7000 to 1600, then set 1/250th at f5.6. I popped the on-camera flash out and set it in the "commander" mode. I then put the SB-600 on a tripod to my left and set up i-TTL for both. After a couple of test shots, I took this:

Image © Kevin Madore
PhotoID: 384641
Photograph © Kevin Madore


No great shakes, but not bad for a complete hacker.

Trying something a little more ambitious, I used the same set-up, but a tighter aperture and a higher ISO of 2500 to see if I could capture a moving train on the Valley Railroad. Getting a focus was the toughest part. I shot hand-held with one hand, and used a hand-held spotlight to illuminate the focus target. I only made two attempts. This was the second and best:

Image © Kevin Madore
PhotoID: 385762
Photograph © Kevin Madore


Decently lit, decent color and contrast. Less noise than I have seen on other night shots. The in-your-face nature and the extreme angle made it a dud from a views standpoint, but it validated that I could light up a decent size target and get a reasonably sharp picture that passed muster here on the first go.

I have considered getting at least one more speedlight, such as an SB-910, but am still on the fence, since I have limited use for this type of photography. Most steam tourist operations only run at night during December.

I'd go for the speedlight (vs a thermonuclear device) and you'll probably find that it has a lot of utility.
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Old 01-12-2012, 06:26 PM   #13
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Getting a TTL flash is a very good idea for at home. Having the ability to bounce light is essential for getting much more natural stuff of the family. Besides Canon's excellent 430 and 580 models, good 3rd party brands like Metz and Nissin are worth considering.

In spite of painful lessons, I am learning a lot and having a lot of fun doing the train night shot thing.

Advantages to shooting moving trains at night:

1. Freedom from caring if there are clouds or not.
2. More selection of angles by not caring which way the sun is.
3. If there is something ugly in frame, don't light it and it's not there.
4. I am emulating heros such as OWL and Mel Patrick.

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I did this shot with a vintage Vivitar 285 as the left key (main) light of the smokebox door, a 580EX II as the right kicker (backlight), and a Vivitar 393 for the rock ballast foreground.

All were triggered by Yonguno 603's and shot on my 40D, 17mm, f/4, ISO 1250 250th of a sec.

I wish to shout out kudos to Tom for being a mensch and helping me a great deal recently with my focus issues.
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Old 01-12-2012, 06:49 PM   #14
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I wish to shout out kudos to Tom for being a mensch and helping me a great deal recently with my focus issues.
From what I've read, it can be difficult at your age to maintain focus on any one task. I'm glad Tom was there when you suddenly wandered off into the woods for no reason ...
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Old 01-12-2012, 06:50 PM   #15
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And of course, the disadvantages of shooting at night...



According to Pocket Wizard - avoid shooting near large bodies of water. And remember; trees and people are made up mostly of water. (!) One thing that becomes quickly apparent: practice makes perfect and you may be surprised how many things there are to learn along the way!

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Old 01-12-2012, 06:57 PM   #16
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And of course, the disadvantages of shooting at night...



According to Pocket Wizard - avoid shooting near large bodies of water. And remember; trees and people are made up mostly of water. (!) One thing that becomes quickly apparent: practice makes perfect and you may be surprised how many things there are to learn along the way!

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Amen to that... never realized how good large metal objects (trains) were at absorbing RF energy from the PocketWizards...
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Old 01-12-2012, 07:07 PM   #17
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Yeah, that too - avoid large metal objects! Lol!

That's why in this shot, I elected to keep all my Wizards near by and in line of sight (which is not required but stated in the manual as "beneficial").

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Old 01-12-2012, 07:28 PM   #18
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practice makes perfect and you may be surprised how many things there are to learn along the way!

/Mitch
Can't agree more. I learn something new each time I amble off into the darkness...

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I wish to shout out kudos to Tom for being a mensch and helping me a great deal recently with my focus issues.
And a shout back to you for helping me with my positioning dilemma, filling me in on OWL's method. Going back to the learn something every time statement.
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Old 01-12-2012, 07:29 PM   #19
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Yeah, that too - avoid large metal objects! Lol!

That's why in this shot, I elected to keep all my Wizards near by and in line of sight (which is not required but stated in the manual as "beneficial").

Image © Mitch Goldman
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Photograph © Mitch Goldman


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Hmmmm, no issues with my CyberSyncs firing behind the train, well out of sight...
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Old 01-12-2012, 08:21 PM   #20
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Higher GN's! get the most or highest powered flashes you can if lighting outside if 1 foot 1 at 2 feet you need 4 X the light to light it so at 3 feet X8 the light and so on.
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Old 01-12-2012, 08:28 PM   #21
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Hmmmm, no issues with my CyberSyncs firing behind the train, well out of sight...
I wonder if that has to do with the frequency used?

CyberSyncs and Yonguno 603's operate at 2.4 GHz where as the Pocket Wizards operate at 340 354 MHz.

I've found the lower priced brands (total package) often offer many more features then the pricier brands - more channels, better designs, convenience, etc... however, the one thing that is suppose to make the Wizards stand apart from the rest is the best condition advertised range - nearly 4 times that of most others. Sometimes, lol.

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Old 01-12-2012, 09:17 PM   #22
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From what I've read, it can be difficult at your age to maintain focus on any one task. I'm glad Tom was there when you suddenly wandered off into the woods for no reason ...
Why, you, young whipper-snapper! I'll get you by cracky!

May your camera only display "Error 99" from now on.

:-p
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