Advice on Flash Units Needed
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Old 05-04-2008   #1
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Default Advice on Flash Units Needed

I've had a canon rebel XTi for about a year now, and am ready to step up and purchase a flash unit to go along with it. Let me first be honest, I know nothing about flash units! I'm overwhelmed with how many are out there, and am afraid that I'll make a huge mistake in purcahsing one without any direction. My uncle let me try the 580 EX speedlite once, and I really liked it, however, it's a little out of my price range at the time. Even though this is my first purchase, I don't want to go with something that I will have to replace or upgrade soon. I'm wanting something that will allow me to take quality indoor photography, such as school pictures..ect.. Any advice would be most appreciated!
(Be gentle, I'm a rookie!)

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Old 05-04-2008   #2
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Default Re: Advice on Flash Units Needed

Oh, one more question, does anyone have any experience with the Sunpak Auto 383?
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Old 05-04-2008   #3
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Default Re: Advice on Flash Units Needed

Hi Cait!

If you are not well versed in electronic flash usage, your main concern in purchasing a flash unit at the present time is to find one that will work well with you camera in one of it's AUTOMATIC modes so that you can enjoy using your new flash as soon as you get it and perhaps while you are learning more about flash technique.

The cannon unit that you uncle let you use is my first recommendation. My first reason is that you have used it in the past and were pleased with the results- you know it works well with your camera. Many other flash units of different manufacture can be dedicated to you camera's programs and circuitry but the ones made by the same manufacturer are your best bet as you can rest assured the camera and the flash unit will be entirely compatible.

I don't want to confuse you but is good for you to know that there are a few issues to consider about compatibility . The workings of the auto exposure system in both the flash and the camera is the first issue as far as accurate exposure is concerned.. The other issue is what is known as trigger voltage. Some flash units have higher that acceptable amounts of electricity entering the camera's synchronization mechanism- this can damage the camera so you need to be careful especially if you are going to purchase a used or older model flash. Some of theses older units require a protection device be placed between the flash and camera- on the hot shoe atop the camera.

The Sunpack unit you mentioned is of good quality and should work well on your camera. This units has nice features and it looks like it will serve you well- I have heard good things about Sunpack equipment.

It is better to invest in good equipment in the first place that, as you alluded to, than to have to replace it at a sooner than later date. Good flash units can be accessoriized with add on power supplies which make for faster recycling times and more flashes for battery charge. There are filters and diffusers available to fit over the business end of the unit for nicer lighting effects. Both the units you mention have decent power output- enough to still give you sufficient light when some of theses add-on accessories are used as theses attachments absorb some of the light.

Later on, when you are more advanced, you can add more lights to you system for multiple flash lighting.

The units you have mentioned have swiveling and tilting features to allow you to do "bounce lighting" for a softer more natural effect.

For the future you may want to find some books on flash technique. With the knowledge gained you will learn to you your unit in manual mode for more user control, bounce and indirect lighting methods and fill flash for out door use and more.

I hope this helps and good luck with you purchase and learning new techniques.

Ed
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File Type: jpg 580ex_586x225.jpg (40.0 KB, 227 views)
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Old 05-04-2008   #4
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Default Re: Advice on Flash Units Needed

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cait View Post
I'm wanting something that will allow me to take quality indoor photography, such as school pictures..ect.
With just one lightsource – a flash gun on top of your camera – you'll get harsh light, and very black and hard-edged shadows. Not suitable for school pictures.
With just one flashgun, on top of your camera, you'll be limited to taking snapshots indoors, instead of making photos, and to fill-flash outside. Which is very useful and a very under-appreciated capability of flash light, BTW.

Moving the flashgun off-camera to one side, remotely fired, and with an ABBC for softening/diffusing, and filling/opening up the shadows with a (D-I-Y) reflector on the opposite side, will already greatly improve your images.
Obviously 2 off-camera light sources (flashguns) will be better still. Etc.

So imo you should get a flashgun that 1) works with your camera's flash circuitry/system, 2) has sufficient power (GN), and 3) get can be fired remotely by your camera (either wired or wireless; the latter is more convenient of course).

Obviously Canon's offerings provide that. Metz's and Sunpak's models do too.
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Old 05-04-2008   #5
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Default Re: Advice on Flash Units Needed

Oh! I guess I missed the part about "school pictures" and "high quality". A flash unit mounted on the camera is a very basic light source. It is enough to get by for general photography where aesthetically pleasing lighting is not a major issue. Even mass produced school photographs are made with some kind of basic portrait lighting and requires lighting equipment which is more specialized and professionally oriented.

A single unit mounted atop the camera will give you rather flat lightning without interesting highlights and shadows which create depth, dimensionality and realism in you images. Portrait lighting equipment usually consists of at least three lights- they can be mono-lights, each powered individually or a lighting kit with 3 or four lamp heads that are powered by a single power pack. Most of theses units are equipped with modeling lamps- theses are continuous incandescent lamps which allow you to pre-visualize you lighting- it approximates the pattern of the electronic flash tube. The additional light also helps you focus and compose your image.

Some basic knowledge of portrait lighting is necessary to be able to aim and adjust the lights properly and create at least a good likeness of the subject. There is a main light with which you create your basic lighting pattern and a fill light to make the shadows softer and more transparent. Oftentimes a hair and background light are also employed to provide nice highlight in the hair and to light the background to provide separation and color or tonal mass in the background- respectively.

In portraiture, flat lighting from on-the-camera flash is considered illumination not fine portrait lighting. It provides enough light to enable proper exposure bur is not very artistic. Raw unmodified light, unless you are a very savvy lighting expert is very difficult to use- the lighting has to be dead on and there is little room for mistakes. For those reasons many school and portrait photographers use light modifiers such as reflector-umbrellas or soft boxes to soften the light and provide a quality of light that is more forgiving, especially when many sitting have to be done of the students.

I have no idea what you level of experience is as to portrait lighting. Before making a major investments in pro equipment, you should have a basic understanding of lighting setups and methods.

I have attached some images of lighting kits. If you have any other questions please post them. Ed
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Old 05-04-2008   #6
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Sorry! I forgot the attachments
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Old 05-05-2008   #7
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Default Re: Advice on Flash Units Needed

Thanks so much for all of your advice!
I had a good idea that a lot more went in to good portraiture than just a flash unit, but a flash unit is just where I'm starting now. I just might have to wait a while and save up for the 580 EX instead of rushing to make a buy that I could possibly regret right now, so while I'm waiting for the cash I'll just use that time to learn as much as I can about portrait lighting!
I have a question about what you mentioned as 'recycle time' ? I've heard people mention it a lot in reviews they have written on flash units, but don't really know what they mean by it. Also, how do you make sure you don't get a flash unit that is too powerful for your camera?
Oh ahh, here's a question for you...I was at a prom once, and the lady photographer there was taking a class picture of all the students. She got out a light meter and came up to every student and metered each students face. ? What was she doing exactly? lol!
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Old 05-05-2008   #8
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Default Re: Advice on Flash Units Needed

Recycle time is just the time after your flash "flashes" and when it is ready to flash again.

As your batteries go flat the recycle time increases (dramatically)..............

This is bad because it's a case of "Smile" / "ClicK" wait.....wait.......wait......wait....hang on.....almost ready.....just about there....almost......."Ok smile again"...Oppss....You blinked that time....wait a sec.....hang on there...........................


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Old 05-05-2008   #9
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Default Re: Advice on Flash Units Needed

Cait,
I'm a Canon shooter through and through, but I've never been a fan of their flashes.
I've owned the Canon 540EX, 550EX, 580EX and tested the 580EXII.

While they all performed adequately, none performed consistently, shot after shot with a variety of Canon bodies.

On a whim, years ago, we tried the Metz 45CL-4 with a digital body and was blown away at the consistent exposures.
Even better, we'll most often use it in Auto mode, allowing the flash to do the work while we adjust the shutter to get the look we're after.

Oddly enough, Canon followed the lead of several thyrsitor based flashes by including a sensor on the front of the 580EXII allowing the user to shoot in Thyristor Auto mode, in addition to TTL or manual.
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Old 05-05-2008   #10
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Default Re: Advice on Flash Units Needed

I use the 550EX's. I buy it used, since it is no longer available. It is a more powerful than the 430EX
, but 3 GN numbers in meters less than the 580EX or 580EX II. But, you can usually get a decent, mint one for $200-$250 which is $50 less than the 430EX. It doesn't have the jog shuttle or the cropped camera FOV adjustment, but it is a flash, I don't need it to do my taxes for me!


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