Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Speedlite and off camera flash

I had a good friend over the other night and we played around with some speedlites. Our biggest issue that night was ignorance. We had little idea how to work the flashes, their range, or how the communication system works. Here is a little background and what I have learned.

Equipment used:
Canon Xti
Canon 430 EX
Canon 580 EX II

We used the 580EX II mounted on the camera and the 430 EX as a satellite or slave flash. A couple beers, a cigar and a camera, not a great combination to learn but it was sure fun.

Some lessons we thought we leaned:
  • The master flash needs to be pointed at the front of the slave.
  • The signal will not cross a street no mater how many times you try.
  • Dramatic lighting is very cool.
  • Batteries go fast so have backups.
With the Canon system their manual says the flash can preform the following functions and in the following way:

Note: These apply specifically to the 580EX II
  • The slave flashes should be placed within 10 meters of the master when indoors and 15 meters when outdoors. The slave should also be within 40ยบ of either side of the master flash.
  • The slave flash will also function under the E-TTL
  • Up to 3 slave flashes can be used.
The biggest drawback of the 580EX II that I have read and experienced is the lack of a master/slave switch. To access the master/slave setting a menu must be accessed. It has been the reason that many wedding photographers have returned the flash. Right now there is no way to change from master to slave quickly.

There are other ways to fire speedlites off camera besides the flash's native system. This is an advantage because other flash/strobe units may be used. Typically the off brands are cheaper. Strobist has done many posts about using off camera flashes. Here is an article that is very useful for selecting a connection to the flash. The information here is my rendition of what I have read from many places. Pocket Wizards are very popular but also very expensive. Cactus triggers are not as reliable as PW's but they are more affordable. Those two options I will discuss in further detail.

Pocket Wizards work by using a radio signal to connect to the other PW's. They also have a great advantage because their range is 1600'. If you are just doing studion work that may not be a big seller but on a construction site it would be priceless. Each trigger can send or recieve a signal by flipping a switch. Rough cost is $360.00

Catus triggers works using a radio signal as well but there have been problems in the past with their relyability. The effective area is 10m which is considerably less than the PW. Rough cost for 1 receiver and trigger... $30.00 The range is much less and so is the cost.

Either of the above mentioned methods will have a trigger that slides into the hot shoe in the top of the camera and a receiver that plugs into the flash. The receiver will need to be connected with a PC cord or some other way.

If you are looking to experiment with off camera flash Storbist recommends going to Midwast Photo Exchange. They kits available for purchase as well.

A couple of links that I consulted
Digital Photogrphy School Forms
Pocket Wizard
Gadget Infinity

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