Sunday, August 23, 2015

Selens Tri- Flash Outdoors

Silhouetted against the morning sky on a bright San Anselmo Saturday is one answer to "flash on the cheap", a personal pursuit that dates back to the early 1970's. At the time, studio strength flashes were just not in my game plan, and the best I could do was to combine several inexpensive battery powered flashes in a desperate attempt to get enough light to photograph large subjects, like people standing up. My collection of small flashes included a Vivitar 180 and several Spiralite Seniors.Somewhere along the way I bought some optical slaves, and with a little ingenuity, managed to get them all to fire simultaneously.

Fast forward to 2015, when I purchased three Selens 3 in 1 Hotshoe Flash Brackets (SE-31) online. When I first saw it, I was drawn to the fact that it combined three hot-shoes that could be triggered through a 3.5 mm mini jack. This happened to be the same cable used by the MPEX Translator. And by assembling some bits and pieces, I could trigger the flash using a single optical slave. 

I gathered up three Nikon-safe Vivitar 285 HV flashes. Each was personally tested to have a triggering voltage less than 10 volts. If I could trigger the three with a single optical slave, I wouldn't have to worry about frying the electronics in my camera. But if I couldn't, I knew that the low triggering voltage would be "safe" to use.

You can see that I needed both a microphone-to-PC adapter and a Wein male/male adapter before I could attach the Wein Peanut. As it turned out, the combination wouldn't trigger reliably in bright sunlight, so I wound up using the a long mini-microphone cable to connect the Selens to an on-camera MPEX Translator. This triggered the flashes consistently, so long as I was careful to not trip over the microphone cable.

Nikon D70: 1/500, F22, ISO 200
I finally got around to making a photo, and was pleased with the the amount of light my three little Vivitars produced when fired in unison. As you can see, there plenty of power to allow for a darkened sky and "inky shadows". All this at a flash to subject distance of about ten feet. You'll notice that there are three distinct reflections in my glasses, something I didn't expect. 

I never thought that I looked like Popeye, although we so share a love of spinach. My exaggerated lower jaw comes from the camera's low position and wide angle lens. And while the flash-to-subject distance was ten feet, the camera-to-subject distance was only two. The joys of off-camera flash!

Why all this trouble? Well, I now have approximately 200 watt-seconds of power, just short of the output of a Norman 200b, with a replacement cost of less than $200.00. This "kit", along with some seldom-used Cokin 3-stop ND filter, a P sized holder and an assortment of adapter rings, will probably be added to my "just for fun" weekend only camera stuff that rides in the trunk of my car. The little flashes have neither the fast recycle time of the Norman nor the stamina for a long day of shooting, but will do in a pinch if both my subject and I are patient.

Photo Flop: I tried for about 20 minutes to produce shot where the three flashes were actually firing. I dropped each flashes output down to 1/16th power, the lowest manual setting available. I placed two speedlights behind a shoot-through umbrella to provide some front lighting, but it wasn't enough. What was worse, or surprising, was the light "smear" I got from each flash. I've never seen anything like this. Perhaps this is an artifact from using a camera as old as the D70. 

Lightbulb! I may attempt to re-shoot this photo with a neutral density filter on each of the flash heads. This would cut the output, and reduce the smearing effect.