Sunday, May 19, 2019

Back To Basics: Backup Flash

Improvised plastic cover in place
You Need A Backup Flash: As photographers, we know that having a backup camera is a necessary precaution. Why shouldn't this apply to flash? When working indoors, you can't always count on high ISO settings to give you enough light to make a proper exposure, so flash may be your only suitable light source.  Having a second flash could save the day if your primary fails. But what if the two flashes could also be used in a controller/remote capacity? I've done this routinely with my Nikon speedlights, but until now, couldn't justify fully buy additional Fuji flashes to fill out my Fuji kit. Since I started to drift away from my usual Nikon DSLR camera solution, I started looking for a way to achieve that same level of versatility while adding as little to the weight of my kit as possible.

Mini Backup: For backup, I have two mini-flash candidates that provide TTL exposure metering for the Fuji: A Nissin i40 and an Adorama Flashpoint Zoom-Mini. Both claim to have controller/remote capabilities, but were initially purchased because they were "cute". The Nissin has fallen from favor due to some performance quirks I can neither explain nor forgive*. However, the Flashpoint unit, a.k.a. Godox TT350F , while modest in size and output, can double as a radio controller for the Godox TT685F that already rides in my bag. The little flash occupies the same space as a coiled flash cord, and offers several distinct lighting (TTL) options:
  • The small TT350F can be used as a radio trigger and the larger TT685F used with an umbrella or small soft box.
  • The large TT685F can be used to provide a bounced fill light, while the small FF350F can be used as a narrow-beamed key light.
  • Both flashes could be used together in a direct key / fill light combination.

Cameras and the protective cover for the Flashpoint were removed to show the general layout
My bag, in its current configuration, accommodates two cameras and two flashes. Stored in the left compartment are two plastic boxes: one for the pancake lens and the other for an assortment of lens hoods, lens caps, and filters.  The X-E1 sits on top. In the center, the folded Adorama Flash Point Mini Zoom minus the improvised protective cover. The X100T sits on top. The full-sized Godox TT685F sits at the right.

Be really REALLY careful when you cut!
Here you see the inverted plastic box with the lid open. The flash cover was made by cutting along the inked line to remove one side and the lid. This little "garage" sits on top of the flash, as seen at the top of this post. If you are careful, a craft knife will work. I used a band saw because it was handy.

Defeating Radio Trigger Delays: There is always a short delay when using radio triggered flashes. As a result, the flash may discharge after the second shutter curtain (a quaint term from when the shutters were made of rubberized fabric) has started to close. When using a focal plane shutter (X-E1), it appears as a dark band across the bottom of the frame. This clipping only occurs when shooting at the maximum flash synchronization speed, or one shorter in duration.

When using the X100 and its "sync at all speeds" leaf shutter, I would normally rely on a neutered flash cable to bypass any unnecessary TTL communication between the flash and the camera. Instead, I could now use the shoe-mounted, TT350F in manual mode and trigger the more powerful TT685F using its built-in optical slave in the manual mode, eliminating the delay. This is done by setting the on-camera TT350F to manual and rotating the head towards the TT695F which has been set to fire using the built-in optical slave. 

While this my seem like an overly complicated game plan, I feel comfortable that given a short period of time, I can meet almost any lighting challenge that might come along. But in reality, nearly all of my work is done with a single, on-camera flash and my flash-at-any-speed Fuji X100T, and these two items are instantly accessible. The fun begins when I have an abundance of both time and energy to make a photo I would really be happy with.

*When used in the manual mode, the Nissin  i40 will deliver a full-power discharge only when the sync speed is 1/250 or slower, based on some simple exposure tests.