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Need help / want to learn about off camera flash with radio triggers

Discussion in 'Lighting Forum' started by ijm5012, Apr 28, 2016.

  1. ijm5012

    ijm5012 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Oct 2, 2013
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Ian
    I have an interest in learning more about off camera flashes, and have done some reading on radio triggers and what not, but am still kind of confused on what I should buy or what I need for my system. My main interest in learning more about off-camera flashes is primarily for product photography, but also for some portraiture as well.

    My gear consists of a GH4 and an E-M1 as my cameras, and a Panasonic FL360L (same as the Olympus FL600R, with a GN of 36) and a Panasonic FL580L (same as the FL360L, but with a bigger flash head an a GN of 58). I have the Sto-Fen diffuser for the FL360L, and the OEM diffuser for the FL580L, both of which just slide over the flash head and help to soften to light somewhat.

    Correct me if I am wrong here, but one of the weaknesses/limiting factors of the m43 flash system is that it's all optically based, so any off-camera slaves need to see the flash from the camera in order to fire, right? This can be troublesome if the slaves are placed in a location where they can't see the flash, or if the flash isn't strong enough to trigger the slaves. To get around this, one can use radio triggers which don't rely on an optical signal, but this is where my knowledge falls off and my confusion really begins.

    Some questions:
    • What's a good brand/trigger to use with my cameras/flahses? I've heard Cactus tirggers mentioned before, as well as pocket wizard and Yongnuo RF-603.
    • Will I maintain my TTL capabilities with the radio triggers, or will it all be manual (from what I've read, it'll be manual but I figured I'd ask).
    • If it's manual, can I control the flash output from the trigger on the camera's hot shoe or does it need to be adjusted on the flash itself?
    • Do any of these triggers do HSS?
    In addition to the trigger questions, I also have some questions about additional equipment I should get for the flashes. Flash umbrellas, soft boxes, etc.?


    As I'm sure you can see, there's a lot I don't know about off-camera flash, but it's something I'd really like to learn more about, and there are some very experience people here in this sub-forum who I hope will share their wisdom.

    Thank you for your help, and go easy on me ;)
     
  2. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    This is the best resource I know of for using flash: Strobist
     
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  3. SpecFoto

    SpecFoto Mu-43 Veteran

    314
    Aug 28, 2012
    So Cal
    Jim
    Question 1 can only be answered after answering questions 2-4. And you making a decision if you want full TTL or manual flash.
    Q2-Both. But TTL will be limited to Oly/Pany or some recent Chinese triggers claiming compatibility. With Oly/Pany, as you mentioned earlier, it is IR line of sight and therefore restricted. And outside, the sun will interfere with the IR even more to where I find it not worth it. With regards to the TTL Chinese versions, I do not own any, but read that reliability is from bad to worse in most cases.
    Q3-Both, depending upon the triggers you select. Having the flashes power adjustment on the trigger is definitely better. But maybe not if it is buried inside some complex menu system.
    Q4-Yes, but see below.

    Brief Synopsis: Every 3rd party TTL/HSS flash system is always made for Canon first, Nikon 2nd and usually stops there. Oly, Panasonic, Fuji and Sony compatibility have not even been afterthoughts, until just recently for Sony. You mentioned Pocket Wizard and years ago I invested in their Nikon iTTL system which allowed flash and HSS power adjustment from the trigger. But it took 2 years of development for them to come up with a Nikon system after releasing the original for Canon. Realize that these types of compatible systems have 3 or more pins on the trigger foot and a lot of time has been spent in digging into the Nikon or Canon proprietary flash software to make it work.

    Recently due to the popularity of the new Sony mirrorless, there are now firms working on TTL/HSS systems for Sony; Godox and their excellent Wistro lights V2, being one just announced for Sony this month. But as far as I know there is no reliable TTL or HSS off camera flash triggering system for Oly/Panasonic yet. Important word is reliable, as some are trying with limited success.

    My suggestion is to go manual for now and learn all about off camera flash that way. If you want to limit your investment, you can use your existing Panasonic flash, but need to forget about TTL for now as you should buy (non IR) radio triggers. (Panasonic flash should be able to do HSS with both cameras without the triggers). But you will need to adjust power manually as far as I know.

    For flash modifiers, a basic 3 in 1 umbrella is cheap $25 +/- and a great start. Also check out the pop up 24" soft boxes like Cheetah Q box or Lastolite Ezybox, while a bit more at near $110, they provide very nice light that can be directed, especially if you get the snap in grids. (Grid included with Q box, extra with Lastolite). And both come with mounting hardware and brackets for speedlights included. (Edit) Or get the Cheetah version with the Godox S type bracket, it works with all speedlights and mounts directly to the pop up boxes, plus it folds flatter than the L type brackets these normally come with. The S bracket also mounts with many other types of light modifiers, should you decided to upgrade later.

    Speedlight type flash units have limited power output, usually about 50 to 70 watt seconds (ws) depending. Most professionals for in-studio use want 500ws to 1,200 ws for their monolights, so you can see speedlight flash are very limited. I do a lot of flash outdoors and have speedlights at 70ws and bare bulb flash units at 160ws and 320 ws. You really need, at minimum, 320ws in most cases to equalize the sun. I rarely use my speedlights for anything more than a hair light or backdrop light nowadays. So if you can afford it and want to get serious, look at higher output system that provide 320 true ws or more. After having Alien Bees for years, I settled on the Godox Wistro flash 2-1/2 years ago (AKA Cheetah AD360 or Adorama Flashpoint 360) and love them, it is so easy to adjust power on the flash from the trigger, they are extremely reliable and somewhat easy to transport.
     
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2016
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  4. Klorenzo

    Klorenzo Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 10, 2014
    Lorenzo
    I think this is correct but consider that the "pre-flash" trigger from the camera can bounce around and go to the flash. I used the FL-300 indoor with the camera behind it, both pointing in the same direction. On the Olympus you can control up to three flash group plus the one on the camera. In practice it's not as bad as it may seem, indoor at least. I'd give it a try.

    Otherwise you need a wireless trigger. I've got the cheapest I could find (Neewer, $15), it works but today I'd look for something a little better (Yongnuo?) or at least take a 2 receivers pack with the hot-shoe on top.
    The one I got prevents the pop-up flash on the E-M10 from opening, the same may happen with the GH4. So better look for a vertical one IF you want to use a mixed setup: some flash RC controlled from the camera and some wireless controlled (as I was trying to do, one is a very old Metz).
    Do not know about more expensive models.
     
  5. SpecFoto

    SpecFoto Mu-43 Veteran

    314
    Aug 28, 2012
    So Cal
    Jim
    Yes, it can work fine indoors, but the TTL line of sight is pretty restricted. See the diagram below. (While this is from Nikon CLS flash, it is the same for Oly/Panasonic. I just couldn't find the Oly diagram in the manual.) It pretty much eliminates the flash being at the side of the camera, or behind it, unless you use a flash mounted on camera and turn it so the pre-flash hits the off-camera flash sensor. Then where you place your 2nd or 3rd light possibly becomes an issue. If you are in an area with white walls, low ceilings, or use a tall reflector on the non-flash side, this will help the pre-flash signal reach the other lights sensors.

    TTl Flash Restrictions.
     
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2016
  6. NY Gadget Guy

    NY Gadget Guy Mu-43 Regular

    48
    Mar 17, 2016
    The AK-TTL system allows any set of flash tube pulses to be converted to radio waves and then back into IR pulses fed into the slave flash. This solves the range and line-of-sight issues.
    It's a bit clumsy with the AK-TTL RX units Velcro'd to the side of each flash unit and the IR blaster attached to the front by a wire. However, if you need TTL, I think it's the only game in town for m43.

    I had a set, but found that manual power control was sufficient for my needs and went with Yongnuo YN560-III's instead.
     
  7. Holoholo55

    Holoholo55 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 13, 2014
    Honolulu, HI
    Walter
    I think going with TTL for multiple flashes would be a mistake. Too many unpredictable interactions would make it hard to get consistent results. Using manual flashes with wireless controllers like the Yongnuo flash/transmitters would be better and less frustrating in the long run.
     
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  8. specialagenttuna

    specialagenttuna Mu-43 Regular

    34
    Apr 19, 2013
    My recommendation would be Yongnuo YN560-tx and Yongnuo yn560-iv's. You'll get the ability to trigger multiple flashes and change your output for each one from the YN560-tx on camera. For a controlled environment like portraits and product photography, going manual will work best. I love TTL but it's easy to go without when shooting static once you get the hang of it. That setup with a few softboxes should get you setup to tackle most situations (I bought a Neewer 24x24 for $32 and it's very nice quality and came with a flash attachment) As far as I know, there isn't a TTL radio solution for m43 unfortunately. That's OK though because unless you're shooting something like a wedding where conditions change rapidly, you'll be fine. In my case, the usual Yongnuo rf603 that's recommended for being cheap, didn't work on my GX8 but the YN560-tx works on all my cameras (Nikon, Fuji and m43) no problem.

    Sent from my Nexus 6P using Tapatalk
     
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  9. Clint

    Clint Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 22, 2013
    San Diego area, CA
    Clint
    Let’s start with TTL – Olympus, Panasonic and Metz are compatible and work as expected. A single flash on the camera and bounced can execute some great photos, - see Neil van Niekerk’s web site. His Black Foamie Thing is key to stepping up a level in bounced flash.

    You’ll need Panasonic/Olympus/Metz wireless flash system for Super Focal Plane flash (Super FP), Olympus’s terminology for high speed sync.

    Quantum Instruments is the only other maker of a TTL radio based system that is consistent and reliable, but also very intensive to learn, use, and on the billfold. Because of the external batteries they use, they need to be used at a minimum of every three months.

    I have not seen enough positive and consistent reviews of any other Panasonic/Olympus TTL system that has made it worth my time to spend and try.


    About Wireless Flash – Yes wireless flash is by IR, but not necessarily line of site. As long as the remote unit can see the IR signal (direct or reflected) they will work. I can effectively use them in bright sunlight; they need to be relatively close to the master unit. And inside I have shot up to 45 feet away. They work better than most people suggest.


    TTL vs Manual – For advanced flash photography you will want to learn manual flash principals as with multiple flashes if you use TTL, you really only want one flash in TTL. Like in taking photos, manual gives you total control. TTL is great for on the go like shooting events. Studio/product photography, not so much.


    Since you already have three flash units (including the little one that came with E-M1) I’d start experimenting with it and the other flashes. With it you can control flash power, modes, and flash exposure compensation from the E-M1. I actually use this type of setup quite a bit doing quick environmental portraits. Sometimes that small flash just doesn’t provide enough IR light for the remotes so I mount a FL-600R on the camera as a Master. If I’m not in shade outside the FL-600R is mounted.

    If this pretty much works for a specific set of needs I’d look for a used Olympus FL-50R or Metz 58 AF1 or 2 flash unit – or if spendy buy a Metz 64 AF-1. All three are top of the line flash units and will take a sync and have a high power option (although it is next to impossible to find a cable for the FL-50R.) These keep you with the TTL/Super FP Flash capabilities.

    Other equipment -
    If you move to syncs your current flash units do not have sync, so you will need hot shoe adapters to be able to add syncs.

    There is a whole slew of inexpensive synchs out there and a lot of opinions. I have some Paul C Buff syncs, CyberSync Receivers - CSRB receivers and a CyberSync Trigger Transmitter that were fairly priced, small, work consistently, reliably, really tough, and mine have lasted years.

    You will also want some light stands, umbrella adapters, and cold shoes for your flashes if use umbrellas.

    I’d recommend your first:
    • Lightstand - be a Manfrotto 5001B 74-Inch Nano Stand or similar; small, compact, very portable and when you need more can be repurposed as backlight stand or other uses.
    • Umbrella Adapter - Manfrotto 026 Swivel Lite-Tite Umbrella Adapter (good ones are worth the money)
    • Cold Shoe – a Frilo
    • Umbrella - Westcott 2011 43" White Umbrella, Collapsible (folds small, is a shoot through or reflective, and has a black covering that can be partially removed.
    All of this can fit into a small travel sized tripod case!

    Start simple, learn and then grow. Too many try to start with multiple units and the problems can drive you crazy.
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2016
  10. Holoholo55

    Holoholo55 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 13, 2014
    Honolulu, HI
    Walter
    The Strobist site that Phocal recommended does have a lot of information and he makes specific recommendations for starter flash sets. You already have some flashes that you can use in manual in IR wireless mode, but since they're all different, it will take some testing and experimentation to learn how to use them in multi-flash setups. I don't know much about that, so can't give any specific suggestions.

    The Strobist recommends LumoPro flashes and Phottix triggers for good reasons. But, I'm probably on a Yongnuo budget. :) One nice thing about the Yongnuo setup is that you can control each flash from the trigger without having to go to each unit to adjust the output. That facilitates quick setups.
     
  11. acnomad

    acnomad Mu-43 Veteran

    284
    Jan 5, 2016
    Andy
    I'm interested in using off-camera fill flash for shooting in daylight, so maintaining faster shutter speeds is a priority.

    Question for E-M1 users: do you find that the 1/320 sync speed is preserved using third party remote trigger solutions, or have you found that you're only getting 1/125?

    Current gear: E-M1, LM-2 kit flash, Sunpak PowerZoom 4000AF.

    Specifically, would a wired solution such as the Lumopro Universal Translator to use a non-Olympus flash off-camera limit the flash sync to 1/125? Would wireless solutions using the LM-2 as master and third party slave trigger allow 1/320 flash sync?
     
  12. wjiang

    wjiang Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    The 1/320s sync speed is the absolute maximum flash sync speed, I've only ever attained it with the FL-LM2 by itself, or by forcing it with a purely manual flash like the YN560. Units with TTL will force the camera to a lower supported sync speed, remote is often slower still. See this thread for some discussion on this regarding the E-M5, the E-M1 won't be any better in this respect as it's the flash itself that is throttling the camera.

    If you're planning on going manual (and it sounds like you are), 1/320s sync should be attainable. You might start to see some very slight edge darkening issues if you're using a wireless trigger, but it's not enough to worry about.
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2016
  13. Clint

    Clint Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 22, 2013
    San Diego area, CA
    Clint
    On the E-M1 -
    With Pocket Wizards Plus III and Cyber Syncs I get 1/320, 1/400mm with a very minimal band. With one specific PW transceiver in transmit only and the others in receive only, I can get 1/500 without banding - but I can't have the units to close nor to far from each other.

    With RC Mode you are limited to 1/250 unless you use Super FP flash. The Metz mecablitz 64 AF-1 puts out almost 1 stop more than the FL-50R in Super FP flash mode all the way upto 1/8000.
     
  14. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 All-Pro

    Oct 1, 2010
    USA
    Lots of good advice here. I would lean towards the suggestions that you start with manual flash exposure and a cheap set of radio triggers. My triggers (1 transmitter, 2 receivers) cost me just over twenty bucks as an Amazon "Warehouse Deal" aka customer return/open box.

    The reason is this: Often the first thing you buy just teaches you what you really wanted. That will probably be the case here. You may find that speedlights are underpowered for what you want to do, so decide to head towards monolights. Or you may want light modifiers that head you towards studio strobes of some type. It's unlikely but you may find that manual exposure control isn't for you (really it's easy) and decide to head toward TTL. You may find that you seldom or never actually use the flash gear you're now lusting for. So don't commit a lot of money at this point. Just buy something very simple and cheap, then start reading and experimenting.

    Incidentally, my cheapo triggers work fine with my 500ws Photogenic 1250DR monolights, soft boxes, grids, snoots, etc. It would be fun to own a set of Pocket Wizards but for what I do they would not improve the end result one whit. I think it's important to be able to recognize good enough when it comes along. You can save a lot of money.
     
  15. acnomad

    acnomad Mu-43 Veteran

    284
    Jan 5, 2016
    Andy
    I definitely agree, @oldracer@oldracer, that "good enough" needs to be the goal. My hope is to use the already-owned and fairly bright (by speedlight standards) Sunpak PZ 4000AF with the LumoPro wired hot shoe translators as a low tech fast shutter speed fill flash method. Alternatively, I would use the FL-LM2 to trigger the Sunpak if something like 1/250 speed can be achieved inexpensively. Still not 100% certain that the kit flash would be bright enough to optically trigger a slave in sunlit conditions. Also trying to avoid costly remote triggering gear.
     
  16. Clint

    Clint Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 22, 2013
    San Diego area, CA
    Clint
    If your PZ4000AF has a slave mode, just set it for slave and have the slave sensor facing towards where you are shooting from, fire your camera see if it works. I'd try in the house first, then the shade, then the bright sunlight. Outside I'd try at 4' > 5 1/2' > 8' > 11' and so on until you reach the maximum distance. Do this for directly into and away from the sun.

    You could always shoot wired with the translator kit, if you have the complete kit.

    And you don't need a lot of money to start with syncs - Newer has a set for $22.00 on Amazon that are fairly well rated.

    The difference between most Chinese versions and more expensive syncs are reliability, durability, and repairs if needed - all not needed when you are first starting.
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2016
  17. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 All-Pro

    Oct 1, 2010
    USA
    There seems to be some puzzlement about synch speeds. I'm about 99% sure, though, that we are still talking about our M43s all having focal plane shutters like we had on almost all of our film SLRs. (Hassy 500s being the most prominent exception.) Maybe it would be helpful to someone if I explain the mechanics:

    The language is this: "curtains" open and close a "window" in front of the film, aka sensor. There is a "first curtain" and a "second curtain."

    The first curtain opens to begin the exposure and the second curtain comes after the first curtain, closing the window to conclude the exposure. If you envision a fully open window after the first curtain moves, then a closed window after the second curtain, you have an accurate vision for slow shutter speeds. Unfortunately, the first curtain takes some time to move across and open the window. As desired shutter speeds increase, it becomes necessary for the second curtain to begin closing the window before the first curtain is done opening it. The result, at high shutter speeds, is basically a slit moving across the window.

    Strobes have flash durations measured in milliseconds, much faster than the shutter movements. So, if the flash fires when the window is fully open all is well. If it fires, however, when there is just a slit moving across the window, it is only the area of the sensor behind the slit that benefits from the illumination. If you have access to a 35mm film camera this is really easy to see. Just open the back, hook up a flash, and start watching the window, firing the flash while increasing the shutter speed. At the "X synch" (maximum strobe speed) speed all will be well, but at the next faster speed you will see only 1/2 or maybe 2/3 of the window opening. Finally, at 1/1000 you will see a slit.

    To put some numbers on it, shutters with curtains moving the long way across a 35mm sensor typically synched at 1/60 or (IIRC) a few rare ones at 1/80th. Think Nikon F. The Nikkormats had a different kind of shutter (Copal) that moved from top to bottom across the window. Since the curtains didn't have as far to move, synch speed moved up to 1/125. That was the Nikkormats claim to fame. The medium-format Bronica, with curtains that had to move 6cm, still managed 1/40th second X synch. For our little M43 sensors, the curtains move a significantly shorter distance compared to 35mm. So that's why we enjoy synch speeds of 1/250 or maybe Clint's 1/320.

    When manufacturers give us a synch speed of 250 they naturally enough have to be conservative so that number works across the range of camera production variations, across the temperature variations that they expect the camera to see in service, and across the performance declines that they expect as the camera is used and wears. So that's why, IMO anyway, some people are able to boast numbers faster than 1/250. Shooting an old camera outside in the winter with all the camera lubricants thickened up, the faster number may no longer be there.

    Now we also have High Speed Synch (HSS) a neat little trick to fool Mother Nature. HSS is a feature of the flash, not the camera. With HSS, the flash extends its normal few-milliseconds of light by repeatedly firing -- effectively extending flash duration. No free lunch here, though. The repeated firing eats more energy and cycle times get longer.

    There is a cute animation (and maybe a better explanation than mine) here: Demystifying High-Speed Sync | Fstoppers
     
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  18. wjiang

    wjiang Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Yip, we're all talking about the plain old sync speed - the only sync speed anybody talks about AFAIK, I don't see any evidence of confusion... Some flashes have worse delay or longer pulse duration (especially when in wireless RC mode) and hence force the camera to a lower fool proof sync speed. It's a bit misleading as the camera datasheet says 1/320s sync speed, how are you supposed to know which flashes can do it?

    HSS has another huge drawback - you can't freeze motion with the flash anymore as it turns into a constant light.
     
  19. acnomad

    acnomad Mu-43 Veteran

    284
    Jan 5, 2016
    Andy
    I don't think it has a sensor for slave mode. I'm guessing that the wired method offers the best reliability and sync speed. Is that right?
     
  20. wjiang

    wjiang Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    That's right, though you have to be careful with cable safety, lest your flash, camera and lens come tumbling down.
     
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