Olympus Flashes for (nimble) Macro photography

L0n3Gr3yW0lf

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Just got inspired when I saw a few Olympus FL-36 (non R) flashes going dirt cheap on eBay and my soon to buy Olympus 60mm f 2.8 Macro. But first some background: I have literally no experience with Flash and Artificial Lights (LEDs, Lamps, Soft Boxes, Radio Triggers, etc). Like my allergy to tripods, I have stayed away from Flashes for so long that I actually never owned one. I'm more into documentary style of photography so I try not to modify the environment or the behavior of the subject or be an influence on the subject (though it's not always possible, actively or not).
But after getting excited by the very good semi-macro capabilities of Olympus 12-40mm Pro and growing interest into 60mm Macro I was thinking of trying to get some extra light BUT I want to be as least intrusive as possible (aka huge flashes, level of power to eradicate/blind critters, etc :p ).
And I want to do it in 2 steps, first, one is portable and nimble out in the fields, get in, take the shots and bounce out to not cause to much stress or harm to the local wildlife. I was thinking of something in the lines of Olympus FL-LM3 for its small size but also weather-sealing and wireless function (if need be) plus either an LED lamp (with temperature and power levels) or one of the old(er) FL-36R or 50R. I would like to stay within a reasonable budget (around 200£ for the light setup) for experimenting and experience gathering ^ _ ^
Step two would be preparations for the winter. With the extremely depressing weather and dark clouds, very short days and my night owl life (because of my job) winters have become quite unbearable on me as my photography plummets to less than a few hundred shuts between late November and early March every year now. So I want to start indoor projects during those times and getting quite excited about ideas like UV reactive minerals, food coloring drops in waters, and a few other ideas. But I will need to use artificial light so I should start learning more about them (in the past I always found these articles overwhelming and hard to keep up with).
Suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

A few questions: can anyone confirm some compatibility between FL-LM3 with old or new Olympus flashes I could try with (most compatibility on the internet talks about the flash itself with cameras and not other flashes), any LED lamps that people might recommend (maybe someone used them for macro specifically), any guidance on third party flash usage (these ones seem even more difficult to keep up with in terms of compatibility), also has anyone tried continuously LED illumination for focus bracketing/stacking?

Current/immediate future gear I'm going to use: Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III, Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II, Olympus 12-40mm f 2.8 Pro, Olympus 60mm f 2.8 Macro, Olympus 30mm f 3.5 Macro.
 

junkyardsparkle

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First a disclaimer: the following thoughts assume that by "macro" you mean stuff in the 1:2 - 1:1 range, as opposed to "flower pictures" (for purposes where the distinction matters).

For "nimble" handheld field macro, especially with potentially moving subjects, I suspect you'll find that flash works much better than "hot" lighting. The light demands of macro can be intense, and it's hard to meet them with LEDs while keeping reasonable ISO and shutter speeds. I'm not saying it's not possible, but it might be harder than you think. Since most of the subjects I find are either nocturnal or otherwise generally not found in well-lit places, I've made flash-based macro my primary focus, and messed around with different approaches here and there.

My first very general advice, especially if you're just getting started with providing your own lighting, would be to not initially invest in expensive Olympus flashes, but start out with some affordable stuff that will let you explore without much cash outlay... then, when you have a better understanding of exactly what you want in terms of size, power, and features you can shop for nicer stuff. OTOH, if you start out with some Godox (aka "flashpoint" from Adorama) stuff, you might like it so much you decide to stick with it... it's pretty universally accepted as being the current bang-for-the-buck winner, and may be one of the most versatile wireless systems at any price. There are quite a few threads here dedicated to their stuff.

Another reason you may decide you don't need OEM flashes for macro would be if you decide that TTL isn't really the way to go for that purpose. I personally hate the delay it causes when trying to snap the shutter at the critical moment when the focus-by-movement "clicks"... YMMV. Getting a feel for manual flash settings takes a little practice, but many people will tell you it's a skill worth developing, for various reasons beyond the one I just mentioned. Also, it becomes much less of an issue when you're working with more-or-less fixed distances, such as a camera-mounted flash and a lens set at a fixed magnification... it can be almost set-and-forget, other than when changing aperture.

Keeping a small LED torch/flashlight strapped to you flash head can help with a number of things... light for focus, first of all... but also help with modeling the effect of the lighting on the scene before the flash pops... especially when you're using the flash off-camera. I'm actually in the process of building a new diffuser right now, largely for the purpose of better integrating with the attached torch/flashlight. There's a thread here for sharing ideas about making/using light modifiers for macro, btw. I'm a little bit biased, but I would say you're in for a lot of fun... :D
 

L0n3Gr3yW0lf

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First a disclaimer: the following thoughts assume that by "macro" you mean stuff in the 1:2 - 1:1 range, as opposed to "flower pictures" (for purposes where the distinction matters).

For "nimble" handheld field macro, especially with potentially moving subjects, I suspect you'll find that flash works much better than "hot" lighting. The light demands of macro can be intense, and it's hard to meet them with LEDs while keeping reasonable ISO and shutter speeds. I'm not saying it's not possible, but it might be harder than you think. Since most of the subjects I find are either nocturnal or otherwise generally not found in well-lit places, I've made flash-based macro my primary focus, and messed around with different approaches here and there.

My first very general advice, especially if you're just getting started with providing your own lighting, would be to not initially invest in expensive Olympus flashes, but start out with some affordable stuff that will let you explore without much cash outlay... then, when you have a better understanding of exactly what you want in terms of size, power, and features you can shop for nicer stuff. OTOH, if you start out with some Godox (aka "flashpoint" from Adorama) stuff, you might like it so much you decide to stick with it... it's pretty universally accepted as being the current bang-for-the-buck winner, and may be one of the most versatile wireless systems at any price. There are quite a few threads here dedicated to their stuff.

Another reason you may decide you don't need OEM flashes for macro would be if you decide that TTL isn't really the way to go for that purpose. I personally hate the delay it causes when trying to snap the shutter at the critical moment when the focus-by-movement "clicks"... YMMV. Getting a feel for manual flash settings takes a little practice, but many people will tell you it's a skill worth developing, for various reasons beyond the one I just mentioned. Also, it becomes much less of an issue when you're working with more-or-less fixed distances, such as a camera-mounted flash and a lens set at a fixed magnification... it can be almost set-and-forget, other than when changing aperture.

Keeping a small LED torch/flashlight strapped to you flash head can help with a number of things... light for focus, first of all... but also help with modeling the effect of the lighting on the scene before the flash pops... especially when you're using the flash off-camera. I'm actually in the process of building a new diffuser right now, largely for the purpose of better integrating with the attached torch/flashlight. There's a thread here for sharing ideas about making/using light modifiers for macro, btw. I'm a little bit biased, but I would say you're in for a lot of fun... :D

Thank you, this is exactly the kind of information I was looking for, and yes I am looking at 1:1 generally and possibly even more than that but that's for the mineral microphotography. I'm okay with Third-Party flashes, the FL-LM3 is still only my shopping basket because of its versatility and weather-sealing but I will definitely look into Godox as well.
I have a pretty good eye for exposure (not critical pin-point accuracy but I can guess about 80% close to ideal exposure settings) so once I get used to the power of the flash/s and the, absolutely, different world physics of super tiny (subjects) I think I can go without TTL.
Very nice point on the head strap flash ... I mean there's never enough accessories I am willing to strap to my head for photography :p
 

junkyardsparkle

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I have a pretty good eye for exposure (not critical pin-point accuracy but I can guess about 80% close to ideal exposure settings) so once I get used to the power of the flash/s and the, absolutely, different world physics of super tiny (subjects) I think I can go without TTL.
It's not too hard if you're good at estimating proportionate changes in distance... the rule of thumb is that light intensity falls off with the square of distance... in fact, the more collimated light from a bare flash head's fresnel does better than that, but it holds pretty true once you put a diffuser in front of it. If you double the distance, you kick the power up two stops, etc...
Very nice point on the head strap flash ... I mean there's never enough accessories I am willing to strap to my head for photography :p
Here's a quick shot of my two main flashes, in case that was hard to picture... AA for the big one and AAA for the little one:

f6281268.jpg
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Keeping elastic bands on the heads is actually useful for all kinds of things... holding gels or "black foamie things"... lessening the impact of little accidents... :rolleyes:
 
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Bushboy

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The feedback is instant anyway.
The flm3 is the place to start. Perfect for closeup. I made a snoot out of a cardboard toilet roll in less than a minute that worked so well. The little flash has tilt and swivel, so Velcro and a reflector is easy as. You can get the tiny cob led headlights for peanuts too. They’re decent. One of the Australian guys told me if I need more power, just up the iso. I tried this and it worked insanely good! That little flash impressed he’ll out of me with the 60mm macro lens. They was made for each other.
 

Bushboy

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Nearly forgot. Results sucked until I found the manual settings on the s.c.p. then I was away laughing.
 
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Like you, after a photographic lifetime of never using flash except for fill-in light on dark faces, I have - for the past two months - taken almost all the 'macro' photos I have posted here with the tiny GM5's little bundled flash, the FL70. It is powered by the camera battery, terribly small, and so far has done what I want (I hasten to add this does not stop me lusting after a bigger flash with more power or wireless capabilities). It syncs to 1/250, and I can alter aperture and ISO as wanted.

What is slightly more important - assuming you will start off along the same route, will be the way you spread that light though. Almost every thread or post I have ever read on the internet is all about the diffusion of that light, from Pringle snoots to complicated articulated snoots held in place by systems of a Heath Robinson mentality. It matters not what you use, just make plans to diffuse your light.

I am not experienced enough to offer you much advice, but there are others that will. One thing I can tell you is that the material for a vet's dog collar is perfect for those times when you want a diffusing screen. I added a little additional diffusion to the flash itself (a toothpaste cap with some foam inside) and the combination is fine for the sort of stuff I do. Stock up on elastic bands, zip-ties, velcro tape, scissors and keep all your clear tops. You'll need all of them :D

Screenshot 2020-06-29 at 09.40.56.png
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Below is a butterfly from yesterday (a speckled wood, in case you were wondering :)) that seems fine to me for my use - I think the little system is good enough for me for the time being and might be a useful example for you as something you could aim at to start with before spending hundreds on a flash system. Remember, size is important too (you used the word nimble), as sometimes you are putting your gear into the tiniest of corners between branches and leaves to get your shot (if you're after insects).... if I was using a Pringle snoot I would not get 70% of the shots I do (but mind you, I am using a 30mm lens so with the 60mm you might do much better).

Hope this helps in some small way.

P1260360_HDR.jpeg
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Stanga

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Keeping a small LED torch/flashlight strapped to you flash head can help with a number of things... light for focus, first of all... but also help with modeling the effect of the lighting on the scene before the flash pops... especially when you're using the flash off-camera.
That's a very good point, and one of the reason I use a Panasonic FL360 and a Meike MK320 flash. They both have a LED light option, which I use for the same purpose as what you use your torch for.
 

junkyardsparkle

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That's a very good point, and one of the reason I use a Panasonic FL360 and a Meike MK320 flash. They both have a LED light option, which I use for the same purpose as what you use your torch for.
Yeah, I burned through a couple of the Meikes... it was kind of a love/hate thing. I really like the way the LED is actually behind the fresnel, like a modeling light, but this seems to be a trade-off for not being able to adjust the beam spread of the flash (which is hardwired to very wide... and also very smooth, for whatever that's worth). The fact that it turns off with every shot is kind of inconvenient too... and the quality of the Meikes is a little bit sketchy... but I'd like to see more flashes with that kind of LED integration. I'm not familiar with the Pany... is the LED similarly in the head? If so, I'll have to look into it...
 

Stanga

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The Pana LED head is separate from the flash head. But you can get about six pieces of the Meike for one of the Panasonic...
 

junkyardsparkle

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What is slightly more important - assuming you will start off along the same route, will be the way you spread that light though.
Yeah, this is a deeeep rabbit hole, with a lot of optimizations for specific use cases and subjective preferences... which is kind of why I started a thread for that... please add that picture there when you get a chance! :D

But yes, photography is about light, and macro photography is a place where it's worth thinking more about light even if you didn't before, IMHO... little things become larger things.
 

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