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STF-22 Macro Twin Flash Review

Discussion in 'Accessories' started by ckrueger, Jun 27, 2012.

  1. ckrueger

    ckrueger Mu-43 Veteran

    Jul 16, 2011
    Hey all, I recently bought an STF-22 to pair up with my Panasonic 45/2.8 and EM5 and thought you all might like to read a bit about it since it's a bit of a rare bird.

    I'm a long time Canon and Four Thirds shooter, and until recently used a Canon 100/2.8 and MT-24EX on my 5D2 for macro. It was a good kit, but very heavy and the OVF (and poor Live View) made framing at odd angles painful. I was happier with my EM5 and 45/2.8 and was getting by with my FL-36R on a homemade flash bracket, but I really missed the convenience of a twin flash. They're easier to handle than a heavy hotshoe flash hanging off the end of a long lever and they give a ton of control over lighting.

    Here's a pic of my new kit. EM5 with HLD6 grip, Panasonic 45/2.8 Macro, a 46->67mm step-up ring, and the STF-22 with the diffusers fitted:


    First impressions, the flash itself is very large. About the size of an FL-50R or 580EX, complete with (strangely, I thought at first) a rotating head. It's heavy like a full-size flash, too.

    The flash knobs on the back are "backwards" to me, like all Olympus flash equipment. Turning the wheels clockwise DECREASES FEC. This drives me NUTS.

    Ratio control can give you up to 8:1 bias in third stop increments, or turn one head off entirely. Having a wheel for the ratio control is handy, I will say. Much nicer than the buttons on my MT-24EX.

    The flash has assist lamps built into the flash heads. Coming from using the Canon MT-24EX where the lamps were external to the flash heads this is very nice; my diffusers often blocked the lamps on my Canon flash, but I don't have that problem with the STF-22. You can also configure the lamps to stay on for a full minute at a time. MUCH nicer than the Canon lamps, which somehow always stayed on for exactly one second less than you needed them. I miss the Canon's ability to turn the lamps on with a double-half-tap on the shutter, but I'll take this trade-off happily.

    Moving to the body of the unit, the cables connecting the body to the head are long, very thick and not very flexible. This has been my biggest complaint shooting with the flash. The cables constantly get in the way when reframing for a vertical shot. You have to tilt the flash body up to rotate the heads to 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock, or the cables block you from rotating the heads. And tilting the body up makes the unit top-heavy. This probably wasn't as big a deal on a big body like the E-3, but on the EM5 it makes it a bit awkward to shoot in portrait orientation.

    The STF-22's ring has a 67mm screw that you can attach directly to a lens. My 100-300 is my only lens with a 67mm thread. I do most of my macro on my 45/2.8 so I bought a 46->67mm step-up ring on eBay, which was the only place I could find one, except for a very overpriced one at B&H.

    Once tightened securely to a lens you notice the ring is a two-piece design. The part on the lens remains fixed while the part the heads connect to rotates. There are stops at 90° increments, so you can quickly reposition the heads between landscape and portrait. The ring has some friction that keeps it in place between those increments if you don't move it too violently.

    Permanently attached to the ring are the two flash cold shoes. These can be repositioned by squeezing and turning them along the ring, and there's a button on the front to release the head from the ring entirely. You could attach an FL-36R to one of these shoes if you are clinically insane. :) 

    The heads themselves are very nice. They have a flash tube and four LED lamps inside and a groove to slide a (supplied) diffuser in front of the head. They have plenty of tilt control and even rotate. They have a tripod thread too, in case you need to use them for studio macro shooting (although the length of the cords would limit your positioning).

    That's pretty much it for the unit itself. How is it to use? Great, with some caveats. First the negatives:

    1) I had a hard time guessing how the flash would meter. I got a lot of exposures 1-3 stops under what I expected, and I wasn't sure why. I don't know if it's the flash or me. I need a lot more experience to make that judgment.

    2) The flash cables are sometimes infuriating. They are always in the way, and left me wishing Oly had a wireless system like Nikon's R1C1. If I could pay an extra $200 on top of this unit's cost for wireless, I'd do it.

    3) The unit is fairly heavy. It's still much lighter than my Canon kit overall, but the flash itself isn't any smaller. The flash recycles very quickly, so I wouldn't mind having a lighter unit with two AA's instead of four.

    4) The dials being "backwards" drives me crazy, just like my FL-36R. I've been using Oly flashes for years and I just can't get used to it. I really wish Oly had given us the option to toggle the direction.

    5) Not a complaint about the STF-22, but I can't miss an opportunity to whine about the EM5's lack of ISO100 and the pain that it makes shooting macro in daylight with a flash. I sure wouldn't mind a faster sync speed!

    Now that the negatives are out of the way…. I really like this flash! Let me count the ways:

    1) The diffusers Just Work; I get good diffuse light at 1:1 all the way out to non-macro distances. I doubt I'm going to have to screw around with a bunch of add-on diffusers like I did with my Canon kit. WONDERFUL.

    2) The flash has plenty of power. Follow-up shots for timid bugs are no problem so long as you turn off LCD review on the camera. It is quick to recharge even shooting indoors. Shooting ISO200 f/16 in low light at 1:1 the flash just keeps going and going at its maximum 2fps-ish.

    3) Like I said earlier, the assist lamps are awesome. Plenty bright, and I've got them set to stay on for a long time. Drains battery a bit, but I've got a bunch of AA's. :) 

    4) Removable flash heads give me tons of control over the light. I went out shooting at a local botanical garden and it was handy to remove one flash head and position it by hand. I put it behind leaves to backlight them, or just out of frame and to the side to give a strong sidelight to add more definition to edges.

    5) The heads are fairly easy to reposition around the ring, and with the generous tilt and rotation of the heads I never had any problems getting the light exactly where I wanted it. (Well, when the cables weren't in the way).

    6) The flash heads have a wide throw, at least with the diffusers mounted. Out of habit when I got the STF-22 I would constantly reposition the heads when changing focus distance, as the MT-24EX had a very narrow throw and required careful head positioning. Turns out the STF-22 spreads the light around enough that I only had to touch the heads if I was shooting a foot away or more. This made my life a lot easier.

    Overall I'm very happy shooting with this new kit. The STF-22 is a good performer, but that's only half the story. The EM5 is a great macro camera, with its bright tilt LCD, usable AF at macro ranges (I used AF a LOT, which I couldn't do with my 5D), and huge tonal range. And the 45/2.8 is a great lens, with a nice working distance, great build quality (important with a flash hanging off it), nice smooth focus ring, and excellent IQ, all in a tiny package. The kit dwarfs my GF3 and 14/2.5, but it's still a ton smaller and lighter than my old Canon kit, which is great news for my wrist, which was often sore after a day's macro shooting at weird angles. I wish I had it years ago.

    Here's some pictures from my first day out shooting with the STF-22:

    The EM5's quick 2x crop is handy here to nail focus:

    This is a heavy crop. The EM5 holds detail at 100% better than my EP3 does, and pulls back an oversaturated color channel with much less color shift:

    This one has a flash head handheld just to the left of the frame. AF makes this a lot easier:

    I repositioned the left flash head below the lens here to shoot into the flower:

    Outdoors the flash is useful to add add some definition to what would have been flat lighting in the shade:

    The twin heads can help keep harsh directional shadows away:

    The EM5's LCD makes shooting bugs easier. I can watch the camera to make sure I don't bump a flower with the flash or shade the sun and scare my subject away:

    The flash heads aren't too harsh at a distance:

    Hooray for live view! I wouldn't go 1:2 with these guys on my 5D!

    See, flash lighting can be nice and soft. Who needs ambient?

    This guy was TINY. And timid. And very active. I don't know if I was at 1:1, but I was close. I wouldn't have gotten this shot before he escaped with my 5D's OVF:

    Bee hunting is much easier with live view. I found touch screen AF very handy shooting bees:

    Shooting water droplets everybody knows you're shooting with a twin flash!

    Thanks for reading! If you have any questions about the STF-22 don't hesitate to ask! There's not a lot of info out there, so I'm happy to help if I can.
    • Like Like x 8
  2. Sammyboy

    Sammyboy m43 Pro

    Oct 26, 2010
    Steeler Country
    I've been waiting for your review, very well written and quit accurate. I agree the cords are often in the way, and maybe a little too stiff. I'm glad to hear you like the STF-22 flash, and by looking at your examples, I'm sure you will be making the most of it. Very nice photo's. By the way, the guys at the research center are going to slightly modify the cold shoes (drill a small hole to accept the locking pin) to allow twin FL-300R's to be mounted and go the wireless route using an E-M5 with the FL-LM2 mini flash as the commander. Thanks for the great review.
  3. Justified_Sinner

    Justified_Sinner Mu-43 Regular

    Feb 11, 2010
    Scotland, UK
    Dauvit Alexander
    Thanks SO much for that. I bought one of these units second hand and have been puzzling about how to use it properly. This has given me some great ideas!
  4. ckrueger

    ckrueger Mu-43 Veteran

    Jul 16, 2011
    Thanks, Sammy. And thanks for setting me straight about using this flash on M43. I had read it wasn't compatible and had written it off until you informed me it does indeed work.

    Using FL-300R's on the thing sounds like a dream to me. I'm curious if the small heads and low power might make it difficult to diffuse, however. And daylight might make the optical sync a bit iffy. Still, I think it's worth a shot, because a ring and two FL-300R's are still pretty cheap, especially with all the FL-300R's coming on the market via EM5 rebates.

    Justified_sinner, happy to help! For some real fun, hold a flash head in your left hand and move it around while shooting. The angle and distance of the flash head can have a huge effect on the image. You can light directly behind a small subject for a silhouette. You can light behind and off-angle for rim lighting. You can put the light just out of frame to the side for nice edge definition (like I did in the pic with the small red flowers). And varying the distance makes the light more or less soft by changing the apparent size of the light source.

    You can also do a lot of cool stuff with gels. Buy one of these:

    Rosco Roscolux Swatch Book,Small Sampler of Filter 8807

    They're a great bargain for macro shooters; any color gel you could ever want and plenty big for your flash heads. Cut them to fit the flash head and slide them behind your diffuser. You can then use one flash as your main light and the gelled flash as a colored accent light. Works great if you want to throw a warm or cool cast on your subject. (Don't bother doing both heads the same unless you're trying to match some other light source.)
  5. DeeJayK

    DeeJayK Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Feb 8, 2011
    Pacific Northwest, USA
    Great review and amazing results! Thanks for posting this.
  6. ckrueger

    ckrueger Mu-43 Veteran

    Jul 16, 2011
    Thanks! Happy to help, it's a great unit, and if you're an avid macro shooter you'll have a lot of fun with it.
  7. AL904

    AL904 Mu-43 Regular

    Mar 29, 2012
    Jacksonville Beach, Florida
    Allen Forrest
    I just received a used Olympus STF-22 Kit that I bought online. I also purchased the Olympus FR-2 Adapter to use the kit with my Oly 60mm macro lens. When I opened the box, printed an Olympus manual for the kit, and checked out my STF-22, I realized that the two FDT-1 Diffusers were missing. I looked all over the web including the GetOlympus site, and could find no one selling those diffusers. I even called Olympus parts and accessories department to find that they no longer carried them. I called the store where I had bought the used kit, and they couldn't help, so they issued me a return authorization.

    I would really prefer to keep the used STF-22 kit (in excellent condition and about $200 less than the new ones,) but would want to use diffusers on the flashes. Does anyone know of any replacement diffusers that will work in place of the Olympus FDT-1 diffusers?

    Can anyone offer me any advice?
  8. ckrueger

    ckrueger Mu-43 Veteran

    Jul 16, 2011
    I don't have a specific model that might attach directly to the head, but any old diffusion material could be taped onto the heads to get the same (well, better) effect as the FDT-1. Just cut a piece a little larger than the head in both dimensions, bow it a bit, and tape the ends to the flash head. It's not as sturdy as a plastic diffuser, but it's a lot cheaper and it's a guaranteed fit.
  9. AL904

    AL904 Mu-43 Regular

    Mar 29, 2012
    Jacksonville Beach, Florida
    Allen Forrest
    Thanks, ckrueger!

    I appreciate your response, but I'm not very handy doing that type of thing, and don't feel comfortable with that solution. I will return my used STF-22 to the seller for a refund and decide what to do instead.

    My dilemma should probably be a warning to everyone with a STF-22 as well as those considering that flash to be very careful with their diffusers. To replace a lost or damaged diffuser one would have to buy a new pair of heads.
  10. fsuscotphoto

    fsuscotphoto Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 15, 2013
    St. Cloud, FL
    Great review, just too rich for occasional use. Maybe I can find a used one.....
  11. Dave in Wales

    Dave in Wales Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 5, 2011
    West Wales
    I have the other half, the ring flash STF-11 I think it's called.
    Tell me please do the two flashes maintain full TTL function when used with stopped down legacy lenses.
    I'm assuming that because the control unit is the same for both systems the function of two flashes and the ring flash would be the same.
    If you have a legacy lens handy perhaps you would be kind enough to try it out.
    I wish to use the RF with a stopped down lens in reverse on bellows.
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