White Balance for the flashbulb aficionados.


Mu-43 All-Pro
Jan 14, 2018
A few years back I had to shoot fashion in waterfalls. I learned from a Playboy photographer that electronic flash was a mess when he did it and they had to go to HMI lights, generators, and reflectors. He was right as I tried being cheap and found the short-duration electronic burst freezes the fall's droplets into a "Salt and Pepper" effect and not the smoothness one expects with flowing water. Anything light-colored or skin appeared to have black pepper sprinkled all over the place due to refraction of the flash on water.

So I had to try using longer-duration flashbulbs from Ireland (Meggaflash PF-330 that burns for ~2 seconds.). Even filtering to daylight WB, they seemed to be warmer than the electronic flash and much easier to edit and print too. Much better skin tones which peaked my curiosity a bit on the old bulbs.

I got some old Sylvania M3B bulbs and experimented with them on the Nikon Z7 II since it allows one to manually dial in the WB in ten degree Kelvin increments, where Olympus has manual jumps of 200 K and not fine enough for the comparison WB test.

What I found was the Blue Daylight M3B flash bulbs were indeed warmer by 550K than my electronic. The two images below are from RawDigger Profiler's RAW>TIFF output from the Nikon NEF images. No editing, just the RAW images from the body. Left is the Adorama Xplor 600 TTL Pro which was zeroed in RGB at 5,450K, and the right one from the M3B bulb which was warmer at 4,900K. Very close once WB is nulled for the RGB on the Nikon's Brightness+RGB histogram on its LCD.

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Below is the straight JPG from Nikon's NX Studio as to what the x-rite SG color card above should look like.

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So if you thought your old flashbulb family photos looked better, they probably were warmer in color to what your later electronic flashes did. Old wet lab processing had little they could do beyond the Kodak Calibration Strips in the old color processors. What you shot is what you got.

Fwiw, I had to fire the bulbs manually while tripping the Nikon shutter for one second much like olden times.
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