Us­ing the Built-in Flash of your D-SLR ( Part III)

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In Part II ( SP, March2012) of this se­ries you saw how you can build a multi-flash setup us­ing ded­i­cated strobes. This ar­ti­cle will guide you on how to do a sim­i­lar set up us­ing non-ded­i­cated strobes. The main ad­van­tage of non-ded­i­cated strobes is that they are very in­ex­pen­sive. If you com­pare two strobes, one ded­i­cated and one non-ded­i­cated, with same guide num­ber, the cost of the lat­ter will be only about 20 per­cent of the for­mer. This is quite a com­pelling rea­son. Plus, since they are non-ded­i­cated they will work even if you change your cam­era brand!


Here is one pre­cau­tion that you must take. Never con­nect (ei­ther on a hot shoe or through a PC cord) a nonded­i­cated strobe on your pre­cious D-SLR as it may fry the elec­tron­ics of your cam­era due to in­com­pat­i­ble trig­ger volt­ages. If you have to con­nect a non-ded­i­cated flash, use a de­vice called Safe-sync which will re­duce the trig­ger voltage to ac­cept­able lev­els and thus pre­vents any dam­age to your cam­era. How­ever, a non-ded­i­cated strobe can be used per­fectly safely with your D-SLR, if your cam­era’s builtin flash is used to trig­ger it re­motely. In prin­ci­ple, this is how a non-ded­i­cated multi-flash setup op­er­ates. Your D-SLRS built-in flash sends out a pulse of light when you press the shut­ter re­lease. This light pulse will be de­tected by the op­ti­cal sen­sors of the slave strobes and they will in turn fire. How­ever, there are many other vari­ables that come into play. As you read through the rest of the ar­ti­cle, you will learn how to build a nonded­i­cated multi-flash setup and trig­ger it us­ing your D-SLRS built-in flash. Due to the non-ded­i­cated na­ture of the strobes you will not have the fol­low­ing fea­tures:

No TTL or any other type of au­to­ma­tion. Only man­ual op­er­a­tion is pos­si­ble. No mod­el­ling func­tion. Sus­cep­ti­ble to false trig­ger­ing (that is, your strobes may get trig­gered by some­one else’s flash and you may sim­i­larly, but un­in­ten­tion­ally trig­ger some­one else’s strobes).

No re­mote op­er­a­tion. You need to go near the slave strobes to ad­just the out­put level. Let us look at some of the fea­tures your D-SLR built-in flash and strobes must have in­order to use it in such a setup.

First and fore­most, your cam­era’s built-in flash should op­er­ate in man­ual mode. Cam­eras that have this fea­ture are – Canon 7D, 60D and 600D and all Nikon DSLRS with built in flash.

It will also help if your cam­era’s builtin flash has vari­able power in man­ual mode as you can ad­just the out­put level to what you want, to fit in the over­all light­ing scheme apart from just trig­ger­ing the slave units. Vari­able power will also help to set the built-in flash to min­i­mum out­put level in case you are us­ing it to just to trig­ger the slave units but not as a part of the over­all il­lu­mi­na­tion.

Your slave strobes them­selves should also have vari­able power out­put. You will also need a tri­pod adapter in case you want to mount the slave on a tri­pod for easy po­si­tion­ing of the slave ( Picture 1).

The slave strobe must have an op­ti­cal sen­sor to sense the light pulse from your built-in flash and fire. If it does not, then you need to buy an ex­ter­nal op­ti­cal sen­sor and mount the strobe on it. ( Picture 2)

The slave strobe should have a tilt swivel head. The op­ti­cal sen­sor of the slave strobe should face and have a line of sight view with the built-in flash of your D-SLR for proper trig­ger­ing. Hence, hav­ing a tilt swivel head on the slave strobe will greatly sim­plify the po­si­tion­ing of the slave.

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