ISO flash issues (ala Minolta 4000AF use)
One of the fellow SONY users called me, today, asking about the use of the older 4000AF electronic flash, which he had acquired quite cheaply and in relatively great condition. This flash was the mainstay telescoping unit for the Minolta Maxxum 9000 system. Very powerful and, of course, the precursor to the current SONY 56/58 designs. Unfortunately, it suffers from having an ISO-style flash foot. The Minolta FS-1100 Hot-shoe adapter takes care of this issue, if you can locate one.
Anyway, the 4000AF still lost favor with the future Minolta users, as it did not have the infra-red pre-flash recognition, and, in short, it screws up the flash timing all to hell.
In other words, the Minolta 4000AF flash will NOT optically sync with the SONY flashes (36, 42, 43, 56, 58) because of the infra-red pre-flash built into them. SONY/Minolta purposely put this in their NEW design (1995), so that other photographer's non-SONY flash systems would not interfere with the SONY flash isolation. Hence the timing issue: The 4000AF does not properly synchronize with this post-4000AF era pre-flash. As such, there is a timing delay that does not allow the sync between the two flashes and the camera will miss any light coming from a remote/slave ISO-type flash, because it 'went off' too soon. I know this sucks and I fought with it, a couple years ago, in the studio, when I realized I was not getting all the light I believed I had. I had two 4000AF strobes... and never saw the illumination from either one, with them pointed right at the camera, because the mirror was still down, when they went off. The villain: Pre-flash! Over the course of the past eight years, I have three entirely different flash systems coupled with the possibility of using three different wireless triggers that I have... and it gets a little tough to remember all these timing issues between them.
Now, with my hot-shoed Metz 76 MZ5 flash (which is not a SONY product, but which is set up for SONY use with its proper TTL hot-shoe adapter), it DOES optically sync (using a standard ISO-optical trigger adapter) on the foot of the 4000AF flash, so there are no pre-flash timing issues built into it. All is well. You then have so much light, you go blind. It's amazing. Now, admittedly, having to buy a Metz 76 to do this is kind of self-defeating. It is not an inexpensive device, but since I have one... it's nice to know what I can do with it. It marries right up to the two 4000AFs... and like I said, you can get these powerful "now-slave flashes" relatively cheap. But, what this expensive flash introduces is a way that you might be able to use ANY standard ISO flash on the SONY hot shoe (using the FS1100-type adapter) as your flash sync source for the 4000AFs to trigger remotely and at the proper time. What I am saying is that you will not be using any of the standard SONY electronic flashes (36, 42, 43, 56, 58) or the Alpha's "pop-up flash" as the trigger source, because of their inherent pre-flash timing issue. I mean, the flash duration speeds we are talking about are 1/6000th of a second. Their business is long done before that shutter ever opens.
I mean, it really is a can of worms, because most people are just learning about flash timing, when they add these devices, and then SONY/Minolta throws this infra-red pre-flash crap in the works. To be honest, I'm not really sure there are that many people that actually understand the true difficulties, if you even tried to explain it to them. It took a while to write this and get it to read straight. You are dealing with the "Mind of Don Schap." and my personal interpretation of these flash events.
Any other solutions are invited. Thank you.
Additional info (when using advanced featured cameras)
Upon an even closer look at this "problem"... I found that two of the SONY DSLR/DSLT cameras (a700, a77) have "Flash Control", featuring "Manual Flash."
The other lesser models (a65, a5x, a5xx, a4xx, a3x, a3xx) do not have this setting available to them.
By using this menu setting and the use of a optical "slave" trigger adapter on the Minolta 4000AF, this feature can get the remote/slave flash to synchronize properly.
Again, this is ONLY available on the 7-series cameras, using the pop-up flash as your sync source. Even cheap has a price.
Some reflective thoughts about flash photography
To begin with, this posting is not to be considered authoritative, but more of a friendly observation that has taken place over the past several years, using electronic flash. Hopefully, it will touch on some experiences you may have already had and can relate to.
Because of the improved ISO response in the newer cameras, the need for true flash support has been somewhat reduced, but if you are looking for that crisp, "professional" look in your portrait images, ambient light (the light in the room) is often too random and weak to provide it.
Back when I invested in SONY's base solution to flash photography, I became aware of just how much using a flash attachment (anything providing light outside the camera's own body) was actually "limiting" in nature to photography. Not only does a flash's brilliant 6000K not mix well with ambient lighting 3200K, it's a true challenge to try and mix the two.
"White Balance" - What kind of light is in play?
A quick standard for lighting. The type of light is measured in degrees Kelvin. Rather than get into what differentiates degrees Kelvin from degrees Fahrenheit, just assume it is another scale... just for lighting compatibility. Keep it simple.
Incandescent (Tungsten) Indoor Lighting - 3200K
Typical Office (Fluorescent) Lighting (w/o color correction) - 4400K
Typical Flash Lighting - 6000K
Outdoor Sunlight - 6100K
If you examine the settings of your DSLR camera, it usually offers "white balance" based on where you are. "AWB" stands for the [i]Auto White Balance[i] setting, in which a sensor inside the camera determines the type of light the lens is seeing, before the shot is actually taken. For many situations, this is fine, but then again, there are those mixes that drive a photographer and his camera nuts.
The manufacturers have tried to keep it simple, as there are icons of different lighting situations, so that you can manually lock down the type of light you are in, when AWB gets confused and you resultant images look ghastly or incorrect. With that lighting-type or "White Balance" setting you are telling the camera what K-temperature of light it can expect to "see." As you can probably tell from the K-temps, shooting flash in the outdoors really has only a small change... so your subject's whites stay... white, when you flash them. Simple.
When you step inside, though, to an artificial source of light, suddenly the color of things shift. If you manually change the white balance setting of the camera to the "Tungsten" or "Indoor" setting, if you use your flash, everything will shift to a blue tint. If you left the camera "white balance" setting to "outdoors" or "Daylight" and use the flash, everything the flash hits will look white, but those lights and things not illuminated directly, by the flash, will be tinged yellow. An ugly mix, to be sure. If you were to shut off these extra "ambient lights", that would help, but if you can put a color correction filter (a thin film of yellow plastic) over your flash, that will change the flash's color temperature from its typical 6000K color to the 3200K, which is a whole lot simpler and no one gets hurt, due to a lack of lighting.
Again, you have more than likely seen this effect.
What you are often left with is a "flash experiment", asking yourself, as you take the images:
- Was there enough light? Too much? Can you control the amount of flash?
- Are you too close? Too far? (there's just not enough flash power to make the shot)
Note: Most pop-up flashes have an effective maximum range of 7-feet. (If you fall down and reach out your arm, where your fingers touch, that's about it)
- Is the "White Balance" setting correct? AWB? Daylight? Shade? Cloudy? Tungsten? Fluorescent? Flash? Specified color K-temp?
I suggest starting with AWB... and see if it looks "whacky."
- Then look close at your test shot and quickly determine who has to be reseated because of "forced" shadows caused by the introduction of the flash?
- Do you need more flash angles? Yeah, some people have more than one flash.
Really, it can be frustrating adding just this "little more" light. It also can be tremendously advantageous to "fill" flash, especially when you have strong background light and under normal ambient light shooting, your subject has become a shadow of their former self.
What I am getting to is the "Pandora's box" that you open when you are trying to do "good work" by altering or enhancing the light. Normally, light sources do not play well with each other, when you look at the resultant image. Chances are, you will easily spend 50-100x more time setting up your light, than actually framing and taking the shot.
Again, you can cut this set-up time down by doing some actually "flash experiments" with your camera before putting some poor, living thing (human, animal or whatever is defined as life) through your learning cycle. An inanimate object of similar size will not complain as you set-up your illumination sources.
If you found this confusing, I apologize. It is a can of worms, because it just proves that one lighting solution does not fit all.
Most of all, just have fun and do the best you can. Awareness is key.