What flashlight to buy? What will be better: manual or automatic? Is it worth investing in HSS?

Most cameras have built-in flash, so-called pop-up. However, this is usually low power and in addition the effects of using it are usually below expectations – on the order of the day is red eye, underexposure or overexposure or flattening of the image. We then stand before buying an external flash and usually fall into a reporter's lamp. What to pay attention when buying? What to avoid? Is it worth to buy a manual flash? What is HSS and is it worth it? These are just a few of the questions I answer in the material below.

How does the flash work?

The primary task of the flash is to illuminate the scenery. The lamp may be the only source of light in the frame, it may be next to the light, or only the backlight. You can freely use several or even a dozen flashlights in one shot. Everything depends on your needs and creativity. First, however, you need to know some basic concepts and functions related to the lamp. Absolutely the basic parameter of the lamps is their power, that is the number of conductors (GN) . This value is the distance in meters of the lamp from the object at which the appropriate amount of light is reached at ISO 100 and F1. This means that for the GN28 lamp at ISO 100 and the F2.8 aperture, we illuminate the object 10 meters away. For ISO200 it will be 20 meters, etc. When choosing a lamp you should choose the more powerful – there is always a spare and the lamp becomes more universal. TTL mode , or slot machine, is also important. There are several names for such modes, such as eTTL, iTTL, or ADI. Each of them means the same thing – the lamp itself adjusts its settings based on exposure measurement. This is useful when conditions may change during shooting, such as in a club. With TTL there are three more concepts – flash compensation, bracketing, and HSS. Flash compensation allows you to adjust the flash output. This gives a handful of manual control in TTL mode, because the machine can pick parameters badly, considering that it has too much or too little light and flashes too weak or too strong. Bracketing is nothing more than taking a few shots, each with a different flash force. This will then allow you to select a photo with optimal exposure. HSS , or high sync speed, is a fast shutter sync. Typically, the flash has a sync time of 1 / 250s, and a black bar appears on the shorter time. HSS allows you to use even up to 1 / 8000s times without any problem. This is because the lamp triggers a series of short flashes. However, it is important to remember that every flash of light is weaker than one flash of full power. It will be useful when we have a lot of light in the scenery and we want to light up the shadows – for example, taking photos in the sun. It is worth mentioning yet about synchronization with 1 or 2 shutter curtain . The flash may then flash with the first shutter release or when it closes. By default, we use the first curtain. The second curtain allows us to achieve the effect of a gentle blur, as in the picture below.

Synchronizacja z drugą kurtyną migawki pozwoliła na zarejestrowanie ruchu dłoni przed jego zamrożeniem / fot.fotoManiaK

Synchronizacja z drugą kurtyną migawki pozwoliła na zarejestrowanie ruchu dłoni przed jego zamrożeniem / fot.fotoManiaK

The parameter to be mentioned is the zoom of the lamp torch. This is most often selected for the focal length we are currently using. This works in such a way that the larger the zoom, the narrower the angle of incidence. Larger zoom should be used when our object is farther away, a wider angle will be useful when the object is close. If we are already at the burner, it is worth mentioning yet another feature – its rotation . The cheapest and simplest lamps allow you to move the burner in one plane so that light can bounce off the ceiling or shine directly on the subject. Everything is fine as long as we keep the camera as standard. But when we have a sleigh lamp and turn the camera to vertical shots, then we will light the reflection from the wall – and the flash from the side can sometimes spoil the shot. A burner that we can rotate in two planes , both vertically and horizontally, will allow us to light in the direction we choose, regardless of how the camera is held.

Manual: everything under control

Yongnuo YN560, jedna z najpopularniejszych lamp manualnych / fot. vumroehrs/pixabay.com

Yongnuo YN560, jedna z najpopularniejszych lamp manualnych / fot. vumroehrs/pixabay.com

The manual lamp allows you to control every parameter . We set the flash power, which we can set up to 1/128 or zoom the lamp torch. It gives full control, so we decide how to light the scenery. Unfortunately, using a manual lamp we need to know what we want to get and how to do it . It is also necessary to have uniform, unchanging conditions, because at every change we are also forced to correct the settings of the lamp.

Automatic: do not worry about anything

Sony HVL F58AM, jedna z mocniejszych lamp reporterskich na rynku / fot. SkywalkerPL/wikipedia.org

Sony HVL F58AM, jedna z mocniejszych lamp reporterskich na rynku / fot. SkywalkerPL/wikipedia.org

The automatic lamp does everything for us. In TTL mode, it will automatically adjust the parameters mentioned above, regardless of whether we reflect the light from the ceiling or whether we will fire straight ahead. This undoubtedly affects reproducibility, but on the other hand, we do not have complete control over how the lamp will illuminate the scenery, except that it will certainly want the histogram to look correct. The bracketing or flash compensation can be used here. The automatic lamp has one function that can be very useful – HSS. When we do not have complete darkness, 1/250 will not freeze us. On the other hand, when we plan to fill the shadows on the portrait, 1/250 and ISO100 may turn out to be too much for wide open apertures, and the shutter will cause a completely different depth of field. HSS lamp can handle this easily. However, it is possible to work around a bit with a gray filter that stops some of the light so we can still have an open aperture.

What to choose?

To decide whether to choose a manual or automatic lamp we should decide on the basis of the needs and the photography. The manual lamp will certainly be a good choice for portraits and studio photographers in any form. In the studio we have uniform lighting conditions and usually short times we do not need. Buying a few lamps to create a complete system will also not be a big expense, because for 300 dollars we will buy a good lamp Yongnuo YN560 IV , and automatic models cost at least twice the amount. Several lamps set for remote triggers open up entirely new possibilities. Automatic light is a natural choice for reporters or wedding photographers. Placed on a sleigh usually does not require much attention. It can be controlled frequently from the camera body and adjust the power of the flash. The manual lamp will not work here because the conditions are changing fast, the light is falling off or we reflect from a slightly different surface and we can have a failed picture. There is no problem with the machine. Due to the support HSS is also used for portraits, because we can do a shot even at noon. The automatic lamp is more expensive – one of the cheaper Quadralite Stroboss 60 costs less than 600 zlotys, system lights are already over $ 1000.

Bez lampy błyskowej mógłbym mieć problem z tym ujęciem. Warunki jednak były na tyle stabilne, że postanowiłem użyć lampy manualnej /fot. fotoManiaK

Bez lampy błyskowej mógłbym mieć problem z tym ujęciem. /fot. fotoManiaK

I myself, although I did mostly reportages, chose a manual lamp. The choice can be quite controversial, but I needed an additional light source in my backpack. I put on the manual too because it is very cheap, and I myself use the lamp sporadically only when I am forced. More? See other maniac guides for photographers.