Flash needs for outdoor fill flash?

Discussion in 'Canon EOS' started by greenlander, Sep 13, 2011.

  1. I've been shooting as a hobbyist for years and have never used a flash. I don't like the feel of most flash photography (lighting dark scenes), so I've never bothered with it. To be clear, I know absolutely nothing about using a flash. Zero.
    That said, I've come to realize that a flash for my 5D2 used for fill flash to light subjects in sunny outdoor nature shoots would greatly improve my results, so I'm planning on picking up a speedlight for this purpose specifically. I have no expectations to use it other scenarios, but who knows.
    I assume I can get by with the 430 EX II, but could I even play it cheap and go with the
    Is there any need for a flash diffuser?
    Any advice is appreciated.
  2. I would start here:
    In a nutshell, if shooting outside, you need more power from your flash... a more powerful flash. Not a less powerful flash. You are competing with bright light. Take a flashlight outside at noon- does it do any good? As far as a need for a flash diffuser... do you want to diffuse the light? Do you have enough power to diffuse the light and still raise the shadows?
  3. Chad,
    Both John's suggestions are very good, but they are not Canon specific. Before you get anything, get this book, it should come with every Canon flash instead of the rubbish manual. He covers everything you need to know, and everything you will ever need to know about the Canon flash system, including questions you don't know to ask yet :) This is all wrapped up with copious illustrations and photos, some of the best of which walk you through several stages of the illumination and set up process. He suggests the best ways to start a flash system, what you can achieve with it, and the areas most people want to expand into. Seriously practical, helpful advice.
  4. Power is certainly helpful, but it's not absolutely essential. It's also possible to use diffusion on fill light outdoors in full sun, as long as the fill is at reasonably close range. Although you're competing with sunlight, you have the advantage of speed. You can synchronize and fully dump almost any flash, triggered by radio slaves, at 1/160 or better. So if you set your exposure at 1/160, light from your flash can actually dominate, rather than just fill.
    As a point of reference, here's a shot I lit up with my 550EX, f/13, 1/200 sec, flash at either full or half power (can't remember) and zoomed out wide (17mm):
    As you can see, the flash illumination is in the same ballpark as illumination by direct sun (see the gentleman's forehead on the right). This is direct flash, of course, not diffused.
    I've also set up a couple of Vivitar 285hv flashes (similar in power to the 550EX) with shoot-through umbrellas at a distance of several feet to the subject. Shooting at full power at 1/160, I was able to create a "nuit Americaine" (Americain night or artificial night) scene in which the subject appeared illuminated brightly by lantern light and the background (under full sun) was quite dark, as though illuminated by moonlight. I only did this experimentally and could not find the test shots without a bit of a search, but I can assure you it worked brilliantly. :)
  5. All great feedback. Many thanks.
    Timing what it is (headed out in the field next week), I need to get the actual flash in the door and start learning once it is in. I don't mind paying a bit more if it means I'm not undercutting myself technology wise.
    Should I need to look at something better than the 430 EX II? Or will that likely fill my needs. Also, if third party flashes are better options, I'm perfectly open to that as well. I'm just looking for a safe, catch-all flash I can lay my hands on.
    Apologies if this is putting the cart before the horse, but the timing is what it is. I don't want to find myself adding fill light in LR again when it could have been done in the field. :)
  6. Get the 430 EX II and an off camera cord, and the book :)
    The 580 EX II does have more power and some nice features, but to really work it you need multiple flashes, so the 430 will always be useful.
  7. Chad, some of what you're asking depends on whether you generally rely on automation or not. If you're a manual sort of shooter, you might find a Vivitar, Yongnuo, or Lumopro flash on a radio slave an easier option than the 430EXII. (I do/would.) It all depends on your style.
    BTW, it's been pointed out by others that the older Canon speedlites are insanely cheap on the used market. A 550EX for slightly over $200 would be pretty tempting if you need its capabilities! OTOH, a used Vivitar will run you only about $50. You can set up a few Vivitars on radio slaves for what you'd pay for a single Speedlite.
  8. Don't go third party for outdoor flash in bright sunlight unless you are sure the flash supports high speed sync. I don't think many do. Very important feature, IMHO.
  9. ^^^ Why?
    High speed sync can severely limit your flash power, so even though you're limiting your ambient exposure by increasing shutter speed, you're limiting your flash power by the same amount or more. Same balance between ambient and flash.
    ... unless the object is simply to freeze motion at higher speeds
  10. Because I like to be able to shoot wider apertures, even in daylight. I do use a 580, so maybe I just haven't noticed a power issue (with fill). However, I don't remember ever having a power issue with my 430 either.
  11. >>> ^^^ Why? High speed sync can severely limit your flash power, ....

    Because many times I like to shoot subjects wide open. And in harsh light, and even at ISO100, I can
    easily get shutter speeds > 1/1000 sec.

    To answer the OP, I have a 5DII, a 430 EX, and a 270 EX. The 270 EX is fine for most situations for
    street portraits needing some fill. Shooting large groups it would probably be underpowered...

    The 430 EX is more powerful and a much more flexible flash. One thing I miss on the 270 is the autofocus assist beam on my 430. Can't stand the 270's disco-strobe used for AF assist.

    I also miss the 270 EX not being able to be used in slave mode. The 270 EX II addresses that, however...
  12. Yes, a 430EXII is not a bad choice at all, I use one on my XTI.

    If outdoors, you don't have much to bounce a flash off of, and a direct flash even with some diffuser on the front won't really have a huge diffusing effect. The only way to get pleasing and natural (like a flash wasn't even used) is using off camera flash with umbrellas, beauty dishes, softboxes, etc. This is a whole other ball game and depends how much $$$ you want to spend.

    However, for posed shots outdoor (if the subject isn't running around) I find that a reflector works wonders. Best if you can get an assistant, aka the voice activated reflector, or you'll have to get a reflector holder and stand. A Chinese reflector is <$30 for a 43" one.

    As for the question for HSS, you only need this for high shutter speeds. And strictly speaking, the high shutter speed is only needed for moving subjects. For wide open apertures, use ND filters to reduce your shutter speed. The only consideration you have to make is can the flash beat the power of the sun? If yes then slap as many ND filters or CPL as necessary to bring that shutter speed below your max x-sync.
    PS: There is a great episode on Adorama TV explaining the use of flashes and reflectors in bright sunlight. It's on youtube as well. Can't remember the episode number though.

    Have fun!
  13. There are definitely options, just, as Jeff pointed out, make sure the flash you choose has the option of using HSS. Despite the limitations HSS imposes, sometimes it's the best option, and adds a HUGE amount of flexibility to any setup. If you go w/ a 3rd party unit, make sure it has an optical slave setting as well as manual controls options. A unit w/ all those capabilities should run you no more than $110-120.
    My personal vote is for used Canon speedlights-- top choice: a 550ex, as, if you like, later on, you can use it as a master for a multiple flash setup, plus it's got plenty of power. and, since they are all used, worst case is that you can sell it for nearly the same you bought it for ;-) , I have a pair I use w/ the 580s, and, other than the control interface, it's very hard to see an actual performance diff. I would stay away from the 420ex though, it is ALL auto (no manual power settings on the flash -- though it does do HSS).
  14. To answer the question about my shooting style, I do mostly Av and Tv shooting. If I'm shooting with M, the camera's usually on a tripod. Most of my anticipated flash usage will be on hand-held shots.
    Lots to look into. Continued thanks for all the great feedback. Photo.net never ceases to amaze me.
  15. So it seems that the main question at this point is whether to go used 550ex or used 430ex II, as they're pretty much the same price.
    I suppose I could get bitten by a heavily used flash, but I'm inclined not to worry too much about that.
    I'm more concerned about feature set.
    Although I can't see the future, I don't expect to be using more than one flash at any time in the remotely near future. I don't shoot in a studio, ever, and that's where I imagine that sort of thing takes place. So -- anticipating this for mainly outdoor fill-flash, hand-held, single unit use -- do I buy for the future and the extra power of the 550ex, or for the features (E-TTL II and I guess the improved interface?) of the 430ex II?
    I'd answer myself I knew something about flash photography. :)
  16. >>> So -- anticipating this for mainly outdoor fill-flash, hand-held, single unit use -- do I buy for the future
    and the extra power of the 550ex, or for the features (E-TTL II and I guess the improved interface?) of the
    430ex II?

    Since you're only shooting outdoors, for fill I wouldn't write off the 270EX II. In that situation you won't need
    AF assist, and there's plenty of fill for a single subject at a reasonable distance. The bonus is it's much
    lighter weight and much smaller. Easy to carry without it being noticeable.
  17. Chad,
    I've been reading "The Hot Shoe Diaries" by Joe McNally and I would suggest that you never know about never needing more than one flash. He shows some examples of really cool stuff , using two flash units.
    p.s. It's a good book, and would be helpful with any flash system. He's a Nikon flash system guy, so that might put you off some.
  18. Chad

    My advice is the 550 - I use the 580 mkII and 550s as my main flash units and quite frankly while the 580 has a better
    user interface, recycle time and better battery compartment door there is little else to choose between them. If I am
    carrying a big flash I would always take a 550 over the new 430. By the way you do get ETTL II with the 550EX as
    this is a feature of the body not the flash. One other thing you may want to consider is the little 270. I use mine a lot
    outdoors for fill in flash as it is small and light enough to put in your pocket and has enough power for most portrait
    shots. The great advantage of this little flash gun is it's size and weight.
  19. A 580...
    • has a full 180ยบ swivel in either direction. Better for bouncing.
    • accepts external power. This will give you faster recycle time should you ever need it.
    • can act as a master flash, controlling other flashes off camera. Although now some Canon cameras have this feature built into the pop up flash.
    • has a PC port that allows you to connect PC cables of wireless triggers. However, there are inexpensive adapters you can buy to "add" this feature.
    • and of course, more power as already mentioned. More power comes in handy when bouncing or otherwise modifying the flash. Or when you just simply need more power unmodified!
    Only you can decide if you need this features.
  20. Don't go third party for outdoor flash in bright sunlight unless you are sure the flash supports high speed sync.​
    What do you think people used to do before high speed sync. (and automation) was an option?
  21. >>> What do you think people used to do before high speed sync. (and automation) was an option?

    They managed, of course, with units available at the time.

    Today, I would not buy a flash without HSS. Or a computer without a mouse. Even though I can still use a
    command line interface and edit documents in VI. Nor would I buy a digital camera without a histogram
    display, though I could still manage to shoot without one. Or a car without power steering. Or a ...
  22. "Why? High speed sync can severely limit your flash power, ...." - perhaps this question deserves another explanation ?
    HSS, (or FP in Nikon world), is electronic flash light duration time extension technique.
    The flash light time in HSS mode lasts many times longer than in normal flash synchronization.
    In HSS, a small narrow focal plane shutter slot moves across the sensor, and entire movement must be covered with flash light, not just a single slot. Therefore the flash in HSS generates multiple adjucent smaller flashes that together produce longer lasting flash light. Lasting as long as the time needed for the shutter curtains slot to complete the travel.
    Since in HSS many smaller flashes are needed, so the power drops down much by the need to produce many flashes instead. The HSS electronics dispenses flash energy in smaller amounts, and therefore it will never have as much of available light intensity as a single flash exposure in normal non-HSS sync mode.
    Saying it differently, in HSS the flash light is spread thin over longer time. Less light intensity at any time during flashing.
    If you understand the HSS, or at least the text above, you will come to conclusion that the statement below is very limitted, or is just wrong..
    "And strictly speaking, the high shutter speed is only needed for moving subjects."

    The high shutter speed is needed also for static subjects to use High Speed Sync flash method, that allows balancing strong sun light with a flash fill-in, without the need for any ND filters, or other image degrading attachments.
  23. What do you think people used to do before high speed sync. (and automation) was an option?
    For most (professional) portraiture, medium format was the standard and the shutters in (most of) those cameras allowed 1/500s with flash sync (the shutter was in the lens). In addition, slow film was used. E.g. ISO 160 color negatives, or even slower (e.g. ISO 64 slide etc.). MF cameras produce relatively shallow DOF even with relatively slow lenses. These factors together meant that it was easy enough to do outdoor portraits in bright sunlight with fill flash. Today's small sensor cameras with relatively high base ISO have created a new problem.
  24. Well, then, the more I read it seems that there is little reason to go with the 430 EX II over the 550 used (aside from the whole new vs. old thing). If ETTL-II functions as fully on the 550 EX as it does on the 430 EX II - is there any justification for buying the 430 other than preference to new gear?
    I have read several places that the 430EX II is considerably "easier to use" than the 550. Perhaps that's a factor well worth considering for a flash newcomer.
  25. Chad,
    I wrote a great reply yesterday (well I thought so :) ) but it never went through, my internet for sure. Can't remember all of it now but the important bit was this, for your starting out with one flash with the 5D MkII the 430 EX II makes more sense.
    1. You only need one controller, so until you get a second flash the capabilities of the 550EX are lost.
    2. The 430 EX II can be controlled via the camera menu, this is a really nice feature that shouldn't be overlooked. If you take the next logical move in flash, getting the flash off camera, a long TTL cord and a small softbox are the way to go. This gives you full control of your remote flash via the camera menus remotely, a huge plus.
    3. I have been an advocate of the 550EX for a long time, I have six of them, but only five work, two have broken lower bodies and one doesn't have working ETTL pins so only works as a slave. I bought my first one when it was the best available, I got a second to match it, then I just stayed with them for the ability to rebuild from failing units. My next flash will be a 580 EX II to give me the camera menu control of the flash, indeed all flashes and groups in a multi flash set up.
    4. You can still get a 550-580-580 II when you need one, your second flash, but after you have got familiar with your kind of flash use and where you want to take it.
    Hope this helps.
  26. ND filters stand for neutral density - which means they don't change the color of your pictures only reducing the light hitting your sensor. Any decent non-ebay cheap ND filter will give you that ability without affecting your image quality.
    The only time this really becomes an issue is when using a 10-stop ND filter, they do have color casts to them. A 2 or 3-stop ND filter will not. Some flare? Maybe if you shoot straight into the sun.
    If you understood this then you you will come to the conclusion that the statement below is just limited or plain wrong:
    "ND filters [are an] image degrading attachment".
    An ND filter is a cheap option ($30 for a 77mm 2-stop B+W) so that:
    1. You don't have to run out and consider a HSS flash when you don't really need to be shooting that fast.
    2. Allows you the use of the full power of the flash
    By advocating ND filters, I just wanted to point out that there are more than one way to skin a cat. And sometimes, we need all the tricks we can get.
    In summary, as an outdoor only flash (ie: no need to rotate anywhere fancy) I would get the highest power you feel comfortable spending. (For one subject, you can get close with the flash, what about 2 or more people in your shot?) But like Scott pointed out, a 430EXII has nice integrated controls within the camera. The choice is yours at the end of the day. Only you can decide how and when you will use your flash.
  27. The big problem with using ND filters, particularly very strong ones, is not colour castes it is focusing, and
    even seeing through the viewfinder to frame. Yes you can get 10 sop variable ND filters that can be used
    to wonderful effect, or you can stack two polarisers and get similar reduction in light levels that can be
    very useful for landscape work, but try keeping up with a model and you run into all sorts of problems, for
    shallow DOF and people shots HSS is far more practical than very dense ND filters.

    But these are all issues Chad might never encounter.
  28. Lawrence, you must be a politician, or a newsman, to twist and quote my statement like that.
    "ND filters [are an] image degrading attachment".

    Read also Scott's explanation.
  29. Another problem with using ND filters: When you are just walk around shooting, it'll a pain to keep removing and adding for different lighting conditions.
  30. Frank, you must be a politician, or a newsman, not to understand kettle and pot.
    I agree with Jeff's point. At the end of the day, there's no perfect camera equipment, there's always some limitation at some point. It's always a game of dollar spent vs what you can work with and want to achieve.
  31. >>> Another problem with using ND filters: When you are just walk around shooting, it'll a pain to keep
    removing and adding for different lighting conditions.

    Yup, absolutely. And for those that have multiple lenses, you may need NDs for each one.

    For normal fill situations, I've yet to run out of power with HSS. It's a big plus...
  32. 550ex is an excellent flash. One function that you won't get with a 550ex vs 580ex II on your 5D2 is the ability to go into the camera menu to change the flash settings. It's not that big of a deal since you have all the controls you need is on the flash itself and going through the camera menu to change the flash settings could be cumbersome when the buttons are on the flash itself.

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