My quest for the perfect Macro/Close up flash...

Discussion in 'Macro' started by hjoseph7, Aug 2, 2022.

  1. More than a few years ago I posted this thread on Kirk Enterprises FB-8 Butterfly Flash bracket

    So glad I did, because I would have to explain the whole thing again. In any case starting last year I decided to search for a mini-flash that would fit on my Butterfly flash bracket as John Shaw recomended. John Shaw by the way is a famous wildlife and nature photographer who has written several books on the subject so I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

    He recomended a cheap small flash with low GN to iluminate his subjects with directional light instead of the flat light from a ring flash. At the time I didn't have a ring-flash or butterfly bracket to test his theory. After going through several mini-flash units I made up my mind on which one I was going to use,can you guess which one ? Here is the list of candidates:


  2. 1st or last line #3 (in each)?
  3. From left to right:
    Line 1:
    1) Minolta 118x: GN=60(feet), take 4 AA batteries, Features: No sync port , Acts like a Thyrisor flash but is NOT a Thyristor. I'm not sure what technology it uses but it works ?; has exposure table/chart on back; Recycle=2-3 sec, purchased in 2022; paid about $18 on eBay (2X).

    2 ) Zykkor 200: GN=N/A , takes 1 AA battery, Features: No Sync port; No Thyristor(manual), puts out clean beautiful light, has very faint exposure table/chart, Recycles=2-3+ sec.; Purchased in 2001 at a Photographers Trade Show; paid $5 (2X) (Now they go for about $20-30 on eBay ?)very flimsy hot-shoe contacts.

    3) Holga 120: GN=N/A, takes 1 AA battery, Features:No Sync port, Manual, Powerful, puts out a lot of clean light for it's size !; Recycles=3-4+ sec. Don't remember when I puchased these, maybe in 2008 ? I had 3, lost 2 so now I have 1; Estimated cost $5-10 ? (now they go for $20-30 !) Tried to order the Color Filter Kit, but got ripped-off ! very rare these days even on eBay.

    Line 2:
    4) Andcer Slave GN=18(meters), takes 2 AA batteries, Features: No Sync port, Manual(no TTL, or Thyristor) Can act as a slave, but it must be line of sight; designed and made in China; very bright Blue, Red, Yellow little lights on back; No exposure chart, Purchased in 2019; paid about $20 on eBay(2X); Recycles=2-3 Sec.

    5) Canon 300EZ GN=93(feet), takes 4 AA batteries, Features: No Sync port; ATTL(with Canon cameras), Manual with non Canon Camera; Can be used with Canon off camera Sync cable; No Exposure chart, Recycles= 2-3 Sec.; HUGE in comparison to others; This was my first Canon Flash ! Purchased in 2003 about $200.

    6) Albinar 50A GN=N/A , takes 2 AA batteries, Features: Very small, but not smaller than my Holga 120, has exposure chart on back; Thyristor/Auto technology; No Sync port; Recycle=10 seconds in Auto/5 seconds in Manual (should be the other way around ??). Purchased this at the same Photographers Trade Show in 2001; Paid $5.

    Line 3:
    7) Nikon SB-15 GN=60(feet), takes 4 AA batteries; Features: By far the most technologically advanced !, has Sync Port, has very small and confusing Exposure chart, flash can swiivel left/right from it's base; lens can tilt up and down at any angle ! Has TTL, has Thyristor/Auto, has Manual, has Motor Winder. Purchased in 2018( 4X) for abut $20-25; 2 were DOE, but after I cleaned the contacts they now work, very rugged and reliable. Can be used as a Macro lighting Rig using special TTL Nikon cables. Recycles= 2-3 Sec with fresh batteries; locked hot-shoe foot.

    8) Sunpak Auto 211 GN=69(feet), takes 4 AA batteries; Features: comes with own Sync cable; No Sync port, clear and intuitive Exposure chart on back; Auto Thyristor very accurate; Power Ratio feature in Manual mode; rugged; Purchased in 2021 on ebay for about $20 (2X), I also purchased the 322; and the 411 since they were so cheap; about same size as Nikon SB-15. Recyles= 2-4 Sec.

    9) Vivitar Auto 200 GN=56(feet), takes 1 9Volt battery; Features: has Sync port; comes with Vivitar propriety Sync cable, has large, readable Exposure chart on side; Auto Thyristor works down to 3 feet; Purchsed from ebay for less than $20 (5X) in 2021/2022; 2 were dead on arrival (DOE), but after I cleaned up the contacts they now work fine, one was a Dud. Recycles= 1-2 seconds with fresh 9V battery.

    10) Albinar 87 TTL GN=70(feet) take 4 AA batteries; Features: No Sync port; TTL with Nikon, Canon and Pentax cameras ! Thyristor technology ? Exposure chart on back; locked hot-shoe foot; relatively modern, can be used on Digital cameras; Bigger than I thought, much bigger than the Albinar 50A, Recycles= 1-2 Sec with fresh batteries. Purchased on ebay for $20 brand new 2022.

    ** Of course there are other great little flash units out there, I just didn't get to them. What I find amazing is the length each manufacturer took to determine proper exposure. They all use different formulas and exposure charts, but they all do the same thing. You learn a little more on how light works by learning how to use each one of these mini flash units. I tried to avoid the much older units due to the outrageous Sync Voltage and slow recycles.
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2022
  4. Oops !

    9) Vivitar Auto 200 GN=56(feet), takes 1 9Volt battery; Features: has Sync port; comes with own PC Sync cord ; needs Vivitar propriety Sync cable, 2 were dead on arrival (DOA), but after I cleaned up the contacts they now work fine,
  5. Are you shooting film or digital. Either way, which ISO? And what is your camera's highest flash sync speed?

    The rig you're thinking about was fine for KM (ISO 25) with 1/250 shutter speed. This will completely overpower ambient, giving you full control of exposure without having to stop down too far. Remember that effective f/ number at 1:1 is twice the f/ number set, i.e., set the aperture at f/11, get the depth of field and diffraction you'd expect at f/22.

    With higher ISO and/or slower shutter speeds you'll have to stop down too far to eliminate ambient light.
  6. I will be using both Digital and Film Cameras. I have a Nikon FM2, maximum Sync is 1/125. I also have a Nikon FE2, maximum Sync 1/250 . My digital camera is a Nikon D7000 I think max Sync is 200 ? It takes all Manual Ai and AIS lenses as well as AF lenses. Not sure about what aperture I'll be using, but it will probably be on the high side f8-f22. Even then the light from the flash might be too high, don't know yet. Right now I'm working on a DYI filter system that I can easily slip over the flash-head to tone down the flash(don't want to eliminate ambient totally), or to add Color special effects.
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2022
  7. Beware of early Sunpaks! They were one of the last companies to make their flashes 'digital friendly'. I have something similar to that Auto 211, and it has an open-circuit trigger voltage in excess of 300 volts. It also has an extremely short flash duration - so one plus point in its favour.

    Also, hard and direct flash can make unpolished metallic objects sparkle with a myriad of brightly coloured speckles. After some experimentation, I found that only diffusion or bouncing of the light source is effective in reducing or eliminating the effect.

    Depending on the subject, creating a little 'set' around it works well. A curve of paper for a reflector, or as a diffuser, and experimentation with the height and direction of the flash. Maybe a bit of black card to produce a dark reflection. Macro work is just a studio in miniature, and all the same 'rules' of lighting apply. There's no one-size-fits-all type of lighting, and two flashes as a clamshell can be just as inappropriate as a ringlight. OTOH a ringlight might be ideal for some subjects, and terrible for others. Like no two human subjects have the same cheekbones and nose size for a fixed Rembrandt setup to work first time.
    hjoseph7 likes this.
  8. OK since you guys are having problems trying to figure out which flash I chose here it is John Shaw woulld have been proud:

    butterfly bracket2.JPG

    I chose the Vivitar 200 because of the 3 S's (size, size and size)
    Notice how it sits up there on the Kirk Enterprise Buttefly bracket. No sagging and plenty of room.

    Other considerations:
    Large Exposure chart (my eyes are not what they use to be)
    Directly syncs to the PC Sync on the camera, less connection problems
    9Volt battery gives me plenty of Pops and the recycle time is only 1-2 Sec
    Auto Thyristor technology
    Pretty Low GN of 56 feet

    After going through a bunch of cheapo plastic hot-shoe adapters I decided to use the Small-Rig all Metal Hot-shoe and the Small-Rig all metal mini-Ball Head(arrow #1). The hotshoe is dead that is why I need the Sync cable(arrow #2). This Sync cable is especially made for Vivitar speed lights. They are not that easy to find, but not very hard either.

    Arrow #3 points to the original Nikkor Macro 100mm F4 used by Jon Shaw in his book "The Nature Photographer's Complete guide to Professional Field Techniques".

    butter fly
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2022
  9. Heath Robinson would have been proud!
  10. Hah! American members probably won't get Heath Robinson. They have their own version though - Rube Goldberg.
  11. It could be worse...
    NHSN likes this.
  12. Turning the flash down won't solve the problem. An ND filter on the taking lens will do the job, at the cost of making the view dimmer.

    For the second time, which ISO will you be using? Film and digital.
  13. ISO 100-1800 ? I don't know it depends on the atmosphere...
    For film probably ISO 100-400 because that is all I have
    For Digital it could be anything from 80-6400
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2022
  14. As a consolation Prize, I could always use the other mini flash in this manner:

  15. Sigh. Do the GN arithmetic, adjusting for loss of illumination due to magnification. And then, perhaps, you'll understand what I've been telling you.
  16. I do happen to have a whole set of square ND filters lying around somewhere ?
  17. I was about to throw this bracket into the round-file. I don't know when I got it, why I got it, or how much I paid for it ? Actually with the Nikon SB-15 it has potential ! The arm extends about 1.5 feet above the lens.


  18. Now that I think of it, OP, you also haven't grasped the reality of shooting with "flexible" flash brackets. Getting reproducible flash-camera-subject geometry with these brackets isn't trivial. When I was working hard at flash photography in the field -- subjects were flowers, insects, sometimes herptiles, ... -- I found that rigid flash brackets that gave consistent geometry were the key to getting consistently good results. The alternative is to use an incident-reading flash meter. OP, do you hav a flash meter?
  19. Not much power but it does work if you're not afraid of high ISOs

    LED Macro Ring Flash FC100
  20. Yes I do ! I have a sekonic L-358 flsah meter that I have been using for at least 15 years. Not for Macro but for other things... I recently purchased a Sekonic L-208 which fits very nice in my pocket.

    The bracket in the last of the pictures is not very flexible except to move the flash up and down. I think it's a Manfrotto ? I recently checked on B&H to see if they still make these. They do, but now they come with a flexibe arm which is great.

    The "flexible" bracket shown with the 2 Zykkor mini-flash is not very flexible at all. You really have to exert a lot of force to get them to bend the way you want to. There is a reason why I chose the Butterfly bracket.
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2022

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