Why do camera manufacturers bother with on camera flash?

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by falcon7, Nov 4, 2009.

  1. It seems every book about photo techniques I read stresses the problems inherent with built in on camera flash. I have a Nikon D40 and a Nikon D300, both with this feature, but every photo technique that describes the uses of flash recommends a mounted flash that whose angle can be tilted toward the ceiling to be bounced, or perhaps used with an extension so the flash does not reach the subject on a parallel plane. I have seen suggestions about using built in flash at reduced settings to diminish shadows on subjects taken in sunlight, but that's about it. Also, I've seen recommendations about the use of an on camera flash to trigger a strobe using a wire or wireless trigger (which I have used with my strobe set). The trouble with the latter function, it seems that no matter how reduced the setting is on the flash it creates frontal lighting which defeats the purpose of having a strobe set at an angle to the subject or behind the subject, etc. I've even tried putting a piece of translucent tape on the flash and have bought a plastic diffuser that mounts right on the camera to diffuse the flash, but they don't seem to make much of a difference. Bottom line, why hasn't a camera company developed a swivel style built in flash, so one wouldn't have to go out and buy ANOTHER accessory, i.e., a swivel flash that costs $150-$250? I've considered a way to create a DIY gizmo that would use a small mirror so that it could angle the built in flash so it could bounce off a ceiling or reflector. Has anyone created something like that or can it be purchased. As it stands now, to me, the on camera flash serves more as a "plug" for another accessory.
  2. On the professional cameras, the answer is simple; they don't bother.
    On the pro-sumer models they put it on because they perceive customer demand for it.
    As for better bounceable on-camera flash (mirrors or whatnot)...
    I don't suppose there's a cast-iron reason why it couldn't be done, but one of the obvious disadvantages would be to find space for the swivelling mechanism.
    Also check the guide number for your in-built flash. It's pretty low. For bounce flash you need maybe two or three more stops of power (=10x the power) which would overheat a tiny flash-head quickly and drain the camera battery pdq.
    Reverse the problem: ask why external flash units - which do sometimes (not always, for sure) give good performance when bounced - come with big batteries and even connectors for external power packs? and big zoom heads? If these things weren't necessary to engineer a useable reliable product then someone would already produce a tiny swivelling external flash unit. And you would have an argument for saying "can't this be built into the top of a camera?"
    As it stands now, to me, the on camera flash serves more as a "plug" for another accessory.​
    I don't think that's fair.
  3. I think you came up with a logical and clear answer, particularly regarding the fact that the power needed for a built-in flash would overwhelm the flash head. And I do understand that there's a consumer demand for something easy to use and carry. Nevertheless, would there be this demand if most people reflected (pun, sorry) on the poor washed-out quality the built in flash creates? Even if you're not a professional or hobbyist, I would think most people who use cameras on a casual basis (and pay perhaps $500 to $1,000 for all the features of an SLR or now DSLR), to photograph friends and family at events or get-togethers, would like a flattering photo of that friend or relative. If the shortcomings of the built-in flash were emphasized, I think many people would be writing letters to camera companies similar to my inquiry here. I'd make the analogy of buying an HD TV for that price ($500-$1,000), only to learn that the image on your TV could only be optimized with another product that would add several hundred dollars onto it (I'm not referring to a cable subscription here, as many people might want a TV simply to play DVD's.)
  4. I have a D300 and I the only time I use the popup is to trigger other strobes, I have nothing else and I gotta get more light (damn the torpedoes theory) or dialed down fill flash
  5. If the shortcomings of the built-in flash were emphasized...​
    As a general rule (not specific to the camera industry) manufacturers don't tend to talk down aspects of their own products, on the grounds that it's bad for the sales figures.
    What I've seen of most people's reactions to photographs is that they don't really care about badly lit flash photos. I guess that means congratulations are due to you as you have seen the light (I'll see your pun and raise you a topical cliche) and joined the elite subset of people who care about lighting in photographs!
  6. HOWARD:
    Cybersyncs will do what you want with OUT using the on board flash. 1 transmitter for the camera and 1 receiver per flash head you want to trigger.
    I dont have any myself but have used them. The guy who let me borrow them (photo club members went over to his place to practice with his new studio lights) swears by them, and I hope to get some myself for my new studio lighting I just got.
  7. It's handy for fill flash outdoor.
    It gives you those AF assist burst (annoying I know, but it help focusing sometime)
    It allows advanced wireless multi flash, close down the aperture and you'll see less of this trigger light.
    As for the mirror, this guy made it, I don't know how effective that is.
  8. Derek K, builtin|pop up flash goes to some length to control off camera flashes before a need for radio trigger comes up. Most of radio triggers void TTL availability (temporarily), Cybersync ones included; those that do offer are rather expensive.

    Howard M mentions Nikon D300 where he uses the built in flash to control other flash(es). I use it with my Sony A700, especially during macro photography as I currently lack a proper macro flash setup. The pop up flash also provides for HSS operation of the off camera flash via IR.

    After Sony A900 came on the market sans the pop up flash, there was quite a commotion due to its lack and expensive option of using a USD500 flash to be the controller. Eventually Sony introduced comparatively cheaper flash, which has GN of 20 (pop up ones have GN of 12), to be the controller on cameras where pop up flash was lacking.

    On a recent night, after parking my car, I saw a spider. I had only my camera handy (with pop up flash built in). So I took the photos with the flash damned the horrible shadows in near darkness. At least I now have some photos instead of getting nada.

    Overall, I would rather prefer if an IR controller just replaces the pop up flash. (Yes, I know in the mean time I can put a visible light cut off filter of some sort. And I do, in the form of negative film.)
  9. Derek, I own a full set of Cybersync's that work w/ my studio lights (Hensel) but the Cyber's as noted do NOT let you use the very nice Nikon CLS system. When I'm on the move, the popup on the D300 and my SB800 flash units form a very nice system.
  10. I have a Lightscoop. It's surprisingly effective for the price, and the guy who sells them is communicative and helpful. If you have relatives with popup-flash-equipped DSLRs I reckon it would make a nice gift.
    It isn't terribly compact, though; I wish it would fold flatter.
  11. As it happens, the Lightscoop can still be used with iTTL slave triggering, which means you can get a little bit of ceiling fill while triggering another gun. Useful.
  12. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    As it stands now, to me, the on camera flash serves more as a "plug" for another accessory.​
    This usually means that not enough effort has been put into figuring out how to make the tool effective. On-camera flash is underpowered, doesn't swivel, and is too close to the lens, but that doesn't mean you can't make it work for you. I use it when I don't feel like carrying anything else with me and have found it can be quite useful.
    On Monday night, I attended a Day of the Dead walk in San Francisco, taking just a camera because I wanted to participate. I ended up with some shots that came out quite well, even saleable in my markets. I used slow sync to try and capture the spirit of the event, which was smokey from burning sage and quite chaotic, with no separation between participants and audience.
    Day of the Dead, slow sync on-camera flash, Copyright 2009 Jeff Spirer
  13. Why do camera manufacturers bother with on camera flash?

    They bother because it is useful for fill at short distances, and as Jeff demonstrates, at night. And most of all, it adds little weight, cost, or bulk, and it is always with you. Many pros routinely use prosumer bodies, and more than a few have commented on the usefulness of the built-in flash.
  14. For filling a bit of shadow in a back-lit, high-contrasty scene? Used judciously, like all flash light sources, it can be a great tool.

    But more importantly, for me, is the remarkable convenience of using the pop-up to control CLS slaves. I can use the in-camera menu to control the power on the remote strobes. If you have a moment's patience, read down this thread for an example of a five-minute setup, outdoors, where the pop-up flash was key to talking to the fill flash used outdoors to simulate a sunset. Or this thread, where the pop-up is used to talk to an off-camera speedlight held low and off camera to line up with the sun and deal with some shadows.

    I'd really miss that tool if it weren't there. Mind you, I use radio triggers plenty. But that's for fussier shooting. I think it's great that I can just keep the camera and a speedlight in the bag, and have a slick commander/slave system in place in seconds, with no additional widgets, batteries, cables. etc. I use it all the time.
  15. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    I will add to the “heresy” and ditto the comments about the usefulness of the built in flash. I have mentioned before I miss the PUF (pop up flash) on my 5D.
    My main use is for a touch of Flash Fill, outdoors. The PUF it is not overly powerful and that's OK; it is direct flash and that is what is required in sunlight, and it is small, lightweight and always there, which is good, so I can't loose it; and I tend to work close anyway which is ideal for the low powered PUF.
    I have tried it out as a trigger for slaves - but that was just to test it works, but I don't use slaves that much, that way.
    The PUF was actually one of the (minor) reasons why I kitted the Wedding Bags with a 30D + 5D - - - because the 30D has a PUF.
    The PUF is also the reason I carry a few Paddle Pop Sticks in my kit – to use as a manual override of the PUF “popping up” when I might choose to select one of the Basic Shooting Modes . . . more “heresy”? :)
  16. I like on camera flash because sometimes I like to take pictures at parties and I don't want to carry a lot of crap.
  17. if you have to take a shot indoors in a darkish setting and the popflash is what you have, then you are going to use it. the alternative is not to take the picture.
  18. Because in some situations you need a little more light to get a good picture and you just dont want to try it using only ambient light. And maybe you dont have an SB-800 in your back pocket, and even if you did, the camera doesn't even have a hotshoe.
  19. For camera's without one, like a Canon 5D, you really do miss the PUF tend to carry a small flash to use as a substitute. I would be quite happy if the 5D III (when introduced 2 or 3 years from now) has a built in flash with features to control off camera flash units (like the 7D, finally!)
  20. I love having the pop-up flash. I use it mostly for fill. It's also good to have for those times when I don't expect to need a flash. I can leave my flash at home and know that I have the built-in one if needed.
  21. Luis said it quite perfectly! I don't use mine very often, but I love having it available in an emergency.
  22. My external flash blew up during a shoot last weekend, thank goodness I still had the pop up to provide fill.... not optimum but it gets me the shots.
  23. James G. Dainis

    James G. Dainis Moderator

    Manufacturers put in pop up flashes as a convenience to the user. I would say that the vast majority of users never buy an external flash and just use the camera in AUTO mode. When SLR cameras didn't have pop up flashes, the vast majority would buy a cheap flash to put on the hot shoe and get the same flat results as the pop up flash. Why do people buy cars when you can carry a lot more with a pick-up truck?
  24. As the OP, this is a rather fascinating (well, not as fascinating as proffering theories of the creation of the universe) thread. I think one could collect some of the 'pro-onflash' recommendations, and provide a little list called '10 Reasons Why You should praise your on-camera flash" or something similar. If someone wants to create this little 'info/brochure' go ahead. I won't copyright the idea.
  25. Why do people buy cars when you can carry a lot more with a pick-up truck?
    I've always wondered about this myself. Assuming environmental things like mph are equal, I'd go for the pick up. When people say they don't look attractive, I say that when I'm riding in one, I don't see myself riding in it from an observer's perspective, so that's not my problem.
  26. If you look at the modes in a typical DSLR, it has settings for mountains, people, sports, etc. IOW it has all the modes found in a typical P&S in additional to the Av, Tv, manual, etc. modes advanced shooters use. That is the reason for the built in flash. It allows any DSLR to be used just like a P&S. It is a great way for a new photographer to ease into advance photography.
    In the old days, people who took photographs had to be experts because it was so complicated. Kodak became the biggest film maker and processor by providing the simple Brownie P&S where Kodak even developed the film and made the prints for you. Most people who take photos just want the photos. They could care less about photography.
    Modern technology means you can produce a camera that does it all. It can be a simple P&S for people who just want a record of an event or it can be a total control manual camera for serious photographers. It allows people who are interested in photography to ease into it but if they decide that it is not for them, well they still have a better than normal P&S.
    When DSLRs first came out, they were basically digital versions of SLRs. The P&S modes and the built in flash to support P&S modes were gradually introduced into later models. My first DSLR had none of the P&S modes and no built in flash. My next one had the built in flash but no P&S modes. My current DSLR has it all. I have never used the P&S modes but I found the built in flash to be very useful as a fill flash from the very beginning. And once in a while it was useful when I was unexpectedly caught out after dark after shooting all day.
  27. Because the on-camera beer tap would have to stay tethered to the keg.
    The on camera flashes are useful sometimes. It's a convenience item. If you sell cameras to people who don't have a lot of experience or equipment; well, this camera has a flash, and that one doesn't. Guess which will sell more units?
  28. John, when they come out with an on camera beer tap, I'll buy it even if it's not a Nikon.
    As has been said, it's a convenience. It comes under the heading of better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.
  29. I wish "pro" camera bodies would incorporate on-camera flash. It's simple to not use (just don't use it if you don't want to) but very handy if:
    1. You didn't bring your hotshoe flash unit (for any variety of reasons)
    2. It's a matter of taking the picture or not
    3. You want to use it to trigger other lights
  30. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    4. Your batteries died soon than expected.
    1. You didn't bring your hotshoe flash unit (for any variety of reasons)
    2. It's a matter of taking the picture or not
    3. You want to use it to trigger other lights
    4. Your batteries died soon than expected.​
    5. You happen to like the look of direct flash.
    I do for some photos.
  31. It's rare, but sometimes it can make for a uniquely enjoyable photograph.
  32. The later generations of on-board flash units on Canon bodies can do a pretty nice job if you use them deliberately and with some thought. Using it in Av along with the flash exposure lock and flash exposure compensation dialed in (if needed) can yield some pretty impressive results. I usually only take a large Speedlite for serious shooting and since a lot of my shooting is of the nature/landscape variety, I don't usually need the big flash so the on-board flash becomes very handy for fill flash. Also, now that my 7D is able to trigger external flash via the on-board flash it's even more valuable. I much prefer to have a capable on-board flash than not.
  33. Why not just get the cover for the pop up that still sends the signal to external units? I've heard that it's about the most reasonably priced accessory that nikon makes....$17.00 or thereabouts. And then, you can pipe down about your pop up.
  34. Why do people buy cars when you can carry a lot more with a pick-up truck?........I've driven a few American pick up trucks (GMC, Ford), and there is no excuse for owning one.
    I think that on board flash could come in handy from time to time for advanced amatuers and pros if it came to the pinch. as for the general consumer, i think they are just happy with it. it quick easy and convenient. it's much like digital cameras in that sense...not the best, but for most, they'll do.

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