Friday, March 8, 2013

How to: Wireless flash on the NEX system.

So my mate Wk  suggested I explain how to do off camera flash on the NEX system - so here it goes. As much as I love the NEX system, there's one thing that annoys me so very much, it annoys me so much that i've even thought about changing over to the Fuji X-System. Why you ask? The Fuji X series have something that only the new Sony NEX 6 and older 7 have and that's a hotshoe mount.

Now quick rant, Sony.. why MUST you try and be different and have designs and products that ONLY you use and no one else uses or is even interested in? No idea but it infuriates a lot of photographers who need to buy Sony only products in order to achieve what they want to do - Sounds a lot like Apple, but that's another story.

So hotshoe mount, what's so good about it? What is so good about it, is that it allows you to attach a flash via TTL cable or via wireless flash triggering systems so that you can fire flashes OFF the camera. For those who don't know, off camera flash is the sh*t. It makes photos look nicer and more dramatic. Off camera flash is what I use everyday at work to make portraits just look.. better.

So why should I care if my camera has a hotshoe or not and whether I can do off camera flash? Well, being so used to using DSLR's all of my photographic life, i've always had the opportunity to do off camera flash, from even the most basic cheapo DSLR to the top of the line DSLR, there's always a hotshoe to attach a flash and take it off the camera to do off camera flash either wirelessly or via TTL cable. TTL cable is probably one of my favourites ways for doing off camera flash as it's simple - a cable that connects your flash to your camera - and very very quick to set up. The only draw back is that you can only extend the flash as far as your arm can reach, or as long as the cable is willing to stretch.

So when I was shopping for a new little camera I foolishly forgot to check for hotshoes and ability to do off camera flash. So I ended up buying the 5n and look, 90% of the time I love it, but that off camera flash thing really irks me sometimes. This is how my NEX setup looks like most of the time - With the EVF on. Coming from a DSLR background, looking through viewfinder has always been something i've gotten used to as well as enjoyed. With many mirrorless cameras they don't have built in EVF's, except for the more expensive models. So, as you can imagine I like to have the EVF on 100% of the time if possible. This is where that stupid Sony "smart" port comes in. If you haven't noticed, the 5n does NOT have a built in flash, the flash comes separately and connects where the EVF is connected.

So, the flash goes in the "smart" port and you can't use the EVF anymore, whats that got to do with off camera flash you ask? Well one solution i've found to overcome the off camera flash problem is to use a Nikon speedlight - SB910 to be exact - and have it fire wirelessly as a slave unit every time it picks up external flashes. (Menu > SU-4 mode)


5N with the EVF taken off and flash attached.


So like I said, the Nikon SB910 picks up flash from the camera and that somehow triggers it to fire in sync with the camera every time the camera flash fires. How it works, too technical, but trust me, it works. 

The NEX flash is sh*t. I mean really sh*t. On the very rare occasions that I do use it, I like to use it with a little DIY light bouncer (card wrapped in aluminium foil) The light bouncer bounces the light from the flash to the aluminium foil card and forces the light to bounce of surfaces such as roofs and walls to create softer diffused light. The light from bouncing it off walls and ceilings is ok, but can only be used if there is a ceiling or wall nearby to bounce off, as you can imagine it doesn't do much outdoors.. 


When I do off camera flash with the NEX I use it with the diffuser to ensure that light from the flash is not affecting the exposure or lighting in my picture. (essentially blocking the light)

Again, I have no models to take photos of so have to use myself - sorry in advance. So as you can see, the flash is being fired off from camera right, creating a nicer light on the subject (me). This type of lighting- rembrandt- is pretty stock standard for most portraits and being able to do it on the NEX system really gives me the ability and opportunity to do some more serious portrait work with the NEX. I'm not keen on using the 5n without the EVF as it's something i'm so used to, maybe one day down the track i'll buy a second hand NEX 7 or 6 when the prices drop as they have built in EVF's - wishful thinking.



Anyway, enough of looking at my face, some more real world examples of using off camera flash on the NEX system. PS I know i said i wouldn't do anymore macro photos, but it's not my fault it's been raining!

This photo is similar to the one I shot the other day, the only difference is that this photo was shot at night, not in the afternoon. The flash is on a tripod, behind me to the left and I aimed the flash to illuminate the background, with a bit of spill light from the flash to light up my subject.


With this other photo, I used the flash as my main light source which gives you a black background, good for isolating subjects and keeping the photo quite clean.


Anyway that's about it from me this time, unfortunately I don't have many photos to show because I didn't have much time to take photos after work this evening, so yeah.. hopefully I can show you some more real world examples in the near future!

PS those photos of the NEX were lit with.. you guess it, off camera flash! Except with the D3s and with 2 flashes. One bouncing off the wall on the left and another flash set up behind the camera (nex) to create some rim lighting. Off camera flash FTW!