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Over the years, flash photography has seen many developments from the ‘hold-it-flash-bang-wallop-what-a-picture’ magnesium powder T-bar, through flash bulbs, flashcubes (remember them?), and finally to the electronic flash that now adorns every single digital camera. Even camera-phones are getting in on the act with a bright LED array.
Having brought flash to the masses, so to speak, a very large proportion of today’s pictures are taken using flash, and almost always, with a forward-facing flash, i.e. the one in the camera.
You only have to look at the number of washed-out faces posted on Facebook, usually at some social function, and equally usually in a darkened room, to see that having the flash pointing straight at you is not such a good idea.
Even cameras higher up the food chain still cling on to a built-in flash, for example, my Nikon D90. To be honest, it works fine to fill in shadows on bright days, say with your subject propped nonchalantly against a tree in the shade, but for anything other than a pure photographic record, indoor photography needs something a bit ‘kinder’ shall we say.
Nikon have their own range, known as ‘Speedlights’ but the ‘cost-benefit’ ratio was a bit rich for my liking, given that I leave all the indoor ‘party stuff’ to my wife. Even the cheapest Speedlight, which still insisted on glaring ahead, was around £100 last time I looked, and if you wanted to start bouncing off walls (the light from the flash that is, not your other half when they intercept the credit card bill), you would be more likely to be kissing three hundred smackeroos goodbye.
ENTER THE DRAGON
Not surprisingly, it’s China to the rescue, although I dare say that’s where Nikon also get their flash guns made these days, in the form of the Yongnuo YN-465 dedicated flash gun for a range of recent Nikon DSLRs, my D90 included. There’s another variant that does the same for the Canon range.
The main thing is….they’re about £60 to buy, which is a considerable improvement on £300. Yes, I know you probably only get what you pay for, but 60 quid is all I’m prepared to pay to enhance the few flash photos that I do take.
What’s ‘dedicated’ about it? Well, you may have noticed, if you actually have a camera with the ‘hot-shoe’ mount on top, that of recent years these seem to have spawned extra little contacts, a few more than you’d expect just to fire the bloody thing.
These have different purposes on different makes of camera. In the case of the Nikon, which purports to have ‘Intelligent Through-The-Lens’ flash control, these contacts allow for camera and flash gun to ‘talk’ to each other, regulating such things as flash duration, flash power etc. This all happens in real time so that the flash will confirm that it has seen enough light bounce back of the subject, curtailing the flash duration, and telling the camera to close the shutter. Or is it the camera telling the flash when it’s time to call it a day? I can never remember. Truth be known, it’s probably a bit of both!
Anyway, it works.
Even with the pop-up flash built into the D90.
So why buy another one? Well as I said before, the built-in flash can only ever look forwards, giving those lovely red-eyed pasty faces we’ve become used to on Facebook!
The YN-465 has a fully articulated flash head, being able to rotate and tilt.
Speaking of ‘red-eye’ (that annoying phenomenon resulting from direct flash reflecting from the back of the human eye) using the YN-465 with its head pointing to wards the ceiling, or even more indirectly, over the top of your head and off the wall behind you gives a much kinder light. The overall effect is to eradicate ‘red-eye’ faster than you can say ‘Photoshop’ and flesh tones are treated to what looks like the light from a powerful but diffused ‘up-light’.
Hence the whole thing has more of an air of studio work rather than an alcohol-induced night out with the lads/ladettes.
If bouncing light off the ceiling, the gun has a built-in diffuser and white card, the former designed to spread the light evenly over the ceiling, and the latter to stop the light being ‘wasted’ on the ceiling behind you where it’ll do no good!
Do make sure that you are aware of the colour of the ceiling though. Some beiges, such as found in pubs pre-smoking ban (and now actually being painted that colour out of a nostalgia for nicotine stains) can lend a rather too warm tone to skin and may need correcting in the camera’s colour-balance settings.
YOU HAVE THE COM, MR. SULU
Of course, you don’t have to leave everything to trust by letting the camera and the flash to work out results for themselves. Controlling the flash is supremely easy. After the first click of turning on the flash via a dial at the rear which gives you the ‘i-TTL’ setting – the set-and-forget setting – you continue to turn the dial in the manual zone giving you seven different power levels to play with. The great thing about digital photography is that you can afford to play around and check your results as you go along. All you’re wasting is a bit of battery duration.
IT’S CURTAINS FOR YOU, MY LAD!
It can also be synchronised with the Nikon’s ‘rear-curtain-sync’ facility. This is a combination of a slow shutter speed and the extreme brevity of an electronic flash.. What this does is to trigger the flash just as the shutter is about to close. Therefore a small amount of light will already have been recorded. Thus with a moving subject, say a golfer driving off from the tee, the moment will be frozen, with a blur of the initial back-swing. Likewise, a car travelling past in the dark will be frozen in time with its rear lights leaving a trail. Just using the camera’s normal ‘slow-sync’ flash (also known as ‘front-curtain-sync’, would leave a blur of activity ahead of the car, giving the impression that it’s reversing!
To be honest, it’s re-awakened my interest in facilities that I’d forgotten my camera had! Boy, am I glad I’ve still got the 300-page manual knocking around somewhere!
The gun doesn’t have an earth-shattering ‘guide number’, this being 33, i.e. only twice the power of the built-in flash. This is not a problem in forward-facing mode, but you do need to beware of just how large a room you’re in before you start bouncing light off the ceiling of an exhibition hall, as this could dissipate the flash beyond its power to light the room. As I said before though, it’s not such a big deal with a digital camera – you just take another shot using a different method. If you don’t want those ‘pasty-faces’ I talked about, you could use the milky plastic diffuser that I bought as a 4-quid extra but point the flash at your subjects. This helps a bit, but can’t eradicate ‘red-eye’ on its own.
Recycling time i.e. the time that it takes to get ready again after the last flash can be up to 5 seconds, but it really all depends on how much charge was lost on the last shot.
This varies so wildly that you’ll get anywhere between 100 and 1500 shots from a set of 4 x AA batteries. I find ordinary alkaline cells are better than the much-vaunted NiMH batteries, which whilst rechargeable, don’t give anywhere near as many shots before their voltage tails off. It’s already slightly lower than an alkaline cell, so this is partly why they soon become too weak to recharge the gun.
A MYSTERIOUS CONCLUSION
The flashgun comes complete with a mounting bracket so that it doesn’t need to be screwed to a camera. This is rather strange, given that being mounted to a camera is the only way to fire it in sync. There’s no provision for a cable connection, nor can it be used as a remote slave, either by radio or by detecting another flash being fired.
I’ve a feeling that this is merely because Yongnuo make a whole range of very reasonably priced flashes, looking almost identical to this one, some capable of acting as slaves.
As well as the apparently superfluous mounting bracket, you get a felt sleeve to keep it in and an instruction booklet, the English of which ‘a desirable little is to be left’.
I’ve added some photos to the end of this so you can see the effect a) of not using flash, b) of using direct flash, and c) of using bounced flash. What is particularly noticeable in (c) is how much more even the lighting is compared to (b), and how much better illuminated the room’s detail is compared to (a) which was relying on the sun streaming in towards the camera to light the room (in vain!)
Pictures of Yungnuo YN-465 TTL Speedlite Clip-on Flash